Tuesday Tip

Today’s Tuesday Tip involves the dreaded synopsis. Before I had finished writing my first book, I believed a synopsis was something you did after the manuscript was complete. It was something to worry about LATER. I soon discovered that you can start your synopsis before you write a single word in your WIP. This is a great way to make sure you are hitting the right beats and can keep you on track with your plot.

Ask a writer for advice on pounding out a synopsis and you will undoubtedly get referred to Susan Dennard’s article on PubCrawl. Susan is a NYT bestselling fantasy writer who has written many articles on writing and the publishing industry. Her advice on writing a synopsis is chef’s kiss. Succinct, clear, and easy to follow, this article offers you a fill-in-the-blank formula with Star Wars as an example. Can’t get any better than that!

If you have never written a synopsis, this is the place to start.

Book Recommendations from 2021

Another crazy year has passed. In 2021, I finished and revised my second novel, Revenant, began the querying process, was selected to participate in Rogue Mentor, outlined and began drafting my third novel, and adopted our foster daughter.

So how many books did I read last year? It was a struggle. I had set a goal to have Revenant revised in time for Pitch Wars. That meant spending any extra time I could scape up was spent writing. Soooo many movies and shows to catch up with, but it was worth it. This also meant reading wasn’t as high of a priority as it had been in recent years. In 2021, I read thirty books.

All titles in bold are books I would recommend to others. It doesn’t mean I hated the other books, but those titles which have stuck with me throughout the year are the standouts I choose to feature. If you’re interested in seeing my ratings for each book, you can follow me on GoodReads

Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Teen Angst Mix Tape Vol. 1

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

The King of Crows by Libba Bray

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Wonderbook by Jeff VandeMeer

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

Times’ Convert by Deborah Harkness

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

The Sandman (audible) by Neil Gaiman

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

The Curious Incident of Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

The Witches Daughter by Paula Brackston

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Night by Elie Wiesel

Malfunction Junction

Book Recommendations from 2020

Whoah! What a year it has been! It started with the flu, followed by pneumonia, a little girl’s first birthday party, COVID, quarantine, and a whole lot of worry. But I’m happy to say this year is ending on a good note as we prepare to adopt our foster daughter in early 2021.

My goals this year are simple: finish my paranormal thriller draft and revise/edit said draft. That’s it. Sounds doable, right? I may even throw in a short story–we’ll see.

It must be the beginning-the-year-anew-syndrome that has me so optimistic, as being the mother of a child with special needs is at times challenging when you’re in four different therapies a week and still have two other children to homeschool and manage. But as we settle into our new “normal” I like to think I will make good use of what little time I have at the moment and reach each goal in the upcoming year to the best of my ability.

Speaking of goals–

As an overachiever the year before I was wise to lower my Goodreads Reaching Challenge this year from 60 (to which I read 73) to 20. It was a stressful year, to say the least.

Under promise. Over deliver. This year I read:

Actually, I just finished 37, but we’ll get to that later.

As always, let me know if you read any of these books this year or in the past. Do you agree with my assessment? Stay to the end to get a sneak peek into my 2021 TBR.

On with the show. All titles in bold are books I would recommend to others. It doesn’t mean I hated the other books, but those titles which have stuck with me throughout the year are the standouts I choose to feature.

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

The Curse Breaker by April Kelley Jones (Shout out to my incredible CP!)

Harlequin Valentine by Neil Gaiman

Story Genius by Lisa Cron (If you’re a fellow writer)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Basic Japanese Grammar (I mean, it is a book, right?)

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

Legend by Marie Lu

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (Yes, yes, 1000 times yes–especially if you’re a writer)

Blood Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Morning Star by Pierce Brown

So, that’s it! Let me know what you think! I haven’t set a reading goal for next year quite yet, but be sure to follow me on Goodreads, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with my reading journey.

As promised, here is a quick look into a few selections lined up for the upcoming year:

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

The Author’s Checklist by Elizabeth K. Kracht

Iron Gold and Dark Age by Pierce Brown

Angelology and Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni

Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

More Tales of the Witcher series

And so many more…

Happy New Year!

Books Recommendations from 2019

At the beginning of 2019 I set a crazy Goodreads Reading Challenge Goal of sixty books. I made it. And then I read some more…

Actually, it’s 72, going on 73, so far. I have shared by recommendations for the last twelve days of Christmas over on my Twitter, and now I’m sharing them here with you. Let me know your thoughts if you too have read any of my selections from the year. Loved it? Hated it? Indifferent? And if you plan to read any of these, let me know which are on your TBR for 2020.

And now, without further ado:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt 👎

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater 👍

Loaded, a novella by Joe Hill 👎

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green 👍

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater 👍

Hazard of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates 👍

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer 👎

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus 👎

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas 👍

Opal by Maggie Stiefvater 👍

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer 👍

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid 👍

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk 👎

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab👍

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer👎

Anna Dressed in Blood👎

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer👍

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson👍

Internment by Samira Ahmed👍

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo👍

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds👍

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins👍

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero👎

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour👎

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater👍

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick👎

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater👎

The ClockMaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton👎

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon👍

Hunger by Roxane Gay👍👍👍

Sadie by Courtney Summers👍

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende👎

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng👍

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater👍

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid👍

The Passage by Justin Cronin👎

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo👍

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor👍

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin👍

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate👍

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton👎

Angelfall by Susan Ee👍

The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie👎

Educated by Tara Westover👍

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn👍

The Obelisk Gate by N.K Jemison👎

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt👎

World After by Susan Ee👎

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemison👎

To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han👎

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs👍

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware👎

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty👎

Circe by Madeline Miller👍

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente👎

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens👍

Enclave by Ann Aguirre👎

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah👍

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart👍

Recursion by Blake Crouch👍

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson👍

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy👍

Blood Kiss by J.R. Ward👎👎👎

The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman👍

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman👍

House of Salt and Sorrow by Erin Craig👍

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter👍

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson👍

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia👍

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman👍

Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman 👎

And last, but not least:

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

I haven’t quite finished this one, but I will in the next few days and I can already tell you it has a thumbs up!

Be sure to follow me on Instagram or Goodreads to track next year’s reading selections. It won’t be quite so ambitious, but it will be a good one! Until then, have a happy New Year!

Writers, Please Write

This month, I did not keep to my regular #WritingwithRae schedule. I’m late. It’s okay though. I gave myself permission to not only be late, but to skip it altogether. This blog post is about why and how.

As #NaNoWriMo19  is winding down my Twitter and Instagram feeds have been inundated with writers struggling with time management, illness, imposter syndrome, and #momlife (or #dadlife). So to all the writers dealing with a busy lifestyle, to all the writers dealing with chronic pain, to all the writers navigating parenthood, I hear you. I’m with you.

I have come across some wonderful people in the writing community, both online and in person. Since our introduction, many have gone on to get agents and book deals. Indie authors have started, completed, and published multiple manuscripts. Several writers seeking traditional publication have drafted nearly half a dozen books in the last year or two.

Wanna know how many drafts I have completed? One. One manuscript. One draft. One quick and dirty revision. One.

I have not joined in during NaNoWriMo. I have not participated in a Twitter pitch contest. I have not started the query process. I haven’t begun beta reads. Despite hoping to have done any or all of these this fall.

What I have accomplished is keeping two little humans alive, healthy, stable, and educated. I have guided them in not only mathematics studies, but how to have respect for themselves and others. I have taught them how to diagram a sentence, as well as how life isn’t about them but what they can do for others. I have introduced them to Shakespeare and given them permission to dream big and be brave. If I succeed in nothing else, I take comfort in knowing I loved my children more than myself, that they know they are loved, and that they have learned to love others. Parenthood is by far the most difficult job on the planet at times. Perfection in this job is unattainable. I inevitably do it wrong on a regular basis. But it is the only job I have ever had where boredom did not become a factor. It’s the only job I have had where my skills have not plateaued. It’s the only job where money is not a factor. It’s the only job where I have pushed myself to be better every day. It’s the only job I have had with rewards to be cherished for what’s left of my life.

I have also cared for the least of these. I never imagined I would ever be involved in the foster system. I never imagined I had the strength for it. Foster parents are the only parents asked to love someone else’s child as their own, only to be asked to say goodbye through no fault of their own. It’s impossible for anyone who has not been a foster parent to truly understand what it’s like. I thought I knew, before I become one.

Our home has welcomed four foster children in the past three years—four children in crisis. We have provided a safe, stable, and loving environment to the children of strangers. These children have experienced grief, neglect, abuse, and drug exposure. They have lived through too much at such a young age, sometimes even before birth. The foster care system is broken and while reunification is ideal, in some cases, losing a foster child is devastating. We grieve. The grieving doesn’t end. But there are also celebrations: a toddler, so neglected he did not know what it was to brush his teeth or wash his hair, learning to trust parental figures; an eight-month old, who could not hold her head up when she arrived, learning to crawl while in your care; an infant coming off of drug exposure, who screamed throughout the night, settling into a routine and sleeping soundly; a newborn’s brain gaining the necessary cognitive and emotional connections gained through interaction and need fulfillment that she otherwise would not have acquired. If I never have a New York Times bestseller, I can take pride in these efforts. These accomplishments are as life changing, long lasting, and worthy as a publication with one of the Big Five.

Parenthood is difficult no matter what job you have, but sometimes I see writers feel guilty or frustrated for not having the time for writing because of children. Writers, please write, but know that in parenthood, it’s never enough. There are never enough hugs, or talks, or games. There is no quota or word count to hit before we can look at our child and say “that’s enough for today.” Give yourself permission to be a parent first and a writer second. The words can wait. Their childhood cannot.

Another hindrance for many writers is illness and pain. I have been dealing with a multitude of ailments for many years now. Some of these ailments include arthritis in my lower back, chronic migraine, and fibromyalgia. None of these things will ever go away. Ever. I will never know what it is like to “feel” normal again. Every single day of my life I feel pain. That has been a very difficult thing to come to terms with. More often than I should, I carry on as if nothing is wrong, but something is always wrong. I take measures to make things manageable, but more often than not, I barely scratch the surface. Just this morning, despite being on a monthly medication to combat it, I suffered a severe migraine that lasted twelve hours. Sometimes my body just will not go. And because outwardly there appears to be nothing wrong, it’s difficult for loved ones to understand and gauge how I am. This affects my ability to write on a regular basis. Brain fog prevents me from finding the words. Pain keeps me from sitting at my desk. Fatigue grabs hold even when conditions are ideal. I may lose battles with my body, but I can’t be concerned with battles when my strategy is about the war.

Writers, please write, but know your body needs your attention. I know your frustration. I know the guilt you feel. I know at times you may even sense depression lurking around the corner. Don’t let the timeline of other writers dictate yours. This is not a race. Do the best work you can when you can. Set reasonable goals, but forgive yourself if you don’t meet it. No one is disappointed in you. Take pride in what you accomplish, despite the setbacks. Your words are hard earned. Each sentence is a reason to take pride in yourself. Each page is a “wow” moment when your greatest hindrance is your own body.

  Finding time to write when you have more obligations on your plate than you can handle can be the tallest hurdle to jump over as a writer. Most of us have full time jobs, families, numerous activities and appointments, cooking and cleaning, and social commitments. Unless you’re a full time writer, time management is easy BECAUSE THERE IS NO TIME TO MANAGE. Ultimately writers must be intentional about carving out time to write, whether it’s early in the morning before the world wakes and makes its demands on you, or at night once the kids go to bed. Often it’s not about finding the time, but finding the amount of time we want. I would love to have eight hours a day to write, but in reality I’m thrilled to get two solid hours and ecstatic with anything beyond that.

Writers, please write, but don’t let writing be one more thing you have to get done that day. Let writing be a pleasure. Know that writing can take many forms other than getting words on a page. It’s reading a book. It’s thinking through your plot points. It’s having a conversation with a critique partner or friend. It’s attending a local writing group or conference. It’s research. It’s watching a movie for inspiration. You may not have time every day to bang out that word count on the laptop, but there are multiple ways to get “writing” done for the day. Don’t be so hard on yourself and don’t feel like an imposter when you can’t make it happen. We all have different paths. We all come into this “job” by different means. We all bring different skills, strengths, and strategies to storytelling. Don’t strive to be like other writers who seem to have the time to write all day. Your struggle is your own and in the end you will be rewarded by your perseverance and endeavors. Work with the time you have. Don’t forget to live while you’re at it. Some of the best stories come from real life.

So, no, I did not make #WritingwithRae happen the third weekend of this month. I had pain to cope with, children to school, appointments to attend, phone calls to make, and a baby to comfort. These things are priorities to me. But I also managed to finish three chapters of my new #WIP when my only goal for the month was to complete the outline. I critiqued six pieces from fellow writers and read three novels. I did a ton of research. I wrote this blog. Despite not having time. Despite living the #momlife. Despite being in pain. I do not dwell on what I haven’t achieved as a writer, but on my accomplishments. Each obstacle I overcome gives me strength to not give up. Each barrier I break through brings me encouragement to keep writing. I have stories to tell, and so do you.

Writers, please write.

My Favorite Online Resources for New Writers

This month on Writing with Rae I thought I’d share some of my favorite ONLINE RESOURCES FOR NEW WRITERS. When I first decided to pursue writing a novel, I absorbed tons of information from books to online articles and videos. As many of you know, there is a large BookTube community on YouTube and through this community I was introduced to AuthorTube channels. The first author came from a post someone shared on Facebook from Jenna Moreci. Jenna had just published Eve The Awakening and gave writing advice and tips in an entertaining top ten format of do’s and don’ts. While her channel has evolved over time with the content presented, she still comes back to her lists of favorites, dislikes, tips, and how-to’s. She is straightforward, funny, relatable, and encouraging. It’s been a joy watching her build her platform and become a very successful indie author. I know new writers will find her an inspiration and will learn valuable information for beginning the writing process.

Check out one of her latest videos: 10 Worst Pieces of Writing Advice

By far one of the most helpful resources for any writer whether new or experienced is the podcast Writing Excuses, a “fast-paced, educational podcast for writers, by writers.” One of the podcast’s headlining contributer is the one and only Brandon Sanderson, author of The Mistborn trilogy and The Stormlight Archive. But did you know he teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University? New writers in fantasy and sci-fi have a treasure trove of Sanderson’s 2016 university-level lectures that have been uploaded to YouTube at their disposal. Topics range from world building, character arcs, and magic systems, as well as the agent and business aspects of writing.

I highly recommend new writers check it out. You receive a free class in genre writing with only a click: Brandon Sanderson – 318R – #1 (Course Overview)

My next selection is a blog maintained by authors and publishing professionals called Pub(lishing) Crawl. Here new writers can find advice on topics from author websites to writing a synopsis. There are hundreds of posts from some of the leading professionals in the industry. The website has a handy resource page that can take you straight to the topic of your choice. You can also check out the PubCrawl podcast hosted by S. Jae-Jones and Kelly Van Sant. Pub Crawl is packed with pure gold advice and information—definitely a must for new writers.

I’ve shared an indie author on YouTube, but now I want to share a traditionally published author, Alexa Donne. Alexa shares writing advice on her channel, but from her perspective, addressing topics that include agents, writing hacks, and publishing. While Alexa focuses mainly on YA, any writer can apply some of her tips and tricks and learn from her experience as a traditionally published author. In addition to her YouTube channel, Alex is the co-founder of Author Mentor Match, which pairs “unagented, aspiring writers with mentors to help them with their manuscripts and guide them through the publishing process.” If you have a completed manuscript, check it out! Submissions open in February and will include Adult categories this round.

And check out one of Alexa’s latest videos: How Book Advances and Royalties Work

As a busy homeschool mom and foster mom to a little one, it’s near impossible to attend nonlocal writer conferences. But never fear! I have found the perfect solution: WriteOnCon! WriteOnCon is “a three-day online children’s book conference for writers and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, and young adult.” If you write adult lit, no worries! There’s still plenty of great information you can access right from the comfort of your own home. You have the freedom to access what applies to you. The conference features live lectures and Q&As, blogposts, critique forums, and pitch sessions. There’s even a CP Match program! Be sure to attend February 21-23. Tons of information for cheap.

If you want to see past conferences and get an idea of what to expect, you can use the code NANOPREP for discounted access to to the archives of 300+ events for 30 days.

Thanks for joining me again for this month’s #WritingwithRae. As always, if you found this information helpful be sure to pass it on to other writerly friends. If you would like to learn more about a specific writing topic or technique, drop me a suggestion in the comments for future  #WritingwithRae blog posts. Join me on Twitter for #WritingwithRae threads (beginning every third Saturday of the month) and on Instagram for announcements. See you next month!

My Novel Revision Process Part 1

The 1st daft is done. Now it’s time to begin the REVISIONS. But how does one go about it? This month’s #WritingwithRae is here to the rescue.

First, let me give this caveat. Everyone will have their own process when it comes to revisions. This is mine. This give me something to work with. This gives my critique partners something to work with. It is by no means only step. It’s the first. I hope you will find it helpful, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Second, I cannot stress enough how important it is for writers to take some time away from their first draft. Writers need fresh eyes when it comes to revising a manuscript. It’s difficult to kill your darlings when they’re still sleeping in your bed.

Lastly, this month’s blog focuses solely on the FIRST revision. Unless you’re an extremely gifted or experienced writer, there will be other revisions. Sorry. We all wish there was another way around it. Each writer should find his or her own revision process. Take what you can use from this month’s blogpost and ignore what you can’t. Seek advice from a variety of resources and then get to work!

FIRST DRAFTS ARE MESSY ROOMS. Tornadoes-in-the-form-of-half-a-dozen-three-year-olds-messy-rooms. Trash. Everywhere. Toys. Everywhere. And can someone please explain what this chunky green stuff is rubbed into the carpet? We need to clean up! Roll up your sleeves. Here we go.

First we need to ORGANIZE; put everything where it belongs. I revise one chapter at a time, beginning with the first. I read through the chapter and then begin to rearrange and clean it up. Sometimes when you’re trying to clean a room, it appears messier than when you first began. You have to takes things out and move them to one side of the room while organizing the shelves and closets. Read through your chapter. Make sure all the elements are there. Fix wonky sentences. Add information that’s missing from when you first began your draft.

One thing to look for in your chapter is whether you are including sufficient sensory details. Don’t rely on sight alone. Look for ways you can include the other senses so your readers can have a rich and encompassing reading experience.

When the first draft is complete, you know what you need to do to make it the story you want it to be. You’ll be surprised how many improvements you will make right off the bat, simply by reading through it and making adjustments. You know how the story ends, so be sure to place some hooks to hang foreshadowing on. You may want to install shelving for subplots. You may need to add. You may need to subtract. Heck, you may even need to divide and multiply.

If you have had your critique partners with you throughout the drafting process, like I did, you may consult some of their ideas or feedback at this time. Make the changes you want. If an idea doesn’t work, don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of chances to revise! When you believe you’ve made all the changes you need at this time, read through it again. Make sure you haven’t left anything out of place and it’s organized like you want.

Once all the major changes are done, it’s time to go in and do a clean sweep of certain words that plague first drafts. We’re TAKING OUT THE TRASH and getting rid of everything holding this chapter back. This part in the revision process is easier than it seems. Simply open up your navigation/find box and search for where the culprits are hiding in your manuscript.

The first offenders I hunt down are FILTER WORDS. Filter words force the reader’s experience through the character’s screen. Basically the character gets in the way.

Consider the following sentence:

“Edwin FELT enraged. He could HEAR his friends’ conversation and REALIZED they were discussing his girlfriend.”

Here we have several words filtering the action of the scene so the reader is an outsider, observing Edwin.

Now consider these sentences without the filter words:

“Rage consumed Edwin. His friends were discussing his girlfriend.”

Do you see how immediate the action is? Instead of being an observer, the reader gets to experience what is happening for him/herself.

Filter words weaken your story, but like most rules of writing, it doesn’t mean you can NEVER use them. There are always exceptions. Occasionally there is no better way to construct the sentence; removing the filter word fundamentally changes the sentence’s meaning. In these cases, you should keep the word. But more often than not, you can find a better way. The last thing you want is for your reader to feel distant from the action. We want our readers engaged, and eliminating filter words helps tremendously.

Here are a few of, in my opinion, the most common filter words writers use in first drafts: DECIDE, FEEL, FELT, HEAR, HEARD, KNOW, LOOK, NOTICE, REALIZE, REMEMBER, SAW, SEE, THINK, WONDER.

There are several comprehensive lists on the internet. Get familiar with them, but don’t bother trying to correct them all while on this step in the process. Not only is it overwhelming, but time-consuming. We are not in the editing stage—this is a quick revision. Run a find/search for each of the major words, throw them in the trash bin, and move on to the next step.

Our room may be organized, but there’s still a lot of garbage: broken toys, random clothes, snack wrappers. It’s time for the next step in the revision process. We’ve searched for filter words throughout our chapter. Now it’s time to get rid of other unnecessary words weakening our prose. First up—INTENSIFIERS and QUALIFIERS. These words are very friendly in the academic writing arena, but when it comes to fiction they do little to strengthen your manuscript.

Often writers make the mistake of modifying a weaker word choice with an intensifier. For example:

“He COMPLETELY lost his mind.”

If we eliminate the intensifier, the sentence is less cluttered and more impactful:

“He lost his mind.”

Intensifiers do not generally add anything to the sentence. We fool ourselves into thinking that by writing “The water is REALLY cold” we are adding to the “coldness” of the water. Instead the intensifier has the opposite affect and weakens the sentence.

Readers lose their stamina getting through your manuscript when it’s heavy-laden with intensifiers and qualifiers. It’s tedious work sorting through each sentence in order to find the meaning. Instead, writers should choose strong verbs and meaningful adjectives and adverbs. For example, instead of writing “REALLY cold,” a stronger choice would have been “freezing.”

Here are, what I have found to be, some of the most commonly used intensifiers and qualifiers in first drafts: ABSOLUTELY, ALMOST, BASICALLY, CERTAINLY, ENTIRELY, LITERALLY, ONLY (the bane of my existence), REALLY, SIMPLY, STARTED, SUDDENLY, and VERY. Other words to be on the lookout for are AFTER, ALMOST, ALREADY, BEFORE, RATHER, SOMEWHAT, and UNTIL.

If you have managed to get rid of these qualifiers and intensifiers, congratulations! You have taken out the trash. Go reward yourself. SERIOUSLY, you deserve it. You REALLY do. LITERALLY. Ha!

Remember, word choice matters. Make strong choices.

We’ve organized and cleaned up filters, qualifiers, and intensifiers. Our chapter’s much cleaner, but there’s cookie crumbs and scrapes of paper, and where-did-all-this-hair-come from? We need to VACUUM up more problematic words. Now I’m on the search for my biggest pet peeve: the word “THAT.” It is EVERYWHERE in first drafts and almost always avoidable. Here’s the trick: if you leave “that” out and the sentence still makes sense, get rid of it.

Another thing to keep in mind is THAT vs. WHO. Too many times writers will substitute “that” when they should be using “who.” For example, “She’s the girl THAT went to boarding school.” The correct sentence should be, “She’s the girl who went to boarding school.”

Another word similar to “that” is JUST. Again, if the sentence makes sense without it, then get rid of it.

But what about dialogue, Rae? People use “that” and “just” in everyday speech. This is true. I’m perfectly fine with writers using words like “that” or “just” in dialogue. However, if you have a tendency to overuse these words in your narrative, then you most likely are overusing these words in your characters’ dialogue as well. Be sure to go through the dialogue and use these words sparingly.

Other words to search for are DOWN and UP. Writers often use “sit down,” when the very act of sitting is to move downward. Likewise for “stand up.” Getting rid of these little, but pointless words will keep your prose concise.

Some other words to be on the search for are words like BEGIN, START, SUDDEN, and THEN.

Lastly, let’s discuss adverbs. I am not in the “Adverbs Are Bad” camp, but I do believe many writers misuse them or rely on them too heavily. Often times writers fail to choose a strong verb and instead attempt to support a weak verb with an “LY” word. For example:

“The man ran quickly.” Vs. “The man dashed.”

Not only is the second sentence succinct, but it is immediate, clear, and direct.

Okay! The chapter’s organized. Trash has been removed. Now, SPOT CLEANING (remember, there’s something green and chunky in the carpet?). How do I polish my chapter? Many writers will save many of these steps for the editing stage. And as I stated before, all writers have their own methods. But there is a reason I cut unnecessary, misused, and weak words during the first few steps in the revision process.

Once your chapter is all cleaned up, it’s finally time to hear it. I cannot stress enough how important this step is during revisions, and yet so many writers neglect to do so. READ YOUR CHAPTER ALOUD. A novel may not be a poem or play, but it still needs to heard. You will be surprised at the mistakes you find, the awkward sentence structures you discover, and the clumsy wording you locate. I do this step twice. The first time I use Text-to-Speech and have the chapter read to me as I follow along. After I make the necessary fixes, I will then go through the chapter again, this time reading it aloud myself.

This is why I’m adamant about eliminating useless, misused, and weak words during the first round of revisions. I want to hear clear, concise, and strong prose. When I send my revised chapters to my CP, I want them to focus on the characters, plot, and narrative. It’s tiresome weeding through the grammatical mistakes, awkward wording, and muddy meanings. Taking a little bit of time to do quick fixes like these ultimately benefit the manuscript by allowing my CP to concentrate on his or her constructive feedback.

I’m not worrying too much about passive voice or verb tense. What I’m focusing on at this stage are the quick and simple fixes–immediate results. Listening to my chapter, I hear clean, clear, and concise prose. It’s the reward I need to move on to the next chapter. Who doesn’t love a clean room?

Before I get to the last step I find it helpful to put the chapter away for a night and finish the revision the next day with fresh eyes and ears. Take the time you need. You might finish in a day. It might take you a week.

And that’s it! First revision of chapter one is done. On to chapter two–RINSE AND REPEAT.

I hope you found this week’s #WritingwithRae helpful. Take what you can from my method and apply it to your revision process. There is no one way to complete your first revision. Discover what works for you. And please let me know if you have any questions about what you have learned from me this week. Do share some or your revision tips in the comments. #WritingwithRae

Thanks for joining me again for this month’s #WritingwithRae. As always, if you found this information helpful be sure to pass it on to other writerly friends. If you would like to learn more about a specific writing topic or technique, drop me a suggestion in the comments for future  #WritingwithRae blog posts. Join me on Twitter for #WritingwithRae threads (beginning every third Saturday of the month) and on Instagram for announcements. See you next month!

The Nitty Gritty of Character Arcs

For this month’s #WritingwithRae we will explore CHARACTER ARCS: What are they? What are the types? Are they necessary? And what are some tips and tricks?

How do we define a character arc? First, it’s important we breakdown its role in the lives of your novel’s characters. To do this, we must know what it is our characters want or need. This is their objective. Conflict arises when obstacles get in our characters paths. How each character reacts to these obstacles creates his or her arc. No one wants to read a story about a character who reaches out her hand and gets her heart’s desire. Readers want characters to deserve it. Characters must struggle; only then will they value what they have gained.

It is essential writers decide what, if any, type of arc their characters(s) will have within the story. And while writers can take inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut’s eight “Shapes of Stories,” I tend to side with the three-arcs-camp: static, positive, or negative.

First let’s examine the STATIC character. Often writers overlook such characters, believing arcs are necessary for a dynamic story. But static characters are not flat characters. Flat characters have no depth, but when a static character is crafted with purpose, he or she can still be engaging. In fact, many static characters can take the leading role in a story.  Think of Katniss from THE HUNGER GAMES (Collins), Sherlock Holmes (Doyle), Atticus Finch from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Lee), or even Alice from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND (Carroll). These characters may not make a dramatic transformation, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t grow.

Often though, static characters are used to contrast a more dynamic character (Joe vs. Pip in GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Dickens)). At times, characters who hold their ground may cause the people and world around them to transform. Other times, a static character is resistant to change due to moral standards. Static characters may be able to adapt easily to the obstacles thrown their way. No matter their impact, the world view of these characters is the same at the end of the story as it is at the beginning.

Now that we know not all characters must endure a transformation, let’s examine the most common arc in literature: the POSITIVE character arc. In the standard Hero’s Journey the protagonist overcomes both external and internal obstacles. With the positive arc, the character goes from “man” to “superman,” an ideal version of themselves. Typically the positive arc begins with a character’s misconception about themselves or the world around him or her. Often times this manifests as a flaw that thwarts the character’s efforts in obtaining their objective.

Along the character’s journey he or she is faced with a crisis and confronted with the truth about the lie they believe or the flaws they possess. If the character’s reaction is to embrace the truth, the result is a positive arc. They have found the chain holding them back or the key to achieving what they need. In some cases the objective may change altogether. Either way, the character has reached an inner strength/self-awareness. They are “more” and equipped to handle their new reality.

I recommend examining the positive arcs of the multitude of characters in novels such as LES MISERABLE (Hugo) or A SONG OF FIRE AND ICE (Martin). You can get the most bang for your buck with an ensemble cast. Taking the time to think critically about each character’s arc and comparing and contrasting these arcs with the others will be a great exercise.

Sometimes characters are bested by the trials and tribulations they suffer. This too can be quite compelling to witness. For these characters, their arc ends on a NEGATIVE note. Negative and positive arcs have similar beginnings: the character struggles to obtain his/her want or need. However, for these characters the misconception they have about themselves or the world around them does not encumber their goal. Instead it drives them.

Characters on a negative arc path do not suspect their arc will end any other way than positive. Where the path deviates from a positive arc is when the character embraces the lie instead of the truth. The acceptance of the lie may result from corruption, disillusionment, or a fall from grace. Often times, the character does so unknowingly, simple because their misconception is validated by the world surrounding them. Ultimately the chosen path leads to a character’s self-destruction. It doesn’t matter if the original objective was for good or ill intent. The result is a downward spiral.

Some of the most powerful character arcs with negative impacts are those where the character doesn’t just discover the “truth,” but has always known the truth. Despite knowing better, the character goes down the opposite path, maintaining all the while they are capable of not getting mixed up, whether it’s morally, legally, or emotionally. Unfortunately, the character is forced to compromise over and over until they are so far in, they have no choice but to accept the lie. This ultimately concludes with their defeat.

Examples of character with negative arcs include Nick Carraway in THE GREAT GATSBY (Fitzgerald), Frank Wheeler in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (Yates), and Michael from THE GODFATHER (Puzo).

Lastly, let me leave you with a few closing thoughts all writers should keep in mind when crafting character arcs.

Whether your character’s arc is flat or a personal transformation, it’s crucial writers examine their characters’ arcs so the cause-and-effect of the plot can move to the forefront. This will also anchor your characters within the story.

When facing obstacles, a character’s strengths & weaknesses are tested and stretched beyond the point of elasticity, causing whatever state the character began in to be permanently changed. It is at the climax of the story your character must make his or her choice. Will they embrace the truth about themselves? Will they adapt to the way the world is truly? Or will they discover they were right all along and remain static? How much growth does he or she obtain on this journey?

Conflict requires action and affects characters internally. As characters react to the obstacles set before them they are progressing through an emotional/spiritual crossing. This internal crossing is just as important as the external crossing

Secondary characters have arcs as well, but it’s important writers do not let those arcs upstage that of the main character, unless, of course, you’re dealing with an ensemble cast. For example, Javert’s arc is just as compelling as Jean Valjean’s; Cossette’s as much as Eponine’s; Marius as much as Enjolras in LES MISERABLE (Hugo).

While there is a ton of advice on crafting character arcs, there is no right or wrong way. Pick the approach that works for the character and plot you are implementing in your novel. Many times, your character’s arc develops naturally once you have established what is preventing him or her from obtaining their objective.

Which are your favorite character arcs? Can you come up with examples of static, positive, and negative arcs? If you plotted your own arc, what would it look like?

Thanks for joining me again for this month’s #WritingwithRae. As always, if you found this information helpful be sure to pass it on to other writerly friends. If you would like to learn more about a specific writing topic or technique, drop me a suggestion in the comments for future  #WritingwithRae blog posts. Join me on Twitter for #WritingwithRae threads (beginning every third Saturday of the month) and on Instagram for announcements. See you next month!

The Unreliable Narrator

It’s me, Rae! Or is it? The stories we tell are filtered through the narrator of the story. But what happens when that narrator’s viewpoint is compromised? This month’s #WritingwithRae explores the UNRELIABLE NARRATOR. Thanks to @akejones for the great topic suggestion.

I recently read THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware. Although I did find it particularly a great book, I really appreciated how Ware turned the idea of an unreliable narrator on its head. Instead of bring us to the conclusion our narrator isn’t telling the truth, we suspect her because everyone else suspects her. She has been the victim of a crime, drinks to excess, and has been battling anxiety since a teenager. Even she’s aware of how others view her, but is adamant she is telling the truth. Another recent read, NINE PERFECT STRANGERS  by Liane Moriarty, is filled with characters with questionable motives and suspicious accounts of the events unfolding. But do these novels count as examples of unreliable narrators? To answer this question, we need to examine the purpose and employment of this device.

The term “unreliable narrator” was first coined by Wayne C. Booth in his 1961 book THE RHETORIC OF FICTION, but authors have used the concept for many years prior. An unreliable narrator does not tell the truth & lacks credibility. They may be blatant liars, hide the truth, or misjudge their circumstances. While almost always done in first person, there are a variety of types and an assortment of ways in which an author reveals unreliability.

At times the unreliable narrator device is used to keep a reader turning the pages, as they do not know what to expect. Other times an unreliable narrator is used to draw the reader into making his or her own conclusions. Either way, when done well, an unreliable narrator is a puzzle the reader wants to decipher—the truth is a mystery waiting to be discovered. This is why this device is especially helpful in crime & mystery novels where the author reveals information in a precise & purposeful way. Horror & supernatural stories also do well with unreliable narrators, especially when an author needs to blur the lines between fantasy & reality.

Writers must take care when employing this type of narrator; it breaks the unspoken trust between reader & writer. Your unreliable narrator’s purpose will be clear to the reader and you will avoid burning that trust to the ground. To do so successfully, writers must provide moments within the story where the reader will second guess or question the narrator’s version and search the pages for the underlying truth.

There are several ways to categorize unreliable narrators and it’s important writers are aware of the major types. The first type are LIARS. One might even argue that by definition all unreliable narrators fall into this first category. This character may lie by omission, contradict him or herself throughout the story verbally or through actions, or admit to being a liar from the get-go.

Characters who are deliberately dishonest may be the most difficult to sustain throughout a novel. The character’s motivations are in question—they take no responsibility for their deception. They have your attention and can tell the story however they wish. It’s a challenge to get your reader to connect with a confessed liar; they probably won’t even like your narrator. The character’s nature is deceitful and they are incapable of telling their story objectively. This character is deliberately being tricky. But authors must provide either common ground with or a way for the reader to relate to the narrator—a reason to hear the character’s version of the story. An unreliable narrator that falls into this category must be compelling enough for the reader to stay throughout the entire book.

Some examples of the LIAR include Briony Tallis in ATONEMENT (McEwan), Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Burgess), Dr. Sheppard in THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD (Christie), Holden Caulfield in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (Salinger), Paul Lohman in THE DINNER (Koch), Christopher Boone in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (Haddon), Rosemary in WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES (Fowler), Frank Cauldhame in THE WASP FACTORY (Banks), and John Dowell in THE GOOD SOLDIER (Dowell).

Our second category includes NAÏVE characters. This character is usually a child or a character who has experienced life in an unusual way than those currently around him or her. They may have little experience with the way of the world, lack understanding, or have an inability to cope with reality. This category can also include characters who have a learning disability, brain damage, or lower than average intelligence.

These narrators are not deliberately lying, but rather their account of events is unreliable due to innocence, simplicity, gullibility, or inexperience. Their interpretation of the events forces us to translate their tale from a more traditional perspective and follow the bread crumbs towards the truth of the matter.

Some examples of NAÏVE narrators include Jack in ROOM (Donoghue), Scout from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Lee), Huck from THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FYNN (Twain), Forrest in FORREST GUMP (Groom), the children in THE THREE (Lotz), Christopher in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (Haddon), Edward in BIG FISH (Wallace), Bartholomew in THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW (Quick), and Piscine in THE LIFE OF PIE (Martel).

Our third category of unreliable narrators are what I call the MOONSTRUCK, and includes those characters with a variety of disorders, diseases, trauma, psychosis, etc. These are characters who may experience hallucinations, are under the influence, suffer flashbacks, amnesia, or PTSD. Their perspective is skewed due to mental illness or a personality disorder. Sometimes the lying is intentional, sometimes it’s not—it all depends on the specific way in which a character is written in the story.

Some examples of MOONSTRUCK narrators include Holden from CATCHER IN THE RYE (Salinger), Pat from THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (Quick), Charlie in THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (Chbosky), the unnamed narrator in FIGHT CLUB (Palahniuk), Rachel from THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Hawkins), Lia from WINTERGIRLS (Anderson), Chief Bromden in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (Kesey), Raoul Duke in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (Thompson), Barbara in NOTES ON A SCANDAL (Heller), Humbert from LOLITA (Nabokov), The narrator in THE TELL-TALE HEART (Poe), Patrick in AMERICAN PSYCHO (Ellis), John in A BEAUTIFUL MIND (Nasar), Barney in BARNEY’S VERSION (Richler), Portnoy from PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT (Roth), Teddy in SHUTTER ISLAND (Lehane),  and Charles in PALE FIRE (Nabokov).

Lastly, let’s consider the LAWLESS category of unreliable narrators. Lawless characters lie to cover up their crimes. They’re motivated by a need to justify their actions, blame other characters, exact revenge, set up another to take the fall, or any other way one attempts to save oneself from consequences. The Lawless narrator is being manipulative as an act of self-preservation, and may exaggerate or diminish what happened. They want you to understand a fabricated truth and deliberately steer readers away from certain information. Occasionally we find characters who are unaware of their distortions of the truth, and are doing so not so much as avoiding punishment, but more as a way of coping with the unbearable truth of what they have done.

Examples of LAWLESS unreliable narrators include Nick & Amy from GONE GIRL (Flynn), John in THE GOOD SOLDIER (Ford), Keyser Soze from THE USUAL SUSPECTS (Larson), Nina & Isobel in TALKING TO THE DEAD (Bingham), Charles in PALE FIRE (Nabokov), & the narrator in THE END OF ALICE (Homes).

There are some types of unreliable narrators that are more difficult to categorize. For instance, some characters do not know the whole truth or misinterprets the truth. One such example is the narrator in REBECCA (du Maurier). She is not deliberately being deceitful; she simple does not understand and is therefore misled to what the truth is.

Some narrators tell their version of the story based on prejudices. Whether they were raised to believe a certain way or adopted a belief as an adult, bias, discrimination, bigotry, etc. can slant the narrative. Nelly from WUTHERING HEIGHTS (Brontë) and Invisible Man from INVISIBLE MAN (Ellision) are examples of this type of unreliable narrator. The narrator in REBECCA (du Maurier) would also fall into this category.

Lastly, some narrators are “Other.” These may be ghosts or otherworldly beings. Screwtape from THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS (Lewis) and the ghost in THE TURN OF THE SCREW (James) are examples of unreliable narrators who fall into the “other.”

So what are a few things authors need to consider when deliberating the use of an unreliable narrator? The first aspect to ponder is whether you, as an author, are oversimplifying the definition of an unreliable narrator. These characters are more than just liars. After all, we have just examined a number of unreliable narrator types and determined these characters can hide facets of the truth, withhold information, or misjudge circumstances.

The author must determine how the narrator relates information. This will depend on their perception of reality. Narrators consider the “audience” to which they are telling their story—their assessment of their narrative audience. Imagine telling a raunchy story to your best friend how that story might change in the telling if the audience was suddenly your grandmother. To the narrator, audience matters.

So, instead of examining literary theory and introducing you to Peter J Rabinowitz , Tamar Yacobi, Ansgar Nünning, & Greta Olson, who provide criticism and insight into unreliable narrators, I will touch on the reader’s ability to believe or not believe the character.

Readers use certain cognitive strategies in determining a narrator’s reliability and it is those strategies authors can exploit. Suspecting a narrator as being unreliable goes beyond intuition. Readers come to the table with preexisting concepts of normalcy and it is this difference between the narrator’s norms that clue the reader into the narrator’s reliability. After all, if your worldview is similar to the narrator’s you may be less likely to suspect the narrator of not being trustworthy. If the opposite is true, then you may see warning signals far earlier in the story.

Ultimately authors must contemplate on how a reader reconciles discrepancies in the narrator’s account. There is a scale that shifts back and forth as the reader follows the narration–trustworthy on one end and unreliable on the other. A crafty author learns how to signal to the reader where and when to move the slider on that scale. A signal may include a character contradicting him or herself, having spotty memory, or lying to another character. Another signal may involve the narrator challenging the reader’s understanding of the world or confirming an impossibility (i.e. “I see dead people.”). Having awareness of how the reader interprets the narration is key to having a successful unreliable narrator.

Another consideration is the reader’s comprehension of literary devices, genres, stock characters, and conventions and how these can affect a reader’s strategy in determining a narrator’s reliability. A reader who is aware of the author’s employment of the braggart soldier character may identify that character’s contradictions faster than a reader who does not. A writer cannot know an individual reader’s awareness, but nevertheless should keep such things in mind.

There are several tips writers can engage to give their unreliable narrator purpose realization. The first is understanding that every narrator is, in essence, unreliable to some degree. It’s been called the Rashomon Effect. Memory is faulty and subjective, situations can be misconstrued, and perspectives are skewed. Each narrator relates a different version, even though the story is the same. Some aspects of each account are true and some are false.

Second is knowing our characters are reflections of real life. As we are flawed, so are they. Characters should be layered with blind spots, individual opinions, & insights, giving them a unique “voice.” Partial unreliability adds to those layers & portrays a narrator as “human.” However, when an author uses the device of an unreliable narrator, the unreliability does more than add a layer to making a believable character. It has purpose and justification, driving the plot forward. When using this device, the writer’s job is to place the question in the reader’s mind: who is this narrator really? When done correctly, readers continue to turn the page to find the answer. They need to find know.

Third, writers must consider the reader’s connection to the character. The reader is giving the writer unearned trust. It’s called the Suspension of Disbelief—the reader stays his or her doubt or criticism for the sake of the story’s enjoyment. If an author is not deliberate in the use of an unreliable narrator, if the author goes too far and too fast, that trust has not been respected and the reader’s connection with the character is broken. Poorly crafted unreliable narrator can feel manipulative, confusing, or pretentious. The trick is to give just enough doubt for the reader to suspect something is amiss.

A fourth tip writers can utilize is creating a narrator whose motives are unclear. When your narrator’s drives differ from or mindset conflicts with other characters, readers begin to question the reliability of the narrator’s version of the story. Nora from THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS (Messud) is a great example of how this can be done successfully.

Sometimes writers can paint their narrator as innocent or the victim of some wrong doing. It is only later when the narrator’s duplicity is revealed. When done with precision, readers can easily recall all the clues left by the author throughout the story & experience a dual feeling of respect & revulsion for the cunning character. We were fooled by their veil of virtue, when all the while it was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Nick and Amy from GONE GIRL (Flynn) and the narrators of WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (Semple) are great example of how authors can surprise a reader with sly unreliable narrators.

Authors can drop hints as to the unreliability of their character in a variety of other ways. For example, using secondary characters to catch your narrator in a lie (as in Koch’s THE DINNER with the character Serge). One may also have a predictable narrator suddenly do something so far off from what is expected your reader’s head is liable to spin (as in Fowler’s WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES with the character Nora).

What’s important is that the reader believes it. Having your narrator be a sociopath like Patrick in AMERICAN PSYCHO (Ellis) is all well and good, but when readers sympathize with a complex character who is revealed to be unreliable, it’s gold.

Whether they are trying to protect others or themselves, an unreliable narrator’s justifications are relatable. The reader is left asking, “Would I do the same in their shoes? Independent to when the unreliable narrator is revealed (straight away, gradually, plot twist), the use of the device should leave the readers questioning their interpretation of the story & reexamining the trustworthiness of the character’s version of events.

For a deeper study into unreliable narrators, I highly recommend an examination of Eva Khatchadourian in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Shriver). This highly complicated unreliable narrator fits into several categories. Here we find a mother tackling both grief and shame after her son’s act of violence. As difficult as it is to answer why is also the question of how much responsibility does Eva bear? Closure is not conceivable without knowing the answer and she is consumed and tortured by her search and need for…what? Absolution? Pity? Or punishment?

Who is your favorite unreliable narrators or authors who frequently uses this device? What is the last novel you read where an author kept you guessing the narrator’s reliability to the end?

I appreciate you being a part of Writing with Rae this month and I hope you found some helpful information to take your writing a step further. If you would like to learn more about a specific writing topic or technique, drop me a suggestion in the comments for future  #WritingwithRae Twitter threads (beginning every third Saturday of the month). See you next month!