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Fantasy Genre: Fantasy Worlds –  Creating Imagination

Fantasy Worlds – Creating Imagination

Fantasy world

“The muse in charge of fantasy wears good, sensible shoes.”
― Lloyd Alexander


As a writer of fantasy, you are in control of your reader’s imagination. No other genre allows a writer to create a world for a story to exist in impossible ways. Consider a cloud city in science fiction story. Science fiction can suspend reality to a point, but the events, spaceships, and weapons involved require that there be some grounding in the laws of physics as we know them to be plausible. Those floating cities need anti-gravity machines to exist. Not so in fantasy, magic makes the cities float.

That is not to say that rules do not exist when world building in the fantasy genre. As discussed in a previous article, the magic selected or created for the story must have rules that are followed to be plausible.

Where to begin? You should begin with the plot of your story and your characters. Consider the adventures your character will have throughout the story and then imagine you are the reader. Where would you want the story to unfold? Let’s start with the basics.

The World

Your story can exist anywhere. Create an entire world, a hidden realm, or a magical world existing within a mortal world. The sky can be orange, the grass purple or crystal, the possibilities are endless.

Build your world by considering the following:

  • Time Period: Is your adventure in an ancient realm or a modern world? Much of the rest of your decisions regarding the world you create will be influenced by the time period you set it in. Agrarian, industrial or technological? Don’t forget to determine their calender.
  • Where do your characters live, forest, mountain, valley, desert? Near a river or an ocean?
  • Cold, hot, temperate. Does it rain or snow or is there endless heat? Are there major storms, with lightning, thunder, torrential rains, typhoons, whirlwinds? Or is the climate stable… perhaps due to magic?
  • Inhabitants: Describe your characters. Color of hair, eyes, how they move. Decide the clothing they wear. What is their language and is there more than one language spoken? What is their diet?
  • Flora and fauna: What animals exit? Are they used for food, burden, transportation, or recreation? Determine the trees, grasses, flowers, agricultural plants.
  • Dwellings: Do they live in wooden or mud huts, stone houses, or palaces, suburbs or the city. Single-family units or tribes?
  • How do they educate the population or those with magical skills?
  • What is their social and family structures? Their beliefs? How do they interact with each other? How do they care for the sick? How do they entertain themselves? Do they have common values or are they in conflict? Are they militaristic or passive?
  • History: How did their civilization evolve. Has magic always been a part of the world? What races of magical beings have been lost or still exist. If more than one realm, are they at war?
  • Employment: Do they trade or barter? How do people make a living? How are they compensated?
  • Transportation: Do they travel via magic, or beast, or in a mechanical vehicle?

Adam Johnson writes about the aspects of world building that often get overlooked.

Your world can be as fantastic as you want it to be. Never limit yourself when creating your world. However, you should start with physics that mirror our own. Meaning, gravity functions the same. Unless, your setting is an alien world but, the physics of that world must be consistent with what we understand about physics. This will keep the world at least somewhat familiar to the reader, making them more comfortable.

Consistency is key to plausibility. If you have made changes to your world, they cannot become an afterthought. Your world and your characters must be consistent, and any changes must be apparent and have solid reasoning for the change. Things should function as much like our world as it can while retaining the details that make your world special. (Such as the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The wizarding world had its own rules but, they were all consistent. Also, that world was hidden from the human world to show the difference and allow our minds to be more open to the concepts that she introduced after.)

It is your world but, it is not just about you. Your world should be somewhere that other people would want to live in. This means that your world should be so immersive that once the reader is finished, they are scrambling to find anything that will put them back in that world. It doesn’t just have to be friendly, it can be a treacherous world that no-one wants to find themselves in but, if you really capture that world in all its glory, the reader will be begging to come back.

Remember to ask yourself, who am I writing this for? Let’s not fool ourselves, we write stories because we love weaving a tale. There’s a story that we want to see come to life, and we take it upon ourselves to craft the story. With that being said, there is always an audience that we are writing for.


By Adam Johnson and Deborah Ratliff



Quotations from an article written by Adam Johnson for the Facebook group Writers Unite!



Since Adam Johnson was a child, he had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether movies, comic books, TV, he was hooked on the story. An invitation to play Dungeons and Dragons led Adam to write a backstory of one of the characters, and the desire to write fantasy was born. When not writing high fantasy, Adam is restaurant chain management and a tattoo artist. He also serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.


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Fantasy Genre: Characters Verisimilitude


Fantasy character

Fantasy Characters: Verisimilitude

Since we are discussing characters, let’s talk about the most important tool an author can utilize when dealing with character development…


Verisimilitude, defined as the appearance of being true or real, is the author’s ability to make the character seem real. “How do I make my characters seem real,” you might ask. Your character should seem just as real to you as your best friend. You should know them like you know yourself. Make them unique, give them quirks, flaws, and traits. Give them jobs, families, and friends. To truly convey your character in a way that seems real, you must understand who that character is. Deborah has been kind enough to cover your crucial character types and some of the traits that make your characters stand out from the rest so, let’s dig a little deeper into the character’s and how detailing their profession can add considerable depth to a character.


Professions: In literature as a whole, people love reading about work, especially if it’s a job that they have been exposed to. This is just as important to a fantasy novel. You may not be able to write about jobs that are directly identifiable with the reader. Let’s face it unless it’s an Urban Fantasy, your Protagonist won’t be working behind the counter of a local McDonald’s.

However, you can still add a sense of realism to the professions included in your fantasy. Do some research into jobs that were held hundreds of years ago. Compare what you know about fantasy to what they were doing in the real world. We all know what a blacksmith is but, do you know what a quartermaster is? Do you know about the smithing process? The heat treat and the quench of the blade are crucial to the hardness, and its ability to keep an edge. It’s adding small detail like this into your work that really makes your story stand out. It also gives you credibility with the reader. Trust me, if talking about a profession that actually exists in the real world you want to have your facts straight. Being an author means opening yourself to constant scrutiny by your peers and the public. They will be all too happy to point out any mistakes you have in your details. This is not meant to discourage you but, to help you add the sense of realism that readers are looking for when they want to totally immerse themselves in your world.

What about professions that don’t exist in the real world? No, your protagonist won’t be working the drive-thru but, they might be an apprentice to a wizard or a master of potions. They could be a demon hunter, or maybe they are something we’ve never seen before. Regardless of the profession, all professions have rules and a lifestyle that comes with it. Compare your profession to real-world professions and find similarities. Find common complaints that your character might have about the work. Maybe your character absolutely loves his job but, doesn’t make a great living doing it. Put yourself in their shoes and see what they would be doing on a day to day basis. Would a sorcerer’s apprentice just hold things and watch his master perform magic? No! He would have to have detailed knowledge of the spell components his master needs and the properties of each. He would be charged with keeping the wizard’s study clean and organized. He would file all the books and scrolls for his master as well as run errands as needed. Again, it’s the small details that you add that make a profound impact on the immersive nature of your world.

Can you overdo it? Of course, you can! You don’t want to add small details to every little thing that your reader encounters in your book, or you’ll end up with a 2,000-page tome with step by step instructions on everything from blacksmithing to knitting. Details are important but, it’s the finesse that they are delivered with that make an author stand out. Your characters, your world is completely your own. You should know as much as you possibly can about them to deliver a real experience of suspended disbelief.







Since Adam Johnson was a child, he had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether movies, comic books, TV, he was hooked on the story. An invitation to play Dungeons and Dragons led Adam to write a backstory of one of the characters, and the desire to write fantasy was born. When not writing high fantasy, Adam is restaurant management and a tattoo artist. He also serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

Writers Unite!:

WU! Workshop: Fantasy Genre

Fantasy genre 1


The Fantasy Genre


According to “Cliffnotes,” Fantasy fiction is a genre of writing in which the plot could not happen in real life (as we know it, at least).

As “Cliffnotes” is wont to do, a very succinct description. Factual but an injustice to this wonderous genre. The very word conjures up mysterious adventures, characters, creatures and most of all magic. Fantasy is a tale about the impossible.

The fantasy genre is part of speculative fiction which includes science fiction, superhero fiction, and horror/paranormal fiction. These speculative subsets differ from fantasy in one major component, plausibility. The characteristics of these genres need to reflect a familiar world. We measure the concept of space travel against our knowledge of physics. To have a superhero character, people of “normal” abilities must exist. Fantasy does not need that restriction. Trees can talk. Horses can fly. And magic exists.

Neil Gaiman in Stories: All New Tails writes, “I love the word ‘fantasy’… but I love it for the almost infinite room it gives an author to play: an infinite playroom, of a sort, in which the only boundaries are those of the imagination.” 

Fantasy need not be realistic. However, there are common characteristics that must be present.

Characteristics of the Fantasy Genre 

  • Magic: Fantasy must include a system of magic and that system have established rules that are followed. This element of the story alone separates fantasy from other genres. Creating a unique magical system is one way to set a story apart from others. Remember, magic is a character in your story, create a memorable one.
  • Characters: The development of characters, while very important in all genres, is paramount in fantasy. The scope of a fantasy story lends itself to larger than life characters and to quite a few of them. While you will always have your hero and evil villain, you may have many main characters and strong secondary characters to drive the story.
  • The Challenge: The core of your story is the challenge facing your characters. Conflicts that both drive them toward and keeps them from their goals create tension and interest in your reader. With an extensive cast of characters, conflict can be internal, between friends or between enemies. To create a cohesive story, there should be one arcing storyline which includes all your characters striving for the same goal.
  • Environment: Where does your story exist? When you create your imaginary world consider its terrain, flora and fauna, its social structure, educational systems, entertainment, military, and how it is governed. The more intricate you construct your world, the more drawn your reader will be to it.

In addition to these basic characteristics, fantasy also has many sub-genres, each of which brings unique characteristics of their own. Marcy Kennedy compiled a list of the most popular fantasy subgenres on her webpage,

Fantasy Sub-genres:

Historical Fantasy – Historical fantasy takes place in a recognizable historical time period and in a real-world location. This sub-genre encompasses things like the King Arthur legends and Robin Hood. It’s more about how the author plays with history, myth, and legend than it is about magic.

Epic Fantasy – Epic fantasies are what most people think of when they hear “fantasy.” They’re defined by a large cast of characters, multiple POVs, and complex plots. They’re set in a fictional world, and the plot often revolves around the rise and fall of kingdoms. The ultimate epic fantasies are George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Urban Fantasy – First of all, urban fantasy is set in a primarily, well, urban/city setting. You can’t set your fantasy in a medieval-esque pastoral setting and call it “urban fantasy.” It’s darker, grittier than most other fantasy, and you’ll usually find it populated with demons, vampires, werewolves, witches (not the Harry Potter kind), or zombies. Kelly Gay’s The Better Part of Darkness is an urban fantasy example. Urban fantasy is often confused with paranormal romance. While they can and do often have blurry lines, the best way to tell them apart is to ask if the core conflict is about two people falling in love. If the main focus of the story is on the relationship, then it’s a paranormal romance. If the main focus of the story is somewhere else, on some other conflict, even if it has a romantic subplot, it’s still an urban fantasy.

Superhero Fantasy – Secret identities, superhuman powers, and villains who are more than a little unhinged are part of what makes superhero fantasy so much fun. Superhero movies like X-Men, Spiderman, The Green Lantern, and Captain America are all great examples of this genre.

Traditional Fantasy – Traditional fantasy is basically a teeny, tiny epic fantasy. It’s set in a secondary world (i.e., not our world) like epic fantasy, but it has a smaller cast of characters, fewer POV characters, and a plot that focuses more on a single character (or small group) and their unique struggle than on the creation or destruction of worlds/kingdoms. Magic in some form is usually a key element of traditional fantasy. A classic traditional fantasy is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

The fraternal twin sister of traditional fantasy is sword and sorcery, where the plot focuses more on the swashbuckling adventures and daring doos of the main character than on the magical elements. In other respects, they’re the same. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is an iconic sword and sorcery fantasy.

Contemporary Fantasy – This sub-genre of fantasy sets the story in our modern-day world (as opposed to historical fantasy) and, although they can have dark elements to them, they also aim to give their reader a sense of joy and wonder. Contemporary fantasies often involve a “world within a world.” If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, you’ve read contemporary fantasy. (Urban fantasy is actually a sub-genre of this sub-genre, but it’s easier to consider it as its own sub-genre. Confused yet?)

Alternate History – Don’t let its name fool you. Alternate history plots actually usually fall into the fantasy genre rather than the historical fiction genre because at some point in time the history of the story world diverged from the history of our world. What if the Nazis won World War II? That became the inspiration for The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. Depending on the focus of alternate history plots, they can also be categorized as science fiction.


Regardless of the type of fantasy that you choose to write, remember the world you are entering is full of magic, wonder, and the impossible. It is your job to take your reader there with you.




Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

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Spoon-Feeding Your Readers (The Self-Editing Guide Part 6)

When reading a story, we use our imagination to “see” the scene unfold. It is almost as if we are blind and the writer is offering up their eyes for us to look through. But imagine losing your sight at say fifteen. You’ve had so many experiences with this lost sense, so many memories, that you recognize a closing door at just the click of the latch. You know someone is crying or fighting allergies at a mere sniffle. The softer the sound, the more likely they’re trying to conceal it from you. That is why if someone was sitting beside you describing a scene as it unfolded around you, you wouldn’t need them to list every detail. Only the things that can’t be understood without sight would need to be explained. It is almost the same when writing a scene for your readers.

To Prologue or Not to Prologue-2

When you sit down to write out a scene, keep in mind that your readers are not coming into this unprepared. This isn’t the first book they’ve ever read; it’s not the first bit of life they have ever experienced. Your readers are starting your book with a vast amount of past encounters to use as prompts for the information you will put in front of them. Quite rarely have I ever had a reader say I confused them by not listing that the character grabbed the door handle, turned it, pushed the door open, slipped inside, turned around, pushed the door to until it clicked, and then let go of the handle. Haven’t we all opened and closed doors at some point during our lives? You probably do it a few times on a daily basis.  Offering a bit of description to make a scene richer is okay, but overcompensating in fear of losing your readers will only leave them rolling their eyes and wondering if you think they need you to hold their hands through it all.

Instead, focus on what matters. Describe what the reader might not be used to seeing or what they can’t infer on their own. More than likely they’ll be skimming over the stuff I just listed anyway, and you really don’t want your readers to skim even once in your story. You want to make every word count in one way or another. I used to be afraid I would lose my readers if I didn’t list every step in my character’s task, but I had to learn to trust them. A rule of thumb is if it’s boring to you, it’s boring to your readers. So always refer to that when deciding whether to push through writing a scene that feels more endearing than entertaining.

Another aspect of this is emotion. When you show another character’s emotion through the main character’s senses—as in a stray tear, a cleared throat, an almost unnoticed sniffle—you don’t have to follow up with a detailed paragraph. You don’t even have to explain why the character is feeling the way he or she is. If it isn’t an opinion from the main character, you shouldn’t be adding that kind of info anyway (Remember, whether in first or third person POV, you’re looking through the main character’s eyes. Including an outside perspective the main character doesn’t share would be illogical).

Instead, show the emotion, show the reason behind it—if it’s to be revealed at that point in the story—and then move on. Don’t bog your readers down by coming up with new and creative ways to tell them the character is upset. They are readers, and they are human. That means they are used to imagining and experiencing similar scenes and will know what is happening by the first sentence or so.

This is also one of those mistakes that can tremendously slow down a fight scene and leave readers feeling like things are happening in slow motion. You don’t want your reader skimming over a major battle just to get to the outcome. The final battle should be more than satisfying. It should be full of action and relevant detail that pull the reader in, making them eager to turn the page—but only after reading each word.

Now that isn’t to say you should skip over the movements during a fight. This might be the one time you should show every step. The reader needs to visualize how the character gets from point A to point B, and considering they’ve probably never fought against an undead alien or superhuman, they can’t imagine the moves or magic your character will use against him without you walking them through it. List these things or it will feel rushed and unrealistic. However, stopping the scene to add paragraphs of narrative while the character seems to slip into some unshakable reverie will only pause the scene, pull your readers out of the action, and leave them wondering when things will ever move forward. Try showing the character’s emotions instead of having her speculate the internal battle she’s experiencing.

If you want to write a book your readers can’t put down, learn to trust them. This will help keep your action scenes engaging and your emotional ones moving. It will propel your story forward at a healthy pace and keep your readers from feeling like you’ve repeated yourself because you felt they needed things broken down. In this case, less is more.

Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

The Perils of Passive Voice (The Self-Editing Guide Part 5)

“I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority, perhaps even a quality of majesty. If you find instruction manuals and lawyers’ torts majestic, I guess it does.” —Stephen King’s On Writing

To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Stephen King states it perfectly. How many times have you, as a reader, felt intrigued by an instruction manual or legal document? Do you begin, with enthusiasm, the terms of service before selecting “I agree”? Or do you skim over them and only refer to the visuals when assembling the item? If you said yes to the latter, keep reading. If you said yes to the former, well, I’m not sure what to do with you. You probably have a bright future in the legal field, so there’s that. For all the normal people, however, in this article, I’ll be addressing the topic of passive voice and how to avoid it in your own writing.

With passive voice, something is being done to the subject. With active voice, the subject is doing something.

The dog was picked up by Timmy.

We’ll start with an example for those who are hearing about this for the first time. This sentence is a prime example of passive voice. Notice how timid and bland it reads. Let’s reword it.

Timmy picked up the dog.

This sentence is an example of active voice. It’s direct and confident. The writer sounds sure of himself and nothing is left unsaid.

In the first sentence, notice how you could write it as The dog was picked up. and leave off the last two words. With passive voice, the sentence will either end with by [noun] or it will make perfect sense to add that phrase to the end of it. So as you’re editing your manuscript, try adding by [whatever noun you choose] to the end of each sentence. If it makes sense, you’re using passive voice and need to reword it. Also, look for the word was when proofreading your manuscript. It’s another indicator that you’re using passive voice.

The lake was dried up by too much sun and lack of rain. —Passive

Too much sun and lack of rain dried up the lake. —Active

Starting to see a pattern here? Good. Again, was is present in the first sentence and it ends with by too much sun and lack of rain. The second sentence is simple and reads much more smoothly without those tell-tale signs.

Always choose active when you can. Readers want excitement and boldness from you, especially during an action scene. I can’t count how many times I have read or edited a novel where it felt more like things were happening in slow motion—like the bullets were literally flying at a snail’s pace—all because the author made this and a couple other mistakes (we’ll discuss those in another article). You want those action scenes to be a rush for your readers. You want those bullets to whizz by, and you want your main character to jump into action. Unless you’re actually going for the slow-motion effect you see in movies, you definitely don’t want your readers to visualize it that way. And even then, there are other techniques you should utilize to express to your audience the intensity of the situation. No one should be falling asleep while reading your novel. And if you stick to active voice, no one will.

There are other things I believe weaken your narrative and slow down the action, but I’ll get to them in future articles. And sure, there are times for passive voice—like when you don’t know who is doing something to the subject. You can’t necessarily name the person, place, or thing if you haven’t yet identified it. You’ll find this more often in mystery novels or a scene where the reader doesn’t yet have all the facts. As always, use your own judgment. Quoting one of my recently posted memes on writing: “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2000. pp. 122- 4.

Starting Over with Grammar (The Self-Editing Guide Part 4)

Last week, a fellow writer asked me an important question: “What do you suggest as a good resource when editing your novel?” Well, that’s not verbatim, but pretty much. This question made me recall how I felt when just starting to consider “becoming a writer” and beginning that first (serious) novel with the intent to self-publish. I had no confidence. It didn’t matter the good grades I’d gotten in college or how there were little-to-no red marks on my reports when I got them back. I still couldn’t quite recall all the rules I’d learned in elementary about grammar and punctuation. I knew even then that good or bad grammar would either make or break my writing career. I knew things had to be as close to perfect as possible or people would roll their eyes and drop the book I’d worked so hard on, never to be picked up again.


So before I allowed myself to begin that first paragraph, I decided to start over from the beginning. I found a cheap class online over grammar and punctuation, and I devoted every morning to watching the videos and learning the basics. As if I were hearing these rules for the first time, I wrote everything down. Detailed notes would help me once I’d finished the class and could not go back to reference. Just reconfirming what I already knew and refreshing things I had almost forgotten helped build my confidence tremendously. Something I’d put off for years because I felt I didn’t have enough experience and wasn’t yet qualified now seemed like a possibility for the near future. But I didn’t stop there, and you shouldn’t either. Fast forward three years, and I’ve learned a few of the best tricks to make writing with proper grammar and punctuation go from a foreign language to something you can do in your sleep.

Number One: Get your hands on a seventh-grade English textbook. This may seem silly or you may feel like I’m insulting you—don’t think that—but seventh-grade is the perfect level for you to begin writing your novel. All the basic rules and then some have been covered, and most of it is a review of things learned in the previous grades. So it makes for the perfect, condensed guide if you wish to start from the beginning. Read it from cover to cover. Seriously. Just spend a bit of time going over all the rules and refresh your memory on basic sentence structure, the verb-noun relationship, the Oxford comma, etc. This will help you begin your rough draft at a higher level, and the editing process that comes later will be much simpler. You’ll also want to keep the book on your desk or close by to reference when editing. I suggest you look in old bookstores or resell shops—even a few yard sales might have something you could use as a refresher and save you a few bucks. However, if you would like to save yourself the hassle of searching high and low for one, Amazon always has a range of books on the subject.

Here’s my pick (it won’t break the bank, and it even has a Kindle version): Mastering Grammar (Practice Makes Perfect Series)

Number Two: Join some writing groups with workshops. Writers Unite! offers weekly workshop-type posts that cover many different tips on writing. Many of them cover popular and controversial topics such as when to use “that” and when to cut it out. These are subjects you may not see in an English textbook, but getting such things right is just as important as knowing when to put a comma (hint, hint: It’s not every time you pause mid-sentence). Just search “Workshop” in the group and they should all come up. Many times Deb encourages other members to comment their own tips and tricks or teach a lesson over a grammar pet peeve they have. It’s great to connect with more experienced authors and learn from them what they probably had to learn the hard way. You should join as many beneficial groups you find and soak up all the knowledge they have to offer, but Writers Unite! is definitely one of my favorites when it comes to showing new authors the way.

Join here: Writers Unite!

Number Three: I’m about to sell you on something, but you should keep reading anyway. If you’re new to the writing community, you may not know anything about the different manuals of style. This bit of knowledge is crucial if you plan to query an agent or expect your self-published book to look professional enough to hold its own against traditionally published books. And if you’re an editor, this becomes your go-to guide for the final word on everything you THINK you know. The Chicago Manual of Style is the style publishing companies follow, and they expect your manual to be formatted under the guidelines specified if you submit to them. However, the guide is so much more than how to properly format your novel. It’s about 2.5 to 3 inches thick and covers every question you could possibly have—including all the ones you haven’t yet imagined asking. I used it during a recent editing gig and it was a lifesaver. It earned a spot on my desk from then on. The latest edition is on sale, so right now might be a good time to invest in your writing career by buying this guide.

Get it on Amazon here: The Chicago Manual of Style: 17th Edition

These three are my favorite tips when authors ask me how to improve their grammar and edit effectively. Have any other resources to share? Feel free to comment below with what has worked for you.

Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below.




Why You Should Edit As You Go (The Self-Editing Guide Part 3)

Ask the question in a writing group, and almost everyone will tell you not to worry about grammar or structure or even sentence flow as you write—to instead just get the story out on paper. After all, you can’t edit a blank page, but you can always go back and fix what you’ve written later. While that may be true to some extent—it is always better to have something to work with rather than stare at a blank page all day trying to figure out the best way to word that first sentence—that doesn’t mean all knowledge of grammar and the rules of the English language go out the window. In this article, I’ll be listing a few reasons why you SHOULD edit as you go, and why it’s what’s worked for me every time and has made the editing process much, much simpler.


One of the most important reasons that editing as I go is not only helpful but necessary is the fact that it saves so much time in the long run. I always make it a point, each day I get out my WIP, to start by reading the previous scene. This helps put my mind back in the world of elementals and shadow-wielders, and it helps me keep things consistent from scene to scene. But it also helps me catch any mistakes I’d made the night before. With fresh eyes, I’m much more likely to look at it with condemnation—with an editor’s eye versus a writer’s. If I ignore these mistakes and just keep writing, telling myself I will catch them all next month when I go back for the editing phase, I may not catch the same mistakes I could catch today. And if I wait and edit it all at once, it’s going to take a lot longer and quite a few more rounds of editing before I stop finding errors every time I read through it.

Editing an entire manuscript is tedious and often-times intimidating when you’re a new writer. If the whole thing is littered with errors, the idea can bog you down and make you feel like your writing is worthless. There are so many great stories that never see the light of day, and one thing I am always hearing in various writing groups I’m a part of is that when new writers go back and read what they’ve written, they think it’s awful and want to scrap it and start over. The idea of editing all that—something they probably spent months writing—is too much for them. They don’t feel like it’s possible or worth the time to polish it into something they can be proud of. That’s why rereading and polishing short pieces as you go can ease your work-load tremendously and help reduce the chance of abandoning ship later.


One thing I also often hear when people ask if they should bother themselves with editing as they go: “that’s what editors are for”. Imagine you hired a maid to clean your house top to bottom for a party you were throwing. She’s one of the best. She comes with glowing recommendations. Her prices are reasonable. But because you knew a maid would clean up after you, you left dishes all over the counters, you spilled cereal all over the floor, you let your kid destroy the living room, and you didn’t bother to clean any of it because you knew the maid was coming and she would handle it all. After all, she’s great at what she does—you’re paying her for that very job.

But she’s human, and she has to adhere to the rules of time and the limitations of exhaustion just like everyone else. She spends all her time cleaning up the little messes that you left out of carelessness and never gets to the big stuff. She works overtime to get the job done as she had promised, but the day ends and the party starts. While it may be decent—she managed to clean up all the glaring distractions, put away all the toys, do the dishes, and wipe the counters—you hear some of the guests note that things could have been nicer. You hear them point out things she missed.

As an editor, I’ll be the first to tell you that while we love to catch errors and play a crucial part in making your story the best version of itself, we can’t work on the big problems you hired us for if we’re too busy editing all the little errors you knowingly left for us. Editors are often underpaid and we usually work overtime, going over your story again and again to catch everything we can and point out developmental issues, character inconsistencies, etc. But if you have a certain timeline you need the work delivered by, it will be difficult to catch everything if it’s a complete mess when we receive it.

This brings me to my next reason for editing as you go: protecting the integrity of the story. If you respect the story you’re writing, why let it start out as a sloppy mess and stay that way for most of its infancy? Don’t get overwhelmed with perfectionism, but definitely respect your story enough to fix the spelling error you caught as you skimmed over a passage. My main point is: don’t stop yourself from fixing something you see because others have convinced you that you’ll never get that rough draft written if you get distracted by all the errors. They’re right to an extent. Definitely don’t let the mistakes discourage you. Everyone makes them. Even editors need to edit over and over again, whether it’s their own project or someone else’s.

I just received feedback from an author of a novel I recently edited, and even though he was extremely impressed by how I edited and said I changed his opinion of editors forever, he still mentioned that they found errors I missed. His next statement was that you can never get something completely error-free. That reminded me of something else an old friend once said to me when I first told him I wanted to be a writer. He said, “Writing is never perfect.” It can’t be. No matter what you do, how you write it, there’s always a better way it could have been written. There’s always an error you missed or someone else who could have done it better. Writing is subjective. So always remember to do the best you can for your story and give it the quality it deserves, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes either. As with most things in life, a healthy balance is always the right answer.

Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 




Interested in checking out the novel mentioned in the article? Click the link below.

To Prologue or not to Prologue (The Self-Editing Guide Part 2)

So here we are at the beginning of our story. Our fingers are on the keys, our pen is twirling in circles over the page (or our thumbs are alternating between various letters and the delete key on our touchscreen) as we try to figure out the best way to start. It only seems natural to start as close to the beginning as possible, right? We can spend the first few pages explaining the main character’s past and bringing our readers up to speed, and then we can see where that takes us. That would be the logical way to go, wouldn’t it? Well, unless your story is a high fantasy containing a completely new world that defies the laws of nature, a rich history that directly impacts the main story, or the main character has a past that cannot be easily explained, you’re probably better off going a different route.


Prologues have a strong history of being the foundation for many successful and memorable works. Most of the classics contained a prologue, and to this day high fantasy novels usually require them to help the reader understand the new world they are venturing into. Sometimes, prologues are necessary and beneficial. Other times, not so much.

One question we should be asking ourselves is: As a reader, would we want to prep for a story before we were allowed to actually start it? Or would we rather dive right in and have things shown to us between the many adventures? As a confessed prologue-skipper of my youth, I would choose the latter. A story is meant to be engaging and fun, and you’re less likely to pull your readers in with a history lesson before they’ve had a chance to figure out what your novel is about. And if they’re reading the sample from Amazon, they’re unlikely to follow through with a purchase if they can’t grasp some basic understanding of the main plot.

Try, instead, to imagine a situation you would likely find your main character in and start the story there. This is much easier if you’ve already done your due diligence in developing your characters and plot. You should be able to imagine your character and how they would react in any given situation. It’s better if you jump right into the action. Begin as close as possible to the initial problem that sets everything in motion–you might even choose to start with that scene if it isn’t too confusing–and you will find your readers more likely to follow through with purchasing after reading the sample.

If this doesn’t come easy, if after trying and failing you still find your fingers only yearn to write that prologue, go ahead. Write it. Once you’re finished, you’ll likely have a much broader understanding of your plot, and a starting scene should flow freely from your fingertips (or thumbs).

Nothing in life is definite, and not every bit of advice applies to every situation, but if you can reel your readers in with action, you always should. Showing rather than telling pulls the reader into your world, and continuing to dish out in-depth, engaging scenes offers no chance (or desire) for escape, even long after your story has been told.

Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 




Joshua Mitchell-Taylor: Hiring an Illustrator


Our guest columnist today is children’s book illustrator and animator Joshua Mitchell-Taylor who is offering a guide for writers to understand the process of hiring an artist. His suggestions on what you need to know as a writer and how the creative process unfolds are invaluable for writers of any when searching for an illustrator.


Hiring an Illustrator

By: Joshua Mitchell-Taylor

Joshuamitchelltaylor sm

(Illustration by Joshua Mitchell-Taylor)

I am a freelance children’s book illustrator and animator. During this past year collaborating with clients in various specialties of illustration, I have noticed that many potential clients struggle with finding the right illustrator for the job. Is it the amount of experience someone has, or their portfolio that speaks for them during the hiring process?

I have promoted my services as a children’s book illustrator for over a year now, and there are many questions that I receive from potential clients. Can you illustrate this style for me? How much do you charge for your services? Do you have a portfolio I can look at? How do I get in touch with you? Any illustrator would be able to answer all these questions. However, all these must be asked before a project can begin. That is where the negotiations take place and laying down the foundation to a successful working relationship.

The fields of specialty I can cover are character designs, graphics design, children’s picture books, comic books and many others.  Every project is unique in content and style. I remember my illustration tutor telling the class about developing your own style, and to an extent, I agree with this. What I also believe is that as an illustrator, you have to be ready to adapt to any style that comes to you. Allow an illustrator the chance to draw a character in the style you aim towards your project, as it will help you know if they are the right fit.

There can be arrangements made for how to tackle each task as the writer and illustrator. Communication is essential to any successful project. I talk with my clients via email about the projects we work on. Social media is another place that has grown more popular over the years to talk through, and I have recently discovered the potential of promoting my services there as well.

My recommendation to writers is thorough research into these aspects for your children’s books. Do you want an existing style of an artist that is already published? Do you prefer the artists’ personal style to tell your story? Is there a deadline needed for the book to be finished by the illustrator?  How is payment going to be sent to the various specialists to bring your book to life?  You won’t just have to think about hiring an illustrator, but also a publisher.

Once you have answered those questions, find out the process that the illustrator creates his/her work. Do they draw on paper and then use watercolours to give a more natural feel to the page? Is there a specific piece of software the illustrator works on? During my years studying Digital Animation with Illustration at Futureworks, Manchester, I began to piece together that the digital world was impacting more every day into the illustration and animation industries. Artists are exploring software such as Adobe Photoshop or Autodesk’s Maya for animation.

I utilise Adobe Photoshop to illustrate my ideas. However, before that I hand- draw my thoughts onto paper and scan the sketches in. It is very important to maintain regular communication between the illustrator/writer, during the developmental process. We collaborate and generate the best possible way to illustrate their idea, with a little constructive feedback. This will ensure achieving a successful outcome within the writer’s deadline.

There is something I read recently about the life of an artist “Who Pays Illustrators (And How Much), by Marianne Litman (25.10.2017)  It opened my eyes to what art should be valued at for producing children’s books. I understand that for a writer, the fees can get expensive. As an illustrator, calculating the man-hours for completing the client’s work, and settling on a final price, is done during the negotiations. The illustrator has to be able to change their prices but values their work to what they feel it is worth as well. On average I can achieve two pages of a children’s book, from sketch to digital, in one week.  The fees will also depend on the style the illustrator needs to work in. I can spend around 15 to 20 hours illustrating, sketching and any changes made on one page. Depending on the number of pages needed, it can take around 1 to 3 months per book to complete. It is always best to be realistic and work with the illustrator, in terms of the amount of work needed, to complete your project.

Personal Note:

I love to illustrate and bring ideas to life. There is a feeling an artist gets when they see their work go from a simple idea on paper to the finished project. Teamwork is important, to make a successful story come to life. Without the writers, children’s books wouldn’t be possible, so the duties are equally as challenging as an illustrator.

Here are a few quick things to consider before you hire the illustrator:

Can they work with the style you want?

  • How long will it take to complete each page?
  • How can I reach you if I need to get in touch?
  • Have a price in mind for your project, but be ready to negotiate a price as well.
  • Let the illustrator know if they will be credited in your book.
  • After looking through their portfolio, give them a chance to illustrate something for you. The artist could adapt to your chosen style.
  • Do you charge per project, or per page?

Here are a few things the illustrator needs to know:

  • How many pages are needed?
  • What style do you want to have the book illustrated in?
  • Are there any deadlines?
  • Do you have any contact details to get in touch?
  • How will payment be sent to the illustrator?


My contact details


My portfolio:



WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART Five: Creating Unforgettable Characters

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
― Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing


A playwright in a local writing group I attend posed an interesting question. He wanted to know what the group thought attracted readers to read the same authors repeatedly. The consensus reached was that we return to our favorite authors because they give us characters we identify with, cheer for and care about.

Think about a series of books you are fond of and consider what brings you back every time that author publishes a new novel. I’m certain the genre is appealing and likely the author writes well and is entertaining, but many authors are as well. I think one of the main reasons we favor certain authors is the characters they create.

Harry Bosch, Jack Ryan, Kay Scarpetta, Sherlock Holmes, Dirk Pitt, Eve Dallas, Travis McGee.

These characters and countless others are part of our lexicon. They become important to us and remain with us long after we have read the first or the last novel of the series. My father handed me my first John D. McDonald book featuring the character Travis McGee when I was sixteen, telling me I would learn about life from McDonald’s words. I cannot tell you how many times I have read each of the twenty-one novels in the Travis McGee series over the years. A self-identified beach bum and salvage operator, McGee was more than that. He was a believer in justice, respected women, hated drugs and drug dealers, greed, and corruption. A modern-day Robin Hood who helped those who could not fight the system, a characteristic of many of the characters we embrace.

As a mystery writer, many of the names I have listed above are old friends, and while I do realize they are not real, their familiarity from novel to novel allows that suspension of belief we need to immerse ourselves in fiction. These authors make their characters unforgettable and so should we.

First Impressions

The first time we meet anyone we form an immediate impression, despite knowing we should not judge a person until we get to know them better. But we do, and your reader will form an opinion of your characters when they first meet.

As we discussed in Part Four of our series, “Plotting Your Story,” you should introduce your main character, or protagonist, as soon as possible in your first chapter. If you want the reader to become engaged in the story and read until the end, then make your protagonist compelling. Give your readers a reason to like the character, to feel empathy for them, for their plight.

You should introduce your main character quickly and important supporting characters within the first chapter, even if only by name, not appearance. Your protagonist should be alluded to even if not present in the first chapter. Let your readers see who they are rooting for and who they are not.


Types of Characters in a Story:


The Protagonist

Your story revolves around this character and your readers’ interest will, as well. As we discussed, you must define them clearly and quickly. This character is your story, he/she must define the plot and be the focus of the central action of the story. The conflict that exists in the story is what this character must face and ultimately make a choice on how to deal with. Put you protagonist in peril throughout the story to involve the reader in their plight.


The Antagonist

The villain is the foil for your protagonist and the source of their conflict. Introduce the antagonist early as you would your protagonist. However, you may introduce their evil deeds first and, dependent on the genre you are writing in, have them appear in the story or reveal their identity as the antagonist at an appropriate time.


Secondary Characters

All character’s other than your protagonist and antagonist fall into this category. These characters can play a pivotal role in the story or serve a role in a transitional scene, a clerk or service technician, a doctor, any role you need. The role of side-kick falls into this category, and these characters need development to convey the level of importance they carry in a story. Keep in mind, even the most mundane of characters is an opportunity to enrich your story. A taxi driver might appear briefly in one scene, but you have the choice to make that character memorable.


“There are no hundred percent heroes.” — Travis McGee, Cinnamon Skin, 1982, by John D. MacDonald

Making Your Characters Unforgettable:

  • Appearance: As you write your characters, no doubt you will know exactly what they look like. The question is how much of that description do you impart to your readers. There are two schools of thought, describe your characters the way you want your reader to see them or allow your reader to imagine them as they choose. Whatever you decide, do not throw out an ingredient list identifying characteristics. Incorporate those characteristics into dialogue or the character’s internal dialogue as your story unfolds. If you do intend on revealing hair color or any other feature, do so within the first chapter. If you tell your reader in chapter five, your character is a brunette, and your reader thinks redhead, their connection with the character could be destroyed.
  • Background: Your characters origins, place of birth, ethnic background, ancestry, education, career choices, sports participation, hobbies, etc. can all play a role in their development. What did their parents do for a living, what unusual events occurred to impact their lives, what childhood pets did they have, all impact who they are.
  • Communication: How do they interact with people? Is he friendly, curt, argumentative? Do they have an accent, special words, or phrases that they use that shows their personality and makes them unique? What does their voice sound like? What is their internal thought processes?
  • Relationships: How do they interact with family and friends? Do they make friends easily, are they awkward in social situations? Do they genuinely like people, are they shy?
  • Goals: Decide what do your characters want. What are the goals, desires, need that you should address in your novel to move the story to its conclusion. Stories are based on conflict, and you need to show how that conflict interferes with their goals and how to resolve the issue.
  • Flaws: Do remember that your characters do not need to be perfect. While Hollywood prescribes that all characters must be handsome or beautiful, the fact is real life doesn’t look like that. Give your MC a scar, have them throw a temper tantrum, have them drink too much or hate dogs or apple pie. Let them complain about their weight or their cousins. Make them real people.


There are some things to avoid.

  • All those classic boys/girls next door, the dumb sidekick, the brave solitary cowboy, doting mothers, rough Marine drill sergeants, all those stereotypes we have come to expect, don’t use them. Do not write the expected, give your reader a character that is unique.
  • Do not create simple characters. Give them dimension. You have a cast of characters that should be interesting. While you will focus on developing your main characters and those secondary characters that are important to the story arc, don’t forget to humanize your minor characters. Make them stand out, give them a funny line or a unique attribute. If you cannot make them real, don’t use them as placeholders to take you to the next scene, cut them from the story.


How do you create these characters?

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”

― William Faulkner

Story coaches and experts will tell you that writing a character biography down to shoe size and favorite dessert along with a list of books they’re read is the only way to properly develop your characters. There are numerous character development sheet templates available online if you choose to microscopically dissect their personalities. There are some authors who write a multi-page biography before they commence writing their novel.

Then there are writers like me. I think of my story arc, imagine the character, give them a name and start typing. They will tell me their likes and dislikes as we experience the story together.

Again, as in all things writing related, choose what works for you. The main thing is to remember to create multidimensional main and secondary characters that enrich your stories and propel the plot to its conclusion.


“I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn’t exist.”

― Berkeley Breathed