The girl was scared of the wilderness, her heart pounding at every frightening noise. But suddenly, her fear disappeared. She touched the ground, and it felt like her new guardian.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, for one, this passage doesn’t actually paint much of a picture — and it fails to make me feel anything as a reader. That’s the core problem with writing that relies too much on telling. We’re told the girl is scared, that the noises are frightening, and that this place feels like a guardian. Yet there isn’t much evidence to back up those claims.

It’s a surreal experience to witness a story grow from the seed of an idea into a fully bloomed novel. And it all starts with landing on an interesting concept — the unique selling point, the elevator pitch that makes readers go, “Oooh, I want to read that!”

“Swear to God, Perce, if I remembered, I’d tell you.” I take another swallow of sherry straight out of the decanter and set it down on the sideboard, nearly missing. It lands a little harder than I meant. “It’s a burden, you know.”

“What is?”

“Being this good-looking. Not a soul can keep their hands off me.”

He laughs, closemouthed. “Poor Monty, such a cross.”

“Cross? What cross?”

“Everyone falls in immediate, passionate love with you.”

“They can hardly be blamed. I’d fall in love with me, if I met me.” And then I flash him a smile that is…

“You could rattle the stars,” she whispered. “You could do anything, if you only dared. And deep down, you know it, too. That’s what scares you most.”

The above quote comes from a pivotal moment in Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Some might find it cheesy, but writing YA means tapping into those teenage moments of feeling the world is full of infinite possibilities. When looking at the big picture, remember that fantasy stories are about capturing that sense of adventure.

The book that renewed my love for young adult fantasy was Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone, where wishes can be bought with strange currency:

It wasn’t like in the storybooks. No witches lurked at crossroads disguised as crones, waiting to reward travelers who shared their bread. Genies didn’t burst from lamps, and talking fish didn’t bargain for their lives. In all the world, there was only one place humans could get wishes: Brimstone’s shop. And there was only one currency he accepted. It wasn’t gold, or riddles, or kindness, or any other fairy-tale nonsense, and no, it wasn’t…

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

— Natalie Goldberg

When was the last time a book changed you? What stories have made you think, cry, fall in love, feel uncomfortable, left you in a state of awe or despair?

Pouring our deepest feelings into stories allows us to connect with other people across time and space. And in writing with emotional honesty, we better understand ourselves.

As much as I’ve internalized inspirational messages like “write the book you want to read” and “believe in your writing,” I still procrastinate and feel down about the quantity and quality of my stories. Change is easier said than done.

But on rare occasions, I’ll find a piece of writing advice that triggers a metamorphosis. My entire mindset shifts, and I become an altogether different type of writer, behaving in ways I had never attempted before.

These are the three pieces of writing advice that changed my life.

1. Aim for Rejection

In 2017, I started seriously submitting my writing to professional publications. That…

When I was asked to be a judge for the Page Turner Awards, the contest almost sounded too good to be true. The prizes were bigger and more numerous than normal writing contest fare: publishing contracts, audiobook productions, film rights options, and writing mentorships. But after scouring their website and watching the heartwarming video interviews with past winners, I was quickly won over by the organization’s genuine compassion for writers.

The judges are paid in good feelings, so the sole reason I’m passionate about promoting the Page Turner Awards is because it’s such an excellent opportunity for writers to be…

Trunk stories are novels or short stories you’ve had to bury because — for whatever reason — they feel lifeless. Here, I’ll explore tips and tricks for sensing when a story deserves to bite the dust or be reanimated with fresh parts.

“Trunk stories are stories you know aren’t good. Stories that don’t quite work and you can’t seem to fix. Stories you no longer believe in. Stories that taught you something valuable about the writing process but have no outer redeeming value.” — Alex Acks

A Personal Anecdote

There’s no such thing as a perfectly plotted book. In any story, you’re bound to find plot holes, flawed character logic, and boring scenes. Plus, it’s just not possible to please every reader. When you’re constructing your plot, take some of that pressure off of yourself and focus on telling a story that makes you excited to share it with the world.

To create that confidence in your work, you can avoid these four common plotting pitfalls I’ve encountered as a developmental editor, reader, and writer.

1. Lack of personal stakes

Diane Callahan

Fiction writer and editor, a.k.a. YouTuber Quotidian Writer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store