What Reply All Taught Me About Publishing

Reply All: that venomous email ability that you must use in some settings, but absolutely shouldn’t use in others. It also seems that several people always use Reply All, no matter the context.

I have been in several email chains for the anthologies in which my shorts have appeared, and there’s usually at least one chain in which someone loses their minds and does an ill-advisable Reply All. It’s bound to happen when there’s 10+ people per email and several emails out there. However, it’s also an enlightening experience; many people don’t view publishing the way I do. Without someone screwing up, I might never have found the following out.

The Power of BCC

Blind Carbon Copy is amazing.

Shooting out an email to a large number of people, but don’t want those people to annoy each other with Reply Alls? Send it BCC. That way when people inevitably do click reply all, it just goes back to you and perhaps one or two organizers.

The other big time to use BCC is if you don’t have permission to blast another person’s email address out there in the ether. As someone whose real name is very private, I made a “writing email” so that I show up as H.R.R. Gorman no matter what I do. However, if I used my personal email to sign up for something, I wouldn’t want you weirdos finding out the legal name.

Lastly, BCC will prevent embarrassing hiccoughs or instances where someone explodes. Publishers and other authors are trying their best, but sometimes we just fail or disappoint other people. If someone’s trying to be malicious, BCC will protect the innocent sensibilities of those who don’t need to see that.

Anthology Publishers and Editors Have Limited Time

When one publishes in an anthology, usually the publishers do editing – sometimes all of it if editing is their thing. Sometimes they send it off to a professional editor. Either way, you can be certain someone is looking over your work and polishing it up.

Reply All has taught me that many people don’t care about this until it’s too late, or they’ll get back a couple weeks/months late and say “it’s ok.” No matter how hard editors and publishers (and you!) work, books are large and it’s easy for small things to get by us all. It’s good to do your agreed part and take a look at everything. Do your work on time; other people could have used that money the publishers paid you, even if it’s a small amount. You don’t want the black stain of being “unresponsive” or having a typo in your story!

Publishers BOUGHT Your Story – Let Them Have It

You also know there’s two main types of editing: copyediting, which includes proofreading and fixing for grammar or simple language/structure errors, and content editing, which includes changes to story elements. A lot of times I’ve seen submission places online say they will no longer accept short stories that will need content editing because it “takes too much time” or requires changes to the story.

My friends, Reply All taught me what “too much time” means. The reason these people will no longer accept good ideas is probably due to people being overly protective about it and fighting. If you agree to the editing process and sign the contract, abide by the contract. The publisher wants to publish, and holding them back helps neither of you. No story is worth blowing up over.

If you send out a story and an editor wants you to make edits you don’t like, certainly say you don’t like them, but never, never Reply All saying so. Think about how you sold your story, and now it’s up to them to get what they wanted to purchase from you. If the edits make it such that you wouldn’t want it going out into the world, read your contract and see what you agreed to do. Explain what you liked about your story and think the edits took away from it, then suggest a path forward. Construct with your editor, not against them.

What about you?

Have you been on any interesting Reply All chains? Have you learned anything when in anthologies or working with other authors/editors? Let me know in the comments!

Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA on Pexels.com


So, it’s 2022, and I guess we’re still here. Mostly.

Here’s a gif with a Pomeranian in it.

And, because of this, it’s time for everyone to start making their plans for the next year and sharing them as if it’s important. Not going to lie, I’ll join in that too because it seems fun.

Collective Fantasy

First off, Collective Fantasy: An Unsavory Anthology releases on January 3rd! I’ve got a story in this upcoming anthology, and it is dope as hell. I say this about every story I write, but I think this one may be the best I’ve ever published to date. “Come and In My Chamber Lye” is a book of witchery and laundry. Snippits incoming soon!

Amazon Link for pre-order – only paperback right now, but the indie publisher usually gets out an audiobook and Kindle version soon after.

We’re also having a “Book Signing” party on January 4th from 8 to 11 pm EST! If you’re in the Salt Lake area, the physical party is going to be at Under the Umbrella bookstore, and there’s a virtual Zoom link (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9630443174) for those who (like myself) are in other places. I’ll try to be on during the early parts, but no promises past 9:30 eastern, given my bedtime!

I’m going to try to be there, but I’m on eastern time so we’ll see how late I can stay awake!

Lastly, there’ll be another story in an anthology coming up in the next few months… I’m super excited to tell you all about that one, too, but it’s still a bit of a secret. Shhh…

Books To Read Lists

Last year (and every year before that), I made a list of books that I’d review every Monday. This list would come out on the first Monday of the month, and I’d coast through on those books for the rest of the month. That gave me 3 or 4 books to read per month.

Though I might not read as much this year as last, this limitation to 3 or 4 books per month meant a couple things. One, and probably the most important, is that not every indie book I read got a slot on the blog. That bothers me because indie books need reviews – including blog reviews – more than the big guys. It also meant a lot of other books didn’t get a spotlight even if they probably should or could have; instead of talking about books I liked, I spent all of August 2021 flogging a series that I hated.

Instead, what I’m going to do is just push out a post when I read a book (assuming I get it written quickly enough). That will both reduce my need to make “to read lists” and also give me more opportunities to post book reviews. It also will mean I don’t have to theme my months.

Life Updates

I want to do more life updates, mostly because blogs with a life update every now and then keep me engaged more. At the same time, I really don’t want to post about other people in my life. We’ll see if I manage to get anything along these lines done.

Obligatory dog picture.

American Chimera – 28.4

American Chimera Cover Small

I woke up in a dark room with red lights. The floor was covered in wood chips and straw, and a trickle of water ran in the back.

I stumbled around. My motor control wasn’t quite right, and it felt hard just to stay awake.

People in hazmat suits entered through a door. In my mind, disturbed by whatever drug I was on, I thought I mighta caught Ebola or California Measels or polio. It wasn’t ’til later I learned they wore the suits to keep my environment clean, not keep themselves safe.

A man, Dr. Smith as I later found out, flashed a light in my eyes. He examined the pupils while he hummed, then put the light in a pocket. “The drugs are wearing off.” He giggled like a schoolgirl and clapped his hands. “Oh my goodness – a real, female specimen! I’ve not been this excited since my last child was born. She’s such a beautiful specimen. Look at the size on her! Almost twice the bulk of a male.”

He ran a hand down my abdomen, which I noticed was completely naked. I pushed his hands away and tried to tell him off, but my words slurred around my tongue, and my body slid in the mulch.

“Careful,” Dr. Smith told the aides in the room, “She might not be as well trained as our males. But what a beauty. If she’s half as powerful as Dr. Whitehead promised, she’ll make everything we’ve worked with before now seem like cannon fodder.”

He walked around me, examining me like my dad might look over a new bicycle. “Powerful legs. She could probably rip a man in two. We’ll need to test her strength and combat capabilities when the drugs have worn off. For now, get 718 in here. We need to start the breeding process.”

“You think it’s a good idea to bring 718 in right now?” an aide, a woman, asked. “She might not be receptive to him.”

“Oh, it’ll be perfectly fine. The sooner we get this process started, the sooner we get a new generation to raise. Bring him in.”

The door opened again, this time allowing in a couple aides pushing cage. Inside the cage was the biggest spider I’d ever seen. When it noticed me, it raised up on its legs and squealed. It shook the bars of its cage, bending them slightly.

Dr. Smith waved to his aides. “Come on, folks! I can feel it coming in the air tonight!” He slapped his legs, ordered his aides out, then pulled a pin that held the cage door closed.

Just after he exited, the door flew open and the male chimera leapt after me. It tried to get behind me, to my reproductive organs, but I turned and wouldn’t let it.

I still couldn’t talk well. Poison and drool dripped from my mouth and burned through some of the wood chips on the floor. I tried to scream for help, but all I got out was some stupid yelping and whining.

The male tried to trip me, so I pushed him away. I’m strong, very strong, so it wasn’t hard to send him flying. He was built out of the same stuff I am, though, so he wasn’t damaged. He seemed invigorated, actually, and came back after me.

I bit at him. He bit back, but our carapaces were too hard for each other to penetrate.

With my motor control reduced, the male turned me over. He mounted me, then started rubbing himself with his pedipalps.

I got desperate. With my front claws, I took his head, then pushed against his abdomen with my back legs.

He stopped paying attention to himself as it started to hurt more. He screamed, but I didn’t stop. I was so scared, out of my wits, and I couldn’t control my own strength.

I couldn’t help it – it was so terrible! His head popped off his abdomen. Blood spewed everywhere. The legs continued to flail and scramble despite the creature’s death.

I dropped the head and screamed. What had I done?! I’d killed someone – this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be!

“Where am I!?” I tried to cry out. I didn’t say that well, didn’t say anything right, but I felt so alone. So broken.

Tears streamed down my eyes, and I huddled in a corner, as far away from the body I’d murdered.


Previous Chapters List Next

5 Tests You Should Put Your Story (or characters!) Through

Ever wonder “is my writing/book/character worth a dime?” Well, there’s a few things you can do in order to make sure. None of them are fool-proof, and all of them have their pitfalls, but you can improve your work and have new and improved ways to ensure you’ve done things the best you can.

Also, long article today. Fair warning.

Reading Level Test

This test won’t be able to tell you if your book makes sense or if it has deeper artistic merit, but there is something to be said about the ability to string together words into a sentence. Your story idea could be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it won’t matter if you can’t communicate it.

Probably the easiest (and safest) way to do a readability test is through MSWord’s “editor” function (used to be spellcheck, for you fellow fogies). Unfortunately, the new version of MSWord makes you go through all of the spelling and grammar “mistakes” before the analysis will show up. If you are writing a fantasy, sci-fi, or other piece with a lot of non-standard words, the MSWord built-in statistics might not work for your whole book. However, you can copy a more manageable selection into an alternative document and perform the test on that. Sampling errors may apply.

In MSWord, your output window will look like this:

Don’t let a “low” grade level scare you. A book with a sixth grade level score will be easy to read for a large number of people, which is good. I took the excerpt Penguin offers for A Game of Thrones, and the Flesch-Kincade Grade Level on MSWord was 5.6. Remember: the grade level your book is scored doesn’t mean the book is for kids or isn’t literarily sound. It means the book may be easier to read. If you’re writing fiction, remember that most adults who read for fun aren’t going to seek a book that will force them to look up words every few minutes. They’re going to put down books with sentences so wordy they’ll have to re-read them. A book for adults should be easy enough to read that they won’t have to try.

However, let’s think about this from the other end: if you go much lower than a 4th-grade level, your sentences may feel repetitive or so simple that a reader could get bored. A children’s book has simple sentences so children can learn to read different words and gain confidence. Once that confidence is built, they can move to grander sentences.

In my opinion, anything between 4th and 8th grade should be sufficient for an adult fiction. YA shouldn’t be much different in terms of reading requirements, just in the grander content and character age.

If you don’t have MSWord or you have too many fantasy words in a passage, online tools such as this one exist.

Number of Characters

This isn’t like Twitter – it’s not a count of letters. It’s a count of how many persons are in your book.

Because, believe me, it’s far easier to get your book filled with too many characters than to not have enough. Don’t believe me? Think of your favorite episodes of TV: many people love those episodes with just one or two characters trapped in a cave, or a spaceship, etcetera. The episode “Fly” in Breaking Bad is this way. These “bottle episodes” are hugely popular because they explore the activities and relationship of only a couple characters, or maybe even just one character.

If you’re in my audience or if I’m in your audience, though, we’re probably thinking about fantasy, sci-fi, or some other form of fiction. So let’s use a good ol’ standard: The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien’s prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy has 40 characters, and that’s including everyone from Bilbo and Smeagle to Carc, a raven. That’s a fair amount of characters, because you can keep up with them.

Here’s another way to think about it: how often do you introduce a new character? I once beta’d a book (probably for a young person, so I’m sure they’ve improved since) which included something on the order of 200 characters for 100,000 words. That’s literally a named character introduced, on average, every 500 words. Tolkien’s The Hobbit has 95,000 words. On average, that’s a new character every 2,400 words. I find that if you have at least 1,500 words per character, you’re going to be fine. I aim to be right there where The Hobbit is when I write a novel.

So yes, here’s the test:

[Number of Words in Book]/[Number of Characters in Book]

And that’s it. It’s up to you if you want to include unnamed characters, which I tend to do. I keep a running list as I write.

Diversity Tests

I love these tests because it can help you realize when you’ve done something accidentally wrong, and it does so in a recognizable fashion. The tests I’m going to suggest are based on the Bechdel Test and the Mako Mori Test.

The Bechdel Test is a very basic test for female representation. In this test, the requirements to pass are:

  1. Have two female characters with names.
  2. These two characters talk with each other about something other than men.

That’s it. It’s also incredible how many books fail – including the aforementioned The Hobbit. You can also apply similar characteristics to characters of color, LGBTQ+ persons, persons with disabilities, or whatever.

There are two caveats to this test I want to talk about, though: one is that, sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to pass. Let’s say you’ve got a story set on a war ship in WWII. It’d take a very special situation for a woman to be on the ship, much less two. To pass the Bechdel test in that situation would be odd. Similarly, if you don’t have multiple races present in the location or setting (i.e. Ancient China or pre-exploration Australia), you might not be able to pass the test with a racial slant.

The other caveat? There are stories that would fit a feminist slant without passing the Bechdel Test.

For example: Mako Mori was a character from the 2013 film, Pacific Rim.

The Mako Mori test requires the presence of one female character who has her own plot arc, and neither that character nor that arc exist to supplement or serve a male character. To me, this test helps detect one thing the Bechdel Test can’t: tokenism. You can pass the Bechdel Test and have those characters still not matter. Once again, the test can also be applied to any sort of diversity marker.

Just to be real, though: there is no single way to get this right. You can do any number of tests, any amount of study, have sensitivity readers, everything – and still fail. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try or that your shouldn’t include diversity in your books. It just means you will always be limited by your own life experiences, and learning is the key to your expansion.

Mary Sue/Gary Stu Test

Someone out there is inevitably asking: what is a Mary Sue/Gary Stu?

A Mary Sue (we’ll just use Mary Sue for now) is a character who has too strong powers or overworked personality traits. Physical appearance can be indicators of Mary Suedom, especially as they veer away from anything “normal.” As a whole, I classify Mary Sue traits as almost anything that can be “cringey” but not in a “creepy, touchy uncle” kind of way.

Think: something a teen would write (poorly). Something a middle schooler would think so dark it makes a black hole look light. See the wordy and very crude/insulting/awful/potentially-triggering Coldsteel the Hedgeheg meme below for the most stereotypical Mary Sue nonsense:

But for those of us who don’t have a main character named Coldsteel the Hedgeheg, there’s more reasonable tests like this unsupported one. That test is no longer suggested by its creator, and I understand: the scoring at the end doesn’t really work. I suggest it, though, so you can think about what’s going into your character and what other people could see. Not all of these things are bad for every character, and often nuance can make many of the Mary Sue traits work. Breq/Justice of Toren from Ancillary Justice is an example of a Mary Sue that works. What’s important is to know what sort of pitfalls you may have fallen into. It’s more useful as a thought-provoking test than anything else.

Beta Testing

That’s right. You can do all of the above alone, in the comfort of your own home, without a single scary foray into the minds of others. If you want to share your writing – for what is writing but a plan to share an idea with someone, even if that someone is a future version of yourself? – you’ll want to get a second opinion.

That’s where beta readers come in. Get opinions on your diversity, your character quality, and some idea of common grammar mistakes you make. Try to get a variety of readers, and have fun.

For more information on beta reading, I’ve got a slew of articles under “Beta Reading” on my Writing Resources Page.

Do you put your stories through other sorts of tests? Let me know in the comments, or look through the comments for additional thoughts!

Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Single-Word Edits

06092019 Writing Club

5. Give Yourself a Break

You’re awesome. You have awesome ideas. This is guaranteed to be true.

Thing is, sometimes our awesome ideas get onto the page in a format where we think it’s good, but that’s because we can read our own intentions rather than what we actually wrote.

To have a better chance at catching little mistakes, give yourself a break – two weeks is ok, a month is about perfect – and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. It’s amazing how many sentences you’ll have forgotten about, and this will help you read reality.

Also, it feels really good to read something you wrote and enjoy it.

4. Look for Pretentious Words

I’m not saying to get rid of all big words. The words I’m talking about are the pretentious kind, those big words that don’t need to be big for any reason other than ego stroking.

Multi-syllable, uncommon words can cause many readers to stumble. Even you, with your writer’s vocabulary, sometimes come across words you don’t know. What happens when you’re reading in a place without a computer or dictionary (or, more common, when you just don’t feel like looking it up)? You skip that sentence and hope it didn’t matter. Words that could cause your readers to stumble may draw them out of the experience and weaken the overall effect of a passage.

This doesn’t always happen with big or archaic words, too. You can do it with something ordinary. For instance, look at this line from my favorite whipping boy, Eragon:

He tried to pull away, but her hand was like an iron talon around his ankle – he could not break her tenacious hold.

Besides the fact that the sentence isn’t even necessary in the passage it appears, focus on the phrase “like an iron talon.” Not only does it bring up no immediate images – unless you’re a DOTA player – and thus mean nothing, it’s full of harsh words that convey melodramatic concepts. It’s over the top despite only including well-known words. Look for things meant to make you look powerful or smart with no other purpose and give them the ax.

3. Search for Word Overusage

All of us have those little words we like to pepper into our writing but don’t realize it. I use “know” far too often. My boss FREAKING BETTER STOP overusing “utilize.” Sometimes, you can find words you overuse with a Word Frequency Counter.

I searched around and came upon this word frequency counter for browsers. The reason I like it is because I don’t have to use a certain program (like MS Word) and because, with a .org domain name, I feel like it’s not quite as suspicious as some of the other sites I saw out there.

But a word frequency counter doesn’t always cut it – there’s character limits on those apps, and at a point you’ll have such a long list of words that you won’t have a good idea of what’s too much or not enough. If you want to have a better idea of which words you overuse, get a beta reader.

2. Gnaw Away At Those Adverbs

I’m not one of those people who want to get rid of adverbs. I think, when used judiciously, adverbs can add to a sentence. However, they can also serve as filler. Words such as “quickly,” “suddenly,” or “immediately” tend to add very little to a sentence.

For instance: did you notice I used the word “very” in that last sentence? If I deleted it, the sentence’s meaning wouldn’t change. The impact wouldn’t change. All “very” accomplished was make it longer. If the word doesn’t add to the sentence or passage, why keep it? Why waste your reader’s time?

Rather than include unhelpful words, zoom in on your adverbs and delete them. Re-read the sentence, then decide if the adverb added enough to keep it.

1. Get Rid of Half-Hearted Verbs and Filler Words

This is the one I need to focus on.

Verbs are so various, rich, and distinct, that it’s a shame to use ‘is’ or ‘has’ when something better (but not pretentious!) could be used. Better verbs can reduce the use of adverbs or helping verbs. Helping verbs may also be a sign of passive voice which, while useful, reduces impact of sentences.

Several filler words clutter first-drafts. In most cases where “she started to” or “he began to,” you can get rid of those halfway verbs and just focus on the meatier verb. “That” is the plague of concise writing; when I edited one of my novels, I found over 500 instances of “that” which could be slashed from the pages. That’s 500 words which ended up going to good use as part of a new chapter exploring character growth.

Here’s a short list of words to keep an eye out for:

  • That
  • Start
  • Begin/began
  • The helping verbs
  • Know/knew
  • Said
  • Nod
  • Sigh
  • Uh, um, or other mumbling words
  • Like
  • For the love of all that is holy, just say “use,” not “utilize”

Other Places Full of Neat Hints

Looking for more things to consider as you write? Perhaps just want to listen to someone with more authority than me? Then enjoy these links. I’ve noticed that a lot of the same advice floats around, so definitely check out how many hints are shared between them!

Necessary Fiction’s “A Month of Revision” (Strongly recommended – lots of tips for novel writers)

The above-mentioned “Word Frequency Counter” app

My own “Think Before You Thesaurus

Do you have any more hints or tips that I’ve missed? Something you’d like to focus in on? Leave it in the comments! Or, better yet, feel free to talk about it in your own response to Witty Nib Writing Club’s first prompt!

5 Types of Research for Your Novel

06092019 Writing Club

This month in the Witty Nib Writing Club, we’re looking at research! I’m hoping this is fun enough, and you can join in the prompt here. I’d love to see your participation!

5. Historical Research

This is a very fun type of research to do because you get to read stories about people who lived in the past. Long-time readers of my blog know my time period of choice, and you can expect that I’m fair at looking up information on it. That being said, I don’t have a degree in history, so take me with a grain of salt.

Something I like to do with historical research is look up historical sites and find recommended books from their website. Even better, you can visit – most of the time, historical sites have at least one historian working there who can help you really get into the way of things. I’ve been to the USS North Carolina battleship museum multiple times, and I love what I learn there.

If you are studying a period of history before the stupid “1924” public domain year (though, luckily, that cutoff is actually moving again), the Gutenberg Project is a trove of good info. I have found several 19th century books that help me with my research, and that’s fantastic!

Also, there’s video. I’ve mentioned the ration reviewer YouTube before, and that’s incredibly helpful if you’re doing a war-focused story (sorry, civilian rations aren’t as common on those channels). If you’re looking at 18th (and some 19th) century information, Townsends on YouTube is so good. For my focus, I’ve also loved the BBC series Lords and Ladles, which looks at how to make 19th-century feasts.

Do you have any advice on historical research? I’d love your comments!

4. Science Research

This is my day job, so I do this all the time. There’s a few things I find important about research for science fiction, and the main one is science communication is garbage.

Science writing is very different from literary writing in that many fields purposefully use convoluted language, esoteric buzzwords, and horrifyingly stupid organization. Beyond that, “peer-reviewed” science writing is often in journals behind ridiculously expensive paywalls (something like $40/article, in certain cases) if you’re not at a company or school with general access to journals. Beyond that, these articles require a reader to have a certain amount of background information and access to other information in order to understand any paper, even at a basic level.

A graduate student takes about 6 months of training to get up and running in one (1) field.

So what can a normal person do to get up on the new research?

Pop science articles can be helpful to find a subject to research further. Often, once you establish a subject to start with, you can go to a library or do further research on the internet. Sometimes, authors of a journal article will pay the publisher to have their article be open access, and you can read it. Seminal papers are also often free to access. For important science info that will help you build a sci-fi story, this should be adequate (and people who give unsolicited advice otherwise are probably just trying to show off). Accurate scientific knowledge is helpful, but most people do not have access to information and can’t refute you.

You can also try to find a scientist in the field willing to work with you. If you email professors, you can ask if there are graduate students willing to help. It’s probably better to email someone in the departmental office to ask their grad students in general, and even then you need someone special to happen to read that email.

Beyond that? Lobby your congressman to force scientific information be more readily available to everyone. The scientific publishing industry is a scam, and everyone knows it.

3. Etymology

Once you start researching etymology for your writing, you won’t stop.

If you’re doing historical fiction, etymology becomes essential to making your dialogue distinct and timely. One of my favorite old-timey words is “poltroon”, a 19th-century word for “coward”. Because it came from Italian to French and coward came from an older French, we can assume that “poltroon” carries out a very specific function in only a small time window. When the word came into English, the French were very powerful and culturally influential, which implies this word may have also had a haughty air to it.

The subject can help you determine how to regionalize your speech, how to add nuances that you might not have been aware of, and more.

2. Locations and Climates

It’s a pretty famous fact that Stephanie Meyer had never been to Forks, Oregon before writing Twilight, which takes place in that sleepy little town. Yet, you can tell there’s been a lot of research into the town because she does describe things that seem realistic (I’ve never been to Oregon, can’t confirm).

And now, with the internet being basically ubiquitous, you can look up info on almost anywhere.

  1. You can get basic info on almost any small town off Wikipedia.
  2. You can digitally walk through many towns (and rural areas) using Google Street View. This is one of my favorite ways to get inspiration about a town.
  3. The USDA gives a Plant Hardiness Map that’s pretty neat-o for American locations. The country you want to write about probably has a similar map available.
  4. Annual rainfall maps can be helpful to determine how wet it is. I swear, it doesn’t rain enough in books.

Beyond that, just read about your setting, read about inspiring settings, and think about how it will affect your book.

1. Diversity Based Research

Location and climate often go hand in hand with diversity based research, and there’s something we all need to realize while we’re doing it:

If we don’t live it, we probably will never get it perfect.

As a Southerner, I find books about the South written by non-Southerners always miss nuances. There’s something about being Southern that is impossible to put your finger on but absolutely necessary to make it feel right.

That doesn’t mean avoid the culture, gender, sexuality, age, ability, religion, etc. that other people may have a better handle on. It means realize your limitations and do your best to overcome them. Read forums, articles, books, whatever it is to help you get into the mindset as best you can.

I’ve found this type of research to be very difficult. When I’ve written about black characters (which one must when writing about the South), it’s been a struggle to get it right. Getting even the representation of hair right is difficult for white-bread me, but I do my absolute best to find advice (and, lucky for me, I did already know that hair is a difficult issue). Even little things are major elements of getting other people’s lives represented correctly.

So, for this category: do research diversity, and do include diverse characters. Be bold. Try not to make mistakes but forgive yourself for failure.


Have you done book or story research recently? Tell me something you’ve found out – or, better yet, make a blog post about it join in the prompt here!

Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Making Stuff Funny

06092019 Writing Club

This month in the Witty Nib Writing Club, we’re focusing on something quite silly – making humorous writing!  Join in the prompt here and start honing your skills.

5. It’s Not Lying – It’s Hyperbole!

A great way to introduce just a dash of something funny is to exaggerate it. In what way could making something just a bit more extreme force it into the realm of hilarious?

One of my favorite examples of this is the title of the 1965 film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; it includes 4 mads, which is just one past anything reasonable. To me this is funny, but to other people it’s frustrating. There is definitely a balance between taking things too far and not taking them far enough.

In a similar vein, you’ve got understatement. This is pretty popular in British comedy, which I think is why I love it so (there’s even a Wikipedia article about English understatement). Think Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, wherein eating babies and using their skins for gloves is spoken of as a nonchalant thing.

4. Political Jokes Are a Thing

Polandball is an old set of memes that are probably my favorite Reddit jokes of all time. In these poorly-drawn comics, different balls dressed in the flags of different countries interact and show national/international stereotypes. For instance, here’s my favorite one:


The joke is making fun of the American stereotype of intense patriotism. I post it somewhere every 4th of July.

The humor of political jokes is often tied to people’s perception of what is wrong with the world or a certain people group. Though you might not realize it, the “You might be a redneck if…” jokes are political because they make fun of a people group. They make fun of a socioeconomic status. Sometimes these jokes can elucidate important elements of change or things that you want to see improve.

Political jokes have a dark side, though: sometimes the joke will pry into the very tenderest corners of someone’s heart and cause them pain. I’m of the opinion that this isn’t really a good thing, and I try to not hurt people’s feelings with jokes. Even if I’m
“just joking,” hurting someone’s feelings still means I hurt them. So I try to be careful and am aware that I should own any failures in that department.

3. Puns

I’m a big fan of puns, but this section will serve more as a warning than anything else.

It’s an easy concept to understand – use one word cleverly in a sentence where another may be expected, or use a word to imply something else. They’re common in every language and culture, and many people enjoy the puzzle-like nature of these jokes.

There’s a lot of downside to puns though. Sometimes the puzzle is too hard to get, and it will pass over people’s heads. Sometimes it’s too common a pun, and people will find your joke poorly made. Other times, the pun may be in poor taste, even if unintended. Lastly, your audience may determine just how much you can get away with: an international audience won’t necessarily know enough about your language or cultural niceties to get every linguistic joke.

As a whole, use puns in writing sparingly. They cause too many groans, and too many people hate them. Readers may punish you for this sort of humor.

2. Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

An element of randomness can often bring a chuckle. The Spanish Inquisition sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus (and the rest of Monty Python, really) are a great example of how random, incongruous things can add humor. In the full Inquisition sketch, the three cardinals show up at several random times and break into hilarious questioning of subjects. They even put a lady on the rack, which happens to be a dishrack they turn to tighten some strings ineffectively.

Pitfalls of this sort of humor are going to far and doing it too often. The tone of your passage will of course determine how much you can get away with, but there’s always a point of too much. In the Monty Python sketch, there’s always a lead in with a normal character saying “What is this? The Spanish Inquisition?” to another normal character. Spongebob lives in a pineapple under the sea, but it fits the show’s overall tropical themeHitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy runs right along the edge of acceptability in my opinion, as do similar works like Space Opera.

So, use this most powerful weapon of funny with glee and caution!

1. Not Everyone Will Find it Funny

Humor is in the eye of the beholder. I know that I simply cannot appreciate a certain kind of humor (I’d tell you about it but I can’t explain it), but plenty of other people laugh hysterically at it. No matter how funny you are, no matter how many people tell you that you’re funny, others will say you’re a wet dishrag.

So, get some health insurance, find a therapist, write something to make other people laugh, and make use of that sweet, sweet healthcare.

Other Places Full of Neat Hints

This Writer’s Digest Article has some really cool hints that are rather detailed. For instance – did you know the “k” or hard “c” sound are considered the funniest in English? I sure didn’t!

Do you have any more hints or tips that I’ve missed?  Something you’d like to focus in on?  Leave it in the comments!  Or, better yet, feel free to talk about it in your own response to Witty Nib Writing Club’s prompt!

Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Rewriting Prose

06092019 Writing Club

This month in the Witty Nib Writing Club, we’re focusing on a major editing skill – rewriting!  Join in the prompt here and start honing your skills.

5.Critically Read The First Version You Made

I don’t mean just remember what you wrote last time.

Unless there’s a good reason to ignore what you’ve already done, look at what you’re trying to replace and figure out why. Write some of those things down if you want. Know where you are and where you have to go. I’ve rewritten the entirety of novels before, but I needed to understand what sorts of things went wrong the first time.

Another point of reading critically is to decide if you need to rewrite or if a passage just needs editing. It’s really great if you can have an alpha or beta reader, because they can give you another perspective. Rewriting is done when a scene in its entirety needs to change. This usually happens to me when the process to get from A to B doesn’t make enough sense.

Read it critically. Make notes about what you want. Then put it away as much as you can. If you use the old version too much, you’ll end up with the old version at the end.

4. Does It Need to Exist at All?

On major hurdle I have toward rewriting is getting rid of useless statements and passages. If I wrote it in the first place, it needs to be there, darn it!

But we all know that’s not necessarily true. When you read, you want the author to give you good stuff to read. A bunch of useless babble can slow down the book, make it confusing, or make readers focus on parts that aren’t important. This isn’t Victorian England, and you’re not Charles Dickens – in today’s market, you aren’t going to be promised payment per word before you show your chops.

Here’s some tips to  clean out unnecessary stuff:

  • Did you skip over it when you read the paragraph? People skip things when they read, and it’s for one two reasons: either the info isn’t worthwhile, or they’re looking for something different. If you skipped it when reading, consider if it needs to be moved or get the ax.
  • How many times do you say it? If you’ve given that piece of information before in a similar manner, you might not want to do it again. Give the statement a good think.
  • Do you feel bored? Don’t fool yourself that you’re bored because you’ve written/read it before – try to think critically about it. Get rid of boring.
  • Delete it. Read the paragraph/passage again. Did it flow? If so, you can probably keep it out.
  • Give yourself a break. Don’t work on that story for a while; when you come back, you might have a fresh enough outlook that you can read what you actually wrote, not what you intended to write.
  • Listen to your beta readers! If they’re bored with a passage, pay attention – even if you don’t need to delete it, figure out what kind of oomph the passage needs.

3. Remember, Rewriting Isn’t Editing

Part of why I suggest writing something brand new without using the old version as the skeleton is the temptation to change individual words or fix grammar and call it good enough. Changing words and grammar is important, but sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes, you want to add a new feeling, change the logic of how the characters got to a certain plot point.

Put away the old version while you’re rewriting. Make something new, make what you think you want this time. Think about where you want to go and write it. If you use the old version, you’ll end up with something substantially like the old version. Remember, it’s fine to edit, but when you need to rewrite – i.e. when you need to do something substantially different – it can be helpful to get rid of what you don’t want.

2. Merge the Old and New Versions

It helps me, once I’m done, to re-read the old version and try to see if there were old parts that I forgot in the new version. I have to be really critical about this, though, because I didn’t think the element was important when I started the rewrite. Usually, I rewrite for a specific scene to get from point A to point B, and the things I add back in are hints or foreshadowing that I had left out.

Another reason to merge the two at this point – being selective with what you use from the old version – is you can examine who the characters are. If you’ve finished a book or story with dynamic characters, you may want to check afterwards to be certain you have the right stage of character. You will want to make sure they don’t know twists or secrets they learn later in the book.

1. Save The Old Version

I can’t stress this enough – SAVE OLD MANUSCRIPTS! You probably won’t come back to it after enough time has changed, but you never know. As well, just having that older version on your computer gives you more evidence of when you wrote it, gives you a record of your process, and may contain ideas that you’ll want to re-use later.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewritten a story then wished I could at least compare it with an older one and make sure it was the best it could be. Save it for peace of mind if nothing else.

When I write a book, I create a dated version. If I’m just adding a chapter to the end, I just keep the same file. When I need to edit or rewrite any portion of the file, I’ll create a new version with a new date. At the end, I’ll put all the versions except the final one into a folder, then zip them together. You can use 7zip to compress it further than you can with just a .zip file.

At some point, you’ll declare your work done. Be proud of where you’ve taken it.

Other Places Full of Neat Hints

Other people have a ton of advice about editing and rewriting.

Necessary Fiction’s “A Month of Revision” (Strongly recommended – lots of tips for novel writers)

7zip zipping software can help you store a lot of archival information in a small space. You’ll never have to feel bad about taking up too much memory on your laptop or desktop ever again!

Do you have any more hints or tips that I’ve missed?  Something you’d like to focus in on?  Leave it in the comments!  Or, better yet, feel free to talk about it in your own response to Witty Nib Writing Club’s prompt!

Witty Nib Writing Club #2 – Rewriting Your Prose

06092019 Writing Club

The Witty Nib Writing Club seeks to provide an opportunity to engage in constructive writing activities online. Comments are key here at the writing club, and we’d love to have you join us!

For more information on the Club, follow this link to the club’s main page.

Quick Rules of the Club

To have your post included in the roundup, do the following:

  1. Make a post that follows the month’s theme. Using a pingback or a comment on this post, make it available to other club members.
  2. Comment on someone else’s post. Be constructive!
  3. Fill out the form below. Make sure you put good links – both to your post and the post you commented on.

Unless there’s a lot more responses than I expect, I’ll be checking those links! Even if you don’t want to comment, you can put your post in the comments and I’ll do my best to check it and comment myself. 🙂

This Month’s Theme

This month, we’re going to focus on something important in writing – heavy editing! Editing can include linguistic changes, character changes, or changes to the entire course of the passage.

  1. Choose a passage, 500 words or less. It can either be one of your own works, or it can be from a published work (make sure you cite it!).  I’m going to use my favorite whipping boy, Eragon, in my post next week. You can use that passage if you want!
  2. Rewrite the passage, improving it. At the end of the post, point out one thing you did that improved the passage. You can change whatever you want!
  3. Comment on at least one other person’s post. Be constructive if you can, supportive if you can’t!

This means linking to your post in the comments below.  I’ll approve pingbacks, but you might want to comment if you don’t see it show up soon. I’ll read your stuff if no one else does!

The Form

Leave a link in the comments for other people to participate with.  This form is for the end-of-the-month roundup.  If you want to be included in the roundup, you’ll need to use this form.  If the form doesn’t seem to work, I’ll see what I can do for the next post.


Witty Nib Writing Club – 5 Tips for Memoir Writing

06092019 Writing Club

This month in the Witty Nib Writing Club, we’re focusing on memoir!  Join in the prompt here and start honing your skills.

5. Tell the Truth

Sometimes you’ll want to embellish it.  Sometimes you’ll want to tone down some of the bad stuff.  In both cases, however, you’ll want to avoid it.

Telling the truth enriches your story and allows a human element to shine through.  When someone is reading a memoir, they’re looking for a story that draws them into the reality of someone else’s experience.  Stories from your life already come with a richness and detail that make them full of character and drive.  Tap into those feelings, share the themes and drive within your story.

Even if you’re able to create a convincing lie, a story that isn’t true isn’t doing service to a reader who believes it.  Respect the reader and give them something about you to chew on.

There are two instances where a lie may be necessary: the easy one is a lie of omission.  Since you won’t be telling your whole life story, either for this club or in any medium, sometimes you’ll need to cut things that might seem important.  The second is to change people or place names in order to protect the innocent.  If you don’t have permission to post a story with a real person in it as a character, change enough identifying information that they can’t be picked out. If you can’t protect others, consider telling a different part of your story.

4. Focus on a Single Story

I love reading biographies, but they’re not the same as a memoir.  A biography states the course of an entire life, focusing on how formative events in one era can shape the decisions in a later.  It is more factual, dry, and somewhat historical.  A memoir is a small story that focuses in on small, formative events.  These events are told in a narrative form and evoke emotions.  They entertain. 

When people publish their memoirs (plural), what they’re publishing is a collection of memories and small tales.  That’s why you often see memoir, singular, to describe a small story.

So get into small, gritty details.  Look for formative events and determine what messages they sent to you and will say to your audience.

3. Determine Your Audience

Memoir is often used in a therapeutic sense.  In this case, writing the memoir can help one work through a tough time, or help us remember a good event.  It can be peaceful and calming to recollect the past.  When writing with therapeutic purpose, however, the audience is the self – or the self and a loved one or therapist, at most.  When the self is the audience, the goals are to please yourself and follow the flow that helps you.

When writing for a larger audience or with the intent to publish (i.e. if you were writing a Chicken Soup for the Soul story), things change.  How do people other than you look at the story?  Are the same things important?  Is there an overarching feeling or message conveyed in the story?

When writing for self, the purpose is to get your emotions out.  When writing for others, you need to suck their emotions into your story.  This doesn’t mean you can’t write about the same events for either cause, it just means you may need to think about where the entertainment and enjoyment are coming from.

2. Don’t Worry About Having a “Boring” Life

I’ve read plenty of great memoirs in which nothing of real, plot-worthy note happened.  Sometimes it’s just a person sitting around, doing nothing, while the world seems to crash in on them.  It’s about the development of character and emotion.

As well, something to remember: your ‘boring’ life is someone else’s exciting.  When I was growing up, I thought nothing about my grandparents’ rug, but then in college my now spouse alerted me to the fact that normal people don’t put actual sawblades on their floor.  My spouse thought swimming was something normal people did, but I was very impressed and interested in how people could do competitive swimming.  You are never too boring.

1. Remember, Good Writing is Good Writing

Check your grammar, read over your writing, tag dialogue appropriately: these are things useful for any prose.  Just because you’re writing a true-to-life story doesn’t mean you’re safe from these elements.

One important element of memoir is voice.  You want your voice to come through when you write, and sometimes it can be tempting to do this as literally as possible.  As a redneck, I have plenty of relatives with speech patterns that don’t fit standard English.  However, standard English is what most people know how to read and interpret.  Find your balance between good sentence structure and your own dialect, and don’t underestimate the importance of being able to read something without much effort.

Other Places Full of Neat Hints

Looking for more things to consider as you write a memoir?  Perhaps just want to listen to someone with more authority than me?  Then enjoy these links.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the same advice floats around, so definitely check out how many hints are shared between them!

Reader’s Digest “Great Tips on How to Write Memoir

New York Publishers’ “How to Write a Memoir that People Care About

Standout Books’ “Six Tips for Writing Memoir

Do you have any more hints or tips that I’ve missed?  Something you’d like to focus in on?  Leave it in the comments!  Or, better yet, feel free to talk about it in your own response to Witty Nib Writing Club’s first prompt!