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Writing Hints

A compilation of useful information presented from the on-line class, "Learning Through the Rough Draft" taught by Lorraine Heath.

Write! Write! Write!

You can't "fix" something that hasn't been written. We read a book and what we see is the finished product and it's difficult to remember that the book:

Was once a rough draft.
Was revised, revised, revised by the author.
Read by an editor who probably asked for revisions.
Revised again.
Read again by the editor who made other notations; copy edited.
Returned to the author for additional small revisions

Then we get the typeset page proofs, read it again, and cringe, wishing we'd used a different word but changing it now is frowned upon...

I know it's hard. You just gotta write.

Rough Draft

In a rough draft there is no right or wrong.

All you have to do at this point is:

  • Introduce 1 or both of your main characters.
  • Give a hint of their personality.
  • Within a very short space…make the reader want to know what happens next.

There is no right or wrong way to write, with the exception of grammar rules.

If you don’t write your sentences and give them voice, the reader can't give them vision.

Each scene should have a purpose—even if the purpose is to simply let the reader come to know the characters better so the reader can understand the characters' motivation.

The writer often knows 3 elements of the story—how the couple met (if you're writing a romance)—the dark moment—the resolution. We don't always know how these three parts are threaded together. You might write many scenes and never use them.

When the rough draft is finished, you might discover you’ve allowed events to happen too soon. This is corrected during revision.

Rough draft is getting your scenes down. Revision is massaging them into place, revising them, reworking them, reconsidering them.

Writing the beginning is often easy. Writing the ending is often easy. Writing the heart of your story is harder than anything you can imagine—and if you're a writer, you can imagine quite a bit.


Write your rough draft in single space so that more of the scene is visible to you. When you feel you’re not making progress, do a quick click, convert it to double space, and feel that you've made great strides. Some authors find writing in double space works best for them because they fill the pages quickly.

What you must remember is that the rough draft is a journey—a journey toward completing a novel. It's an uncharted path. The more times you go through it with revisions, the smoother it becomes.

When you're lost —write, write, write, and see where the journey takes you. If you hit a stumbling block and can't decide where to go, take a good look at your characters.

Be aware of dismembered body parts. ("Her eyes darted around the room." "Her hand dropped.") You might want to change the subject so it isn’t a body part.

Write scenes out of order.

When a scene isn't working, copy it and place it in a "working" file and work exclusively on that scene.

Remember 90% of reading/writing is subjective.

For every description given, try to reveal something about the character. The characters are the most important element of your story and most of your writing should allow the readers know them —what they feel, think, see, hear, smell, taste—how they interpret their world. So write everything from a character's viewpoint.

If writing a scene and everything is going well, and suddenly you hit a part that you know you’re not in the mood to write (a kiss, a love scene, or a scene that requires a great deal of emotion on your part), put <NEED KISS HERE> or insert a comment note and continue on.


Can easily be added: select INSERT COMMENT type the note

Put notes at the end of your document if something comes to you while writing but you’re not sure where it goes

Keep a "Fact and Information" file for information that to be sent in with the manuscript to hopefully reduce the number of questions that the copy editor will have.

Time and Date Info

Additional Tips

Hooking the reader

Capturing the reader's attention can happen in a number of ways —with a great opening line, with narration, or witty dialogue. But regardless of which manner you choose, you must not lose sight of the partnership that you as a writer have become part of—your partner is the reader.

The reader has expectations. You must intrigue the reader from the beginning. You must make her feel that reading farther into the story is worth her time.

The general consensus is that you must have the reader "hooked" by page 3 at the latest.

A story can open with conflict, a threat, danger, suspense, unusual circumstances, an emotion such as fear, grief, terror, or sadness.

Before you begin writing, consider what you want the reader to feel during the moments she is reading your story. Visualize what she must feel and what the scene must look like or reveal in order for the reader to experience those emotions.

Show Instead of Tell

Point of View (POV)

Point of view is one of a writer's strongest tools.

Point of view can make all the difference in what your reader knows, perceives, and understands. If a scene isn't working for you, look at it through another character's eyes. When a scene is not as strong as it should be, it’ may be because it’s described it through the wrong character’s viewpoint.

POV allows you to determine what your reader knows and what she doesn't. It allows you to create the mood, to determine what emotions to bring into the scene.

In a POV you cannot reveal anything to the reader that the character cannot see, hear, taste, feel, smell, or know.

What does he or she think, feel, know—that's all the information you can give the reader—one character's viewpoint at a time unless you're using omnipotent.

The best way to stay in a POV is to think of yourself as that character.

Head Hopping VS Switching POV

Purists don't think you should switch POV within a scene or a chapter and the non-purists believe you can switch POV within a scene.

There is a difference between switching POV and head hopping. We don't want to head hop. A head hop is when you are jumping between points of view with each sentence or each line of dialogue, giving the reader the talking character's POV.

Try using an action to indicate a POV switch.

Write from a single POV is easier if you think of yourself as the character and envision the world through that character's eyes . . . the other characters become distant. Although they are there, you’re only concentrating on the thoughts and feelings of the one character.

One exercise is to take different colored highlighters and within a scene, highlight the heroine's POV in pink, the hero's in blue, and anyone else's in yellow. If you have a patchwork of colors, then you've head hopped.

In your revision process, you want to work to rewrite those sentences so that you have large portions that are one color.

Let the action, body movements, or dialogue "show" the emotions.

Each scene should have a purpose—even if the purpose is to simply let the reader come to know the characters better so the reader can understand the characters' motivation.

The writer often knows 3 elements of the story—how the couple met (if you're writing a romance)—the dark moment—the resolution. We don't always know how these three parts are threaded together. I can't tell you how many scenes I've written and never used.

An authors switching POV isn’t the problem. The problem occurs when there is head hopping. Head hopping is when a writer bounces back and forth between characters' thoughts. Or when we're in one character's head and we reveal information that particular character cannot know.

As long as you KNOW you are switching POV—it's an intentional switch...

As long as the switch serves a purpose —it has a reason and is needed...

As long as the switch is smooth—the reader shouldn't suddenly think -- oh, she's hopped into someone else's head . . . then there's probably not a problem with switching POV.


POV Omniscient and Authorial Intrusion are the same thing. This occurs when the author steps out of a character’s viewpoint to make a comment.

R & R … Rest and relaxation—not for the writer

R & R is rough and revise. Writing the rough draft and then revising it.

Review Lorraine’s information about foundations. Foundations consist of nouns and verbs.


Dialogue, like all of a writer's tools, can be powerful, emotional, and convey information. Dialogue needs to move the story forward. It should never be used to fill space.

The ways in which your characters speak should be unique to them. Ideally, your reader should be able to tell which character is speaking by the way in which they speak.

Think about the relationships in your life. When you first meet someone, you're usually cautious about what you reveal. As you get to know each other, you reveal more, you became less formal . . .

Be careful of dialect—it's dang hard to read. You can get your character's accents or dialects across with using a few words sparsely and well.

You want to pull the reader into the story and hold her there—you don't want anything to send her crashing back to reality before she's finished reading your book.

You don't always have to have a dialogue tag. Action can indicate who is speaking.

Editors tend to like dialogue because it gives a great deal of information in a short amount of time. There are times when narration is what we need to get the story across. So much depends on the story and the author's writing style.

Character Description

Some writers introduce what their characters look like by having their characters look into a mirror, a pool of water, a shopkeeper's glass, etc. (any reflective surface works).

Often times, themes of romance novels are the beautiful women who don't find themselves beautiful, and in those novels, it’s necessary to have both the hero and the heroine's perspective as to what the character looks like.

Lorraine's Visual Aids

Often writers use visual aids when writing:

a photo that represents the hero, the heroine, a building, a town, a house...

Some authors keep these items in notebooks so they can see what it is that they are writing about.

Use scents like a sarsparilla stick at your desk or a tiny cake of scented soap or a scented candle—and that might be the heroine's scent for that book.

Give the hero and heroine in each book a unique characteristic that no other character has can be something simple like always rubbing his palms on his britches or the heroine might speak with an English accent only when she gets angry... something small that helps to build an intimacy with the reader.


"Moments" in the story rather than adjectives and adverbs add the emotion. Small actions can do this because in order to feel the emotion, the reader has got to know the character.

Short sentences build tension.


Notice that everything in a scene is not visual. What did the door sound like when it opened? What does the room smell like? Taste is a hard one to get in, but perhaps the heroin could taste fear or bitter bile or the rustic flavor of blood from where she'd bit her lip to stop herself from crying out the last time he visited....What does the room feel like? Is it hot, dank, cold? Close your eyes, envision the room, and then rewrite the scene.

Each paragraph should have a purpose —each scene should have a purpose . . . there should be a reason that scene is there, something that is advancing the plot. Each chapter, a story within itself.


Tthe reader always needs to understand a character's motivation and if the backstory is key to that understanding, then you might need to reveal it early on. On the other hand, sometimes you don't tell it until the end.

Passive Voice

Passive voice. Never use it! "Be" verbs signal passive voice. Remove them from your writing!

Poor "be" verbs. Misunderstood and often maligned, referred to as passive when often they are active. It is not the "verb" that determines passive voice. It is the subject.

This is passive:

Example: The book was read by John.

This is action:

Example: John was reading the book when the tornado hit.

But, be careful when deleting all those "be" verbs because you can often change the meaning when you eliminate them.

Writer’s Block

Take your writing somewhere else if you can get away. Buy yourself a pretty notebook and cool pen and go somewhere alone for half hour to an hour. You can work on your present WIP or doodle or record conversations and rewrite them. (Sometimes this is really fun.) Inspiration comes in many guises and you never know if that grumpy guy in a too tight three-piece suit at the donut shop is going to turn up in your work but at least you are writing. Keep writing until your story comes back to you!

When you get stuck on one story, return to a different one that hasn't been worked on for a while. You might have 3 or 4 going. Or start another when you get a "brilliant" idea that just can't wait until your current project is finished.

Religiously do morning pages. This is an exercise artists use. Every morning when you wake up, write three pages of whatever is in your head.

Go to the bookstore and check out the new releases and read all the blurbs and picture your own book there with it's cover and blurb This might help you get excited to go back home and write and usually buy a book or two!

In a class with Tami Hoag years ago she showed how to use wheels to get unstuck or even just to begin plotting. You draw a circle in the middle of a sheet of paper then write a character's name or a situation in that wheel. Then you draw spokes out from that circle and draw another circle at the end of each spoke. In each circle you write a possible next scene or possible character that is connected in some way to the first. They can be as outrageous or serious as you want. From the second circle you can draw more spokes and more circles and keep going. Do this and it might help to stimulate your next scene.

Here is an example:

Cirlce one - man in prison.

Second circles - he's guilty, he's innocent, he's an imposter, he's really a she, he's a vampire, he likes being in jail, etc.

Third circles (select one of the second circles and go from it-he's an imposter) - he took his twin brother's place, he had plastic surgery and replaced his best friend in prison, he saw his son commit the crime and took his place, he saw his wife commit the crime and took her place, he traded places with another prisoner who looked like him, etc.


When we enter contests or ask someone to critique our work—we always have to remember that their comments/suggestions are based only on what they've read. They don't know the whole story, while we do. We have to take people's comments in that light—that their opinion is based on a limited reading of the story.

File Organization

One suggestion is to write in one file where the rough draft is simply a series of scenes. No chapter breaks. If another scene is needed it can easily be inserted between two others. This makes rearrangement of scenes easy. During the revision process, the scenes can be broken into chapters.

Redundant, Unnecessary, and Weak Words

Writing should be concise, each word of premium value. Redundant or unnecessary words bog down the writing and slow the pacing. Weak words often force us to use unnecessary words to get our meaning across. RUW: Redundant, Unnecessary, Weak.

Grammar and Punctuation

To show an exact thought, the thought would be underlined to indicate italics (note that even though your word processor allows you to have italics, a manuscript should still be underlined to indicate italics).

Wow, what a goddess!

You wouldn't use italics if you write:

Wow! What a goddess, he thought.

Or if you're simply describing her through his POV,

She looked like a goddess.

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