A Powerful Visual Image in Your Story

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

In a writers conference workshop, Zena Dell Lowe, a conference speaker, college professor, and writing consultant, told us, “A powerful visual image is when your character does something that speaks volumes of truth.”

Example 1

Look at the opening photo. Suppose the woman, Marie, has dodged marriage talk with boyfriend, Tate, for almost a year. She says she likes her independence and her job. Tate continues to be loyal to Marie, treating her like a princess, hoping she’ll one day agree to marry him.

One Sunday afternoon, he invites Marie to stroll over to the cliffs. They walk hand in hand. She’s happy and can’t wait to tell him about her promotion. On the cliff top, he tells her he’s enlisted in the Marines and leaves for boot camp tomorrow. She gapes then turns and steps to the edge of the cliff. He holds her hand in a loose grasp.


To me, two actions speak volumes of truth.

  • Marie’s gape says she never believed Tate would leaver her.
  • Tate’s loose grasp on her hand says he’s onto Marie. He knows she won’t jump off the cliff. Her move to the edge is another of her attempts to scare him and keep him in tow. But he’s had enough. He’s moving on and removing himself from her reach.


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Example 2

Airline pilot Michael, has soared the skies for ten years, taking passengers safely to their international destinations. He’s away from home days and weeks at a time. He goes out with other pilots and stewardesses to bars in exotic places. He loves flying, but he feels his home life is wanting. His introverted wife, Anna, is a school librarian and Sunday school teacher.

Michael returns home after nearly a week away in Europe. Anna greets him at the door, takes his overnight bag from him, and sets it on the foyer floor. She grasps his hand and leads him to the living room sofa. He wonders if she also finds her home life wanting and wants to end their marriage. It would be bitter sweet, but maybe a trial separation would be for the best.

Anna tells Michael she’s pregnant. Three and a half months along. After two miscarriages, she’s finally going to have a baby. He doesn’t know what to think. Her hopeful expression disappears. She slips away to the kitchen.

Michael digs his laptop from his bag, leaves the house, and heads for the airport. On the way, a whirlwind of thoughts about Anna, the pregnancy, and a child churn his mind. At the airport with the laptop in hand, he strides onto the tarmac and sits at its edge. He hammers out a new life mission statement, detailing how he’ll become a caring, attentive husband to Anna and the best father to his child.


I think Michael running to the airport shows his job has been his comfort zone and possibly his crutch for dealing with life. Sitting on the tarmac pounding out a new mission statement says he realizes it was his life that needed revival, not the relationship. The baby has awakened his desire for what he really needed.

Can you share a movie example in which an unexpected character action spoke volumes of truth?

Buy Link

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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

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

Aphorism: True, Short, and Witty

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A truth that is said in a quick and witty manner is an aphorism. Aphorisms don’t have to be humorous, but that’s half the reason we like so many of them. And aphorism’s brevity makes their truths easy to remember.

An example of this literary device is Benjamin Franklin’s familiar statement, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

A character in a story might have the quirky habit of quoting famous aphorisms. However, several characters using famous aphorisms may sound clichéd. The solution would be to create some fresh aphorisms and spice up dialogue in our stories.


To get the feel of what aphorisms sound like, here are six.

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From Proverbs 21:19: “Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.”

By William Faulkner: “A mule will labor ten years willingly and patiently for you, for the privilege of kicking you once.”

Russell Banks: “There is a wonderful intelligence to the unconscious. It’s always smarter than we are.”

Thomas Jefferson: “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.”

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Albert Einstein: The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.

Attribution uncertain: “If you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.”



Aphorisms Learned From My Life’s Lessons

The first one is based on what I believe in writing romances about extreme opposites. The others rise from truths I’ve learned from life so far.

“Before opposites attract, opposites distract.”

“Prickly people will stick it to you.”

“Listen, instead of mentally forming your clever response, then you’ll have a clever response.”

“It’s best to ignore a boss who refuses to punctuate his email directives.”

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“Give colleagues what they need, and you’ll have a mob at your door.”

“It’s ludicrous to cover up the awful taste of avocados by smearing butter on them.”

“It’s better to grow up average than beautiful; in an old folks home, developed personality trumps looks.”

Create an aphorism from a character’s grasp of a truth & enliven your dialogue. Click to tweet.

Your turn. Will you create an aphorism from your life’s lessons and share it with us?

How to Find People Who’ll Sharpen You and Your Creative Work

“Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other.” —Proverbs 27:17 NIV


You’re tired of hearing what you want to hear and going nowhere. Deep down you know your creative work could improve.

Like a cotton ball can’t hone a sharp edge on cotton candy, fawning and insincere people can’t help you become a solid crafter in your creative field.

After many years, I’m becoming a sharp iron wedge with WRITER chiseled into my face. I’m grateful to those who’ve sharpened me. Here are the activities that honed me the most.

1.   Join Groups

Image courtesy of criminalatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of criminalatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In groups, you’ll meet experienced people who can sharpen you. These iron wedges frequent  groups to fine-tune their own chiseling edges and to mentor and teach others. So, join:

  • National and local groups
  • Conferences
  • Email or online discussion boards
  • Accountability groups
  • Character-building groups

Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  • Look for groups that:
    • Share successes
    • Promote one another
    • Share information and opportunities
    • Encourage each other
  • Seek participants in these groups who care enough to sharpen people with truth, excellence, and gentle firmness. Be ready to reciprocate.
  • Join groups outside your creative field. A friend writes stories with hockey settings. She took an 8-week hockey course.
  • Join groups that sharpen your character. For me, studies delving into Biblical truths and calling me to live up to God’s commands sharpen me.
  • Participate often in your selected groups and develop friendships.

2.   Seek People Who Will Sharpener You personally.

  • Critique partner
  • Mentor
  • Coach
  • Contest judges
  • Professionals


  • Look for partners who care enough to sharpen you with truth, excellence, and gentle firmness.
  • Give your best in critique groups. Then invite one or two to team with you. Those who:

    Image courtesy of anekoho at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    Image courtesy of anekoho at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    • give their best back;
    • want you to succeed as much as you do;
    • you want them to succeed as much as they do;
    • give and receive constructive criticism well; and
    • are committed to the critiquing process.

  • Listen to contest judges or editors. If you disagree with them:
    • kill your pride and learn from them;
    • realize something hit the judges or editors the wrong way, and they made the effort to comment;
    • look deeper and be sharpened; and
    • relax—it’s you who decides how you’ll use their help.
  • Seek accountability partners who don’t let you off the hook. God is my first-line accountability partner, but my friends in Forward March help me also. Look for new partners who’ll:
    • review your goals and progress;
    • push you to move forward;
    • encourage you to dust yourself off and start fresh when you’ve had a bad week.

Being sharpened can be painful. But ultimately, chiseling through hard work successfully and sharpening others’ creative edges is a great reward.


  • Look for people who care enough to sharpen you with truth, excellence, and gentle firmness.
    click to tweet

What did the person who sharpened you most do for you?