Category Archives: #WriteTip

#WriteTip: One Free, One Cheap, One Real

Sam av

Last week, our eBook retailer, Pronoun, surprised us all when they doubled our author royalties, released the long-awaited Author Pages, and opened the door to Free eBooks. I had always wanted to offer something to my readers for free, but previously Pronoun’s lowest price had been $0.99. This, as you can imagine, was big news for Frankie and me.

Almost immediately, I dropped the price to FREE on my fresh publication, A SHINY FOR TRICK. Then I flung it to the masses and more or less forgot about it.

Today I checked my email. Pronoun has been sending me updates on how my sales have been. Since I dropped the price to free, I’ve sold 29 copies. Granted, I’ve not turned a profit on any of these books, but 29 is about as many digital copies that I’ve sold of THE BLOOD OF NERYS.

I had hoped this would happen. I am so glad that it did.

I turned to my roommate this morning and told him about my discovery. We discussed something he had heard somewhere about marketing. That it’s best to have one free product, one cheap product, and a lot of your real product.

(Note: The prices I’ve listed here refer to eBooks only. Printing incurs the cost of paper and ink, so print copies naturally cost more. I won’t be covering print with this blog post.)

Free Books as a Marketing Tool

Most people will pull the trigger on a free book without so much as a second thought. They might never read it, but they CAN, and that’s all that matters at the moment of purchase. Offering something for free seems counter-intuitive. After all, at this point you’ve spent hundreds of hours on the thing and likely had to pay for editing, cover design, or other services.

The important point to keep in mind though is that almost anyone will pick up a free book if they are even slightly interested in it. With your free book, you are casting a net far and wide, hoping some of the readers you reach stick around.

Your free book should be, in my opinion:

  • Short (mine is 17K, about 58 pages)
  • In your primary genre
  • Readable by everyone you ever hope to reach with any book (kids? Adults? Both?)

This is the appetizer. At this point, anyone who took the time to read your free book should know what to expect from your writing. Plus, they’ll be done with the free book quickly, and hopefully want to read something else.

That’s when you bait them again with the cheap product.

Cheap Books Are Your Chance to Prove Yourself

Now, give them a real novel. In my opinion, your cheap book should be:

  • Between $2-5
  • A standalone novel
  • In your primary genre
  • Directed at your primary audience
  • A good example of what you’ll typically write about

You might want to have 2-3 of these directed at different audiences. If you’re planning on writing books for both adults and young adults, you would probably want one of each. If you have to choose one, choose Young Adult (YA). A lot of adults enjoy these.

But start with one, and then move on to your Real Product.

The cheap book should be a singular example of what you’re about here. Develop a full story, hook and hold a reader, give a satisfying conclusion. They should read this thing and want to read more books.

Alright. Give ’em Everything You’ve Got.

Time for the real thing. Your crowning achievement. That beloved world you’ve been dying to write that you plan to spend a lot of time exploring. This should be where you put your series.

In my opinion, your real story should be:

  • Between $4-10
  • A series in your primary genre
  • Directed at your primary audience
  • About whatever your heart desires

You might have more of these later. This is what you’d mainly be writing from now on. Keep working on major standalones or major series directed at any of your audiences in the genres you will write. Basically, you’d want to write a free book, then a cheap book, then a real product, and then spend the rest of your career rounding out your listings.

How This Looks for Me

  • My Free Book is A SHINY FOR TRICK. It’s directed at all audiences and reads like a grim (not Grimm) fairy tale. It’s mostly lighthearted at the surface, but it does dabble in some darker themes like obsession and starvation. It’s 17K and written for a younger audience, but to adults it might feel like a Pixar short. Rather adorable and entertaining. It’s pure fantasy–magical creatures, other worlds, magical boxes and magical treasures.
  • My Cheap Book is THE BLOOD OF NERYS priced at $3.99. This was actually my first book. It’s definitely for an adult audience. It has a little gore and a lot of swearing. The setting is dystopian with a blurry sense of setting (this is intentional. Whether or not this is our world gone awry or another world is entirely up to your imagination. Either works). It deals with large philosophical concepts like God, magic, and science. It’s medical science fiction with a twist of fantasy, with blood as a main component, and finished in one book.
  • My Real Product is ACHILLEA and the books that will follow. This is not published yet, but will be a trilogy, and then a later trilogy, and then some. I will be spending a lot of time in this world. I have built a familiar sense of place and person. I know these characters as well as I know real people, and I love them dearly. ACHILLEA was the first book I ever finished, and I’ve poured countless hours into refining it to make it perfect. This is an adult epic fantasy, rife with powerful female characters, espionage, and turmoil. ACHILLEA sits at 137K. The second book is in progress and currently at about 38K. (My foolish writer brain thinks writing book 4, the first of the second series in this world, is somehow a great idea, so that’s sitting at about 8K, too).I cannot wait for all of you to meet these characters. They’ve been with me a long time. Heike, Achillea’s surly captain, is my belligerent muse.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you enjoy the work Frankie and I do on this blog, the best way you can support us is to share the posts and share our books. Even if they aren’t your thing, but you believe in what we’re doing here, sharing them with someone who might is a huge help. As with any new author, exposure is always the biggest challenge. (And reviews!)

Thanks everybody! Have a great weekend!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print) and short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


#WriteTIP: All of the Writing Advice I Have, the Mega Post

Sam av

I am on lunch break and I’m in an interesting mood. History tells me that now is a good time to put some words down because it means they are going to come out weird, and weird is good.

For me.

There are so many thousands of writers out there, and post after post about the right and wrong things to do, what to do when you’re stuck, etc. You might ask yourself why you would care to read mine, then? Our aim with this blog is to inspire you. We want to make it impossible for you NOT to write. Remove the fears. Heap on the encouragement. Lead by example.

This is going to be a long post. I’m going to throw down everything I’ve got. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Where Do You Even Begin?

  • Throw out anything you’ve ever been told that is holding you back. If someone mentioned a ‘rule’ of writing that made you feel inept, forget it. If someone told you that you weren’t cut out, forget that, too.
  • Say stupid things. Don’t tell yourself your idea is bad. In your own mind and by yourself, be as weird and as out there as you want. Nothing in your own mind is too weird, too cliche, too overdone, too tropey, too dirty, too controversial, too scary, too fucked up, too anything. You are not TOO. You are you.
  • Imagine every possibility. Re-envision your idea as many ways as you want.
  • Start anywhere. With the character, with the plot, the villain, the setting, a single line of dialogue, a color. Wherever feels right.
  • Go anywhere. Skip around. Write the ending and then the middle and then a smut scene and then a death.
  • It’s okay to work on multiple things. If an idea only holds you for five fleeting minutes, that’s just fine, too.

Do not set limitations on your imagination. Your imagination is far more powerful than you can ever know. Tear away those chains and find out.

Things to Keep in Mind When Writing

  • Writing is hard.
  • Some days are easier than other days.
  • There may be long, pronounced periods of no productivity.
  • You will think you suck at writing.
  • You will want to throw it away.
  • Most writers do not write constantly
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect right now. The written word can be adjusted infinite times.
  • There is no right or wrong way to approach your task.
  • Every story is different, and some need to be written in different ways. They are as tricky and unique as people and require a significant amount of effort to ‘get to know’ them.
  • Set attainable goals. Maybe you can’t write 2000 words every day. Can you write a few hundred? Or can you write three days a week?
  • You will only get better if you keep writing. It’s okay to take breaks, even long breaks, but you won’t improve until you put words down.

Writing is a discipline, but not all of us are rigid enough to keep to it. It’s okay to fall off the wagon once in a while as long as you’re committed to getting back on it. No one can tell your story except for you. You are uniquely qualified to tell it.

Tips for the Writer Mind

  • Removing something from your mind frees it up for more processing. If you have an idea, write it down so you can think of the next one. The more you do this, the more you will think up.
  • Staring at a screen for hours decreases the quality of your work. If it’s not working today, find something else to do.
  • When you can’t write, read.
  • When you can’t read, play a video game or watch a movie.
  • Working on your story does not always mean writing. It might mean drawing pictures, searching pinterest for inspiration, sketching out timelines, scribbling maps, writing scenes for the story you don’t intend to publish, talking to someone about your story, thinking about a problem, or taking care of yourself.
  • Your mind is a delicate, amazing machine and requires a rich environment to thrive. Feed it well. Rest it well. Provide variety to hit all of its good buttons.
  • Reward yourself for good work.

Keep your word machine sharp with practice and discipline. Surround yourself with stories and bask in the magnificence of it all. Stories are everywhere. Soak it up.

Your Environment

  • Protect your writing time.
  • Learn to say “No” sometimes.
  • Remove distractions. This includes kids, pets, spouses, friends, family, the television, obnoxious background noise, and sometimes even disruptive music. Struggling to write through this is not an option. It will burn out your brain as it tries to focus on too many things.
  • Turn off social media. It’s a drug. It floods your mind with numbness and shuts the whole machine down.
  • Your writing space should be easily accessible, comfortable, conducive to writing, and have everything you need in it. Mine has notebooks, folders, binders, pens, pencils, blank paper if I want to draw, a flat, uncluttered surface, speakers for my music, a basket of snacks, and space enough for my laptop. There are books on either side of me if I need to pull one for reference.
  • A lot of people like to write with music. It’s hit or miss for me. I can’t write to music with words I can understand or I start singing and divide my focus. And sometimes, I need the music off completely. I know people who need utter silence, and I know people who can’t write without music.

Your writing space should have everything you need and be the place you go to write and work on writing. Make that the habit, and writing will come more naturally.

Take Care of Yourself

  • Don’t be too self-deprecating. It’s okay to be critical of ways you can improve, but tearing yourself and your ability down is self-defeating.
  • Know yourself. Your limitations, your weaknesses, your strengths. Find your method and stick to it.
  • Try new things. It gets your brain thinking about new stuff.
  • Get out of the house sometimes
  • Change up your routine once in a while. Sometimes that’s all you need to shake something loose.
  • Ask for help. Writers are noncompetitive. Friends can help by offering feedback or bouncing ideas off of. It can be hard to open up, but it’s absolutely critical.
  • Rest.
  • Pamper yourself. Get the good coffee and drink it. Have a bubble bath once in a while. Sit in the dark with music on and shut your eyes. Buy a small gift for yourself you don’t need. Get good pens and notebooks. It’s okay to geek about them, too.

After You are Done Writing

  • Celebrate!
  • DO NOT PUBLISH! Your work of art needs some aftercare.
  • Rest it. Let the words sit for a while and work on something else
  • Go back and edit! Polish up those words and make them shine! Now is the time to make sure you’ve used the right word choice. Editing is how you make sure your story is at its absolute best before sharing it with the world.
  • Beta! You need people to read your story and make sure it’s working. Betas will help you identify strengths and weaknesses and highlight plot holes for you to fix.
  • Keep going! Write more things!
  • At some point, you have to accept where the book is and let it go. Could you keep making it better? Sure! But if you hold onto it forever no one else will ever get to read it. Write ANOTHER book. A BETTER book. Keep moving!

The feel of finishing a manuscript is amazing! Make sure you enjoy it, but don’t get so excited that you release your novel before it is ready.


Ask yourself what you want out of publication, and decide whether traditional or self-publishing is right for you. Don’t let anyone else influence your decision. This is your work. Each pathway has its own share of ups and downs, so choose what you like better. Do your research for both sides. This isn’t a decision you should take lightly.

The publishing world is changing. Get what you want out of the work that you’ve done. Make the right choice, and then never regret it.

There are books that are terrible and books that are amazing. Most likely, you’re somewhere in between. That means yes, you CAN write publication-worthy stories.

Remember…no one can write your story except for you.

You just need to do it! And you absolutely CAN!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


#WriteTip: Why Scrivener is the Best Thing to Have Ever Happened to Me

Sam av

I’ve been hyping this program for quite a long time now, and it’s TIME. It is time for me to tell you why I love this program so much.

Scrivener is a word processor (think like Microsoft Word) specifically aimed at novelists, though it also has its uses for journalists, bloggers, students, professionals, etc. For anyone that is planning on writing a long project, this program is indispensable. Of course, there are a few comparable programs out there, but for ease of use and ‘bang for your buck,’ my opinion is that Scrivener is King.

The reasons for this?

  • It’s incredibly easy to use
  • You can import existing files to start using it mid-project
  • It’s fantastic for chapter and scene separations
  • You can drag and drop entire sections in seconds
  • It will format your book for you for eBook, paperback, or other formats
  • It’s remarkably CHEAP for how powerful it is
  • You can get it 50% off for winning NaNoWriMo

How I Used to Write

When I first started writing, I, like many writers, started with Microsoft Word. But as you probably already know, Microsoft Office is very expensive. Furthermore, for writing novels it’s actually not very good. You have to become a formatting expert and know how to use pretty much every feature of Word, for starters. And, writing chapters is a total pain in the ass. Either you write the entire book on one document with section breaks – which bogs down the program and makes it difficult to use – or you make a new document for every chapter – which makes it difficult to edit, compile, etc.

My workaround was to combine the use of Word and Excel. I’d use Excel to do all of my planning and keep the novel organized, kind of like a map of the novel. And then I’d make a separate document in Word for each chapter. As I’ve said, this is a total pain. Google Documents made it slightly easier, as I could hyperlink my documents in the spreadsheet, so I could use it as a launch pad for the novel and go anywhere I wanted to fairly quickly.

Why Scrivener Blew My Mind

Scrivener was both of the things that I needed in one place. I watched a friend drag and drop a whole chapter from one place to another and my jaw dropped. I was already sold. She outlined the whole book with shell chapters, wrote the descriptions on the index cards marking each one, and then wrote within them. If I decide later that I want to move a scene, a chapter, etc, I can just grab that and move it – drag and drop. The sidebar containing the chapters became my Excel spreadsheet. The window for writing became the Word document.

Better yet, I could load up pictures to the Research section for inspiration, as well as upload or fill in sheets for every character and setting, which I was also using separate documents for in Word and Excel.

The Best Part, and Why This is Totally Worth the $40

Scrivener formats your book for you.

If you’ve never tried to format, it takes a ridiculously long time and a LOT of patience. Endless tweaking, just to get it to look right. Having a program take your words and doll them up for you is fantastic. It only takes a few seconds, and it will put my novel into whatever format I want, whether it be ebook or print paperback or just a PDF for sending to friends.


I have trouble with simple formatting features like setting a permanent font and page indents. It seems like mine differ from project to project. It’s probably just something I haven’t figured out quite yet.

Frankie and I have also run into some issues like setting ‘Gutter Margins,’ which are margins that are wider where the book’s spine would be. These are staggered, meaning some pages have a wide left margin and some have a wide right margin, and Scrivener will do them for you…but only if you have the Mac version apparently. Frankie runs Windows, so sometimes she and I find some differences in what we are dealing with, and my Mac version seems to be slightly superior.

I also have not quite figured out Front Matter, but after watching this video I’m going to end with, I think I have a lead on how to figure this out.


If you win NaNoWriMo, you can get this for 50% off. That’s $20. It’s so worth it. Some people don’t love Scrivener, but at least 90% of the people I talk to who have tried it are rabid fans of the program (myself included). I love how organized the program is, and how much of the more nitty gritty legwork the program will do for you, like formatting.

I highly recommend this to anyone who is starting to take themselves seriously. There’s a certain air of sobriety that happens when Scrivener boots up.

It’s like, “Yeah…I bought a program because I’m going to write the fuck out of this book and things are starting to get serious.”

Because you just bought a program whose sole purpose is for you to finish this thing. You’re going to love it, though. Sometimes I just boot this up and stare at it, admiring the raw beauty of it.

It’s not because I can’t think of what to write, I swear.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!

#WriteTip Dream Writing: Divisional Spirituals; A Short Story

Frankie Av

I know a lot of writers who use writing exercises to help them practice. While I believe it is a great way to keep up word counts and a useful exercise all round, I never could get into it. Someone gives you a prompt then you go away and write about that prompt. The problem for me is that I either find the prompts boring or unimaginative. The writing exercises I enjoy are based on my dreams and nightmares. I have such crazy dreams that I have a lifetime supply of prompts to write about. Dream writing doesn’t have to be perfect or long winded, it’s simply an exploration of the wildest part of my imagination. This is my latest, written yesterday after an unusual dream the night before. It was very vivid and I remember most of it. The feelings I experienced during the dream stayed with me all day. It all seemed really important, very special and urgent.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my exploration of my crazy dream!

December 15th, 2151.

In the mid 2050’s scientists finally proved the existence of the soul. They don’t exist in some vague place in your heart or chest as once believed. The soul actually exists in the head, within the brain itself. When the proof was first published it sparked outrage throughout the world and was met with great cynicism. For many years science has been used to negate such fanciful imaginings, disproving God and the bible while destroying archaic beliefs and notions. Yet there they were, telling the world that the soul exists.

People began to wonder that if the soul exists, surely God must do also? In time a new religion was created; Soulism. The greatest teaching of the Soulist Churches was that God existed, and in order to get your soul into his loving embrace, you had to find Him. In a way, it was their way of forcing more pliable scientists to prove God existed once and for all. Not that they did. But what these scientists did prove, was that not every soul is equal. They discovered that some souls were fifty percent smaller than others. They went further and discovered that each of these half-souls, were actually part of another, and so Divisional Spirituals were discovered.  

Divisional Spirituals, or Divuals for short, are created when one soul is split between two bodies. These half-souls can never be complete until the death of the bodies each inhabit. Only then can the two halves become one again. Divuals are not soul-mates, that is something completely different. They are not two souls which were always meant to be together, they are souls torn apart during the universal recycling of spirit and matter–another thing discovered by the scientists. Souls are recycled and reused endlessly. This discovery led some to believe this proved the past-life phenomenon; when a person believes they have lived before. Anyway, no one knows the reason for soul destruction, or even why both halves end up inhabiting two separate corporeal bodies–often hundreds of miles apart. Some have hypothesised that Divuals are created when part of the soul leaves the dead body while the other half tries to remain behind. Perhaps this half has some sentimental notion attached to the old vessel, or perhaps it just can’t shake itself free and so the soul gets torn in two. It is further hypothesized that the fact matched Divuals can differ in age means that the two halves of the soul are recycled differently. Perhaps one half reaches the stage of rebirth many years before the other due to damage caused by the initial tearing. Perhaps the half which gets out first is simply recycled quicker, no one actually knows. The one thing the world does know, is that compatible Divuals die at the same time, presumably so the two halves of the one soul can combine again.

I was eight when I first found out about Divisional Spirituals and what it meant to be and live as one. My mother told me she was one. I remember at the time I didn’t understand what she meant. I thought she was telling me she had a twin sister somewhere. She often spoke about how death would make her soul whole, something else I never understood until I was older. I used to worry that she would die just so she could find her twin sister and leave me behind. But she didn’t. Well, she did die, but not until I was an adult of many years.

I remember thinking she was crazy. Especially when I started to read about the phenomenon myself. I didn’t look into Divuals and the proof of souls discovery until I was in my early teens. I thought it was a load of bullshit. I thought that some group of scientists had either been smoking something strong at the time of the discovery, or else they were playing a very big joke on humanity. But I changed my mind when I learned that I myself am a Divual.

When I was seventeen, my mum took me to the local Soulist church. The leaders of the Soulist church main goal was to reunite Divuals. When I was told I was a Divual, I thought of my mum and wondered if it meant I also had a sister out there who I would one day meet. The leader told me that if I ever did meet my other Divual half, they would trigger the Combination ceremony and join us. I have to admit this made me kinda scared. I mean, sure, it would be nice to meet my other half, but to join with them? What exactly did that mean? Marry them? Be physically joined somehow? It wasn’t until a few years later I discovered exactly what the Combination ceremony actually entailed. I stopped looking for my other half after that.

It is said that around a third of the human population are Divuals. One thing a Divual knows is just how lonely life is. This isn’t something which I can explain to any normal person with a full intact soul. There is no real way to explain it. But it’s as if there is a huge gaping hole deep inside me, filled with cold and lonesomeness. It’s like a pit of despair trapped inside you which continually sucks away your essence until you are nothing but a pathetic depressed individual. There’s just something missing, and without this thing you can barely function. But, you learn to live with it.  So yeah, there are a lot of really sad people in the world.

Once a year, on the anniversary of the discovery of the soul, there is a worldwide celebration. Soulist Day is on the first weekend of August every year and Soulism conventions are held around the world. It is a day in which Divuals come together to acknowledge their partial soul and perhaps heal it if they meet their other half. Combination ceremonies are held during these conventions, which is one reason why I rarely go to them. But, I went to this year’s Soulism convention a few months ago, and I was unlucky enough to meet my other half.

The conventions are a little like sci-fi conventions of old. People of the same mindset with the same interests gather together to enjoy their uniqueness. There are huge stalls with anything from summoning charms to soul talismans said to combine half-souls without the need of a combination ceremony. Now, these things are merely trinkets, they are just curious items with no such powers, but I like them. They come in all kinds of shapes, colours and designs, and I’ve collected them for years. I find them pretty, but not at all useful.

I was standing at a talisman stall when a small boy approached me. He had blond hair and large blue eyes. He was smiling as he tugged my sleeve. I looked around to see if his parents were anywhere, but he seemed to be alone. I asked him if he was lost, and he replied; “Not anymore.” I realised then, as I looked into his unusually wise and bright eyes, that I was looking at my other half, the Divual with the other half of my soul.

His parents appeared a few minutes later. His mother eyed me suspiciously as they dragged the young boy away. I guess they didn’t realise that their son’s other half could be an old woman. I suppose I would be suspicious too, you can’t be too careful these days, especially with kids and strangers. But when that little boy disappeared into the crowd, the loneliness I had felt for years seemed to double with every reluctant footstep he took. I was sure I’d never meet him again. That the chances of our one soul ever being reunited was so slim as to be none. When that little boy’s mum pulled him away, it felt as if that cold hole inside me had grown. Almost as if my own half-soul shrank small with grief.

I didn’t go after them. I mean, how could I ever make a normal soul understand what the problem was, or how it felt to live with only half a soul? It’s inconceivable, unbelievable. Even a person with a huge imagination can’t even begin to understand what it is to live as a Divual. How could I even start to explain to a young boy’s mother that me–a seventy-eight year old woman–was her nine year old son’s perfect match? It would sound seedy, creepy, it would sound so very wrong. It would probably earn me a trip to the hospital with a broken jaw and a police escort to jail once I was treated. And how could I ever expect that mother to allow her precious son to go through a Combination ceremony, for him to die at my side just so his little half-soul could join with its other half? No, I wouldn’t and couldn’t ask nor want such a thing.

I paid for the talisman I had gripped in my hand and left the convention with the understanding that my soul would forever be a simple half, never able to reach its full potential while never fully existing in this life. He was so young, and I was much to close to death for our half-souls to be joined in this life. My half-soul would be recycled without its other half, and so it would continue to exist until such times as both halves came free at the same time, in another life. 

As I walked outside the building and through the car park, I heard someone shouting. When I looked back, I saw the mother of the boy running after me. I was scared, so sure she knew what I was and that she wanted to make sure I never went near her son again. So I turned away and kept on walking. She caught up to me a few seconds later, stopped me going any further by grabbing hold of my arm. She didn’t seem angry, in fact, when I looked at her, she smiled sadly. She said it was customary for Divuals to exchange a gift with their other half. That her son wished to gift something in recognition of his half-soul.

I saw her son run up behind her, those bright eyes shining as he made his way towards us. He handed me a little stuffed brown teddy bear with a black hat on its head. There was a small piece of paper folded up and tucked inside a bow around its neck. He smiled at me then he and his mother went to walk away. I stopped them, gave the boy the talisman I just bought and thanked him. I watched them leave, wanted so very much to join them and enjoy some time with my other half. Because, when we were so close, I felt almost whole, almost complete. As if the dark pit inside of me disappeared.

When I got home, I placed the little bear on my shelf in the living room. Pride of place on the somewhat empty and dusty wood. I took the little piece of paper out and unfolded it, only to find two pieces of paper. The first one was from the boy. He had written it himself, that was clear. He’d tried to make the writing neat and tidy, large rounded letters which were joined in parts, broken in others. It said, “One day soon our soul will be one. I’m glad I met you.”

I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Then I read the second note. The mother had written this one, the handwriting was careful and clear. It said; “Terminal illness will force the day sooner than I can bear. He has some time left, but I’m not ready to let him go. We know who you are. We will come for you when it is time.”

It felt as though my heart shattered into a million pieces. Tears soaked my face as I cried piteously while rereading the two notes over and over. They knew who I was, had found me before I had even looked for them. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her to see me, knowing what I ultimately represented in her young son’s life.

It’s not often a person knows the day in which they will die. It’s not even often that a person knows how they will die. But I do. And it will be at the side of my other half; the tragically young and most beautiful Divual I’ve ever known.

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi  MALEVOLENCE

#WriteTip: Beta Readers

Sam av

When I first started writing, I didn’t understand what beta readers were. I’d read fan fiction and there would be a note from the author thanking their beta readers. It seemed unnecessary to me, or at least more tedious than it was worth. However, since I started taking writing more seriously, my opinion has completely changed. Beta readers are the most important part of this process. I will never again try to publish something without submitting to beta readers.

What is a Beta Reader?

Beta readers are people who read your book when you think it’s ready. You can do this before or after editing (I have seen people do it both ways). I typically do it after editing because often the beta readers get distracted by all of the typos and can’t focus fully on the story.

Beta readers are NOT editors. They may also be skilled editors, but that is not what they are doing when they read your book. They are only supposed to read your story and help you perfect the story itself.

Who Should Be a Beta Reader?

Assembling your beta reading team is up to you, but there are several things to keep in mind.

  1. You must be open to critique. Commit to making the story the best it can possibly be. It’s your baby and you owe it to your story to do what is best for the novel, not protect your ego. You may hear feedback you aren’t going to like. Someone might hate a character, or suggest you delete an entire arc of plot. They may say things that inadvertently hurt your feelings. It is important to remember that they represent your potential readers. You don’t have to accept every single thing they say, but you should at least be listening.
  2. Your book is not published yet, so choose someone you trust. A despicable human being might take your manuscript and publish it as their own. You could probably fight that and win, but it’s best to just avoid it. Even then, it may be a good idea to back up the authenticity of your work. Any timestamped material would help you with this. One way to do that is to print it and mail it to yourself. The post office timestamps the envelope.
  3. Choose people who will honestly criticize. You want people who will like your story, but you also need feedback. If everyone who reads it is just going to tell you it’s awesome (or awful) without offering any input, your book won’t be as perfect as it can be.
  4. Choose people who would like your genre. Don’t beg a hard sci-fi reader to read your romance novel. They aren’t going to enjoy it or even appreciate it properly, so they won’t give you meaningful feedback. They also won’t have a great understanding of what the story should be like, or the experience reading your genre you need them to have.
  5. Choose varying levels of readership. I have several layers of readers.
    1. The first people I submit my novel to will be the easy-to-please readers who will mostly tell me they love it. They can help me find the major flaws but not much else, and that’s fine. I know the novel is worth pursuing if it makes it past them. Family members may be good choices.
    2. The next people I submit the novel to will be people who don’t really want to hurt my feelings, but who read and write in my genre. They will help me fine tune mechanical devices and pinpoint necessary/unnecessary passages. They will critique the structure of my story as well as the plot. These are typically my closer writing friends.
    3. The last set of people I submit to will be readers/writers in my genre who are also writers and have no interest sparing my feelings. They are usually more removed friends who are incredibly picky about what they read and know exactly what to look for.
    4. Finally, after I have taken the first three beta readers into account and made necessary changes, I have a final set of readers that represent the broader fan base. Basically, I want to make sure I can please 5-10 readers and determine if the first three readers were too unique. A fluke. This is an added layer from me, as not doing this the first time led to me publishing a slightly disappointing scene in my first book.

How Many Beta Readers Do I Need?

As few or as many as you want, really. The more you ask, though, the longer you will have to wait to be finished. Reading your book might take a long time. However, if you don’t choose enough people, you might not get enough feedback.

What Should They Look For?

Beta Readers should be helping you shine up your story. Ask them to focus on muddy/unclear parts, point out what they love and what they hate, and especially flag what confuses them.

I linked this blog post on our blog, but am quoting it here:

1. At what point did you feel like “Ah, now the story has really begun!”
2. What were the points where you found yourself skimming?
3. Which setting in the book was clearest to you as you were reading it? Which do you remember the best?
4. Which character would you most like to meet and get to know?
5. What was the most suspenseful moment in the book?
6. If you had to pick one character to get rid of, who would you axe?
7. Was there a situation in the novel that reminded you of something in your own life?
8. Where did you stop reading, the first time you cracked open the manuscript? (Can show you where your first dull part is, and help you fix your pacing.)
9. What was the last book you read, before this? And what did you think of it? (This can put their comments in context in surprising ways, when you find out what their general interests are. It might surprise you.)
10. Finish this sentence: “I kept reading because…”

Lastly, thank your beta readers for their help. The work they do for you is incredibly important to the success of your novel. 

Special thanks to all of my friends and beta readers, even the ones who upset me. I try to keep my frustration to myself. Feeling angry is often just my gut reaction to the work that has to go into a story to fix it. That’s just me raging in general that I messed up, not me getting angry at anyone in particular.

Because honestly, the work that ACHILLEA needed (and still needs) to prepare it for publication was daunting and exhausting, but it is going to be worth it when it is finished, I promise!

Thanks for reading!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!

#WriteTip: Sam’s Writing Process Part 4: Editing

Sam av

This is now part five of a series about how I write stories (it’s labeled part 4 because the first one is more of a primer). You can find previous posts here:

This is it…the moment we’ve been waiting for. Time to talk about editing.

Editing is a funny thing because most people seem to think that writing is where all of the effort happens. It isn’t. I mean…it really isn’t. I might spend about 15% of all of the time that goes into one of my novels actually writing it. The rest is mostly tied up in the editing process.

NaNoWriMo’s “Fix it in December”

When you start gearing up for NaNoWriMo, one of the core values of the exercise is that we do not edit our shoddy, craptastic novels until December rolls around. The idea is that we should focus all of our efforts solely on spraying our ideas out on paper to sort through later.

I don’t believe in this notion.

I tried it my first year, but what ended up happening was that I wrote several plot points that I wasn’t completely on board with, which caused rippling effects all throughout the rest of the novel. When I went back to edit, it was a process more arduous than it needed to be. I basically had to unravel the plot all the way back to the weak points and then re-weave them later around stronger plot. It took far too much time.

Now, that’s not to say that “Fix it in December” doesn’t work for you. Maybe that’s what you need. Sometimes the Inner Editor can be a total bitch, and instead of trudging forward during the month of November, you end up mired in The Perfect Word Choice for a week at a time.

That’s not what happens to me. I self-edit, and I do so often. When I even kind of hit a wall and get stuck, I go back to the very beginning and just start reading my story over again. The more I do this, the more I breathe it in and taste it. By the time I hit where I’m stuck again, I usually have a better idea of where the story needs to go based on all of the ideas that led me to that wall.

There is no wrong way to do this, though. Patrick Rothfuss, who I mention often, likes to point out that Brandon Sanderson hardly edits at all, while Pat himself will edit the same draft at least 200 times. One author is obsessive about perfecting his own drafts, while the other excels at finishing the draft and writing another, leaving the editing to his team. You don’t have to be good at editing or even grammar to be a good writer. You only need to be a master of storytelling.

After all…once upon a time stories were told in the oral tradition, spoken from one generation to another. There wasn’t any such thing as a typo.

The very first thing I do when I finish my draft is read it. I can’t help it. Since it’s finished, I want to read it from cover to cover and bask in my accomplishment.

However, the very next thing I do is put it the fuck down. Yep. I walk away from it. For a long time. Sometimes months. I put it away for long enough to basically forget every word I have written, so that all that remains in my mind is a generalized description of what happened. I want to be able to see my words as if I am seeing them for the first time. A set of fresh eyes will show you things you didn’t see before.

Try reading some of your old work sometime. It’s enlightening!

Looking at it after a long time makes this process a lot easier. I read the book slowly. There’s no need for me to breeze through the story anymore…I have a pretty good idea what it’s about. Now I’m looking for things that would bother me as a reader. If you have a hard time following all of these components at the same time, you could consider reading through it several times with a different set of criteria each time. I read each of my drafts at least 15 times before I am done. Or, you could simply write down a list of what you are looking for before you begin and keep it close.

I look for these things:

  • Rhythm and pace – as I said, stories were meant to be spoken aloud. Someone somewhere may read sections of your book out loud. You want that task to be easy, and you want the words to sound awesome leaving someone’s lips. Words all have a different ‘mouth feel’ (this is a beer term, haha).
    • The very best way to test for this is to actually read it out loud. Which is incredibly tedious. And also, embarrassing. I read my book to my dogs. I’m serious. See?


  • Typos & Grammar – Obviously. Most people aren’t good enough with this to be able to edit themselves. Many of us are at least passable. Most readers are willing to forgive a few mistakes, but too many errors can get distracting. I self-edit all of my own novels, but I have writing-savvy friends look over them, too, before I publish. I’m not willing to pay for editing services. I believe I am worth at least 85% of a great editor. I’m willing to take the hit on a few small mistakes to avoid shelling out the cost. I’m not going to be a bestseller, probably, so if I don’t cut costs where I can, this becomes more of a ‘hobby of privilege’ than it does a career, yeah? If you need one, hire an editor. If you NEED one and can’t afford it, try to get a friend to help out. If possible, maybe trade favors. People like me don’t really mind editing. It’s not terribly difficult and lets us read a new story. I wouldn’t do it for completely free, but I don’t feel like I’m worth $800 or anything.
  • Word replacement – Strengthen your vocabulary; replace weak words with stronger ones.
  • Deletions of crap – Remove extraneous words. You can almost always delete the word ‘that.’ Also look out for: really, very, just, actually, extra dialogue tags, simply, etc. Many adverbs (but not all, no matter what anyone says) can be replaced by choosing better verbs (said quietly can be whispered, for example). There are lists of words to look for all over the internet.

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.”
― N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

  • Characterization – Make sure your characters stay true to themselves. If a character is going to act aside from their nature, there has to be a reason for it that’s well-understood. Also make sure your characters are believable.
  • Dialogue – Conversation should be natural. The way that people talk does not always follow grammar rules. People interrupt each other. They get distracted mid-sentence. Some characters have inside jokes, or don’t even need to talk to understand each other. Conversation uses a lot of contractions. People tend to want to use the fewest syllables possible to get their point across. Most people won’t speak in large vocabulary words. People talk with different accents or inflections that may add depth to your characters. For example, meeting someone with a thick accent might be difficult or shocking to sheltered characters. Sometimes, characters get impatient or annoyed with whomever they are talking to. Keep all of this in mind.
  • Chapter structure – Chapters should not be too long or too short. I aim for between 2000-5000 words, typically, but it depends on what you want. Also, each chapter should have its own mini-plot arc with a beginning and end and a climax. They should each feel like a small complete story. I almost always leave these on cliffhangers.
  • Timeline, setting, distance, continuity – the temporal space of my world is often something I have the most trouble with. Does the weather make sense? Do the seasons change at the right time? Does one section move too fast while the other moves too slow? Is it clear how much time is passing, or am I going to confuse a reader? This is one of my biggest weaknesses right now. I have no concept of the passage of time or how long it takes to travel somewhere. Fortunately, I don’t think most people would notice, but I’m still actively working on it.
  • Unnecessary sandbags – Every word in the story should be required to move the story forward or enrich the plot. If the scene is unnecessary to your goals, it needs to go.
  • Scene order – Some scenes need to be moved up or down to make the story flow better. Keep an eye out for these.
  • Repetitions – Don’t restate ANYTHING. If you described what a person looks like early on, don’t ever do it again. Don’t rehash what happened in a previous scene or book, don’t have characters explain things to a person more than once. This bores you reader, and that’s a cardinal sin. More subtly, don’t rephrase a sentence just to say it again. That’s basically word masturbation and isn’t doing anyone any favors except yourself. Delete the extra sentences.
  • Sentence order – Much like with scene order, sometimes all you have to do to fix a section is to change the order of the sentences. In my opinion, this is one of the more advanced techniques. It takes time and experience to develop an eye for this.
  • First and last lines – Do this last-ish. It doesn’t take a lot of work…just a lot of thinking. You need good first and last lines for hooks and cliffs. Storytelling is all about creating an experience for the reader.
  • “Info Dump” – Look out for excessive backstory and loading readers with too much to wrap their heads around all at once. Try to feed them information slowly. The easiest way is through conversation with other characters. Dialogue is important for educating a reader. If this were a movie, info dumps would never be learned anyway because how would you even add that to a screenplay? Voiceover?
  • Eye Rollers – Cliches, tropes, overdone themes? Don’t overuse any of these things. If you irritate your reader enough, they will throw your book and leave it there on the floor.

Okay. That’s a lot. And to be honest, I’m sure I’m missing something. Take your time in editing. You only get one shot at this book. Once it’s published, it’s that way forever unless you release new editions, and that’s tedious and mostly unnecessary. However, at some point, you do need to let it go. This is sometimes the hardest part. Make your story as good as you possibly can, but don’t try to stretch beyond your current skill level. You can’t write the next book if you spend your life on this one, after all.

And if you’re certain it won’t ever be ready, then simply set it aside again and move on. After you have acquired more skill and experience through practice, you can revisit your novel and make it even better!

Next time I’ll talk about Beta Readers…the last step before you can actually attempt to publish this thing.

I hope this has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


#WriteTip #WeCreate: Double Post Special. Work space and Cutey Bear!

This will be a double post, covering #Writetip Friday and #WeCreate Saturday.

First off, write tip!
One way to get into the writing zone, is making sure you have a work space which helps you focus and concentrate–even generate ideas. The work space in my office looks so terribly messy, but everything is there for a reason.

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  • There is a skull to the left which remind me of how fleeting life is, and how scary your mind can be.
  • There are some of my action figures dotted around which help me remember fantastic scenes and stories which I can draw on for inspiration.
  • There are my posters, similar to the figures in the feelings and memories they invoke. Of course, Captain Scarlet was always finding himself in peril, much like my own characters!
  • There are my work boards with my character sheets, flow charts and story outline for Emergence, so I don’t get lost in my writing.
  • I have my speakers set up for playing my writing play-lists which help me to concentrate.
  • There is my cup warmer to keep my tea warm while I write as I often forget I made one!
  • My actual space is relatively clear so I don’t get annoyed while typing.
  • My chair is set up at the right height, with cushions on it for comfort.
  • Lighting is set up so I don’t strain my eyes, the monitors are at 50% brightness or lower depending on how dry my eyes are.
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Some of my little friends! 😀

All of this makes me happy, and I think you need to feel happy in your work space, otherwise your writing will suffer due to your frustration.  Sometimes my work space changes if I feel I need a certain mind set, so I might change it around a little. But, for the most part, all of these items remain in place.

What is your word space like and why? Let me know!

As for #WeCreate, I received this in the mail today, all the way from Hungary. It’s from my dear friend Kitti, and she made it herself as a gift for me.

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As I’ve said before, art can mean many things to many people, but it all means something. I can look at this lovely little bear and see the work which went into her creation. Every stitch made in a certain way to shape the form of the bear. The choice of yarn used, to give her a smooth and pretty finish. The little bows as added accents, just to make her so cute. But there is more in this little bear than her stuffing and material.
There is love in every little stitch, thanks in every piece of stuffing and she is friendship existing in a material form. Yes she is adorable and cute and well made, but to me, she is more than just a little bear; she is a symbol of friendship. Therefore, I named her Amity, which means; Friendship!
And now, she sits on my work space, next to the skull and the alien from the first Independence Day, to remind me that not everything in life is harsh and depressing. Sometimes, life is beautiful. 🙂

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F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE


#WriteTip: Elevating Your Writing

Sam av

This is now part four of a series about how I write stories. You can find previous posts here:

In this one, we’re going to discuss a few tips for how to strengthen your work. This one kind of assumes you know what you’re working on and what you want to achieve.

Remember, this is just a discussion of things that I do. You should pursue your own way. My way is not the only way nor is even perhaps correct.

Embrace Your Style

The way that I write is character-driven. In this style of writing, the focus is on character development and relationships between them more than anything. I’m not out to create a generic, lovable, relatable hero to attain glory in a magnificent plot. I’m not attempting to pursue a classic tale of good vs. evil. I’m not particularly poetic. I’m no good at spinning a mystery. I don’t have the patience for sweeping setting and excruciating detail.

When I write, I want you to know the people I write about. I want you to feel for them. I want them to hurt you, and I want you to get excited, bite your fingertips, throw the book in frustration, and cry.

For me, the plot is a vehicle.

There will likely be plenty of writers who don’t like the way that I write or say that I don’t know what I’m talking about…and that’s fine with me. I write because I like it, and because my readers like what I do. This is my distinct style.

“Great chapter, each one makes me feel so many different emotions and is sooo addicting.” -Reader, on one of my fanfics

Could I improve? Of course. I always aim to do so. But I don’t believe my style will change because so far, it hasn’t. Every piece I write is strong in character emotion and not overly focused on worldbuilding (this, I am working on). I know my strengths and weaknesses and I have areas I am working to improve.

But for this blog entry, I’m going to try to tell you how to do what I’ve just described. How do you hurt a reader?

For starters, you make your characters real. Make them human. Give them flaws and aspirations, fears and secrets. I could go on for months about character creation alone, but to pull off a character your readers can never forget, you have to make them unique and possessing of a powerful personality–not an overbearing one…just deep and complex.

Real people fuck up. Kind of a lot, actually. Characters shouldn’t always have a full understanding of every situation and how their words and actions are going to affect those around them.

Real people can be wrong. Characters that always know exactly what is going on or exactly what a person meant by what they said are boring.

Real people don’t miraculously have the answers. Knowing exactly what to do in every single situation is simply not feasible.

People don’t all talk with the same cadence. Everyone has their own style, whether they’re loud and boisterous, unable to keep their mouths shut, shy and quiet, formal, or crass.

Make your characters interesting and readers will be drawn to them for different reasons. Don’t aim to make every character likable. I don’t like everybody, for example. You probably don’t either. Hell, I don’t even like half the people I meet. If someone is completely irritated by one of your characters, so be it. So your character is annoying. At least your reader feels something for them, even if they are just counting pages until he or she dies.

Prepare for Death

Character death is marvelously fun. But in order for a death to be meaningful, you have to prepare your reader for it.

And I don’t mean prepare as in, let’s soften the blow so the reader is ready for this.

Oh no.

I mean quite the opposite. Let’s make this really hurt. And to do that, it takes a little bit of lead up. Don’t kill a character right away (unless that’s how your story starts, of course). Spend some time developing that character. Give the reader time to get to know them, to love them, to care about them.

And then off the character.

Better yet, leave that character’s story slightly incomplete. Like, maybe they were on their way to fulfill their life’s dream and now will never get to, like telling someone they were sorry or that he or she loved that person.

Make it slow. Don’t kill them off too suddenly. Give it time to sink into the reader so they have time to freak out properly, wondering if you are really doing this to them.

Make it resonate. Refer back to the character or bring up things that remind people of them for a long time to come. Break your other characters with this death. Make this death count. Let chaos reign.

Complete the cycle. Let the grieving happen. The anger. And the healing.

Rhythm & Pacing

Certain types of scenery will have a certain ‘feel.’ I try to capture this with the word choice and rhythm. Sometimes, I use longer, flowing sentences (word people will tell you that long sentences are bad). Sometimes, I go shorter. There are occasions when the sentence calls for angry, clamoring words like crash, slam, and crunch. When the situation is softer, use softer words like whisper, brush, and press.

Certain scenes also need a certain pace. When we’re in the middle of the action, we should get to the point. This isn’t an anime. We can’t take time out to rehash a backstory. Actions are often rushed, chaotic, confusing, and high-intensity. By contrast, a seduction would take more time. The pacing should be more drawn out, slow, and rife with sensations.

You should always consider the reader. Is what you have written and the way you have written it going to be an invitation to skim the words? Or do you have them riveted?

I am also a huge fan of the one-line sentence. This would be a sentence that is given its own paragraph to stand out and have more impact. This is about as close as I get to poetry.

The months slid past, a continuous cycle of the same old shit. Fighting, planning, predicting, being wrong, patching up wounds and moving on. In time, she almost had herself convinced she’d dreamed it up, sliding back and forth between both opinions as often as the sun set in the west and rose again in the east. He either kissed her or hadn’t. He either loved her or didn’t. She either dreamed it, or it was gorgeously real.

Of course, she couldn’t just ask. What if it wasn’t real?

What if it was?

 Chapter Structure

Chapters should be as long or as short as required to complete the concept. A good rule of thumb is for a chapter to be the proper length to finish in a single sitting. I shoot for between 1500-5000 words per chapter, which is 6-20 pages in a paperback novel.

Every chapter should be like a mini book, with its own conflict, climax, and resolution. It should feel like a satisfying endpoint that wraps up the chapter.

If possible, you should try to leave it on a cliffhanger. If you can get the reader to convince themselves that they have to read one more chapter, you’ve succeeded.

Be Brave

One of the hardest things is detaching yourself from a fragile ego. Somewhere along the way you start to question your own writing.

  • What if this offends someone?
  • What will people think of me if I write this?
  • What if my family/friends read this?
  • Can I really let anyone read this?
  • Is this too dark?
  • Should I shy away from this fucked up thing?
  • Is this too bold?

Forget all of that.

Now, let’s walk that back a little bit. Because you don’t want to be completely offensive. But if your character is offensive because your character is an asshole, let that go. If your character is offensive because you secretly wish to offend someone and you’re living vicariously through a character, you have a different problem entirely.

But don’t shy away from what the book needs, even if it takes you down dark and twisted rabbit holes. You don’t have to publish it if you’re concerned…but if your book has a direction it’s pulling, you should at least indulge it just to see.

I once wrote an erotica fan fiction (yes, me.). It was a bit on the darker side and a bit on the controversial side, and when I mentioned it in conversation on the internet one day, I got shredded by a troll on Tumblr. I almost trashed it. A couple months later I got brave and just posted the whole fucking thing.

I wrote up a big ol’ disclaimer. 5000 words of explaining myself. And then I trashed the disclaimer and instead wrote this:

Got ripped apart on Tumblr by a vicious troll while I was writing this and got cold feet. I wrote it in October and am only posting it now.

I wrote a 5000 word disclaimer, then discarded it.

My final verdict on me writing this: there was a story in my heart that needed to be told. I told it. You don’t have to read it, but I DID have to write it.

Flames will be deleted and I won’t respond to them.

Any questions, feel free to ask them.

That said: excessive trigger warnings… you’ve been warned.

If they hate it, they hate it! I had to write it!

And it quickly soared to my number 2 story, only a runner up because the #1 story is 3 years older than it is and had a lot of time to rack up views. I get the best, most heartfelt, fervent feedback from it.

Because there are things we don’t talk about…but that doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t want to.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!

#WriteTip Character Bio: Kai Burton

Frankie Av

To be able to write a convincing character, you have to know your character inside and out. Not just their appearance or how they speak, but how they think and feel and why they act the way you imagine. You are the creator of this person, to convince others this person is real, you have to know the character and believe in them yourself. Take these two character bios for example:


Name Bob Brown
Reason for being in story Street cleaner. Just a bit character for my main character to interact with


Name Bob Brown-AKA- Can Man
Reason for being in story Can Man imparts advice to main character which will help her in solving the crime.
Interesting points for character and run down 1) Can Man cleans the street with a broom on which is tied a red ribbon.

2) Not paid to clean the streets, just does so every day.

3) Ribbon on broom is from a little girl who gave him the broom to replace the one which was broken the day Bob saved her from being hit by a car.

4) Bob moves stiffly because he broke his leg in the incident.

5) Bob cleans the street for no pay or recognition because his own daughter died when she tripped over a can and fell into oncoming traffic

Obviously this is only for illustration purposes. A bio like this is only relevant for your major characters. There can be bit-characters, background people who do not need a backstory. But having a little backstory for your main characters makes them more believable, makes them come alive in the mind of your readers. A character bio will make your character come alive in your own mind, and allow you to create a well rounded, believable character.

The character I’d like to show today is Kai Burton from my book Malevolence. He is the main protagonist of the story and much of it revolves around him. The person I feel resembles Kai the most is Gerard Butler. Though this isn’t an exact match, it’s near enough for me to base Kai’s character picture on Mr Butler.

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Name Kai Burton
Reason for being in story Main Protagonist
Details DOB: 05/06/1973

Body: 6’2” tall. Dark blue eyes, dark shaggy brown hair. Perpetual five o’clock shadow. Well built physique. Small scar above right eyebrow.

Personality: Dependable, loyal, trustworthy and reliable. But also cynical, moody, stubborn and at times intimidating–especially following an event which took place two years prior to Malevolence.
Interesting points for character After almost fifteen years of service in the army, Kai has his fair share of horror stories. He suffers from PTSD and crippling nightmares, though he does not allow this to define him.

A very focussed and intelligent man, Kai is the one in the story who many rely upon for friendship and help.

Run down Kai struggled to find work after leaving the army and answered an advert to join the team at fictional Kali Institute in Edinburgh as a paid research subject. He and his best friend Logan McKenzie both entered the Mentis A-3 trial, and both suffered the consequences.  

Kai became what is referred to as a Mind Adept; an evolved person who developed telekinetic and telepathic powers. But it’s not easy being a Mind Adept; it’s not like it is in comic books or movies at all. In fact, it is extremely punishing for those who evolved into Adepts, especially those who were left with the most powerful effects of the serum. Most of the Adepts struggle daily with their powers, some even withdrew from society after finding it too difficult to live near other people.

Kai is one of the strongest Adepts. His mind is powerful, his abilities far reaching. He is able to hear and sense the thoughts and emotions of those around him and over quite a distance. He is able to project his own thoughts and emotions to others, as well as manipulate objects with his mind. But being this powerful has left him with a mind far more fragile than one might believe.

He has a hard time dealing with his abilities, even though he has been in possession of them for over two years by the time Malevolence begins. Often overpowered by the thoughts of others around him, Kai struggles to maintain equilibrium within his own mind. There are times his abilities overrun and he finds himself inundated with the psychological information from others. This can lead to a very dangerous condition called, Overload–something Kai has experienced on a few occasions.

  Kai has learned to protect himself against Overload and psychic saturation by blocking his powers. This puts him under a lot of psychological and physical stress, something which leaves him utterly exhausted. This is when he is at his most vulnerable and the danger of Overload is at its most high, therefore Kai tends to sleep a lot. This allows his brain to rest and recover from processing such large volumes of psychological information. If he does not rest, his powers get out of control and this can lead to dangerous situations.
  It is because of the danger his powers and mind pose that Kai made the decision to become a full-time tenant living within the Kali Institute. There are a few of the original test group living at the institute after self-contained flats were built in the below-ground levels following the disaster of the MA3 trial.

   Despite all of this,  Kai is actually the most balanced of the Adepts. His regimented and disciplined mind allows him to wield his powers far more skilfully than almost all of the others. He is highly proficient in their use making him the second most powerful of all the Adepts.

   Kai’s belief that the Kali institute had a duty to care for those affected by the MA3 serum, and his convincing advocacy of this belief led to management creating the homes in the below-ground levels of the institute. It also led to the formation of training and counselling programs for those who struggled with their powers.

   Kai is driven to find Louise–creator of MA3–with the hopes of forcing her to reverse the effects, and bring her to account for what she did during the trial.  As a result, he makes himself a target for her hatred and wrath.

And there you have it. The character bio of the lead male character in Malevolence. This is a slightly modified one as spoilers have been removed. But this character sheet allows me to understand Kai and his part in the story. I hope you find this as useful as I do and that this post will help you in your writing! 😀

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE



#WriteTip – Sam’s Process Part 2: Writing

Sam av

This is now part three of a series about how I write stories. You can find previous posts here:

This post is going to cover the main event: writing the story. It sounds like a simple action. It should be the fun part. All you have to do is sit down and put in the work. It’s not that simple, of course. Although I can type at 80 words per minute, that doesn’t mean I’m going to write a complete novel in 21 hours. Just because you can write fast doesn’t mean that you will or that you should. My best NaNoWriMo day was about 14,000 words. By that logic, I could finish NaNo in 4 days and write 50 books a year.

That’s obviously not what happens.

But I can tell you how my writing process looks, and you can draw your own conclusions about yourself.

I’m going to reference NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in November) because I am the most productive in November. I get into a routine and I write the words. If you’re interested in NaNoWriMo, I recommend giving it a try. There’s no cost to participate. It’s just you against yourself with 50,000 words between you and your goal in 30 days. If you fail, there’s no harm done.

When I decide it’s writing time, the very first thing I do is make a strong pot of coffee. It doesn’t matter how awake I am already or what time of the day it is. I need coffee. It’s not that I need the caffeine to stay awake or anything. Caffeine speeds up my brain. I think faster, I become more articulate, and I get a little silly.

I’m dead serious about my coffee intake. I have a level I call ‘baseline caffeine.’ That’s the amount of caffeine it takes for me to be a normal human being and function properly. This is for the first two to three cups of coffee I have in a day. It makes me pleasant, awake, and focused.

Anything after that is nice, up to about 6 cups. In this area of coffee intake, not much changes. It’s just a slightly increased time during which I am pleasant and productive. I use this time to finish my workday at my actual job, and maintain general happiness until I get home.

But past that, things get a little crazy. I have miraculous abilities to recall vocabulary words and turn clever phrases. My brain starts spitting out crazy lines of poetic prose that just flies off my fingers like mad. If I am with a friend, it translates as saying the most ridiculous, outlandish stuff. It’s a fantastic time.

So between the time I start writing and the time I finish about 8 hours later, I consume another 2-4 pots. Yes, pots, not cups.

After the coffee is made, I ease into my work by reading over where I left off the last time. It reintroduces me to my own world and provides a bit of momentum. When I’m done with my first cup of coffee is when I will begin writing, and then it’s writing + coffee until I get too tired to continue.

Writing time occurs for me between 5pm-5am. I operate at my absolute best after midnight, actually. The entire house is quiet and none of my online friends are awake. There isn’t even anything good on TV at that time. There are no other distractions…just me, the coffee, and the words.

If I try to write before the quiet time of night, I get dogs in the lap, cats in the face, a husband who keeps only lightly interjecting at the most inconvenient times, and a roommate who could keep talking for hours.

Some people prefer to write in the morning, like they prefer to run in the morning. I disagree with the entire concept of mornings (and running, now that I think of it), so this doesn’t work out for me.

I like to write about relationships. I don’t mean romance, though, although I do dabble in romance and erotica (a bit…). I like a book that is character-driven, where the characters are complicated and real, make all the right mistakes and have all of the best flaws.

I like characters that make poor choices sometimes in a moment of panic. I like characters that mess up. I have main characters that aren’t necessarily lovable, but that you can’t help but admire at the same time. I get some criticism sometimes in my fan fiction for not following what I would call “fairy tale” plot lines. I’ve had perfectly decent characters cheat on their spouses or lie to a friend. I’ve had love stories that don’t work out. I’ve had villains die by freak accident rather than epic showdown (sometimes, it just happens).

The reality of the world is that most people are good people…they are decent, hardworking, loving people who take care of their families, donate to charity, and help out the helpess. But everyone has flaws, and the world is full of surprises. Everyone has done something they aren’t proud of. Some of us never talk about it, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened. Books don’t let characters hide these flaws.

I like to challenge readers. I like to give you a character who you mostly love that does a despicable thing you aren’t sure you can forgive. I like to mislead a reader into thinking someone is all good or all bad and then challenging that perception. I like to force a character to make a difficult choice with no good answer, hopefully one you would struggle with, too.

Basically, I like to show you real people you might actually know, and show you a side of them you might not have considered…it’s a side that might have been there the whole time, but now you have to decide how you feel about it. Can you forgive them?

Can you admit when you’re wrong?

Would you have done the same thing?

…Can you be so sure?

I build plots around the interactions and characters I want to work with. I start with the relationship and I think about what kinds of situations would yield this kind of drama, and I build out from that.

Trajectory and Pace

For the most part, I start writing at the beginning and just follow a linear path all the way to the end. I just move from one scene to the next. When I am thinking about a particular scene and where to go from there, I’m usually thinking about where the biggest reaction or the most impactful initiating action would occur. For instance, if you killed off a major character, you might go to the next scene where someone important to that person finds out, or you might go to that person’s friends/advisors who now have a lot of difficult things to deal with in that character’s absence. You wouldn’t go to a completely different topic. And, if you just closed up an arc (a series of events that is kind of like a mini-plot), you’d want to start an event that will continue to progress your major plot. Like, if you just resolved a character death, you’ll want to start up the aftermath…where do your characters go from there?

(I talk about character death a lot…I have my reasons)

While I typically will take a linear path through my story, there might be times I deviate from that. I might have strong inspiration for a particular scene that happens much later. This can sometimes be the case when I’m thinking of a big argument, a major revelation, or a character death. I usually get excited about writing angst and emotional pain. It’s kind of my thing. If the plot doesn’t get disturbing or upsetting at some point or another, I have no interest in it at all. If I am attempting to write, but I keep getting distracted by something that is meant to happen later, I might take a time out to write that part first just to get my mind to shut up, and then I’ll go back to where I was.

Some days I write more than others. That’s just the way it goes. The important part is that I do write something. Getting in the habit of writing makes it easier to keep writing as time goes on. If I take too long a break between writing sessions, I spend more time trying to remember where my mind was when I wrote a thing rather than thinking up new words. During NaNoWriMo, the daily goal is 1667 words (this post, for reference, is 1047 words at this point now). It really isn’t much. I set my personal daily goal at 2000 words per day, and am happy if I write between 2000-5000. I can write 2000 words in an hour, yet it still might take me all day.


Distractions, mostly. Writing is hard and it takes discipline. If I get stuck, at all, my mind wants to wander away to easier tasks. Social media is a major setback. Most of my time spent ‘writing’ is time I spend beating myself up about needing to write.

Also, a small portion of that time is spent looking at the words I’ve written, trying to figure out why I’m not completely happy with them.

The NaNoWriMo forums will tell you not to edit in November…that you can fix it when NaNo is over. From my own experience, this does not work for me. If the words don’t work now, they’ll derail my story for later. If I have a poorly written plot point, all I derive from it is poorly written plot. I have to sort it out in real time.

The grammar and exact word choice can wait.

Kind of.

But editing is the next post…we’ll get into that.

A lot of people complain about hating what they’ve written. I don’t have that problem, actually. While I’m writing words, I am usually a slave to the story, completely at the mercy of the characters and the plot. I’m in it. I’m not a writer on the outside looking in like some might feel. It feels to me like I’m right there next to them. What I write isn’t necessarily my choice…it’s merely a set of observations given a space on a page.

I like to tell new writers to imagine their story like a movie. Sit there, and watch, and write down what you see. Be descriptive. Like, pretend you’re trying to describe it to someone who can’t see the movie. You can always rewind the scene and look at it again and write down things you missed, but take notes on your movie. That’s your book.

Writer’s Block

If you get stuck, there are things you can do. I will talk about some of that during editing. Other authors have also discussed how they handle it. I’ve talked about Writer’s Block before, too, and so has Frankie. There are also links in our Helpful Links section, like this blog post.

I find quite frequently that if I have Writer’s Block that isn’t the fault of having a short attention span, the problem is that I need to make a change in the story, and perhaps scrap that particular scene in its entirety.

Do something drastic and see what happens.

The Aftermath

As soon as I detach myself from the words – after the story is written – I’ll start to doubt them. I’ll wonder if the plot sucked or if I wrote poorly. This is not the time to go back and read it. Your story is still fresh in your mind. You’ll be more critical than you need to be.

We are our own worst critics. This is true. I talk to good writers all the time that  self-deprecate and insult their own work. Actors often say they hate watching their films. Writer often hate reading their books.

I don’t, though.

I write what I write because I want to read it. One of my favorite hobbies is going back to reread my old work, after I’ve forgotten half of what I have written. It often surprises me how good it can be, although I can obviously see things I could have done better.

The thing to remember is that if you don’t tell this story, no one else ever will.

Watch this video if you are plagued by self-doubt.

If you ever start to doubt yourself, look at your main character as if he or she is a real person. You put a lot of work into that person. They are almost alive now. Can you really tell them you’ve given up on them? That their story is not worth telling? That you’re going to shut the book on them forever, and that they are doomed to be forever silent?

See, I have characters that I think about doing that to, and all I can think about is, “Heike’s going to kill me. I can’t.”

How do you know when you’re done?

It depends. Will there be a sequel or not?

If the answer is no, you need to be 100% resolved in a satisfying manner. Unless you’re evil, like I am, and you want to leave your audience with an open-ended ending or a major question to think about. I like endings that make me think. What you don’t want to do, though, is leave your book feeling unfinished. Were all of your plots resolved? Did all of the events have an ending? You don’t want to stop a book mid-war, for example, without letting everyone know who wins.

Leave it on a line that resounds, like a bell chime in the dark. Don’t leave it on something cheesy and contrived. Leave it on something that might leave someone breathless, like “Wow…” rather than something that leaves them rolling their eyes.

Someone might read this, after all!

If there will be a sequel, you need to have a lot of your story resolved, but have something that leads into the next book. Just enough to leave the audience clamoring for more without making them want to murder you for leaving them there while they have to wait.

I was going to talk about editing next…but I think we should spend more time on how to engage an audience. In other words, how to elevate The Plot into The Story. Let’s do that.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!