Contemporary Romance Author Natalie Charles Discusses Finding Your Voice In Fiction

By Natalie Charles

Agents and editors often say they’re looking for a fresh voice. Author, Natalie Charles discusses what this really means on Writer’s Digest. Read the full article here.


Natalie Charles is the author of three romantic suspense novels and four contemporary romance novels. Her latest book, Seeking Mr. Wrong, is available now. To learn more about Natalie check out her website and follow her on Twitter @Tallie_Charles.


Do’s and Don’t’s of Believable Dialogue

By Kelsey Schnieders

Writing natural dialogue can often be one of the most difficult parts of writing a story.  Writers are drawn to lyrical language, unique words, and unusual sentence structure.  While these elements can create lovely description, unfortunately, they are not the most effective tools to create believable dialogue.

When done properly, dialogue can give insight into who your characters are, develop relationships between characters, and breathe life into your manuscript.
The following are some do’s and don’t’s for creating believable, realistic, and effective dialogue.


  1. Give each character a distinct voice.

In the real world, everyone talks RM_05.15_ff_riskdialoguejust a little bit differently.  Some people are prone to being wordier than others, some are prone to using slang, some are prone to having “catch phrase” words they use often.  Including elements that individual characters are likely to use differently will help not only the dialogue in your manuscript, but also the characterization.

  1. Mimic ways in which people actually talk.

Conversations between people are often not straightforward.  People are prone to changing the subject, not directly answering questions, or maybe even not paying attention at all.  If dialogue between your characters feels stiff and unnatural, try making one character more focused on something else than on the topic at hand.

When speaking, people often engage in cross talk, which occurs when one person asks a question that the second person doesn’t quite answer, maybe even changing the subject, and the conversation continues thusly, with each person not exactly responding to the other.  Conversations like this can work effectively at some points in a narrative, as it’s an effective tool to show topics characters are sensitive about discussing.  Much characterization can be revealed in the ways in which people talk about, or don’t talk about, something.

  1. Give your characters something to do.

When your characters are conversing in a scene, make sure that they have something to do, even if it’s as simple as washing dishes or tying a shoe.  Breaking up lines of dialogue with periodic interjections of action will help your characters avoid the dreaded “talking heads syndrome” and ground the dialogue in scene.


  1. Overuse dialogue tags.

Overusing dialogue tags, particularly when they make use of strong verbs like retorted, bellowed, grumbled, shouted, etc., may be done with the intention of offering more detail, but may actually take the reader out of the scene.  Words Education Conceptlike these tear the reader’s attention from the dialogue itself.  The tone in which a character is speaking should be effectively portrayed through the dialogue itself and shouldn’t rely on the crutch of a descriptive word.  If you feel that one is still necessary, perhaps re-examine your dialogue and see if rewriting the line could better express the tone with which it is being said.

  1. Overuse slang.

While slang can be used sparingly to provide a valuable insight into who a character is and how they talk, constantly overusing it—or placing it in every line in which a character speaks—can be frustrating and take a reader out of the story.

  1. Use dialogue to convey a large amount of information.

Conversations are typically quick, back-and-forth banter, so long paragraphs of information often read as unnatural.  Lines of dialogue should be kept somewhat brief in order preserve a sense of realism in the conversation as a whole.  If long blocks of information, such as backstory or significant plot points, are necessary, they are best conveyed outside of dialogue.

Dialogue may seem like a simple element—and at its best, it is simple—but the effects it has on characterization and suspense can be huge. Dialogue that mimics real speech can work with other elements in your story to develop authentic, full-of-life characters.

By following the above do’s and don’t’s of writing believable dialogue, you’re well on your way to crafting believable dialogue and enriching your characters.


Kelsey is a literary assistant with Holloway Literary. Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter @KelseyLefever.



A Creative Writing MFA Is Not For Everyone

By Michael Caligaris

I’m certain every serious writer, regardless of age or day job, has at one time or another contemplated getting their Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Why wouldn’t you? It’s so alluring to the serious writer: a 2-3 year commitment to producing work while up against hard deadlines, tough critics, and countless reading assignments. I myself received an MFA in 2014 from St. Mary’s College of California, located in the Bay Area. Now an agent, I can’t deny that my time as a student certainly helped hone and shape my literary taste, style, and knowledge. It not only furthered my career through invaluable teaching and writing experience but also instilled a deeper appreciation for the literary scene and business.

With that said, I can also attest to the fact that the MFA is not for everybody. There are just as many concerning factors to take into consideration before applying or even thinking about applying. My hope here is to provide some insight that can hopefully aid those dedicated writers wondering if the MFA is the next road they should travel down.



mfaFirst and foremost, writers, especially struggling writers, are not necessarily wealthy people. We work odd jobs, freelance, or plug away at an office desk while surreptitiously revising our novel—ready to pull up that Excel sheet whenever the boss makes the next round around the cubicle. Ah, the life of an artist. And it is perhaps because of this lifestyle that one must truly consider the financial aspect of the MFA.

Full-time tuition ranges between $21,000 and $35,000. You should expect to swallow at least a portion of that amount of money per year through FAFSA or private loans, even if you are granted the coveted scholarship—you cannot forget living expenses, which should be factored around $10,000.

Getting a “full-ride” is not necessarily a goal or hope any future MFA candidate should have. Only a handful of programs—those being the most prestigious, such as The Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Cornell, Michigan, NYU—offer this sort of funding flat-out. And if you are granted such a generous scholarship, expect to teach as being part of a fellowship.

With that said, this is loan money we are talking here—which is really Monopoly money—and you should never let a price tag discourage you from attaining your dream career.


Majority of serious writers out there are in some sort of workshop or writing circle or have a BETA reader on hand. These are usually acquaintances that share a passion or members of a local bookstore group or your Aunt Sally who reads your manuscript in the bathtub. What’s so great about getting your MFA is that you now have access to THE ULTIMATE WORKSHOP.

Not all graduate programs are alike. This means that not all workshops are alike. There are of course horror stories out there—workshops that range from drunken buffoonery to sadist blood baths. I can only really speak to my own workshop at St. Mary’s and then again at The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Both were extremely pleasant, albeit tough to please, which is the best combination in my opinion. Constructive criticism is hard to come by, and the MFA facilitates this.a423a5550

Additionally, many programs invite visiting writers to teach workshop for 1 semester. This allows you to work with well established or maybe even FAMOUS contemporary authors on a first name basis. Pretty cool.

Buyer Beware: the thin-skinned will not have a pleasant time whatsoever in an MFA workshop.



Terrified of reading your work in public? Great, me too. But I did this during my years as an MFA candidate many times over. It allowed me to grow as a writer. Having to stand in front of a crowd of strangers and read your personal art aloud not only forces you to truly revise and consider your work at a micro-sentence level, it trains you to believe—I mean truly believe—in your authorial voice and your talent.

Additionally, most programs offer unique internships. For example, I know numerous colleagues that taught writing to inmates at that infamous San Quinton prison for class credit. Depending on where you live, you can also work for literary magazines, get involved in writer salons, and even host your own literary events. If you have the itch to fully submerse yourself into the literary scene, then an MFA provides that opportunity.



Time is never on our side. Life is a whirlwind. I get it. Maybe sacrificing 2-3 years of your life in order to better what you see as a hobby is not financially or professionally responsible. These are real things to consider.

College Student Studying in Library
However, I know plenty of writers who went through the MFA program and today are no longer writers. This is because time, or lack thereof, does not stop for you to write. Think of the process of obtaining an MFA as “stopping time” in a way. Like any other graduate program, the student must put other less-significant priorities on hold while in school. And I can’t see a better excuse for why you have to leave a party or quit a job or relieve yourself of your duties at the church bake sale than: “Sorry, I have to go and write. It’s for school.”


Michael, who has a Creative Writing MFA from St. Mary’s College is an agent with Holloway Literary.  Learn more about him here and then follow him on Twitter @mikecali31.


Six Tips for World Building in Your Fantasy Novel

If you’re a writer of fantasy, you know that world building can make or break your story. Oh, it can be so much fun to create an entirely new world from scratch or just modify an existing world with elements from your imagination. YA fantasy author, Amber Mitchell is a pro at world building and wants to share some of her favorite tips with you!

Read the article in its entirety on Writer’s Digest.


Amber Mitchell graduated from the University of South Florida with a BA in Creative Writing. She likes crazy hair styles, reading, D&D, k-dramas, good puns and great food.

When she isn’t putting words on paper, she is using cardstock to craft 3D artwork or exploring new places with her husband Brian. They live a small town in Florida with their four cats where she is still waiting for a madman in a blue box to show up on her


Amber’s first novel Garden of Thorns released on March 6, 2017 with Entangled Publishing. For more on Amber visit her website and  follow her on Twitter @Amberinblunderl.


What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write

By: Kerstin Wolf

One of the biggest issues writers seem to face is writer’s block. Everything might be going great; words are just flowing through your fingertips and onto the screen (or paper, if that’s what you prefer), when suddenly your muse abandons you like the power in your house during a storm. What was once so clear is suddenly a pitch-black room where your toe keeps finding every piece of furniture, and you can’t find the flashlight. Little did you know, the repeated toe stubbing caused the flashlight to fall from the table and roll under the couch. Of course. It is the luck of many a person and figuratively thousands and thousands of writers. Don’t despair in your dark room though! The power will come back on at some point! But do you really want to wait?

If you are reading this, I assume that you are one of the antsy and impatient fellows How-Freelance-Writers-Can-Overcome-Writers-Blockwho don’t want to wait. Great! You shouldn’t wait! If you let writer’s block stomp all over you all the time, you’ll never get your writing done. While perhaps waiting a day or two won’t hurt and might make things better, but don’t wait more than a week. Anything after that is just precious writing time being thrown to the wind. It’s time you stand up to that bully known as Writer’s Block and win back your muse! Ironically, this blog post is the result of overcoming writer’s block. If I can do it, then so can you!

So what to do now? You’ve waited a few days, and there’s still nothing. Exercise of some sort is always a recommended remedy. But if you’re like me, you’ll find that it only leads to more eating and sleeping and still zero ideas. Showers or baths are also possible cures, but perhaps you’ve already taken a shower today or don’t want waste any more of your writing time. If that’s the case, here are two writing ideas to help get you going on your novel in no time.

Be Silly

Maybe the reason you have writer’s block is because you’re taking your writing too seriously. This is the most common reason for why I get stuck. Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you get your idea on paper. In all likelihood, it will be horribly, horribly flawed but fixable. Only fixable at a later date though! Don’t correct your writing as you go! For majority of writers, correcting while writing will only slow you down or bring you to a stand still. I understand that this is easier said than done. There are apps out there like Write or Die that are made just for those struggling to write continuously and without going back to correct things. This app is great, but may not help if you’re already partially through a manuscript and have hit a road block.

This is where my advice to be silly comes in. Wherever you are at in your manuscript right now, throw in something ridiculous. Say your main character’s mother just died, and you’re stuck; nothing you write fits how you think the scene should go. Add in a flying, pizza-loving pig wearing Dorothy’s ruby red slippers singing ABBA. Yes, you read that correctly. I want you now incorporate a fabulous flying pig into that scene. How would that work? Does the pig just crash through that hospital window and just keep on going? Perhaps the pig is a dear friend of the mother’s. Maybe the pig is secretly the doctor who has been disguised as a human all along. How do your characters react? Go nuts with it! The crazier you make it, the better! The only rule while doing this is that you can’t go back and change what you’ve written. If you go back in your writing, the pig will eat one of your characters! Do you want your characters to die? If yes, maybe you should be killing off more of your characters. Start channeling George R. R. Martin! If not, That’s good! You like your characters. No killing needed.

19614154_m           If this is a little (or a lot) too crazy for you, you can tone down this exercise. In place of a flying pig, you can instead have a more realistic surprise play out. Either way, this exercise should get you writing and take off some of the stress of having everything be perfect. You may learn a whole new side of your characters from this crazy encounter that will get you over this block and change how you envisioned the scene/story playing out.

Once you’ve finished this exercise, don’t delete the craziness that you’ve written. Copy and paste the section from your manuscript into a blank document and hold on to it. You never know when that craziness will be needed again. You may even have written something in there that is secretly brilliant and gets incorporated into your novel later on.


Side Stories

Another exercise to try is to write side stories as short stories! Is there some event, something, somewhere, or someone in your novel that you wish you could’ve gone into more detail on? Now’s your chance! Write a short story in your novel’s world following one of your characters and incorporating whatever you feel like you’ve missed or were unable to include in your novel in such detail. Perhaps in your novel, your characters were stuck on a ship for a few months. Obviously, you couldn’t include everything that happened over those months in your novel. Write a short story about that. It doesn’t need to be too over the top. Perhaps one of your characters pulled a prank on another character. What happened? How did the prank play out? How did the characters react?

Side stories are a great way to think about the world your characters live in and learn more about your characters and their interactions. Your extra “research” into this world may be what helps you overcome writer’s block.


Kerstin is an intern with Holloway Literary. Follow her on Twitter @Kerstin_Wolf.



Amber Mitchell Discusses Her Journey To Becoming A Published Author

Today we’re talking with Amber Mitchell about her journey to publishing her first novel, Garden of Thorns, hitting shelves on March 6, 2017. Amber graduated from the University of South Florida with a BA in Creative Writing. She currently lives in a small town in Florida with her husband Brian and their four cats.

Starting from the very beginning, what inspired you to start writing Garden of Thorns?

Every time I see a movie where there is a big ball room scene and the women are twirling around in their ball gowns, I always thought they looked like flowers. It was one of those things I filed away for a later date.  While I was editing a supernatural novel that I was working on, this voice kept tempting me. It grew so loud that I opened up a different Word.doc and I started writing in Rose’s perspective. Her situation, being trapped where she was, resonated with me so strongly that I had to keep writing to figure out exactly what she was so afraid of. That night I came up with the concept of the Dancing Flowers and the Gardener and never looked back. GARDEN OF THORNS was one of the few books I didn’t plot out completely before I started writing. After I got stuck, I started to plot, but I was surprise at how natural it came to me.
What were some of the edits you made in order to polish your manuscript before submitting to agents?
I went through a lot of rounds to edit GARDEN before I considered it ready. I knew I had something special with the concept and world but I had a lot of problems with the middle half of my book. After getting some feedback from beta readers I was able to refocus the plot and felt the book was much stronger. I also needed to add more world building in. I’d had touches of Delmar’s religion and culture but I needed to amplify it even more before I sent it out.
When you decided to submit your work to agents, how did you narrow down the hugeamber-9491 list of agents to a list of those you wanted to query? How did you keep yourself organized throughout this process?
My saving grace was I lived on that website. It’s really useful because you can track which agents you query, the status of your query and on what day the agent responds. I updated it every day and spent hours reading the comments people posted and what other agents had requested and rejected. When I felt I was ready to start querying agents, I looked at what they represented first and foremost. I was not making the mistake of sending out a query to someone that didn’t represent my genre. Since I was writing a YA fantasy, an agent that represented both of those genres became a must for me. I shied away from those that liked YA but weren’t into epic fantasy since I wanted to save myself as much heartache as possible. After that, I looked at which agents were the most active, who they represented and sent out my queries.
Speaking of queries, what tips can you give other writers who are faced with the daunting task of writing their query letter?
Do your research. This is such a big one. And after you’ve done your research, make sure you are personalizing every query you send out there to the best of your ability and following guidelines to the tee. Don’t get disqualified before an agent even lays eyes on your work! The other major thing that I find helpful is to give your query to people that haven’t read your book and ask them if it makes sense with their limited knowledge. That will help you weed out those generic phrases and confusing sentences.
gardenYou were signed by Nikki Terpilowski and have been working with her ever since. What is it like working with an agent? Was there anything that surprised you?
It’s really nice having someone in your corner that will help you navigate the maze of the publishing world so you can focus on the things that matter (like writing). Since this is my first publication, I had so many questions and Nikki has happily answered every single one. She has always been an awesome advocate, giving me great advice, celebrating my victories and also advising me when to take a step back and let things play out naturally. Even now, I have a hard time letting go of control, not because I don’t trust, but because I care so much. However, I’ve learned to breathe easier knowing that Nikki is on top of things.
After your book sold to Entangled Publishing, did you have anything that surprised you about how a publishing house operates?
Working under deadline has been a completely new experience for me. I’m a slower writer (I used to think I was pretty fast but I’ve come to reconsider that opinion) so while I would always set myself deadlines, it was nothing like what was expected of me during the editing phase of publication. Then there was the added pressure of knowing that people are relying on me to get my job done so they can complete theirs. I loved the back and forth of completing edits and then receiving comments from my editor a few weeks later. It made the novel feel alive, always changing, always new.
The other thing I didn’t expect was how many rounds of edits it would need. I was prepared for the developmental and line edits but the multiple rounds of copy edits took me by surprise. I actually found the copy edits to be the hardest because I could no longer move things around and suddenly, I had to justify why I was changing a word or taking one out.
When the edit notes came in, did you have any obstacles that seemed insurmountable? How do you approach editing your story?
The first round of developmental edits were big and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t scare me. When I first opened up the email, it felt like I needed to rewrite most of my book, which was only partially true. After re-reading the email and speaking with my husband, what I began to realize is that I needed to re-think all of the decisions I’d made and really figure out what made sense. I needed to reanalyze character motivation and relationships to figure out what all of my main characters wanted. After I started thinking about motivation and how that affected everything in the world, the rest sort of flowed onto the page naturally. It helped that I got permission not to worry about word count!
What is one “writing tip” you learned from editing Garden of Thorns?
The question that kept coming up in editing was what was keeping Rose and Rayce from their goals. Was it just for plot’s sake or did I create an underlying reason for them to be unable to obtain their goals (and each other) in the beginning of the story? When I approached the story for that angle, scenes that were lacking tension suddenly sparked off the page.
So the biggest trick I’ve learned from editing GARDEN, is to really dig deep and figure out what is keeping your characters from reaching their goals emotionally, physically, spiritually and societally. Points if you can come up with something that does all four! Make them want whatever they want badly, make it impossible and then join in their triumph as they strive, bleed and stretch to reach the unobtainable.  
You mentioned in your earlier interview that you found out how impatient you were during the slow moving process that is publishing. Any advice to writers who find themselves staring at their computer screens?
Is there any advice they would like to share with me?
I kid, I kid. Mostly…
The only thing that has helped me besides very cheap champagne and expensive chocolate is to focus on your next project. I hate this advice because it’s literal torture to follow it, but if you really do unplug yourself from the internet, even 10 minutes at a time to fall in love with something else, it will get easier. Not a lot easier, but enough to function.
It seems that publishers and agents alike are always advising authors to be building their author platform. How did you approach this?
This is something I’m working on even as I’m typing this interview. I started out in the book blogging community so that is proving helpful. It’s also very prudent to test several different social media sites so you can find out which ones are enjoyable for you to use. Personally, I really like Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads so that is what I’ve been focusing on. Try to be active, don’t make every tweet, update or blog post about writing. People want to know the person behind the words.
walt disney world - magic kingdom castle fireworksAny exciting plans to celebrate your book’s publication day?
I’m going to Disney World with my hubby and friends! No, seriously, I am. Which isn’t a super huge deal since I live in Florida but it seems like a good way to celebrate the fruition of a lifelong dream. I might even get that Gaston plushie I’ve been eyeing and if I want to get really crazy, we might even go to meat sweats (we call Brazilian steakhouses by this lovely moniker) for dinner.


For more about Amber and Garden of Thorns check out her website or follow her on Twitter @Amberinblunderl.


Five Questions To Answer When Crafting Characters

By Kortney Price

My absolute favorite movie of all time is The Goonies. It’s a staple for movie night, and we can’t get through a single family gathering without someone yelling, “hey you guys!” I’ve probably seen the movie a thousand times, and I’m pretty sure I’ll see it at least a thousand more. Why? Because the Goonies are one of my favorite groups of characters 7f4f780e0dc5b505bfad0b4099aaffadever. They’re memorable, flawed, loyal and pretty darn hilarious.

That being said, it probably doesn’t come as any surprise that one of my favorite things to see in a manuscript is wonderfully quirky, realistic characters. Developed characters are a foundational element of a polished manuscript. So, how do you know if your characters are as developed on the page as they are in your head? Here are five of the things that I look for in developed characters.

1. What does the character want?

Characters, like anyone, have goals. Your protagonist’s goal should be made clear pretty early in your story. Setting this up gives the reader a (dare I say) treasure map. Showing a goal give’s the reader an opportunity to imagine what the ending will be like, and the many possible obstacles between where they are and where they want to be. Anticipating obstacles is one part of what draws readers in and makes them want to continue with your story. If your character has a goal, you can define what motivates him to chase the goal, what’s keeping him from the goal, and what growth is required to reach the goal. All of these are necessary for developing your character.

2.     What are the character’s flaws?

Faults abound in the Goonies. Mikey is stubborn and doesn’t always think things through, Chunk is a compulsive liar and a prankster, Data’s inventions tend to cause property damage and/or bodily harm, and Mouth has trouble with saying rude or inappropriate things. These faults all drive the story forward in some way and make the cast of this movie memorable. If your characters don’t have faults, it’s going to be impossible for readers to connect with them.

The presence of internal struggles is what draws people to a story, so ask yourself these questions. How does a past trauma affect the way your character acts now? How she views the world? How does this limit her? How is your story going to force her to confront those struggles in order to attain her goal?


3.    Is the character active?

Great protagonists are active in your story. They spend the entirety of the manuscript actively seeking out the story goal, and reacting to the obstacles that stand in their way. If your protagonist spends most of your story being pulled along by the tide of the plot, or if she only ever reacts and never makes any moves herself, you might consider who the true protagonist of your story truly is. Mikey, as the protagonist of the story, is the one who pushes the rest of the cast to go on their adventure. His actions are what end up moving the story forward. On the other hand, Andy is only along for the ride. She is moved along by the actions of others or circumstances of the plot.

4.     Is the character dynamic?

Dynamic characters are those who change over the course of your manuscript. At the end of your story, your protagonist shouldn’t be exactly the same person as they were in the beginning. They’ve faced down all of the obstacles you put in their way, faced their problems, and attained their goal. This is where your character arc really comes in handy. If you have a well-developed character, you can trace out how each scene affects the character and either readies them for change or changes them in some way. As your character tries, fails and learns, these small changes add up to a larger character arc that will define your character’s role in your story.

5.    Is the character consistent?

Yes, this sounds like it’s in direct contrast to my point above, but a developed character won’t just do whatever you want them to. Their goals and desires fuel their actions. If your characters have their own will, they’re also probably pretty consistent without you having to stop and think about it too much. This really works to your advantage because you can predict exactly what they’ll do in certain situations, which gives you the freedom to put them in situations that aid in their growth or create tension.

the-gooniesKeep in mind, however, that we all have the tendency to act differently around certain groups of people (co workers, family, friends, etc). Back to the Goonies, Mikey is respectful to his parents, rude to the country club owner and his son, and “tough” around his friends. However, he is consistently the moral compass of the group and always looking to help.

Whether you’re writing a literary masterpiece, a middle grade science fiction, or a story about a ragtag group of misfits like the Goonies, having developed characters is a must that will help your story hook readers and make it’s point.

Kortney is an associate agent with Holloway Literary.  Learn more about her and then follow her on Twitter @kortney_price.