November 21, 2018

by Margie Lawson

How well do you read body language?

How well do you share subtext on the page?

Take this quick quiz, then enjoy the examples of writing fresh faces and voices below the quiz.

  1. Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal. T    F
  2. If people say the right words, it doesn’t matter how they say them. T    F
  3. Some people wait a few seconds before showing their nonverbal response. T   F
  4. Body language can only be interpreted one way. T    F
  5. People subconsciously mirror nonverbal behaviors of others. T    F
  6. If the words and body language contradict each other, the listener believes the body language. T   F
  7. Facial expressions convey 85% of the nonverbal message. T   F
  8. People can hide their emotions by keeping their face blank. T   F
  9. Lips carry more nonverbal messages than eyes. T    F
  10. When anxious, people touch their face more often. T    F


Did you take the quiz? 


Ready for the answers?

  1. Ninety-three percent of communication is shared through body language and dialogue cues. T    F

TRUE –  It’s a huge percentage in real life.

Use:  Writers need to be sure they’re including enough subtext, body language

and dialogue cues, on the page. And that it’s written in a fresh way.

Many writers struggle with writing fresh faces and voices. We’ve all read too

many lines with similar wording for wide eyes, tight lips, furrowed brows.


My body language course is online in January. Hellooo fresh faces and voices!


  1. If people say the right words, it doesn’t matter how they say them. T    F

FALSE -- The way we say words supports or negates the meaning.

Use:  Subtext. Subtext. Subtext.

Writers have unlimited ways to share the character’s truth through dialogue cues,

how the character says their words—tone, inflection, pitch, etc.  They have

unlimited ways to write them fresh too.


  1. Some people wait a few seconds before showing their nonverbal response. T   F

FALSE --   Nonverbal communication is immediate.

Use:  When a strong emotional stimulus presents, show your characters

nonverbal reaction immediately.


  1. Body language can only be interpreted one way. T    F 

FALSE – There are multiple ways body language can be interpreted.

Use:  You can add tension by having a character misinterpret a facial

expression, misinterpret a dialogue cue, misinterpret an action.


  1. People subconsciously mirror nonverbal behaviors of others. T    F

TRUE – and so fun!

Use: You can show a close relationship between characters by having them

mirror each others posture, gestures, facial expressions, and voice patterns.


  1. If the words and body language contradict each other, the listener

believes the body language.  T   F 

TRUE --  This happens all the time in real life.

Use:  When the words contradict the body language and/or the dialogue cues, people always believe the subtext, not the words.


  1. Facial expressions convey 85% of the subtext. T   F

FALSE – Facial expressions carry 30 to 50% of the psychological message, but

the other categories of body language are important too. 

Use:  Remember to include plenty of dialogue cues, posture, instinctive

reactions, touch, and spatial relationships too.


  1. People can hide their emotions by keeping their face blank. T   F

FALSE --  Faces are never blank. Lips twitch. Eyes narrow or widen. Mouths

open or tighten.

Use:  Don’t write a blank face. Share some tells, some micro-expressions.


  1. Lips carry more nonverbal messages than eyes. T    F

TRUE – The lips do more than eyes, they convey more emotion.

Use:  Include as many or more lip/mouth actions than eyes.


  1. When anxious, people touch their face more often. T    F

TRUE –  Self-Touch Behaviors – They’re not what you think. When people are

anxious, they touch their face (cheek, eyebrow, lips, nose, ear), or near their face (throat, jaw, back of neck, behind ear, hair), as well as their hands and arms. 

Self-Touch behaviors are body language polygraphs. Self-Touch may occur every 10 to 20 seconds.

 Use:  When a character is guilty, or telling a lie, or somewhere they’re not supposed to be, or something along those lines—you could show them touching their arm, neck, face. But don’t overdo it. A couple of times could work well.


HOW DID YOU SCORE?  Did you make a 100?  90?  80?

Learn how to write fresh body language and dialogue cues – and you’ll add more power to your scenes. You can use body language to deepen characterization, complicate scenes, and drive plot points too.

Any time you have an emotional scene—you need subtext, body language and dialogue cues. And turning points need even more subtext.

Enjoy these examples of body language and dialogue cues.


The Last True Cowboy, Laura Drake, 2-time Immersion Grad, Cruising Writers Grad, Bestselling Author

Facial Expressions:

He smiles. That warm, sexy, Austin-smile that always made me feel like we were in a bubble—just him and me.

In the harsh overhead lights, I can read every shade of emotion on her face:  fear, anger, exhaustion, but over them all, a layer of crushing powerlessness.

It must be sleep deprivation, because my insides turn to peanut butter, and I feel a silly smile spread on my face.

Dialogue Cues:

  1. My voice cracks like hot tea over ice.
  2. Her words speed up like a downhill roller coaster.
  3. Though it’s quiet, Austin’s voice slams into me, stopping me faster than a tie-down roping horse.


The Forgotten Ones, Steena Holmes, 2-time Immersion Grad, 2-time Cruising Writers Grad, USA Today and NYT Bestseller, International Bestseller

Facial Expressions:

  1. She rested her cheek on the child’s head, but the look in her eyes said not to mess with her.
  2. I catch a flash of something . . . regret, maybe? The emotion crosses her face too quickly to be sure.
  3. There’s a half grin on David’s face. A devil’s smirk, my mom would say.

Dialogue Cues:

  1. Judy didn’t stop drying a plate, but he heard the hesitation in her voice.
  2. And yet the disappointment in his voice, the dejected look on his face, increased my guilt tenfold.
  3. The resignation in Grace’s voice should warn me, but it doesn’t. It gives me hope—hope that I’ll learn more truth.


The Marriage Lie, Kimberly Belle, 5-time Immersion Grad, USA Today Bestseller, International Bestseller

I’m thrilled to share Kimberly Belle’s big news. ABC has put in development The Marriage Lie, inspired by Kimberly Belle’s bestselling book. Kudos to Kimberly!

Examples from The Marriage Lie:

Facial Expressions:

  1. Dave eases the car forward, dialing up the dazzle on his smile.
  2. Dad uses his drill-instructor voice--forceful, booming, and unambiguous. He turns, his expression morphs from fierce to fiercely concerned.
  3. But now she's watching me with an expression I know all too well, concern mixed with determination, one that says this is a fight she won't give up.

Dialogue Cues:

  1. I park my tone in neutral. “How so?”
  2. My tone is teasing, my voice stretched with a smile--my pathetic attempt at an apology even though I'm not sorry.
  3. It’s not just her words that suck the steam from my anger but also her tone, hesitant and unsure.


This blog is already long, so I won’t deep edit analyze those examples. They’re fresh. They carry power.

Want to learn more?

Check out my online course: Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist. It’s loaded with teaching points and examples. This class is offered in January.

You’ll learn the full range of body language and the six categories of dialogue cues, and challenge yourself to write them fresh, fresh, fresh.

Body Language in Real Life:

Writers can monitor and moderate their body language when pitching to agents and editors, speaking on a panel, presenting a workshop, doing a book signing.

I have a lecture packet that may interest some of you:  Powering Up Body Language in Real Life.

BLOG GUESTS:  Thank you so much for dropping by the blog today.

Please post a comment or share a ‘Hi Margie!” and you’ll have two chances to be a winner.

You could win a Lecture Packet from me, or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Lawson Writer’s Academy – January Classes

  1. The BrainMap, Instructor: Shirley Jump
  2. Five-Week First Draft, Instructor: Koreen Myers
  3. Developmental Editing, Instructor: Rhay Christou
  4. Queries That Sell, and More, Instructor: Laura Drake
  5. The Sizzling, Scintillating Synopsis, Instructor: Suzanne Purvis
  6. Crazy-Easy, Awesome Author Websites, Instructor: Lisa Norman
  7. Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist, Instructor: Becky Rawnsely teaching Margie Lawson’s course

Please drop by my website to read course descriptions and register: 

I’ll draw names for the TWO WINNERS Thursday night, at 9PM, and post them in the comments section.

Like this blog? Please give it a social media boost. Thank you.

I love blogging for WITS. A big extra-lovey hug and THANK YOU to the brilliant WITS gals.

Do you use dialogue cues and facial expressions?  Share one in the comments!

 *     *     *     *     *

Margie Lawson—editor and international presenter—loves to have fun. And teaching writers how to use her deep editing techniques to create page-turners is her kind of fun.

She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean.

To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes (in 2018, in Phoenix, Denver, San Jose area, Dallas, Yosemite, Orange County, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and in Sydney, Melbourne, and Coolangatta, Australia), Cruising Writers cruises, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit:

November 19, 2018

Cathy Lamb

Let’s talk about how to be a cool cat.

Specifically, let’s talk about how to be a cool cat when you’re making a presentation, giving a speech, or reading from your book.

Think: Props.

Yes, props.  No, you’re not on the theatre’s stage, but you are on stage. So bring props.

For example, last night I presented at Powell’s Books. I was talking about the “what if” questions I asked myself to help me come up with a plotline for my new book, The Man She Married.

I wrote out the questions below, on strips of paper, and had my husband come up in front of the audience. I made him read them, aloud, one at a time. No, he didn’t know he was going to be subjected to this terror and he MIGHT have rolled his eyes at me.

Yes, I have an odd and quirky and twisty sense of humor.

It was pretty funny.

Now, I realize you all may not have someone who is willing to do something quite this weird, so here are a few other props I’ve brought to my speeches/presentations:

My journals.

When I present, I will almost always bring out the journals I write and scribble in while writing my books. Each book gets about four to five journals as I swear/cry/have temper tantrums while writing it. People love to see how a book is written, from beginning to end. So, I show them the beginning – my journals.

I also show them the inside of a journal or two.

The first photo is from my latest book The Man She Married. I was focusing on why people lie.

The next photo is for my upcoming book All About Evie. I was trying to figure out what Evie’s kitchen looked like.

I have also shown my audiences a (very poorly drawn) picture of one of my main characters to show how I developed her.

The one below is of Jaden Bruxelle from my book A Different Kind of Normal. See all that scribbling?

That’s all the “stuff” I know about her – what she looks like, her job as a hospice nurse, how she uses herbs and spices, and how she grows the same flowers as her ancestors, in the garden that her grandmother began.

I have also made notes about her family. She has a mother who is a soap opera star, a brother who is a florist, and a sister who is a drug addict.


People love to see how writers develop characters. This is one concrete way to show them.

What about bringing a scroll to show?

This is a list of everything I had to research to write The Language of Sisters. It’s a looooong list and when I let it fall, it was about four feet long.

The people in the workshop thought it was interesting because it gave them a clear look at what it takes to research a book with any historical element in it.

People love props. They love when you take something out of a bag. They love wondering what’s in the box. They love looking at different items. If you ask them later what your speech was about, they will tell you about the props you brought.

So, look around. What can you bring to your speech to show your audience who you are, who the person behind the books is? What exemplifies you or your office or your writing desk or your book or your characters?

What inspired you to write your story? A newspaper article? A portrait? A vase? A story from your grandma? A cookbook? Bring it. Hold it up. Smile.

What does your writing process involve? Sticky notes? Bring a board full of your sticky notes and talk about how they helped guide you through your book.

Do you use an outline? Bring the outline. No, it doesn’t matter if it’s a mess, people simply want to see your organizational process.

Do you use magazine photographs of men/women/children to help you see your character? Glue those to tagboard and hold it up. 

Do you write in long hand? Show them your long hand on that yellow legal pad and tell why it works for you. 

Do you do anything to settle your mind before you write? Meditation? Yoga? Painting? Enlarge photos of you in those activities and bring them. Tell why these activities help you as a writer.

Using props will help you with your speech.  You will feel calmer knowing you’re talking around and about an object(s).

There’s also something about having an object/photo/something funny that helps you center yourself around your speech.

Remember: You are a cool cat. You can do this.

Have you ever tried using props for speaking? Any tips for us?

 *     *     *     *     *

Cathy Lamb’s twelfth book, The Man She Married, was recently released. She is working on her 13th novel while slugging down too much coffee. She recently bought a box of chocolate truffles for nutritional purposes only, of course, chocolate being good for you and all.

November 16, 2018

Gwen Hernandez


One of the great things about Scrivener is that it allows you to divide up your work into scene - or chapter-sized “chunks” (usually documents). This means you can tag those documents to keep track of just about anything you want.

What would you like to be able to track about your documents in Scrivener? Here are a few ideas:

  • Point of view (POV) character
  • Storyline (e.g., Main, Secondary)
  • Setting
  • Day/Date/Time/Year/Era
  • Topic
  • Other characters in the scene/chapter
  • Story structure element (e.g., Dark Night of the Soul)
  • Writing/revision status
  • For blog posts/articles: site, status, suitability for publication in a magazine, topic, etc.

Information about an object is called metadata, and Scrivener has several types of metadata you can use to tag, color code, search for, and organize your files. I’ll discuss how Label, Status, and Keywords differ and how to use each.

Labeling Your Files

The Label field is my favorite in Scrivener because it has the most visibility. (Yes, I’m the kind of dork who has a favorite type of metadata.) Labels have colors associated with them, which can be turned on in the Icons, Binder, Corkboard, and Outliner. Label values can also be viewed as a column in the Outliner, or from any tab in the Inspector.

How I use it: During my fiction drafting phase, I like to use labels to track POV (since I always have more than one POV character).

I often switch it to track revision status during edits. Knowing a file’s stage of revision helps me quickly see where I need to start working when I open my project, and serves as a visual progress meter.

For blog posts, I use labels to store which website the post was written for.

Pros and Cons

+ Color can be turned on in multiple locations, very visible.

+ Label values are chosen from a list, thus reducing errors from typos (helps with searches).

+ The Label title can be changed to match whatever you’re tracking (e.g., POV, Status, Stage, Site) and the new title will appear in menus.

- Only one value is allowed per document.

Working with the Status

Despite its name, the Status field can be used to track anything you want. Status is basically the Label field without any color, which makes it less visible. I’d use this one for something you want to track, and maybe search for, but don’t need to see as easily.

The Status value can be viewed as a watermark on the Corkboard, a column in the Outliner, or from any tab in the Inspector.

How I use it: Sometimes I use this for revision status as intended (though I usually change the values), but usually I use it to note the scene’s setting.

Pros and Cons

+ Status values are chosen from a list, thus reducing errors from typos.

+ The Status title can be renamed to match whatever you’re tracking (e.g., POV, Status, Stage, Site) and the new name appears in menus.

- Only one value is allowed per document.

- No color; less visible.

Understanding Keywords

So far we’ve talked about metadata types that only allow one value per document. But what if you want to apply more than one value? For example, if you’re tracking story structure beats, sometimes a single scene may hit multiple beats. Or, if you’re tagging all the characters who appear in a scene, you might have multiple values.

The beauty of keywords is that you can also have multiple sets of values, and even organize them for easier access.

So, you could have a set of keyword values associated with Settings, and another associated with Characters, and you can apply any or all of them to a single document.

Like labels, keywords have associated colors, but they can only be viewed in the Corkboard and Outliner. Keyword values are visible in an Outliner column, or on the Metadata tab in the Inspector.

How I use it: When I use them, it’s generally to keep track of the elements of story structure a scene satisfies.

Pros and Cons

+ You can have as many keywords and keyword categories as you want, and apply as many as needed to a single document.

+ Keyword values can be chosen from a list, thus reducing errors from typos. (NOTE: If you try to add an existing keyword in the Inspector’s Metadata tab by typing it out, and you mistype it, you’ll end up with a new, misspelled keyword.)

- Limited color use and Inspector tab location make it less visible.

Understanding Custom Metadata

Scrivener also has offers Custom Metadata, which I don’t have space to get into in detail. (But feel free to ask in the comments section!)

If you’re already using the Label and Status fields, but still need more single-choice fields, you can create one with custom metadata (List). You can also create text box fields (Text), a single checkbox item for yes/no, true/false, on/off fields (Checkbox), and date/time fields (Date).

You may create as many custom metadata fields as you need, name them whatever you’d like, and even choose an associated text color for text fields. To do so, go to Project>Project Settings>Custom Metadata.


Modifying Label and Status

The process for changing the Label and Status fields is the same, except status values have no colors.

Here’s how to modify them:

  1. Go to Project>Project Settings and choose Label List or Status List.
  2. (Optional) In the Custom Title text box, type a new field name, e.g., POV, Revision Status, Storyline, Site, etc.
  3. Add or remove a value by selecting it and clicking the + or - button, respectively. You can also double-click any existing value to change it.
  4. To make a value the default (automatically assigned when a document is created), select the value and click Make Default.
  5. (Labels only) Double-click the color box to choose a new color.
  6. Click OK to save changes.

Applying a Label or Status Value

Now that you’ve created your values, you can apply them to existing files. Here are two ways to do it:

  • Select the desired document and choose a value from the Label or Status field at the bottom of the Inspector. 
  • Right-click a document, point to Label or Status (or whatever you renamed it) and choose a value. 
  • Make sure the Label or Status column is displayed in the Outliner (go to View>Outliner options to choose), and click on the line for the desired document to add/change the value. 

Viewing Label Colors

Label colors are not turned on by default, so even when values have been applied, you won’t see the colors outside of the Inspector or Outliner column unless you turn them on.

You have several choices for where to display the label color. You can turn on more than one of them simply by repeating the steps below.

  1. Go to View>Use Label In.
  2. Choose one of these options:
  • Binder: In Scrivener 3, this puts a color dot to the right of the file name. In older versions, it puts a bar of color across the line for each file.
  • Icons: Fills in the file’s icon with color, throughout the project.
  • Index Cards: Colors the file’s associated index card in the Synopsis section of the Inspector, and in the Corkboard.
  • Outliner Rows: Fills an item’s row with the color, and is visible even if the Label column is not displayed.
  • Scrivenings Titles (Scrivener 3 only): Colors the title line for each file when viewing a folder in Scrivenings (multiple document) view.
  • Show as Background Color in Binder (Scrivener 3 only): Similar to the older version’s Binder option above, this option puts a bar of color across the line for each file.

(See the first graphic under “Labeling Your Files” for examples of label color display options.)

You can also view label colors in the Corkboard as a bar along the left edge of each card by going to View>Corkboard Options>Show Label Colors Along Edges. NOTE: You must be in Corkboard view for this option to be available.

Displaying Status Values in the Corkboard

Status values can be viewed in the Corkboard as watermarks across the cards. To turn them on, go to View>Corkboard Options>Show Status Stamps. NOTE: You must be in Corkboard view for this option to be available.

Creating Keywords

The easiest way to create keywords is in the Project Keywords panel. To view it, do the following:

  1. Go to Project>Show Project Keywords. The Keywords panel opens.
  2. To add a keyword, click the + button at the bottom left of the panel. TIP: If you have an existing keyword selected, use the leftmost + button to add keywords at the same level. Use the second (slightly right) + button to add “child” keywords, which are indented from the “parent” to create a hierarchy to help keep your different groups of keywords organized. 
  3. To change a keyword’s color, double-click the color box. NOTE: These will not automatically link to Label colors, even if you use the same value names.

Adding Keywords to a Document

To add a keyword to a document, do one of the following:

  • Drag the keyword from the Keywords panel onto the document title in the Binder. TIP: For multiple documents, select the desired files in the Binder and drag-and-drop a keyword from the panel onto any of the selected files. 
  • On the Metadata tab of the Inspector, click the gear button in the Keywords pane, point to Add Keyword, and choose the desired keyword. 

Removing a Keyword

To remove a keyword from the entire project (and all tagged documents within that project):

  1. Open the Project Keywords panel.
  2. Select the desired keyword.
  3. Click the - (minus) button.

To remove a keyword from a document only:

  1. Select the document in the Binder.
  2. Open the Metadata tab in the Inspector.
  3. Select the keyword to remove.
  4. Click the - (minus) button in the Keywords header.

Viewing Keyword Colors in the Corkboard

Keyword colors must be turned on if you want to see them in the Corkboard. They show up as color chips along the right edge of the card.

To turn them on, make sure you’re in Corkboard view, then go to View>Corkboard Options>Show Keyword Colors.

Thanks for sticking with me! What questions can I answer about metadata, or anything else in Scrivener?

 *     *     *     *     *

About Gwen

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies and helps authors all over the world find the joy in Scrivener through her online courses, in-person workshops, and private training. She also writes romantic suspense (Men of Steele series).
In her spare time she likes to travel, read, jog, flail on a yoga mat, and explore southern California, where she currently lives with her husband and a lazy golden retriever.
November 14, 2018

Lisa Cron

Brace yourself! (Spoiler alert: there is good news coming.) But first . . .

Here’s a hard fact: 97% of writers never finish a first draft.

Here’s an even harder fact: 96% of those finished manuscripts are rejected by agents and publishers.

And the indie route? Statistics show that the vast majority of self-published books sell under 100 copies. Mostly to family and friends. Who, ahem, say they’ve read it. Look, a squirrel!

Sadly, I am not surprised. I’ve spent my career working with writers, manuscripts, story, and in that time I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I’ve read where if you asked me, “What’s it about?” I’d say, “It’s about 300 pages. I have no idea. It’s just a bunch of things that happen.”

Which neatly answers the question: Why do so many manuscripts fail?

It’s not because the writer didn’t know how to “write well” or that the prose wasn’t polished enough or that the plot wasn’t rip roaring enough. It was because the manuscript was nothing but a bunch of things that happen.

But what does that mean?

It means there was no cause-and-effect trajectory – internal, external, escalating or otherwise -- so nothing to anticipate, nothing to care about, nothing to root for. Instead, it was: this happens, and then that happens, and then . . . wake me when it’s over.

And to make matters worse, the two most popular “schools” of writing tacitly encourage exactly that.

Pantsing is the worst culprit; plotting a close second. Why? Because both methods start by focusing on page one, when the story itself – the place from which all meaning and all plotting springs -- starts long before that. After all, a story is about how someone solves a problem they can’t avoid.  And let’s be honest, as real life has taught us, even though it can feel as if problems spring out of the blue, the truth is they take an awful long time to reach critical mass – that place where we have to pay attention to them.

Besides, the story isn’t about the plot anyway, it’s about how the external problem the protagonist faces causes her to make a long needed internal change. In other words, the plot comes second – the first goal is to figure out what internal change, scene by scene, it must force your protagonist to make. All of which is created, in story-specific detail, before you get to page one.

Pantsing ignores all this, promoting the killer misbelief that if you have “talent” the story will simply come. Head hits desk. Heart breaks. It doesn’t work that way.

Plotting, on the other hand, by focusing on the plot first (big mistake!), tries to create a cause-and-effect trajectory, but the problem is, it’s merely a surface cause-and-effect trajectory. It’s math. And faulty math at that. For two reasons.

  1. It’s just a string of external events. Readers don’t come for what happens, they come for why it happens, hoping to pick up a little inside intel that will help them navigate their own lives. And the reason why anything happens inherently lies in the past. Which is why, as Faulkner so brilliantly said: The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past. Meaning you have to know WHAT the story-specific past IS, not only in order to understand the WHY behind what’s happening, but to know what’s happening in the first place. Make no mistake, it’s the “why” that creates the “what.”
  2. Which brings us to the second reason plotting relies on faulty math: The WHY stems from the characters, not the events. Why would your protagonist do that? Hell, why would any character do what they do? Without knowing that -- and getting it on the page – the things the pre-ordained plot will force your protagonist to do won’t make any sense. And guess what, then neither will the plot!

But what if you ARE a dedicated pantser or plotter, and committed to beginning on page one of the manuscript come hell or high water, what can you do?  How can you make sure your WIP doesn’t turn out to be nothing but a bunch of things that happen?

Yep, we’ve reached the good news! There is a method you can use to help make sure you’re not writing yourself out into a big, empty, directionless (albeit beautifully written) field:

As you write forward, approach each scene by focusing on one of these three words:  Because, But, Therefore.

Because: Just focusing on the “Because” gives you a head start – because you’re focusing on the “why.” Again, readers don’t merely want to know what your protagonist does, what we’re hungry for is why she did it. Why did that happen? By focusing on “Because” you’re developing the ongoing causal connection between what’s happened in the past, and what’s about to happen now.

But: Stories are like life – they’re about how we navigate the unexpected. Think: unintended consequences. Collateral damage. Often the “But” is something the protagonist could have foreseen if only she hadn’t been so focused on something else. Sometimes it’s a total shocker. But always, when the protagonist stops to think about it, in retrospect it’s explained by the story-specific past.

Therefore: What is the consequence of what just happened? How does it play forward? What change did it spur? Often the “Therefore” is internal, as in: as a result of what happened, the protagonist realized this, and so decided to do that.

Want an example? This is from a brilliant, dedicated and savvy client of mine, who sent me a shorthand outline of what we’ve been working on for months, and thus inspired this post. She’s writing contemporary fiction, and has already written all of the below in scene form, and it goes deep. She’s now working on the last third of her novel, and decided to quickly synopsize what she has so far. The full document is far longer than the snippet here.  Note that it begins long before the novel starts. 

  • Because her friends pushed her to do it as part of a Cosmo quiz, high school senior Emma finally bares her heart and writes a secret love letter to Ryan, thinking he'll never see it.
  • But her friend betrays her and gives it to him. 
  • Because she’s is humiliated by the letter, when her dysfunctional mom announces they’re moving out of Texas that very weekend, Emma is relieved and doesn't look back, never calling friends. She disappears from their lives, believing you can’t trust anyone. 
  • Therefore as soon as Emma graduates high school, she moves to New York and focuses on her career.
  • But because she deeply craves a family connection she’s never had, she becomes an event planner, so she gets to be close to families, but not in them. No risk of hurt.
  • But what she doesn’t know is that Ryan loved her letter, and was heartbroken when she disappeared.
  • Because Ryan thinks that Emma will reach out to her hometown BFF Natalie at some point, he becomes friends with Natalie and her boyfriend, Frank.
  • But he finds he really likes these people. And as the years pass, even though he’s moved to London, their friendship becomes genuine. He's uncle Ryan to their 3 kids.
  • But Ryan can’t forget Emma. Now the successful CEO of a tech startup, he still has that letter and every once in a while checks FB searching for her. He finally finds her new, very successful company’s FB page. 
  • But when he Ryan reaches out to Emma on FB, her assistant, who handles all social media, not knowing who he is, dismisses him. Ryan believes it was Emma who blew him off.
  • Therefore he decides it was just a stupid letter, and that he’s been nursing a ridiculous fantasy, so he asks his girlfriend of four years to marry him. She's been dropping hints, they’re living together already, all their friends are getting married, and he feels maybe it doesn't get any better than this. I have it good. 

Here’s where the novel starts:

  • But when unforeseen circumstances force both he and Emma back to their Texas hometown, he discovers the spark is still burning bright -- in both of them.
  • Therefore each one must confront . . .

And with that the novel is off and running, fueled by what happened in each character’s past, barreling toward what each one entered the story already wanting, already fearing.  And those “unforeseen circumstances”? For both Emma and Ryan, they were the culmination of a long and, in retrospect, inevitable series of events.

My advice? Whether pantsing or plotting, focus on those three key words: Because, But, Therefore. Don’t write any scene that begins with the deadly, “And then . . .” If (make that when) you find you need to go into your protagonist’s past to dig up the reason “why?” – the because -- do it! Because that’s where meaning, depth and the real truth that you’re writing about is buried. And that is what hooks readers. Story is about an internal struggle, not an external one. The plot? Without the internal story driving it, that’s just a bunch of things that happen.

Are you a pantser? Plotter? Can you see how, either way, this can help?

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Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. Her video tutorial Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story can be found at, and her TEDx talk, Wired for Story, opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference, Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.

Lisa has worked in publishing at W.W. Norton, as an agent at the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency, as a producer on shows for Showtime and Court TV, and as a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency. Since 2006, she’s been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and she is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts MFA program in Visual Narrative in New York City. In her work as a story coach, Lisa helps writers, nonprofits, educators, and journalists wrangle the story they’re telling onto the page. She can be reached at

November 12, 2018

Tasha Seegmiller

Whether you are a participant in NaNoWriMo or not, all of us have (most likely) experienced what it is like to hit the middle of the story and . . .


Some call it a brick wall, others talk about being stuck in the muck, and still others may not have a name for it but simply refer to the weeping and wailing that happens when the story is just stuck.

There are probably others who have written about why we get stuck in the middle, but I want to suggest some tips for getting out, based on how I FINALLY emerged from a draft that took me three times as long as anything else I’ve ever written.

1.    Stop letting your desire for perfection become a form of procrastination.

I think all of us know that the really good writers are really the solid editors and revisers, but a lot of times knowing something and believing something is really far away from each other. There is a temptation to get so caught up getting the setting and the characters and the emotional impact and the pacing just right that knowing we aren’t makes us spin our wheels – or worse – stop writing in the first place.

Dear writer? It is okay to leave yourself notes. It is okay to suggest to yourself that double-checking a research point or the emotional chords you want to play even if at the time you are writing them, you aren’t in the headspace or the heartspace to write that during that draft. Remind yourself what you want to the reader to feel or experience at a certain place, and continue with the parts of the story that you know.

2.    Write the story out of order.

Chances are, twenty years ago, this would have been really difficult. I had a professor who realized, after he’d written his doctoral thesis, that things were in the wrong order, so he cut it up, a paragraph at a time, and took over the living room, placing different thoughts where he thought they needed to be realigned. He also told everyone not to open the front door.

Now? Whether you are a Word writer or a Scrivener writer, moving scenes around, or even whole chapters can just be one more step in the revision process. In the case of my most recent draft, I knew how the story ended. I wanted, so much, to wait to write those as a dessert for the work that I was doing, but I couldn’t move on. So, I wrote the last two chapters (it’s a dual narrative story). I made the theoretical tangible and it absolutely unlocked something within me. (I didn’t write THE END then. That’s a mental celebration that I knew wasn’t authentic yet.)

3.    Readjust how you think about the remaining work.

When I got really stuck, I was at 67,000 words. Most of my first drafts are right around 90,000 words, so I knew the math I was shooting for. (Okay, I may have double checked it a few times with the calculator – don’t judge me.)

Then I was having a conversation with a colleague who is also a writer and asked him about his current WIP, asking how many words he had left. And what he answered fundamentally shifted how I think about my work.

He said he didn’t keep track of how many words were left, or even how many words he’d written (not all the way). Instead, he’d blocked out how many scenes were left, and he knew how many of those he needed to write.

I plotted how to get from where I was to where I knew I needed to be in sense of chapters, and I discovered I had 18 left. That’s a lot easier to think about than 23,000 words. And the work became simply to write that chapter.

4.    Create boundaries to protect yourself.

This is one of those pieces of advice that I am really good at giving to other people, and less than stellar at following myself. I was involved in lots of conversations that would occur throughout the day, and I didn’t realize how much emotional and mental energy I was tossing out to all sorts of people, thinking it was my job.

Yes, there are certain boundaries I don’t get to set on my own. I have three teenagers, I work full time, I’m married to an entrepreneur, I’m about to start an MFA program, I’m running unopposed as president of my favorite a writing organization. I signed up for those things, I need to follow through with the various obligations that come with them.

But what I realized recently was that I have also been taking on a lot of things as obligations that just aren’t. Part of this aha came at the same time that my primary religious leader issued a challenge to participate in a 10-day social media fast. I uninstalled all social apps from my phone and started to feel the weight of all kinds of things lifting from me. I saw the ways I could sneak in little things that could allow me to nurture the writing part of me, and I even allowed myself moments to sit and be still. This last part is essential for my mental health and allows me to better connect with the creative side of me.

Social media is back on my phone – it’s how I engage with some of my dearest friends who live all over the place, but I don’t get notifications for any of them. Not a little badge, not a banner, nothing. I have declined to help some people with things that I previously would out of guilt, and allowed myself, instead, to use that time to write. This is not to say that I live a fairy tale writing life with inspiration and opportunity and rainbows and unicorns. But I am done breaking promises to myself (inspired significantly by this book). I am done violating the trust my creativity has placed in me. And I’m slowly working on having less guilt for isolating myself to pursue the writing that I love.

Do you have any suggestions for how to negotiate inspiration or motivation when your book feels stuck?

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Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity, is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association,and trusts in the power of Diet Coke. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.




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