Max your Writing Moxie

Do you want to be the best writer you can be?

If you want to write good stories, read good stories and pay attention.

That looks a little too simple, doesn’t it? It’s still the truest piece of advice I can give. There’s an old programmer’s motto: GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Put another way, you are what you eat.

I used to think I knew what made a good story. I thought what I watched and read was great. It was not really great though – most of it was simplistic, with hackneyed plots and cardboard cutout characters and it didn’t challenge me at all. It caused my stories to be just as simplistic. Then I started reading and watching really high quality stuff, and found what I had missed. I discovered levels of artistry and complexity that took my breath away. Twists and turns of plot, well written stories, mysteries that were done right, and more. I began to see how my own stories were woefully simplistic. I saw ways of improving them, too. I now have a habit of seeking out the best stories I can find.

With all that said, what makes a good story? I didn’t know how to recognize one reliably, after all, I thought I WAS reading and watching good stuff! So here is a list of general characteristics that can point you toward better stories, whether you are looking for a book, an anime, a role playing game, a movie, or a TV show.

A good story…

…makes you think.

…will give you clues when it’s a mystery, but make them very subtle. It will make your mind work.

…uses good descriptions or dialogue to bring you in to the story.

…avoids stereotypes.

…isn’t always a “classic.” Some classics are woefully bad, but are classics because they are old.

…doesn’t talk down to the audience.

…shows how the characters grow and develop.

…lets the characters change and doesn’t leave them in the same place at the end as they were at the beginning.

…challenges you. A story you can sleep through is no story at all.

…gives motivations behind the character’s actions, beyond “because he wanted to.”

…makes you think.

Finding good stories can be easy or hard depending on what genre you are interested in. Ask for recommendations from people you admire, read reviews on sites like Goodreads, check out forum posts about potential TV shows. Pay attention to why people like things and how they talk about them. If a person writes well when describing why they like a story, then the quality of the story is likely to be higher.

When you find a great story, pay attention to why it’s great! Then think about how you could incorporate the same techniques into your own work. Eventually, you’ll absorb aspects of the great writing styles you love.


Read great stories.  Write great stories.  Build your moxie.

The Magic of Detail

Fox Pond Detail.jpg
A small detail from one of my paintings


Whether we’re talking about a story, an article, a painting, or a drawing, the devil really is in the details. Get them wrong and you have a flop. Get them right and you’ve made something great.

Research is really important to make sure you get those details right. Just how should the knight’s sword gleam? What does a rose smell like, exactly? How does a Great Dane generally behave? What are some of the normal brands of potato chip bought in the East Coast?

Details, and how you portray them, are everything. If you’re writing about an object, the reader should know what it looks like. They need to know the color, make an model of the car the protagonist sees. The scent of the forest as the heroin walks into it. How the fur of the wolf feels as the hero tentatively strokes its ruff.

In a picture, little details can really make it come alive. Say you paint a mountain scene. It’s pretty, but what’s going on? Add a bird, and there’s life. Add a boat and a mysterious head in the high mountain caldera-lake, and you have a story. What creatures populate your woods? Who walks through your cities? What do they wear? How do they live? In a portrait, what favorite piece of jewelry, what sly look of the eye, will the viewer see?

Remember to include these things and watch your viewers, or readers, love you.

Two tips for writing fiction

Tip #1:

Get it all down before editing!

I have started many novels and many more short stories. I also have a bad habit of not finishing them!  Luckily, I finally found one of the secrets to finishing them and so I’ll share it with you.

The key? Don’t start editing as you go along. I’ve gotten more done in a shorter time than I thought possible, just by posting on an online site.   (This can be public or private, by the way.)

Why? Because it forces me to keep moving forward. Instead of writing two pages, going back, changing things, editing, and reworking, I write two pages, post them, write the next two, and keep on going. I’ve made a few notes about things to include or change later but I’ve gotten a lot more of the actual story told than I otherwise would have. So keep writing! Don’t stop till you are done, and then go back and polish! You will notice a difference.


Tip #2:

Embrace conflict and confrontation in your stories

Why? Because conflict is what creates drama. Conflict doesn’t have to be argument between people. It can mean an obstacle to the character’s goal. Conflict of some type is usually needed for an interesting story.

Your character is trying to get to grandma’s house, but there is snow in the way and the horse doesn’t want to pull the sleigh. Will your character ever get to grandma’s house? Or will they be able to convince the horse to pull the sleigh?  On the way, what if there are robbers or sheep wearing wolf suits?  Anything could happen.

The challenge to the character creates the suspense, the drama.  If it was a story about how the person got in the sleigh and everything went perfectly, it would be boring, wouldn’t it?  That can be fun for a scene, or to set the stage for something else, but not as a whole story.  You’d think that would be obvious, but can’t we all think of stories where the author didn’t think of it?

Use conflict and confrontation as tools to add spice to your stories.  At the very least, try being aware of the conflict in a story as you read it, and watch how it makes that story more interesting.

Essential Tips for Aspiring Writers

I’ve watched the publishing industry change radically over the years, helped publish a few books, and in all of it I’ve seen that certain things remain true. So I have come up with some tips and rules to help protect you from career-breaking mistakes.

Do not ever pay an agent fee or pay a company a publishing charge. Those are used by vanity publishers and scam artists to separate you from your money and give you nothing. I don’t care how good they make the deal look stay away!

If you are an aspiring writer and want to be published traditionally, do not let your desire blind you to scam artists. Get a copy of Writer’s Market, find an agent that will look at your work. Do not pay anyone. Be particularly wary of any unsolicited emails from publishing companies with glowing testimonials, compliments about your work, and promises of big profits. I’m looking at you, SBPRA!

Carefully check any contracts to make sure you retain control over your work. Look for hidden fees. Get someone else to look at it with you if you have to.

When you self publish, and even if you don’t, use a beta reader. Have one or more people carefully read your work, looking for typos, misspelled words, awkward grammar, or anything else that will make your work look less than its best. The more eyes, the better!

Write what you love, write what you know, and never ever write something you don’t know without expert help. That is, talk it over with someone who knows the subject and then listen to what they have to say!