You are viewing metteharrison

(Over the last two years, I have told about 6 people that their stand-alone fantasy is NOT a standalone. They had all of the following symptoms. I know that editors sometimes say they’re looking for standalones instead of series, and that it can be harder to sell a series because publishers may be commitment-phobic. But if your story is actually not a standalone, cramming it into that format will not help it sell. It needs to be the length it needs to be to tell the story you need to tell. So I came up with this list.)

  1. Your scenes are excessively shorts, only 2-3 pages each

  2. You feel like you can’t tell the whole character arc

  3. Readers are confused because you have no backstory or world-building

  4. You are stuck on the midpoint because it is actually the climax of bk 1

  5. Your villains are too simplistic

  6. You can’t explain what happens in your book in a paragraph or less

  7. Your rules of magic change in the middle of bk 1

  8. You don’t have time to show the character leaning necessary skills.

  9. There are more than six major plot threads.

  10. Two worlds are colliding and you have to do worldbuilding for both of them.

22 May 2015 @ 08:10 am
(I wrote this after several workshopping experiences in which I ended up telling people that while this might be a fine chapter, it wasn't chapter one. To be fair, chapter one can be very difficult to find. In my experience, newbie writers tend to do a lot of build up to chapter one--and I have to tell them to cut six chapters before chapter one. More seasoned writers have become paranoid about this and therefore tend to try to cut to the case by leading with what they think is a very exciting scene, but which may not make sense without some lead-up. Warning: I tend to like a slow build in a story, which isn't to everyone's taste.)

  1. Does this make sense to those who know nothing about the story before reading this? (That is, does it start with a reasonable amount of world-building information)

  2. Is this a scene w/o interruption and flashback? Is it a linear story?

  3. Is this more than one scene to be parsed by the reader, especially if told by multiple povs?

  4. Am I starting with an action scene that has no context?

  5. Will there be a death in the first chapter that propels the rest of the story, but which the reader cares nothing about?

  6. Is this really a prolog about different characters than the rest of the book?

  7. Is this a frame or a portal story and do I introduce characters/themes that will not matter to the rest of the book?

  8. Am I telling a part of the story that only I as the writer need to know?

  9. Is this the most compelling part to begin with?

  10. Does this have an inciting incident that propels forward motion to the rest of the book?

21 May 2015 @ 08:46 am

  1. Add descriptions in character voice

  2. Add mental commentary to dialog

  3. Be conscious of long sentences, short sentences—use them for different povs.

  4. Think of physical/mental tics

  5. What are the prejudices/assumptions of your pov?

  6. What does your reader know that your character doesn’t? (and vice versa)

  7. Add emotional reaction to action scenes.

  8. Have a theme

  9. Tell an old story differently—different ending, pov.

  10. Add inconsistencies that will later be resolved or become part of your plot.

20 May 2015 @ 08:46 am

  1. Look at pairs of sentences. Is one a reformulation of the other? Cut the worse one.

  2. Are you giving too much away?

  3. Are you hitting the reader over the head? Readers like to come to their own conclusion. Lead them to the water and let them choose to drink.

  4. Which adverb is the most unique, the most telling?

  5. Combine secondary characters

  6. Cut entire scenes that the reader can assume or are simply uninteresting

  7. Cut distractions, wandering thoughts, randomness

  8. Cut any overworked metaphors.

  9. Cut extra voices that take away from stronger voices.

  10. Look at descriptions and make sure your pov would notice these things.


  1. No one will ever read this.

  2. I’m allowed to be bad.

  3. It doesn’t matter if it sells.

  4. I can do the research later.

  5. I’m as good a writer as anyone.

  6. This book is going to be my best one.

  7. I am brave enough to write the truth.

  8. No one can write this book but me.

  9. This book matters to the world.

  10. I love this book more than I hate the work and fear of writing it.

18 May 2015 @ 09:00 am
 (from Jennifer A. Nielsen's class at Storymakers):
1. Doubt your talent
2. Compare yourself to others
3. Expect others to cheer for you
4. Play it safe.
5. Base all your success on a single project
6. Set unachievable goals.
7. Focus on the short term.
9. Focus on unimportant details.
10. Write for the money.
I spent a lot of years as a literary critic before I turned to my own writing. Yes, it taught me some things, but it also interfered a lot. I had to spend a couple of years of deprogramming before I could write in my own voice again.

  1. You need to develop your own vision, not poke holes in someone else’s vision.

  2. Passion fuels you longer than hatred.

  3. It may distract you from getting words on the page, and make you feel like you’ve actually done something when you haven’t.

  4. Seeing what other writers do right may be more useful in the long term.

  5. Snobbery doesn’t sell.

  6. You need to find friends, allies, mentors.

  7. It’s all in the eye of the beholder/reader.

  8. You may make the same mistakes too someday and suddenly see why someone else did.

  9. Do it better or shut up.

  10. You need to be shelved somewhere, next to someone.

13 May 2015 @ 09:17 am
1—accept the fact that feeling “inspired” does not necessarily create better words
2—do word sprints (short bursts with a goal interspersed with other activity)
3—write a sentence of the next chapter before you leave work for the day
4—learn to write in different spaces
5—spend ten minutes visualizing the next scene before writing it
6—write for 2-3 hours a day, then walk away
7—keep connected to your WIP by regular (if not daily) work on it
8—move forward as much as possible rather than revising constantly (revising will always feel easier)
9—don’t be too eager to get the opinion of others before you’ve had a chance to figure out your own vision
10—make your characters suffer and fight with each other
12 May 2015 @ 05:39 pm
Just a few quick notes of absolute necessities to know about the business of writing.
1. Keep receipts for travel expenses (per diem, taxis, hotels, flights, food, parking fees), agent fees, book costs, computer, phone costs, internet costs, website costs, entertainment costs, mileage, fees for conferences, mailing, reading fees
2. Remember to pay quarterly taxes
3. Get an accountant (preferably an entertainment accountant)
4. Live within your means (which means put away credit cards if you possibly can)
5. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch (this means never start spending an advance or other anticipated check until it arrives).
6. Get an agent
7. Incorporate (if you’re making 20k profit or more a year)
8. Keep a reserve/savings
9. Keep your health insurance up to date
10. Maintain membership in the appropriate professional organizations
08 May 2015 @ 03:59 pm

“If you’re going to be a writer long-term, you need to learn to actively protect your creative self. Many people have no idea what a creative self is because they don’t cultivate it. I sometimes envy these people, because they also have no idea how vulnerable that creative self is, and how difficult it is sometimes to take it out again and let it take chances when it got hurt so badly just yesterday. “

This essay is based on a talk I gave at Sundance One Day Writing Retreats in March, in connection with the yearly charity, Writing For Charity. It is probably my favorite essay ever at IGMS.

See the rest here: