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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

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From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

WDC Series: 5 Tips for Introducing New Characters

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

Characters are the life of the party. Their individual quirks can completely turn the plot on its head and send the story spiraling in a new direction. As a writer, I love incorporating new characters, because I see it as an opportunity for plot twists, growth, and complexity in books. But as a reader, I know how disappointing the story can be if the characters are not written well. You want their introduction to feel natural while providing enough information to give you an accurate taste of their personality. So what are effective ways to achieve that?

  1. Bring new characters in at crucial moments. By having a new character waltz into the scene when tension is high and emotions are wavering, they have a direct impact on the plot—and oftentimes, the other characters. This will allow their character arc to unfold naturally and will also encourage their interaction within the scene. Even though this is usually a planned opportunity, if done correctly, it won’t feel rigid.
  2. Make the character relatable, even if they’re not likable. This is one of my favorite tricks, because complex characters will always have at least one facet of themselves that readers can relate to. Villains have weaknesses, just as protagonists do. Both strive to reach a personal goal and both must work through obstacles to obtain them—or otherwise fail doing so. That makes each not only human but also relatable to the reader.
  3. New characters should bring a unique flavor or viewpoint to the story. As with scenes, if a character doesn’t alter the course of the plot or have a direct impact on another character in at least one scene in the book, even if only briefly, there’s no need for them to be in the story. The impact of their role is key to holding readers’ interests and keeping the writing concise.
  4. Keep physical descriptions to a minimum. This can be woven in as the scene unfolds. One great way for pegging which features you should use are those that the main POV character might notice most. Not only does that enhance the personality of your main character and their viewpoint, but it will also help you avoid boring info dumps and prevent you from describing the same types of physical features on each character you introduce.
  5. Have a backstory ready—but don’t share it with the reader! In one of my writing and editing tips on Tumblr, I mentioned seeing backstory as a privilege solely for the author—and perhaps the team working to create this book, such as beta readers and the editor. It’s important to know what drives each character you bring into the story, because it directly affects their actions. But that doesn’t mean the reader needs to know every minuscule detail about it. A great rule of thumb is to share just the information that must be revealed for the purposes of the plot. If the information is something that can be withheld until the climax of the plot or another crucial moment, and is then delivered as part of it, that’s even better. Also bear in mind that only a fraction of the backstory drawn up in the beginning stages usually survives the editing process to make it to the final draft.

Writing Dynamic Characters (WDC): An Introduction to the Series

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

Time to kick things off about characters! Over the next several months, I’ll be talking about everything it takes to create realistic, dynamic, and well-developed characters. For instance, how do you transform a stereotypical character with a vague archetype into a unique and utterly compelling persona that readers can’t get enough of?

I have loads of other topics planned too, but here are a few of the main ones:

  • how to write character flaws
  • writing unlikable characters that readers can still relate to
  • writing complex villains
  • using dialogue to further develop characters

Now, while I do want to give you guys plenty of techniques to apply to your own writing, I’m not going to pretend that character development is my strong suit, because it’s not. It’s taken me many years to hone my skills and grow in this particular area, and I’m still learning. But I’m going to share tips based on my own experiences and research. I’ll also be sharing tips from trusted resources that I’ve used myself.

If you have any additional topics you’d like addressed, please let me know! I'm particularly interested in ones that haven’t yet been covered, as all posts in this series will be used in my nonfiction project. I also highly recommend K.M. Weiland’s books on writing. She has an amazing array of books geared toward writers, including a personal favorite of mine, Creating Character Arcs. She periodically puts it on sale, so if you don’t already follow her author page on Facebook, I highly recommend it.

Developing a Supernatural Edge: Building a Creepy Setting

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

I won’t lie. I’ve been waiting to do this post for ages, as it covers one of my favorite aspects of writing, particularly for the supernatural and horror genres. So I’ve saved the best for last. Today I want to share some tips with you about building a spooktacular setting for your next story. Maybe it’s filled to the brim with creepy stuff, or perhaps it only has fleeting moments of horror. But whatever the case, it’s important to know how to craft a strong element of the heebie-jeebies. Without them, tension will be lost, and you’ll risk losing authenticity and the reader’s connection to your story.

Environment

Location, location, location. Ever heard that one before? It’s true that other elements play a factor in building a creepy scene, but environment is pretty dang important. Those of you who have read some of my horror shorts know that I’m a fan of eerie buildings and traditional haunted houses, but your creepy environment certainly doesn’t—and shouldn’t—be limited to such locations. After all, ANY space can be a spooky one, given how you present it in a scene.

For instance, take a child’s playroom. There would likely be tons of toys and cute decorations adorning the space, not to mention fluffy stuffed animals and fuzzy blankets to cuddle. Probably the farthest thing from scary imaginable. But let’s transform that space for a minute. What if some of the toys were broken or floating in mid-air with no logical explanation for the force holding them up? And perhaps the wall decals have been drawn over with sinister images or have peeled from the walls, giving the sense of abandonment or intrusion. Go one step further and have the room be dimly lit, a child’s plaything ripped apart and lying on the floor, stuffing spilling from it with no child in sight, only a lone blanket crumpled next to it and left behind. That sweet, innocent playroom has now shifted into something much less inviting, likely causing the hairs on your neck to prick up. That’s what a stellar setting can do for your story. It can literally up the creep factor tenfold.

Pace

The next layer to building a creepy setting is the pace of the scene. The action will drive it, but how you execute it sets the tone. Suspenseful scenes often have quick pacing, giving them a sense of daunting doom that is waiting to break through. A great example of this can be found in Blake Crouch’s collection Fully Loaded. In one of his opening stories, a voicemail of a woman being murdered is left on the answering machine of a young couple. It’s a broken message with small bits of information relayed throughout it, but during the scene, one thing rings true: the pace is fast. Sentences are chopped short, they’re kept simple, and most importantly, there is rapid motion to the words. No flowery language, no extra clauses.

By keeping the sentences short and the action moving forward, Crouch achieves the perfect pace for an intense, suspenseful short story that riddles your body with chills. The subject matter is intense enough, but its execution is everything in that piece.

Sensory Details and Body Language

Let’s delve into sensory details for a moment. If someone tells you that a character is tapping his foot, what do you picture? If someone then tells you to picture someone tapping their foot in the waiting room of the ER with doctors rushing to and fro, machines beeping, and orders being called out from the loudspeakers, how does that imagery change? Does it change further if someone describes the intense, rapid beeping and the overwhelming chatter of “His vitals are dropping!” and nurses and doctors bustling about while that character is brushed to the side of the room, blocked out by the privacy curtains as he runs a hand through his hair and paces? Chances are, the situation has grown clearer with each added detail, and by now, there’s even a sense of emotion surrounding the scene.

Images and body language are your most powerful resources for building setting. If you can create a vivid picture for the reader by providing clear motions and enough sensory details, you’ll automatically set the tone and mood for the scene. Movies often use this approach, focusing on what camera angles work best for the current action and layering in music to add depth of sensory effects on top of things like heavy breathing, a character pacing, their hands trembling, etc. But in books, writers don’t have luxuries like music. We instead must rely on our words for establishing a clear setting and planting the correct mood in the reader’s head, so it’s important to get it right and to couple that with strong body language.

The best way to do this is to incorporate sensory details into the action. Sight is the easiest one to tackle, but I encourage writers to include things like sounds, tastes, smells, and even textural details where fitting. The combination of those is sometimes more powerful than anything sight can provide. For instance, think about the climactic moments in thrillers and horror movies. When the character is waiting in the dark, where they can’t see anything and have to rely on their other senses to detect what’s out there, what kind of effect does it have on them? And what kind of effect does it have on you as the observer? Feelings of anxiety and fear probably overwhelm you in that moment, even though you’re not directly experiencing what the character is. And just like in good movies, good books do the same.

The Human Psyche

Red herrings and intense emotions are probably my favorite tools for manipulating—I mean, crafting—a creepy scene. Cue the shifty eyes, sudden movements, random glass breaking, and off-key organ music. In all seriousness though, knowing how to control and convey emotions in writing can create amazing scenes and give tremendous depth to your story and characters. Tapping into their emotions unlocks a connection with the reader, one that floods you with primal instincts, resulting in a lasting impression. If you take that one step further and create a setting and mood so vivid that the feeling of it comes to life and resonates with the reader, then you’ve accomplished something brilliant. That means long after someone has finished reading your book, they’ll remember it and relive it in their mind. Which, if you ask me, is an awesome compliment, no matter which genre you write.

Trick-Or-Treat Reads: Free Books for Readers

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

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After connecting with Patricia Lynne, YA author, on various social media, she invited me to participate in her awesome annual Trick-Or-Treat Reads event, where authors offer free books for Halloween. This will be my first year participating in the event, but all the same, I’m excited to share it with you guys.

What is Trick-Or-Treat Reads?

When it comes to this spooktacular holiday, kids often get to have all the fun. So Patricia organized this awesome event as a way for young adults and adults to get their own goodies. Readers get to hop from blog to blog, snagging free books for treats from each participating author!

My Bag of Goodies

This year, I’m doing a two-for-one deal, where you can get The Eyes That Moved, the first book in the YA paranormal horror series The Porcelain Souls, for free, then enter my Amazon giveaway for a chance to win the second book in the series.

The Porcelain Souls, Part I

Kendra and Adam, two teens with addiction for adventure and a knack for spotting treasures in abandoned houses, team up to discover the secrets of the Whitson house. When they delve into its undiscovered past, Kendra unlocks a deadly secret, one that Adam failed to share.

The Eyes That Moved is actually permanently free on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords. I’m also giving away signed copies to new subscribers to my newsletter during the month of October, as well as a nifty desktop background for the series.

The Porcelain Souls, Part II

As I mentioned before, I’m also hosting a giveaway for The Ballerina’s Gift, which is part two in the trilogy, through November 2nd. If you enter but don’t come away with a free copy, you can still get it through Kindle Unlimited for free, or you can buy it on Amazon for $1.29. I’ll have plenty of new chances to win a copy during the whole holiday season, so keep tabs on my blog and website to find out more.

When Marley's parents buy the infamously spooky Whitson house, she comes face to face with the startling truth about its past. Torn between her escalting popularity and protecting herself and her loved ones from the looming danger that surrounds them, Marley must choose if the risks of her new social life are worth it.

Who’s Participating?

After you’ve gotten your free copy of The Eyes That Moved and entered for a chance to win The Ballerina’s Gift, be sure to visit the rest of the blogs giving away goodies. Some authors will only have these deals on the 31st, so be sure to check them all before tomorrow!

If you’re an author and would like to participate in this even, simply sign up to add your blog to the list.

I also want to give a HUGE thank-you to Patricia, who put this whole thing together. What a fantastic idea it was!

Happy Halloween, everyone, and I hope you have a lovely time book-or-treating!

Developing a Supernatural Edge: Enhancing Your Voice

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

In all my time writing, both in developing my own pieces and in working with other writers, the most difficult area for me to master has been voice. Narrative voice is something like your DNA in the writing world. It’s your unique ability to craft content and string words together to convey your message. The problem with mastering it is that it’s complex. Because there is no other voice like your own, there’s no blueprint to follow. So how can we first define voice and then enhance it to enrich our stories?

Voice as a Noun

Your voice is you, and you are your voice. Voice is a giant tapestry, woven with the qualities, language, concepts, and beliefs that make you who you are. While your characters will undoubtedly have minds of their own, your voice is what shines through in the overall piece and in the narrative to tie it together. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to agree with your characters. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t. But having a strong voice is the key to tying their story together.

If you’re struggling to find your own voice in the sea of characters, start by looking at what makes you tick. Would you describe yourself as an optimist or a pessimist? Do you tend to wear your emotions on your sleeve, or are you more discreet and maybe even reluctant to open up? Your personal traits will often have a direct impact on your words and how they are delivered.

Voice as an Adjective

I love analyzing voice as an adjective. This is probably my favorite layer of voice, partly because I know immediately whether or not I’ll click with a piece I’m reading based on it. Sarcasm, innocence, intelligence, skepticism, humor, and boldness are all concepts that could be applied to enhancing your voice. In my own writing, I tend to have a sarcastic undertone with a bit of dark humor. And overall, the mood is serious, oftentimes with intense emotions. Because of that, genres like horror and thriller speak to me the most. If you’re lost on the adjective part of your voice, first look at what genres really captivate you. Chances are, there will be a few elements that bind those works together. Find that, and you have the second layer of your voice.

Voice as a Verb

The third part of voice has to do with how it’s executed. A previous article of mine about themes covered how you can use them to amp up the tone and mood of your story. Voice is no different. If you have the noun and adjective aspects of your voice nailed down, think about the delivery. What kind of impact do you want to have on the reader? Do you want them to be scared, happy, uneasy, sad, empowered? How you use your voice to create elements such as tone and pacing in a story can alter the mood of the story and the way that readers connect with it. Voice as a verb is one of the trickiest parts to master, because it has to marry well with your theme and plot. It also should contain signature features that will leave a unique and distinct mark on each piece you create, one that sets yours apart from everyone else’s. This is where wording comes in the most. The vocabulary and phrasing you choose in the narrative will depict a style that is all your own. It’s basically the combination of the noun and adjective forms joined with the conscious decision of implementation.

Pushing the Limit

Enhancing an established voice can be difficult. Just as with the technical side of writing, shaping the creative elements of writing, like voice, takes practice. For a lot of us, it can take years to master. One way is through experimentation. I often recommend starting by dabbling in new genres and points of view to do this. The idea is to stretch your boundaries and push past your comfort zone. By doing so, you’ll discover new ideas and techniques, adding depth to your voice. But how do you know if a technique is really part of your voice or not?

My rule of thumb is to examine your gut reaction when you’re working with this new idea. Does it feel natural? Does it leave you feeling empowered about your writing? Or is it difficult to churn out and awkward to pursue? View testing your voice like you would shopping for a new outfit or buying a new car. Each one you try out will have a different feel to it, and chances are, your gut will give you an initial reaction, one of joy or contempt. And with each new outfit/car that you try, you’ll discover individual elements that fit with your style and ones that clash. Even after a commitment is made, it might feel foreign for a few days. But once you’re settled in, not only will you feel completely comfortable in it, but you’ll also start to view it as an extension of yourself.

That extension is EXACTLY what voice is. It’s everything that makes you who you are and who you want to be in your writing. It’s your signature move that no one will ever be able to pull off, because it’s as complex as you are. Which is a pretty cool thing if you think about it.