Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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Writing How to: Piecing Together the Perfect Scene
By Lori Freeland
Photo of an artist's desk with pens & inks & paints visible around the edges of a paper flat on the desk with a faint outline of a woman's face where some of her hair and one eye and a little of her mouth are more complete but much of the painting still needs pieces done

I went to an art party once. The kind of party where I showed up with friends, a bottle of wine, and zero artistic talent. When I first stood in front of that blank canvas, brush in hand, I froze. I couldn’t even produce a stick figure that didn’t look like a throwback to preschool.

But by the end of the evening, not only did I make memories with my BFFs, I took home a painting I actually wanted to hang on the wall—where people could see it. The trick? Creating the picture one piece at a time. One color at a time. One section at a time. One brush stroke at a time.

A Blank Canvas

Photograph of an easel holding a blank canvas, before pieces are layered onto it

Constructing a new scene is like working with that blank canvas. Blank is scary. Blank is intimidating. Blank sometimes makes me want to turn off my laptop to watch reruns of Buffy. But writing a new scene doesn’t have to bring anxiety. Not if you have a plan.

For most of us writers, an unwritten scene plays like a blockbuster movie in our minds, complete with sights, sounds, smells, and emotions. Coming up with ideas isn’t usually the problem. We’re living the full cinematic experience inside our heads. It’s translating that cinematography onto the page that can be daunting. And it doesn’t come in a first draft. But that’s okay.

Construct Your Scene

Like crafting a painting, getting the movie out of your mind and onto the page works best in pieces. Below, I’ll show you how I build a scene and in what order. I’ll bold the additions as we go, so you can see exactly what I’m doing.   

Remember, we’re all different, and we each have our strengths and weaknesses. So pick the order that feels comfortable to you. I like to start with dialogue, which is what comes easiest to me.


I begin with a conversation. Sometimes it’s just a straight back-and-forth between my characters. No action. No setting. But you don’t have to be that strict. Just know as you keep building your scene, anything extra you write here will probably change.  


“I can drive myself downtown,” I say.  

“Vi’s already here to pick you up,” Dad says. 

“If you let me drive, I’ll text you the second I get there,” I say.  


Next, I go back and add the action beats around my conversation. What are they doing? What’s going on in the background? I don’t worry too much about adding in anything else just yet.


Without knocking, Dad opens the door and walks into my bedroom toward the suitcase on the end of my bed. Pushing down the top, he zips it on the first try and grabs the handle. 

I resume last night’s argument. “I can drive myself downtown.”

“Vi’s already here to pick you up.” He walks out my door.

Pushing my feet into my flip-flops, I hurry after him. Gripping the railing, I try again. “If you let me drive, I’ll text you the second I get there.”

All I get is a grunt as he heads down the back staircase with my suitcase.   

Setting and Description

This is where I struggle and where I have to be the most deliberate. What are my characters wearing? Where are they? What time of day is it? Is it a new place that I need to describe in more detail or is it a revisit to a place I’ve already set up? If yes, what hints do I need to remind the reader of the setting? And can I be more descriptive in my characters’ actions to better show who they are?


Without knocking, Dad opens the door and strides into my bedroom toward the bursting suitcase on the end of my four-poster bed. Pushing down the top with his huge hand, he zips it on the first try and grabs the handle. 

I resume last night’s argument. “I can drive myself downtown.”

“Vi’s already here to pick you up.” He walks out my door.

Pushing my feet into my flip-flops—one pink, one purple—I hurry after him. Gripping the railing, I try again. “If you let me drive, I’ll text you the second I get there.”  

All I get is a short grunt as he tramps down the back staircase looking out of place with my neon purple suitcase. Trained by decades of marine posture, his wide shoulders stay at attention, while his wardrobe falls at ease. Retired five years, he’s replaced the starchy uniform with wrinkled tees and faded jeans, clung to his buzz cut, and cried rebel with a single hoop earring—giving him an odd vibe of uptight casual. 

Emotions (Dialogue tags, non-verbal cues, thoughts, subtext)

image of a man leaning toward a woman, mouth open and a hand out, palm up, the woman is with one hand on her hip, the other hand pointing at the man, while a thought bubble behind her shows him and her in an embrace.

Here’s where I add emotion and tension. How are my characters speaking to each other? Acting toward each other? What does their body language look like? Their expressions? How can I show what’s happening between them instead of telling? Can I add humor? What ways can I build out personalities and relationship dynamics? This is the frosting (polish) on the cake (word picture). And who wants to eat cake without frosting? To me, the polish is the most important piece. 


Telling the truth. Dodging drama. Staying invisible. Painting butterflies on my toes. Things I used to be good at. I glance at my perfect pedicure. I’m down to one out of four.

Without knocking, Dad opens the door and strides into my bedroom. He heads to the bursting suitcase on the end of my four-poster bed. Pushing down the top with his huge hand, he zips it on the first try and grabs the handle. 

Feeling reckless, or maybe just desperate, I resume last night’s argument. “I can drive myself downtown.” Or stay home and spare my life a few thousand skid marks.

“Vi’s already here to pick you up,” he says the words as he walks out the door. The only words he’s said to me all morning. Not words I want to hear. Riding and rooming with my literary agent leaves me no escape when my first writers’ conference spirals south. And it will spiral south. 

Pushing my feet into my flip-flops—one pink, one purple—I shove my laptop and the diary into my backpack and tuck my earbuds into my pocket. Then hurry to run after him. Gripping the railing, I try again. “If you let me drive, I’ll text you the second I get there.”  

He tramps down the back staircase looking out of place with my neon purple suitcase. Trained by decades of marine posture, his wide shoulders stay at attention, while his wardrobe falls at ease. Retired five years, he’s replaced the starchy uniform with wrinkled tees and faded jeans, clung to his buzz cut, and cried rebel with a single hoop earring—giving him an odd vibe of uptight casual. 


Last, I read the entire scene through out loud (the ear catches what the eye misses) and check for flow. Will the reader be clear on who is speaking and who is reacting? Do the actions make sense? Have I shown where everyone is and what they’re doing? Are they more than cardboard characters? Does the tension build as I go down the page?

I try to put all these pieces together in the same writing session as a first draft. That way, all the crucial scene elements are present and accounted for, and I won’t forget to add them later. When I’m not sure exactly what to write or I know I can do better, I draft a simple version inside parenthesis as a reminder to come back to it later. Once my scene is complete with all the pieces, I put it away for a day or two. That gives it time to marinate. Usually when I come back to something, my creativity has new things to add.  

Your Turn

Let’s chat in the comments. How do you construct a scene? What’s hardest for you to write? Easiest? Share you own tips and tricks to make the blank page less daunting.

About Lori

Lori Freeland wrote her first story at age five. It wasn’t good. But it left her with a firm belief that everyone has a story to tell. An author, editor, and writing coach, she holds a BA in psychology from The University of Wisconsin and lives in the Dallas area. She’s presented multiple workshops at conferences across the country and writes articles, novels, and everything in between. When she’s not curled up with her husband and dogs drinking too much coffee and worrying about her adult kids, she loves to mess with the lives of the imaginary people living in her head. You can visit her at lorifreeland.com or lafreeland.com.  

book cover of the accidental boyfriend shows the legs of a young woman and young man facing one another and bodies pressed together. The woman is on her toes of one foot with the other foot lifted off the ground.

Some accidents were meant to be. 

Gabe isn’t a werewolf. He just plays one on TV. 

Jess isn’t a guy magnet. She just writes about teen romance. 

TV heartthrob Gabriel Wade has never met a party he couldn’t rock, a problem he couldn’t dodge, or a crowd he couldn’t play. Homeschooled Jessica Thorne has never met a party she couldn’t wallflower, a problem she couldn’t stress over, or a crowd she couldn’t escape. But they both know what it’s like to lose someone—someone who’s still here. 

After a hotel escalator dumps Jess into Gabe’s spotlight and he unknowingly hijacks her first kiss, he decides she’ll be the perfect decoy for the paparazzi—if he can convince her to play his “girlfriend of the week.” Jess wants nothing to do with TV’s Hottest Hairball or his Hollywood ego. And by the time she figures out he isn’t who she thought, it might be too late to admit she needs him as much as he needs her. Even if he wants her for real. 

 Preorder on Amazon

Image Credits

Top photo by Alp Allen Altiner on Unsplash

Middle image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

Last image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

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5 Reasons Your Amazon Ads Aren’t Drawing in Readers

by Penny C. Sansevieri

On a light blue background are the words Market Your Books above a megaphone in the lower left corner shooting 5-point yellow stars toward the upper right corner. In the lower right corner is the word Better.

With new books of every genre being added to Amazon daily, it’s crucial that you understand what makes for good book promotion on the platform and what you can be doing better. A lot of authors begin an Amazon ad campaign without learning trends, updates, and all that goes into a well-performing campaign.

Through the thousands of ad campaigns I’ve managed, I’ve learned quite a bit about this specific marketing art form. And I’ve pulled the top reasons that authors’ ads fail to draw in more readers or end up costing more than they’re worth.

You Don’t Have Enough Keywords

In order to gain traction, you need to start with a high number of keywords. Just five keywords aren’t going to cut it. My recommendation is 300 - 400 keywords, and if that number made you gasp, then consider this:

I don’t need you to find 400 unique keywords. I need you to find 100 - 150 and save them as different match types. So, you’ll be saving them as broad, exact, and phrase matches, which will allow you to watch and see how the same keyword does under these different match types.

You’re Using the Wrong Keywords or Keyword Blends

Whenever I pull together keywords for an author’s ad campaign, I do so with keywords I find right on the Amazon site. I don’t use software or shortcuts. Finding keywords that are already trending on Amazon is a great way to dip into consumer trends, too, which is something that software often doesn’t capture.

The other issue is the blend of keywords versus book titles and author names. If I’m working with a fiction book, I’m doing 80% book titles and author names and 20% keywords. If I’m working on an ad set for non-fiction books, the numbers are reversed. So, I do 80% keywords and 20% book titles and authors.

My reasoning is that a consumer searching for a non-fiction book is searching for a specific topic or benefits of a topic. A reader looking for their next great fiction read is looking at genre (and this is where your product placement ads can really do well), but they’re also looking for authors similar to ones they’ve already read work from.

You’re Running Too Many Ads At Once

There’s a somewhat popular theory out there about running lots and lots of ads – but I can tell you I’m not a fan of this.  If you’re running several ads at once, they’re likely all targeting many of the same keywords. This means that your ads are cannibalizing each other. You’re literally bidding against yourself for placement, and your book promotion on Amazon is actually working against you.

I had a call once with a Google Adwords representative, and he talked about how people use this methodology for Google Adwords too (which is where the idea comes from). He said there’s no faster way to lose your money than to run a bunch of ads.

In fact, if you’re just starting out with Amazon ads, start with just one ad. You’ll want to pick either a keywords-based ad or a product-based ad – don’t start one ad with the automatic ads. Automatic ads can wind up costing you a lot of money, despite them seeming to be comparatively easy. Sometimes they do very well, but automatic ads actually require much more handholding than product or keyword-based ads. That’s been my experience anyway.

Your Bids and Budget Are Too Low

Some believe that underbidding on your keywords is the key to Amazon success, but I can tell you it’s absolutely not. Lower bids can sometimes get tons of clicks. The highest recommendation isn’t always the way to go either. However, underbidding Amazon’s suggestions every time isn’t necessarily going to cause outstanding results.

By the same token, don’t start off your daily budget too low. I recommend you start it off with at least $20 a day and know that you won’t spend all of this (though you might, depending on the popularity of your genre) – and if you’re managing your ads correctly, your daily spend should drop the longer your ads are running.

Your Amazon Retail Page

I’ve saved the biggest one for last because not enough people are talking about it.

The goal of your Amazon book page is to convert a potential reader into a buyer. These pages often aren’t optimized properly to do so. One reason for this is the book cover. Does it match your market? Does it match current trends and draw inspiration from your genre’s bestsellers?

Now, turn to your book description. Does it lead with an outstanding review or a great teaser? Is your book description long enough to be compelling and complete with spacing, bolded words or sentences (where appropriate), and italics to call certain aspects of your book out to the reader? Are you using bullet points if you write non-fiction?

What about your author bio and picture?

You do have one, right? A lot of authors forget to even add an author photo to Amazon. Even if you despise taking pictures, your readers want to see the person behind the pen who taught them something new or who created their favorite characters. Your bio is just as important, and depending on what you write, readers might be wanting to know what gives you credibility to write on that topic. Or they might wonder what inspires you to write romance or hard-boiled detective novels. Have fun with this!

If an author comes to me and tells me that their Amazon ads (or Facebook ads, or Instagram ads) are getting lots of clicks but aren’t selling books, that tells me there’s likely a problem with their book page. As authors, we often upload our books to Amazon – sort of set it and forget it – and then move on to our next project. That’s a mistake! Your Amazon real estate, and your Amazon book promotion across the board, are imperative to the effectiveness of your ads.

Of all of the things I’ve mentioned here, staying up to date with your Amazon page is the most important thing, so don’t overlook it!

Amazon ads can do wonders for your book promotion strategy and spread the word about your book to readers hungry for authors like you. They can target your perfect reader and make your book a sensation.

There’s a low risk with these ads as you only pay for clicks, and they can help you appear in more places across Amazon too, and hopefully, drive readers to purchase. However, you need to make sure your ads are optimized with hundreds of great keywords, a beautiful cover, a strong bid, and a lush retail page to match.

Do you use Amazon ads? Which ads/campaigns have been successful for you? What are your questions? Please share them down in the comments!

About Penny

Penny C. Sansevieri, Founder and CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a bestselling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. She is an Adjunct Professor teaching Self-Publishing for NYU. She was named one of the top influencers of 2019 by New York Metropolitan Magazine.

Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most innovative Amazon visibility campaigns as well offering national media pitching, online book marketing, author events, and other strategies designed to build the author/book visibility.

She is the author of 18 books, including How to Sell Your Books by the Truckload on Amazon, Revise and Re-Release Your Book, 5-Minute Book Marketing for Authors, and From Book to Bestseller. She also hosts the top-ranking podcast Book Marketing Tips and Author Success.

AME has had dozens of books on top bestseller lists, including those of the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal.

To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, visit www.amarketingexpert.com

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Quick Tips to Help You Avoid 5 Types of Writing-Related Pain

by Colleen M. Story

Image of a woman sitting at a computer on a table and holding her lower back as if in pain.

Are you suffering from writing-related pain?

If you spend considerable time at the computer, you’re in pain now, have been in the past, or will be in the future.

Not encouraging, I know! But after being a professional, full-time writer for over 25 years, I know how painful the job can be.

The key is to adopt safeguards and coping techniques that will keep you writing pain-free.

How to Avoid Writing-Related Back Pain

Lower-back pain often develops because of increased pressure on the lower spine, paired with tight hamstring muscles and weak abdominal muscles—all caused by too many hours in the chair.

Getting a good, supportive chair will help, but it’s not going to solve the problem by itself. Consider these tips as well:

  • Set a timer and get up and move around every 30 minutes. This helps get the blood circulating again.
  • Use a coccyx cushion in your chair—one of those that has the hole cut out in the back. This takes the pressure off your spine when you're sitting, allowing it to float over the space. Make sure the cushion is firm—soft squishy ones may feel great for a day or two, but they won't give you the support you need to avoid pain.
  • Strengthen your abdominal muscles. They support the spine. Situps, planks, crunches, and push-ups are all great.
  • Stretch your hamstrings. Tight muscles create pain, and sitting (and standing) creates tight muscles. It’s best if you perform some type of stretching routine every night to loosen them up again. For your hamstrings, keep your legs straight and try to touch your toes. Hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds.
  • Consider yoga. I started it in my twenties and very highly recommend it for keeping you flexible and out of pain. It also feels great after a long day of writing.
  • Stand for at least part of the day. (Don't stand the whole time—it creates other problems.) Your best option is to switch it up—sit part of the time, then stand part of the time.
  • Practice good posture. Suck in your stomach! It helps support your spine.
  • Exercise daily! Movement prevents pain.

How to Avoid Writing-Related Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain often develops in writers who are using standing desks. They help you avoid lower back pain, but if you haven’t set them up right, you could be exchanging one type of pain for another.

The problem usually originates with the mouse and keyboard. When you’re sitting, you’re taught to have your hands at a 90-degree angle from your arms. That’s fine as long as you’re using arm supports in your chair.

But if you’re standing and you position your arms this way, you’re asking your shoulders to hold your arms in this position for long periods. After a while, you’ll have shoulder pain from muscle strain and overuse.

Common symptoms include pain in the shoulder, pain that radiates down the arms into the hands, tightness and pain in the upper back and shoulder blades, numbness and tingling in the fingers and hands, and pain in the wrist.

To solve the issue:

  • Lower your keyboard and mouse so your arms hang lower in a more natural posture.
  • Put your mouse and keyboard in a negative tilt—tilt them away from you. Use a keyboard stand like this one if you need to.
  • Take regular breaks to roll your shoulders and ease tension.
  • Do some weight training to strengthen your shoulders. Don’t forget to stretch after each workout!

How to Avoid Writing-Related Hand and Wrist Pain

If you’re using the mouse that came with your computer, that’s one reason why you may be experiencing this type of pain. Another is that you tend to type in a tense (rather than relaxed) manner. Or your hands may be too constrained by a regular keyboard.

Some potential solutions:

  • Use a trackball mouse that fits your hand and doesn’t require you to move your hand and arm. One like this works great.
  • Try a split keyboard. It takes a day or two to get used to, but you’ll pick it up faster than you think. It keeps your hands in a more natural position, which eases muscle strain and helps prevent pain in your hands and wrists. This is a good example.
  • Consider typing gloves. They’re made for those with arthritis, but if you’re experiencing muscle or tendon strain in your hands or fingers, they may help. They provide some compression, increasing blood flow while decreasing swelling and providing support. Something like this.

How to Avoid Writing-Related Hip Pain

Hip pain related to writing is usually caused by tight muscles around the hip, not the hip joint itself. (If you think you have hip joint problems, check with your doctor.)

If you feel pain on the outside of the hip and upper thigh or even in the outer buttock, that pain is related to muscle and tendon issues. (Hip joint pain is usually felt on the inside of the hip and toward the groin area, and sometimes down in front of the leg toward the knee.)

The muscles and tendons around the hip joint support that joint and enable you to move. The problem is that writers don’t move them very often! We tend to sit or stand for hours at the computer, causing the hip muscles to become tight and short.

They then pull on other muscles—like your lower back and other leg muscles—causing pain in the hips, and potentially in the lower back and knees as well.

Possible solutions:

  • Make sure your chair has a flat cushion. Contoured cushions/seats put more pressure on your hips, as the sides press into the hips. Look for a good cushion in a flat seat.
  • Open up the hip angle while sitting. That means do not sit at the perfect 90-degree angle like that good little private school student. You may have been told to do that, but it puts pressure on your hips. Instead, recline the chair a little, or tip the front of the seat forward to ease pressure on your hips.
  • Wear supportive shoes while standing. This will help keep your body in alignment, whereas if you’re just working in your socks or bare feet—particularly if your foot pronates or supinates—you’ll be putting extra pressure on your hips the entire time you’re standing.
  • Move around more.
  • Stretch the muscles around your hips. Find some good stretching exercises here.

How to Avoid Writing-Related Sciatica

Sciatica is a unique type of pain that occurs when the sciatic nerve—which starts in the spinal cord in the lower back, travels through the buttocks, and down each leg to the heel—becomes inflamed for some reason. (Often too much sitting!)

The most common symptom is pain that radiates from the lower back to the buttocks and down the back of the leg to the foot. It ranges from a mild, aching pain to a more severe burning sensation, and may sometimes occur as a shocking, jolt-like pain or a throbbing, pulsating pain.

Prolonged sitting usually makes the symptoms worse, while lying down makes it feel better.

Potential solutions:

  • Use a standing desk part of the time (to take a break from sitting).
  • Get up and move around more often.
  • Use a coccyx cushion (with the hole cut out in the back). Find an example here.
  • Get the best mattress you can afford. (A supportive mattress can solve a lot of pain problems!)
  • Take daily walks.
  • Stretch regularly. Find more tips—including specific stretches you can use to ease sciatica pain—here.

How to Avoid All Types of Writing-Related Pain

Different types of pain sometimes require different solutions, but there are a few things you can do to help you avoid all types of writing-related pain.

  • Use helpful tools. Cushions, chairs, mice, keyboards, standing desks, keyboard stands—these can all help you avoid muscle strain and keep yourself out of pain. They are worth the investment if they work!
  • Move more often. Movement is oil for your muscles and joints. The more you move, stretch, and exercise, the less pain you will have. Use tools to help you move like jump ropes, walking pads, treadmills, and anything else that makes movement attractive.
  • Stretch. Yoga stretches all your muscles and helps keep them soft, supple, and pain-free. Yoga also focuses on the spine, keeping it healthy and loose. If you don’t do yoga, a daily stretching routine will help.
  • Take a walk. Walking gets you moving and increases circulation. It’s one of the best things you can do for avoiding pain. Just be sure to stretch when you get back or your hamstrings will tighten up!
  • Be “body aware.” If something is hurting, there’s a reason for it. Listen to your body. Adjust how you’re working before the pain gets bad.

Share which safeguards and coping techniques you use or plan to use in the comments.

Why do you write? Get your free quiz to find out on Colleen’s website, Writing and Wellness, where you can learn more about writing pain-free.  

About Colleen

Colleen M. Story is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker with over 20 years in the creative writing industry. Her latest novel, The Beached Ones, released from CamCat Books on July 26, 2022. Her previous novel, Loreena's Gift, was a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.

Colleen has written three books to help writers succeed: Your Writing Matters, Writer Get Noticed and Overwhelmed Writer Rescue. You can find free chapters of these books here. Find more at her author website (colleenmstory.com) or connect with her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story).

Image Credits:

Top : Image by Arpit from Pixabay 

Last: Image by Standsome from Pixabay 

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