All posts tagged Fiction

How To Use Writing Tips

Published November 27, 2016 by nruhwald

**This blog is on hiatus until the New Year. Thank you for reading.***

It occurred to me lately that I could use Pinterest to collect writing help articles as well as blogging help articles. Since then I’ve been swamped in writing tips. I think I have to start saving more dessert recipes and crocheting patterns just to keep things in balance.

But with this newfound access to a ton of internet knowledge, came the responsibility of using it properly. How and when do you apply writing tips? Are you supposed to have a list of writing rules open beside you as you write and keep referring to them?

Duh, no.

You’d never get anything done. When do we use writing tips, then, and how?

The short answer: during planning and editing.

For the long answer I’m going to go through some common types of writing tips and how to use them.

The Word List

(This also applies to your thesaurus)

Many of these lists have themes, such as words to use instead of “went,” words that evoke sensory details, words that “every writer should know.”

In general I think these lists are good, but use with care. Just like a thesaurus, it is very easy to look pretentious if you use words your audience doesn’t understand. There is also the risk of using a word incorrectly because you don’t understand what it means.

In which case you end up looking silly to those readers who do.

However, you can use these lists. These are best used in the final polishing, or line-editing, of your work. For instance, if you notice your characters are constantly “dashing” everywhere, a good word list with action verbs can help you out. A thesaurus is also helpful if you are struggling to remember a word. Often you can find it by looking for words with similar meanings.

The only “words to use instead of” list you should never use is the “said” replacement list. Do not, ever, replace “said” with anything. Except perhaps “asked,” although some suggest that a question mark is sufficient.

Unlike pretty much any other device used in fiction, “said” is supposed to be boring. It is there to be skipped over, so that the reader sees the character’s name and knows who’s talking, and that’s it. The dialogue itself does the rest.

If you must specify that a character is shouting or whispering or whatever, use an action tag.

Lists of “words every writer should know,” are a particular danger zone. While I agree writers should probably know what these words mean, they are almost always exactly the sort of words writers should use very, very infrequently. Or not at all, unless needed for voice or characterization purposes.Use a thesaurus with the same caution.

With one exception: if you have a very-highly educated and/or pretentious character, it is perfectly fine to use these words.

How To Plot A Novel

These articles usually cover things like the progression of suspense/conflict in a novel (inciting incident, rising action, climax, ending). Or they may cover plot points, and any of the other large-scale building blocks of novels generally. This also applies to articles on how to write a scene.

This kind of information you should know and have in the back of your head when you’re going through the plotting stages of the novel. Which, depending on your style, may occur before any writing begins or intermittently during the process of writing the novel.

It may also help you realize what a horrible mess you’ve made of your novel after you’ve written it. For example, if you go over your novel’s plot and realize you’ve glossed over the climax entirely, or you have no plot points at all…

…then you’ve probably successfully created a first draft, and are now ready to begin the arduous process of rewriting it. Congratulations.

How To Write The First/Last Chapter/Page

These I also find useful in the planning stages. Or if I’ve tried to write the first scene (or whatever) a few times and it just doesn’t seem to be working. They’re also a handy guide for rewriting said sections.

Oh, and the first page of your novel is absolutely the most important part and you should rewrite/edit it fifty bazillion times. Of course, you also have to back up your fabulous first page with a high-quality novel, but the importance of first impressions cannot be overstated.

Unless of course you are paralyzed with doubt about your first page. In that case, just forget it for the moment and move on.

Character/Setting Profiles

I think these are super neat. Ideally these are used in the planning stages, where they have the greatest potential to save you grief later on, but can also be used if you find yourself running into problems during writing, or as a primer prior to rewriting.

My deal is, although I think these are really cool and I like the idea of them, so far I have never used any. I tend to daydream up sufficient detail about most places and people organically.

While these profiles certainly can be useful, they also feel a bit artificial to me. Like a school project. Which is also why I don’t normally make use of writing prompts or creative writing lessons, even though those things are probably beneficial too.

Unless the writing prompt results in you writing a cliché or the creative writing instructor doesn’t know what s/he is talking about. Which can happen too.


God bless, and happy writing!

(Come back next week for a new sneak peak of The King’s Children.)




The Lofty Views of a Mouse

Published November 13, 2016 by nruhwald

brainThe evening began so well. After the hub-bub of Sunday’s frenzy, Oakwood Fellowship was finally quiet enough for the three mice to head over to their favorite spot in the receptionist’s station next to the Lost-and-Found box.

Ricky carried a communion cup fill with apple juice left over from the nursery snacktime, plunked it on the floor within easy reach, and settled down on a holey mitten.

Lena and Meg continued their discussion as they climbed up into the cupboard.

“Because, you know how humans only use ten percent of their brains?” said Lena.

Meg’s ear twitched.

“Oh boy.” Ricky hid his smile in the cup of apple juice.

Meg hopped up on an empty box of Dove soap. “Excuse me?”

“You know, on the scans. Only ten percent of the brain lights up,” Lena said. “On average.”

“I beg your pardon. Humans do not use ten percent of their brains. They may, or may not, use ten percent of their brains at a time, depending on what they are doing. But different parts of the brain are used for different things. People don’t do everything at once.”

“Well maybe, but-”

“-but nothing. For instance, a person cannot use every part of their house at once. Does that mean some parts of the house are unused? No, that’s dumb.”

“Well, you could get more stuff done if you could be in every room at once.”

“The brain doesn’t work like that.”

“So your analogy doesn’t work.”

“People don’t work like that either.”

“But if they did…”

Meg smoothed her whiskers in an effort to stay calm.

Ricky took another sip of apple juice.

“The point is,” Meg said. “People do, at some point during the day, use all the parts of their brain. There is no secret reservoir of untapped brainpower.”

“Well, whatever,” said Lena.

Meg gave a dismissive flick of her tail and scurried over to the smartphone. Someone lost it in the ladies washroom two months ago, and had never come back for it.

“You’re drinking all the juice,” said Lena.

“Well have some then,” said Ricky.

“Although.” Meg’s brow furrowed as she flipped through her Facebook newsfeed with quick, dexterious motions of her paw. “You may have a point.”

via Daily Prompt: Lofty

Winnowna, Meet Patrick

Published November 6, 2016 by nruhwald


Time for a new sneak peak of my upcoming novel The King’s Children. If you haven’t had a chance to meet my main characters Patrick Hood or Winnowna, you may want to do so now.

If you have, read on to see what happens when they meet each other for the first time.


Winnowna sat alone at her table in the tea parlour. Scant few others took tea in the spacious room; the resort town popular only in the summer months. The others talked and sipped their tea as if nothing was wrong. They knew who she was. Even in a drastically reduced mode of dress and without her entourage, no one could fail to recognize Princess Winnowna Illusia. Still, they pretended they did not know her.

She stared at her cup of tea, at the reflection of the chandelier in its surface. Her hand shook as she raised the cup to her lips. The next hour or two would decide her fate. After the rebels arrived and signaled their presence, Winnowna would run. Some of them would ensure the guards did not get in her way while others guided her to the docks where a ship waited for her.

Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Winnowna smoothed the mauve satin of her skirt. She would have difficulty running in the voluminous dress and fine shoes, but she could not have worn something more practical without alerting her maid to the fact that she planned to escape.

They would come soon. Winnowna looked out the windows.

A strangeling walked across the roof of the buildings on the other side of the street and a chill of horror swept over her. She considered fleeing deeper into the inn, but she sat and watched him as though caught up into a dream.

Murmurs of concern arose from the other patrons in the tea parlour; some of them stood and began backing towards the exit. Her guard stood stiffly, hands on their weapons. What was this? Strangelings did not brazenly walk the streets in broad daylight.

Winnowna felt her mouth grow dry as his eyes met hers. The strangeling slid down the shingles on his feet, caught the eaves trough before he fell, let go and kicked off a pillar before landing on the street. He must be a strangeling, no human moved with that eerie feline grace.

He began to walk across to the street towards her, but didn’t get far. A group of men advanced on him and soon had him backed up against the wall of a haberdashery. A few onlookers watched uneasily from a distance or quickly ducked into buildings.

Who were these men? Was this the group of rebels she was supposed to meet? They could just as easily be an impromptu gang of concerned citizens. They outnumbered him ten to one, but nevertheless the strangeling did not appear intimidated.

Winnowna picked her opera glass out of her reticule to better observe the scene. The strangeling said something, but she could not tell what. One of the men pushed him against the brick wall.

A knife flashed in the hand of one of the men. The strangeling made a quick, precise gesture, and the knife flew from the man’s hand and struck the wooden sign above the door of the inn. One of the patrons shrieked.

The men backed off, dismayed at how easily their leader had been disarmed. The strangeling walked out from their midst and stalked down the road, back in the direction he had come. He hadn’t gone far before the men started to follow him. The strangeling glanced over his shoulder and began to run. The men gave chase, and were soon lost from sight beyond the window frame.

A breath of relief, the strangeling was gone.

Her guards were still preoccupied, looking out the windows, trying to work out what had happened. She could imagine no better opportunity to escape.

What if the strangeling was still out there?

Winnowna hesitated at the thought, but her choice was clear. Many strangelings awaited her in the gulf. Now she faced only one. And her allies were out there too. She must find them.

She jumped from her seat, hiked up her heavy skirts, and darted for the servant’s door, dodging a maid carrying a tea tray as she ran down the hallway, into the kitchen and finally out the back door into the narrow road behind the inn. Thinking of nothing but ensuring she was not followed, Winnowna ran down the cobblestone street, turned left, right, and right again.

The broken door of an abandoned theatre presented itself as a likely hiding place. She burst through the door, and hurried down a set of rickety steps into the dark and dusty basement.

Winnowna ducked behind a large backdrop, trying to catch her breath. She heard no shouts or running feet in the streets above. For the moment at least, she was free. She giggled. Free, think of it!

It took her over two weeks to accomplish, but now—

A shadow moved in the darkness. She froze. Her eyes searched the cluttered basement, and were met with too many possible threats. Painted faces leered at her out of the dark, and ominous shapes lurked in the shadows.

The princess crept deeper into the room, shying away from a trunk full of gruesomely realistic body parts. She bumped into a coatrack, knocking a rubber mask onto the floor. A hummed tune floated to her, gone almost as soon as she heard it.

She halted, listening intently and watching, but she heard nothing. Perhaps the sound had come from outside?

“They’re coming for you.”

Winnowna whirled at the unexpected voice, her heart convulsing madly in her chest.

The strangeling stood barely fifteen feet from her, his eyes flowing ghastly green like the eyes of a wild animal caught in lantern light. One of the creatures who preyed upon her family for the last three hundred years.

He looked—nothing like she expected a strangeling to look. Indeed if he hadn’t been a strangeling Winnowna might have thought him handsome. Where were the horns and deadly fangs the stories promised? And he was young; he could not be much older than she was.

He wore a long, dark coat that reminded her of a highwayman, tailor made for him. Actually, it looked like a costume.

He brushed his hair out of his eyes. “They’re coming. I tried to tell your friends, but they wouldn’t listen.”

So those had been the rebels.

“What have you done with them?” she demanded.

The strangeling frowned. As he shifted, the green glow disappeared from his eyes, revealing them to be blue, almost black in this light. “Nothing. I’m trying to warn you. My name is Patrick.”

“Patrick Hood?”

“Yes.” He looked up. “They’re coming.”


Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for part two!

Writing Fundamentals: Ex Machina

Published July 9, 2016 by nruhwald

frog-1446244_640Many of you know what an ex machina is already (and why to avoid one) but for those of you who don’t, I’ll explain.

Ex machina is a shortened form of deus ex machina, which means “god out of the machine.” In ancient Greek plays, the major conflict of the play would be resolved with a god being lowered to the stage (via a machine), who would then fix everything.

Though popular in ancient Greece, this plot device is no longer encouraged. In fact, don’t do it. Ever.

Your readers spent all this time watching your protagonist fight the antagonist, and they want to see your protagonist triumph in those efforts. They don’t want your protagonist to win because of some coincidence or the intervention of a third party out of the blue.

It’s no fun. And it’s often a sign that the writer didn’t think through the plot enough to know how the protagonist was going to triumph. For example:

“Oh, my character is in a sword fight, but the villain is way better than my character. I know, the wall they’re fighting on crumbles at the right moment and the villain falls to his death.”


Fortunately, if you find you’ve got an ex machina, it’s not all that difficult to fix. Granted, you may need to do some serious rewriting, but you don’t have to come up with something totally new.

All you need to do is make sure your protagonist has some agency in the situation, and make sure that your reader already knows that an event like the one you have planned could happen. Agency + awareness = fixed ex machina.

For example, the latest Jurassic movie, Jurassic World contains what some have so wittily described as a dino ex machina. Just when the bad dinosaur seems like its going to kill the good dinosaurs, a mososaur jumps out of the water and eats the bad dinosaur.

They could have fixed this easily without losing too much shock value. If our friends Blue the velociraptor and her buddy T Rex had seen the mososaur cruising hungrily in its pen, and pushed the Indomitus Rex towards that pen…

Voila. No more dinosaur out of the machine.

It’s not even necessarily a bad thing for your conflict to be resolved this way. Some may have preferred to see Blue and T Rex kill Indomitus Rex themselves, but there are all sorts of reasons you might not want your protagonists to be the ones who kill the antagonist (assuming the antagonist has to die).

Your antagonist may be immortal for some reason, and therefore the only way to “kill” it/him/her is for demons or other things to drag the antagonist back where ever it came from. As long as it’s not a coincidence that these gatekeepers showed up just then, and your protagonist has some part in getting them to show up and do what they do, you’re good.

This happens a lot in Disney movies, where parents don’t necessarily want their children looking up to a character who has killed somebody, but the villains in these movies are often evil enough that they deserve to die. Anastasia and the new Frog Princess movie both end this way.

So if your antagonist must be defeated by a third party, (angels, a crumbling wall, a hungry dinosaur) just make sure your reader knew it could happen, and that your protagonist helped make it happen in some way.


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