3 Steps to Write Story Setting into the Action

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“I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.” Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

See more about Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days at the end of the post.

We want our readers to picture the scene around them, but we don’t want to bore them with lengthy descriptions. Here are three easy steps to portray the setting in action.

Step 1

Have your point-of-view character take out her imaginary video camera and heft it to her eye. She must make sure the sound is on. 

Example: Marooned on an island, Reba takes out her video camera, which miraculously still works, and turns it on.

Step 2

Direct your character to slowly pivot around and look and listen for interesting or necessary things in her surroundings. You might even write a description of the scene’s setting.

Example: As Reba heads into the tropical forest she turns and looks back with her camera. She sees Paul, a fallen palm trunk, the beach with a white sand shore and rolling aqua waves. The waves crash and form a froth. As she enters the tropical forest her camera spots palms, yuccas, vines and other unidentified brush and trees. She exits the forest at a waterfall. Her camera picks up the fall’s crashing water that sends out sprays of cold water. She turns to the right and sees papaya and banana trees in clumps rising from a blanket of green grass. Bees buzz around them, and leaves flutter in the gentle breeze, making brushing sounds. To her left, Reba’s camera catches a wild thicket of tall grass.

Step 3

Now rewrite the description into the scene through the point-of view character’s actions and reactions, using the most interesting and necessary things the character saw in the camera. Take into consideration the scene’s pace as to how much camera sightings you include. Get creative.

Example:

Reba left Paul on the beach perched on a fallen palm trunk, aqua waves pounding the shore and turning into froth behind him. He fashioned a spearhead with shell shards and parts of coconuts. She turned to see if he’d follow her, but he didn’t look up. 

If only she knew the guy better. Didn’t he know they needed to learn whether the island was occupied? Apparently not. His lame spearhead was his macho reaction to first things to do. Self-protection. She plowed through hot white sand to the tropical forest beyond the beach, grumbling.

Reba pushed aside young palm tree’s leaves, circumvented yuccas, and ducked under drooping vines hanging from unidentified trees with massive roots. Rushing water became louder as she fought her way through the tropical jungle. Her heart beats quickened. Would a friendly tribe live in a village surrounding a waterfall? Or a mob of natives that had a craving for human flesh? 

She stepped through the last of the jungle. Water flooded over a cliff into a pool surrounded by exotic flowers. Awesome. Reba jogged to a wild orchard at the right of the fall. She snapped a banana from one tree and tugged a papaya loose from another. Wouldn’t Paul be surprised.

Whistling. Speak of the dev— Reba whipped around to the rustling tall thicket of grass opposite the orchard. A wild boar. Charging her. She froze. Paul leaped in front of her, and thrust his spear. The tusked black boar dropped to the ground. 

Hopefully, you picture the setting without paragraphs describing the scene.

What book do you think did a great job of giving the setting and why?

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

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/

39 Writing Tips to Take Seriously

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“I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.” ~~ Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

See more about Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days at the end of the post.

If we want to write better, we should take these writers’ tips seriously. Enjoy.

Writing

“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” — Samuel Johnson

“The skill of a skilled writer tricks you into thinking that there is no skill.” 
Dwight V. Swain *

“Simplicity is a virtue in writing, true; but never the primary virtue. … Vividness is.” Dwight V. Swain *

“Avoid on-the-nose writing.” —Jerry Jenkins

Theme

“A story without a theme is little more than a list of events.” —Grace Jolliffe

Opening Hooks

“A tremendous number of possibly good and even brilliant novels and short stories never get read beyond the first few paragraphs or pages by agents and editors. Why? Simple: The stories don’t begin in the right place.” —Les Edgerton *

Characters

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“Characters reveal themselves more vividly in what they do and say than in what they think and feel.” —David Corbett

“You can’t relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.” —Timothy Dalton

“People generally agree that each individual is a unique blend of traits that serve to satisfy basic wants and needs according to one’s moral code.” —Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi *

“[An] error of inexperienced writers—or journalists in a hurry—is to confine characterization to the obvious physical attributes.” —Sol Stein *

“So when you come across an explanation of the character’s emotion, simply cut the explanation. If the emotion is still shown, then the explanation wasn’t needed. If the emotion isn’t shown, then rewrite the passage so that it is.” —Renni Browne and Dave King *

“If your character doesn’t want anything badly enough, readers will have a hard time rooting for him to attain his goal, which is what compels readers to continue reading.” —Sol Stein *

“The role of mentor is a powerful one, and can help you steer your protagonist in new directions without having to lay much ground work.” —Elizabeth Sims *

“The glory of the protagonist is always paid for by a lot of secondary characters.” —Tony Hoagland

Story

“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” —Willa Cather

“Remember, the essence of storytelling demands that we place our main characters on a path. A quest with something at stake, with something to do, to achieve, to learn, and to change.” —Larry Brooks

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”  Mark Twain

“Coincidence cannot replace motivation.” — Debra Dixon *

 “Everything truly is possible as long as you help your reader understand why your characters do what they do.” —Debra Dixon *

“If you can take a little slice of the world and a little piece of dirt and really focus on details, you can drive large, seemingly spectacular movements.” David Baldacci *

“The middle of our story should be the ‘meat’ of the story, as far as conflicts and arcs. Without setting up the obstacles here, any solution in the final act will seem too easy and won’t be as satisfying.” —Jamie Gold

Words

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“Make every word count.”  Sol Stein *

“I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me.” Mark Twain

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Mark Twain

“Of is a preposition, and although not an inherently evil word, overusing it can make your writing sound passive and fussy.” Mignon Fogarty

Paragraphs

“Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe. Imagine, if you like, Frankenstein’s monster on its slab. Here comes lightning, not from the sky but from a humble paragraph of English words.” —Stephen King *

Scenes

“Every scene has to have a point.” —Rachel Joyce

“Scenes are capsules in which compelling characters undertake significant actions in a vivid and memorable way that allows the events to feel as though they are happening in real time.” Jordan E. Rosenfeld *

Setting

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” —Anton Chekov

Dialogue

“Dialogue helps to create original characters and move the plot along. If it isn’t doing either of those things, it probably should be cut.” —James Scott Bell *

Wordiness

“Nothing marks a skilled writer as much as his ability to write tight.” — Angela Hunt

Writing Techniques

One of the standard Words of Advice that writers—new and old—get, is to avoid clichés. The advice itself is rather a cliché but, like all clichés, it is based on truth, and it would be wrong to reflexively ignore it.” Madeleine Robbins

“What your characters observe—or don’t—can be effective red herrings.” —Jane K. Cleland *

“Since long passages in italics are a pain to read, you can only use this technique effectively for passages no longer than a sentence or two. Even this brief passage is too long, don’t you think?” —Renni Browne and Dave King *

Pacing

Pacing is a tool that controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told and the readers are pulled through the story events.” —Jessica Page Morrell

Voice

“And the truth of your experience can only come through in your own voice. If it is wrapped in someone else’s voice, we readers will feel suspicious, as if you are dressed up in someone else’s clothes. You cannot write out of someone else’s big dark place; you can only write out of your own.” —Anne Lamott *

“To me, your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page.” 
Rachelle Gardner

The Ending

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” —Orson Welles

Editing

There’s never been a text written that didn’t need editing.” —David Kudler

What’s your favorite quote on writing?

* Sources where known:

  • Dwight V. Swain Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • Les Edgerton Hooked
  • Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes
  • Sol Stein Stein on Writing
  • Elizabeth Sims  (Writer’s Digest May/June 2015)
  • Debra Dixon Goal, Motivation & Conflict
  • David Baldacci (Writer’s Digest November/December 2015)
  • Stephen King On Writing
  • James Scott Bell Plot & Structure
  • Jordan E. Rosenfeld Make a Scene
  • Jane K. Cleland (Writer’s Digest February 2016)
  • Renni Browne and Dave King (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers)
  • Anne Lamott  Bird by Bird

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

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/


An Easy Way to Write a Book Cover Blurb

In James Scott Bell’s book Marketing for Writers Who Hate Marketing, I found the best method for me to create a book cover blurb or copy.

Bell says to write three sentences. In the first sentence we’re to give a character’s name, his vocation, and the story’s opening situation.

In the second sentence, Bell says we should open with “But when.” He says here we give the first turning point of the story often called the inciting incident. 

According to Bell, the third sentence should begin with “Now.” He says this sentence should reveal what he calls “death stakes,” something that happens that feels like death to the protagonist.

Here’s my attempt using Bell’s method at rewriting the cover blurb for the third book in my Twisty Creek Series, The Irresistible Woman in a Blue Dress.

Example: Original

Fashion model Vivian Day from Chicago suffers two problems. Her agent is her demanding mother, and she dislikes her career. After a taxing month and a photo shoot in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Vivian drives toward a friend’s empty house in Tennessee, hoping for a three-week rest.

Brayden Cole is a Lowe’s store manager in Wytheville, Virginia. On his way home to Twisty Creek, he comes upon a disabled car and a woman in a blue gown and flip-flops. He stops and offers the beautiful, frustrated woman help. Although he cares little for her uppity attitude, Brayden is not a man who abandons a stranded woman on a curvy mountain road.

How will these two opposites from such different cultures and lifestyles find a lasting relationship together?

Example: First Pass Using Bell’s Method

Overworked Chicago fashion model Vivian Day flees a difficult photo shoot in Roanoke, Virginia, and heads for a three-week vacation in Tennessee. But when Vivian detours into the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, her car breaks down on a remote mountain road, and home-improvement-store manager, Brayden Cole, struggling with grief for his deceased father, gives the beautiful, frustrated woman wearing a blue gown and flip-flops a ride and, while her car’s in the shop, a room at his mother’s house in Twisty Creek. Now, Brayden’s mother urges him to entertain the big-city woman, and as he reluctantly introduces Vivian to the simple mountain life, she realizes her stressful career and demanding agent, who’s also her mother, have drained joy from her life.

Analysis of the First Pass

The second and third sentences run-on. The “Now” doesn’t seem to be in the right place. I placed it too soon. And the last sentence says Vivian is already “dead.”

Bell says it’s okay to add a bit to the three sentences, so let me break up sentences and do some cutting and rewriting.

Example: Second Pass

Overworked Chicago fashion model Vivian Day flees a difficult photo shoot in Roanoke, Virginia, and heads for a three-week vacation in Tennessee. But when Vivian detours into the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, her car breaks down on a remote mountain road. Home-improvement-store manager Brayden Cole gives the frustrated woman wearing a blue gown and flip-flops a ride and, while her car’s in the shop, a room at his mother’s house in Twisty Creek. Brayden’s mother urges him to entertain the big-city woman. Now, as he reluctantly introduces Vivian to the simple mountain life, she realizes her stressful career and demanding agent, who is her mother, are draining joy from her life.

I invite you to critique the blurb to make it better and share one of your own.

<<< >>>



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

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/