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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.


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.

Not Your Typical NaNoWriMo Writer

Rachelle M. N. Shaw


That dreaded time is almost upon us, and many of us who are participating in NaNoWriMo this year are either lying on the floor twitching or feverishly scribbling our outlines for the event.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is a month-long commitment that many writers make each year to hammer out a 50,000-word novel or longer during the month of November. For the past two years, I've participated in the event, but I'm not exactly your typical NaNoWriMo writer. For one, my goal isn't to write a novel. It's usually to write a short story, a series of blog posts, or a combination of my works in progress. Secondly, I'm not fussed about hitting 50,000 words. Truly—I just want to finish my darn projects! So I happily accept my label in that corner of the Internet as a NaNo rebel. It suits me, and I don't have plans to change my approach any time soon. Here's why.

The whole goal of NaNoWriMo is to get you writing. It's a time to discipline yourself, sit down, and get those words out any way you can, whether it's your first book or your hundredth. But I'm not really one that thrives or writes well under pressure. I know that and freely admit to it. I have anxiety—something I don't often share with others. It's a burden I've dealt with my whole life, and this year has been a challenging one, perhaps more so than any other year. Between receiving a substantial diagnosis for both of my kids and managing trips to their therapies on top of it, my life has been turned upside down. So I’ve come to terms with the fact that following the traditional NaNoWriMo path won’t work for me, or my family. But I refuse to give up, so I’ve adapted the concept. After all, writing isn’t just a hobby for me; it’s my career and a huge part of my identity.

Sure, there are those who continue to fling discouraging words at me, telling me that I’m not a real writer if I can’t do something as simple as dedicating a whole month to it. But I’ve learned to ignore the Debbie Downers. Being a rebel isn’t my way of slacking or making excuses; it’s my way of compromising and staying true to myself while giving the most important people in my life what they need. Am I going to write 50,000 words next month? Probably not. But I'm still participating. I've got plenty to work on, everything from blog posts and scripts for a new podcast I'll be doing, as well as the first draft of another book in The Porcelain Souls series. I’m writing, pushing forward despite all the hardships. And that’s good enough for me.

WDC Series: 5 Tips for Avoiding Stereotypes and Cookie-Cutter Characters

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

If you’ve ever read a review that criticized a book for having stereotypical characters or ones that lacked depth, you know just how much it likely affected the reader’s rating and overall enjoyment of it. Flat characters are hard to relate to, and they can take even the most extraordinary plot and transform it into a cure for insomnia. No one wants to read (or write) a book like that, yet there continues to be an influx of published works that receive that very critique. So how can you, as a writer, avoid such a thing?

The short answer is to make your characters unique—a feat that’s far easier said than done. So here are five tips for transforming your cookie-cutter characters into three-dimensional beings that captivate readers and leave them dying to find out what happens next.

  1. Pinpoint each character’s needs, wants, and motivation. Developing a strong character arc is key to giving your readers the dimension they crave. Not only are no two people alike, we’re all complex creatures with many things driving our actions. We succeed, we fail, and we make mistakes along the way. Our encounters with others not only shape our experiences in life, but they often influence the decisions we make. So why should your characters be any different?
  2. Give your characters flaws. Shortcomings make characters incredibly realistic, and even more important, relatable. Everyone has flaws, even the most successful person you’ve ever met. That cute guy you’ve been staring at all week? I guarantee you there’s something annoying about him. And when you look closely enough, he probably doesn’t have perfect skin, perfect abs, or flawless teeth. Maybe he’s even got a scar or two or a crooked nose. Flaws aren’t just skin deep either—even the most popular girl in school has insecurities about herself and will long for something she doesn’t have. By giving your characters faults, you add depth to them and avoid falling into the trap of stereotypes.
  3. Allow your characters to grow and evolve. Even if you have a well-developed character who’s easy to relate to and has adequate flaws, you’ll fall short if you don’t allow them to grow and evolve throughout the story. As I mentioned in the first tip, a character’s environment and interactions with other characters should impact them, even if the effect is subtle. Without that forward movement, characters can grow stale, much like plots do if there isn’t enough conflict or action. After all, it takes both characters and plot to drive a story forward. The best stories have mastered their pacing through a stellar balance of plot and character development.
  4. Blur the line between good and evil. Is your main character an antagonist or a protagonist? Once you have that figured out, make them SWAP SIDES. Then contemplate what would have to happen to pull them back to their original side. Pretty cool, huh? When the line is blurred between black and white, your characters will naturally evolve into complex creatures. Playing both sides of the field can make your character incredibly relatable, even if they’re not necessarily likeable (more on that in an upcoming post in the series), which is incredibly valuable when it comes to fleshing out secondary characters as well.
  5. Develop backstory that only you know as the author. When you have a rich backstory for each character, it’s much easier to see not only what drives them but also how they would react in multiple situations. The more you have established, the easier it is to keep them from falling flat. Character charts and questionnaires are a great place to start, but I’ve found that by focusing on their motivation and wants and needs first, then adding to the list of their traits as I write, I can give them an incredibly realistic depth through the process of writing in layers. But there are many ways of achieving this. If that sort of thing doesn’t float your boat, find another method that does. Also, don’t despair about the details that don’t make the final cut. Think of them as cool behind-the-scenes gems that only you and a select few people are privileged to know. They also make for great extras to include in your author newsletter if you have one!

Recommended read: If your characters just aren’t cooperating for you, check out K.M. Weiland’s book Creating Character Arcs for further ideas on how to develop amazing characters. It’s an excellent book well worth the read.

How to Use Showing vs. Telling Effectively

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

There are tons of writing blogs and articles out there that offer advice on showing vs. telling. But why is that?

Why is showing so important that it automatically trumps telling? Is it ever okay to use telling? The secret is actually in the combination of the two. When you know how you can use showing in conjunction with telling, you can strengthen your writing and sharpen the structure of your pieces.

If you struggle with showing vs. telling at all, check out my guest blog over on the 10 Minute Novelist site today:

In it, you'll find tips for balancing the two and how to strengthen your voice.

To the Mothers of Autistic Children

Rachelle M. N. Shaw


Autism. With just one word, your life can be forever changed.

Today, I'm taking a break from my usual posts on writing to recognize Mother's Day. For each and every mother out there, whether you're a mother-to-be, a foster mother, a mother who adopted, or you gave birth to your own children, you deserve recognition. You are amazing women that have been through the ups and downs of parenthood, and you've experienced the joys that come with it. Each milestone makes you feel like the proudest mom in the world, and you light up inside at the first little coos, giggles, and words your mini me utters. The little pitter-patters of tiny feet racing down the hallway will likely forever remain engraved in your memory.

Parenting is no easy task, no matter what challenges your child faces. But today, I'd like to reach out to a group who hits very close to home for me. To the mothers of autistic children, I want to celebrate with you today and let you know you're not alone in this walk, no matter what stage you're at. I know you share the same sense of pride, adoration, hopes, and dreams for your little ones as everyone else does. I know, because I am one of you.

This journey is still very new to me, so to those of you who have been on this road for many years, please forgive me for the blunders I might make (and probably already have made) in writing this post. I suspect my story is nothing unique to you, nor do I expect it to be treated as such. I feel blessed to have even experienced motherhood, as I know not everyone gets to.

I was only twenty-three when I got married, but I was ready. I'd been with my husband for over six years at that point, we'd both recently graduated from college, and he'd just been offered a full-time position in another state. So we took a leap of faith and tied the knot, then moved across the country. Soon I found work too, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at twenty-five, and almost exactly three years later, had a handsome baby boy. Both pregnancies were healthy with very few complications. They were both low risk, and I never had to endure the pain or heartache that miscarriage brings. I had done everything by the book, taken all the vitamins I was supposed to, gained just the right amount of weight, eaten healthy, and even breastfed my kids for several months.

But it wasn’t long before I noticed my son was different. I chalked it up to him being a boy, to him being more active than my daughter. But after two years of major sleeping issues, feeding issues (including him refusing to eat meat), and a nagging sensation of something being off, the possibility crept into my mind. What if this wasn’t something he would just “outgrow” as so many doctors had told me? What if there was something more to the fact that he wouldn’t always respond to his name, that he had trouble being calmed, and that he’d often throw his head back hard against the ground when he was upset?

I knew the road we were venturing down wouldn't be an easy one. Though we’d been fortunate to have fantastic doctors, my gut told me something still wasn’t right. For months, I had begged for them to do a sleep study on my son. At that point, he was waking seven or more times a night, he couldn’t breathe well, and all areas of our lives had become challenging. Finally, they agreed and ordered the test. Within a couple of days, we had the results. It was clear he had obstructive sleep apnea and needed surgery. My heart sank. I had been right. His sleeping wasn’t normal. So at just two years old, he underwent a surgery that was supposed to fix everything.

In the coming weeks, he did improve. He ate more than he had been, though he still wouldn’t eat meat. And he slept better at night on occasion…but there were still wakings. For the second time in his life, we underwent sleep training. After a few months, it was clear nothing was working. Before long, everything came back full force, including new behaviors we hadn’t seen before. While the surgery had corrected his apnea, the other problems continued. I had so many unanswered questions that went unaccounted for, and I had reached a point where I wasn’t sure what to do. Had I done something wrong? Was there something they had missed in his tests? When his speech slowed to a crawl, that’s when the thought really hit me. All the words were there, but he wasn’t using them. While other kids around his age continued to progress in their speech, he stayed behind. Even a few of his mannerisms weren’t where they should have been.

At that point, we sought out therapy. I had reached my breaking point. And after a whirlwind of doctor visits, therapists coming in and out of the house, and many, many prayers, we got our answer. We got a phone call from a highly sought after pediatric neurologist in the area, informing us that they’d had a cancellation for later that week. I vowed that no matter what it took to get there, I would do so. The day of his appointment, we received an official diagnosis of that dreaded “a” word. But it wasn’t a burden. It felt like a weight had been lifted. For us, it was the missing piece of the puzzle, the thing that helped us understand why our son had some of the issues he did and why he wasn’t progressing. It was the stepping stone that allowed us to move forward and get him the help he needed.

It’s only been a few months since we started down this path, though his diagnosis had been years in the making. We’re still very much in the crazy days of chaos, therapy visits, follow-up appointments, and even getting special plans in place for when he attends preschool in the fall. But getting that diagnosis meant everything. It meant that I had given my very best, that I had stuck with my son and fought for him during some of the hardest times of his life when he couldn’t tell us what he needed, even though I often felt completely helpless and had no clue where to start.

Having a diagnosis opened so many doors for us, but we still have a long way to go. As so many mothers of autistic children will tell you, every day is different, and every child is different. Autism comes in so many shapes and forms, and some are easier to see than others.

So to all the mothers of autistic children, thank you. You have taught me so much about what it means to be a mother. You are rock stars who have patience beyond measure. You endure stares from strangers when your child has a meltdown in the middle of the park and judgement from other mothers at the grocery store that you should never have to face. You take all the challenges life throws at you in stride, because you know that every minute with your child is something to cherish. You know that some days are better than others, that there are times when it feels like no progress is being made. But you stick with it, day after day, night after restless night, because you know there is no better gift you can give to your child than simply being there for them every step of the way. And for that, you are the most amazing mothers any child could ever ask for.

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.