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Writing 101:

Disclaimer:  The suggestions that I offer on my website, ones in which I consider are ways of helping you become a good writer, perhaps a publishable one, are just that—suggestions.  I do not intend to hold them out there as an absolute guarantee that if you follow my ideas, you will become a published author, a better writer, or even a good one at that.  As with any skill, some of us are better at some things than others.  What I am offering you are my experiences, the things and lessons I have learned that have helped me gain a tentative foothold into the crazy and beguiling world of the written word.  If you go to other writer’s websites, you will probably get a whole different perspective as to what you can do to better insure your chances of getting published.  The plain and simple fact is that there are many disciplines and experiences published authors share in common, and others that are unique to them alone.  Take whatever I say that is meaningful to you.  If it’s not, that’s okay too.  If I have the chance of helping just one person move forward as a writer, then I have done my job well.

A fun article I recently came across:

Have you ever wondered why certain books get published and why others don't. How is it that some authors whose literary skills leave something to be desired, yet that writer's books keep landing on your local bookstore shelf. While at the same time, writers who have spent years honing their craft can't seem to catch a break, and wallow in obscurity. It doesn't seem fair, and it's not.  I recently came across an article written by Rick Copple that makes some sense of this great inequity. He graciously allowed me to post it on my website to share with others. I hope you find it as compelling and enlightening as I did.

Title: Why Publishers Run With the Crowd


by R. L. Copple


 From the publisher's standpoint, what they are most concerned about is making enough money to stay in business. Being a bookkeeper, I know it often comes down to "How can we pay the bills this month?" "Will we have enough?" And the whole business revolves around staying alive even if the vision statement has loftier goals.


So publishers look at what's selling and hook up with that bandwagon. No one wants to be left out of the gravy train. And editors looking for the next big seller are given the task to see what the trends are in publishing, and buy what is selling.


Just like a bookstore owner isn't going to keep a book on the shelf forever if it doesn't sell. He may buy one or two copies of a book that sells once every three to six months, but if a book becomes hot, you can bet he'll have several copies on the shelf.


Film is even worse on the lemming affect. You don't see many original made-for-movie scripts. Dreamworks seems to be one of the few actually doing totally new stuff on a regular basis. Everyone else is doing either remakes or an adaptation of a book. And it's why when you see one superhero movie make big bucks and is well liked, like Spiderman or Ironman, you'll see several superhero movies follow, including sequels to those movies.


So naturally an editor is going to be looking for what is selling. Being original, unique, a totally different story, while that might be good, is a much bigger risk to the publisher. Occasionally one of those will become the next J. K. Rowling, but many more bomb and die a horrible death, costing the publisher a lot of money that they don't get a return on.


It's akin to medical research. It takes money to fail, try again, fail again, try again, and fail again, until they finally have a solution that works. The publisher relies on the books that will be fairly safe bets to generate some actual income so they have the funds to seek out that unique voice in the hopes of not following a trend, but starting one, which can be very lucrative when they do find the next big author.


So the bigger number of slots go to what's selling, and the few slots they have for the riskier purchases from a very competitive field. You have to convince the publisher that <em>your</em> book is the one they should risk thousands of dollars on. Not an easy task, especially when there are so many vying for that spot.


Now, that's the publisher/editor side of the equation. For the author, do they only write what sells? They could. But what I've felt, and <a href="" target="_blank">Dean Wesley Smith</a> has confirmed this, is to write what you want to write, then go out and find that publisher willing to take that risk on you. It may take sending out many queries and manuscripts for years, but your concern isn't so much to make the publisher money (though you hope you do because if that's the case, you'll make money as well, and most importantly, that means a lot of people are reading your book), but to write the story burning in your heart to be written.


I've always figured if I'm not excited about a story, very few others will be either because it will come out in my writing. I've done that before, and agree the writing felt flatter. The more I've tried to write what I thought a publisher might want, generally the less compelling and interesting the story--there have been notable exceptions as always. I write better and my stories are more interesting when an idea hits me and I get excited over it, and it has to be written.


So I'm realizing over the past few months that I should write when I get that excitement. There may be times in the future that I have to fill a deadline, so I can't wait for that, but generally, how I feel about what I'm writing will come out in the story. So if I want something exciting and interesting, I have to feel that way myself about the story. If I don't feel that way, it's best to sit back and mull it over until I do get that angle or plot element or character that makes it fun.


So I'll write that way, and then go find a publisher who will publish it. An author isn't an editor, and we shouldn't write as if we are editors. Making money is their concern. Writing the story that is on our hearts is ours. That's how I look at it, anyway.


But the bottom line is, yes, your story will then often not be what they are looking for, won't fit their list which they have determined they need to fill, and a slew of other reasons. All that means is your query/story didn't capture their interest and attention long enough to hook them in. You'll get many more of those than not, unless your story happens to be what is hot right now. Expect it.


That's where the indie presses have a leg up. They are usually shooting for nitchier markets. They are more willing to take the risk because their cost to publish is much lower, so a failure isn't nearly as horrible on the bottom line. They have more freedom to experiment. So it tends to be easier to get your foot in the door with one of them, especially when your story doesn't fit into whatever the standards the bigger publishers are looking for, or deem is appropriate.


The cool thing is when what you really want to write is also what's hot.

If the writing is good, and the story and characters well played, you'll have an easier time of connecting, and who knows, might be able to hitch your wagon to that gravy train too.


But I'd leave the "what's selling" to the publishers to figure out and write what you want, then find someone who will buy it. If you want to start a trend, it means swimming upstream. No sense lamenting that fact, just dig in and swim for all you're worth.



R. L. Copple's  interest in speculative fiction started at an early age, after reading "Runaway Robot" by Lester Del Ray. Many others followed by Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, among others. He has written for religious purposes but started writing speculative fiction in 2005. <a href=""

target="_blank"><i>Infinite Realities</i></a> marks his first book, a fantasy novella. His second book, first full length novel, <i>Transforming Realities</i> hit the shelves March 2009. He has been published in several magazines. More info can be found at the author's web site, <a href=""



My own thoughts about getting published:

      What, then, is the secret to good writing?  If I had the answer to that question, I would be a rich man indeed.  You ask that same question to writers and non-writers alike, you are bound to get eleven answers out of ten people.  The plain and simple fact is that there is no secret.  Unlike those diet pill advertisements you see on TV, the one and only way of becoming a good writer is sitting down in front of your computer, or typewriter for those traditionalists out there, and do it.  And by doing it, I mean a lot—hour after hour after hour.  Writing is a skill that takes practice.  Now mind you, I’m sure there are some people out there, three or four tops in the world, who suddenly wake up one day with the notion of writing a book.  It is a new idea for them, but it sounds intriguing.  They plant themselves in front of their computer and type away for the next couple of months.  When finished, they look up a publishing house or two on the Internet, send in their unsolicited manuscript to an editor, and the next thing you know, that same new writer is on the cover of Time Magazine and on the New York Times bestselling list, acclaimed as the next great author of our times.  Like I said before, three or four tops.  For the rest of us, we toil in front of that computer screen for years on end before we get any kind of positive response from a publishing house or magazine.  It is not my intention to discourage you, especially if you are just getting into this crazy world of writing, but you should know the truth about getting published from the get-go so you know exactly what you are signing up for.

      With that said, there are few endeavors in the world that will challenge you more.  I’m sure most of you out there have curled up in front of a really good book, and was drawn into a story that took you to other, wonderful places, and in some case, other worlds.  You are signing up to do the exact same thing.  In this case, you are creating that world for someone else.  But it takes work, drive, and determination.

Step 1:  Getting Started

      Unless your last name is Gates or Rockefeller, you probably work 40-50 hours a week at a job.  This means you will do most of your writing before work, after work, and on weekends.  Depending on how fast you are, you will probably crank out a few pages of really good stuff a day.  On a personal note, I have heard it said that many of the established writers today hold to the proverbial “1000 words a day” standard of writing.  That about 3 ½ pages for you math whizzes out there.  If you can maintain a 3-page a day discipline, you could conceivably write the “Great American 300-page novel” in 100 days.  Again, that’s just over three months for you math whizzes.  When you think about completing a novel in your spare time, it does not seem quite so daunting.  Of course, what you’ve written will probably need a bit of polishing.  I’m certain there are a handful of writers out there who can form an entire novel in their head, and then put type it out like they are taking dictation.  For the rest of us humble writers, our first step is getting the words onto the page.  Don’t worry about how good or bad it is.  Just get it written down.  You are creating.  Think of yourself as Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo.  You are the great master of creativity.  Put it out there.  There is no right or wrong at this point.  In your mind, it’s all good, and treat it that way.


Step 2:  Put It Down For A While

      The next thing you should is put what you’ve written away for a while.  Whether that be a paragraph, section, chapter or chapters.  Whatever block you write at any one time, set it aside for a time.  Let it grow cold in your mind.  If you don’t do that, and try to edit your work at the same time, or soon after, all the ideas, images, and scenes are still fresh in your mind.  The problem is, whatever doesn’t quite make it onto the page, our minds will fill in the gaps and play that little theater in our heads.  That’s great for you, but someone else reading your story doesn’t have access to your thoughts.  They can only judge your writing based on what is on the written page.  If there are gaps in the story, or your descriptions are skimpy, or you tend to repeat certain phrases or words (which most writers do by the way), then the person reading your work will pick it up in a second and consider it flawed, or just not that good.  Hopefully, these are the things you will catch yourself, long before you send it off to a publishing house.  If you don’t, an editor or literary agent certainly will.  And believe me, he will let you know it.  Their job is not to pat you on the back and say it’s a great story despite all its flaws.  No.  If the book is a mess, they reject it on the spot and move onto the next submission on their ever-growing pile of other hopeful writers.  They are interested in a story that is written well, has intriguing characters, and a compelling plot the reader cannot put down.  That is always the standard every writer should adopt for himself when he is writing any book.  Those are the kind you find in magazines or on bookstore shelves.  All the rest were rejected long before.


Step 3:  Edit, Edit, and Then Edit Some More

      Once you have started on your project, you will probably need to go back several times to work out all the kinks.  It could be anything:  word usage, sentence structures, character development, or the tone of your story.  For most writers, this is a difficult and humbling process.  A novel is their baby, their creation.  To think that it is flawed in some way is anathema to many of them.  What they have written is what they have written.  The trouble is, it is almost never right the first time around.  How many times have you written a note to yourself, only to wonder what it says when you read it later?  Why should your novel or magazine article be any different?  Whatever you put on the page needs to be there for a reason.  A single word can change the meaning of a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, perhaps the entire story.  I know this sounds extreme, but a writer who is making a serious attempt at getting published should give his very best.  Just phoning it in won’t do.  Dialogue between characters should crackle in the reader’s ears.  If it doesn’t then you go back and change it.  Do your descriptions paint a picture like a Renaissance master?  If it is bland and lacking in detail, you go back and think of new ways to convey in the reader’s mind what is taking place.  Are your characters authentic?  Are their actions consistent?  Is there too much information?  Should you take out parts of the story to keep it moving forward?  Does the reader have a reason to turn the next page?  All these kinds of questions should be in the forefront of your mind when you are creating your story.  Going over every page with a critical eye helps this happen.  That is the beauty of editing.  Whatever doesn’t work, you have the ability of making it right.  


Step 4:  Get Some Feedback

      It is always a good idea to get some feedback.  A little honest criticism never hurts.  This is a chance to see if someone else gets what you are trying to say.  Are your characters believable?  Does your dialogue ring true?  Does the plot hold together well?  These, plus a hundred other questions, need to be answered before you even consider getting your work published.  But who do you get?  This can be a bit tricky.  Our temptation is to give it to a friend, or perhaps a family member, and get their opinion.  I myself did this on several occasions.  The problem is, these are your friends, and/or members of your family.  They tend to have a huge blind-spot—they know you.  No one ever wants to give bad news to a close friend or family member, especially when you have such high hopes about your work.  So you often get general platitudes, such as they say they liked it, it was really good, it was interesting, or whatever else may come to mind.  Unfortunately, you walk away thinking you have a winner on your hands instead of the truth.

      The other problem is that most people do not have the ability of critiquing someone’s work in a literary sense.  It doesn’t mean they aren’t smart.  Writing, like many disciplines, has its own rules, its own do’s and don’ts.  Do you have a problem with point-of-view (POV) in your work, do you tell the reader what’s going on instead of showing him, is your writing forced and unnatural, or do you use too many adverbs to describe characters or scenes?  The layperson probably will not be able to identify those particular traps many young writers fall into, myself included when I made my first serious attempt at writing.  They may have a general feeling something isn’t write, but won’t be able to verbalize it very well, if at all.  Whoever you give your work to, make certain they know a thing or two about the mechanics of good writing, and have ability of letting you know where your writing falls short.  The only way we can improve is when we are told where our problems are.  Mind you, it’s no fun getting something back you have poured and slaved over for a good long time, only to hear there are a lot of areas that need fixing.  But unlike architects or sculptors who make mistakes, you can go back to those parts of the story and make needed repairs.  In my novel, When the Sky Fell, there were some parts of the story I probably had to revise 30-40 times before I got it right.  That may be a bit extreme, but it sometimes takes hardheaded people like myself a while before we recognize how many of the writing traps we have fallen into over the years.  The question then is, “Who should read your work?”

      There are, of course, professional people who do critiques for a living.  If you decide to pursue this route, there are several steps you should consider first before signing on with someone.  First, talk with those writers who have worked with that particular person in the past.  Were they easy to get along with?  Did they return your work within the promised time frame?  Are the authors this person is working with getting published?  Are this person’s rates reasonable?  How long have they been doing this?  You should decide well who you should pick since that person is going to exercise quite a bit a influence as to the direction, style, and tone of your novel.  This person can polish it to a high sheen, or he can just as easily chop it apart into an unrecognizable mess.

      There are also writer’s conferences.  This is an excellent place for you to show off your skills as a writer.  While the services vary from conference to conference, a good many of them let attendees submit the 20 or so pages of work ahead of time so one of their staff members can evaluate it.  Some conferences build the cost of this into the registration fees, while others charge separately.  But you do have the chance to let a writer, editor, or agent evaluate your work.  These are people who are in the business and know what they are talking about.  They can usually spot the flaws in your writing pretty quick.  I almost had this happen to me at the Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference.  When an editor wanted me to send him my manuscript right after the conference was over, I was thrilled.  Then I attended his seminar on the top 5 reasons why your manuscript will get rejected.  As he went through each of the reasons in detail, it did not take me long to realize I had committed several of those mistakes he was talking about.  I told him after the seminar I would need a couple of months to fix all the problems before I sent him my novel.  He understood and gave me the time I needed.

      You can also join a writers group.  This is a chance for you to share what you’ve written with other aspiring writers.  This is an arena where you can hear what people liked about what you’ve written, and which areas need work.  You also have the chance to do the same for others.  Critiquing other people’s work helps you develop an ear for snappy dialogue, good description, and a plot that keeps moving forward.  Plus, you also get a chance to experience other styles of writing.  As a writer, you should always be looking for new ways of approaching your material. 

      In a similar vein, there are online websites that serve a similar function as a critique group.  You have the opportunity of submitting your work for other members to critique, and then do the same for them.  The only problem is that you have no idea who these other people are.  You don’t know their tastes in writing or how long they have been developing their own material.  If you do take this route, just remember to read their critiques with a grain a salt, unless of course, they loved it. 


Step 5:  Now That You’re Done, How Do You Get Published?

      After several thousand more hours of work, all the writing, revisions and polishing have finally ended.  You have completed your novel.  Go out and celebrate.  You have done what very few people have done—written a novel.  If your work never gets published, it is still a laudable event in your life, worthy of praise.  But after the hoopla has settled down, you now must roll up your sleeves and set about the task of getting your novel published.  If you ever get a chance to talk with a writer who has published a novel, you are likely to hear quite an interesting story.  The road from the computer to bookstore shelf is almost always an interesting one, with many diversions and detours along the way.  Different writers usually have varied experiences.  But if one were to distill the essence of their tales, there are basically three avenues to publication.

      The first is self-publishing.  Simply put, you pay a publishing house that specializes in self-publishing to edit, revise, and print your novel for a pre-negotiated fee.  While the fees and packages vary from house to house, the responsibility to sell your book is on your shoulders.  The “publisher” may put your book on their website, and may even help in promoting it, but after that, it’s up to you.  You are the one who talks to booksellers, you are the one who creates the buzz, and you are the one who finds a way to put your novel into people’s hands.  It’s a lot of work, but if you feel passionately about what you’ve written, then this might be the road for you.  Many notable authors have gotten their start this way.  They had the drive, ambition, and solid marketing plan to make the sales.  At a certain point, publishing houses took note of their success, and signed on that writer with the house.

      If you feel your novel has what it takes in the vast marketplace of capitalism, then you can decide to send it straight to a publishing house.  While laudable, especially when you are just getting started, you may find this a disappointing route.  Publishing houses, particularly the bigger ones, typically receive hundreds, if not thousands of unsolicited manuscripts every week.  As you can imagine, competition to get published is fierce.  With this many authors vying for the attention of an acquisition editor, they can be pretty choosy about which books they want to publish.  Unless your work stands out from the crowd, you haven’t got a chance of getting past the first screening.  Even if you do, your chances of getting approval from the senior editor, marketing people, finance people, plus a whole lot of other people I’m not aware of, also have to give their blessing to the work.  If any one of the departments says your book won’t work, then it’s pretty much dead in the water at that point.

      You are also competing against writers with an established track record.  Now mind you, they were that unknown writer once upon a time.  But someone took note of their work and took a chance on him.  But now that they are a known quantity with a verifiable track record of sales, they definitely have a leg up on you.  Hey, no one said it this was fair.  Getting published is extremely unfair.  Your submission will probably only get a cursory glance from an editor.  If the first couple of pages don’t grab him, he is done with you, and onto the other several hundred unsolicited manuscripts sitting on his desk.  That same editor can be having a bad day, or he just had an argument with his boss.  You then have the unfortunate luck of being the next manuscript on the pile.  Guess what?  He probably hates it because he is now in a terrible mood.  It can be a thousand things that stack the odds against you even further.  Chances are, this won’t even happen since most publishing houses no longer look at unsolicited manuscripts.  They simply don’t have the time to go through the thousands of submissions from hopeful writers that 999% percent of the time will get rejected anyway.

      Another consideration is money.  These days, the cost of publishing a book is in the neighborhood of $100,000 dollars.  A publisher is taking quite a financial risk on you.  Since the reading public tends not to take a chance on a new author, or an author they’ve never heard of, the number of books sold will probably be on the low side.  The publishing house knows this.  And so to minimize their risk, they prefer to go with a winning author who knows how to write.  The avenue houses invariably turn to is the literary agent.

      The literary agent is the person who has the experience and connections to know the best place to pitch a novel.  They have become quality control for the publishing houses.  The houses know that an agent can sniff out a bad novel as fast as they can.  The books that pass the smell test are the ones the agent tries to sell to the publisher.  But getting him to sign you on as a client is almost as difficult as getting a publishing house to publish your work.  Like the publishing houses, they too receive thousands upon thousands of submissions from hopeful writers.  Another strike against you is that most literary agencies tend to be on the small side:  the senior agent, maybe a couple of other agents, and a few staff people.  Suffice it to say, they probably have even less time to evaluate new manuscripts.  Agents and staff are trying to sell books to publishing houses, working with authors on their next writing project, finalizing business deals, and the like.  They can only manage so many writers at any one time.  Again, the thing that is going to get your foot in the door is a great story accompanied by fabulous writing.  No matter who you are, the first question any publishing house or literary agent asks himself when he is reading a manuscript is, “Is this novel marketable?”  If he feels it won’t sell, no matter how good it is, then you’ve just joined the growing pile of rejected submissions.  But if you have written a masterpiece the whole world wants to read, then, believe me, he’ll be the one doing the begging.  The agent makes his money when he can sell a manuscript to a publishing house.  He is always looking for a good story.  Your job is to write it, and then sell it to him.

      In regards to this last point, it is always best to find out what the agent wants included in the submission.  Every one is different, and has his preferences.  Some only want a query letter, while others want a query letter and the first chapter.  Still others want the first three chapters of your novel, and a synopsis.  Like I said, everyone is different.  But be well advised.  If the agent says he only wants to send him a query letter, then don’t include a sample chapter.  This tells him you are not respectful of his wishes.  They think if you are like this at the beginning, how bad will it be down the road when a potential sale is at stake.  Whatever list they have posted, you follow it to the letter.  Also, make certain the agent works in the same genre as you.  Some agents specialize in certain areas, like westerns or romance.  If you have written a murder mystery, and the agent doesn’t work with that particular genre, then you’re just wasting his time and yours.

      In my humble opinion, the undiscovered secret of trying to get published is writer’s conferences.  While they have been around for years, most young writers don’t see this as a wise investment of their time or money.  They have it in their head they know how to write, and the hundreds of dollars spent on registration fees can be better used for making copies of their novel and paying the postage to send it out in the mail.  They could not be more wrong.  When you go to a writer’s conference, you are rubbing shoulders with published authors, literary agents and acquisition editors.  It’s like getting a fast-pass at Disneyland.  You are granted access to the very people who hold your future as a published author in their very hands.  At the conference, you learn techniques that help you make a better writer, how to avoid the pitfalls suffered by so many wannabe authors, and learn from years of wisdom of those who make their living in the literary world.

      You are also making contacts.  You have a chance of sitting down with an editor or agent and pitch your story idea to them face-to-face.  They get to hear your passion, your zeal for your story.   While they are reading the first few pages of your manuscript or a query letter (which you should always bring in abundance at any writers conference, by the way), you can tell them about the main characters, the setbacks, the triumphs, and how this is going to be the next big seller in bookstores.  You just can’t pay for that kind of access in the outside world.  If they ask you to send more, then you have jumped over a very big hurdle.  In effect, they are putting your manuscript on the top of their pile.  I even had that happen to me after a writer’s conference.  When an editor asked me to send him the first three chapters of my manuscript, and I hadn’t heard from him in a few months, I decided to call him and asked if he had a chance to read it yet.  He apologized and said he had been very busy, and hadn’t read it yet.  As we were talking on the phone, the editor promised me my manuscript would be the very next one he would read.  The only way this happened was because of the contact I made at a writer’s conference.  He knew my story was written well enough to make the first cut, and was willing to give me a closer look.

      If it doesn’t work out at the conference this time, you still have the opportunity of learning important secrets and skills about writing from people in the business.  Just about every conference sells tapes and CD’s of their seminars.  Buy the ones you feel are the most helpful for you as a writer, and listen to the pearls of wisdom flow through the speakers.  Compare what they say to your own writing.  I know I have needed to go back to my stories and make quite a number of revisions.  It is so easy to fall into so many insidious literary traps.  Or, you see just banal your descriptions and/or dialogue actually are.  Making it fresher and tighter can only improves your chances of catching the eye of an editor or literary agent.  Again, the better your writing, the more likely your manuscript will get published.  In the meantime, you write, and then write some more.  There is always another writer’s conference coming around the corner.  And you never know.  That could be the one where an agent or editor takes notice of what you’ve written and is willing to take a chance on it.



Have you ever read a book written in third person point of view that drew you into the main characters’ minds so completely that you felt like you experienced everything inside their skin? It was almost like reading a book told in first person, because every sense and thought became immediate and real. How did the writer gain that effect? The technique is called Deep Point of View, and mastering it will hone your craft to a new level.

To wet your appetite, here are a few characteristics of writing in Third Person Deep Point of View:

Deep POV is always immediate, which makes it a particularly excellent choice for high action books or scenes. Conversely, it is a wonderful way to flow in the psyche of the POV character during contemplative moments. 

However, Deep POV is not a long string of internal monologue.  

In order to achieve Deep POV, a writer must dig deep into their characters’ personalities and motivations. Deep POV will not allow lazy characterization.

Deep POV causes the “voice” of the POV character to sparkle and shine.  

Deep POV eliminates narrator distance. The reader will feel like there is nothing between them and the events of the story, much as if you were writing in first person. 

The expert user of Deep POV will know that there are times to “tell” a mundane event (such as driving to work) and a time to “go deep” when the real action starts. As in all things creative, there is rhythm and balance.


Deep POV works more effectively for some characters than others. A writer should reserve the most intense POV for the main protagonist(s). A suspense writer may wish to use the technique for their crazed villain(s) as well. Scary powerful! 

Deep POV will virtually eliminate issues with show/don’t tell. (If this were the only benefit, learning the technique would be worth a mint!) 

Example is an effective teacher, so here are “before and after” snippets from my debut novel, Reluctant Burglar.  Karen Ball, my editor extraordinaire and also a wonderful writer herself, taught me how to transform my humdrum POV.  I look back on the process as a quantum leap forward in craft.  Hopefully, I can pass the Ahah! moment on to you. 

Certain prepositions are often “tell” indicators that create narrative distance. For instance: with, in, or of. Here is a before and after example from Reluctant Burglar. This is a segment from my heroine’s POV before editorial revisions: 

“May I look at the painting?” 

“As soon as you sign this affidavit assuming responsibility for any damage your testing might cause.” He produced a pen and a piece of paper. 

Desiree eyed the paper with satisfaction. 

Plate was gambling that the threat of liability would deter her examination, allowing the original examination to stand unchallenged. He must believe her credentials from the National Antiquities Society, or he wouldn’t try this bit of fancy footwork.

Here’s the published version: 

“May I see the painting?” 

“As soon as you sign this affidavit assuming responsibility for any damage caused by your testing.” He shoved a piece of paper and a pen across the desk toward her. 

Desiree grinned on the inside. Gotcha! 

Compare the two sentences: 

Desiree eyed the paper with satisfaction.

Desiree grinned on the inside. Gotcha! 


Which one “tells” in ho-hum POV and which one “shows” in dynamic POV, which conveys a clear sense of Desi’s sassy, savvy personality? See how Deep POV naturally creates “voice” for your characters? 

Other red flag words to watch out for are “seemed” or “appeared” or “looked” when they are used to describe someone’s emotion or attitude or sensory experience. Here’s an example to show you what is meant and what difference staying in Deep POV can make:

Before editing: 

Rocks seemed to weight Desi’s limbs. Blood thundered like the surf in her ears. She couldn’t lie here meekly and wait to be discovered. She should do something. But what? Start a pillow fight? 


Boulders weighted Desi’s arms and legs. Blood rushed like the surf in her ears. She couldn’t like here and wait to be discovered. She should do something. But what? Start a pillow fight? 

Compare the two sentences: 

Rocks seemed to weight Desi’s limbs. 

Boulders weighted Desi’s arms and legs.

 Why did I water down my writing with that wimpy “seemed?” Probably because I read sentences like that all the time in published books. But see how much stronger the statement is without the telling word? 

Let’s go on to another way Deep POV can root out “tells” and make our writing more immediate. Naming a character’s emotions can create unnecessary narrative distance. Here’s an example in my hero’s POV from the same book, Reluctant Burglar. Before: 

Tony closed his phone, frustration and fury surging through him.

So what’s wrong with this? Surging is a lovely strong verb, isn’t it? Yes and no. Any “ing” version of a verb waters down its power, but I’ve compounded the issue by “telling” the reader how Tony feels, rather than “showing” it in Deep POV. Here’s the published version: 

Tony slapped his phone shut. If steam could escape out his pores, he’d be a toxic cloud.

Shazam! We’re right there inside him. No need to name the emotions. We feel that frustration and fury in our pores, too! 

There are certain “red flag” words or phrases that signify when an author is “telling” and not in Deep POV. Do a search and destroy for these, and your whole manuscript will perk up. 

For example: He thought/she thought, or he felt/she felt. 

These phrases are death to Deep POV because they create narrative distance. The reader is now at arm’s length from the character. This is a common Deep POV infraction committed in many books you’ll find on bookstore shelves! Lift yourself to the next level as a writer by carrying out ruthless mayhem and destruction on that pesky little narrator commentary that stands between the reader and the POV character. 

Instead of saying, “He thought a good bath wouldn’t hurt the dog,” write, “Whew! A good bath would do this dog a world of good.” 


Instead of, “She felt a sinking sensation in her middle,” write, “Her stomach dropped to her toes.” 

Exception to the rule: It’s okay to say he thought/she thought in dialogue. 

Example: “He thinks the dog smells,” Betty said with a laugh. Or even better, “He thinks the dog smells.” Betty laughed. (Be sparing with dialogue tags. Use beats whenever possible.) 

Here’s another big baddie that’s commonly used: He knew/she knew. 

Instead of, “He knew that if she did that, she’d fail,” write, “If she did that, she’d fail.” 

See how much stronger the simple, straightforward statement comes across, and how well the simple fix keeps the reader in the POV character’s head?  

Here’s another Deep POV killer—he saw/she saw (or smelled, or heard, or tasted, etc.). 

Example:  He could see the tip of the dog’s nose peeking out of the closet. 

That sentence sounds okay, right? We see this kind of thing a lot in novels. So what’s the problem? 

“He could see . . .” Congratulations, your character has an operative sense of sight (or hearing or whatever sense is being employed). That’s all you’ve said with this phrase that neatly inserts the dreaded narrative distance. The fact that the character saw what he is describing is understood information—unless, of course, your character is blind, and then we’re dealing with a miracle! 

Here’s a Deep POV variation on the example sentence: Barry stepped through the door and scanned the room. The tip of the dog’s nose peeked out of the closet. Ahah! He’d found the little critter.

Boom! Straight to the point. The verb is active, not made passive by adding “ing.” And “could” and “saw” are eliminated, which are wasted words in this context. If your reader knows whose POV the scene is in (and they’d better), why would you need to write anything more?

So let’s get busy and polish those WIPs (works in progress) into works of art using Deep POV!  


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