The Bookshelf Muse has MOVED to Writers Helping Writers!

So here we are at the end of a very wonderful road. Blogging at The Bookshelf Muse via Blogger has been amazing all over the place, but as we've grown, it's become clear that we needed a better way to organize our content, a bigger space to house our blog, writing tools, links and thesaurus collections. So, we've made the leap.

Don't worry, The Bookshelf Muse is NOT GOING AWAY!

It's just moved over to a different corner of the internet called Writers Helping Writers. We're continuing what we've started, and have a great new home for writers there. Why WHW? because we feel this is who we are, and what we try to do each and every day.

This website allows us to expand, bringing you new Thesaurus Collections, more writing advice and better tools for honing your writing craft.

To celebrate, we are holding a giveaway for 20 ebooks--10 of our new Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Attributes, and 10 of The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Flaws. Hop on over and visit us to enter!

We've moved, and we hope you'll move with us. Just click the button and see you at our new website,

~ Angela & Becca

PSST! We don't usually ask, but social sharing would be really appreciated, so people can find us at our new home!

Let the Characters Tell the Story

Voice is one of those things that agents, editors, and readers want us to get right, but it's so hard to nail, particularly when you're writing in third person. I read books like The Raven Boys (Stiefvater) and Shadow and Bone (Bardugo) and I'm blown away by the crystal clear voice; I can see that the voice can be strong in a third person novel, though I'm not sure exactly how to achieve it myself. That's why I'm loving today's post by Jodie Renner. She just been accepted as part of the team at The Kill Zone blog, and I can't think of anyone more qualified to share spot-on, practical tips for creating a strong third-person voice. 
I attend a lot of writing conferences and read scores of craft-of-fiction books, and the topic of creating an appealing “voice” always comes up. Agents and aspiring editors are always looking for “a fresh voice,” and aspiring (and even published) authors want to know how to develop an authentic, compelling voice that readers will love. To me, the best way is to let the characters tell the story. Stay out of the story as the author, and forget omniscient point of view.

Some examples of strong, unique voices that sweep us immediately into the character’s world and the fictive dream are Huck’s in Huckleberry Finn, Stephanie Plum’s in Janet Evanovich’s series, Holden Caulfield’s in Catcher in the Rye, Scout’s in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Katniss’s in The Hunger Games.

These novels are all written in the first person, so of course it’s a lot easier for the author to immerse us in the character’s attitudes and world-view — especially with such fascinating characters! But we can create an equally strong, appealing voice in third-person, too, if we take a tip from first-person POV and keep not only the dialogue, but all of the narration (observations and explanations) for each scene firmly in the viewpoint of the main character for that scene, colored by their background, personality, attitudes, and mood. Also, try to have at least 70% of the novel in the protagonist’s point of view, as it’s their story.


Start with a character readers will identify with and root for. Your main character needs to be charismatic enough to carry the whole novel, so it’s critical to take the time to first create a protagonist who’s engaging and multi-dimensional, with lots of personality and openness, fairly strong views, and some vulnerability and inner conflict. Then be sure to show his world and the events unfolding around him through his eyes and ears, not the author’s, or that of an omniscient narrator.

Write the narration from the character’s point of view, too. Stay in your character’s POV for the observations, descriptions, and explanations, too, not just the dialogue and any inner thoughts and reactions. It’s your character who’s moving through that world, reacting to what’s around him. Don’t describe the surroundings and what’s going on from a distant, neutral, authorial point of view — show the character’s world directly through her observations, colored by her personality and mood.

Here’s one of many examples I could give from my editing of fiction, with details, setting, and circumstances altered for anonymity:

Setup: This is a flashback, a ten-year-old’s frightened observations as, hidden behind a tree, she watches some bad guys in the woods.

Suzie peered around the tree again to watch. The heavyset man pulled out a knife and strode toward the older, slimmer one. The thin guy looked stunned, like he didn’t expect that. In one swift movement, the big guy plunged the dagger into the older man’s carotid artery. Bright red blood gushed out like a river. 

Jodie’s comments: We’re in the point of view of a ten-year-old who is observing this and telling us what she sees. I doubt she’d know the term “carotid artery,” much less exactly where it is. Also, she probably wouldn’t say “heavyset man,” “dagger,” or “in one swift movement.” And probably not “strode,” either.

Suzie peered around the tree again to watch. The big man pulled out a knife and charged toward the older, slimmer one. The thin guy looked at him, his eyes wide. Before he could do anything, the big guy raised the knife and plunged it into his neck. Bright red blood gushed out like a river. To me, this sounds more like a ten-year-old telling us this now.

Look through your WIP novel. Does the narration (description and exposition) read like the main character for that scene could be thinking or saying it, or is it someone else’s (the author’s) words and phrasing? Are the descriptions of the surroundings neutral? Or are they colored and enriched by the character’s feelings, goal, mood, and attitude at that moment?

Don’t intrude as the author to explain things to the readers. Even explanations of points should be presented through the characters, perhaps in a dialogue with disagreement and attitude. Be on the lookout for where you step in as the author to blandly and dispassionately explain things to the readers, as if it’s nonfiction. Besides being a less engaging read, that approach yanks us out of the character’s mindset and world — and out of the fictive dream.


Here are a few little techniques for livening up information-sharing and imparting it with attitude, from the viewpoint of the POV character involved.

Use stream-of-consciousness journaling. To bring out the character’s personality in the parts where he’s thinking or planning or worrying or ruminating, not just when he/she is interacting with others, do some stream-of-consciousness journaling by him/her. Have him ranting in a personal diary about the people around him, what’s going on, etc. Also show his deepest fears here. Then use this wording to show his personality more in the scenes.

Write the scene in first-person first, then switch it backWrite a whole scene, or even a chapter or two, in first-person narration/POV to get the rhythm and flow of that person’s language patterns and attitudes, then switch it to third-person.

Write with attitude! To bring the scene and characters to life, deliver those details through the POV of the main character for that scene, in their voice and wording, with lots of attitude!

Fiction writers and readers: what are your thoughts on this? Do you have any more tips for developing an authentic, appealing voice? Leave a comment to enter a draw for a free e-copy of Jodie’s prize-winning craft-of-writing book Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power: An Editor's Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction 

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (a Silver Medal winner in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Related articles:
Show Your Setting through Your POV Character
Info with Attitude – Strategies for Turning Impersonal Info Dumps into Compelling Copy
Concrete Tips for Developing an Appealing Voice in Your Fiction

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: BAKING

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 


Courtesy of Lynn Kelley Author, WANA Commons

Description: The making of food that requires the preparation of dough, batter, etc., and cooking in an oven using dry heat. Baked products include bread, cake, pastries, doughnuts, doughs, cookies and scones, pies, tortes, fritters, crackers, and pretzels. Meat can also be baked, though the method is different.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: good hand-eye coordination, knowledge of basic mathematics, good physical health (must be able to knead dough, lift sacks of ingredients, work long hours where one is mostly standing, etc.), strong time management and time consciousness

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: organized, detail-oriented, creative, cooperative, passionate, patient

Required Resources and Training: Required resources include heat (in the form of an oven, open fire, smoldering ashes, or other source), water, various grains, and money to buy ingredients. Baking is a skill that many people develop through practice as a hobby or special area of interest. Those who pursue baking as a career don’t need any higher education, though many may choose to take culinary classes. Most must complete an apprenticeship of some kind. 

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: The stereotypical baker is often associated with medieval times, sweating his life away in a boiling hot kitchen surrounded by brick ovens. It should be remembered that various inventions, procedures, and new materials have modernized baking so the process looks very different now. Commercial baking, in particular, is a very different animal. Also, while chefs are largely represented by men, bakers tend to be mostly portrayed by women.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful: Knowing how to bake basic bread can be a life-saving skill in a post-apocalyptic world In a society where people crave sweets or decadent desserts, the baker will be a popular fixture

Resources for Further Information:
The Elevated Kitchen
The Baker's Guide

Introducing...The Talents and Skills Thesaurus!

Computer Hacking                    

Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings)
Skeeter Phelan (The Help)

Can you match the literary character with his or her talent? If you've read the books, chances are that you can. Characters are unique and memorable not only because of their individual mixtures of positive attributes and flaws, but also because of their personal likes and dislikes, their hobbies, and their talents and skills.

Lynn Kelley Author @ WANA Commons

Talents and skills can serve many literary purposes. They can give insight into the kind of person a character is, showing her to be competitive, creative, whimsical, or resourceful. These specialized areas can add depth to a story if they end up contributing to the hero's success. They also play a part in reader likability, since we're often drawn to people who are talented or skilled in some way.

In an effort to help you create well-rounded and interesting characters, we've decided that our next online thesaurus should highlight talents and skills. With so many to choose from, this thesaurus will be extensive, covering abilities that fall into the domestic, medieval, sports, survival and outdoor, fine arts, and paranormal categories, among others. Each entry will give a brief overview, including a description, physical or mental strengths and abilities that are necessary, character traits that are well suited to the talent or skill, necessary training, and drawbacks or negatives that may be associated. We will also suggest helpful online resources that offer more specialized information on the talent in question, to aid in your fact-gathering efforts.

Lisa Hall-Wilson @ WANA Commons
We plan to introduce a new talent or skill every Saturday, with the occasional Thursday entry thrown in as needed. Please consult the sidebar, which will be updated with new entries as they're added. Enjoy!

Tips on Upping The Stakes + GIVEAWAY

It's always great when we get Suspense & Thriller authors dropping in at The Bookshelf Muse, and today José Bográn is here to talk about upping the stakes. Creating and the escalating the stakes is something we all need to learn to do well regardless of the genre we write, because of the huge competition for our audience's attention. We live in a world of intense, high-action blockbuster movies, runaway TV hits like Dexter and Breaking Bad, and of course a social networking/texting/internet surfing culture that makes it difficult to unplug enough to pick up a book.

Read on & don't forget to leave a comment to win a copy of the Thriller, FREEFALL.

Upping The Stakes: How High Is High Enough?

When asked what “upping the stakes” mean, most writing class teachers will point out that classic example of the man atop the tree who can’t get down because there are lions prowling around the base. I’m here to tell you the lions at the base will not cut it nowadays. You need to add killer birds, or a hive of mutated bees, or perhaps a pterodactyl. And you know you don’t have to stop there. How about making the tree a slippery little bastard, or burden the man with sweaty palms, or tired arms and legs? In short, you need another life-threat at the top so the man can’t go in either direction, but also he can’t stay there.

Now, don’t go exposing all the threats on the first page because it would turn the reader off. The best way to explain why not lies in a piece of dialog uttered by Pierce Brosnan in the epic volcano thriller Dante’s Peak:

          Harry Dalton: My 9th grade science teacher always said that if you put a frog in boiling hot water, it would jump out. But put it in cold water, and heat it up gradually, it would slowly boil to death.

          Nancy: What's that Harry? Your recipe for frog soup?

          Harry Dalton: It's my recipe for a disaster.

If you layer your troubles, exposing one at time in the same manner as the water is slowly heating to cook the frog, you serve a two-fold purpose since the piling up will also provide a sense of pace, a rhythm.

The other word to define the process would be “escalation.” Sounds like a change from failed diplomacy actions into hard military deployment, don’t you think?

Let’s consider, for example, one of my favorite novels, The Godfather by Mario Puzo. The novel begins in the happiest of circumstances: a wedding. We learn there are three rather small and diverse problems:

  • We have the baker who wants a resident’s visa for the immigrant who got his daughter pregnant—see how generous the baker was? Other father would have first considered taking the “gunshot option.”

  • The undertaker who wants to avenge the beating of his child by a group of rich hoodlums, and
  • The has-been singer and actor who won’t get a coveted movie role because he saw fit to enamor a young starlet that the chief of the movie studio was reserving for himself.

The actions taken to solve these issues serve to establish the varied and deep power of The Don. Then, as we get into the story we witness an attempt on his life, the war of the Five Families, a couple of nasty betrayals, all to culminate with the perpetuation of a Don for the new generation.

The reasoning of adding more problems is hardly reserved to the suspense genre, nor hardly new for that matter. Take a look at the 200 year old novel, Pride and Prejudice. It began with a mother’s simple task to get her daughters into good marriages. And just when the eldest was a kiss away from the altar, conniving would-be in-laws managed to split the happy couple. Then the second one begins a journey of discovery when the person she hates the most proposes to her. Twice. Then the third daughter—or was it the fourth?—runs away to elope. Common as it maybe nowadays, eloping was the epitome of a family’s disgrace two hundred years ago.

Now let’s apply this to your manuscript. Concentrate on the list of problems your characters are facing. Are they enough? Are you sure they are enough? Short of killing them off halfway through the book, what else can you hit your lead character with?

You’ve heard that ideas come from asking the question, “What if?” That’s a great start to a story. I use it all the time. A good companion to that question is, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

I bet that through a combination of What-ifs and Worst-case-scenarios you can up your story to unforeseen levels. Trust me.

Oh, and don’t forget to leave a comment! I’m giving away an ebook copy of my newest novel Firefall. If you're the winner, you will see that I did put my money where my mouth was!


After losing his wife and son in an air crash, Sebastian Martin is spiraling downward into alcoholic oblivion. When his last-chance job investigating insurance fraud takes a deadly turn, he faces torture at the hands of a former KGB trainee. 

Add FIREFALL to your Goodreads list!  
Follow José on TWITTER, FACEBOOK & visit his WEBSITE

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill.

CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED! Thanks so much for entering!

Amazing Racers Wanted: Will You Help Us?

Well, it’s that time again! Becca and I are creeping up on our double book launch for The Positive Trait  and Negative Trait Thesaurus Books (October 21st!) and are once again taking on a SPECIAL PROJECT to celebrate. 

As you guys know, we are not so good with splashy promo-y stuff. We are super excited about our releases (oh my GOSH so excited!) but we’d rather put that book release energy into an event that highlights just how awesome our community is.

Why is the Writing Community so special? Because writers are NURTURERS. They take the time to help each other by beta reading, advising, critiquing, supporting, resource sharing, offering one another visibility and a host of other things. Writers are amazing people, giving the gift of TIME.

Time is always in short supply. There's never enough of it. With families, demanding jobs, activities and commitments, carving out time to write is a challenge. And so using some of it to help or support another writer is amazingly generous.  They do this because they want to see their fellow writers succeed.

This got Becca and I to thinking...

Just how many writers could be helped if a person had more TIME? 

...How many queries could a person read? 
...How many pitches and first paragraphs could they critique? 
...How much visibility could be offered, how many platforms could be improved?
...How many tweets and social sharing could be accomplished, how much advice could be given?
...How many books could be profiled, how many log lines could be honed?

Well, Becca and I want to find out. Starting October 21st, we are both participating in the Writers Helping Writers Amazing Race. For the entire launch week, we will dedicate 100% of our time to helping other writers however we can: visibility, platform, critiques, advice, feedback--you name it.

There will be an open call to all writers, right here. If we can help, we will. So many writers have been there for us, and we want to pay it forward!

So, how many people can we help in a week? Well, that’s the fun isn’t it? Of course, it isn’t a race unless we have some teammates! If you would like to race with us by helping out with a first paragraph critique here or a tweet or two there, we would LOVE for you to join us!

Remember, it doesn't take a lot of time to help. Just a few minutes could mean so much to someone needing a bit of encouragement and a pair of fresh eyes. You can help out as much or as little as you like. It’s all about giving back in little ways, and everyone wins.

Interested in a little racing, or how else you might be able to help out? Fill out THIS FORM and we’ll contact you by email with more details.

And if you’re a writer who needs another set of eyes on your work, help with social networking, or one of the many other things we'll be tackling, swing by the week of October 21st. We can’t wait to help you!

PSST!  Ava at Writability is offering a sneak-a-peek of "COURAGEOUS," an entry from The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Attributes, so please check it out if you like!

Promoting a Virtual Book Tour

I think that marketing and promotion—of either existing or future books—is a concern for most authors. How do we maximize exposure? What can we do to make sure people know about our books? Book tours have become quite effective at getting the word out about a new release, but with so many tours vying for our attention, how do we make ours pop? Jo Linsdell has some great tips on what you can do before a book tour even starts to maximize its chances of success.

Whether you want to launch your new release with a bang or put some life into an older publication, virtual book tours can be an effective marketing strategy. They can be done from the comfort of your own home and at little or no cost. The benefits of doing a virtual book tour are numerous. They do however need to be done correctly in order to see good results.

For your tour to be successful it's important that you work with your hosts to promote each of your tour stops in order to reach as many people as possible. As with any other kind of marketing campaign, you need to put together a plan and create a schedule for each activity.

Here are some of the ways you can promote your virtual book tour and maximize your chances of success:
  • Do social media posts, blog posts, newsletter articles, etc... prior to the tour. Let your fans know that you have a tour coming up and the sort of thing they can expect. Get them excited about what's to come. 
  • Write up a press release about your tour and submit it to press distribution sites. 
  • Post invitations to follow the tour in relevant groups that you're a member of. 
  • Make an event page for your tour on Facebook and invite people to join. Here you'll post the links to each of your tour stops. Posting some exclusive extra content for those who follow the tour can be a good way to get people involved. 
  • Make an event page for your tour on Google+ and invite people to join. Giving people a variety of options for how to follow you tour can mean you reach a wider audience. 
  • Create a board on Pinterest to pin all your tour stops. This is a nice alternative way for people to follow your tour and gives them another way to share your posts. 
  • Create a tour banner and post it everywhere with a link back to your book’s landing page. This doesn't have to be anything fancy. A simple tour banner with your cover art, author pic, the dates of the tour and your website url is enough. 
  • Create a hashtag (# symbol followed by your keyword) for your tour and announce your upcoming tour letting people know they will be able to follow it using that hashtag (you'll use the hashtag during your tour on posts too). 
  • Create banners for your social media profiles that promote the tour. Make both page banners for the top of your profiles and smaller banners to use in status updates. 
  • Record and share some videos letting viewers know about your upcoming tour and why they should be part of it. Post it to YouTube so it can easily be shared and embedded. 
  • Post behind-the-scenes content of you preparing for the tour. Photos of you working on guest posts or interviews, how-to videos showing what you're doing to prepare for your virtual book tour, or status updates letting your readers know what you're doing (with a picture of the book’s cover art attached). 
  • Create a media kit for your tour and make it available for download on the media/press page of your website. Include as much information as possible. A few things you might want to consider adding are: your book cover pic, book title, author name, book details (publisher, ISBN/ASIN, etc....), purchasing links, links to the books page on review sites (e.g. Goodreads, Shelfari, LibraryThing, etc...), your book blurb or synopsis, an author photo, your author bio, links to event pages you've created for the tour, your social media links, a selection of the best reviews your book has received, a sample interview, an excerpt from the book, and some click-to tweets and easy copy-and-paste status updates for other social media sites to make sharing about your book and tour simple. You should also include your full tour schedule. 

These are just a few ideas to get you started but, as you can see from this list, the goal is to let as many people as possible know about your tour. By reaching out in different ways and giving them a variety of options for how to follow your tour, you increase your chances of them getting involved.

If you have some ideas of your own ways to promote a virtual book tour I'd love to hear from you so please leave a comment below so we can discuss them further.

Jo Linsdell is a best selling author and illustrator, award winning blogger, and freelance writer. She is also the founder and organiser of the annual online event Promo Day ( Her latest release, Virtual Book Tours: Effective Online Book Promotion From the Comfort of Your Own Home, is now available from Amazon. Find out more about her at her website.

The Positive and Negative Trait Thesaurus COVER REVEAL!

Holy buckets, people. They're coming. They're actually coming! The next two books in our descriptive writing series—the ones we've been working on for a full year. The ones we thought would be done in August but it turned out we needed another two months to achieve the appropriate level of AWESOME. The ones that have turned Angela and me prematurely (yes, prematurely!) gray. The ones that...well, you get the picture. So, without further verbosity...


Nothing adds complexity like character flaws. Inside the Negative Trait Thesaurus you’ll find: 

* A vast collection of flaws to explore when building a character’s personality. Each entry includes possible causes, attitudes, behaviors, thoughts, and related emotions 

* Real examples from literature, film, or television to show how each flaw can create life challenges and relational friction 
* Advice on building layered and memorable characters from the ground up 
* An in-depth look at backstory, emotional wounds, and how pain twists a character’s view of himself and his world, influencing behavior and decision making 
* A flaw-centric exploration of character arc, relationships, motivation, and basic needs 
* Tips on how to best show a character’s flaws to readers while avoiding common pitfalls 
* Downloadable tools to aid writers in character creation 

The Negative Trait Thesaurus sheds light on your character’s dark side. 

Character creation can be hard, but it’s about to get a lot easier. Inside The Positive Trait Thesaurus, you’ll find: 

* A large selection of attributes to choose from when building a personality profile. Each entry lists possible causes for why a trait might emerge, along with associated attitudes, behaviors, thoughts, and emotions 

* Real character examples from literature, film, or television to show how an attribute drives actions and decisions, influences goals, and steers relationships 
* Advice on using positive traits to immediately hook readers while avoiding common personality pitfalls 
* Insight on human needs and morality, and how each determines the strengths that emerge in heroes and villains alike 
* Information on the key role positive attributes play within the character arc, and how they’re vital to overcoming fatal flaws and achieving success 
* Downloadable tools for organizing a character’s attributes and providing a deeper understanding of his past, his needs, and the emotional wounds he must overcome 

If you find character creation difficult or worry that your cast members all seem the same, The Positive Trait Thesaurus is brimming with ideas to help you develop one-of-a-kind, dynamic characters that readers will love. 

(If the books look like they might be of interest to you, consider adding them to your Goodreads list [Negative Traits and/or Positive Traits].)

Oh my gosh, we are SO excited about these books, you have no idea. When Angela and I start a new thesaurus, it almost always comes from a place of personal struggle: Where do we have problems in our own writing? Is this a problem that other writers have? What kind of resource might help us all in that area? Characterization is hard to get right, so we knew we wanted to tackle that one at some point. 

Then we started writing the Character Traits Thesaurus entries on our blog. We knew we'd stumbled onto something good when so many of you started telling us how useful they were. So we've expanded our original thesaurus, providing more content for each entry, plus adding a bunch more traits—so many that we had to split the resource into two manageable books. And we are so excited to release them upon the writing world! 

And when is the big day? you may wonder. Well, wonder no more. Our newest books will be available for purchase October 21st! And, you know, we can't celebrate without some kind of spectacle—one that will involve lots of cool giveaways, encouragement for writers, and general shenanigans within the community. But, my goodness, I can't spill the beans on that just yet. We'll save that for another post ;).

So thanks again, to everyone who has encouraged us, supported our work, and sent happy messages regarding your experiences with The Emotion Thesaurus. Without all of you, these books would still be  sidebar links, a mere portion of their full potential. More good news to come. Can't wait to share it with you all! 

Physical Attributes Entry: Voice

Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey—too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or caring about their plight. 

One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.


Descriptors: rich, full, sexy, throaty, breathy, high, low, thin, squeaky, husky, raspy, deep, baritone, soprano, alto, bass, tenor, rough, gravelly, harsh, hoarse, guttural, smooth, sonorous, twangy, drawling, babyish, whiny, nasal, tinny, booming, lilting, shrill, pinched, monotone, commanding, timid, fearful

Things Voices Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
  • Yell: shout, scream, shriek, shrill, bellow, cry, bawl, howl, roar, screech, wail, holler, squeal
  • Whisper: mumble, murmur, mutter
  • Sing: croon, chirp, yodel, scat, belt, serenade, vocalize
  • Other noises associated with the voice: singing, humming, groaning, growling, whining, moaning, crying, laughing, talking

Key Emotions and How the Voice Responds: 
  • Fear: When someone becomes frightened, the voice may become thin and tremulous. It can also rise in pitch and break unexpectedly. Words become choppier, more clipped, and may sound squeezed or pinched. Breaths become shorter and more frequent, which will affect the speech.
  • Anger: Anger can also raise the pitch of someone's voice. Words come faster and burst forth violently, as if they're being bitten off or chewed up and spit out. When someone is trying to control her anger, her cadence may slow down and her pitch may drop as she chooses her words carefully.
  • Arousal: The voice drops and thickens, becoming husky or rough and more guttural.
  • Excitement: In times of excitement, the voice can become shrill and squeaky. Words may trail off into nonsensical shrieks and squeals.

Simile and Metaphor Help:                         
  • His voice was smooth and creamy, like caramel milk.
  • I cleared my throat and winced at the feeling of rocks scraping over concrete—which, I knew, was exactly how my voice would sound as soon as I tried to speak.

Clichés to Avoid: a smooth voice being described as having 'dulcet tones'; old men and women have gravelly voices

HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example: Her hair was pulled back in a half-hearted bun and the freckles across her forehead only accented her paleness. I expected her voice to be as lackluster as she was, but when she spoke, her eyes seemed to grow bigger, her lips fuller, her cheeks pinking and gaining warmth. I blinked, speechless. Her voice was like a magic spell, bringing the dead to life while silencing any other words spoken within its hearing.

BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above! 

And don't forget: our Goodreads giveaway of The Emotion Thesaurus ends September 18th!

How to Write a Tagline for Your Book (And Why You Need To)

Okay, how many of you don't know the difference between a logline and a tag line? *raises hand* Yeah, me too. But lucky for us my friend Marcy Kennedy is here to explain. And wow, there is a BIG difference!

As you read on you'll notice below Marcy's also running a webinar on pitching. If you have not yet taken a WANA International course, I wholeheartedly recommend them and Marcy, who is smart and savvy! (Full disclosure--I have taught webinars myself through WANA, and I love the spirit of community and their mission to help writers. Plus the online classroom Big Blue Button Technology can't be beat as a tool for learning!)

Also, if you'll indulge me a bit further as I so rarely openly endorse like this, I would be remiss if I didn't also mention WANACON coming in October. I attended the last online con, and unfortunately I am out of town for this one, but trust me, it is going to be amazing. You can't get this level of instruction and expertise for the price anywhere else.

*meep-meep*  Okay, turning things over to Marcy!

~~ * ~~

As writers, we hear about loglines all the time—how to write them, why we need them, when to use them. And so, when we hear about this thing called a tag line, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking tag line is just another name for a logline.

It’s not and we need both because the tagline is what goes on your book cover.

 A logline tells you what a movie or book will be about—the main conflict, the main character, and the stakes.

 A tag line is a catch phrase. It doesn’t tell you anything specific about the story, but it does give you a feel for it in a way that a logline can’t. A tag line is what you see on movie posters.

To help you see the difference between a logline and a tag line, let’s go through examples of both.

Lord of the Rings 

Logline: A young hobbit needs to destroy an ancient, powerful ring before the evil overload consumes the world in everlasting darkness.

Tag Line: One ring to rule them all.

The LOTR logline gives you the main character (a hobbit), the main conflict (the hobbit wants to destroy the ring and the evil overlord wants to keep the ring), and the stakes (all the good in the world will be destroyed).

The tag line gives you the emotional feel of the book. It will be dark and serious. You could probably even guess that it will be an epic fantasy.


Logline: A sheriff must find and kill a man-eating and frighteningly intelligent shark before it murders again and scares away all the tourists who support his beach-front community.

Tag Line: Don’t go into the water.

Do you see how the tag line doesn’t really tell you anything about the movie? Based on just the tag line, Jaws could be about poisonous jelly fish or a deadly current. It’s not meant to tell you the plot. It’s meant to evoke emotion. It sets the tone for a story that’s going to scare you. You know it’s going to be either horror or a thriller.

When you’re writing your tag line, ask yourself what tone you want to set for your book. What emotions do you want to evoke?

Now brainstorm 5-10 possible tag lines, trying to keep them under 10 words each. If you want, share your attempts in the comments, and give feedback on the attempts of someone else!

Want to learn more about creating loglines, taglines, and pitches? 

On Saturday, September 21, I’ll be teaching a 90-minute webinar where I give even more tips on crafting awesome loglines, taglines, and pitches. You can get 15% off by using the discount code MarcyLogline15. Sign up or learn more by clicking here. If you can’t make it at the time it’s scheduled but still want to attend, sign up anyway. The webinar will be recorded and sent to registrants along with a PDF of the slides.

I’ve also put together something special as a thank you to people who sign up for my newsletter where I let you know about my upcoming classes and books. I’m offering a free PDF called Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Hiring a Freelance Editor But Were Too Confused to Ask. Click here to sign up for your copy.

Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy) is a speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance editor and teaches classes on craft and social media through WANA International. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at


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