Actual Writing Advice: Be Specific

A couple of weeks ago when I read Holly’s blog post about query letters, one very important piece of advice stuck out to me over all the other suggestions: be specific. She was talking about describing your plot in specific details so it doesn’t look generic and boring. However, I realized that my world building, whether it’s fantasy or modern day, had turned blah. Or maybe it always has been.

Even when your setting is current day with no science fiction or fantastic elements, you need to build the world and how your character views it. The only way to do that is through specific descriptions, specific dialogue and specific narrator voice.

It sounds exhausting. And it can be. But like everything else in life, practice makes it easier.


Generic Fairies

After I read Holly’s post I immediately thought of the urban fantasy I’ve started working on. It begins in the fairy world. For a loooooong time, I have had a very sexualized picture of the fairy world in my mind. But whenever I go to write my stories beginning in the fairy world, I always hold back. BAD! When I hold back, my fairy world turns little better than Pixie Hollow with a bunch of flower named fairies flying around. Why should anyone read my generic fairy story? And it’s not at all what I’ve spent years imagining.

My Fairies

My Fairies

So I dug into the prelude of my urban fantasy. I’m going to post some before and after scenes for you. Warning! The below writing has adult content. I didn’t go all porn on you, but I’d give it an R rating.


Music as light as clouds floated throughout the palace ballroom. Fairies danced high above near the open ceiling, appearing like colored falling stars streaking through the night. Others danced on the ballroom floor with their noses in the air while still ignoring the fluttering above.

And they whispered.

And whispered.

The words pushed out the music in Pamela’s ears until they thundered in her mind.
Rhys would never do that. He’d pledged himself to her.

Unable to bear the gossip, Pamela stormed out of the palace ballroom, causing the whispering to crescendo. Something snagged her long red hair that flew out behind her. She swiped by her ear, knowing it was her fairy dragon, Spark, trying to get her attention.

“Don’t go check, your majesty,” the little dragon pleaded. “Go dance at your party. Find a new lover for yourself.”

The very first problem are my cliches: “light as clouds” and “falling stars streaking through the night”. I have flying fairies opposed to wingless fairies, which is okay, but I don’t really give the reader an idea of how they’re dressed or how capricious they are or how much they like sex.


Music both rich and fluffy like a bon-bon filled the palace ballroom. Flutters danced high above near the open ceiling with twinkling stars as their backdrop. Their wings, glowing pinks, greens, blues…all shades of the rainbow, accented the dark gown of night. Wingless fairies danced on the ballroom floor with their noses in the air while still ignoring the fluttering above.

And they whispered.

And whispered.

The words pushed out the music in Tanaquill’s ears until they thundered in her mind.

Rhys was fucking a Flutter.

Her fingertips burned ready to flare if she heard the name Rhys uttered by one more fairy.

A noble leaped by wrapped in a silver ribbon for a dress. She sang in a shrill soprano, “There once was a flutter named Rhys, who was famous for his really big piece. He caught the Queen’s eye, but since she can’t fly, his piece is now filling Clarice.”

Tanaquill yanked a loose end of the ribbon streaming behind the rhyming fairy. Flames raced across the ribbon while the fairy spun like a top as the dress unwound. Just before the flames licked at the singing fairy, the ribbon released her. She planted a foot, stopping the spin. Her arms reached up in a pose to show off her nude, lithe body, glittering with fairy dust.

The dancers paused to laugh and applaud, filling the room with the sound of tinkling glass.

Tanaquill shot a warning firework from her fingertips towards the Flutters high above. It burst in a bright red. Flutters scattered above the walls and out.

Grabbing the skirt of her sheer, golden gown, Tanaquill turned and stormed out of the palace ballroom. Something snagged her long red hair that flew out behind her. She swiped by her ear, knowing it was her fairy dragon, Spark, trying to get her attention.

“Don’t go check, your majesty,” the little dragon pleaded. “Go dance at your party. Find a new lover for yourself.”

I think the above is better. Bon-bons aren’t generally used to describe music. The fairy leaping around is only wearing a ribbon, and then she’s nude. Not only is she nude, but also she’s proud of it. Tanaquill is wearing a sheer gown. “Fucking” is used as well as a lewd limerick. The reader knows the fairies are brazen, gossipy, giggly and sexual. These are not Disney Fairies.

When reading over your manuscripts, look for words, sentences and whole scenes where you can dig a little deeper and exhibit better what’s in your mind as opposed to what’s on the page. Be brazen! Being shy with your pen will get you no where. Show the world what your imagination is in all it’s glory.

Extra! Extra!

I just recieved an email saying my story Ascension got an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future Contest. It’s the first time I’ve entered this contest which is strange considering how much I enjoy contests. It’s definitely worth a go if you’ve never tried it before because it’s free! I might enter again for the next quarter. Let me know if you do too.

On an unrelated note, I thought I would post this video about rom/com tropes. I know most of my audience leans towards fantasy/scifi, but it does mention Twilight. It’s Cracked so definitely not work safe. I made the mistake of beginning it while my fifteen-year-old son was in the room and paused it speedy quick because it starts off with very colorful language.

So if you like conversations about tropes in any genre, enjoy:

The Nine Creepiest Things Movies Portray as Romantic. 

And please check out yesterday’s blog about Details.

Actual Writing Advice: Enriching Detail or Confusing?

Last night I finished the second season of Veronica Mars. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Veronica Mars is a high school detective. Each season I’ve seen so far begins with a murder that’s solved in the season finale. Each show involves a twist and turn in the season’s whodunnit along with stand-alone cases that don’t have anything to do with the main murder…or do they?

The first season I truly enjoyed, but the second season left me feeling meh. I think the biggest problem was the sheer amount of red herrings in the second season. There were hints throughout the season about at least three major characters being the killer along with a few minor possibilities. The killer ended up being a minor character whose subplot was completely dropped the last several episodes of the season. When he was brought back in the finale, they also brought back all these minor details that you were supposed to still remember even from season one. It confused and fatigued me—a bit surprising since one of the things I loved about the Harry Potter series was trying to guess a lot of the backstory before it was revealed in subsequent books. I was positive Aunt Petunia would turn out to be a squib.

But Veronica Mars simply had too many details that panned out into nothing. It reminded me of my writing.

When I send a manuscript to Julie, I get marked down frequently for stray details. Something I think is enriching to the moment or the description of the room is cut for either being misleading or unnecessary. For example, in my most recent book, I chose an anecdote that happened during my years of teaching to use in the story. While I was teaching a song to a class, a boy was playing with pebbles on the rug and shoved one up his nose. In the first version of the book, my main character is reading a story to her class when the son of her love interest sticks a rock up his nose. I had a girl dare him to do it by way of explanation for something so odd. She was going to be part of a subplot. When I cut that subplot, I left in the girl’s name and a snarky comment in the main character’s internal monologue because I thought both naming the girl and the comment added detail to a teacher’s life. Sorry to tell you, teachers don’t find all children charming all the time.

When I got the first edits back, the comments from Julie were something like, “Since you named the little girl I was expecting her to return to the story, but she never does.” And, “The comment about the girl seems strange since she never appears in the story again.” Oops!

I tried to explain my reasoning, and then I went on further and said, “The boy in real life had no reason for sticking a rock up his nose. He just did it. I thought people wouldn’t believe that and would need more of a reason.” Julie’s reply was, “Little boys are weird. Use the no explanation.”

The no explanation worked so much better for the story. When I did the massive rewrite, the boy’s strange behavior throughout the story became very important to whether or not the main character was a good teacher. In this instance, taking out a couple of details was more enriching to the overall story.

So how do you know when a detail is viable or confusing? The only firm rule I currently have is don’t name characters who aren’t a part of the story. In the same book I mentioned above, I had a minor character mention his wife in passing, and I named her. I got back another comment from Julie saying not to even mention her because she’s nowhere else in the story. She was right. When you give somebody a name, that’s a clue to the reader that this character’s important. The rule is a relief to me because it takes me forever to come up with names, so the fewer I have to use, the better.

A rule I often hear is, “Don’t put a gun in the corner of the room unless it’ll go off by the end of the story.” Like names, certain objects come with expectations. A gun needs to be fired, a treasure map means a treasure needs to be discovered, something missing needs to be found. Think carefully about the details you’re adding and how much weight they’ll carry with the reader. If you try to show your character being sloppy or careless by having an untied shoelace, your reader might expect that character to trip over the laces. Perhaps a stain on the shirt would be better if tripping isn’t part of the plot.

The best rule is to have someone else read your story. It’s easy for me to get caught up in my own cleverness while leaving the reader in the dark. Details can make your story welcoming to the reader, or leave them confused like I was through most of the second season of Veronica Mars.

What rules do you have for using details?