Fundamentals of Descriptive Writing You Can’t Afford To Ignore

Fundamentals of Descriptive Writing You Can’t Afford To Ignore

By Leigh Holland.

Descriptive writing. For many of us, it’s the most difficult aspect of writing to wrap our heads around. I recommend keeping an imagery notebook to jot down ideas in. As this grows, you’ll have a bank of descriptions to work from in your writing.

First, let’s refresh our minds with some basics.

Why is Descriptive Writing important? Shouldn’t I trust the reader?

Absolutely trust your readers to infer things from your writing. However, people want to have an experience when they read your stories. They want to feel, think, and connect with your characters and world. To do that requires imagination. The purpose of descriptive writing is to inspire imagination within your readers.

A Few Terms

Caricature- A device used in descriptive writing and portrait art where traits of a subject are exaggerated to produce a comic effect.

Simile- Making a comparison using the words “like” or “as”. Example: She’s as pretty as a picture. He prances like a pony.

Metaphor- Figure of speech which makes an implicit or implied between two things that are unrelated but share some common characteristic. Example: She’s the black sheep of the family.

Analogy- Making a comparison between two ideas or things which may be quite different. Metaphor and simile are tools used to form analogies. Example: Just as the sword is the weapon of the warrior, the pen is the weapon of the writer.

Symbolism- Usage of symbols to express ideas and qualities by giving them meanings that are different from their literal sense. Examples of symbols in daily life include red roses for romantic love, the color black for death, mirrors for introspection, and doves for peace.

Diction- The writer’s choice of words, which change based on context or setting, creating and conveying mood, tone, atmosphere, and how the writer feels about his own work.



Avoid using weather to match the mood of the character. Stay away from boring, normal weather. Weather imagery should be used to create atmosphere and build intensity. Extreme weather is the best type because it brings out emotions in the characters. Think about how irate people are in the heat without relief, how they snap easily at each other. Others don’t get irate but might lay back and lounge, refusing to do a thing until the heat passes or the air conditioning gets fixed. What about people snowed in on a mountain for weeks? Will they succumb to cabin fever?

Make sure when using the weather throughout a novel to keep it consistent with the changing of the seasons, the clothing worn, the storefront decorations, the foods eaten, and the general social moods. If the scene is outside, remember that the weather affects everything in the scene.



Colors go beyond ROYGBIV. Avoid cliches like ‘rose red’ or ‘white as the driven snow’. But add detail to your color descriptions where appropriate. Here are some off the cuff examples:

Black as asphalt in a storm

Red as my commemorative “Office Space” Swingline stapler

Kentucky Blue

Pom-Pom Rah-Rah red

Oak Bark Brown

Stone Blue-Gray

Juniper green

Obsidian black

Citrine orange

Carnelian red

Tan as slightly overdone toast

Straw gold

Dandelion white

Metal Desk Gray

Haybale yellow

Okra green

Karner butterfly blue

 Exercise: Carry a notebook, journal, or just pull up a document on your phone. Write ROYGBIV, a line for each color. Write the things you see throughout the day that fall under that color. Later, spend a little time creating a database of new ways to describe colors.

Shadows and Light


What mood do you want to evoke? Creepy? Noir? Sad? Nostalgic? Shadows and light can set the mood of your scene. What is the source of the light in the scene? Moonlight? Candles? Strobe lights and a disco ball? The hot glare of the noon day sun? A flashlight? How does the light fall on the setting and what effect does it have on the characters? When describing outdoor light, does it glint or gleam off nearby objects?

When describing light and shadow, use powerful verbs and adjectives. Is the light cool or warm? Is it harsh or soft? Does it tumble through the window and drop across the gunmetal gray floor? Does it create tiny triangles across the quilted bed, fading in and out as the dandelion white curtain flutters gently in the cool breeze?

Make sure when using this technique repeatedly to vary your descriptions.

Exercise: Throughout the day, make a note of the light and shadows in your own setting. Try to vary between outdoors, indoors, day, and night.


Add detail to your descriptions. Which is more interesting?

“He walked down the street surrounded by trees.”

“He walked down the asphalt road surrounded by weeping willows.”

Word choices make a world of difference as well. Using powerful verbs and adjectives paints a fuller image.

“He strolled down the onyx asphalt road, surrounded on either side by voluminous weeping willows.”

Additionally, when writing in Deep POV, describe what the character sees and experiences. Limit the manner in which you describe things to his or her perceptions.

Exercise: Go back to a scene you’ve written. Find and circle the verbs is, was, are, or were. Can you find a stronger verb for these sentences?



While telling the reader “It was the next day when…” imparts what they need to know, it’s not exactly exciting. Show them with description how much time has passed. If it’s later in the same day, show how the shadows and light have changed, the sun’s position overhead, or have the character take a simple action such as turning on (or off) the lights. If it’s a few days later, show the change in weather, or progress in work. If it’s months later, changes in temperature, weather, clothing styles, holidays, and shop sales are all wonderful ways to show the time that has passed.

The Senses

We take in a vast amount of information through our senses every moment, albeit subconsciously. Our minds sort the data and decide which data are the most important bits to consciously experience and commit to memory. Can we add too much description to a scene? Yes, we can always add too little or too much. Description is like the flavor of the writing recipe, the dish will be vastly different depending on which combination of spices you add and in what amounts. Too little, and the characters are roaming around in the green screen of the reader’s mind. Too much, and you leave nothing to the imagination. How do we decide which bits to write about?

One of the most powerful and concise methods is to describe the smells a character experiences upon entering a scene. Think about it- we smell things continuously but only really notice and react to powerful scents. This can quickly set the mood and setting for the scene. Use this in an appropriate manner and don’t overuse the technique from scene to scene.

Another way to paint a more vibrant image is to describe background noises. Don’t list them, find concise ways to describe them. Example: The eagle, titan among birds, emitted a series of monotone, high-pitched screeches in periodic cycles. The occasional car hummed its way through the suburb.

Rachel Poli has an article covering the senses at How To Use The 5 Senses In Creative Writing.

Scene Type and Description

The Action Scene

  1. If at all possible, describe the setting for the action scene in an earlier scene. Description can interfere with action if not inserted carefully. By employing “pre-emptive imagery”, you can write the action scene without halting the action for setting description.
  2. Select a setting that has objects or items that can be used as weaponry, obstacles, or hidey-holes. This allows you to insert description into the action subtly as characters interact with their environment.
  3. Use strong, potent verb choices and short to medium length sentences. The goal is to keep up the reader’s sense of fast-paced excitement.

The Love Scene

  1. The best love scenes evoke deep emotions in the reader. The reader feels the characters’ yearning, desire, passion, and pain. Readers will never forget a scene that touched their hearts.
  2. Settings and circumstances can often force two people together who otherwise may have remained apart. For example, if your characters have chemistry but are at each other’s throats, perhaps they get separated from the group, a storm appears, they’re lost, she hurts her leg, and they have to fight for survival until rescue comes. Maybe the characters have never met and are forced together through circumstance, such as in the film Speed. These dangerous circumstances would cause them to forge an immediate bond. In Speed, they literally met earlier that day.

The Chase Scene

  1. Use high action verbs, such as dart, veer, flash, streak, panther-quick.
  2. Write about the sweat glistening on your character’s brow, his heart pounding, his breath panting. Get inside his skin and identify with him. Let us feel his determination, fear, anger, drive.
  3. Like the action scene, keep sentences shorter and use high powered verbs. Cut the adverbs.
  4. Place obstacles in his way. The setting should be interactive. Bring him close to death’s door. Alternate with hair-raising momentary escapes, keep up the suspense.
  5. Check out these scenes from The French Connection and Bullitt for inspiration.

Parting Words…

  • Don’t worry as much about description in your rough draft. You want to be patient and create vivid descriptions during the editing process.
  • Is it relevant? If you don’t need the description, no matter how pretty it is, cut it.
  • Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about finding the perfect word. Remember, simpler is often better.
  • Happy Writing!

Why You Should Be Writing Short Fiction

Why You Should Be Writing Short Fiction

By Leigh Holland.

The novel. It’s such a massive project. There’s outlining, character arcs, pacing, setting, and am I the only person who’s ever taken days to pick the perfect names for characters? How do we find the time to work, take care of our homes and yards and kids, have a social life, and still find time to write a novel? Sometimes it can seem like a slogging chore instead of the passion fruit of our joyful, inspired labor. We want that gleaming, finished product of our imagination to be ready now rather than later.

I’m not saying to stop writing your novel. Keep at it, by all means! But you don’t have to wait until your novel is complete to create and publish another project. Sure, people want novels.  But I love picking up a short read that can entertain me through my lunch break. I’m not alone. There’s a market out there for short stories.

Short fiction helps readers discover you. How does that work? For Amazon, the more published works you have available, the more likely it is that someone will find one of your books. If they like it, they may buy more. This leads to your books showing up more often in Amazon’s recommendation queue, which in turn leads to even more work being found by readers.

It’s helpful if at least one of your short fiction tales sells for .99 cents. You’ll make .30 cents on each copy, but most people will spend .99 cents on anything that looks interesting. You want to eliminate their reason to not buy one (or more) of your books. It helps get your book in front of the reader and if they enjoy it, they’ll buy other works from you. Once you’re ready to publish your novel, this will help you sell the novel because you’ve established a base of readers who already enjoy your work.


How much should you charge for short fiction? Most people would consider it fair to charge .99 cents to $1.99 for a story under 10,000 words. Most short stories run around 5,000 words. Let’s say you write 2 short stories per month. After one year, you have published 24 short stories at an average price point of 1.50 per copy, of which you’d keep about .45 cents. Even if you sold one copy of each book per day the following year, that’s over $3,500 you’d earn from those stories in one year. Now, I’m not saying money should be the focus when you write books- I’m saying that those short stories can have added financial benefits. Once you’ve published several stories in a genre, pull them together into a larger collection. Price the collection at less than the sum of the individual stories.

Additionally, run giveaways once every three to six months. Offering stories for free helps build up your readership. This can also be helpful in trying to obtain honest reviews from readers.

Apart from marketing, platform building, and sales strategies, there are artistic benefits to writing short fiction regularly. If you want to expand on a minor character from one of your published novels, a short story is a wonderful way to do that. If you loved the world you created in a novel but felt you didn’t have a chance to explore it further, short fiction is another way to expand and explore that fictional world. Want to write the prequel for your hero, but there’s not enough material for a novel? Are you worried it’s still too much for a short story? Try writing a novella. The lengths for different types of fiction can be found at Ironclad Ways To Increase Your Word Count.

Suffering from writer’s block as you work on your main novel? After trying these tips, check out some writing prompts. Find one that inspires you and write a short story or piece of flash fiction (under 2,000 words, flash fiction is typically about 500 words). It can help break you out of that cycle and get you back to writing productively.

Happy writing!

Some Sites Where You Can Sell Short Fiction (Check Their Submission Guidelines)

May and September Only: AGNI

American Short Fiction


Clarkes’ World Magazine

Daily Science Fiction

Devilfish Review

Flash Fiction Online



Strange Horizons

Vestal Review

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #6: The Shapeshifter

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #6: The Shapeshifter

In part six, we talk about the role of the Shapeshifter in the Hero’s Journey. The Shapeshifter role can be two-faced, changeable, and mysterious. This transformational power brings tension and doubt into the story. The transformation can be literal and physical. It can be spiritual or emotional. It can encompass both the seen and unseen nature of the Shapeshifter character. In romance and subplotting, the love interest of the hero often takes on this role. The femme fatale is an example of this role.

Additionally, a character may switch roles throughout the narrative. A character may be the herald, then the mentor, then the shapeshifter, and finally reveal himself to be the shadow. There’s no rule against one character playing multiple roles in the journey.

The shapeshifter hides their true nature from the hero. The shapeshifter keeps the hero and reader wondering whose side they’re really on. Usually, the shapeshifter is on the shapeshifter’s side. Because the reader isn’t sure about the shapeshifter’s loyalties and motives, this character brings tension, frustration, and intrigue to the story.

According to Carl Jung, inside each human being there’s an alternate gender-force. For men this is the feminine side or “anima”, for women, we have the masculine side or “animus”. Society has taught women to hide masculine traits such as ambition, boldness, and power. It’s also taught men to shove down traits that are traditionally viewed as feminine, such as intuition and emotional sensitivity. In the shapeshifter, we see these traits of our own being. We impose this on the role and in this fashion, safely explore it. This isn’t just true of exploring in a romantic context; we also explore our wild side in the primal nature of the werewolf, our dark side in the cursed werewolf who can’t control his killing. Through the shapeshifter role, we are able to relate to hidden pieces of ourselves that we usually don’t explore from day to day. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we compartmentalize and wear masks around others every day. The shapeshifter role shows us masks; and at some point, reveals what’s behind them.

A wonderful example of projection of the anima occurs in the Hitchcock classic 1958 movie, Vertigo. (This also happens to be one of my favorite films!) In Vertigo, private detective Scottie Ferguson takes a job watching the suicidal wife of an old friend. He falls madly in love with her and tries to save her from a family curse, ultimately failing because of his vertigo. After he’s released from an institution six months later, he happens to see a woman-Judy- who bears a striking resemblance to his dear yet dead Madeleine. Obsessed, Scottie takes care of her, buys her things, and ultimately changes her appearance until she looks exactly like Madeleine. Here are a couple of videos that capture this transformation:


Runaway , a fan video

Madeleine’s final touch

Who is Judy? Why does she look like Madeleine? What’s scarier, the fact she looks exactly like her, or how far Scottie’s obsession drives him in transforming her? Can he trust his lover?

What happens when we can’t trust our lover? Will the shapeshifter betray us? Love us? Save us? Destroy us? Both? This tension brings vital suspense to the tale.

The femme fatale is a classic, if overused, example of the archetype. Who can forget Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, or in Total Recall:

Total Recall Trailer

While some femme fatale try to murder the hero or lead him into fatal danger, this is not needed for the character to be a shapeshifter. Both the shapeshifter and femme fatale criteria can be met by confusing, distracting, or tempting the hero away from his true quest.

Shapeshifters don’t have to be femme fatale, or femme at all. Male characters can easily serve in this dramatic role. One example is Han Solo from Star Wars. When we first meet Han, we learn that Han is all about himself. He’s in it for Han. It’s only as the movies progress that Han’s character arc changes and he reveals that yes, he’s the shapeshifter, and man, can he ever change. He saves lives, both of friends and strangers, and starts to be in it for more than just Han. He cares and starts putting others first. I believe this rehabilitation of his shapeshifter nature is one of the reasons for the “Who shot first?” debate that rages on. (It wasn’t Greedo. Han wasn’t always the good guy we come to adore, he was a shapeshifter before he transformed).

Who Shot First?

And finally, here is a classic example of a literal shapeshifter. Powerful. Mysterious. Potentially deadly. Maybe friend, maybe foe, maybe our true love.

I love you, David.

The source for this material is Christopher Vogler’s  The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition.

If interested in purchasing any of these wonderful films, they can be found at:

Vertigo (on Bluray)

An American Werewolf In London (bluray)

Total Recall (classic)

Here are the articles in this series:

#1 The Hero

#2 The Journey

#3 The Mentor

#4 The Threshold Guardian

#5 The Herald

What’s Your Ikigai?

What’s Your Ikigai?

By Leigh Holland

Recently, my friend hit a wall. She struggled between trying to decide which things to write about. Should she write something she knew would sell, or should she write something she was passionate about? She’d gotten it into her head that these two things could never match up. I wondered how I could help.

Looking for inspiration and resolution, I did what most writers do: I surfed the internet. I discovered this Japanese concept called “Ikigai”. Ikigai is your reason for being and doing.

IkigaiImage from TheViewInside.

Your Ikigai lay at the center of four overlapping circles. I imagine four rivers meeting and forming waterfalls, their water pouring nourishment into the central pool of the spirit. When we receive a steady flow from all four rivers, we’re achieving our ikigai. We’re able to do what we love, what we’re good at, fulfill the needs of others, and make at least a basic income.

Most writers would answer that their ikigai is writing. After all, they’re passionate about it. They strive to be good at it and continuously improve. But sometimes, the imaginary-yet-all-too-real entity Hope Crusher whispers to us. She says, “It’s not good enough, it’s not what people want, it’s never going to sell.” And when we listen to Hope Crusher, we paralyze ourselves. Hope Crusher rolls out the writer’s block, damming up one or more of our ikigai rivers. Dust settles on our unfinished rough draft as we are consumed by doubt.

What are we to do?

Some suggestions can be found at my article Breaking Down The Wall.

Another idea is to get that water flowing again by reminding yourself of the following:

  1. Why do I write? What is it about writing that I love so much I don’t want to do anything else?
  2. Am I writing a story that has meaning for myself and for others? Is its theme meaningful? What do I want to say about my theme/themes?
  3. If you’re not sure how to answer #2 above, ask yourself “What has been my greatest struggle?” Follow it up with, “What did I learn from it?” Don’t think “nobody wants to hear about that”. You have the power to weave beautiful meanings in a pattern of words. Bring me along for your journey. Inspire me. Make me feel. Show me things that will broaden my thinking and feeling about the world. The stories that stick with us have enduring themes and elicit emotion.
  4. Having done this, formulate your statement of purpose. Write it down as a talisman to ward off Hope Crusher the next time she tries to come around.

May you find and always live out your ikigai.

Let’s Talk About Talk!

“Make the dialogue like the way real people talk.” –Some bad advice.

Why is this bad advice? In real life, I meet my bestie at a fine chicken-wings-n-beer establishment. We chit chat about weather, kids, men, vacations, health, work- the same stuff most friends talk about. We have a great time. If we were talking in a book, you’d drop that book like it’s a highly unstable radioactive Rubik’s Cube. The conversation is interesting to me but nobody else wants to read pages of what-I’ve-been-eating-for-breakfast-every-day.

The characters are individuals with their own agendas, beliefs, secrets, and desires. When they speak, it should be a delightful dance of action and reaction, opposition and tension.

If Sally wants to marry Barry, and Mable and Barry want Sally to marry Barry, there’s nothing interesting going on (unless Sally and Barry start arguing over the wedding décor, catering, etc.).

Now, if Sally wants Barry, and Mable wants Sally, and Barry doesn’t want to ever get married to anyone but his father demands he wed Eve to get his inheritance, that’s a powder keg of potential action and reaction.

Dialogue Check

  1. If the dialogue doesn’t set or reveal, it isn’t needed. By this we mean set tone and scene, or reveal character, information, or theme.
  2. When dialogue reveals something, hide it inside dialogue that’s built on opposition or heightened tension.
  3. If you can’t reveal something through dialogue, consider using exposition instead. This is the most appropriate use of exposition.
  4. Don’t let different characters sound exactly the same. Give them quirks, slang words they favor, or an accent if appropriate.
  5. Never have the characters discuss things they both already know, unless something about it has changed that would necessitate discussion.


Simple Steps To Writing A Book Review

Simple Steps To Writing A Book Review

By Leigh Holland.

Have you ever wanted to write Book Reviews? Maybe you’ve been blogging for a while about writing tips and writing prompts. Or you’re thinking about starting a new blog, you haven’t decided what you’d like to post yet but you do read a lot of books in a year. Writing reviews is pretty simple and I’ll cover some of the tips below. Writing reviews for nonfiction will be a little bit different than writing a book review for a fiction book, so I’ll cover a few of those differences.

1. Basic Information is a must.

Make sure you include the following: Book title, author name, genre, ISBN (if appropriate), publisher, publication date, edition, and pages. If it has special features or is part of a series, be sure to mention that as well.

2. Include a Cover Image.

People do judge books by their covers. Make sure you include that with the review. If you include a link to the book online in the body of the review, that’s great. If not, make sure the reader can click the photo of the cover to arrive where it’s sold.

3. Link to where it may be purchased.

If you haven’t made the cover clickable in this fashion, make sure in the review body to include a link to where it may be purchased. You may also include its current price.

4. Read the Book.

Don’t review a book without reading it in its entirety. You can’t give an honest opinion otherwise. It is also a good idea to let the reader know the format if it’s different from what you normally review. For example, I almost exclusively review e-book formats. If it’s an Audible or paperback, I’ll note that.

5. Reflect before writing.

Think about what you read before you sit down to write. Points to ponder include:

What was the story about? How would you summarize the plot?

Were the characters credible? Could you relate to any of them?

What adventures and obstacles did the main character encounter? How did he or she deal with it?

What was the theme of the book?

Would the book meet the expectations of readers of its genre? If not, how?

What was your favorite thing about the book?

Was the writing good? Was it great? Did it need more work?

What point of view was it written in?

6. Personal Connections?

Were you able to link any part or characters in the book to your own personal life experience? If so, how did that affect you? How did it affect your opinion of the book?

7. Don’t Destroy a Book.

There are people who will disagree with me. But I believe it’s important to frame what you don’t like about a book in a constructive manner. Don’t rip it to shreds. Say what you think needs work and be honest. You don’t have to cruel, though.

8. Assess the book for what it is, not what you want it to be.

If you only truly love Psychological Thrillers, don’t say “This is a romance. Stupid. One star.” If you’re reading a romance, you must judge it by the standards of that genre, or just don’t read and judge it at all. It’s best practice to let people know what you prefer to read. In fact, it may be a good idea to narrow down to one or two genres and become an expert reviewer in those areas.

9. Recommend it to its target audience.

Make sure to let people know who you think would enjoy this book. If it’s a book about a romance between an alien from Jupiter and a vampire bullfrog, you shouldn’t recommend it for fans of hardboiled mysteries. Likewise, don’t recommend it if you don’t think they’d enjoy it.

10. Summarize the Plot.

Summarize the plot but don’t give away the ending. If you’re worried people may get upset about how much of the book you describe in the summary, post a warning about potential spoiler revelation. Make sure you give enough information so the reader can decide for themselves if this sounds like a book they’d be interested in reading.

Nonfiction vs. Fiction

 There are some additional things to ponder when doing a nonfiction review.

  1. What does the title suggest?
  2. Read the Preface or Introduction if there is one before reading the rest of the book. This provides information about the author’s intentions regarding the scope of the book. How wide is the scope?
  3. Examine the Table of Contents. It shows how the book is organized, its main ideas, etc.
  4. Can you identify and follow the main thesis?
  5. Is the style formal? Informal?
  6. Make notes as you read in case you want to quote them in the review.
  7. Is the work convincing? Do you agree with the thesis of the book?
  8. Is the author’s index accurate and sources properly noted?
  9. If the author has written other related works, list them. How does this one compare, if you’ve read the others?

Ironclad Ways to Increase Your Word Count

Ironclad Ways to Increase Your Word Count by Leigh Holland

Hey, I hope everyone celebrating July 4th had a great holiday this year! As much as the kids love fireworks, my favorite part is the grilled meat. The fireworks are beautiful, but I get a bit antsy around so much fire. Honestly, nothing makes me more nervous than seeing my kids run around the backyard near the leafy bushes, imitating the Large Hadron Collider, with five lit sparklers in each hand.

(My husband’s excuse: “We bought too many. I was just trying to get rid of the extras.”)

Well, except maybe for nearing the end of my rough draft and realizing I don’t have anywhere near enough word count.

First, let’s talk about word count. It breaks down as follows:

Short story: Less than 7,500 words

Novelette: Up to 17,500 words

Novella: Up to 40,000 words

Novel: More than 40,000 words.

That being said, most novels run around 70,000 or more. Few publishers will look at anything less than 55,000 words for a novel.

Page Conversion:

1 page is 500 words single spaced, 250 words double spaced.

2 pages is 1,000 words single spaced, 500 words double spaced.

3 pages is 1,500 words single spaced, 750 words double spaced.

4 pages is 2,000 words single spaced, 1,000 words double spaced.

Other things affect this such as font size, font family, margins, and spacing.

Standard manuscript formatting is Times New Roman, 12 point, 1.5 spacing.

There’s a free online tool to convert words to page count online. It’s found at Words to Pages. Here’s a screenshot:

Don’t panic! First, it’s the rough draft. You’re going to add and subtract from it in ways that will end up making it a tad bit longer in the end.

Here are some tried and true ways to increase word count:

  1. Check your descriptions. Have you described the surroundings in each setting change? Don’t add it if it doesn’t need it- but if it does, add description.
  2. Check for missing ingredients. Are there any plot holes to fill? Is dialogue weak in an area it can be strengthened? Is body language and emotional display communicated effectively?
  3. Add a subplot. If it’s appropriate and ties in with theme and major plot points, add a subplot. It must add to the story and develop the characters, not serve as word count filler.
  4. Check Pacing. Are there areas where the flow of the work is too fast? If so, you can check for what may be missing here and even out your pacing.
  5. Check your scenes. Did you leave any events out? Were all events clear in every scene? Do you need to add a scene for plot clarity?
  6. Make the hero suffer. Mwahahaha! Is he or she suffering enough? Place more obstacles and setbacks in his or her way. This is also a good opportunity to let a supporting character step in and shine.
  7. Expand on those minor characters. This is especially true when you plan for them to recur in a series. Give them more dialogue. Have one of them behave badly and make up for it. Test the hero (or the villain!).

But, Leigh, I need to know how to increase my daily writing word count.

Here are some ideas:

  1. No phone. No internet. No TV. No radio. Music without ads is PERFECT.
  2. Create your own sacred writing space. My family knows when I’m in my space with my headphones on to only bother me for an emergency. Emergencies are: someone is injured, the house is on fire, or dinner is ready. Anything else gets the icy stare of the evil empress!
  3. Create a time sanctuary for writing. Pick a time frame daily and stick to it. It will be hard at first, but as it becomes habit, you’ll miss it when it doesn’t happen (see:emergencies above).
  4. Use an app to dictate to. As long as you’re not like me and don’t mind dictating a rough draft, this can increase your word count up to 5,000 words per day in no time. Your rough draft will be very rough, but it will be done faster than my granny can throw together a shotgun wedding.
  5. Don’t edit as you write. This slows you down. Write now, fix later. Don’t obsess.
  6. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, do warm ups before sitting to write, and get enough sleep. Take care of you. Love yourself. You deserve it. You’ll write more and better when you’re refreshed.

15 Steps To Editing Your Story

15 Steps To Editing Your Story

  1. Run your rough draft through spelling and grammar checks. Visually scan the document for any other errors it may have missed.
  2. If you just finished writing the rough draft, unless you’re working under a deadline, let it sit without touching it or thinking about it for a minimum of three days. I recommend two weeks. That lets you have a break, take a few steps back, and mentally prepare to switch from writer to editor mode.
  3. Print out your story. Gather 4 different color highlighters. If you want to use just one highlighter to mark it and make notes, that’s fine. Others may prefer to color code their highlights by type of revision. Green- things you especially love. Pink- Things you cut completely from the work. Yellow- Adverbs and passive voice. Blue- sections that need rewriting but need to remain, typically these are structural issues.
  4. Get a partner. Have the partner read the story aloud to you from the digital version as you highlight your printed copy. If you can’t find a partner, read your copy aloud to yourself and highlight as you go.
  5. Revise for plot structure. Make sure there is conflict in the correct spots and an inciting incident. During the middle twenty percent of the book, make sure it’s filled with action and/or conflict. A sagging middle can cause the reader to stop.
  6. Note next to each paragraph what it accomplishes. If it copies information found elsewhere or restates another paragraph, combine these into one solid, flowing paragraph. If it doesn’t move the plot, reveal character, describe setting or develop needed plot points, decide if you even need it.
  7. Remember the pink highlights? Delete them. Yes, it hurts. Hit delete.
  8. Revise the yellow sections and words, changing passive voice in at least 60% of instances found and where appropriate. Delete a majority of adverbs. Keep what works for clarity and style, chuck what doesn’t.
  9. Look at the blue highlighted sections. Are you using the senses when describing settings? Are you showing where you should show and telling where you should tell? Note why something doesn’t work in the margins. Change what doesn’t work once you determine why it doesn’t work.
  10. Is dialogue spoken with a purpose? Does the dialogue sound like genuine speech? Are you using action to show who is speaking instead of overusing dialogue tags?
  11. Check to see if these words are weakening your writing: very, some, thing, mostly, and so.
  12. Check your use of punctuation.Edit where needed.
  13. Read aloud again after the above revision is done. It helps to have a partner to read with and get feedback from at this stage.
  14. If any final changes are needed, make them.
  15. If necessary, do all of this again. Once you feel confident the work is done, reward yourself in some way. You have a final draft.

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #5: The Herald

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #5: The Herald

By Leigh Holland.

A Herald, or herald of arms, was a medieval messenger and diplomat sent between noblemen and kings. They also were responsible for recording the arms for each nobleman and monarch and managing tournaments in which only those of noble blood could participate. Heralds wore a tabard decorated with the coat of arms of the nobleman they served. Photo by Nicholas Jackson.


An example of a herald giving an introduction at a medieval tournament can be found, albeit modernized, in the excellent film “A Knight’s Tale”.

Introductions: A Knight’s Tale

In Greek myth, messengers were so important that a deity, Hermes, was assigned to fulfill this function among the gods. In The Odyssey, Zeus sends Hermes to deliver the proclamation to Calypso that Odysseus must be released so he may head home.

In Disney’s Mulan, the Herald is the message that the Fa family must provide one male to fight in the war for China.

Fa-Zhou Call to War

Mulan responds to the Herald’s Call to Action

Far from merely issuing orders, messages, and reciting introductory lineages, the Herald can serve a myriad of functions in a tale. The Herald can serve as a call to action and motivate the hero onward to the next leg of his journey. While the Herald can overlap with other roles in the story, such as ally or love interest, he can also be a servant or messenger of the story’s villain. The Herald is not always a positive role. An example of a Herald who works for the villain can be found in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The Ball’s In Your Court

Furthermore, the Herald doesn’t even have to be a person. It can be an object, such as a found treasure map, or an event, such as a phone call or telegram. The Herald functions in the story to bring about a transition. Once the Herald appears on the scene, the hero must make a choice and take action, spurring on the adventure.

Based on information found in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler, which can be purchased at The Writer’s Journey 3rd Edition.

Check out the other articles in this series:

#1 The Hero

#3 The Mentor

#2 What is the Hero’s Journey?

#4 The Threshold Guardian