Have a question about my books, blog, podcast, or editing services? I'd love to hear from you!

I typically respond within 48 hours. If you haven't received a response by then, please resubmit your message.

Alternatively, if you have a manuscript that’s ready to go and you’re looking for a free assessment and sample edit, hop on over to the form on my editing page.

Name *

Macungie, PA 18062

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.

Filtering by Category: Writing Advice

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.

How to Catch Typos in Your Own Work

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

For all you writers out there like myself, you probably know how hard it is to edit your own work, especially when it comes to typos. Your brain automatically fills in the blank—and corrects errors—as you read over each line in your head, making the little boogers near impossible to see. Now, I’m not suggesting that you use this method as a substitute for hiring a professional for the majority of your editing; in fact, you absolutely should be doing that before you even consider publication. However, I’ve come up with a solution that does a pretty darn good job of the proofreading process at least, and it even helps some with line editing. Best of all, it’s FREE if you already own Microsoft Word.

Word has a nifty little tool built in called text-to-speech (TTS). It’s no surprise that this feature is included, but since it’s not part of the standard toolbar at the top (I myself was unaware of it until after I stumbled across it in a Google search), many people miss it.

Activating Text-to-Speech

Next to the quick access toolbar at the top, you’ll find a drop down arrow. If you click it, a list of customizable commands for the toolbar will pop up. After clicking More Commands, make all commands available, then scroll down until you find the Speak option. Select it and click Add. Click OK to save the changes, then you’re all set. It should now show up at the top.

Now all you have to do is highlight the text you wish to have it read by selecting it in the document and clicking the shortcut for the Speak tool from the toolbar at the top. It looks like a comment bubble with a play arrow at the bottom right-hand corner.

For a more thorough step-by-step guide, you can check out the how-to article on Microsoft’s site.

Why This Works Better Than Other Methods

I’ve seen plenty of suggestions for other methods, such as printing out your book or reading it backwards to catch errors like this. And while those do work well for spotting the majority of the issues, particularly the print-out method, they have one major flaw: you’re still the one reading your own writing, which means you’re relying on your brain to pick up on its shortcomings through what you see. And as I’ve already established, your brain is generally pretty biased when it comes to reading your own writing. By having an unbiased source, such as the computer, read the text for you, you’re instead free to listen to the text. And believe me, it’s much easier to hear errors than it is to see them. My proof?

In my most recent book, I had nearly a dozen beta readers and two editors go through it, not to mention having revised it several times myself. But despite that, after using the text-to-speech feature, I caught over twenty additional typos and errors that all of us missed. And let me be clear about this, because this is a really important point. I’m in NO way knocking my betas or editors. They are fantastic, and my book wouldn’t even be half of what it is without their input. What I am suggesting is that we’re all human. And as such, we have flaws. One major flaw with our brains—well, it’s actually a huge upside that is an adaption for survival if you think about it—is that it’s completely wired to read things correctly, even when they’re not. It has a tough time picking up on all the errors in writing, which is why we editors have to work so hard to develop a keen eye for potential problems. Case in point is this well-known example:

I cdnuo’lt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind. Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are; the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghi t pclae.

So before you hit the “send” button on the final draft of your manuscript, whether you’re self-publishing or submitting your work to publishers, agents, or even magazines, give this method a try. Your betas, editors, publisher, and readers—not to mention you, yourself—will be glad you did.

Developing a Supernatural Edge: Rocking Your Theme

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

In the previous post in this series, I talked about perspective, voice, and unexpected turns. This time, I’ll be focusing on themes, specifically how carefully tying each element in your story to your desired theme will strengthen the piece as a whole and bring unity to its core idea.

What is a theme?

A theme is the central idea or topic found overall in a piece of writing. It is what drives the surrounding content and weaves each subtopic into a uniform structure. In most stories, themes are depicted by the events that unfold rather than a direct statement from the narrator. Culture can also play into the theme, often by introducing viewpoints or circumstantial behavior that one might find in a close group of people or a community.

Finding Your Theme

A theme is not just a minor topic presented in the book. It usually manifests as a way of thinking or an attitude toward that topic, making some revelation in the process. For example, one theme we see in the Harry Potter series (a fantastic supernatural series) is this: choice and free will. Even those “fated” to a certain path can change their course because of the will we are given, and our actions have consequences.

Theme is often expressed through what characters or the reader learns throughout the story. In Rowling’s series, Harry and his friends learn more about the past and what is about to unfold. New themes are introduced, and the theme about choice remains. Harry must decide with each new piece of the puzzle what actions he will take and what effect that will have on those around him.

Most themes are difficult to state using a single line. They’re often paraphrased, showing expressing the idea by means of relating it to something we know. Idioms, such as “calling the kettle black” or “letting the cat out of the bag” are a great examples of this. There are many ways to express idioms, and in fact, most every culture has their own take on it. For example the American idiom, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” is expressed in German as, “Lieber ein Spatz in der Hand als eine Taube auf dem Dach,” which literally translates to, “A sparrow in the hand is better than the pigeon on the roof.” Similar concept, but much different wording. And just as there is more than one way to get the point of an idiom across, so is there for themes.

Theme are not always morals, nor are they always meant to teach us how to behave, though that is sometimes the case. Rather, themes are a viewpoint, a way of illustrating a particular stance on a topic. Some of the more complex and, in my opinion, interesting pieces of literature will often have more than one theme. One of my favorite examples of this is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, where he focuses on themes around the threat of time and the long-term consequences of our actions, family, social class, and tradition—all while weaving in supernatural elements to boot!

However, the thing to consider when tying in different themes to your story is to ensure that you only have one main theme. Otherwise, it might get lost in the shuffle.

Here is a list I found of common themes often found in literature that you might find helpful when getting started:

Adding Dimension to a Theme

A theme often ties into the genre of the story, but it goes deeper than that. This is where the layering technique comes in. Your characters actions’ as well as the outcomes to those actions will normally feed into your chosen theme, thus “proving” it to readers. The various elements of the story should also tie-in, to paint a clear picture of the theme without ever stating it directly. For those of you who are familiar with the old “show, don’t tell” advice, it comes into play here as well.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking, and I’ve been waiting for this argument. Do you really have to bother with a theme? Why get hung up on the literary concepts when you can just write?

The truth of the matter is, you’re probably crafting a theme without even knowing it when you’re writing. Initial ideas are usually silhouettes of a much larger and complete theme, and often times, it’s just hard to pinpoint that theme until the story is complete. I’ll admit that this was actually true for me when I first started writing The Porcleain Souls series. It took me a while to uncover each theme, and I discovered more with each scene. But if you find yourself struggling with which direction to take your story and the desired outcome you want to have, a good place to start really is by examining the theme—even if it’s only the one your story is leaning toward so far.

Themes Don’t Define an Author

There’s one last point I want to mention, because it’s one that is easy to forget when we’re lost in a good book. Authors don’t always support or agree with the themes they’ve created, and they don’t have to. The purpose of crafting a work of fiction is to tell a story. Sometimes that story will align with our own beliefs and experiences, and other times is won’t. And that’s okay. You should never have to feel guilty about what you’re writing, just because it might offend someone. Have you seen the list of banned books? I, for one, and am glad that many of the books that have made a banned list at one point or another were written. They’re some of the best books out there, because the authors of them weren’t afraid to tell the story that they wanted to write. They didn’t care who judged them or deemed their work unfit for public consumption. They wrote it anyway, and it paid off, because all the hype about the books being banned have actually spawned their popularity.

So while knowing your theme and catering to that is important, don’t forget to just breathe, relax, and write. Tell your story, because no one else can tell it for you.

Comedic Fantasy at Its Best: an Interview with Kylie Betzner

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

Though I didn’t meet my original goal of posting this on April Fool’s Day (joke’s on me), I figured, what better way to kick off April than by interviewing a comedic fantasy author? So I’d like to introduce you guys to Kylie Betzner, a talented author and friend of mine that I’ve known now for several years. I’ve had the privilege of working with Kylie on both of her humorous tales, and I’m excited to share her books and tips with all of you—as well as an excerpt from her latest book, so be sure to read through to the end!

What is your take on the modern-day publishing industry?

Unpredictable is the first word that comes to mind when I think of the modern-day publishing industry. With traditional publishing houses refusing to upgrade their business model and independent publishing rising in popularity, there is no way to see where this is going. One thing is for certain: the publishing industry is changing—for better or for worse. I’m interested to see where it’s going. 

What made you choose self-publishing over other methods?

Most authors have a box—or filing cabinet—full of rejection letters from agents and publishers. I never actually pursued the traditional publishing route. Several writer friends of mine had published independently and really enjoyed the creative freedom that came with that route. Being a bit of a control freak, and after researching the current market, I decided the best option for me was to self-publish. Eventually, I’d like to pursue the traditional route, becoming a hybrid author, but in the meantime, I’m quite content sailing my own ship.

What was your inspiration for The Wizard’s Gambit? How long did it take from initial draft to publication?

Inspiration is a lot like lightening: it strikes at random. Inspiration for this series came during a discussion with my sister back in 2013. We were watching The Lord of the Rings and laughing at some of the absurdities of the series and fantasy genre in general. Some of the things we came up with were so funny I had to jot them down. Soon enough, I had enough material to plan a novel.

From start to finish, the novel took only took about a year and a half. Even though inspiration for the story struck in 2013, I didn’t seriously start drafting it until the spring of 2014. It was then published in the fall of 2015.

When did you decide that you wanted to become a writer? Any specific event that triggered it?

It really wasn’t a conscious decision. I was writing before I could actually write. Haha. When I was five or six I used to illustrate stories with my sister. My current writing is much better. ;)

What advice do you have to for new/young writers looking to get published for the first time? For those looking to self-publish, any important steps they should take before publishing?

My advice for new/young authors can be summed up in three parts: (1) Write what you love and only what you love. No one ever found happiness and fulfillment in prostitute writing. Don’t whore your writing skills. C’mon, guys, you’re worth more than that. (2) Hone your craft. Master all of the elements, and you can become the Avatar—wait, what? Whoops, I meant to say “skilled writer.” And (3), choose the best career path for you. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Traditional publishing or self-publishing are both fine options, but you have to do what works best for you.

If you do decide to pursue self-publishing, make sure you don’t skip the most important step—editing! And I don’t mean grammar and punctuation; I mean content. Don’t click the publish button until your story is solid. Content editors can be pricy but it’s worth it. If money is an issue do a book swap with another author—anything as long as you’re not publishing your first draft. Take your time and do it right. Invest in your dream.

You’ve done an amazing job with your first book. You did your research, took every step necessary to make it as professional as possible, and even established a social media presence/following before its release. But is there anything you would have done differently before publishing your first book?

I honestly can’t think of what I would have done differently except to have built a stronger platform earlier on. I have a decent following for as long as I’ve been at this social media thing, but I can’t help but wonder how much better I could have done if I had started a year or two earlier.

In your opinion, what is the one most important thing that you've learned from your experience as a writer?

I’ve learned that I am capable of anything I set my mind to and that opportunity is abundant anywhere and everywhere so long as I keep an open mind.

Do you think it’s important to have an online presence before being published? How has establishing one before publishing your book helped you?

Absolutely. Most of the books you sell will be online, unless you plan on attending a ton of author events. It’s important to establish an online presence BEFORE you publish your first book so you have a built-in readership and support system. My online friends have been amazing! I don’t think my first book would have done as well without them.

One word of caution: Don’t overwhelm yourself. Quality is more important than quantity. Be active on a few sites rather than nonexistent on a ton.

If you weren't a writer, what would your second desired occupation be?

Since professional cat cuddler isn’t a real occupation, I would choose to be an actress. I’ve always enjoyed the stage and playing pretend, hence why I participate in community theatre and frequent cosplay events. To have been casted in the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films would have made my life.

Have any specific people inspired you in your career?

I was inspired by several authors: Terry Pratchett, Gerald Morris, Neil Gaiman, and Sherryl Jordan to name a few.

What types of things do you do to improve your writing skills?

I heed the advice of my editors for one, and I read books and blogs about the writer’s craft. Just because I’ve published books doesn’t mean I know everything.

Favorite quote about writing?

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It's that easy and that hard." -N.G.

What is your favorite genre to read?

Fantasy, of course, though I do read outside of my genre on occasion just to broaden my horizons.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer? What is the most rewarding?

The hardest thing about being a writer is being chained to your desk. It takes a lot of time not only to write and edit the book but to market it as well. Maintaining a social media presence takes time too. It can be exhausting and lonely sometimes.

One of the best things about being a writer is hearing back from a reader who really enjoyed your book. That makes it all worth the time.

What are your thoughts about pen names? Would you ever use one?

I don’t particularly like them, especially when a woman author is trying to hide the fact from her readers. It validates the belief that boys won’t read books by women authors, and in a way, it suggests that women authors are in some way inferior to men authors. Sorry J.K. Rowling, but I’m not a fan of your pen name.

What are your goals as a writer for 2016?

My number one goal this year is to build my readership and make more people laugh. In September I’ll be releasing the second book in my comedic fantasy series.

What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing—which is next to never—I’m playing a part on stage, rocking a cosplay convention, hanging out with my sister, building Lego with my nephew, or reading a book with a hot cuppa joe.

When can we expect your next book?

Book two of the Six—Er—Seven Kingdoms comedic fantasy series is due sometime in September.

Kylie Betzner is a comedian, blogger, coffee junkie, and an incurable nerd. And now, an author. The titles she is most proud of are sister, auntie, and friend.

Growing up in a small town surrounded by cornfields, Kylie had nothing better to do than fantasize about unicorns and elves. As an adult, she still refuses to grow up and spends most of her time creating stories of comedic fantasy. When she is not writing, which is hardly ever, Kylie enjoys reading, drinking coffee, and spending time with her family and friends. She also runs, although she does not enjoy it so much.

Kylie currently resides in Indiana with her sister, nephew, horde of cats, and one very silly dog.

You can find The Quest for the Holy Something Or Other and The Wizard’s Gambit (book one of The Six—Er—Seven Kingdoms series) on Amazon. You can also follow Kylie on her blog ( and several other social media platforms:





Excerpt from The Wizard's Gambit

The following excerpt is copyrighted and cannot be used or reproduced without permission from the author.

Mongrel followed Margo up a winding staircase then out into a long open corridor. They passed rows and rows of columns, some of which were on the verge of tumbling over. Such a sad sight, Mongrel thought, glimpsing at the broken statues occupying the niches in the interior wall. They didn’t serve much as decoration, but at least they kept the abandoned building from getting lonely. Mongrel paused to examine one of the statues, touching and sniffing it as needed.

“Come along.” Margo walked ahead, rather stiffly as though her robes were over starched. Even so, she put a considerable distance between them. He caught up with her at the end of the hallway as she stopped before a large wooden door.

“This is your room,” she told him, pushing open the door. She moved aside, allowing him to enter first. Mongrel stepped past her and gaped. The room was huge, at least in comparison to his prior lodgings, with enough space between the furniture to perform an intricate dance if he had wanted to. There was a large bed pushed up against one wall, and on the opposite end, a door that led to a private bath. A giant doorway opened to a balcony. This was a far cry from The Moose Tavern back in Kingsbury.

“Are you pleased with your accommodations?”

He spun around. In the doorway, Margo waited for his response, her head lowered and her hands folded demurely at her stomach. What a bashful girl, he thought and tried to catch her eye. He caught it for a moment, but she looked away. He thought he saw the slightest blush on what little he could see of her pale cheeks.

“The room will do nicely,” he said, offering her a smile.

“Really?” She sounded surprised.

Apparently, the other guests had not been so easily impressed by their accommodations.

“We would have provided a room that better suited your individual needs, but seeing as you were not on the list . . .”

Mongrel raised his hand against further apology. “This suits me just fine.”

“Good,” she said, though she did not smile.

Mongrel thought to pull one from her.

“So, you’re a wizard’s apprentice?” he said. “That must be very interesting.”

She shrugged.

“I’ll bet you know all kinds of magic,” Mongrel continued. “That’s probably neat.”

Again she shrugged.

Mongrel continued, “I’ve never met a magic user before—well, not a human one anyway. Maybe you could—”

“No,” she said quickly, and then added, “I’m not licensed yet.”

“I see,” he said, feeling embarrassed all of a sudden. It didn’t help the way she was looking at him, rather critically, with a gaze that traveled up his body from his leather boots to the wild curls atop his head. The corners of her mouth twitched as she fought off what might have been a smile.

“So, what are you supposed to be, anyway? Some kind of huntsman?”

Now it was his turn to blush. “What makes you say that?” He rubbed the back of his neck.

“Well, uh, the weapons first off,” she said. “And all the leather—”

“I do wear a lot of animal skin,” he said, talking over her.

“And your physique,” she continued a little less confidently, the volume of her voice dropping with every word. “It looks like you do a lot of running—”

“I try to stay fit,” he said, laughing nervously.

“—tight butt.” He heard the last part clearly. They both stopped talking.

Groaning, she fled behind a curtain of black hair, which could cover her face but not her embarrassment.

Mongrel chuckled nervously. “Actually, I’m not a huntsman,” he admitted, and she peeked at him through a part in her hair. He sighed. “I’m a blacksmith.”

“Oh,” she said unable to hide her disappointment, even behind her hair.

“It’s all right,” he said. “We can’t all be princes and great warriors.” He smiled again. “I’m more of an everyman.”

“Is that so?” she said, awarding Mongrel the smile he’d worked so hard for.

He rubbed his forearm self-consciously. He had to admit, for a girl so plainly dressed, she was pretty when she smiled.

“Well, if there is nothing else you need, I’ll be going,” she said. The smile was gone as quickly as it came. “Wizard White Beard looks forward to your attendance at tonight’s gathering.”

“I’m Mongrel, by the way,” he called to her as she started for the door. “Just in case you didn’t catch it in the throne room.”

She paused, thought for just a moment, and said, “Nice to meet you, Mongrel.”

“Nice to meet you too, Margo,” Mongrel said, but she fled down the hall before she could hear it. She’d left the door wide open. He smiled to himself. There was someone out there just as awkward as him.

Then, like a slap to the back of the head, he remembered why he’d come in the first place. There was a competition to win. But Margo was so pretty . . . He shook the image of her from his mind.

“Stay focused,” he told himself. “The six kingdoms are counting on you. Whether they want to or not.”