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I think there is no better brew than a hot cup of tea. Sam, on the other hand, thinks a strong coffee is better. I love My Little Ponies, whereas Sam loves video games, especially JRPGs.

I love a good old thrilling adventure story, characters with grit and determination and good old heroes. Sam likes stories with slow destructions and doomed love. So much ANGST!

The thing is, everyone, likes something, and it might not be the same as the next person. So we know that not everyone who follows our blog is interested in both of us or perhaps every article we write. Sam and I write different genres, we have different styles and different interests. It’s only natural that people want to follow one or other, sometimes even both.

Taking this into consideration, we decided it was time to split…emails. We now have dedicated email newsletters, one each, so that you can keep up to date with whoever you want to! We will both be posting a newsletter perhaps once a month or so, therefore we won’t flood your inboxes every day. We hope to use the newsletter to make announcements or release important information about our writing and upcoming books and such. We might even use it for polls or behind the scenes information on our characters and stories.

So if you are interested in hard-hitting, psychological science fiction, with complex characters and exciting plot, follow Frankie’s newsletter!

If you like Grimdark, adult, woman-centric epic fantasy with the occasional toxic romance or medical sci-fi, follow Sam’s newsletter!

And share them around with people you think might be interested!! We might even offer the occasional free peek in the newsletters! 😀  Links also added to the top pf the page 😀

Share it! You know you want to! 😀


#FrankieWIP NaNoWriMo Ends and Hardback Malevolence!

Frankie Av

Finished NaNoWriMo on just over 85 thousand words! I also ordered a hard-backed copy of Malevolence and it is so COOL!

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

#FrankieWIP NaNoWriMo and Fibromyalgia

Frankie Av

While I wanted to write a ton yesterday, I was only able to manage one chapter. Fibromyalgia kicked my butt, then the meds I take for it burned my stomach when one broke in my mouth! It wasn’t a good day yesterday….but I did write something 😀

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

#FrankieWIP Houston, We Have a Problem…

Frankie Av

Sorry for the way I sound, but my throat is really sore. Between fibro-fatigue, catching the cold and a probable rewrite on the horizon, this week isn’t going too well!

Music by Kevin MacLeod at

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

#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 Frankie’s Writing Process

Sorry this is a little later than usual, it’s been a helluva day!


Whether it’s chores, work, hobbies or general things in every day life, people like routine. Many writers and artists have a process which they follow every time they sit down to work. Today, I will tell you about my writing process.

My Routine consists of the following:

1) Create a Playlist

2) Plot a Map

3) Create Character Sheets and Board.

4) Place Ideas in Order

5) Create a Timeline

6) Create a First Draft

7) Review and Edit

8) Adjust Manuscript to Include New Information

9) Edit -streamline

10) Edit -smooth

11) Edit -enhance

12) Edit – review

13) Proof Draft and Editor

14) Review Edits and Amend Manuscript

15) Edit and Create Final Draft

16) Review Final Draft

17) Cover Art and Synopsis

18) Setting Up for Online Sale

This seems quite an extensive list, so I’ll go through them one at a time

1) Create a Playlist

Like many people, I enjoy writing to music. The music I listen to depends on what I am writing. Sad scenes require sad music, happy ones need upbeat tunes. But mostly, my works have their own soundtracks. I create playlists as ideas come to me, and sometimes music itself can trigger ideas. I’ve seen me standing in a shop, desperately trying to get my music-recognition app to work before a broadcasting song ends because I think it would be a good song for a particular scene. I jot down the title of songs I like and keep for future reference.

Come the time of actual writing, I gather all the music I have jotted down, create a playlist and name it after the working title. Through stages 2-6, the tunes are randomly played to help fire up my imagination. But when it comes to stages 7-12, invariably I play the same song on repeat for hours and days on end for as long as I am writing. This song is the one out of the entire playlist which suits my story the best. It is always instrumental or classical, as lyrical songs can break my concentration. Stages 13-16 are mostly music free as I like to fully concentrate without distraction. Malevolence was predominately written to Chad Lawson’s: The Chopin Variations 😀

2) Plot a Map

My map plotting consists of large bubble charts with all the characters and plot points written on it with lines connecting important parts together. I find this a great way to form a story. It is a visual representation of the ideas in my head, documented so I will not forget anything. A little like an animators storyboard, my charts allow me to visualise my story while figuring out all the little twists and turns I will take. At first they look terribly messy, but by the time I have the story straight in my head, they are ready for stages 4-5. Now that I use MindMaple, my charts are stored on my drive, but the initial mapping out is usually made in a notebook or on A2 paper.

3) Create Character Sheets and Character Board

At this stage I have a pretty good idea of who will be in my story. I write out a sheet for each character with all their information. Name, height, colour of hair and eyes, likes and dislikes, where they are from and what they do, and why they are in the story to begin with. By doing this, the character grows in my mind and I get to know them and understand them a little. Once the sheets are complete I then create a character board. If there is someone I believe is similar to a character, or if there is an actor/actress who I think could play a character, then I print out their photo and place it on a character board with a short bio underneath. This is my character visualization board. I use it to formulate ideas about the characters, and it makes them seem like real people. And yes, I also laminate the final versions and keep them 😀

4) Place Ideas in Order

At this point, everything is more or less figured out, but in a rather messy state. So now, I go through my charts and place them in order. I used to do this in a second notebook, one which I also use for jotting down all my ideas. These days, I use a spreadsheet, which is much easier and neater. Using the spreadsheet allows me to link documents to the main file, whereas my notebook is usually full of sticky notes and clipped on pieces of paper which are easily lost.

5) Create a Timeline.

By this stage, I just want to start writing things! But, in order to get the words down correctly, I need to know exactly when and where things occur in the story. I review everything I have so far then create a timeline for the story which I will then follow to the end. If I change something halfway through writing, I will update the timeline so I don’t get confused. The timeline is saved in its own document and becomes the main file for attaching chapters. Again, using it as part of a spreadsheet, allows for ease of use and input of links to chapter documents.

6) Create a First Draft

The first draft is always the worst to read, but it is also the most exciting part write. This is the time I get to really play with my characters and help them evolve into believable beings. I get to tell my story and theirs as I create an adventure purely from my mind. I don’t always write chapters sequentially. Sometimes I just want to get something important or exciting written down, and sometimes I just can not wait to write a certain part. Therefore, I might write chapter fifteen before I write chapter five. It might seem a little strange, but sometimes I just can’t help myself! By the end of this stage, no matter how long it takes, I have a pretty rough draft of my entire story.

7) Review and Edit

This is the start of the really hard work. The story itself is easy enough to write, but is it easy enough to read? There will be plot holes and missing information. Long-winded sentences and half written paragraphs. Maybe an entire paragraph would be better in a different chapter or further down the page. Maybe I forgot to add a scene which will render a future chapter useless. Perhaps I even forgot a character’s name halfway through writing. I have done this before and could not figure out who the hell Sean was until I re-read and discovered he was actually named Daniel up to chapter nine…. This is the time you will see mistakes and realise, this draft really isn’t good enough to read. This is the first of many editing sessions, but it is the one in which you get the story straight.

8) Adjust Manuscript to include new information

By the time I finish stage 7, I’ve scribbled notes on my notebook with updated information. Things like missing data, or an adjustment to the plot. If I’ve found anything wrong in the first draft, or discovered information I think is missing and should be included, this is the stage in which I make those adjustments. It is technically a re-write, but not a full change of story. All the adjustments are placed on the timeline so that as I re-write, I don’t forget anything.

9) – 12 or more…) Edit – Streamline, Smooth, Enhance.

The second edit of many, I’m afraid. Anything which does not read correctly, run smoothly or just looks wrong, should be picked up during these edits. I edit my manuscript as many times as I feel it needs until it reads smoothly. Grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, badly formed sentences, incorrect pauses and breaks. These are things I wont notice until the editing stages as–up until this time–all I’ve done is spill out all of my ideas into a story form, but not taken much care.

13) Proof draft and Editor.

If I have my story in a somewhat decent state, this is the time I will pass it to Sam for editing. I could edit and edit for a year and still miss things which Sam will see in one reading. There are times you become blind to your words and it takes a second point of view to see the mistakes and point them out. Sam is my editor, and I am hers. Together we get our manuscripts into a better state. Of course, if you go the traditional publishing route, you will be assigned an editor. If you wish to self-publish, you can hire an editor. Between Sam and I, we are quite happy with what we do together.

14) Review Edits and Amend Manuscript

Here is when I place all of Sam’s edits into my manuscript. Anything she has pointed out or suggested, will be added or deleted.

15) Edit and Create Final Draft

Once I have finished with Sam’s edits, I will then edit the manuscript again to create my final draft. When Sam has the manuscript, I take a back seat. This gives me time to forget what I’ve written in order to see it again with fresh eyes. I read the edited manuscript and often find there are corrections I wish to make, even though I have already edited it umpteen times. This is the reason editing is so important and why I do it so often. Even after Malevolence was published, as I read the pdf file for print version, there were parts I might have fixed if I had edited one last time. Perhaps if I had taken a step back for longer, I might have seen those problems before publishing. They are not terrible mistakes, but I might have worded things a little differently in places.

16) Review Final Draft

A very important stage as this should be the final edit prior to publishing. I want to make sure everything is absolutely spot on and perfect before I submit the manuscript. I take my time, read things over and over until I am sure they are right. Even though I have read the manuscript a hundred times and know it off by heart, I will read every single word to make sure I have it written to the best of my abilities. I find this the hardest stage, as all I want to do it get the story out there and on sale! As I’ve said before, I am very impatient person when it comes to my writing and art.

17) Cover Art and Synopsis

I’ve already got a good idea what I want as cover art by the time the manuscript is ready to go. I sketch it out on paper a few times before I then draw it out on my laptop as a digital illustration. For Malevolence, I wanted a clean cover. One with an eye-catching design but simple. I went through five designs before I decided on the right one. After that, I drew it all up, changed the colours and resized it until I was happy.

The synopsis for the back cover and blurb for sites was difficult for me. I’ve never been good at writing synopsis and in the end I asked Sam what she thought. We decide that we would write each other’s book synopsis and I found it easier to write one for her book than I did my own! I think the reason I have problems is because the synopsis is vital to attract readers. If it is badly written, chances are no one will look at the book.

This, is the proof copy of Malevolence in print! I only have three chapters to read before I amend the pdf and put it out for sale 😉

18) Setting Up for Online Sale.

This stage needs a full post of its own. Therefore, I will leave stage 18 until my next writing tip blog day.

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