path of the storyteller / blog

Why you must drill the fundamentals

writing craft Oct 12, 2023

I’ll bet you can talk a good game about the basics of fiction writing. 

By basics I mean character, plot, dialogue, description, and so on. The usual suspects!

The basics are out there, in craft books and workshops and classes. They’re not hard to find.

I’ve even sometimes had writers come to me for mentorship and and say, “I know the basics. I don’t need that kind of training. But....


  • But their writing is not getting the response they hope for. 
  • The words they’ve worked so hard on leave their readers disengaged, or even confused. 
  • They can tell their work is not standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the work of the writers they most admire.
  • And they may be struggling more than they care to admit to get something written in the first place. 

They’re looking for help.

But they already know the basics.

So what do they do now? What’s left?...

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You don’t need to save it all.


True fact: I rarely leave a restaurant without a box of leftovers tucked under my arm.

I’m not sorry about it, either. I never like to let food go to waste. Even if there’s only a little bit left, it’s enough to pop in an omelette, or throw on top of a pasta, right?

And isn’t that how many of us treat our writing, too?

We hate to cut stuff. We worked so hard on those bits! Surely there’s a place to use them. Into the refrigerator they go.

And if we’ve been working on something for a while—maybe it’s our first whack at a novel—we hate, hate, hate to admit that it might not be workable at all.

One more rewrite? Ten? We know we can save it!

“Waiter, bring me a box to put this messy draft of a novel in! I don’t want any of it to go to waste.”

Now listen, dear storyteller. I have news for you.

Most of our work is not our best work.

In fact, most of our actual writing labor will never see the light of day at...

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The cure for sick writing

writing craft Jun 08, 2022

Do your characters sigh a lot?

Do they roll their eyes? Catch their breath?

Do their hearts race and their stomachs tighten?

Do chills and goosebumps frequently arise on their tingling skin? 

Do they gaze, smile, and smile some more? Do they smile while gazing? Smile while gazing and feeling tingles and racing hearts, during which they can barely breathe?

My dear storyteller, you are not alone! 

Who else does this? So. Many. Writers. It’s practically a rite of passage for writers to start out their illustrious careers by generating prose that is jam-packed with this kind of stuff.

I call it symptomatic writing. In real life we’d head off to the urgent care to find out what’s wrong. In fiction, our well-intentioned efforts to put emotion on the page can too easily result in all this clichéd physical expression, which quickly becomes tedious (even to us).

What’s worse: A bad case of symptomatic writing deprives our readers of...

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Are you in, or are you out?

writing craft Mar 31, 2022

One of the tricky tasks we take on when writing fiction is finding the just-right balance between depicting our viewpoint character's inner life versus the external events of the scene. 

By inner life, I mean what your character is feeling and thinking, including the sensations in their body. This is the stuff other characters cant see, but your reader can, if you choose to share it.

External events are just that—what are characters actually saying and doing in the world of the story that’s perceptible to others? 

Finding the perfect balance can be elusive. Too much inner life, and we get bogged down in an endlessly ruminating protagonist. Not enough inner life severs the connection with the very character our readers are supposed to be rooting for. 

In this livestream I talk about this concept of inner life versus external events, and offer some tips on how to find the...

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Lights, camera...fiction!

writing craft Mar 24, 2022

As the movie buffs among you know the Academy Awards are this weekend. As ever, the categories featuring celebrities and jokes and musical numbers will be featured in the television broadcast, while the “technical” categories—in other words, the actual movie-making part—will be rushed through or skipped altogether. 

Film is a storytelling art form just as fiction is, but it sure takes a village to accomplish! It's so different from the solitary work of the novelist. From cinematography to production design to musical scores, movies rely on a collaboration of elements that we novelists can only dream of—or can we?

Words can accomplish a lot, you know! I'd argue that we fiction writers have our own way of making use of these same elements, if we know how and take the time to do it. It's all part of giving our readers that vivid, "lived experience" feeling. And there's stuff we can do that movies can't, too.

Today, let's grab...

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Is writing ”by ear” holding you back?


The phrase “by ear” comes to us from the context of music. As in: "I don’t read music, but I can play by ear." 

A musician who plays by ear doesn't rely on formal training or music that’s been written down, but on some innate or acquired ability to pick up an instrument and play, or to recreate what they’ve heard. 

In this context, the ability to “play be ear” seems like a good thing, a special talent. A person who can play music with no formal training! Impressive, right? 

Writers do the same thing, of course. We write and revise “by ear.” When our prose "sounds good" to us, we say it’s done. 

There’s nothing wrong with this, to a point. Immersion and imitation are a natural kind of learning. We learn to talk by immersion in people talking—by ear—and we learn to write by immersion in what we read. It’s how we all begin.

It's when...

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fix the flatness

writing craft Nov 16, 2021

In last week’s livestream, I mentioned the concept of writing with dimension. Here’s what I mean by that:

Some writing feels flat on the page. It’s two-dimensional. There are words aplenty and characters who talk about this and that. Events are alleged to happen and feelings are alleged to result.

It’s not that the words don’t make sense. From a grammatical standpoint, it’s all perfectly correct. But the writing is bland, voiceless, and the reader’s engagement is hard-won, if it’s won at all.

Really skillful writing has the opposite effect. It seems to have a life of its own. Even as you read the first sentence, it feels like some living consciousness is sweeping you into a fully dimensional world. 

You feel more a participant than an observer. And the characters? Realer than the people you know in real life. You find...

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what holds writers back: my top ten


It’s NaNoWriMo time, again!

I started this blog (and soon afterward, my weekly YouTube livestream) last year right around this time, as it seemed like there was an extra need for writing mentorship out there.

So many blog posts and livestreams later, I am amazed at how this ongoing exploration of writing good fiction continues to deepen. It’s a lifetime practice for sure.

And how has your writing grown this year?

While you you formulate your answer, I want to give a shout-out to all the Path of the Storyteller alums who finished a draft in 2021.

TRUMPETS OF VICTORY SOUND! Some have never finished a book before. Revisions are now in progress, and I am so very proud of each and every one of these awesome and dedicated writers! 

Accomplishment feels good. Setting goals and moving steadily toward them feels fantastic.

But being stuck, thwarted, or in despair because all your efforts seem to be going in circles does not feel so good, am...

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revising like a pro


I’m in a cheery writing mood this week. It’s because I'm putting the finishing touches on a new manuscript. Huzzah!  

Revision is something I truly enjoy. It’s when we writers finally get the satisfaction of seeing the book work! Sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, revision is when we sharpen the storytelling, tighten the screws, and make sure every syllable is earning its place on the page. 

Productive revision gives us the pleasure of finishing a puzzle. Things fall into place. The vessel becomes watertight, ship-shape.  

Drafting is our messy mudpie process. It’s for us. Revision is when we make it work for the reader. 

Which leads me to share this hard truth about revision: Revision is when your level of mastery is revealed.

Why? Because you cannot revise by ear.  

To revise, you need technique. You need a way of knowing with certainty whether the storytelling is crystal clear and...

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the last word about first person POV


I've heard it too many times from too many writers: Isn’t first person easier than writing in third? And isn't writing in the first person more intimate that writing in third? Doesn’t first person have more voice than writing in third?

Nope, no, and not so, my friends. And yet these notions persist. This week I want to put them to bed, once and for all. We’ll bust the myths and examine just how much complexity lurks in this deceptively simple way of telling a tale.

Lots to say about this topic! Expect some discussion of one of my favorite butlers in literature, too. 

My weekly livestream happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog.

To watch live and ask questions, you can join the Path of the Storyteller Facebook group right here.

And subscribe to the YouTube channel here. 

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