Tag Archives: writing tips

The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Gotten

Writing is hard. Fortunately, lots of people have done it before me, and many of them have given advice on how to do it. I keep a list of favorite quotes on writing, on perseverance, and on doubt. The following are the ones I have found the most helpful. The best writing advice I’ve ever gotten, if you will. In the comments, I would love to hear yours.


Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.
-E.L. Doctorow

This quote gave me such an epiphany. My goal isn’t merely to explain to the reader what the character is doing, but to bring out in the reader sympathy for what the character is experiencing. Ah ha! I find this so much more helpful than the axiom, “Show, don’t tell.”


Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very;” otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
-C.S. Lewis

I love the beauty and humility of Lewis’s writing, and this quote is so emblematic of that to me. I hear it in the back of my mind as I cut away easy hyperbole and lazy adjectives. Keep your language simple and clear, so that you can reach for the soaring language when you really need it.


I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.
–Ernest Hemingway

This one helps me remember that not everything has to be on the page. The backstory for your characters is important, but you don’t have to tell it to the reader. It’s enough for you to know it, and the reader will intuit it because it informs the choices you make for the character.

dancing girl

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that makes us more alive than the others.
-Martha Graham

This isn’t actually writing advice; Martha Graham was a dancer. It helps me so much with my writing, though. I turn to it again and again when the doubt creeps in. I love that Graham says we don’t have to decide if what we produce is good, and in fact we will never believe that our work is good. That isn’t our concern. Our concern is to be true to the voice inside us, because if we don’t, that voice will be lost forever.

Those are my favorites. What are yours?

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer, looking for inspiration wherever she can get it. She reviews books at Kid Book List, and tweets @SuperKate. 




Writing (& Teaching) Setting-specific Story Details

If you’re a writer and/or teacher, you may be feeling the MUF-love emanating from your screen right now. That’s because today’s post about writing using setting-specific details is in your honor. Yep, it’s all for you. And for your readers. And for your students. And maybe even for your labradoodle named Cocoa who was briefly abducted by aliens and now spends his days pawing at a MacBook, composing original similes.

As a writer and a teacher, I love to explore and teach about the gloriously complex world of writing. I’m always learning something new and trying to improve my own writing craft. That’s what made me decide it was time to revisit my teaching roots and share something I’ve been working on in my own writing. And I brought J. K. Rowling along to help!

(Well, okay, that J. K. Rowling thing may almost, maybe, kind of be a lie. But I use a brief excerpt from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And I allow my voice to climb toward falsetto as I do a very poor imitation of Professor McGonagall. So it’s pretty much like J. K. Rowling personally created this MUF post. Except she really didn’t. But I still couldn’t have done it without her.)

Anyway, enough parenthetical rambling! For today’s post you don’t need to do much reading. Instead, you can kick back with your Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte (or other favorite beverage), click the video below, and spend 3 minutes learning how setting-specific details strengthen a story and make it more believable.

If you’re a writer, I hope the video will give you something to think about in your own writing. If you’re a teacher, maybe you can use the video as a springboard to a writing lesson with your students. And if you’re neither a writer nor a teacher? . . . Well, maybe Cocoa the labradoodle will enjoy the brief respite from composing all of those similes.

Writing & Creating Story Setting with Specific Details

Have any favorite books or series where the author brings the setting alive? Any great examples of rich, setting-specific details from a book you’ve read? Feel free to post in the comments below.

T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has a 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course available at Curious.com.

Oh, the Drama! Novel Writing from a Playwright’s Perspective


Images are from a recent production of Peter Pan which I directed, but unfortunately, did not write.

As a director and resident playwright at my local children’s theater, I came into novel writing from a script writer’s background. There are drawbacks of coming from the stage to the page. But there are benefits, too. I think the lessons I’ve learned and am still learning apply to writers from all backgrounds, and I look forward to reading how you deal with these areas when writing.


Seeing the Scene: “Could we have a little more description of this location?” My editor wrote this several *cough* times in my first novel manuscript. I call it the plague of the playwright: I “see” all my scenes as if they’re on stage or in a movie, often forgetting the reader can’t see them as well. I’ve had to make conscience decisions to describe “the set” of each scene, realizing that setting is what grounds the reader in the character’s world. This usually happens during the second draft.

Disoriented: “Orientation.” That’s another comment that occasionally still pops up in edits. Related to the first pitfall, in a script, I’d put the character’s position and movement on the set in parenthetical stage notes. I see it in my head when I write, but have to remember to help the reader see it by describing it for them.

Lost in Transition: As a director, I’m used to beginning and ending scenes via light cues and curtains. But that won’t work in fiction. It doesn’t always take much, just showing the passage of time or giving a character some internal dialogue (another thing it’s easy for this playwright to forget to include), but it’s the difference between a confused reader and one who can suspend disbelief.


PP2 (1)What’s That You Say? Dialogue is probably the playwright’s number one vehicle, and most of my first drafts consist of the characters talking. If I’m writing a script, I will often hand a copy to my husband so I can hear how a scene sounds aloud in comparison to how it sounded in my head. A strong internal ear is valuable for a novelist, but when in doubt, read it out!

Hands Free: I recently saw a contest for a short story written entirely in dialogue-no tags allowed. If I weren’t working on other projects, I’d probably enter for the fun of it. Body and dialogue tags aren’t a bad thing, and I use them often, but they can clunk up an otherwise snappy conversation. Playwrights have to rely solely on words in a script and let the actors fill in the rest. I think a stretch of dialogue without any tags gives the reader a chance to connect with the characters in a deeper way, utilizing the imagination to fill in the blanks. Jane Austen was a master of this. A conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice:

“Of what are you talking?”

“Of Mr. Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy declares she will not have Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins begins to say he will not have Lizzy.”

“And what am I to do on the occasion? It seems a hopeless business.”

“Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her you insist upon her marrying him.”

“Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion.”

Now, I would have been tempted to at least used one physical description of Mrs. Bennet flailing about or pulling at her cap, but Jane trusts that she’s painted the characters well enough for us to see it all in the theater of our minds. Also noteworthy is that she doesn’t use a single exclamation point.

I’m Hearing Voices: Nobody wants to see a play with characters who sound like echoes of each other, and the same holds true in fiction. I like to give characters varying sentence construction and one or two key words or phrases that they say without thinking, especially in conversations.

PP3It’s All About the Timing: There’s no time for lags in action or dialogue in theater. If you’ve ever been to a play with a seemingly eternal scene change or worse, where an actor forgets lines, you know how it pulls you out of the show. Pacing is priority in fiction, too. Varying sentence structure, giving readers time to “breathe” after intense scenes, and knowing how to end a chapter with a page turner will all keep your audience fully invested in your characters’ journeys.

I’d love to hear from other script writers on how you make the transition from script or screenplay to story, and from anyone else who has insight on how to improve a novel’s setting, orientation, and transitions.

LGBioPicture copyIn addition to writing, directing, and occasionally acting in plays and musicals, Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and IN TODD WE TRUST (Penguin/Razorbill). She resides in Kansas with her large family and a noisy parrot, who supply plenty of comedy and drama.