Pushing Your Novel to Its Limits

There’s a particular feeling you get when you know your novel is okay, but not going far enough. It’s a mild satisfaction, but it’s not the “wow” you should be feeling when you re-read your work, even in the early stages of a first draft.


Fan letter to Alan Moore

Fan letter to Alan Moore

Here’s what I think you should be feeling: you should be wondering if you went too wild and too far, not that you didn’t go far enough. Particularly in the horror genre, but I think this speaks to the majority of other genres as well, extreme events pay off huge dividends with readers, and eventually for you as a writer. Would you rather get a, “Yeah, that was okay,” from your reader, or a, “Wow, I have to tell someone about this book! I’ve never read anything like it!”? People talk about the latter, but not the former.


Here are a few tips for pushing your novel out of its comfort zone of safe and boring into where you should be … where you write so well that you’ve made a fan for life:


1. Turn the typical plot outline on its head: Add more to the usual growing crescendo of events. It can be anything … deaths, traumas, dramas, anything at all … turn the conflict up as far as you can go for what is appropriate at that stage in the book.


2. When you turn the drama up, don’t abandon the plot outline altogether: Plot outlines work for a reason, so you don’t want to go too chaotic. Go just chaotic enough to draw the reader in deeper.


3. Next, fix your characterization: When you fix the boredom that has crept into your novel, you’re going to have to turn up your characters to accommodate the new, higher level of conflict and action in the book, or else it’s jarring and not believable for the reader.


4. Outline your plot with the new events added in: Lay out on paper, or in Word, each event/scene that happens in every chapter of your book with a bit of detail for each one. I suggest printing this out because you can tape it up on the wall and examine it in a logical fashion as scene flows into scene. I also suggest making a bare-bones event/scene list to accompany it, or else you may get a bit lost in your longer guide. Question it, fix it, and adjust from there.


5. Finally, pick and choose the new, more extreme events for maximum impact: Don’t bludgeon the reader with non-stop action. This can work in a thriller, but even a thriller needs a breather now and then. You’ll also find that some scenes worked better than others, etc. Choose your moments and rewrite excellent build-ups to those events with what works for a plot outline in your chosen genre.

10 Ways to Increase Your Word Count

Increasing Your Word CountOne of the things I’m asked about most as an editor is: how do I write more on a consistent basis, while working full-time? Whether that’s your specific question, or you simply want to discover how to maximize your word count in general, this is the post for you. The easiest way to increase your word count I’ve found is to come at it from the aesthetic angle, i.e. inspiration.  

As I remind authors below, scene planning, enough time to write, and enthusiasm for what you want to write are the triad for beginning to conquer your low word count demons, but inspiration is what gets you in the chair excited to put the effort forth on a regular basis in my experience.  

Here are the 10 most effective ways I’ve found to increase your word count: 

  1. Find your inspiration for the book, story, or project and reexperience it.

  3. Music: Something that inspires you, relaxes you, or simply adds some fun back into your life from fighting your way through high word count production. Music is one of the fastest ways to change your mind and body state.

  5. Art: Have a nice art break with your favorites, or a category you haven’t experienced before.

  7. Poetry: I’m not a huge poetry fan, but I think it’s something we should be reading more of considering how shallow most books out there are. Reach out and grab a few poets that you haven’t tried before and drink in their view of life. This always has an interesting influence on my writing, or at least my outlook, when I think back over any work I need to do on a project.

  9. What Would Your Character Do Day: This clearly is my favorite one. Pick something your favorite character would do and do it. This could also be used for getting to know a character that you may be experiencing some trouble with. I know the character I always pick…and she always gets up to some pretty interesting stuff in her (fictional) spare time, which ends up being a treat for me when I need a break as well.

  11. Painting/Art/Graffiti, etc., visual expression in general: Sometimes you need a break from words, especially if you’re producing word count to exhaustion everyday. Even if you have no experience, get in there, pick up some paint, and fling it around. If you’re more serious about learning a nice hobby away from writing, I personally recommend Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. She’s an amazing teacher. It’s not nearly so hard to learn to draw as you may think!

  13. Your favorite hobbies: This is pretty easy. You already have a hobby? Give yourself permission to do it. It’s that simple. Chaining yourself to the millstone of a novel, a huge amount of work, with no fun is not a recipe for success or quick production.

  15. Fun: Just plain fun and a night or two off. Pick something and escape from your desk for a night. Indulge, and you’ll find yourself more than willing to pick your work back up and start in anew. You’ll find your word count is often higher after a break making up for that time off.

  17. Writing unrelated to your current project: I’m a cycler by nature; I love to revisit old projects, or take breaks from a main project and develop others. Just make sure you circle back around to that main project. Give yourself permission to create other things, and you’ll find yourself “cycling” through things less frequently.

  19. Research: Sometimes it’s good to just stop and do research for a day or two to flush out your current project, especially when so much is needed that it requires more time than ten minutes to do it. You need to do it anyway, and it is work on your project, so use it to your advantage and take a mini-break.

Here’s a final suggestion to make your writing more pleasant as you’re doing it: cleaning. Most folks use this as a way to procrastinate, but I’ve found that having a clean writing area or room makes it easier to write in general. If you’re starting to feel drained and lethargic when you sit down at your writing desk, that’s a good clue that you need to give things a good clean, or work an item on the list above.  

Don’t forget the triad needed for high word count production: knowledge (of what you’re going to write); time; and enthusiasm. Those three are helping me blow through a novel at a nice rate of speed combined with the steps above.  
Need an editor because you’ve acquired “text blindness”? Just can’t look at your book anymore and want to hand it off to a copyeditor? Shoot me and email, and I’ll help you get it ready for publication or agent submission. 

This article was edited with CMS.

$$$ Open Call for Scripts: Far More Cash Involved; Get in Touch with Your Horror Screenplay $$$

Hey everyone,

My apologies as far more money was on the table than I realized for the horror script. You won’t get all the way to WGA scale, but a producer is involved, so I think that makes compensation far higher. If you have a screenplay, or a book that could be turned into a screenplay in the realm of a ghost story, The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, or The Changling get in touch with me using the contact form. They are quite willing to pay for “the right script.”

Open Call for Scripts and Stories by a Film Producer on a Microbudget Horror Film

Open Call for Horror Scripts & StoriesGreetings fellow horror buffs and writers,

An indie director acquaintance, Leif Jonker, is searching for film scripts, or something you could turn into a film script, for a horror producer friend of his to be used on a microbudget horror film. There would likely be no or very small compensation involved, but you’d have the fun of seeing your work get made into a horror movie.

If you have something sitting about in the vein of The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, or The Changling, they’d love to talk to you. If you’re interested, contact me for details.

“Peaky Blinders” Season Three Premier Review: It’s All About Swagger

Unlike my Penny Dreadful review, there are far too many spoilers that could ruin your viewing, so my review will be general, but brief. And I promise, no spoilers.

Peaky Blinders Season ThreeJust in case you had the Season Three jitters about what they would do with the show now that it’s getting a on in years, have no fear. They delivered to the maximum of their abilities for violent “men being men with swagger” viewing.

And, as this review and the title refer to the “swagger” style of the show, don’t you get a bit worried when that swagger gets a little too grand? Everyone is a little too successful, and a little too happy? No spoilers I promise, as I know of none, but I’m sure there will be lots of risk, and possibly some loss, this season.

The first episode was jam-packed full of drama. I’ll leave it at this: it was the wedding to end all weddings. Very Shelby family, indeed.

I’m thrilled to see Netflix didn’t cheap it and is keeping with the same, or similar quality, writers. The acting, as usual, was superb. Tad tired of the music maybe, but the show is far too much fun to care. I’ll definitely be anticipating each new episode, and I’m sure the season will warrant a rewatch in the future, just as the others have for me.


Penny Dreadful: Season Three, Episode One Review

There are no spoilers here, so don’t fear where you tread, or read. The third season of Penny Dreadful started off with a whimper unfortunately as it continues the trend of other multi-season shows that get slower and slower to start the true storyline with each passing season.

Penny Dreadful Season ThreeeTo make sure that I wasn’t judging the series unfairly, I rewatched the first episode of season one, and it was altogether more delicious and daring than the recent installment. The third season, we are so lucky to say, features the same quality acting as in previous seasons, but as my favorite character, the effeminate Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle, (magnificently played by Simon Russell Beale), might say, there is no frisson.

We’re also continuing the, I think, dreadfully boring Frankenstein story line. It started out well, but it hasn’t been my overall favorite. The acting, though, is well done. They added yet another character to it to spice it up a bit, but I simply have never found it very appealing and generally fast forward through it.

I’ll be watching Season Three at this point only because I’m a fan and allow myself to be dragged along at a pace and direction far too slow and too plain at the moment for my liking. I hope that the show will correct its humdrum start to give us the same glimpses of terrible wonders that we’ve come to enjoy in what I think is one of the better shows on television.