Overusing the Simile

A simile is a comparison that uses “like” or “as” to draw a connection between two things. Sometimes, images illuminate our understanding of what a writer is saying and bring us to a new level of awareness or appreciation. Other times, the simile is overkill. Are you guilty of this writing faux pas?

simile, simile in writing, simile description
The simile can be an evocative flourish, but does it duplicate your efforts?

The Point of Imagery

Imagery, including simile, is best when used to evoke a feeling or idea that isn’t clear from the text itself. For example, if you want to say that “she looked as comfortable as a cat on a hot tin roof,” you’d mean that your character is awkward or uncomfortable or, worse, pained by the scene in question.

Imagery in writing is best used when it can bring additional dimension or meaning to a moment or scene that wasn’t there before. Whether or not to use an image, like a simile, should boil down to whether you want to evoke something specific in the mind of the reader. Ideally, something emotional.

Overusing Simile

However, many well-meaning writers end up with more imagery than they need by overusing the simile in particular. For example:

Grandma Lois had a collection of cactuses. Like a little desert in her living room.

He’d never felt so empty before, as if someone had scooped out his insides with a serving spoon.

The porch sizzled in the sun, like it was an oven turned on “low”. She fanned herself with her magazine.

If you take a look at all of these descriptions, one thing might hit you … like a baseball bat. They’re obvious. And not only that, but they’re redundant.

The use of simile writerly flair to these sentences, but is this something we need in the first place? Or will readers understand what you’re saying perfectly well without the additional explanation that the imagery brings to the table?

Paying Special Attention to Simile

Why have I singled out simile for this article, in particular, as being potentially redundant? Well, the trick is in the comparison. Sometimes, an image will stand alone without explanation. This is called a metaphor if it doesn’t use “like” or “as” and can refer to any use of imagery in your writing. But once you invite a direct comparison with “like” or “as,” it becomes a simile.

In order to make the comparison complete, you are naming at least two things that you then tie together. By naming the first thing and the second thing, you may be inviting redundancy … even unintentionally.

When you think of using simile in your own writing, ask yourself: Would this image best be served as a metaphor instead? Can you trust the reader to get your meaning without indulging in the temptation to explain?

Your use of imagery is a key part of voice. Hire me as your novel editor and learn whether your writing is as effective and evocative as possible.

Writing in Different Children’s Book Genres and Categories

The unique thing about kidlit is that there are many children’s book genres and categories to choose from, and the divisions in children’s books are much more segmented than, say, the adult fiction world. (The reason for this is simple—your audience is changing drastically in regards to their ability to read independently, they are also changing according to age, maturity, and a ability to process and understand information. These same kinds of changes simply don’t happen as rapidly to readers from other demographics.)

Many children’s book writers are interested in writing for more than one age group. Read on if you want to learn about writing in several children’s book genres and categories.

children's book genres, children's book categories,

The Difference Between a Genre and a Category

First, one nit I like to pick: there’s a difference between a “genre” and a “category.” A lot of people call picture books a “genre.” Nope. But this line of thinking is so prevalent that I’m using the keyword “children’s book genres” to talk about categories so that more people find this post now and in the future.

A “genre” is a stylistic description. You immediately know that a romance is going to be a different style of book than high fantasy or hard sci-fi. That’s “genre” at work.

In children’s books, we have different “categories” or “audiences”. Books that fit into these are each written for readers at different ages, of different reading abilities, and in various stages of mental and emotional development. That’s simply because kids from age zero to eighteen make a ton of leaps.

You can familiarize yourself with the available categories—from board book to young adult—in this Manuscript Length: How Long Should a Children’s Book Be? post.

Writing Across Children’s Book Genres

Now that you know the lay of the land of children’s book genres and categories, let’s say you want to write for multiple audiences. This is totally worthwhile, and there’s more commonality between, say, a chapter book and middle grade than a business nonfiction book and a memoir for adult readers. The characters are similar in age, the language is similar, and the intended kid readers are going to be only several years apart from one another.

The first thing to know is that you must be very comfortable with multiple age categories before you attempt to write, say, a picture book on the one hand, and a YA romance, on the other. Understand the differences in your reading audiences in a holistic way first—what will each age of kid want to read about?—and then bolster that understanding by using appropriate language, word count, and character age. These differentiators are the bare minimums when it comes to writing across children’s book genres and categories.

It’s also crucial to understand that these category guidelines and requirements are going to be somewhat inflexible. You can always write a 300-page picture book full of words at a college reading level, yes. But your odds of publishing one successfully in the tradition or indie setting are going to be very low, because such a project is unlikely to speak to your target audience.

It takes many writers a while to learn and deeply understand the needs, requirements, quirks, and sensibilities of one children’s book category. If you can bring this keen understanding to two or more children’s book genres or categories, you may be a good fit to “double dip” or more.

Building a Career in Multiple Children’s Book Genres or Categories

Because of the intended audience in kidlit—children—we face unique considerations when we want to build a career writing across children’s book categories or genres. In my consulting practice, I hear variations of the following question all the time: I write racy erotica, but also board books. How do I market myself without scandalizing children or confusing the BDSM crowd?

This is obviously an extreme example, but the conflict remains. It’s also compounded by the fact that, through about middle grade, your readers are technically and legally unreachable online and you’re marketing to parents, educators, and librarians instead. It isn’t until upper MG and YA where you are actually reaching your intended target audience.

My advice goes back to what I learned as an agent when doing career counseling: You are welcome to switch children’s book genres or categories, if you can pull more than one off well, but only after you’ve established yourself. Write three really strong picture books, then attempt to publish and market a middle grade.

If your audiences are two different, consider setting up multiple areas of your website and social media, or multiple accounts altogether (in the example of your erotica presence vs. your board book marketing). I would discourage aspiring career-makers from hopping around, first to picture book, then young adult, then middle grade, then chapter book.

You can write all of these children’s book genres and categories at one time, if it keeps your creative fires burning, but I wouldn’t attempt to publish them in such a sporadic pattern. Make a name in one arena, then branch out. Otherwise, you may confuse your audience and waste precious energy and marketing resources duplicating your brand-building early on.

Looking for custom career advice? Hire me as your publishing consultant and we can draft your way forward together.

Now Hiring an Editorial Assistant!

It’s that time again to grow my amazing group of talented writers, designers, editors, and marketers! Right now, I am looking for one or more editorial assistants as my existing editors step up to work on their own lists.

As an editorial assistant, you will work alongside me on projects that come into my editing business, Mary Kole Editorial, as well as Quick Crits that come into the Good Story Company. I will continue to be the primary editor on every project, but I am looking for someone to do proofreading work, research comparative titles, and otherwise support me and my clients. I will train you in my editorial approach, including the concept of interiority, so that you may become proficient in applying my principles to manuscripts down the road, perhaps even with your own list under the Good Story Company umbrella.

Familiarity with my work is a big plus. Ideally, I am looking for a long-term relationship with the right individual or individuals.

Read, comment, make your voice heard, learn the ins and outs of the writing and editing craft, and get paid for it!

About You

The ideal candidate must be well-read in the current marketplace, with a focus on picture books, middle grade, and young adult, but, ideally, with wide interests elsewhere as well. I work on genre and literary fiction outside of the kidlit space, including a lot of narrative nonfiction, for example. For this opportunity, I am especially interested in at least one candidate with a passion for picture books, early readers, and chapter books. The ability to reference contemporary published titles in an informed way is key. (The ability to read quickly while retaining information is also a huge bonus!)

Proofreading is a large component of the job, so the ideal candidate will be proficient in grammar, usage, and formatting. English training at the college level (or above) will be given top consideration. Also key is the ability to summarize what you’re reading so that we can discuss projects. Providing micro- and macro-level feedback will be a big part of your role. In terms of editorial work, you must already have some affinity for giving constructive response to writing in progress, and this skill will be developed according to my editorial philosophy.

From a logistical standpoint, I’m looking for someone with good time management skills, who is very communicative, can set and then meet (or exceed!) expectations, and is otherwise honest, punctual, and responsible.

It will help if you’re already comfortable with, proficient in, or (at least) very driven to learn:

  • Google Suite: Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms
  • Trello: a project management interface
  • Dropbox: a file management system

Fluent and engaging written communication skills are a must, as you’ll be representing a company that is for writers, by writers. From a personality perspective, excellent accountability is my top priority. You need to be driven enough to motivate yourself and communicate about any potential problems (like missing a deadline) way ahead of time.

I don’t have the bandwidth or energy to chase someone around and constantly check in, nor do I want to set up that kind of overbearing dynamic. I want you to be very excited to kick butt independently!

Job Details

Pay is hourly, and you can expect to work up to 20 hours per week, but the ideal candidate would have bandwidth for more hours, if needed. Training is paid, and there is a 30-day probation period before the official hire. The pay is $16 per hour with room to grow, paid monthly. You are a 1099 contractor responsible for filing your own taxes. You will receive a 1099 instead of a W2 each year.

I love entrepreneurial, self-starting personalities, but I ask that you not engage in any other freelance editorial work during your tenure. It’s perfectly fine with me if you have another job, even in a related field, but you will be contractually excluded from acting as direct competition.

Since we do not provide benefits like health care or a 401k, I make it a point to provide learning, growth, personal, and professional development opportunities. I’ve enrolled members of my team in about $10,000+ worth of online classes. Before the COVID pandemic, I hosted an all expense paid four-day retreat in Arizona for my entire team.

I am looking for US-based candidates at this time, who are able to legally work in the US. Within that parameter, the job can be performed remotely from anywhere, though I will ask that you be available for check-ins with me during my business hours. I am on Central time. The only necessary tools are a computer with Microsoft Word and Internet access … as well as your passion, knowledge, willingness to learn, and creativity, of course!

Company Culture

I’m Mary and I have been in the publishing business for over a decade. I started the Kidlit blog in 2009, published my book Writing Irresistible Kidlit in 2012, founded Mary Kole Editorial in 2013, and Good Story Company in 2019.

At Mary Kole Editorial and Good Story Company, we believe in helping all writers unlock their potential. We’re also passionate about doing good. In 2020, I launched the Good Story Grant and gave away an award of $2,000 to one writer to enable them to make an amazing dream come true for her project, and $500 so a runner up could take a very important trip. Starting in 2021, I’m making a commitment to increase the grant and earmark one award for a writer of color. I can’t wait to see what kind of creativity the Good Story Grant facilitates in the future!

I’m a female founder working my way up in the business world and building a company that makes a difference. My team is a fun and motivated crew of writers, creatives, nerds (said with love!) and more. Our work, from the editorial team to the marketing team, is highly creative. But we’re successful, too, and only striving to become more so.

More than anything, I want to inspire my future editorial assistant and give you the tools and firsthand experience of what it means to run an amazing independent  business. My dream for you is that you stay with me for a long time, but then maybe go on to build something yourself, using what you’ve learned!

How to Apply

If this sounds like a good fit for you, I’d love to hear from you with a resumé and cover letter sent via email to:

mary@goodstorycompany.com

The deadline for applications is midnight Central time on July 10th, 2020.

The next step of the interview process is a phone interview, followed by a written editorial test. I am looking for candidates available to start training and working ASAP.

Please note: If I have considered your application for another opportunity within the last twenty-four months, please refrain from applying again unless you have relevant new experience that you’ve added to your resumé since the last time you submitted your information or were interviewed.

I welcome the opportunity to hear from diverse applicants! Thanks so much for your interest!

Your Query Letter Hook and Revealing the Ending

The query letter hook is the “grabby” part of the query letter, where you include a logline, or one-sentence description of your story. If you’ve heard me talk about self-editing and revision, you may have seen me call this your book’s “mission statement” as well. What is it about? Who is the main character? What is their main struggle? And what is the theme or bigger picture idea behind it?

query letter hook, logline, query letter
What’s the query letter hook? And do you reveal the ending? Or do you use rhetorical questions? Read on to find out!

Query Letter Hook

To write an effective query letter hook, think about the number one most important thing you want the query letter reviewer to know about your story, as they pertain to:

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Theme

An example for a picture book like Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown might be:

When Mr. Tiger tires of being proper and reclaims his wild side, surprising things happen all around him.

An example for a YA novel like The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon might be:

Two teens from very different cultures and with very different priorities collide as one of them is about to be deported, and have to decide whether to give love a chance.

Now, one thing you might notice is that both of these loglines are open-ended. What happens to Mr. Tiger’s friends? What effect does going wild have on everyone? Do the teens give love a chance? Does the character get deported?

For a query letter hook, this can be desirable. It creates some tension and invites the agent or publisher to keep reading. Normally, the hook or logline belongs at the very top of the query letter. But then what? Do you fill in the blanks with the rest of the letter? Here, my opinion flies in the face of some other thought leaders on the topic, like the wonderful Jane Friedman.

She says that you should tease and avoid revealing your ending in the query. I say, if you’ve engineered an amazing plot, let’s see it. An agent wants to know if you can tell a story, and whether it’s a story that has enough substance and excitement behind it.

Rhetorical Questions and Revealing the Ending

The rest of the query letter will expand on your story. Who are the characters? What is the main thrust of the plot, including the biggest three or four plot points? Even a picture book query letter could go into more detail than what I’ve mentioned above.

How do you land the query, then?

I argue that your query letter hook involves more information, not less. If you leave agents and publishers hanging with a rhetorical question, for example, by ending your Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and The Sun Is Also a Star query letters this way:

Will Mr. Tiger be true to himself?

Will Daniel and Natasha give in to their hearts, after all?

… is your query letter really doing the full breadth of your story justice? I will tell you one thing right now that I know to be 100% true:

No agent will be so maddeningly compelled by your open-ended query letter hook or rhetorical question that they will read an entire novel to find out how your tease plays out.

There is simply not enough time in the day. If your query letter is open-ended or teasing or doesn’t clearly portray the story you’ve written, an agent may lose interest and move along because it’s too vague. There’s not enough substance. They are most certainly not going to breathlessly request and read 300 pages to scratch a small itch created by a coy query letter.

Instead, you can end your query letter strongly by revealing the ending to bring the query letter hook full circle, like this:

Only by going extremely wild—at the risk of alienating everyone—does Mr. Tiger bring more self-expression to himself and his whole community.

The deportation goes through, and Natasha and Daniel don’t get their happily ever after. Lest readers think all is lost, they meet again years later, opening a surprising opportunity for the universe to continue to work in its mysterious ways.

By doing so, you may actually get more interest because agents and publishers will see that you have plot chops and will want to see how you get the story from Point A (the set-up) to Point B (the ending that you’ve revealed).

A picture book about extreme self-expression? Let’s see how far this goes! A YA romance where the leads don’t end up together? What the heck? I want to read that and see how the writer pulls it off!

I hope you can at least entertain my point that this reveal generates interest that is much more compelling than some teasing rhetorical question.

I can be your query letter editor, and bring over five years of experience as a literary agent (and over a decade in publishing) to the project.

Two Opportunities for Black Writers and One Long-Term Commitment

In light of recent events, the Good Story Company and I have decided to do our small part to celebrate and amplify Black writers in our community. Personally, as a Minneapolis resident hoping so desperately that our city can lead the world in terms of creating positive change for justice, I want to do what I can.

The US publishing industry consists of a demographic that identifies as 76% white, 74% cis woman, 81% straight, and 89% non-disabled, per the Lee & Low Books Diversity in Publishing 2019 survey. Yet our world is so much more diverse than this, in terms of both writers and readers. If I’m not actively contributing to fighting systemic inequality, I am part of the problem. So I’m offering two immediate opportunities to writers and published authors who identify as Black, and one long-term commitment to all writers of color.

Why Spotlight Black Writers and Authors?

It’s undeniable that we live in a deeply divided and unjust world. Why am I choosing to spotlight specifically Black writers for the first two offerings and not opening these particular opportunities up to all minorities, indigenous people, and people of color? I firmly believe that this particular time in history has focused its lens on the inequalities lived every day by Black people in America.

That is not at all to say that those of us who come from diverse backgrounds, religions, have visible or invisible disabilities, live with mental health struggles, or are seen by society as “other” in any way don’t deserve opportunities. However, opportunities have been systemically denied to Black people and Black artists, and this is the specific injustice I want to address right now.

The point is: I am here to stay, and I am here to serve. This is not the first or the last outreach I will do. You will notice one long-term commitment made to all writers of color at the bottom of this post. This is simply the current need, as I see it, and where I believe my efforts can do the most good right now.

A Conversation on Good Story Podcast

If you are a published Black author, how do social justice and civil rights issues shape and inform your craft and your work? Will your commitment to including social justice themes, characters, or plots change in light of recent events? Or do you  not consider it your responsibility to represent these issues in the marketplace? Have movements like We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices affected your work or career? How do you feel publishing is doing representing your voice on the page and off?

This opportunity is open to all published Black authors writing in English.

I’d be very curious to have a conversation with several published authors (debut authors welcome!) who perhaps have varying perspectives here for the Good Story Podcast, in an interview to take place over the next few weeks. Please inquire with a short sense of your position on the above questions to mary@goodstorycompany.com with the subject line “Podcast Interview”.

Query Letter Clinic

Recently, Sourcebooks editor Molly Cusick committed to removing barriers for writers of color and accepting unagented submissions directly. This is an amazing move! While I’m no longer in a gatekeeper position, I want to do my part to help Black writers navigate the slush pile. Since a great query letter can open doors, and I want to bring my experience as a literary agent to bear, I’ve decided to run a completely free query letter clinic.

The Good Story Company team commits to giving complimentary overview feedback on all of the query letters that we receive from Black writers on Friday, June 12th. This is not a first-come, first-served opportunity. There is no selection process. Every query letter that we receive with a timestamp of Friday, June 12th will get a critique. I’m posting this ahead of time so writers have a chance to get their letters together. Your book’s category doesn’t have to be limited to children’s books, either. We will work on queries in all genres and for all audiences, from picture books to nonfiction to memoir to adult fiction. Rough drafts are welcome, don’t hesitate if your query isn’t “ready” yet! (Turnaround time may vary based on demand.)

This opportunity is to all Black writers writing in English. Though you don’t have to live in the United States, you will ideally be hoping to publish here. Our familiarity is with the US publishing marketplace, and that’s the lens we will apply to the critiques.

In order to allow us to provide this opportunity to as many writers as possible, we ask that each writer send one query letter only. You may send your query letter copied and pasted into the body of an email to mary@goodstorycompany.com with the subject line “Query Clinic”. We can’t wait to see your work!

Good Story Grant

In January 2020, I gave away the very first Good Story Grant and committed to running this grant once a year to help one writer pursue a dream project or take the next step in their growth and personal development. Starting in 2021, and going forward, I am personally committing more funding to the grant so that I may offer two awards: one to any writer who chooses to apply, and one dedicated to a writer of color.

As the world mourns George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and many, many others—those we know about, and those we don’t—it’s very important to note that this is not just a June 2020 issue. Our support of Black writers, indigenous writers, and writers of color is not some hash tag.

Many individuals live with prejudice every day based on the color of their skin in a system that works to stigmatize them and deny them opportunities that some white people take for granted, so often without realizing it. Once this issue leaves the news cycle, it cannot leave our consciousness. We cannot stop acting. My team members and I have donated to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund as a first, short-term step, but it is far from our last financial contribution.

Please look for a completely revamped Good Story Grant in January 2021. As money changes hands with this opportunity, applications are open to writers 18 years and old at the time of the grant deadline, with the ability to accept US funds via PayPal. More details will be made available once the application goes live every year.

Now Hiring a Copywriter!

It’s that time again to grow my amazing group of talented writers, designers, editors, and marketers, and I’m looking to add a very specialized team member to join Good Story Company!

Come join us and sling some words that will make a difference to reach and inspire thousands of writers a year!

Job Skills

Copy that compels and sells! Please note that copywriting is a very different skill set from creative writing. I am looking for a candidate that can bring a certain understanding of marketing and sales writing to the table.

Your primary copywriting responsibilities will be Facebook/Instagram ads, web copy for our websites, sales pages, and email newsletters. Our primary revenue drivers are editorial services, webinars, and online courses. There are new initiatives in the pipeline, including a marketing challenge for writers.

It will help if you’re already comfortable with, proficient in, or (at least) very driven to learn:

  • Google Suite: Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms
  • Trello: a project management interface
  • Dropbox: a file management system
  • Facebook Ads Manager: where we set up and manage our advertisements
  • MailChimp: an email newsletter and mailing list management software
  • ActiveCampaign: same
  • ClickFunnels: a landing page software that hosts our sales pages
  • Member Vault: our logged in student software (very easy to learn)

Fluent and engaging written communication skills are a must, as you’ll be representing a company that is for writers, by writers. From a personality perspective, excellent accountability is my top priority. You need to be driven enough to motivate yourself and communicate about any potential problems (like missing a deadline) way ahead of time.

I don’t have the bandwidth or energy to chase a copywriter around and constantly check in, nor do I want to set up that kind of overbearing dynamic. I want you to be very excited to kick butt independently!

Job Details

This is a remote position. You can work from anywhere, but for tax reasons, you will need to be based in the US and legally eligible to work. This is a contractor position, so tax withholding is not provided. You are responsible for withholding your own income taxes and reporting your earnings to the IRS.  You will receive a 1099 instead of a W2 each year.

Since we do not provide benefits like health care or a 401k, I make it a point to provide learning, growth, personal, and professional development opportunities. I’ve enrolled members of my team in about $10,000+ worth of online classes. Before the COVID pandemic, I hosted an all expense paid four-day retreat in Arizona for my entire team.

This work is paid hourly and wages are based on qualifications. Time commitment will be on a project-by-project basis, though I am looking to revamp a lot of my copy right away. I am also looking for someone who can be dedicated to this job and this company for the long haul. I love my team to bits. I hate making changes to my team or suddenly being left with a position to fill. If you’re committed to us, we will be 100% committed to you.

We welcome the opportunity to hear from diverse applicants!

Company Culture

I’m Mary and I have been in the publishing business for 10+ years. I started Kidlit in 2009, published my book Writing Irresistible Kidlit in 2012, founded Mary Kole Editorial in 2013, and Good Story Company in 2019.

At Mary Kole Editorial and Good Story Company, we believe in helping all writers unlock their potential. We’re also passionate about doing good. This year, I launched the Good Story Grant and gave away an award of $2,000 to one writer to enable them to make an amazing dream come true for her project, and $500 so a runner up could take a very important trip. I can’t wait to see what kind of creativity the Good Story Grant facilitates in the future!

I’m a female founder working my way up in the business world and building a company that makes a difference. My team is a fun and motivated crew of writers, creatives, nerds (said with so much love!) and more. Our work, from the editorial team to the marketing team, is highly creative. But we’re successful, too, and only working to become more so!

More than anything, I want to inspire my future copywriter and give you the tools and firsthand experience of what it means to run an amazing independent  business. My dream for you is that you stay with me for a long time, but then maybe go on to build something yourself, using what you’ve learned!

How to Apply

This opportunity is now closed. Thanks so much for your interest!

Avoid Limbo With Narrative Tension

To increase narrative tension avoid the sense of “limbo” in your fiction, give your characters a sense of their past, present, and future. You want to spend most of your time in the present, sure, but if you don’t weave in the past and future of your character eventually … the present will start to feel like limbo. And readers will not want to be in limbo for long.

narrative tension, character tension, plot tension
Don’t let your readers wander in limbo—add narrative tension!

Start in Action

One of the notes I give the most in my editing work is to start in action, whether it’s a simple picture book or complex young adult novel. If you cannot choose a scene or moment that is sustainable for a page or two (this applies to novel or picture book), then it’s not the right place to start.

Most common is zooming away to fill in backstory. For example, “I sit in the assembly, looking around. There’s Phoebe, my best friend since kindergarten. The day we met …” and then we’re off to kindergarten.

Readers need a reason, like narrative tension, to keep reading your work, especially when you launch a new story. A scene that you sustain allows them to truly sink in. Ideally, there’s enough action to get them invested. Something is happening. The character is allowed to be active and proactive (readers love a proactive character).

And while some of us are trying to achieve a “be here now” mindset in our personal lives, this can actually backfire in your creative writing. Sooner or later, the character’s past and future need to come to the party to create narrative tension.

What is Narrative Tension?

To quickly define it, narrative tension means something in the story that keeps a reader invested in reading. My favorite thing to talk about (well, one of like 5,000) is loops. Humans hate an open loop—something unresolved. That’s why writers need to open loops as they go. Usually, the loop asks the question, “What will happen here?” Or, “Will the character get what they want?” Or, “Will this thing from the past ever be resolved?”

If our characters exist only in the present moment, going from scene to scene, we risk our power to create narrative tension, or open and close the maximum number of loops.

Weave in Narrative Tension and Context

Think of how your own mind operates. In a normal span of fifteen minutes, I spend woefully little time in the present. I’m usually “time traveling,” as I call it. My mind is either dwelling on something in the past, or worrying about something in the future. (Looking for meditation app recommendations, plz!)

Characters should spend a bit more time in the present than I do in my personal life, but you can use this tendency of the human brain to “time travel” to add narrative tension and open loops.

As for the past, think of your character’s wound and need. They have probably experienced something in the past that shaped them and needs resolving in the present or future. They may think about it once in a while to plant seeds and drive up tension.

As for the future, think of your character’s objective and motivation. What they want and why they want it. Maybe the wound/need (past) and the resulting objective/motivation (future) tie together into something the character can pursue in the present. (Hint hint: They should!)

Bringing It All Together

Think about your chapter endings. Ideally, this is where you’re really reminding your readers of the loops open in your story. I like to have characters either learn something new in the present, or set themselves to really pursue their future goals. This adds instant narrative tension.

Have you developed your character’s wound, need, objective, and motivation? If not, drop everything and start daydreaming.

Are you struggling with narrative tension in your picture book or novel? Let me be your freelance editor and we can find it together.

SCAM Alert: Kidlit Is Not Posting Hiring Notices Outside of This Website

I’ve been alerted to the very alarming fact that someone is posting jobs for “Kidlit” as “Mary Kole” on school job boards. These are writing jobs that seem attractive. I’ve heard from several people emailing to confirm whether the job posting they saw was legitimate.

Kidlit is currently only hiring for this copywriting position, and only on this website. Any job posting you find posted off of this website that claims to be connected to me or this website online is fraudulent. 

There has been an individual posing as me on university and other online job boards and providing the email address kidlit@job4u.com. It is a classic “we will send you a check, you will deduct a certain amount, and send us back a money order” scam. Their check will bounce after a few days, then your bank will hold you liable for any funds you chose to send out. The FTC explains it here.

Any kind of scam that attempts to take advantage of writers sickens me, and I take it very seriously. There are, unfortunately, many bad actors out there who prey on writers who want the chance to practice their craft and don’t know better.

If you have corresponded with this individual, please forward your interactions to me for my legal team. Do not send your personal information to this person and do not accept any money from them. Certainly don’t send any money to them. Similarly, if you have seen one of these job postings in the wild, please report them as fraudulent to the job board where they appear and alert me at mary@kidlit.com to let me know what institution is running the listing.

Unfortunately, since this is an online impersonator using my name and business name without my permission, I’m not liable for any financial loss that you suffer due to interacting with this individual. My hope in posting this is to prevent anyone from getting scammed.

Using the Rhetorical Question in Fiction Writing

I often see fiction writers use the rhetorical question in their manuscripts to ramp up tension and get readers more engaged. Or so they think. Is this a worthwhile strategy? Or is the presence of a rhetorical question in your prose just a copout? (Do you see what I did there?)

rhetorical question, rhetrocial question in writing
Don’t just ask the rhetorical question, answer it.

Rhetorical Questions Do Not Help Character

Instead of asking a bunch of questions, I’m going to give you some statements. I don’t believe questions help further character or plot. They aren’t specific. They aren’t mysterious. They are a shortcut to doing the hard work of writing your story.

Not sure what I mean by a rhetorical question when it comes to the fiction or writing craft. Here are some rhetorical question examples:

But could she be trusted?

What would happen if he let himself believe?

Would it be worthwhile for her to follow the imp down the path?

I would imagine writers believe there to be a lot of mystery in rhetorical questions, and a lot of tension. But to my trained eye, they’re much ado about nothing because they don’t communicate a lot of substance.

How Do I Get Around Rhetorical Question Use?

In my editorial work, I push clients to go further. If you know a juicy, meaty, potentially emotionally engaging question to ask in your prose—answer it instead.

This forces you to plant your character’s flag one way or the other, decide, and then move on based off of that decision. Otherwise, characters can swirl around in an endless stream of questions without ever taking a definitive stance. You will likely not get character buy-in on crucial issues, and you are much more vulnerable to the deadly sin of flip-flopping that way.

Imagine if we addressed the rhetorical question examples above more directly instead:

He wanted to trust her, but he just didn’t. Not right now. She’d have to earn it.

Believing in magic was risky. It was foolish. It went against everything he’d been taught his entire life—everything his family worked so hard to protect. Order. Logic. Reality. But here, he saw magic in front of him, as real as his own reflection. If he let himself believe, he’d have to change his entire concept of himself. For the first time, that didn’t seem so scary.

She considered whether or not to follow the imp. Sure, she could play it safe. But then she’d never know. Everyone kept saying that she needed to listen to her heart. Well, her heart was telling her to take this once-in-a-lifetime chance.

Instead of questions, we have characters declaring themselves. Weighing their options. Considering the issues in more depth. Coming to decisions.

Nothing Rhetorical About It

At the end of the day, you’re the writer. It’s your job to present the story, put the issues out there, and lead readers through the character’s decision-making process so that we get to know that character on a deeper level.

I’ve recently had a rash of manuscripts where writers are relying too much on the rhetorical question in important moments—in essence, asking the reader to create part of the story and do the character’s heavy lifting.

Instead, answer these questions where you find them in your manuscript. You’ll be rewarded in terms of depth and nuance and a better understanding of your character and story, which you can them transmit to your readers.

Struggling with asking the right questions? With answering them? Partner with me as your developmental editor, and we’ll get down to the marrow of your fiction together.

Gail Carson Levine Podcast and Giveaway!

I had the incredible pleasure of interviewing Gail Carson Levine for the Good Story Podcast. Her episode debuts today and I’d love for you to have a listen!

As part of the interview, I’m giving away my ARC copy of Gail’s latest, A Ceiling Made of Eggshells, debuting on May 12th, 2020, for HarperCollins.

To win your copy, all you have to do is share this episode of the Good Story Podcast somewhere on your social media, and supply the URL for your share. (All Facebook posts, Tweets, and Instagram posts, for example, have individual post addresses that you can copy and paste into the form below.)

Feel free to use this graphic if you want to blog or post about this episode:

Gail Carson Levine

To facilitate the giveaway process, I’m linking you to a Google Form to collect your entry, including your mailing address, since this is an ARC giveaway.  Once you’re ready, you can fill it out, below. Entries are due April 22nd, 2020 at midnight, CST!

Good luck! I can’t wait to share this amazing story with one lucky winner. For more on the wonderful Gail Carson Levine, please check out her Instagram and blog.