Characters Should Say and Do Only Things That Have Purpose.

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Writers may think characters should talk and act like real people. If a movie showed actors doing that, the theater would soon be empty. That’s why films cut to the important dialogue and actions. It’s the same with novels. 

Purposeful dialogue, inner thoughts, and actions deepen motivation, conflict, and tension.

Let’s take a look at an example.

No Purpose (reality)

“You’re back,” Alex said, looking over his newspaper. “Where’ve you been?”

“To the store.” Gretta set her grocery bag on the floor.

“Did you get milk? I’m low on milk for my morning cereal.”

“Yes.” Gretta crossed to the African violet on the window sill and plucked away brown leaves. The plant looked better. 

“Good.” Alex turned his attention to his newspaper.

Gretta moved across the room and collected a stack of folded laundry on the coffee table. “Well, I guess I should put the groceries away and get dinner started.”

Analysis: The example shows no conflict or tension to intrigue readers. Nothing is said, thought, or done that tells us something about the characters. Boring.

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Purpose: Show a Shaky Marriage 

“You’re back,” Alex tossed his book onto the end table. “Where’ve you been?”

Gretta set her grocery bag on the floor and planted her hands on her hips. “Where do you think I’ve been?” 

Alex checked his watch. “You’ve been gone a long time to get milk.” 

“So you think I’m having an affair?” Gretta crossed her arms over her midriff.

“I don’t know what to think anymore.” Alex stood and walked toward the back of the house, shaking his head.

Had she pushed him too far? “I stopped to look at houseplants,” she called. “Dinner will be ready in thirty minutes.”

His car keys jangled as he returned to the den.

Her heart raced. Was he leaving her for good? 

Analysis: The actions show Alex is irritated, disappointed, and has had it. Gretta’s actions tell us she’s defensive. The dialogue and Gretta’s internal thoughts show she goads then is afraid she’s gone too far. We have conflict, tension, motives, and feelings. Deeper. 

Purpose: Show a Possible Murder

“You’re back,” Alex said, looking over his newspaper. “Where’ve you been?”

“To the store.” Gretta set her bag of unnecessary groceries on the floor and concealed in her fist the bloody necklace she’d found in his car. Did he believe the store had been her one destination? If only Kirsten had come to the door when Gretta had made the detour.

“Come here.”

Her heart shot up against her throat. Would he recognize her fear if she came too close? What if he asked what was in her hand? Kirsten had always worn that necklace.

Gretta nodded toward the bag. “I should put the groceries away.” 

“Come here.” Alex laid the newspaper aside and extended his hand.

Had his voice held a slight edge? 

“Just one second.” Gretta crossed to the African violet on the window sill and plucked away brown leaves as she let the gold chain slip to the soil. She wiped her hand on her black slacks. 

“You pay more attention to that plant than to me. Maybe I’ll dump it down the garbage disposal.”

Analysis: Conflict, tension, feelings, and a good reason to pull leaves off the violet. We know Gretta suspects Alex of hurting Kirsten and is afraid of him. We see Alex is a jerk.

How do you check your paragraphs for purpose?



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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author




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Mixed Metaphors – Don’t Let Them Sneak into Stories

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is now available. See details below.

What a Mixed Metaphor Is

A mixed metaphor is one that combines different images or ideas in a way that is confusing or absurd. The images don’t work well with each other.

Yes, I wrote the following mixed metaphor (sigh), and my editor dinged it. (In the scene, the heroine’s in the kitchen and the hero’s in the den.)

Original: Just because the battery in her brain’s smoke detector was dead, didn’t mean there weren’t smokin’ hot vibes in the lion’s den.

Edited: Just because the battery in her brain’s smoke detector was dead, didn’t mean there weren’t smokin’ hot vibes in the den.

Other Examples:

  • Two thugs working together is a handshake whose fingers should release their grip because they’re horses of a different color.
  • She was a sloth when it came to beating the bushes for a job.


Mixed metaphors often combine clichés in ludicrous ways. 

  • The armchair quarterback was at loggerheads with the all-talk-no-action play.
  • The vanilla statement was less than icing on the cake.
  • He was bad to the bone, and I had a bone to pick with his bare-bone budget.


Often, mixed metaphors murder clichés.

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  • His CEO attitude took charge and steam pressed over his colleagues.
  • Her diva comment was a hot knife with butter.

It’s best to use only one metaphor in a sentence or even in a paragraph.

What mixed metaphor have you read or heard that irked you or made you laugh?


Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author




Stories Grab and Germinate Inside a Writer – A Writer’s Journey

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is now available. See details below.

Ordinary World 

I’ve happily written inspirational contemporary romances. I center my blog posts on the writing craft, and I have a nonfiction out on writing.

Call to Adventure

Inciting Incident: Early one morning, I woke and a story plot came to me. Writers are told never to pitch a book with the spiel, “God gave me this story.” Although I’d never say that in a pitch, I consider God and me co-authors. And the story entered my consciousness fairly complete.

Refusal of the Call

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The story had a speculative bent. I’d write historical romances before I wrote a speculative novel. Besides, writers are told to stick to one genre so their readers won’t feel betrayed when they read a book outside the author’s usual genre. The speculative idea was intriguing, but I discounted it as a project I’d pursue.

For days, the storyline would enter my mind, and I’d toy with a possible scene. Then for my Word Weavers group, I was expected to bring something to be critiqued. But I was in promotion mode for two released books. Needing something, I fleshed out a Hero’s Journey outline for the speculative idea.

Meeting the Mentor

In the Word Weaver meeting, a member read my submission aloud. I surprised the group that I’d write a speculative book, but the ladies told me I must write the story.

Crossing the Threshold

Then my husband and I attended a writers conference. I planned to enjoy the conference because I wouldn’t be pitching to an editor—a nerve-wracking experience. Then I noted one publisher sought speculative fiction. Strangely compelled to discuss the story with an editor, I signed up for a fifteen-minute appointment.

During the appointment, I confirmed the publisher wanted speculative fiction. The acquisition editor said his publisher would accept only an extremely well done speculative. I said I was seeking only his feedback on my germinating idea. Animated, I relayed the plot.

When I finished, he stared at me for several beats, then he said, “I like it.” Another beat. “I like it a lot.” Another beat. “But I don’t want them to ____ (no spoiler). We brainstormed that point. Then he told me to send him the completed story.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

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The next morning while I stood in the breakfast line, I heard someone behind me speak. It was the acquisition editor. He said he kept thinking about my story. He agreed the novel would be much work, but he thought I should write the book. We brainstormed another story point until we reached the eggs and bacon.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

In a workshop on imagery that day, I saw a cockroach crawling over the guard’s boot in the first scene of my speculative.

At home, I feared the work, but I believed I was to attack the novel.

Someday.

Then came pokes. 

  • From one devotional: “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Mark 8:33
  • From another devotional: “For no word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1:37
  • In the dentist’s chair: one of the framed pictures on the wall was the perfect prop for a scene in the story.
  • From a reading, I discovered the perfect voice for a character.
  • An interesting inset on a brick house sparked a whole scene.

Since the story wouldn’t leave me alone, I told my husband, “As soon as three obligations stop for the summer, I need to take a sabbatical, go to our lake cabin for a month, and write the book.”

He agreed.

(The 5 remaining stages of my personal Writer’s Journey are yet to come—Ordeal, Seizing the Reward, The Road Back, Resurrection, and Return with the Elixir.)

Can you share how something similar happened to you?

Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author