Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writing Tip Wednesday: Writing Advice from Siobhan Muir

Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesday! Siobhan Muir, one of my favorite online author friends, is visiting today to share her advice for writers.

Hi, Siobhan! Thanks for being here. What great advice to do you have to offer?

Release (Word) Weight with #flashfiction

Odd title, huh? But what’s the most common thing we have to do for our health? Release weight, extra pounds that impede our bodies over time. It comes from bad habits of eating too much and remaining too sedentary.

It’s the same thing with our writing health. Time to trim the fat. But how?

Four years ago a friend of mine came to me and asked if I’d be interested in writing #flashfiction. I didn’t even know what it was much less how to do it, but it sounded interesting. #flashfiction is the art of writing a clear, concise, and full story in a limited time and a limited word count. Sound impossible? It’s not, but it does take discipline and effort.
This is what’s needed for longer writing, too, and the same skills you use for #flashfiction can be applied to writing novellas and novels. So how do you do this? Here’s a handy dandy list you can take with you.

1. De-was-ify.
What does this mean? It means get rid of every version of “was” that you can. You don’t have time for lazy verbs. De-was-ifying makes the writing more active and interesting. Instead of: “The ladder was against the wall where he’d left it.” It could be: “The ladder sagged against the wall where he’d left it.” Sagged is far more interesting than was.
Instead of “She was blonde with blue eyes.” It could be: “She tilted her blonde head and narrowed her blue eyes.” Using more active verbs gives the reader more to hold in their minds and anchors them in the story.

2. Delete or decrease long descriptions
You don’t have time or space in #flashfiction for long narratives telling the reader about what something looks like, yet you need to make your setting and characters as clear as possible. The same can be done in a longer tale. Instead of a long wind-up describing the world in which you find your characters, you can use dialog and action to show the same thing.
For example: “It was the hottest part of the day and everyone who did not need to be outside was not. She dismounted and began to unload both her horse and the packhorse before the stable boy took them into the shade. The weight of the treasure was heavy and oppressive in the heat, but she bore it gamely as Brandon led the way into the foyer of the inn.”
Versus: “Brandon turned the bay into the courtyard of an inn at the edge of the marketplace and dismounted. Iliana looked around as she pulled Aristotle up. The courtyard sat empty until the stable boy came out to take the horses.
“This is a good inn and the innkeeper is fairly honest.” Brandon unhooked his saddle bags and slung them over his shoulder. “I’m going to see about a room.”
Make it interesting and give the characters a reason to be in the environment you’ve created.

3. Picking the right words to evoke an image.
You need to make the tale interesting and action/dialog is far more interesting to read than long drawn out narrative, even in science fiction or fantasy writing. You want your pacing to be good in longer tales, and you want it fast and tight in #flashfiction.
For example: “Inside, Brandon was deep in negotiating for their room. There was much haggling as Iliana took in the foyer, which was full of palm trees in pots, tapestries hanging from the walls, and richly dressed merchants sitting on cushions, smoking. She did not meet any of their eyes, but scanned the place as if she was just another male traveler come in from the sun.”
Versus: The scent of dry, hot stone mixed with the salty brine of the sea as the wind zipped through the courtyard. Despite the air movement, Iliana sighed with relief as she entered the cool shade of the inn. Potted palm trees filled the corners of the common room and tapestries hung from the walls around a few richly dressed men perched on cushions, smoking.”
Which is more interesting? Which tells you more of what’s going on? Which example brought you into the scene?

4. Don’t use dialog tags, use action to identify your characters.
He said, she said is all well and good, but it can sometimes jar the reader out of your tale, and in #flashfiction, you don’t have the space to name everyone each time. Instead, use action to tell the reader who’s saying what, and how.
“Brandon narrowed his eyes. “If you're an actress, what are you doing out here in the Karobis?”
“I have no idea.” She glanced up at the blue moon. Wow, the song wouldn’t be so poignant here. “I didn’t start out here. I was somewhere distinctly different a few days ago.”
“In the oasis with Kyra.”
“Yes. No.” Iliana shook her head. “No, I’d never been there before the moment I met you.”
Each action gives a sense of what they’re feeling and how they’re responding, and identifies who the speaker is. It’s especially important when you have characters of the same gender speaking. Then he said, he said gets confusing and boring to read. When you have little space and less time, using action sucks the reader in and keeps the pacing up.

Just changing these four things in your longer pieces will give you a leg-up on the typical writers out there. It strengthens your writing, pulling the reader in as if they’re part of the action, and makes your stories more memorable. Stronger stories is the goal. If you can make the reader feel it, you’ve succeeded. And #flashfiction is a great tool for tightening your writing skills.


Siobhan Muir lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with her husband, two daughters, and a vegetarian cat she swears is a shape-shifter, though he's never shifted when she can see him. When not writing, she can be found looking down a microscope at fossil fox teeth, pursuing her other love, paleontology. An avid reader of science fiction/fantasy, her husband gave her a paranormal romance for Christmas one year, and she was hooked for good.

In previous lives, Siobhan has been an actor at the Colorado Renaissance Festival, a field geologist in the Aleutian Islands, and restored inter-planetary imagery at the USGS. She’s hiked to the top of Mount St. Helens and to the bottom of Meteor Crater.

Siobhan writes kick-ass adventure with hot sex for men and women to enjoy. She believes in happily ever after, redemption, and communication, all of which you will find in her paranormal romance stories.

Siobhan’s latest release, A Centaur’s Solstice Wish, is the second story in her new Rifts series. She has published A Hell Hound’s Fire (a free read), The Beltane Witch, and Cloudburst Ice Magic in the Cloudburst Colorado series. Siobhan has also published Bronco’s Rough Ride and The Navy’s Ghost in the Bad Boys of Beta Squad series, Not a Dragon’s Standard Virgin and Queen Bitch of the Callowwood Pack through Siren Publishing, and Her Devoted Vampire through Evernight Publishing.

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I love your analogy about releasing weight, Siobhan! Tight writing is essential for any length of story. Great pacing keeps the reader engaged and wanting the next book! Thanks so much for visiting and sharing!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!


  1. Good advice! Which I seem to be saying every week...

    1. I know, Liz! I've been lucky to have such fantastic contributors to this new series. :)

  2. Thanks so much for having me today, Mellanie. I'm de-was-ifying as we speak... :D

  3. I think it was fortuitous that this blog post happened this week. This is the Three Year Anniversary of #ThursThreads my #flashfiction challenge where I really used these points to help my writing. Thanks again for having me. :)