Zara West

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  • in reply to: Lisa Warren #47405
    Zara West

    I just saw that RWA has a workshop coming up on March 10 on Sweet Romance with Piper Huguley. She’s great. It should show how to add more sensuality.


    Here’s the link.


    in reply to: Lisa Warren #47398
    Zara West

    Hi Lisa,

    Yes. You need to know who the readers are especially when writing love scenes. If this is women’s fiction as opposed to romance then sweeter and sensual is the way to go. I just read the Book of Fragrances, and the main love scene in there is very sensual without showing much physicality.

    in reply to: Zara West Submissions #47397
    Zara West

    Thank you, Ana, Jen, Vickie, and Todd for reading Chapter 2.

    I didn’t realize how long it was. I have taken Jen’s advice and cut it in half. Big improvement.

    I had never heard of Kanban cards, Vickie. Thank you for mentioning them. Did some research. They focus on productivity and would work great for fast drafting or revision: though I would probably opt for post its on a board. Trello probably has a Kanban element, but the cards allow pretty creative uses. I have used them to create character cards and plotting maps for short stories. They would be unwieldy for a novel.

    Appreciated the helpful feedback,



    in reply to: Zara West Submissions #47354
    Zara West

    Hi Everyone,

    Here is chapter 2 of Research Your Subject. I would love your feedback. Most of this is from my Story Bible course that I taught for FTHRW several years ago, but up-dated. Is it helpful?  Zara

    in reply to: Lisa Warren #47352
    Zara West

    Hi Lisa,

    Catching up. Here is CH 20. Use what helps.  I noticed some “animated body parts” – mouths, pinky.

    Here is a great blog post about how to fix these.


    in reply to: Lisa Warren #47350
    Zara West

    Hi again, Lisa,

    Okay, now 18 shows up as posted on the 5th. Ignore the duplicate. Here is Chapter 19.


    in reply to: Lisa Warren #47348
    Zara West

    Hi Lisa

    I can’t find my crit of your chapter 18. I had done it a while back. It may be on the previous page – never figured out how to use the tags to search.  (Ana do you know?) Anyway, I am attaching again in case I forgot to. Use what is helpful.  Zara

    in reply to: Todd McGee submissions #47346
    Zara West

    Hi Todd,

    Here are some thoughts on Chapter 11. Use what is useful.  Zara

    in reply to: Zara West Submissions #47289
    Zara West

    Thank you, Todd, Lisa, Vickie, and Ana for reading the new version and sending positive vibes and feedback for Chapter 1 of Research Your Subject.

    So helpful.  Zara

    in reply to: Zara West Submissions #47189
    Zara West

    Here it is again. Into and Chapter 1 of Research Your Writing. A totally revamped intro and new table of contents. Brand new CH 1.  Any feedback is appreciated.

    Ana – Let me know if the What I Do section is helpful or not.


    in reply to: Ana Morgan submissions #47188
    Zara West

    Hi Ana,

    I have taken Linnea’s course too. It is great.

    The summary clarifies a lot. Thanks for posting.

    Some comments: You write that you are introducing the hero and heroine separately. That is a tradition format for romance.

    Chapter 1 is the hero; Here is your description of the hero.

    Scarred at age ten, when a near-fatal fire triggered his wealthy parents to divorce, Shane Kendrick is determined to learn every practical skill possible and prove he doesn’t need their money or connections to succeed.

    (I am thinking that instead of every skill, maybe survival skills so he is never trapped in a fire or deadly situation again? That raises the stakes and ties directly to the core fear.)

    He hates how powerful people dictate to “little” people while claiming what they are doing is based on love.

    (what is the backstory for this? Who are the little people he cares about – the middle school kids? Will they play a big role in the story or will he transfer this to another weak individual – the love interest? her kids?)

    He will meet his love interest in the next town. (Some foreshadowing of that in the opening is needed. Lots of choices for that. I suggested some in the crit.)

    Definitely change the encounter with the new owner – make it a man or someone not able to be seen as a possible love interest. You could also skip and start with him packing and ranting about losing the job.)

    These are just ideas to toss around. One thing I have learned from Linnea is to not worry about the opening until the rest of the draft is done. Then you rewrite the opening to fit the actual story your wrote.

    Starting a new story is so much fun.

    Happy Writing



    in reply to: Ana Morgan submissions #47175
    Zara West

    Hi Ana,

    So glad you are starting something new. I can’t wait to read more. I have made a ton of notes, and I know this is probably still much of a draft so ignore the fine tweaks at this point. Adverbs and telling are okay in a first draft. I just can’t ignore them.

    I do have some concerns about this being the start of a romance. Wrote a long note at the end. Love Shane, and I know he will get a great story in your hands. Have you written a pitch or short summary? That would help me understand better.


    in reply to: THIRTY Final Polish – Editing Tips #47170
    Zara West

    Thank you so much Cheryl and Jeanne,

    Glad you enjoyed the workshop. Anytime you have a question or need help, get in touch. You can reach me through my website



    in reply to: Lisa Warren #47168
    Zara West

    Hi Lisa,


    Here is some feedback on CH 18. The love scene is very sweet. I made some suggestions. Use what is helpful.



    in reply to: THIRTY Final Polish – Editing Tips #47010
    Zara West

    Two things I frequently do is not put the closing quote at the end of dialogue and I’ll put a closing quote at the end of a sentence that’s not dialogue. I know I have to watch this when editing/proofreading. My big problem is that if I get too involved with the story while supposedly editing/proofreading, I miss instances of these to problems. I continually have to pull back when I’m proofreading and try to stay what I call “superficial” or “on the survface” and not get too involved with the story.

    Well, here we are at the end of the workshop and I feel kind of sad. I got such a lot out of this workshop and really looked forward to each lesson.

    Hope we’ll “see” each other again maybe in another workshop.

    Aloha from Honolulu (yes, I live in Hawaii and it’s wonderful),


    Hi Jeanne,

    I miss the same things, especially that ending quotation mark. And the digital editors always miss them! Luckily my partners in the FTHRW critique group usually catch them all.

    One way to avoid the story getting in the way of editing is to work backwards starting on the last page. Putting it aside for a time to rest and get yourself fresh eyes helps too. Another method, that is time consuming, but works, is to read it aloud, saying the punctuation as words. In fact, for me, reading aloud works best for editing.

    I have enjoyed meeting you and answering your questions. Questions always make a course richer as they make me think of things I forgot to put in the lessons.

    I am very envious of you in Hawaii. It is 10 degrees here, and a snowstorm is coming.


    in reply to: TWENTY-SEVEN A Few Picky Revisions #46991
    Zara West

    Now, in the new manuscripts I’m writing (several short stories), I am very aware of when I use nodded, smiled, and gasped. If I am too intend to getting what’s in my mind into a document, I highlight the instances and make a note to replace them with something else that shows what the character is thinking or feeling.


    That is a great idea, Jeanne.

    Highlighting is one of my favorite tools. I just blogged at Fiction University about all the ways I use it.


    in reply to: TWENTY-SEVEN A Few Picky Revisions #46972
    Zara West

    I have a whole list of overly-used words. Nodded. Smiled. Gasped. Raised her (or his) eyebrow. In one of my novels, I used “nodded” 133 times. I pared it down to 20 times.

    “As” was the very first thing I notice I used a lot. She did this as that was happening. She smiled as he was talking. She fell asleep as the wind rustled the curtains. And on and on and on.

    In the current story I’m writing I know I’ve used “nodded” too often and that when I edit, I’m going to have to find other ways to convey what needs to be conveyed.


    Sounds like you are on the right track. If you have words you consistently know are overused, make a list of them. With each manuscript you revise, keep track of the number you used of each. Over time, you will see fewer and fewer in your new works.  Just making the list will help your brain hesitate to use them in future work. Zara

    in reply to: TWENTY-FOUR Revising Verbs #46954
    Zara West

    Love this list, Zara! (List person here. 😉)

    Those “to be” verbs are sneaky and I often find myself yanking them out in the second draft.


    I love lists too. To be verbs sneak in no matter what we do. I have the same problem. Zara

    in reply to: Todd McGee submissions #46916
    Zara West

    Hi Todd,


    Here is some feedback on Ch 8. Use what is helpful. Zara

    in reply to: Lisa Messegee submissions #46913
    Zara West

    Glad to have you join us, Lisa. I have a writing helper too, Cleo. Her job is to get in my way.  Zara

    in reply to: Todd McGee submissions #46898
    Zara West

    Hi Todd,


    Here is feedback on chapter 8. Use what is helpful.  Zara

    in reply to: Rebecca Chen submissions #46897
    Zara West

    Welcome, Rebecca,

    Glad to have you here.


    in reply to: LESSONS Find all my lessons here #46895
    Zara West

    Here are the tips seventeen to twenty-four.

    17 Revising Dialogue

    In dialogue, two or more people or characters tell each other something. Dialogue has an immediacy to it that is missing from all other kinds of writing. In well-written dialogue, we can hear the voice of the speaker(s) in our head.

    Dialogue should play a major role in your story. Pages full of descriptive and narrative paragraphs are less enticing than hearing the characters speak for themselves.

    Lines of dialogue should be broken up by one or more of the following:


    A name tag: This is a short piece of information that identifies who is speaking. Such as “Hello,” Bob said. The convention in modern writing is for the name tag to follow the spoken words and for the noun to precede the verb in the tag. Note: These are written in past tense if your narrative is past tense.; present tense if your narrative is in present.

    Obviously, in real conversation, people don’t use name tags, and they can draw the reader out of your writing if you use them too much or make them too noticeable. Said is the recommended verb to use as readers skim over it. An occasional whisper, murmur, shout, or asked are acceptable. But avoid stronger verbs. The reader should be able to tell from what the character says or behaves how they are speaking.

    In fact, if dialogue is well-written, you don’t need name tags at all. Try revising as many as possible from your draft.

    See if you can substitute any of the tag ideas that follow.


    An action tag (or beat): Rather than a said or asked, consider showing who and how the character is speaking by their actions. Here are a set of examples that show how the same words take on different tones depending on the character’s actions.

    Bob slammed his fist on the table. “Don’t leave.”

    Bob ran his hand down her arm. “Don’t leave.”

    Bob shuffled the papers. “Don’t leave.”

    Avoid overusing simple actions like nod or glance.

    An emotional tag (or beat): Another way to identify the speaker and show the effect of the conversation is through visceral and involuntary physical reactions of the characters. Example:

    “I found the letter.”

    Katie’s stomach clenched. “Where?”


    An inner thought: People don’t stop thinking when they are talking. Example:

    “I found the letter.”

    All her secrets would be exposed. “Where?”


    In using these tags, consider if the action/emotion, or thought would logically come before the person speaks or after.


    More on dialogue revision

    To discover if your dialogue is working for you, check:

    Balanced. Is there a readable mix of dialogue, narrative, and action in every scene? If dialogue goes on too long without action or narrative, the reader can get lost. A general rule is three lines of dialogue should be broken up by one of the tags above to help identify who is talking.

    Meaningful. Do not use dialogue to tell the reader a fact that both characters know. Instead, ask: Why is the character saying this in this way? What do they want or desire of the other person? What does the other character want?

    Not over tagged. Read aloud the dialogue without the tags and eliminate as many as you can. Better yet, try not to use any dialogue tags.

    Adverb free. Do not use adverbs to tell how the character feels or says something. Show that feeling or expression in what they say. For example, replace, he said angrily with “I’ll get you for that.” Or describe how the person’s voice sounds by describing its tone and quality. Is it melodious or rasping? Does it trail off, or are the words spoken through gritted teeth?

    Use character names only occasionally. In real life, we do not say a person’s name every time we speak to them.

    Add subtext. Does your dialogue show how the character feels emotionally? One of the easiest ways to add subtext and also identify who is speaking at the same time is through action tags or beats. An action tag shows what the character is doing as they speak. A nervous character might fidget with their tie clip. An angry character might clench and unclench their fists.

    Over do inner thought. Inserting the inner thought of the POV character in a dialogue can deepen the emotional context. Too much, however, can cause the reader to lose track of the conversation. Keep inner thoughts to a sentence or two. If longer, have the character refer back to the topic of the conversation when the dialogue restarts.

    Make it sound unique. Does each character have their own voice and vocabulary? Read your dialogue aloud without the tags and see if you can tell who is speaking merely from the words they use and how they phrase their sentences.

    Part of the setting. Do your characters interact with objects and elements in the setting as they talk, such as pick up an item or scuff their feet on the rug? Does something happen in the setting to interfere with or interrupt the conversation?

    Cut the excess. Written dialogue is not real conversation. Remove cliché small talk that does not develop character or plot, such as greetings, compliments, and talk about the weather. Shrink long paragraphs of internal thought that interrupt a conversation.

    Make Clear Who Says What. If you have two characters speaking in the same paragraph, rewrite so that each has their own paragraph.

    Silence. Add in moments of silence. Not every comment by one character needs a spoken answer. White space makes for easier reading.

    Fragment It. People do not always talk in complete sentences. Use sentence fragments and drop punctuation as needed. An ellipse . . . indicates a voice dropping away. An em dash—indicates a break in speech (there are no spaces).

    Dialects. Be very careful when using a dialect. Using poor grammar can make a character seem stupid. The general advice is to sprinkle in a few colorful or common words, such as lass for an Irish accent, that give the flavor or the language, and/or have the POV character say something like: “His brogue deepened.”


    Helps in fixing dialogue

    1. Read it aloud.
    2. Act it out with a partner.


    Thoughts? Questions?

    18 Revising Transitions an Hooks

    Transitions at the beginning and end of a scene, or chapter are often called “hooks” because they are designed to latch onto the reader’s psyche like a fishhook and keep them attached to the page.

    But that is not the only thing a transition/hook must do. If it is located at the start of a scene or chapter, it must indicate location, time, and who the point-of-view character is in the very first paragraph. If it is at the end of the section, it must entice the reader to turn the page to the new section.

    Because they are so important, we often find them challenging to write—especially the very first one—the opening sentence to your manuscript. However, every single transition/hook is important in its own way.


    Revising Hooks.

    The method I use to check my hooks is the following: I copy the beginning paragraph and ending paragraph of each scene into a word document and create a running list. This list is another type of outlining and is a great check on how well you have shored up your structure. But it is also super for checking flow and dynamics. So read through your list looking for weak spots.


    ONE Transitions in

    If the starting transition/hook is working, it should be clear where, when, and who the POV character is in the scene. The scene goal and motivation may often appear as well or be hinted at. In addition, it should include one or more of the following:

    • Have the character doing something intriguing.
    • Show the setting or something in it impacting the character in a problematic way.
    • Hint at a secret or mystery.
    • Arouse curiosity about the character, the place, or what is happening.
    • Instill sympathy for the character by showing them suffering or doing something caring or heroic.
    • Show the character pursuing their scene goal.

    Things to avoid in openings:

    • Avoid starting with dialogue as the reader will have no idea who is talking.
    • Avoid overused, cliché starts.
    • Temporal indicators. Readers are not mind-readers. Let them know how much time is passing on the page. Is it a few minutes after the last section ended or ten years? Do not relay on putting a date at the head of a chapter or scene. If the reader is engrossed in the story, they won’t see it.


    TWO Ending Hooks

    The end of a section or scene is equally important and complex. It has to signal the end of a unit of information or action but also entice the reader to continue reading. That means it must contain tension of some kind. A purely happy ending belongs at the very ending of the book. It will not keep the reader turning the page. Here are some tips.


    Every section should end with the dilemma. Go back and check the dilemma listed in your scene analysis against your endings.

    Do you end with the <u>point-of-view character</u>–

    • Facing a problem?
    • Making a decision (usually a bad one)?
    • Experiencing a personal or physical disaster?
    • Learning shocking information?
    • Making a promise that will be hard to keep?
    • Feeling happy about their action or decision, but worried they may have forgotten something or made a mistake.
    • Asking a question, often showing regret or hope, i.e. “Am I so unlovable?”



    If your hook is emotionally flat, some writers suggest going back and cutting the scene or chapter in another spot where tension is high. I try to make sure the last line of my sections is an inner thought of the POV character. Again, find that model novel you are using and see how those scenes and chapters end.
    19 Fixing Pacing

    Pacing is how quickly or slowly a reader can read what you have written. The more words in a sentence, the more words in a paragraph, the more words in a chapter, and the more description, the slower it will be to read and the slower the action will seem. From a distance the page will appear gray.

    Vice versa, short sentences, short paragraphs, short chapters will read fast. If you look at the page there will be lots of white space.

    Now here is the important thing to know in revising pacing: Neither fast or slow pacing is better than the other. Rather these are tools for you to use to enhance how your writing flows. Effective writing incorporates both.

    Slow pacing can enhance sections of inner thought, love scenes, scenes of heightened emotion, and planning scenes.

    Fast pacing is great for dialogue and action scenes. Use it whenever things happen fast—fight scenes, chases, emergencies, accidents, etc.

    Revising Pacing

    Fixing pacing issues is not hard.

    Go through your draft and look at how dense the writing is on the page. You can also use the online editors ProWriting, Grammarly, or Autocrit. These will do a pacing analysis for you. Does the density of words match what is happening in the story?

    Speeding up a section can be as simple as breaking up long sentences, breaking up paragraphs, and shortening description. To slow a section down, add more inner thought or description may be all that is needed.
    20 Backstory and Flashbacks

    It is always easier and clearer to give information or tell a story in a chronological sequence. Whenever we have to go into the past to relate something that has already happened, we are asking our reader to make a huge mental leap.

    If we can’t avoid this, we must make it as easy as possible for our audience or risk losing them.

    Here are my suggestions for revising backstory to hold on to your reader.

    • Keep it brief. Very short backstory woven in and out of the whole draft is best. Use a phrase or sentence or two when the character is in inner thought.
    • Use past perfect in first sentence. If it is a paragraph or two, use the past perfect tense in the first sentence of the backstory. “When I was ten, I <u>had had</u> a run in with that bull.” Then continue in regular past tense. At the end, signal a return to the present with a time marker like now or at this moment.
    • Separate it. If it is longer, turn the flashback into its own scene with the stimulus for the flashback at the end of the preceding scene. Use the past perfect for the starting sentence of the new scene. Return to the present day at the end of the scene with an inner thought by the POV character on how that past event matters to their goal or future actions.
    • Keep it out of the opening chapters. Avoid inserting too much too soon. The reader wants to know what will happen in the story, not what happened.

    Here is an excellent article on How to Weave Backstory Seamlessly into Your Novel by Brian Klems.


    Point-of-view refers to the level of intimacy of your writing as revealed through the way characters tell their stories.

    First person. Fiction authors often choose first person for the immediacy of it. In first person, everything is viewed through the perception of the author or the one or tow main characters. If there are two characters, usually chapters alternate between them, and for clarity, they are labeled with the character’s name. This style is popular in new Adult and Young Adult. While other arrangements are possible, the more complex the arrangement of first person POV characters, the harder it will be for the reader to read.

    In revising a first-person draft, focus on the overuse of I. Too many I’s at the start of sentences will deaden your writing and create a conceited sounding attitude. Also check for overly long sections of introspection, and replace with action and dialogue that show the character’s thinking. If there are two “I” characters you need to make sure they have very different voices. Check that they use different vocabularies, different sentence structures and lengths in both dialogue and inner thought.

    Here is a sample of first person POV. Note how the author has handled the use of I.

    Yeah, missing someone who was dead wasn’t the problem; it was living with a broken heart that had never been put together again. Going crazy thinking that maybe he was still out there. Dreaming that one day, I’d open the door, and he’d be standing there. I did that often – open the front door to check – but Jackson was never there.

    After the kidnapping, Jackson’s body had never been found. Maybe that’s why I had such a difficult time accepting the truth.


    Silks, Lacey. Only You (A Second Chance Romance) (p. 11). MyLit Publishing. Kindle Edition.

    Third person. Most nonfiction writers and novelists use third person. There are two levels of this point of view, and it is key to know which one you are using in order to revise correctly.

    • Distant third. In this POV, the author is like an all-seeing god. You can go inside anyone’s head and see through their eyes, or draw back and see the scene as an outsider looking in, like a person watching through a window. If you have long sections of factual material inserted between the actions of your character or wax elegant about the setting, you may have used this POV. This is often found in historical novels, mysteries, fantasies, sci-fi, and thrillers. Though these can be written in deep POV also.

    Here is a sample of distant third. Note how the author pulls away in the last paragraph so we are no longer in Keeley’s view-point, but see the characters as if from a distance.


    Keeley had only been lucky enough to work with dwarven iron a few times and it had always been a bloody delight. But there were few who could afford such weapons. She’d actually only done such work when royals had come to her with the dwarven iron already purchased, asking her to make them a sword or spear.

    She wondered if these people knew another, easier way into the dwarf stronghold. She envied them . . . being able to avoid that road into darkness.

    Eventually, they made their way through the city and to the massive front steps that led to the Dwarf King’s castle.


    Aiken, G.A.. The Blacksmith Queen (The Scarred Earth Saga Book 1) (p. 207). Kensington Books. Kindle Edition.


    Close third. (also called deep POV) In this format, the reader is totally inside the POV character’s head. They can only see and know what that character experiences. The reader becomes that person. They cannot see the color of their eyes, hair, or how their smile looks. Emotions are never named but shown through the physical and visceral reactions of the POV character. The explanatory phrases, like he realizes, she wonders, and she thought, are not used. It is apparent the POV character is doing the thinking or realizing. This is the popular style for romance, women’s fiction, and young adult

    Here is a sample of deep POV. Note how the author has shown this character’s emotions through her shaking hands. There is physical movement, short exclamations, questions, and self-talk. All this helps put us in the characters head.

    Becky ran around her car, jumped in, and locked all the doors. Her hands shook so badly she couldn’t get the key in the ignition. In the backseat, Sophie gurgled and tried to pick up the book in her fat fists. Oh God, what to do? Run, but where? How? Her best friend, Ava, lived in a tiny place with two other girls. She couldn’t go there. Maybe a shelter? Leave Dallas, or the state of Texas altogether?

    Finally getting the key in, she started the car and got them on the road. She hurried home, watching her rearview mirror the entire time. Was Dylan following them? How long had he been watching them? She needed the money from the sale of the trailer to make a new life for her and Sophie. Or pay lawyers if it came to a custody battle. She’d thought she had more time, but she’d been wrong.

    She had to find a safe place to stay while selling the trailer. There was only one person Becky could think of who might be able to help—her boss, Lucinda Knight.


    Apodaca, Jennifer. Her Temporary Hero (Once a Marine Book 2) . Entangled Publishing, LLC. Kindle Edition.


    Deep POV Checklist

    • Describe only what the POV character can see or experience with their own senses. They would not mention their hair color or eye color except for a specific reason. They cannot tell what is behind them, unless they hear something or feel something.
    • Insert the POV character’s body and visceral reactions, instead of naming an emotion. This is good advice for any fiction, but is essential in deep POV.
    • The character does not use their name in inner thought.
    • Have the POV character move or do something during inner thought and dialogue.
    • During inner thought, insert short exclamations or questions that sound almost like first person.


    Whichever point of view you write in, during revision, check closely that the conventions of your character’s point of view are consistent throughout your draft.

    For a more complete overview of these different POVs, see Point of View by Jane Friedman Jerry Jenkins A Writer’s Guide to Point of View.


    Thoughts? Questions?



    Head-hopping or a point of view shift from the main POV character to a none POV character, happens more often than we think. If it is one slip up or two or even several in a novel, readers can usually read right over it. But if it is repeated over and over, the reader can get lost trying to figure out who is thinking what.

    Head-hopping is identified by inner thoughts belonging to two or more characters that overlap. Here is an example of the kind of head hoping that can become annoying. In this case we start in Alex’s POV and then switch to the wife’s. Can you feel the jarring sensation?

    Alex glanced down at his cell. The text “You’re late.” appeared in notifications. Couldn’t that woman leave him alone? Carol was his wife, not his prison guard. Carol disagreed. She waited with her cell in hand, anxious for Alex to text her back. Why didn’t he respond?

    Revising head-hopping.

    This often happens when the wrong character is chosen for the scene. It is extremely common in love scenes, so in particular, check those.

    If you find examples of these in your writing, the best fix is to remove all the thoughts of one character in the scene and deepen the POV character’s emotions and actions.

    If that doesn’t read right, try rewriting the scene using the other character’s POV.

    When characters are making love, create a series of short scenes that alternate first on one character’s sensations and then the others.


    Another form of head-hopping happens in deep POV and is harder to spot. Here is an example

    Mac frowned at me, then reached over to remove a piece of lint from my sweater.

    In this case, the POV character can have no idea why Mac is leaning over, but Mac knows so this is considered a POV shift. To plus a verb (infinitive) can be a cue that you may have instances of this. To revise, use the find tool to find all the infinitives and check that they are not POV shifts. There is an easy fix. Replace to with and.

    Mac frowned at me, then reached over and removed a piece of lint from my sweater.

    Here is another type of POV shift.

    Cary tripped over the broken tile and spilled the coke right into Mark’s lap. Her face turned red.

    In deep POV Cary cannot see her face. She has no way to know what color it is. To revise, describe how the character feels.

    Cary’s face flushed.
    22 Word Choice

    We are now going to hone in even closer and start looking at wording. Remember do not fuss with your words until you are well-satisfied with all the other parts we have addressed so far.

    When a person speaks, we hear more than the words. We can identify through pitch, tone, starts and stops, silences, and word choice both meaning and emotion. A writer does the same thing with the written word. By choosing particular words and placing them in unique ways, we create a voice or style that the reader can hear as they read.

    No effective writer has just one style or voice any more than we have one way of speaking. The voice we use must match the character into whose mouth we are putting words. A character who is an upper-class Brit will sound different from a New York cab driver.

    For example, can you imagine what type character would say the following?

    • Good day, madam
    • Goodbye
    • Farewell
    • Bye
    • Take it easy
    • See ya later
    • Tootles
    • Laters
    • Bye Bye

    In revising for voice, we need to reread our draft and replace ordinary or misplaced words with more effective ones. So, let’s begin with finding those words.

    Here are some ways to find the best word for your purpose.


    Look it up. There are a number of extremely helpful sources for better words. One that I recommend highly is the Moby Thesaurus: This resource provides slightly off-tangent synonyms which can take you in new directions or spur new ideas.

    I find it helpful to choose the word I think best from the list that comes up and then search out that word to see if something more precise can be found. I also make sure to look up the meaning of the word if it is one that I am not completely familiar with.


    Create your own word or phrase. Another way to find the right word or expression is to use brainstorming as a way of sparking your imagination.

    One technique I use is to write the word in the center of a sheet of paper and then dash off everything I can think that relates to it, such as colors, textures, smells, tastes, emotions, expression of, location, history, movement, and influences.

    For example, if I want to replace the mundane and telling he felt anger, I might note down the following: red, scarlet, crimson, bloody, hard, like a rock, hot, burning, sweaty, crushed, smashed, open-mouth, bared-teeth, pounded in the chest, and so on. From this, I could create an original phrase like “a rock-hard ember ignited inside him.”


    What words need replacement?

    A sloppy draft will contain many quickly thought of words that are not necessarily the best choice. Search out and replace the following.



    Unless a term is integral to the topic of the piece, choose the simplest, clearest way to say something so it does not distract from the sentence and paragraph it is in.

    These can be:

    Complex, unfamiliar words. Long, complex words are slower to read and to comprehend. A paragraph or section full of complicated words makes the entire piece more likely to be skipped over.

    Long versions of shorter words. Check for nouns ending in tion, ize, and similar Latinate suffixes and rewrite the sentence using the verb form. For example, the wordy. “The realization came over him” can change to “he realized.”

    Eye-popping words. Utterly amazing but uncommon words should be used no more than once in your draft. A reader will retain a mind-grabbing word or phrase so well (especially if they had to look it up) they stop reading if they see it again.

    Little-known words. Any poetic, antique, or scientific word that your reader would need to look up, such as amain or fruitarism, should be replaced.

    Technical, slang, and foreign words. Glossaries are not typically used in fiction. Words that are not clear from the text should be removed or made understandable by the phrase, sentence, or context around it.
    23 More Word Choices

    Today we will cover more words choices. Besides your Find tool in your word processor, there are many online tools you can use to help search out these words. Here are several I have used an recommend.




    None of these are perfect. The alternative words they suggest are usually no better than the one they have highlighted. Use the Moby Thesaurus or brainstorming to come up with replacements.

    Grammarly and Prowritingaid have free versions which do limited text, but I have found working in small sections better fits my work time anyway. Autocrit is expensive and glitzy with a better layout, but doesn’t do much more than the others. ProWritingAid is used by many professional editors I know.

    So lets start wordsearching:


    In contemporary writing, adverbs are frowned upon. This hasn’t always been true. So if you are reading the Bridgeton series you will find adverbs a plenty. However, the current recommendation is to replace as many adverbs as possible with strong verbs.

    This doesn’t mean you can use an adverb here and there for a particular effect, but do try to be ruthless. Cut almost every one you find from your writing.

    Adverbs modify verbs. If you feel a verb needs something more, show it through immersive description. Your writing will be richer for it.

    For example, “He ran haphazardly through the woods.” can be rewritten as, “He zigzagged in and out of the trees.” “The potion poured slowly into the jar.” can become “The liquid oozed over the edge and fell drop by drop into the jar.”

    One clever way you can use an adverb to advantage is to pair it with a contrasting or unexpected verb to create an ironic or deeper meaning, such as “smiled sadly.”


    Inappropriate Words

    Choose words that your reader will understand, enjoy, and remember. Avoid any word that might repel the people who will read your work or whom your work is about.

    Dialects. Handled wrong, writing in dialect can come across as a stereotype or make a character seem unintelligent. Instead of changing the spelling and grammar, it is advised to use a few familiar expressions that reflect the rhythm of the language and action beats in dialogue to indicate how the speaker sounds.

    For more on representing dialects with sensitivity, see Beth Hill’s Restraining Dialects.

    Stereotypes. Avoid writing about people and characters in one-dimensional ways. Hamilton College has an excellent guide to Writing about Race, Ethnicity, Social Class, and Disability

    . See also Celia Writes How to Write People of Color and ‘the Other.’


    Misused Words

    Make sure your words says exactly what you wish. Look up any word you are unsure of. Some words have small nuances that are easy to mistake. Other words are easily confused.

    Check out this listing of 100 Most Commonly Misused Words

    Also see this comprehensive list of 1,000 Easily Confused Words.



    Ordinary Words

    In selecting our wording, we need to always keep our audience in mind. Overly elaborate words and metaphors might be perfect for a poem but may be out of place in your novel.

    Strive for clarity for your audience, but don’t settle for the easiest word, either. Simple and clear does not mean dull. Here are some suggestions.

    Replace generalized terms. Where it makes sense, replace everyday words like tree and dog with more specific ones, like oak and St. Bernard, which create a clearer word picture for the reader. Look for plain-Jane descriptive words like tall, green, and dirt and replace these with words or phrases that add connotations and emotional overtones, i.e. As tall as a dying sunflower. The gray-green of wet slate. The blood-red dirt.

    Search out pronouns. Overuse of pronouns leads to confusing sentences and uninspired reading. Wherever possible, substitute a noun or proper name. If using the same name or noun would be repetitious, substitute alternatives based on occupation or appearance or use nicknames.

    The clever use of descriptive names can enhance where a simple pronoun gets lost. For example, compare “She moved nearer.” to “Miss Pointy-Toes moved nearer.” That single change tells us so much more about the POV character as well as the woman.

    The Moby Thesaurus can be helpful in coming up with unique descriptive words for people.


    Differentiating characters is a problem we all have. Your idea of varying sentence structure is a good one. An old professor might talk in long rambling sentences. A student might talk in short clipped sentences full of slang.

    Here are more ways you can may people sound different.

    1. Give the character a unique expression  or exclamation that they always use. It could be as simple as “Heavens” or “What?” The Urban dictionary can provide ideas for younger characters.
    2. Make sure the character uses words related to their occupation, history, passions, or interest. A fisherman will refer to the sea. A language professor will refer to particular books. and so on, especially in metaphor and simile as described in today’s lesson.
    3. Give the character a habit that is unique to them such rubbing their neck or scuffing their feet. An overused one is a woman, when stressed, touching a special pendant she wears. In dialogue, show that action in action tags.
    4. Give the character a cliche they repeatedly use in different ways like “greased lightning” or “slippery as a fish”

    24 Powering Up Verbs

    Behind all effective pieces of writing are the verbs. During revision, check each verb to be sure it is working for you.


    Editing Verbs

    A verb gives movement to your sentence. The amount of action it gives depends on which one you choose and which grammatical form you use it in.

    Keep auxiliary verbs to a minimum. Let’s take the word jump. If we write “He jumped” or “He jumps,” we get the full blast of that action. But the minute we add on auxiliaries, the action diffuses in time: “He had jumped. He will jump. He was going to jump.” To keep your writing fresh, use as few of the helping words as you can in your prose no matter what you are writing, unless you are introducing a section of backstory.

    Here is a list of verbs to revise if possible:

    • Am
    • Are
    • Be
    • Been
    • Being
    • Can
    • Could
    • Did
    • Do
    • Does
    • Had
    • Has
    • Have
    • Is
    • Look
    • May
    • Might
    • Must
    • Need
    • Nod
    • Pull
    • Put
    • Run
    • See
    • Shall
    • Should
    • Step
    • Turn
    • Walk
    • Want
    • Was
    • Were
    • Will
    • Would


    Choose verbs with superpowers. All active verbs will add motion and pep to your writing, but some verbs zip with power. When you have a choice, use a power verb. To find charged-up verbs, use the Writers Helping Writers Active Verbs List.  or the Actor’s Thesaurus. Also check out 259 Strong Verbs at and of course, my favorite The Moby Thesaurus.

    Sound verbs. Verbs that sound like the action, such as slip, crash, slap, stomp, and drizzle add a special pop.

    Specific verbs describe a particular action. For example, drip, pour, and sift all mean put, but each shows a different way to do it.

    Active versus passive verbs. We are often told not to write passive sentences, and that is good advice. Passive sentences are inactive ones and highly overused in places that call for action.

    You can recognize a passive sentence because some form of to be will be the verb. Here are some sample sentences.

    Passive: The cup is put down with a clink.

    Active: She puts the cup down with a clink.

    Passive: The courtroom is crowded with women.

    Active: Women crowd the courtroom.

    A passive sentence distances the reader from the subject. Something is being done to the subject. It slows or removes all action on the part of the subject.

    But sometimes that is just what you want to show. Passive voice makes the subject a victim. Compare: “He beat him.” with “He was beaten.” So, use passive when you want the subject of your sentence to appear weak. Otherwise, convert passive verbs to active verbs whenever possible.

    See Alice Underwood’s article on Passive Voice for more on when and how to use passive voice.

    To be. It is impossible to write anything without using the verb forms of to be—is, are, will, was and were. However, we all use too many of them. As you review your paragraphs, weed these out ruthlessly. Rewriting to be verbs often results in far richer, more meaningful sentences. Here is an example with its edit: “It was chilly.” “A chill breeze brushed my shoulders.”

    -ing Verbs Participles are verbs ending in -ing combined with a form of to be. They have three problems.

    They sound soft. An -ing ending verb lacks the punch and vigor of its simple present or past. Because -ing attaches the same sound to the end of every verb, it blends the verb sounds into one another. En masse, they lose their individuality.

    Now, this can be used to effect occasionally when the blending of the -ing verbs creates a soothing auditory effect, such as “The kite went soaring, swirling, and dipping on the wind.” But when repeated over pages and pages of text, the effect is numbing.

    Do a search using one of the online editors or a word processor Find command, and eliminate as many of these as you can.

    Lack of agreement. The -ing participle must match the subject of the sentence. Lack of agreement between the participle and the subject can create very funny sentences as in these examples: “Eating a donut, her mind wandered.” “Wearing a red pair of shoes, her stomach growled.” Do a search of all sentences starting with -ing words in your draft, and make sure the participle phrase agrees with the subject phrase. I check this by asking myself if the action will continue through the sentence.

    So, –My heart thumping, I peered into the hole- works because the heart can keep thumping at the same time as I look in the hole.  But –Dropping my bag, I threw my arms around him- does not, because the bag will not continue dropping while I hug the guy. This can be revised to I drop my bag and throw my arms around him.

    Overused -ing verbs. Another reason to avoid -ing participle phrases as sentence starters is that they are overused. Where possible, change them to direct subject-verb combos, or substitute a prepositional phrase.



    in reply to: TWENTY Revising Backstory and Flashbacks #46866
    Zara West

    Zara, thanks for the grammar explanation. I really struggled with a short backstory, but using “had” once at the beginning would make it much clearer!

    It is amazing how one little word change can make such a difference. But using had in the first sentence of backstory is a writing convention, and readers see it as a cue – backstory coming.


    in reply to: SEVENTEEN Revising Dialogue #46865
    Zara West

    Great tips, Zara!

    I was thinking about “Silence” and I’m not sure if I know what you mean. Does this refer to a physical action rather than a spoken answer, such as “he shrugged”?

    Exactly. Characters do not have to say something in response to a question or statement that affects them emotionally. They can look away, fiddle with something, stare out the window, etc. This can then cause a similar response in the other speaker, breaking up lines of dialogue.



    in reply to: FOUR Take a Breath and Reverse Outline #46864
    Zara West

    “My mantra is If you hate something, try to make the process as fun as you can” –> Yes ma’am! I’ll give this a try!

    Being a visual artist, I am a big believer in colors and shapes and stickers. Not only is it more fun, but it helps cement the ideas in my memory. Zara

    in reply to: TWENTY-TWO Addressing Words #46836
    Zara West

    Hi Jeanne,

    Differentiating characters is a problem we all have. Your idea of varying sentence structure is a good one. An old professor might talk in long rambling sentences. A student might talk in short, clipped sentences full of slang.

    Here are more ways you can may people sound different.

    1. Give the character a unique expression  or exclamation that they always use. It could be as simple as “Heavens” or “Huh?” The Urban dictionary can provide ideas for younger characters.
    2. Make sure the character uses words related to their occupation, history, passions, or interest. A fisherman will refer to the sea. A language professor will refer to particular books or writers, and so on, especially in metaphor and simile as described in today’s lesson.
    3. Give the character a habit that is unique to them such rubbing their neck , pulling on a cuff, or scuffing their feet. An overused one is a woman, when stressed, touching a special pendant she wears. In dialogue, show that action in your action tags.
    4. Also in dialogue have action tags showing the character fiddling with their clothing or belonging. This will help differentiate them.
    5. Give the character a cliche they repeatedly use in different ways like “greased lightning” or “slippery as a fish”

    Let me know if any of these help.


    in reply to: Vicki Briner Submissions #46831
    Zara West

    HI Vicki,

    Nice tying up. Here’s my thoughts on the ending. Use what is helpful.


    in reply to: TWENTY Revising Backstory and Flashbacks #46818
    Zara West

    A few years back, many of the romance novels I read switched back and forth not only between characters’ POV, but between past and present. If handled well, I enjoyed it, but there were books I put down and stopped reading because the switches were too often and it was difficult to keep track of all the story lines.


    I find the same thing. Older romances were much heavier in backstory and like you, I either skipped it or stopped reading. The style now is for the lightly sprinkled in type. I think this stylistic change combined with deeper POV makes for a more intense read perfect for romance (or any type novel). Instead of being an info dump the reader wades through for pages, a sentence of backstory dabbed in here and there can be used to up tension through out the whole book.  Zara

    in reply to: EIGHTEEN Revising Transitions and Hooks #46817
    Zara West

    Transitions are something I need to work on. I appreciate all your suggestions and pointers.



    Transitions are something we all need to work on during the revision process. If you copy and paste the beginning and end of each scene into a list, as I suggest, the process will be much easier as you will see clearly where they flow and where they do not.  Zara

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