The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Writing with all your senses

I received an email last week from a writer who felt her pages were flat. This writer (and her critique group) felt that she didn’t seem to generate much depth of emotion for her readers. I asked for a few pages of her current work in progress and saw that this writer, who was working on a romance, limited herself by using only visual descriptions in her scenes. Because she was giving her readers only visual clues, she was missing out on opportunities to add depth and texture to her work, which would draw her readers in.

People have multiple senses that they use to experience the world around them, and so should your characters. Regardless of the genre, including each of the physical senses in your writing helps your reader to interpret the world that your character lives in. This also helps your reader to believe that your character is real and helps your reader to suspend disbelief. Your reader becomes engaged with the story and the characters and has to turn the page. This is a good thing.

I am going to use the romance genre to discuss the physical senses to show you what I mean, mostly because the five senses in  romance tend to be exaggerated. If you are not writing romance, you should still use all of the senses  to add depth, color, and texture to your writing.  Paint a picture for your reader that they can’t put down. Writing with all the senses turns average description into great description.

In our romance, picture our heroine sitting in a coffee shop. She has a cup of coffee sitting on the table. She is contemplating the disaster of last night’s date. We’ve described what the coffee shop looks like. We know what happened on her date. We set that up in the plot structure with scene and sequel. We know how our heroine feels. She is ready to give up on men. Then, our heroine sees a man who has just walked into the coffee shop. He has longish black hair and green eyes that pierce her soul as he glances her way. He is tall and handsome with a chiseled face. He looks good to her. But what else? If she only sees him, and your reader only gets a visual cue, then the writing comes across as shallow. This is why it is important to incorporate all the other senses into the scene.

The five senses

Sight is important. Sight tells your reader what your character sees, what things look like, what color something is, etc. but it is one-dimensional. Our heroine sees the man as he walks in. We know what he looks like. But is that it? Is that enough for her to be interested enough to reconsider dating?

Taste adds a texture and depth to your description. Our heroine discretely watches her hero over the rim of her coffee cup. She takes a sip. Her coffee is slightly bitter but overall it has a smooth and sweet taste of cream and sugar. Suddenly she wonders what this beautiful man’s lips taste like. Will his lips be sweet? What will he taste of? Then she wonders if she has lost her mind. A moment ago she was ready to give up all men.

Smell is a very powerful sense and is a great tool to bring your reader into the scene. Our heroine is holding her coffee cup. It is early morning and the smell of coffee which permeates the shop is warm and inviting. The scent reminds her of her father who always made coffee on Sunday mornings for the two of them after her mother died when she was nine. The smell of coffee triggers this memory of her father who was a wonderful man, her rock, and someone she could always depend upon. She misses her father who died a month ago. The scent of early morning coffee subconsciously reminds her of those warm fuzzy feelings as she glances over at her yet to be met hero. She wonders if he is as nice as he looks.

Sound can add emotional context for your reader. Think of the music that plays in the background of your favorite movie. You don’t necessarily notice the music, but it manipulates you and creates a mood you would miss out on if there were no soundtrack playing behind the action on the screen. Our heroine now hears the hero speak  as he orders a latte. He speaks with the twang of a Southern accent and she is suddenly excited that he has the potential to be a perfect gentleman, something last night’s date was not. The espresso machine whooshes as it heats the milk for the latte. The hero’s fingers drum upon his thigh in staccato beats which are counterpoint to the adagio of the music coming through the overhead speakers. She is emboldened by her rising emotions and she moves to stand in line behind her hero so she can order more coffee (and also get a heart-stopping view of his perfect bum). She hears him humming to the music. His voice is deep and sensual and she wonders if he is the romantic type who would read to her in bed.

Touch adds additional depth to the scene. When you see something soft you want to touch it. So does your character. Your heroine sees the sweater that your hero is wearing, and how it clings to his torso as he turns to smile at her. She wants to feel the hardness of his abs beneath the softness of the cashmere. What will his hands feel like as they caress her skin? Will they be rough and calloused or smooth and warm? She can no longer resist his charms. She reaches up, wraps her arms around his shoulders, and plants a big, wet kiss on his lips.

Yes, the above is exaggerated, especially if you are not writing romance, but hopefully you see how using all of the other senses in your scenes can add depth, texture, and possibility. Using the five senses in your writing opens the door for creating great description. Your characters can react to sounds, smells, tastes, and touch, not just the sight.

Go through your work in progress and add the five senses and see what happens. I expect your pages will come alive and you will be surprised by what you discover about your characters, and yourself.

Next time: Scene Setting


The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

POV Soapbox

After last week’s post on POV, I’ve been thinking about POV rules. I was contacted by someone asking about the particular POV they must use to write a story in a particular genre. It irked me. Not the person asking the question, but the whole POV rule concept.

There are some out there in internet land who say there are rules which must be followed with regard to genre. It goes something like this. “All books of this genre must be written in first person point of view,” or whatever. It’s a load of bunk. The most important thing to know about POV is that the majority of opinion about which POV a novel is written in is based on preference (your preference, the reader’s preference, the editor’s preference, the publisher’s preference) and sales. Don’t confuse preferences with rules. There are no absolute rules (except for one in my opinion. See below) with regard to genre fiction and which POV to use. Know also, that sales can dictate preferences for a particular POV as well. If a certain book, written in a certain POV, in a certain genre, sells well, people (readers, editors, publishers) may very well prefer that particular POV in that particular genre for some random timeframe, until the next best-seller with a different POV influences people differently.

POV is subjective. For example, romance usually begins with the heroine’s POV and is usually limited to two POV characters (the heroine’s and the hero’s) and each POV has equal time throughout the story. But, there are some romance novels that use 1st POV for the heroine and switch to 3rd POV for the hero. See? There is no specific rule that says, “Romance must be written using this POV and this POV only.” Romance writers simply choose to usually write in 3rd POV because that makes the most sense for their story structure which has two main characters of equal weight, who fall in love with each other, and have a happily ever after.

Generally, use the POV that will work best for your story, and take into consideration how you want to express yourself, what your readers need to know, and how they need to learn information. It would also be a good idea to look at best-sellers of your particular genre so you see can what the current preferences are. You don’t have to use that POV, but it would be a good idea to know those preferences and be clear on why you are choosing a different POV.

The rule and I do consider it a rule rather than a preference is this: Do not to mix POVs in a single scene. This is called head-hopping and it is confusing to absolutely everyone except you because you wrote it and you know who is speaking. Good overall stories get rejected all the time because the author switches POVs in a single scene. So, make sure you are in only one character’s head at a time per scene. That’s it. That’s the one rule about which POV you should use. If you need to jump inside another character, break the scene like this:

Mary’s POV blah, blah, blah.


John’s POV blah, blah, blahty blah, blah.

To reiterate the point, if you jump between Mary’s POV and John’s POV in a single scene, it is difficult for the reader to know, from sentence to sentence, which character is speaking at any given time. Editors hate it, and I expect it is one of the main things that sends manuscripts back to new authors for revision prior to publication. That is if it doesn’t get rejected in the slush pile.

So don’t do it. Use the scene break.

It is also smart for those of you who are switching between POVs to make sure that you don’t jump the story timeline. Jumping back and forth in time is confusing and can almost be as bad as head-hopping. There have been stories constructed with timeline jumping as a technique, but generally, it is best to stick with the timeline. If you confuse your reader they will put your book down and get another one. There are so many books published each year (approx. 1,000,000 in 2014 per Bowker) that you don’t want to give your reader an excuse to pick up someone else’s book. You want them to love your book, to love your characters, to love you as an author.

Help your readers. Write the best possible book that you can.

Things to remember about POV

1st POV is about intimacy. Everything your reader sees, hears, and experiences, comes through one character. Your character is a film camera and all they experience is what your reader experiences, but your reader only sees the action from this one character.

3rd POV gives you some distance. Your reader can get information from multiple characters. It’s like a film camera that watches your characters as actors on stage, and it can focus on one character at a time, but then cut to another character with a scene break.

Consider your story structure, and how you want to deliver information to your reader, and then choose which POV is best for you. It’s your preference. And then when it is written, it is the preference of your reader (and editor, and publisher). Okay. I am off the soapbox now.

Next: Reader’s choice.  Email with topics you would like to see at oosuzieq AT gmail dot com

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Point of View

I was at Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference last weekend, and I honestly do believe it is the best writer’s conference in the United States. The workshops were spectacular, so much so that even NYT best-selling author Jeffery Deaver sat in workshops and took notes. It reminds me that there is always more to learn when you want to improve your writing craft. While at conference I had a conversation with an aspiring author who had issues with a couple of things, but their main issue was a very confused POV.

So what is POV? Point of View or POV actually consists of two ideas; POV dictates whose head the reader is in to view the action (think about looking out through the character’s eyes as if they were a camera), and POV also dictates how intimate the viewpoint of the reader is (does the reader know the character’s thoughts and feelings?) Yes, this is confusing. It is even more confusing because different people use different terms, and sometimes the same terms can mean different things. Don’t get hung-up on the terminology. Think of yourself as a movie camera and what you see as you look through the view finder is POV.

For genre fiction, generally POV breaks down to the use of First Person Point of View (1st POV), or Third Person Point of View (3rd POV). There are other POV options, but I am going to focus on these two today.

1st POV uses “I” for the main character. If you think about POV as being a movie camera, then the main character is the camera and the reader can only see what the main character sees, and know what the main character knows. 1ST POV can also be the sidekick (think Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes) but usually 1st POV is for the main character.

There are advantages and disadvantages to writing in 1st POV.

The advantages:

  • It is easy for the reader to identify with the character because they can get in your character’s head.
  • It is easier to share the character’s thoughts and feelings.
  • It is a great tool if you want to have an unreliable narrator.
  • The writing can be less formal.

The disadvantages:

  • Your character must usually be in each and every scene (there are exceptions to this. Some authors use 1st POV for the main character and 3rd POV for supporting characters. Think Diana Gabladon).
  • It is more difficult for the character to describe him/herself.
  • It minimizes the tool of characterization where your reader learns about the main character when other characters talk about or has an opinion of the main character (unless your character eavesdrops).
  • The use of “I” constantly can be irritating.
  • It is much more difficult to use subplots in your structure which could require your plot structure to be very simple.

3rd POV uses “he” or “she” for the main character. 3rd POV is the most common POV in fiction and offers the most flexibility and variety of options for the writer. Think about being a movie camera and sitting in the director’s chair while two or more actors do a scene.

The advantages:

  • You can use contrasting viewpoints that will entice your reader.
  • Your reader (and you, too) can take a break when you shift between characters.
  • It can broaden the scope of your story by allowing for conflicting viewpoints of multiple characters.
  • It is easier to move between settings.
  • It allows for multiple subplots.

The disadvantages:

  • You must give each character a unique voice so they don’t all sound the same.
  • You can confuse the reader by switching POV too often.
  • It is easy to get lazy and narrate the action instead of show the action (show v. tell).
  • It is easy to head-hop (jump from one character’s head to the next character’s head in the same paragraph, scene, or chapter. *Use only one POV character per scene or chapter, and be sure to use a scene break if you are writing from multiple character’s POV within a chapter).

Mastering POV is important because if you don’t do it well your chances of success are minimal. You will frustrate or confuse your reader and they will throw the book at the wall, or worse, give you a horrible review on Amazon. Sorry. Mastering POV will give you the ability to write characters that your readers will love so they can’t put your book down, and, POV is essential to your ability to write a great plot that keeps the reader turning the page. It’s all connected.

Next time: More POV

The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Scene and Sequel

What is a scene? A scene is a sequence of continuous action that takes place at a specific location and time in your story. There will probably be multiple scenes per chapter though there are writers who write one scene and sequel per chapter. The structure will probably be determined by the genre you are writing, and your own personal writing style.

When writing a scene, it is good to remember that the action should build from the scene goal, through the complications, to the scene climax. The structure of the scene is similar to your overall plot structure, just much smaller. When the result of the scene goal is known, then begins the sequel section.

The Scene and Sequel structure, placed one after another, written with your characters’ actions and reactions, and showing cause and effect, allows the story to move swiftly forward. Correctly used, Scene and Sequel can eliminate the dreaded information dump, the overuse of back-story, and story sections that drag. The structure focuses on the forward movement of the story.

The general structure of the Scene and Sequel consists of three parts to each section:


  • Goal-this should be solid enough so that it requires immediate action for your character to reach it. This is more than likely a stepping stone to the characters main goal. It could also be the goal to get away from the antagonist, or a new plan after earlier failures, etc.
  • Conflict-this is what forces your character to move forward, and it should have a winner and a loser. Whatever the external conflict depicted in the scene is, it must be a clear and logical obstacle to the goal above.
  • Disaster-this is the roadblock that keeps your character from achieving the goal. You never want it to be easy on your characters. This new disaster should always make sense and be pertinent to what is going on in the scene. Disaster is the hook that makes the reader turn the page.


  • Reaction-now that your character has lived through this disaster, there is a physical and emotional reaction. This includes your character’s internal conflict. This is where you allow your character to muse, and feel. The sequel also slows down the pace because it is focused on the internal action rather than the external action and allows your reader to catch their breath and care about your character.
  • Dilemma-this is where your character goes through their internal Wikipedia to look at all the options, and/or tries to rationalize those options, and comes up with a new plan.
  • Decision-there can be only one possible decision that logically works for the scene. Whatever your character decides as the next best action plan is the decision. And this decision also gives you the goal of the next scene. It’s a good cycle.

If you use Scene and Sequel when you are working out your story structure, you will find that you are able to outline must faster. The Scene and Sequel may change when you get to actually writing, but you will definitely know where your story is going in any give chapter, and that knowledge can allow your subconscious to fly.

Next: No post next week. I will be doing my thing at Colorado Gold.