Tag Archives: Writing Tip


A50Memorable authors have one thing in common – a writing style that’s as unique as their fingerprints. They connect with their readers through a written voice that’s as recognizable as their face. Analyzing their success, there seems to be six elements which makes their voice shout.

Recently, I was thoroughly encouraged about my writing voice by having a manuscript rejected by a prominent publishing agent.

What? You were encouraged by rejection? What kind of a twisted, tormented bastard are you? Go home, Rodgers, you’re drunk. (I like Hemmingway’s advice. Write drunk. Edit sober.)

A51Hey, hang-on! It’s only ten a.m. and I’m sober as a fuckin’ Mormon. Usually, I don’t start drinking until around five (today’s Saturday and the weather’s awesome so I might make an exception) therefore I’ve got time to finish this post while I’m sober and tell you what I really mean by loving rejection. Actually I’m gonna show ya, because tellin’ is not supposed ta be very good writin’. Here’s her rejection letter.

Hi Garry,
Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. Unfortunately, this will be a pass for me as I did not connect with the story as strongly as I had hoped I would. I will say that I think you are on the right track with your writing. You have a really great voice. A couple of things to be mindful of: 
  1.  In some cases there was far too much description – to the point where the verbiage weighed the story down. This may be a trade secret piece for you, having the background knowledge in the area of forensics or having worked closely in your profession as a coroner. However, the details in such depth can become too technical for the reader. Description is good, as it speaks to showing rather than telling – overly describing turns to telling and less showing.  
  1.  “Head-Hopping” or too much back and forth. This can also be hard on a reader in terms of following the story, having too many side-stories going on at the same time if not executed properly can lead the reader to have to turn back pages in order to figure out where they are at with the story. This is when a story can fail to be a page-turner.
Other than this – you have a really great voice as a writer and I would be very happy to receive future queries from you in the area of crime fiction – police procedural type of stories – if you are so inclined. No promises, but if you write it, I’ll read it. And remember – less is more.
I wish you the best…

A52There, how’s that for encouragement? She praised me while smacking me right between the horns with what I’m doing wrong. You just can’t buy this type of help.

So it got me to think at what makes a good writing voice and I came up with these six things.

1. A good story to tell.

A53Having a clear message in mind is paramount. You have to know what you’re trying to get across and do so as clearly as possible. Stephen King’s Carrie comes to mind. It’s about bullying, pure & simple. Be careful who you push around.

2. Tone and pace.

A54Someone said ‘Write like riding a horse‘. Sometimes it walks. Sometimes it trots. Sometimes it canters. And sometimes the bloody thing flat-out gallops. Do you write casually, like in a normal conversation, or does the piece require formality as if you were applying to Harvard? Are you relaxed? Or are you breathless? Are you waking your reader up like shoving ice cubes down the crack of his ass or are you boring her as if she were watching you lawn bowl.

3. Perspective.

A55What’s YOUR point of view? Keep in mind that it’s your story you’re telling – you’re just showing it through the eyes of your characters. Tell it the way it is. If you intend to write truthfully and how you see it, you’re gonna piss some people off. Too bad. So sad. Get over it.

4. Vocabulary.

A56I write exactly like I talk and use simple words because that’s what I know and what I use every day. I rarely go for a Thesaurus. For all I care they could be extinct (Boo). I fucking HATE buzz words and corporate-speak! To me, they’re retarded. Don’t treat your reader as if she’s stupid and try to snow her with shit-words. Say whatcha mean and mean whatcha say.

5. Sentence structure.

A57Grammar is good, but not everything. One word sentences are just as acceptable in the right place as long-winded, dragged-out descriptions of the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees and a crazy, little thing called love. Right? If you haven’t read The Elements of Style by Strunk & White, go get it. It’s the writer’s bible. 100% truthful.

6. Imagery.

Metaphors, similes, alliteration, and other literary devices are life in your voice. Are you creating mental images? I wrote this one yesterday as I wrap up No Life Until Death.

“Here, I’ll raise the operator.” Eliza grabbed the radiophone’s handset and keyed the mike. A squelch like the sound of a cat in a fanbelt squealed in their ears and she cranked down the dial. “Which one do you wanna call first?”

I write exactly as I talk and it comes natural.

How ’bout you? Do you use your real voice in your writing?


Friend and fellow crime-writer, Sue Coletta, gives this insightful cameo on the show vs. tell struggle in storytelling.

Sue15We’ve all heard it many times. Show vs. Tell, the advice that haunts many new writers. It can be very confusing. All telling can be just as bad as all showing. More experienced writers know that it is that perfect mix of both that creates a dynamic, well-rounded story.

Sue7The best advice I can give is to read, read, then read some more. Study how the best-sellers spin a good yarn. Basically it comes down to this: We need to show our stories as they unfold, but we need to do it in a way that evokes a visceral response in our reader. In a way that allows the reader to fill in the blanks with their imagination. But we also need to tell parts of that story so our characters don’t sound melodramatic and our books don’t end up being six hundred pages long.

If you think back to your favorite books undoubtedly they’ll be the ones that you pictured in your mind as you were reading them. Those are the novels that stay with you. Why? Because those authors used a perfect mix of telling, showing, and really showing.

Sue10It’s no secret that I’m a huge Karin Slaughter fan. Anyone who knows me can attest to that. So, awhile back I found her on Facebook and I was reading some of the comments she was getting from her fans. For those not familiar with her work in addition to stand-alones she has two series: Grant Pass series and Will Trent series. One of her fans wrote in and asked what Will Trent looked like.

Her response: “He looks exactly how you pictured him.”

Because the fan was a reader and not a writer she didn’t fully understand why she meant by that or why she wouldn’t expound. But the truth is she couldn’t. If she did she’d ruin the image her other readers had created in their mind of Will Trent.

We writers can help that image along by showing a specific characteristic without giving a laundry list of features. For instance:

Sue16Telling: “He had bright blue eyes and was six feet tall.” Showing: “His piercing blue eyes looked straight into my soul, and I knew he’d soon uncover all my lies.”

In the latter we’ve given a specific characteristic by showing our character’s emotional response to that feature. This becomes more important with main and secondary characters than with walk-ons– a minor character in one or two scenes. And here’s where telling comes into play. If it’s necessary for the reader to know that a nurse, say, is a blonde, then just tell them. No need to waste extra words on non-essential characters.

Telling: “That guy’s an ass.”

Sue18To show your reader that the guy’s an ass you’d have him crunch someone’s glasses under his foot, or beat up an old man. Really showing is when that same man is in a bar fight with your MC and he smells the guy’s sweat, watches his facial ticks, hears someone from the crowd shout “Kill him!”, tastes blood in the back of his throat.

During short interludes– when not a lot happens over a period of time– we tell the reader what happened. This could be a couple of sentences or a paragraph in length. It could even be three words. “Two days later.”

Sue9Basically, we use telling when we need to transition from point A to point B, or when we are divulging the character’s backstory– in tiny bits peppered throughout the novel.

Let’s say for instance nothing happens on the ride over to a crime scene. The reader does not need the play-by-play. They don’t need to be inside the MC’s head the whole time. Tell them what happened. Tell them that “the detectives arrived thirty minutes later.” When it’s a plot point we want to show the reader what happened. Showing can be a sentence or a paragraph in length. Really showing can go on for several paragraphs or even pages.

The following example of “showing” is from Karin Slaughter’s Beyond Reach.

Sue12The lighter dropped onto her lap, the flame igniting the liquid, the liquid burning her clothes. There was a horrible keening– it was coming from her own throat as she sat helplessly watching the flames lick up her body. Her arms jerked up. Her toes and feet curled in like a baby’s. She thought again of that long-ago trip to Florida, the exhausting heat, the sharp, unbearable rip of pain as her flesh cooked to the seat.

The following example of “really showing” is from Karin Slaughter’s Fractured.

Sue14Automatically, her hands wrapped around his thick neck. She could feel the cartilage in his throat move, the rings that lined the esophagus bending like soft plastic. His grip went tighter around her wrists, but her elbows were locked now, her shoulders in line with her hands as she pressed all of her weight into the man’s neck. Lightening bolts of pain shot through her shaking arms and shoulders. Her hands cramped as if thousands of tiny needles stabbed into her nerves. She could feel vibrations through her palms as he tried to speak. Her vision tunneled again. She saw starbursts of red dotting his eyes, his wet lips opening, tongue protruding. She was sitting on him, straddling him, and she became aware of the fact that she could feel the man’s hip bones pressing into the meat of her thighs as he arched up trying to buck her off.

And it goes on for a few more paragraphs. As you can see, the difference between showing and really showing is length and detail. With really showing the writer gets into the finer details of the scene. “Lightening bolts of pain shot through her shaking arms…”

By really showing a scene the writer makes use of most or all of the senses– sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell– instead of just using one or two.

Sue1In short, we use telling for transition or traveling or telling what we’ve already shown so we aren’t being repetitive, and showing for plot points, actions, reactions, responses, to crank up the tension, etc. It takes more words to show a scene than to tell it.

By mixing them, we keep our reader engaged and keep them flipping pages. And that is what makes our stories come alive on the page.

*   *   *

Sue3Sue Coletta is a crime fiction writer who’s authored four novels– soon to hit the shelves, so keep watch! She’s a member of Sisters In Crime and Crime Space and blogs with twenty-four traditionally published authors at: www.auniqueandportablemagic.blogspot.com.

Visit her Murder Blog, where she discusses writing tips, musings, and crime fiction at: www.crimewriterblog.com or follow Sue on Twitter @SueColetta1




Great to have BestSelling author and social media expert Rachel Thompson as a guest on DyingWords. I follow Rachel on her sites, BadRedHeadMedia and Rachel in the OC, and love her No-BS style. She generously agreed to share some thoughts on writing.

Rachel1AI noticed an extremely talented writer friend hadn’t blogged for awhile, so I checked in on her last night. She decided to take a break due to some harsh comments from those supposedly ‘in the know,’ and was taking time to lick her wounds and hadn’t written in months. I am a true fan, and was shocked to see her so affected. But I could relate. 

Been there, done that. I gave her this advice: ‘Screw ‘em. Trust your voice. They’re jealous of your amazing talent, and by silencing you, they are somehow feeling better about their lack of it.’

Write, my dear friends. Ignore what THEY say. Trust your voice, believe in yourself. You are amazing.


Rachel2AI’ve been there. Someone I respected, who was ‘in the know,’ told me that my work wasn’t ‘ready for publication, was boring, that nobody would read it.’ So, I walked away from that situation. Doesn’t matter who that person is. What’s important is that I listened, I let it affect me, and I crawled into a dark, gray hole. For a nanosecond.


Rachel3And then completely ignored this person’s advice, wrote Broken Pieces, the book this person said nobody would read, because I trusted my voice. And it not only changed my life, it also connected me to so many amazing survivors, writers, readers, bloggers, reviewers…to PEOPLE I likely would never have otherwise met.


Your first draft is going to be awful. Terrible. Shit. So what? You’re no different than…

Ernest Hemingway: The first draft of anything is shit” or

Rachel 4BAnne Lamott: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”

I personally refer to my first drafts as ‘word vomit.’ The problem, I’ve discovered, is that most new writers try too hard to make their writing perfect on the first try (impossible, I tell you!), so that when they receive criticism (and they will), they crumple. I was no different. So…what to do?

Blogging helps. Share your writing.

Rachel5BBut when it comes to getting ready for publication (no matter which direction you take), hire a writing coach, or a professional editor, someone who knows about writing and does this for a living. Not your Aunt Edna who used to correct English papers back in the day.

You are too close to it to edit your own work. And by edit, I do not mean grammar and proof — no, no, no. I mean structural edits — looking at the entire content and seeing what flows, what fits, what doesn’t, what needs revision, what needs to be cut.


Rachel6AGosh, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this, I’d be rich by now. I get it, I do. I’m there, too. But guess what? Your book will not sell if it’s riddled with errors. You cannot afford not to hire a professional. Would you do your own heart surgery? No.

Besides, there are terrific options now: crowdfund using Pubslush (a crowdfunding platform just for book projects), look at Bibliocrunch (find quality professionals for your book publishing needs within your budget), barter services, whatever! Make it happen.

Point is this: writers write.

Don’t let anyone influence you about you. Trust your voice. Protect it, above all else.

Figure the rest out later.

 “Express yourself, don’t repress yourself” ~ Madonna (Human Nature)

*   *   *

Rachel7Rachel Thompson is the author of the award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. Rachel is published and represented by Booktrope.

Rachel9She owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors, and Rachel in the OC where she gives writing and marketing advice.

Rachel10Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington PostThe San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, bitrebels.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly.

Rachel1Rachel is the creator and founder of #MondayBlogs and #SexAbuseChat and an advocate for sexual abuse survivors. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

Watch for Rachel Thompson’s new book, Broken Places, which is being released shortly.