Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series #8: The Trickster

Archetypes The Trickster

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series

#8 The Trickster

By Leigh Holland.

The Trickster is the archetype of change and chaos. Sometimes, the Trickster will also serve as an ally or sidekick. Tricksters can provide comic relief during a tense moment, or troublemaking antics that can hinder or assist the hero as needed. The Trickster, a ball of chaotic energy, often challenges the status quo, even if that happens to be your hero. Is your hero a bit too full of himself? Maybe it’s the antagonist who thinks too highly of himself. The Trickster can cleverly cut either of them down to size for you. Unsure how to get the hero out of a precarious situation? Tricksters are catalysts for change. Because of his (or her) unpredictability, readers accept it when the Trickster shows up out of the blue with the flying car he stole and save the hero and his sidekick from certain doom. Of course, that wasn’t what the Trickster was really doing out there in that flying car. It was just good luck that he happened upon them along the way. Don’t confuse the Trickster with the Shapeshifter. The Shapeshifter questions and at times, deceives. The Trickster disrupts, using a variety of tools, of which deceit if merely one.

Being true to his name, the Trickster can surpass the role of unpredictable comic relief and take on a more sinister, deceptive quality, deceiving friends and foes alike. And of course, the Trickster can easily occupy more than one role. In some tales, the Trickster, Hero, and even the Shadow are one and the same. One example that comes to mind is the main character from the film Atomic Blonde.

Here’s a series of clips showing the Trickster in LOTR: Gollum.

This is one of my favorite examples of a Trickster: End of the Line and Resisting Arrest.

Find other articles on the Hero’s Journey:

The Ally

The Shapeshifter

The Herald

The Threshold Guardian

The Mentor

The Hero

What is The Hero’s Journey?


15 Ways You Can Use Word Play To Delight Your Readers

15 ways to delight readers using word play

15 Ways You Can Use Word Play To Delight Your Readers

By Leigh Holland.

What is “Word Play”? Word play is also called “a play on words”. A word play is a literary technique writers use to imbue words with greater or different meaning, so that the main subject becomes the word. Word play is designed to produce an intended effect in the reader. Although often employed for the purpose of amusement, this technique can be used to convey any meaning a writer wants to.

Here are some types of word play.

  1. Onomatopoeia– The word is the sound. This has the benefit of setting the mood right away, is a literal word play that can’t be misunderstood, and immediately imparts imagery into the mind of the reader. Use appropriately and sparingly. Example: Rumble-boom went the sound of the dynamite, whoosh went the wind from the blast as it blew past Erin.
  2. Mondegreen- Homophones or near-homophones; a string of such words is called an oronym (“I scream for ice cream”). This device most commonly occurs in songs and poems.These work off of confirmation bias- we hear what we expect from our everyday lives rather than what is there. Our minds are continually trying to make sense of information entering them and sort words based on prior experience. In music, this is called “misheard lyrics” or “soramimi”. A lyrical example is “…and laid him on the green” misheard as “…and Lady Mondegreen”, from which the device takes its name. Warning: sometimes your reader may not understand what the intended effect was. Example: “Come You Nigh Kay Shuns” by Lawrence A. Perkins has as its title and plot a new communications system encoded with mondegreens. In my novel “2042”, the elusive yet omnipresent figurehead of the corporate-religious dystopian regime is called “the Profit” instead of “the Prophet” in order to drive home the financial corruption of this ‘spiritual’ leader.
  3. Spoonerism- A deliberate switching of consonants, vowels, or morphemes in multi-word phrases, quite often to humorous effect. Example: belly jeans (as opposed to jelly beans), sew me to another sheet (show me to another seat).
  4. Palindrome- A word that reads the same backwards and forwards. Example: Never odd or even, tacocat, “Doc: note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.”, able was I ere I saw Elba, Hannah, civic, kayak, level, A Santa lived as a devil at Nasa.palindrome image
  5. Acrostic- A hidden message within a text, usually comprised of the first letter of a repeating sequence, such as the first letter of each word, the first letter of each paragraph on a page, etc. Example: Edgar Allen Poe’s “An Acrostic”:

Elizabeth it is in vain you say

Love not”—thou sayest it in so sweet a way:

In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.

Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:

Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,

Breath it less gently forth—and veil thine eyes.

Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried

To cure his love—was cured of all beside—

His follie—pride—and passion—for he died.

6. Backronym- An acronym is a word derived from the letters of a longer string of words. For example, the word “radar” comes from RAdio Detection And Ranging, the letters were chosen to fit the words they represent. In a backronym, the words are chosen to represent the letters. The can be used seriously or humorously. Example: Arby’s 1980 ad campaign slogan “America’s Roast Beef, Yes Sir!”, “Mother Of All Bombs”, AA’s ‘slip’ as “Sobriety Losing Its Priority”, SPAM= “something posing as meat”.

7. Contronym- A word with multiple meanings, one of which is the reverse of another. Example: Sarah’s outfit is sick, Tim’s jacket is bad as hell, a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife; he cleaved the enemy in two.contronym example

8. Neologisms- A word not yet fully accepted into the language but that was created recently and is in common use. A portmanteau, for instance, is a word created by blending two or more other words together, such as “snark” (snake and shark), and “brunch” (breakfast and lunch). Often, acronyms will enter language as neologisms. Once the word is accepted it is no longer a neologism. Example: grok, McJob, quark, cyberspace, Catch-22, Orwellian, Kafkaesque, scrooge, pollyanna, coke when referring to any soft drink, affluenza, animatronic, bionic.beheadedness.jpg


9. Oxymoron- A rhetorical device putting together contradictory terms to form a self-contradicting phrase in order to make a point. Example: keenly stupid, barely clothed, affordable caviar, terribly good, be cruel to be kind, proudly humble, delightful sorrow, scalding coldness.

10. Malapropism- When an incorrect word is used that is nonsensical in context, but sounds similar to the intended word. Example: It is beyond my apprehension, she plummeted to the top, going up and down like a metronome, we cannot let terrorists hold our allies hostile, he was a man of great statue, they have miscalculated me as a leader.

11. Aptronym- The use of a personal name for a character that describes their profession. Example: Anthony Weiner (politician with a sex scandal), Jules Angst (anxiety disorder psychologist), Sara Blizzard (BBC Meteorologist), Thomas Crapper (sanitary engineer), Francine Prose (American novelist), Rosalind Brewer (Starbucks Executive).

12. Paraprosdokian- A figure of speech in which the last part of a sentence or dialogue is so surprising the reader must return to think about the first part. Often used in comedy. Example: On his feet, he wore blisters; Take my wife-please; I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it; I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too much; I don’t belong to an organized political party, I’m a Democrat; on the other hand, you have different fingers.

13. Conversion- Creating a new meaning or alternate part of speech for a word by deriving it from itself. Examples: The golf green is called a green because it is the color green, Beer me, He was eyeing her, she googled the info, he was texting, Let’s not Rumsfeld Afghanistan, she downed a pint, Petruchio is Kated.

14. Paronomasia- A “pun”. This form of word play exploits multiple meanings of words, or of similar sounding words, for rhetorical effect, based on ambiguities. It treats homonyms as synonyms. Many forms of word play fall under this category as it can arise from metonymic, homophonic, or figurative language. Examples: When it rains it pours (Morton Salt), time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana (Groucho Marx), Kings worry about a receding heir line, I used to be a tap dancer until I fell in the sink.

15. Double Entendre- A phrase that has a double meaning, one often being demeaning or insulting. One meaning is obvious, the other meaning is often implied through innuendo. Example: “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”(Hannibal Lecter) “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”(Mae West)


“Hanging is too good for a man who makes puns, he should be drawn and quoted.”

-Fred Allen


20 Surefire Ways You Can Evoke The Right Mood In Your Readers

20 Surefire Ways You Can Evoke The Right Mood In Your Readers

By Leigh Holland

In the field of linguistics, scientists study the effects of words on those who read or hear them, as well as which words produce the most and least pleasing sounds, determining which words are therefore more likely to survive the passage of time.

When we see an image or object and associate the word describing it inside our minds, they become interchangeable. When we do it with sounds, this sound association is known as phonosemantics. This abstraction of sounds opens the floodgate for feeling or mood also associated with those abstractions, an event known as “ideasthesia”.

It may seem incredible that a sound or string of sounds can inspire feelings and moods in those who read or hear them. When I first heard this, I scoffed inwardly, “Yeah, right, as if my mind is that gullible.” Then I tested it. Here we go!


What popped into your head? Was it either Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Manson, or a person you know or knew named Marilyn? If so, that’s an example of how word association summons forth images, feelings, and ideas.


Let’s try another.


I immediately thought of Halloween, horror films, ghosts, and scary noises. Most of those scary sounds made a creak or squeal type of sound. Now I’m ready to read a Stephen King book. Did you notice what these words had in common? They all have a long ee sound in them. The long ee sound is subconsciously associated with a mood for horror and thrills.


Our minds store information and categorize things so we can make sense of the world as we encounter it day by day. Sleep is a lot like a defrag program for our minds. It makes sense that our mental method of categorizing would lead to word and sound associations.

How do we use these associations to our benefit in storytelling and writing?

One: Content is always more important than sound associations.

Two: Sound symbols can add something special to your writing when placed in an appropriate scene.

Three: Be subtle when using this technique.

  1. Mood: Violent, Intimidating. “B” sounds found in words such as: belt, beat, bash, bang, blow, bully, bounce, bitch, barbarian, barbarous, bat, boom, bone, bossy, brag, boast, bluster, brazen, bury, blatant, bad, box, brawl, jab, grab, blast, rob, clobber, bump, bruise, bust, brutal, bouncer, boxer, butting, brow-beat, beefy, bothersome, brawn, bellicose, squabble, bigot, bounder, bold, brash, bucolic, buffoon, slobber, bawl, bray, bellyache, blood.
  2. Mood: Terrifying, Scary, Cringing. “EE”, “C” and “T-R” sounds found in such words as: tossed, turned, trouble, terror, tormented, twitch, tremble, tremendous, tantrum, tempest, tornado, tirade, twisting, twirling, torrent, trumpet, tyrant, grief, eerie, creepy, weird, evil, demon, screech, squeal, squeak, beseech, plead, scream, shriek, keen, weep, banshee, gleam, creatures, features, feverish, fearsome, fear, hear, heed, deed, dreary, creak, eerie, cringing, cranny, crevice, cavern, chasm, cloister, confined, cover, cove, closed, cubicle, cupboard, closet, corner, crater, cavity, cleft, crack, recess, cradle, crib, cower, creep, catacomb.
  3. Mood: Humorous, Comedic, Slapstick, Cheerful. “J” , “DGE”, “CH” and “B” sounds found in words such as: jumble, bumble, stumble, big, broad, beam, barrel, bloated, belly, ball, bollocks, bust, bosom, boobs, breasts, jolly, tub, buttocks, booty, bum, base, bottom, backside, bluff, burly, bulging, buttery, beautiful, benign, benevolent, blessed, bountiful, blimp, blooming, bulbous, burgeoning, billowing, orb, bouncing, babbling, globe, knob, basket, baggy, bowl, bubble, flabby, shambles, slobber, gobble, blob, buffoon, fumble, blush, imbibe, booze, embarrass, jaunt, jamboree, chuckle, cherish, chirp, jester, joy, enjoy, cheerful, chaff, charm, chant, chortle, cheeky, chit-chat, exchange, jingle, rejoice, jovial, jest, joke, jive, jig, jazz, jumping, jabber, jeering, jag, jape, jog, junket, jitterbug, jug, jar, joint, touch, chin.
  4. Mood: Lofty, Aspiring. “A” and “H” sounds found in such words as: sage, ascend, aviator, audacious, azure, aloft, angelic, again, aspire, avian, alert, agile, aware, attentive, awake, lark, hope, heaven, human, high, holiness, holidays, holy, happy, host, harmony, ghost, heave, honesty, sigh, howl, heart, hearth, earth, wholeness, haughty, hilltop, hierarchy, head, hankering, honor, humility.angel-749625_640.jpg
  5. Mood: Defeat, Despair, Death, Suffering. “D” and “H” sounds found in such words as: defeat, despair, depression, death, die, down, dumps, dodo, dead, done, dumb, dingy, drop, dim, droop, dank, dark, dreary, doleful, dire, dismal, dread, demotion, dismiss, degradation, dungeon, curmudgeon, smudge, stodgy, drudge, despondent, abandon, under, dig, Hell, heat, harass, hardship, hard, hit, helpless, horrible, horror, hate, hated, harm, hurtful, hurt.
  6. Mood: Cutting, Jarring, Stinging, Attack. “C”, “K”, and “CK” sounds found in words such as: cutting, cleave, culling, scissors, scythe, sickle, scold, critic, caustic, scalpel, schism, curtail, acid, cold, discourage, scar, flick, quick, whisk, look, hark, awaken, crack, prank, pike, spike, brisk.
  7. Mood: Fun. “F” sounds found in words such as: fun, frivolous, frivolity, free, fancy, footloose, flamboyant, flagrant, effervescence, flair, famous, flighty, flutter, fairies, frisky, flirt, flaunt, flitting, frilly fluff, floating, flying, feathers, foam, flounce, fidget, drift, fops, frolic, flippant, flock, fan, flash, flimsy, finery, flee, frocks, taffeta, flam, ruffles, flossy, flapper, foolish, flutter, fake, estive, fantasy, fast, butterfly, affable, carefree, fabulous, flourish, fling.
  8. Mood: Inertia and/or Yuck. “G” sounds found in words such as: glue, glucose, glutton, grease, congeal, grimy, greasy, quagmire, gurgle, slog, bog, gummy, grunge, grit, grisly, gooey, soggy, clogged, grab.
  9. Mood: Leisurely. “L” sounds found in words such as: lazy, laid-back, linger, limpid, lagoon, light, placid, languid, lie, lethargic, dally, listless, loafer, pleasure, lump, slump, sleep, leisure, lull, sloth, slug, sliding, slipping, slob, sleek, lounging, lax, loose, flaccid.
  10. Mood: Cozy. “M” sounds found in words such as: mother, home, meal, warm, comfort, murmur, mumble, mutter, mercy, mirth, mild, humble, mammal, maternal, molly-coddle, mollify, moon, plump, money, make, made, missed, mellow, amiable, mulled, meek, mare, madonna, womb, mommy, ambience.
  11. Mood: Rejection, Denial. “N” sounds found in words such as: nope, no, nothing, never, nowhere, nobody, deny, sin, decline, ban, non, negative, knave, naughty, none, nick, nay, denigrate, nasty, snide, sneer, nag, narrow, uncouth, unholy, unloved, unwanted.
  12. Mood: Heroes, Royals, Power. “O” sounds represent the ultimate mother or queen while “P” sounds represent the father or king, found in such words as: womb, world, mother, noble, rolling, royal, over, round, globe, orb, goddess, whole, glory, gown, robe, dome, source, home, come, hole, orifice, mound, knob, pompous, rotund, moon, cosmos, total, void, ocean, hero, paternity, pregnant, priority, emperor, pompous, pride, upright, pole, pinnacle, pillar, parental, parent, support, pedestal, post, puffed-up, proper, pipsqueak, peevish, preen, plumage, power, parade, palace, president, prefect, prince, pontiff, principle, patriarch, politics, pomp, peacock, prance, penetrate, push, prong, pierce. queen-2623776_640.jpg
  13. Mood: Foreboding. “Oo” and “Ow” sounds found in words such as: spook, gloom, doom, room, tomb, loom, hoot, mood, moon, owl, soul, howl, ooze, wound, growl, soothsayer.
  14. Mood: Judgement. “P” sounds found in words such as: police, penalty, apprehend, probate, probe, punish, punishment, protocol, deploy, pretend, appeal, parish, population, parole, plea, process, prison, position, parochial.hammer-802303_640
  15. Mood: Quizzical. “Q” sounds found in such words as: quiver, quest, quirk, question, quiz, querulous, quarrelsome, quips, quandary, qualm.
  16. Mood: Speedy, Fast, Fight Scenes. “R” sounds found in words such as: running, rugged, rock, race, rapid, hurry, rush, run, scurry, rip, flurry, car, cart, raging, rearing, torrent, rage, racing, whirr, burst, crack, fracture, rupture, break, grind, rub, crash, scrape, crunch, cripple.
  17. Mood: Secretive. “S” sounds found in words such as: silent, secret, slip, sneak, confession, mystery, suspicious, discreet, whisper, hiss, lisp, specter, spook, sniper, snare, snitch, snatch, snake, snoop.
  18. Mood: Contempt. “SL” sounds found in words such as: slime, slipshod, slippery, slop, slug, slush, slick, slither, sluice, lander, sleazy, slur, slacker, slapdash, sly, slay, slide, slope, slum, swill, slinking, scum.
  19. Mood: Authoritarian. “Str” sounds found in words such as: constrained, instruct, string, strong, strict, instructions, strain, stress, strive, strangle, strike, stronghold, strafe, struggle, strap, stride, astride, strop, straddle.
  20. Mood: Confusion. “Z” sounds found in words such as: maze, haze, dizzy, dazzled, fuzzy, buzz, fizzle, woozy, puzzled, dozing, snoozing, crazy, bamboozled.

What are some of the ways we can use these mood evocations in prose?

  1. Onomatopoeia: The word is the sound. You’ll recognize this technique from comic books. Smash! Boom! Crash! Wham! Boing! Zap!
  2. Alliteration: When two words start with the same sound. Use sparingly and only to emphasize something you want readers to remember later. Can also be effective for memorable titles, such as “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “War of the Worlds”, “Foxfire Five”.
  3. Assonance: Repeating a vowel sound in the middle of words strung close together. “Fear squeezed Deena’s chest as the moon cooed to her wolf within.”
  4. Consonance: Repeating the same consonant in the middle of words strung closely together. “The lucky attacker struck Deena quickly.”
  5. The Best For Last: End the sentence with the strongest word. “As the full moon enveloped Deena, pain invaded her skull.”

Science Fiction: All About Genre

All About Genre #3

Science Fiction

By Leigh Holland

Science Fiction, or “Sci Fi”, is a difficult genre to pin down but incredibly easy to recognize when we see it. Perhaps it’s so hard to pin down because Science Fiction has no boundaries other than what we choose to give it. Let’s start by looking at how others have tried to define the genre in the past.

“To be science fiction, not fantasy, an honest effort at prophetic extrapolation from the known must be made.” -John W. Campbell Jr.

Realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method. To make this definition cover all science fiction (instead of ‘almost all’) it is necessary only to strike out the word ‘future’.” -Robert A. Heinlein

“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” -Rod Serling

“Science fiction then is the fiction of revolutions. Revolutions in time, space, medicine, travel, and thought…Above all, science fiction is the fiction of warm-blooded human men and women sometimes elevated and sometimes crushed by their machines.” -Ray Bradbury

“Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.” -Isaac Asimov

“Science fiction is something that could happen – but you usually wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen – though you often only wish that it could.” -Arthur C. Clarke

Simply put, the reason it’s hard to define is because science fiction evolves as science itself discovers new facts and possibilities, which occurs daily. Just when we think we’ve got it wrangled into a neat definition, scientific knowledge expands, and a whole new world of speculation flows forth.

Rather than defining it, it would be more useful to examine some of its elements. Science fiction often involves one or more of the following elements:

  1. An alternative history that contradicts our present understanding in some way
  2. An alternative future or a setting realistically in the future
  3. Outer space setting, such as moons, planets, and spacecrafts
  4. Subterranean settings
  5. Characters such as aliens, mutants, robots, evolved humans who differ from present humans, and androids.
  6. Alternate dimensions or parallel universes
  7. New or different political and social settings blended with technology
  8. Time travel, wormholes, warp drive, advanced communications
  9. Future plausible technology
  10. Paranormal abilities such as telepathy, telekinesis, etc.

There are two general categories within Science Fiction, “hard” and “soft”.

Hard Science Fiction strives to ensure that close attention is paid to details of scientific fields such as physics, chemistry, and biology, so the fiction is as realistically and faithfully grounded in scientific fact as possible. Because of this attention to “getting it right”, an intriguing number of predictions within hard science fiction stories of the past have become reality since then. It’s not difficult to imagine that technology and other advances envisioned in hard science fiction today will one day be available to us in the future.

Soft Science Fiction focuses more on character, social structures, and emotion than hard sci-fi and stems from the soft sciences, such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and political science. Utopian and Dystopian works are classified under Soft Sci-Fi.

What is the PICS focus for Science Fiction?

PLOT: 20%

IDEA: 45%



Are there “secret” Sci-Fi categories you can unlock at Amazon?

Yes, there are.

You can find more information about those helpfully here. The main reason to want to unlock these categories, if appropriate to your work, is because there is often less competition in these categories as they are not selectable at the outset of publishing.


Click the link to learn more about the subgenre.


Alien Invasion

Alternate History






First Contact

Galactic Empire

Genetic Engineering




Short Stories

Space Opera


Time Travel

The Plot Thickens…Or Not?

The Plot Thickens…Or Not?

By Leigh Holland.

“Mom? Mo-om?” I heard my teenaged daughter call for me. She sounded so far away as I clickety-clacked away merrily at my keyboard. Should this character groan and lean his head back or put his head in his hands and sigh deeply? What’s keeping in line with his personality?


I jumped. I mean, I knew she was there, I just didn’t realize she was right there. “That’s my name.”

“Technically, your name is Leigh, not ‘mom’.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed quasi-dramatically. I decided to try speaking that “young folk” lingo to better connect with my offspring. “True that is.”

“No.” She said.

“No, what?”

“It’s not “true that is” it’s just “true that”. You’re not Yoda.” She grinned. I’m glad at least I amused her. “So, mom, I created these lit characters and I even made these incredible drawings of them. I know so much about them. But…I don’t know what to have happen to them in my story. I think I might have that thing that you’re always complaining very loudly about while you ignore your manuscript and surf the net. What’s that called again? Oh, yeah, writer’s block.”

“Hey,” it was my turn to correct her, “I don’t always surf the net. Sometimes I’m playing Town of Salem. Or Diablo. Or watching cat videos.”

“More like looking at memes.” She mumbled.

I pretended she said nothing. After all, why would I pass up this golden chance to be a helpful font of wisdom for my child? After pondering for a nano-second whether “lit” was some new slang abbreviation for “literature”, I continued. I decided it was.

“Well, it sounds like what you need is a “lit” plot.” I told her.

“Yeah, but no ideas are coming to me. I mean, where would I even start?”

How many plots are there? There are a variety of opinions on this topic. If you truly want to reduce things down to the common denominator, there’s only one plot. Or as Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, called it, the monomyth. The monomyth can easily be boiled down to a hero goes on a quest, facing challenges and overcoming in order to achieve a goal.

In The Basic Patterns of Plot, William Foster-Harris agrees that all plots come from the same basic source: conflict. Conflict drives the plot from start to finish. He advocates for a three plot world:

Type A: The hero makes a sacrifice for another and there is a happy ending.

Type B: The hero acts logically and fails to make a sacrifice.There is an unhappy ending.

Type C: A literary plot, one that hinges not on decisions of the hero, but on Fate itself. The critical event happens first and the ending is typically tragic.

Meanwhile, Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, expands the number to seven plots.

  1. Overcoming the Monster- The hero goes on a quest to overcome a great evil.
  2. Rags to Riches- A sad start leads to happiness at the end.
  3. The Quest- The hero goes on a quest to find something.
  4. Voyage and Return- The hero goes to a strange land or time and after facing challenges, returns home safely.
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

Kurt Vonnegut posited that there are basic shapes to stories. Take a piece of paper. Write a vertical line to the left. In the center, draw a horizontal line across. The top half represents the ups and the bottom half below the line is the downs that your hero experiences from beginning to end. Chart it on the graph and it shows you the shape of your story. Your story will likely fit into one of 8 basic shapes. Check it out at The Shapes of Stories.

Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Crouch’s list of seven plots were:

  1. Man against man
  2. Man against nature
  3. Man against himself
  4. Man against God
  5. Man against society
  6. Man caught in the middle
  7. Man and woman

John Lescroart, a bestselling author, prefers a list of eight plots. Here’s his take on plots:


The protagonist’s true potential for happiness and fulfilment is at last realised after many ups and downs.


The fatal flaw of the main character.


The debt that must be repaid when fate finally catches up with you, as Faust did when making a deal with the devil.


The eternal triangle.


The spider and the fly.


Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again (put these in any order you like).


The gift that is taken away.


The hero takes on all comers.

James Scott Bell in Plot and Structure came up with nine.

  1. The Quest
  2. Revenge
  3. Love
  4. Adventure
  5. The Chase
  6. One Against (The Underdog)
  7. One Apart
  8. Power
  9. Allegory

Ronald B. Tobias lists 20 plots in his work 20 Master Plots and How To Build Them.

1. Quest

The hero searches for something. They may be accompanied by a sidekick, who makes the hero look good as well as running his errands.

2. Adventure

The hero goes on an adventure. It’s not about character development or an artifact that saves his hometown, it’s about lots of action.

3. Pursuit

Catch Me If You Can

4. Rescue

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

5. Escape

The captive escapes, with little help from others, and may end up merging into the pursuit plot above. Usually, the captive was unjustly imprisoned.

6. Revenge

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

7. The Riddle

There’s a bomb on this bus and if we go below 60 miles per hour, the bus will explode.

8. Rivalry

Monte Cristo: May I steal your wife?

Fernand: Excuse me?

Monte Cristo: For the waltz?

9. Underdog

Rocky: I can’t do it.

Adrian: What?

Rocky: I can’t beat him.

Adrian: Apollo?

Rocky: Yeah. I been out there walkin’ around, thinkin’. I mean, who am I kiddin’? I ain’t even in the guy’s league.

Adrian: What are we gonna do?

Rocky: I don’t know.

Adrian: You worked so hard.

Rocky: Yeah, that don’t matter. ‘Cause I was nobody before.

Adrian: Don’t say that.

Rocky: Ah come on, Adrian, it’s true. I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ‘Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either. ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.

10. Temptation

I think I love my wife?

11. Metamorphosis

Werewolves! Shapeshifters! Mermaids! Oh, my!

12. Transformation

In this type of plot, a person, through a series of experiences and events, undergoes a metamorphosis of worldview or personality, typically for the better.

13. Maturation

A coming of age plot, the main character grows up, emerging from youth as a wiser and more capable adult.

14. Love

Two people fall in love, encounter obstacles and trials, overcome or resolve them, and end up together.

15. Forbidden Love

Jack Twist: I wish I knew how to quit you.

16. Sacrifice

Belle: [in the darkness] Who’s there? Who are you?

Beast: The master of this castle.

Belle: I’ve come for my father. Please, let him out! Can’t you see, he’s sick?

Beast: Then he shouldn’t have trespassed here!

Belle: But he could die! Please, I’ll do anything!

Beast: There’s nothing you can do! He’s my prisoner.

Belle: Oh, there must be some way I can.

[to the Beast]

Belle: Wait! Take me instead.

Beast: You?

Beast: You would take his place?

Maurice: Belle, no! You don’t know what you’re doing!

Belle: If I did, would you let him go?

Beast: Yes. But you must promise to stay here forever!

Belle: Come into the light.

[the Beast steps in the castle light to reveal himself; Belle gasps and turns away]

Maurice: No, Belle! I won’t let you do this!

Belle: You have my word.

Beast: Done!

17. Discovery

The hero discovers a terrible thing and must make a life-altering choice.

The Dead Zone

18. Wretched Excess

Trailer for the most depressing movie ever made.

19. Ascension

A jerk becomes a hero; a lower class person ascends to higher rank.

20. Descension

A person of high standing and/or moral fiber falls from grace. This plot is often combined with Ascension. Examples include “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Trading Places”.

And of course, there’s the list of 36 Dramatic Situations by George Polti.

Wikipedia provided a great summary with the elements and description of each:

    1. Supplication
      • a persecutor; a suppliant; a power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.
      • The suppliant appeals to the power in authority for deliverance from the persecutor.
    2. Deliverance
      • an unfortunate; a threatener; a rescuer
      • The unfortunate has caused a conflict, and the threatener is to carry out justice, but the rescuer saves the unfortunate. Examples: Ifigenia in Tauride, Deliverance
    3. Crime pursued by vengeance
      • a criminal; an avenger
      • The criminal commits a crime that will not see justice, so the avenger seeks justice by punishing the criminal. Example: The Count of Monte Cristo
    4. Vengeance taken for kin upon kin
      • Guilty Kinsman; an Avenging Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim, a relative of both.
      • Two entities, the Guilty and the Avenging Kinsmen, are put into conflict over wrongdoing to the Victim, who is allied to both. Example: Hamlet
    5. Pursuit
      • punishment; a fugitive
      • the fugitive flees punishment for a misunderstood conflict. Example: Les Misérables
    6. Disaster
      • a vanquished power; a victorious enemy or a messenger
      • The vanquished power falls from their place after being defeated by the victorious enemy or being informed of such a defeat by the messenger. Example: Agamemnon (play)
    7. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune
      • an unfortunate; a master or a misfortune
      • The unfortunate suffers from misfortune and/or at the hands of the master. Example: Job (biblical figure)
    8. Revolt
      • a tyrant; a conspirator
      • The tyrant, a cruel power, is plotted against by the conspirator. Example: Julius Caesar (play)
    9. Daring enterprise
      • a bold leader; an object; an adversary
      • The bold leader takes the object from the adversary by overpowering the adversary. Example: Queste del Saint Graal
    10. Abduction
      • an abductor; the abducted; a guardian
      • The abductor takes the abducted from the guardian. Example: Helen of Troy
    11. The enigma
      • a problem; an interrogator; a seeker
      • The interrogator poses a problem to the seeker and gives a seeker better ability to reach the seeker’s goals. Example: Oedipus and the Sphinx
    12. Obtaining
      • (a Solicitor & an adversary who is refusing) or (an arbitrator & opposing parties)
      • The solicitor is at odds with the adversary who refuses to give the solicitor an object in the possession of the adversary, or an arbitrator decides who gets the object desired by opposing parties (the solicitor and the adversary). Example: Apple of Discord
    13. Enmity of kin
      • a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hated or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman
      • The Malevolent Kinsman and the Hated or a second Malevolent Kinsman conspire together. Example: As You Like It
    14. Rivalry of kin
      • the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry
      • The Object of Rivalry chooses the Preferred Kinsman over the Rejected Kinsman. Example: Wuthering Heights
    15. Murderous adultery
      • two Adulterers; a Betrayed Spouse
      • Two Adulterers conspire to kill the Betrayed Spouse. Example: Clytemnestra and Aegisthus
    16. Madness
      • a Madman; a Victim
      • The Madman goes insane and wrongs the Victim. Example: Horace and Pete
    17. Fatal imprudence
      • the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost
      • The Imprudent, by neglect or ignorance, loses the Object Lost or wrongs the Victim.
    18. Involuntary crimes of love
      • a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer
      • The Lover and the Beloved have unknowingly broken a taboo through their romantic relationship, and the Revealer reveals this to them Example: Oedipus, Jocasta and the messenger from Corinth.
    19. Slaying of kin unrecognized
      • the Slayer; an Unrecognized Victim
      • The Slayer kills the Unrecognized Victim. Example: Oedipus and Laius
    20. Self-sacrifice for an ideal
      • a Hero; an Ideal; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
      • The Hero sacrifices the Person or Thing for their Ideal, which is then taken by the Creditor.
    21. Self-sacrifice for kin
      • a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
      • The Hero sacrifices a Person or Thing for their Kinsman, which is then taken by the Creditor.
    22. All sacrificed for passion
      • a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed
      • A Lover sacrifices a Person or Thing for the Object of their Passion, which is then lost forever.
    23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
      • a Hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice
      • The Hero wrongs the Beloved Victim because of the Necessity for their Sacrifice.
    24. Rivalry of superior vs. inferior
      • a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry
      • A Superior Rival bests an Inferior Rival and wins the Object of Rivalry.
    25. Adultery
      • two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse
      • Two Adulterers conspire against the Deceived Spouse.
    26. Crimes of love
      • a Lover; the Beloved
      • A Lover and the Beloved break a taboo by initiating a romantic relationship Example: Sigmund and his sister in The Valkyrie
    27. Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
      • a Discoverer; the Guilty One
      • The Discoverer discovers the wrongdoing committed by the Guilty One.
    28. Obstacles to love
      • two Lovers; an Obstacle
      • Two Lovers face an Obstacle together. Example: Romeo and Juliet
    29. An enemy loved
      • a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater
      • The allied Lover and Hater have diametrically opposed attitudes towards the Beloved Enemy.
    30. Ambition
      • an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary
      • The Ambitious Person seeks the Thing Coveted and is opposed by the Adversary. Example: Macbeth
    31. Conflict with a god
      • a Mortal; an Immortal
      • The Mortal and the Immortal enter a conflict.
    32. Mistaken jealousy
      • a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake
      • The Jealous One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and becomes jealous of the Object and becomes conflicted with the Supposed Accomplice.
    33. Erroneous judgment
      • a Mistaken One; a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One
      • The Mistaken One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and passes judgment against the Victim of the Mistake when it should be passed against the Guilty One instead.
    34. Remorse
      • a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator
      • The Culprit wrongs the Victim or commits the Sin, and is at odds with the Interrogator who seeks to understand the situation.
    35. Recovery of a lost one
      • a Seeker; the One Found
      • The Seeker finds the One Found.
    36. Loss of loved ones
      • a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner
      • The killing of the Kinsman Slain by the Executioner is witnessed by the Kinsman

And most recently, researchers at the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab using sentiment analysis discovered there may be only six basic plots. They are:

  • Fall-rise-fall, like Oedipus Rex
  • Rise and then a fall, like what happens to most villains
  • Fall and then a rise, like what happens to most superheroes
  • Steady fall, like in Romeo and Juliet
  • Steady rise, like in a rags-to-riches story
  • Rise-fall-rise, like in Cinderella

“Wow, Mom, that’s a lot of information. Now I think I have too many ideas instead of not enough!” My daughter said. “And now I’m in the mood for a movie and ice cream.”

“We could Netflix and chill.” I suggested.

She was livid. What had I said wrong?

“Mom, I don’t think that slang means what you think it means.”

I nodded knowingly. “But that one is obvious. It means we watch Netflix. And sit here and just chill out.”

“Nope. It means, uh, make out, and…stuff. So yeah, you sound creepy.”

I blinked rapidly. “Hmm. Well, that explains the weird looks the young people at the office give me when I say my best friend and I Netflix and chill every Friday night while your dad is out.”

“Shakin’ my head. I’ll get the ice cream. You remember how to turn on the TV with the remote, right?”

“I’m not that old! I’ll have you know in my household I was the tech guru growing up. I hooked up my parents’ Beta player for them.” I grumpily replied. “It’s the red button, right?”

“Yeah. What’s a Beta Player?”

Sigh. “Never mind.”

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #7: The Ally

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #7: The Ally

By Leigh Holland.

As the hero sallies forth on his quest, he (or she) needs a traveling companion. Sure, the hero has a mentor to give wise advice and nifty trinkets. But the hero needs someone who can help him understand himself, maintain perspective, move forward with hope in his heart, and keep him on the straight and narrow. Every human being needs a friend. Sometimes the hero may need to do certain things on her own. But the ally does something consistently for the hero no other role does. The ally gives loyalty and admiration to the hero. The ally is entirely dependable.

That doesn’t mean the ally never challenges the hero. It’s hard to maintain perspective as the hero, especially when fame and fandom starts rolling in. As the hero’s best friend, the ally will knock him down a peg or two if he needs it. The ally also serves as the hero’s conscience when the hero strays from the righteous path. The ally can always be counted on to act in what he thinks is the hero’s best interests, the hero’s desires be damned.

This is a wonderful and ancient example of the ally who challenges the hero, being what he needs instead of what he wants. This animated version of the story includes threshold guardians, a mentor, a shapeshifter and a trickster.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu

The ally represents the unexamined pieces of the hero. The ally converses with, questions, and challenges the hero as the need arises, drawing forth the noblest qualities within him or her; and the worst-saving him from being consumed by his own darkness. Often, the ally asks the very questions the reader (or viewer) has about the hero. Often, the ally (or “sidekick”) rounds out the hero’s persona.

Holmes and Watson 1

Holmes and Watson 2

Here’s a fun fight scene showing the ally as work partner and brother-in-arms, with a nice cameo at the end by the Shapeshifter archetype of the series.

Batman and Robin Vs. Most Everyone

And the ally also provides amusement and comic relief for the reader in serious and tense situations.

Lone Ranger and Tonto

Most importantly, the hero trusts the ally. The ally has earned it. We can always identify with the ally, even if our relationship with the hero is on thin ice at certain points of the story. We can’t always be the hero. But we can always strive to be a good friend and neighbor, a good ally.

An Ode To Brotherhood: Sam and Dean

Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort in Intl. Business Times

And often, the best heroes to inspire a writer… are real.

Heroes of Hurricane Harvey

Happy writing!

The Raw Ingredients of the Writing Recipe

The Raw Ingredients of the Writing Recipe

All About Genre #2

By Leigh Holland.

What is a “Story”? Most of us jump right into discussing characterization and how-to-tips, but we never seem to stop and ask ourselves this most fundamental question. A story is food for the mind and heart. Like most dishes, it follows a recipe. The basic recipe is:

Once upon a time and place, a hero went on a quest to achieve a goal, encountering conflict along the way.

Ideally, this recipe includes a climax and resolution as well. But this is the basic ‘story’ recipe. Every story has four raw ingredients. Without these, it’s not a very good story. These raw ingredients are the “PICS”, or the bigger picture:

  1. Plot– this is the sequence of events. Events occur in smaller segments known as scenes. Scenes can be broken down into even smaller segments, called ‘beats’. There are usually at least one or two sub-plots within a larger work, woven in and connected to it.
  2. Idea– this is the story seed. For it to work, it must develop from an idea into something more solid. My family plays a game on long car rides called the “What If” game. One person starts with a “what if” scenario. If the next person likes it, they expand on it. If not, they throw a new idea out. Here’s an example of one of our games:

What if zombies are really the next step in human evolution?

What if instead of trying to eat our brains, they’re trying to pass this gift of evolution on to us?

What if the zombies pity us because they’re immortal and we die?

What if the zombies live in superior cities far away and the survivors really live in the abandoned, inferior places?

What if the zombies don’t talk because they communicate telepathically with each other?

What if they’re deciding right now about whether or not to end the existence of the inferior survivors?

What if our zombie hero keeps trying to communicate with his mom and girlfriend, two survivors, and he’s desperate to stop the leaders?

3. Character– these are the people who inhabit the story. The main character and antagonist should be three-dimensional. Characters very close to the character should also have depth. Minor characters, not so much depth is needed. You need to be aware of the motivation of every character appearing in each scene, even if it’s just the paperboy determined to deliver the Sunday paper.

Three dimensions means we see: 1. The mask the character shows the rest of the world at large, including their body language, clothing style, general appearance, habits, and obvious quirks, 2. The mask beneath the first dimension, namely, the reasons behind the character’s choices and actions, including any elements of backstory essential to making the story work, and 3. The character laid bare under pressure, who the character truly is deep down when everything is on the line.

4. Setting– this is the time, place, environment, world that the story takes place in. To do this right may often require a lot of research and some travel. The setting isn’t just a pretty backdrop. The fictional world brings mood, meaning, and can tie into your theme.

Just as no two chili batches taste the same, no two writings are the same..png

What does this have to do with Genre?

All the genres and subgenres under the Fiction umbrella are stories. They all contain these four raw ingredients. In fact, each genre contains these elements in a specific amount. As we move along in the series, I’ll provide a recipe for how many parts of each raw ingredient goes into the recipe for that genre.

Isn’t that writing to a formula?

That’s like saying all chili is the same. I think these folks would disagree. No two cooks make chili the same way. I’ve never eaten two batches of chili, even from the same cook, that taste the same. There are so many endless variations on a single dish. In fiction, there are many “dishes” or genres, and there are endless variations on each dish, even when using the same raw ingredients.

I want my writing to be creative and dynamic.

And it certainly can be, even when writing with your audience’s expectations in mind. The tricky part is balancing their expectations of the genre and keeping it in tune with your developing story. There are other elements that every writer puts into their work that creates their own unique stamp, such as theme (meaning), all the details of the four elements above, narrative and descriptive voice, and how you build your scenes. Genre simply provides readers with a fairly broad set of expectations. What you do within that framework is up to you as the artist.

What is the most important element in a story?

If the PICS are the raw ingredients in our story recipe, conflict is the stove we cook it on. Raising the temperature at various points is like raising the stakes for the hero. Conflict arises from one or more of these elements and will continue until the source of the conflict is resolved.

What is Genre?

What is Genre?

All About Genre Series #1


By Leigh Holland.

One of the most common dilemmas new writers encounter is determining genre. After all, there are so many categories to choose from. One look at the genre choices on Amazon can be dizzying and daunting. I frequently hear, “What is Genre? What genre am I really writing in currently? Why isn’t there a guide for new writers on this topic?” Well, this series is all about genre.

Let’s start with a very basic question. What is Literature? Simply put, literature is the written word, text, script, etc. In the modern era, there are a wide variety of types of literature. Everywhere we look, we can find examples of literature.

To name a few with examples:

Digital Literature: blog posts, audiobooks, comment and discussion board sections, web page, podcast, and even your text messages

Marketing and News Literature: billboards, bench ads, bus ads, radio, streaming, television commercials, host’s monologue, news and weather reports, and quiz shows.

Ephemera: fortune cookies, tweets, greeting cards, instant messages

Business Literature: print ad, flyer, bulletin board posting, job application, resumes, menu, postcards, want ads, business cards, and product labels.

Government and Legal Literature: ordinances, statutes, tax forms, constitution, police reports, contracts, and political speeches.

Personal Use: bumper stickers, t-shirt text, tattoo text, scrapbooks, personal correspondence, genealogy, and sermons.

Scholastic Literature: dictionaries, encyclopedias, curriculum, textbooks, thesis, and quizzes.

Scientific Literature: Peer reviewed papers, raw data, scientific textbooks.

Periodical Literature: editorials, advice columns, journals, obituaries, magazine and news articles.

General Literature: character sketches, blueprints, reviews, lectures, lesson plans, narrative non-fiction, computer programming languages, technical manuals, and war correspondence.

We are enveloped in a lovely, literature-soaked world. When we say “genre”, we’re talking about writings that fall in the four broad mega-genres under that gigantic literature umbrella. Many of the examples above can fall under one or more of these categories.

These four mega-genres are:

Poetry: Poetry evokes emotion using patterned sounds. There are many styles of poetry. This is not a complete list, but some examples include: ballads, cinquain, didactic, doggerel, epic, free verse, haiku, iambic pentameter, limerick, ode, quatrain, rhapsody, sonnet, and villanelle.

Drama: Drama is literature written to be performed or spoken orally. Examples include plays, speeches, and reader’s theater.

Non-Fiction: Informational, analytical, and factual writings, these can include memoirs, biographies, essays, scholastic, legal, governmental, and technical writings.

Fiction: Stories from an author’s imagination focusing on plot and/or character. This can include many genres and subgenres. Most new writers trying to figure out how to classify their work are writing fiction.

What is the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction?

We may hear people say the term “genre fiction” as if such works were in some way inferior. There’s nothing wrong with writing genre fiction. Genre is two things simultaneously: 1. A method for categorizing literature so that it is easier to understand from the outset what it is and how it might be marketed, and 2. An unspoken contract between the writer and the reader in which the writer promises the reader the book will meet the requirements of the genre. The emphasis in genre fiction is placed on entertaining a wide audience and selling books to them. This doesn’t mean genre fiction isn’t “good”, its emphasis and audience is different, and it’s marketed differently.

Literary fiction differs from genre fiction in a few ways. Where genre fiction is concerned with plot, faster pacing, and engaging dialogue, literary fiction’s focus is on theme. Literary fiction usually has themes that are concerned with the human condition and put forth a social or political commentary. Literary fiction develops in-depth characters who drive the plot and elicit emotional responses from the reader. This style of fiction is often elegantly written, containing more exposition and inner dialogue than genre fiction typically does.

This series will deal with genre fiction and its subgenres.

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!