Tag Archives: fiction

November Plans

2 Nov

Hello, again. I haven’t been around during the last few weeks. I’ve been editing and traveling. Life gets busy. And, I’m sure you know that once Halloween passes, the rest of the year finishes in a flash.

My plans for this month are to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), during which authors set a 50,000-word goal and aim to complete a rough novel by the end of the month. The average pace required to reach this goal on time is just under 1700 words per day. I’d love if you joined me in the mad dash.

Just visit nanowrimo.org for more information and to sign up. In order to “win” the challange, you must create a user profile, create your novel info on the site, and use the site’s word counter for final validation of the word count. Don’t worry, they don’t keep your text in memory or history when you paste it in to be counted. No one will see your story unless you share it. Oh, and a tip, too. Choose a username you’ll like for a long time. There is currently no way to change it. Mine, for example, was based upon a character I never ended up using in my first NaNoWriMo. Now, it has no application to me or my writing, but I’m stuck with it.

If you plan to join the fun, find me on the wrimo website as DontWakeJenny, and be my writing buddy.

For those of you following me here, see you in December!

Happy writing,

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Pro-Tip: Setting

5 Oct

It’s important to ground your writing in a time and place. This isn’t just for fiction writers, either. Every discourse needs a context. It’s not enough just to say that someone is in Philly on a Saturday afternoon. Yes, that is a place and time, but it doesn’t tell the reader anything about the larger scope of the scenario. Is this past, present, or future? Go beyond that, as well. If your character is in Chicago in the present, but your narrative flashes back three years to that time she visited Quebec, you’ll still need to tell the reader when NOW is and when THREE YEARS AGO was. Is NOW actually now, 2015? Or, is the NOW in your story 1955? From that point, the flashbacks and flashforwards will be greatly impacted. 2012 was a lot different than 1952. So, while visual (and other sensory) descriptions of your setting are very important in order for the reader to get a sense of what physically surrounds the characters, that setting isn’t just floating in some ambiguous time in history.

Example: Marley and Chris rounded the corner of 5th Avenue to hail a cab. It was a beautiful summer day, and there were lots of people about. Chris stepped to the littered curb and coolly signaled the yellow minivan. When it skimmed the sidewalk, leaves and papers rustled past. Marley approached, lost in thoughts of three years earlier. Not much around her had changed. The air smelled the same—hot, vaguely polluted, with mingled aromas of ethnic foods—and the buildings around her still stood watching in their fading brick skins. Beneath that, though, deeper, where the city had no jurisdiction over her thoughts, autumn was creeping in, and with it the rusty color-change of her feelings for Chris. Leaves drying before a fall.

Now, the paragraph above has a physical and geographical setting. It has a seasonal setting. It has sensory details about where they are currently, where they were three years before, and how that is impacting her emotionally. However, this paragraph would not be able to hold its own in a novel if this were the only indication of time and place. There are no markers to tell me when NOW and THREE YEARS AGO actually happened. The inclusion of a vehicle gives a better indication of NOW, but it still isn’t exact. We also can’t tell how old they are. Old enough to have been in a relationship for three years, but that still leaves a lot of options.
If this were a scene in the middle of a novel where those factors in question had already been established, there would, of course, be no need to repeat that information. If Marley frequently flashes back to three years ago, and that year was detailed in depth during the first flash back, it would be redundant to dig up those details every time. A casual reference of this kind would suffice.

The take-away, then, is situational. If you’re placing characters for the first time, the reader needs to know enough about that moment to ground them in the geography and era. You don’t want your readers imagining your futuristic, silicone body suit-wearing protagonist in a 1920s flapper dress. I assume. The pictures we imagine as we read are informed by what the author chooses to disclose. If you want a certain conclusion reached, or in this case a certain visual, lead the reader to it. Assess your situation scene by scene. Decide if you need that additional information or if it would be redundant to include it. Write accordingly.

And remember, this isn’t just for fiction despite my first example. A research paper, a piece of journalism, and editorial, a blog all need a context. It might be sufficient to say of a blog piece, “I’m on my couch with the cats writing this to you now.” A blog post will be time-stamped by the hosting website. Readers will know when NOW actually happened. An editorial on a great new restaurant might need more. “In order to miss the dinner crowd, I ate at Chez New Restaurant with my husband at 4pm. They just opened a week ago, which is a shame because opening a week earlier could have earned them the last of the summer vacationers, but I digress. We ordered the…” You get where I’m going with this. Without being overly detailed, the reader sees that I ate dinner, but early in the day, and that the restaurant is new as of the end of summer/early fall. Even without a specific date in the narrative, it gives a clear picture of the setting/season. I won’t bore you with more examples; the point is clear. Assess your scenario and the need-to-knows of your readers. Premeditate their questions and answer in advance by being detailed.

How do you ground your readers in a setting? I’d love to hear your methods in the comments!

Thanks for reading.

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Join me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/marsicowritesite

At the 2013 James River Writers Conference: Session 4

29 Nov

NaNoWriMo is over but that doesn’t mean you have to stop writing. Whether you’re looking to continue your WriMo stories or start a new project, these notes on characters can give you a fresh approach to the task. In the All About Characters session at this year’s James River Writers Conference, Philippa Ballantine and Lydia Netzer, led by Lana Krumwiede, used the analogy of an office full of employees (your characters) to illustrate the various issues writers, as the boss, can run into when creating convincing characters that get the job done.

Boss Challenge 1: Motivating your Employees

  • Know what your employees want, what they’re ultimately after, and what they’re comfortable doing.
  • Make your employees work toward a prize/goal line. You may already have something genius in mind for one of your characters to say or do in the near future. Have all of their actions propel them closer to that winner of a line. Make those employees work for you because that line or event could be the aha moment, the turning point, or the profound message your novel depends upon. If any of you are familiar with the FX show “Archer,” you know that its main character, Archer (go figure), always says, “I had something for this!” when something dramatic happens. The ongoing joke is that he many of his actions are simply to get to the moment when he can say the clever comeback he planned. When the time comes, he never remembers. The moral here—make notes of those prize lines so when you finally come around to an appropriate place to write it in, you don’t forget what it was and your characters don’t pull an Archer. (If you go to look up clips of the show, be aware that it’s pretty explicit and NSFW.)
  • Characters can say what you can’t say to people in real life. Treat yourself.

Boss Challenge 2: Setting Goals for your Employees

  • Travel with your character and follow their goals. Rather than constructing what you think that character might want, consider their dreams as if they were a close friend in real life, someone who self-motivates, rather than an extension or creation of your own mind and goals. Rather than asking, “What would I do if x,y, and z happened?” ask, “What would he/she do if x,y, and z happened?” In this manner, your characters lead the adventure and you join the ride (instead of shuffling the characters like pawns).
  • Don’t know too much too soon. Just be with your characters. Characters are not pre-decided automatons. They grow. This will be easier said than done for those of you who are not discovery writers. Even if you like to make plans and outlines before writing, you can still allow your characters to grow outside of the rigid scaffold of your outline. Always remember an outline can change. If the character, as your employee, is not doing the work, change the circumstances or change the character. You’re the boss; it’s OK to change your mind.
  • With the leading characters, the first apparent goal is often not the real goal, meaning the status quo is not always the true desire. Goals can change. For example, it might appear that your female character’s goal is to find a husband (a normal, status quo type of goal to have), but after the events of the novel, your character grows and the goal changes. She realizes that her real goal is to have a means to travel the world, so she dumps the fiancé for his rich, retiree father. Cheesy example aside, you see what I mean.
  • If your employees are stuck in a situation, have them do something counterintuitive. This will give them a chance to get out of the situation, spice up the plot with something unexpected, and maybe even come to the realization of their true goals.

Boss Challenge 3: Delegating Responsibility and Empowering the Employees

  • Step back from the narrative and let the characters run the show. They will start to speak for themselves.
  • Delegate points you want to make as the author to a specific character. That character will say it for you so that author voice does not run the narrative. If your novel is one without a narrator, it is important that you trust the readers and the characters to connect on the important points, morals, symbolism, whatever it is you might put in the plot. If your characters are the only ones speaking in the story, it would be confusing and inconsistent to suddenly inject a narrative voice (your voice) into the mix to point out something that’s going on.

Boss Challenge 4: Keep the Door Open for your Employees

  • Talk problems out with the employee. Yes, talk to your characters. Out loud or in print, talk it out. It’s not crazy. You’ll get used to the phrase, “Oh, don’t mind her. She’s a writer.” If the character isn’t performing, rework their tasks to come to a solution. If you try out the new route and the character is still not working for you, fire him.
  • Have characters do your bidding until they’re substantial enough to make their own paths. If you treat your characters like babies that you must guide in the beginning, taking them on your path at first, and then letting them become more self-sufficient as they grow, you will end with a character you can easily think about as if they are a separate and real person like I mentioned earlier. As the boss, you have to train them to do the job, but they don’t need to be shadowed forever.

Boss Challenge 5: Embracing Egalitarianism

  • Don’t short-change characters that are less like you personally. We all inject a little of ourselves into the characters we create. However, it’s necessary for variety that some characters have less of the author in them than others. For those characters that are less like you, give them special attention. Don’t ignore them. Instead, try choosing traits from a group of other people you know in real life so that they remain realistic and at the forefront even if you can’t use your own experiences in their actions. Don’t mistake this tip as one saying that each character should be written directly from a person you know. Your character Jim shouldn’t be your ex-boyfriend, Craig, verbatim; and your character Lindsay can’t be your real-life aunt trait-by-trait. However, your heroine’s best friend can be your ex-boyfriend’s impulsivity, your aunt’s humor, and your high school math teacher’s odd sense of style. Then, treat this best friend as equally important to the plot as the heroine. She is her best friend for a reason. If there is no reason, no purpose behind you including her in the story, she shouldn’t be there at all. Each character has a purpose.

This session was one of the most helpful I attended, and I hope you can get some use out of the tips as well. Feel free to tell me your favorite tip or an aha moment you’ve had about creating authentic and self-sufficient characters in the comments below. Good luck wrapping up with NaNoWriMo and with the projects that develop through the coming holidays. Holiday time with family and friends always provides great material.

As always, happy writing!

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast






At the 2013 James River Writers Conference: Session 1

23 Oct

After giving myself a few days to let the information overload of the 2013 James River Writers Conference settle, I’m finally getting around to sharing the great tips I learned. Today, I’m going to give you the notes I took during the “Suspense Across the Genres” session, with speakers Philippa Ballantine, Christopher McDougall, Kevin O’Malley, and Howard Owen, moderated by Julie Geen.

  • Write suspense into the little moments, too. Is that boy your protagonist likes going to notice her haircut? If he does is that going to bring them closer and change the path of the story? It’s a small thing to wonder, but it can have big implications. Suspense doesn’t have to be saved for the big reveal of your protagonist’s life-changing decision or whether the serial killer gets caught.
  • Chop the story up between plot and subplot or past and present in order to make suspense. Find the cliff-hangers.
  • Slow down and show the character. Make them the headline that draws the reader in, and then write the story with dynamic moments of suspense to keep the reader interested.
  • Make your character worth caring about so the reader wants to know what happens to them whit it gets suspenseful. Do this by making them real and human (even if they aren’t humans).
  • All fantasy has a kick-ass female heroine. Twist the trope by adding personality traits that increase suspense. Heroes need faults. Make readers wonder what the character will turn out like in the end, how she will grow.
  • “Emotion beats the hell out of the appreciation for good literature.” –I wish I had been able to see which speaker said this from my seat in the room. They elaborated that if you can get the reader in the gut, get them where they feel, then the reader will be determined to find out what happens to that character even if the text isn’t appreciated as literature. My take on this—touch readers on a human level rather than an academic or scholarly level where the merit of the literature might take precedence.
  • Suspense is not just action, action, action. It can be emotion, character, setting, imagery, etc.
  • “You are telling one story, not ever scene from the characters’ lives… Let the curtain drop. Let it stay down.” –Again, couldn’t see who said this. It’s great advice, though, to those of us who have “over-narrator-itis.” Trust the reader to understand. Not every moment has to get a moment on the page. I never got an opportunity to ask what the speakers’ views on sequels are given that they say to leave the curtain down and let the story end. My guess is that a sequel, or books in a series, should only get written if that additional narrative is really needed. It shouldn’t rehash what was done. It should continue the story forward.
  • Use the end of each chapter as a second chance for a riveting first line. The last line is just as important. It tells readers to stay tuned. Make them want to.
  • Once you’re about 40 pages into your manuscript, something needs to change the characters’ lives. Keep the plot moving.
  • Even plateaus in plot should ramp up for the next scene.

I hope these tips on suspense and plot progression are as useful to you as they have been to me. As soon as I got home from the conference I pulled what I thought was my finished manuscript out of its binder and started rearranging pages, marking through dull moments, and rewriting the unnecessary. Remember, change is good!

Happy writing,

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast






Interview: What Children REALLY Want to Read

22 Aug

Today is a get business done kind of day, so in lieu of a Self-Editing Tip, I’m going to post responses I’ve gathered from children I’ve worked with over the years on the topic of books.


Randy, 5

What is your favorite book?

“I have one, but I don’t know it…”

Leah, 4

What is your favorite book?

“Princess Fairy Tale Land.” (Side note: Who knows if that’s the real title)


“It has a lot of movies with it, and it’s funny.”

Why is it funny to you?

“It has lots of funny words.”

Mackenzie, 4

What is your favorite book?

“’Gigi’—It’s about Gigi, and if Gigi touches something bad an alarm comes on and guards come and put her in a pink tower.”

Why is it your favorite?

“Because I tried it and I liked it!”

Shane, 4

What is your favorite book?

“Lightning McQueen.”


“It has fast cars, and it’s funny.”

What makes it funny?

“They say funny things. The cars can talk.”

William, 5

What is your favorite book?

“ABC Trains.”

“Train tracks go under a house, and it’s funny.”

Why is it funny?

“They hit each other. They make butt jokes.”

Leah, 5

What is your favorite book?

“Princess Story Book.”


“Princesses are so beautiful.”

Is it a funny book?

“No, it’s a beautiful book.”


As you can see, the majority of Pre-K and kindergarteners choose their favorite books based on humor and appearance. So, if you’re a children’s writer, maybe some of this input from children can help you out. I’m aware that most of their answers are the same, but that’s what’s golden about it. It points you in a very specific direction. I don’t write children’s literature, but I’ve always wanted to. I collected these short interviews out of pure curiosity in the event that one day I finish the children’s stories I’ve started. We’ll see. I hope it’s handy for you.


Have a great Thursday! Be on the lookout for another Self-Editing Tip tomorrow.

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast








Self-Editing Tip #17–Writing Character’s Private Thoughts

20 Aug

Yesterday I posted an excerpt from chapter 3 of my novel Acephalous. In a private email, a reader questioned why a portion of the text was underlined. Here is that text:

“She had to give him a definitive explanation of her hesitations, now. As if I could really tell him… As she turned her car off, Jordan let his foot fall down from the tire he had it propped on.”

The underlined text above indicates the main character’s private thoughts—what she’s saying in her head in that moment. Normally, I would write this type of text in italics. That’s generally how I prefer to set apart character thought. However, when preparing a manuscript for submission, sources generally recommend removing italics from the submission-ready manuscript and replacing them with underlined text. In the publishing process, all of those underlined areas will be converted to italics upon printing. This is the reason I chose underlining versus italicizing.

There are other ways to set apart inner speech in writing. It’s really a personal and stylistic choice.

Start a new paragraph for the thought and change the font beyond just italics, underlines, or bolded text. Maybe choose a font that looks like handwriting, or one that reflects the character’s personality—prissy, stoic, fancy, sloppy, you get it.


I wish I could tell you what Molly told me yesterday.

Start a new line and use asterisks above and below the thought.



It’s not like I have anything better to do right now…


This method is better for large portions of thought like dreams, flashbacks, and letter-writing because having ********** every few lines will get very annoying visually.

Save inner musings for designated sections of the text, and then treat them like chapters and use the chapter title to indicate whose thoughts are to follow. Another similar option is the epistle form—letters, diary/journal entries, or blog/vlog posts written by the character (or any other method of self-recording).


Chapter 11—Chris

It wasn’t like I really needed that job. More than anything, I just needed a place to go during the day where I would be around other people. People that I didn’t know. Staying in this building full of other guys my age is stifling. You’d think it would be cool living with your friends, going to school with those people, coming back home knowing they’re all still there. I thought it would be one huge party at first—like a frat house! Not so. There is no privacy. Boarding school sucks.


May 5, 2013

I can’t believe senior year is almost over. It’s sad. Those statistics they read in class today say we’ll never see each other again in all likelihood. You grow up with these people, act like you care about them, then poof. Separate ways.

Yadda, yadda, yadda… you get the picture.

The last note I’ll leave you to consider is that these variations on setting apart character thought can be used for stories written in any point of view. Even if the plot unfolds in first person (where your main character says, “I,”) you can still have moments where that person thinks or talks to herself. Just because they say, “I,” this, and, “I,” that aloud doesn’t mean that they don’t have “I” thoughts they don’t want to say publicly. This is a way to help your reader get to know that character better by taking a look at their personal feelings. It’s also a way for you to write more realistically human characters. For creating characters that are two-faced, shy, lying, conflicted, or keeping any type of secret, this is a method of defining private and public for that character, just as we do in real life.

If I’ve left anything out, let me know! How do YOU designate private thoughts in your writing? Have you run across any point of view scenario where these ideas would not work well?

I appreciate your readership and your input! Read and write on!

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast





Self-Editing Tip #16- The Hook

16 Aug

The Short and Sweet of First Sentences and First Pages of Fiction

Today, we’re going to move away from grammar and focus on content. Specifically, I’d like to pass on a few short, but easier said than done, points that I’ve learned from a combination of professors, writing guides, and poorly written novels. Consider these while writing the beginning to any longer piece of fiction. (Let’s call a “longer” piece of fiction 5,000 words or more—anything you would hesitate to call flash fiction—or something with chapters.)

  • Chaos and confusion are not the same as mystery and suspense. You generally want to avoid beginning your text by throwing your readers into the midst of action/tragedy/horror and expect them to be intrigued enough to keep reading purely from the shock of what’s going on.
  • A reader’s choice to begin reading does not signify that reader already cares about a character, setting, or event. Beginning a story with intimate thoughts from a character or with a character in a compromised state isn’t always the best choice. Though the thoughts can give good insight into that character, they may be better placed further within the storyline once your reader cares about the character. This is because the thoughts a character expresses, though revealing, don’t matter until the reader knows how they feel about the person—are they supposed to root for or against this character? Do they love to hate this person? Are they sympathetic to what the character is going through or are they unable to relate? Introduce characters in a way that not only shows readers who they are, but also shows them why they should care. The same goes for introducing your character by way of some big event. If you go this route, make sure you’ve given readers a reason to care. They don’t know that person yet, so you’ve got some convincing to do.

In my experience, the beginning is the hardest part. By keeping these points in mind, I’ve been able to create introductions that not only familiarize readers with the setting and main character, but intrigue them into caring. Shed the notion that readers already care simply because they began to read. Remember, just because someone is curious enough to read your writing doesn’t mean you’ve gotten them to care about what you’ve written. That takes something extra—practice, for one, but also some element within the character that the reader can latch onto as important to them. This hook will be different for each reader, so creating well-rounded, realistically human-acting characters is a good place to start. Even if your characters aren’t humans, there are innate human truths and qualities that will show through because the characters have been created by you, a human.

Tell me what you think about introductions and character crafting. It’s a tricky topic. If your opinions differ or you have some strategies you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them!

Thanks for reading.

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast



3 Aug

The time for the first contest and giveaway has arrived. No entry fee!

Enter your fiction of 5,000 words or less for a chance to win one free editing/proofreading package for your choice of writing project (30,000 words or less).

Package includes: initial project meeting by virtual media of your preference (email, instant message, Skype, in person only if in the Metro-Richmond, VA area); editing/proofreading of text no longer than 30,000 words; and final project write-up with editing summary and suggestions. This is a prize worth $1,500* awarded to the contestant with the most engaging piece of fiction.

This is an open contest, meaning there is no theme. Your only restriction is that it must be fiction 5,000 words or less. I will score from 1-4 in each of 4 categories: engaging introduction (catch my attention, make me curious about what’s coming next), continuous forward momentum (includes climax–does your story peak too soon? too late?), lifelike characters (even if they are imaginary or not human), and well-crafted conclusion (wraps up the story or suspends the moment in an inventive, pleasing, or surprising way).

To submit, email your attached text in word document or PDF form to marsicoam@gmail.com with FICTION CONTEST in the subject line by SUNDAY, AUGUST 25, 2013. Entries without the proper subject line will not be opened and will likely go to the spam folder. Please also put your email address in the header of each page of your text so that I may contact the winner via the email address used to submit. If you would like to submit a cover letter with your story, that is fine, but it is by no means a requirement. I will not accept entries from those with whom I am personally acquainted.

Thanks for reading! It keeps this blog alive. Now, it’s my turn to give back 🙂

Happy writing and good luck.


*No cash given for prize. Value of prize based on price charged to clients for identical editing package.

Self-Editing Tip #5: Manuscript Formatting

10 Jul

For today’s self-editing tip, I’ve decided to point you in the direction of another writing expert’s advice: Glen C. Strathy’s Manuscript Format for Novels. It’s too good to pass up. The thorough checklist of formatting musts for new novelists is a tool I use frequently, and one I think everyone will find equally useful. Even if you haven’t started your novel, these tips are valuable ones to keep in mind. Why not start writing with the proper formatting? It beats having to go back through your entire book and correct everything (like I did).

Self-Editing Tip #4: Em Dash

8 Jul

The Em Dash—The Em Dash is the “giant hyphen” of the punctuation world. Many don’t realize that the hyphen is not the proper way to add commentary/editorial information into sentences. The example below shows the common mistake of using a hyphen rather than an Em Dash for this aside-type statement.

Ex. What is most important- especially for those not accustomed to certain exercise equipment -is that enthusiasm is not replaced with recklessness.

The sentence above is not incorrect in terms of syntax, semantics, or cohesion. The only thing that needs fixing are those pesky little hyphens. To create an Em Dash, type the first phrase and two hyphens. Leave no space between the words and the hyphens and no space between the two hyphens. Type the commentary phrase without adding a space after the hyphens. At the end of the commentary phrase, type two more hyphens with no spaces just like the first set. Most word processing programs will automatically turn your two hyphens into Em dashes. If it does not, you can select an Em Dash by going to the Insert tab of Microsoft Word, selecting Symbol, More Symbols, and then Special Characters. You can also use the shortcut key phrase Alt+Ctrl+Num or set your own shortcut key. The sentence in its corrected form is below:

Ex. What is most important—especially for those not accustomed to certain exercise equipment—is that enthusiasm is not replaced with recklessness.

%d bloggers like this: