WORDS FOR WRITERS – In Conversation with Kisa Whipkey – Part II

WORDS FOR WRITERS – In Conversation with Kisa Whipkey – Part II

J.M. Frey, author of THE SKYLARK’S SAGA, in conversation with series editor Kisa Whipkey. Join them as they discuss how the series was first acquired, the decision to split the first book in two, and why they love “enemies to lovers” and slow world-building so much. Warning – contains spoilers for book one of the saga.

 About the books:

The Skylark’s Saga

A Saskwyan flight mechanic with uncanny luck, seventeen-year-old Robin Arianhod grew up in the shadow of a decade-long war. But the skies are stalked by the Coyote—a ruthless Klonn pilot who picks off crippled airships and retreating soldiers. And as the only person to have survived an aerial dance with Saskwya’s greatest scourge, Robin has earned his attention. As a Pilot, Robin is good. But the Coyote is better. When he shoots her down and takes her prisoner, Robin finds herself locked into a new kind of dance. The possibility of genuine affection from a man who should be her enemy has left her with a choice: accept the Coyote’s offer of freedom and romance in exchange for repairing a strange rocket pack that could spell Saskwya’s defeat, but become a traitor to her county. Or betray her own heart and escape. If she takes the rocket pack and flees, she could end the war from the inside.

 About Kisa Whipkey:


Kisa Whipkey is a dark fantasy author, a martial arts demo team expert, and a complete sucker for Cadbury Mini-eggs. She’s also the Acquisitions & Editorial Director for YA/NA publisher, REUTS Publications. She developed a passion for storytelling at a young age and has pursued that love through animation, writing, video game design, and demo teams until finally finding her home in editing. She believes in good storytelling, regardless of medium, and applauds anything featuring a snarky lead character, a complicated narrative structure, and brilliant/uncommon analogies. Currently, she lives in the soggy Pacific Northwest with her husband and plethora of electronics.

 About J.M.Frey:

J.M. Frey – Author, Screenwriter & Fanthropologist

J.M. is an author, screenwriter, and professional smartypants. With an MA in Communications and Culture, she’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on radio and television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. She also has an addiction to scarves, Doctor Who, and tea, which may or may not all be related. Her life’s ambition is to have stepped foot on every continent (only 3 left!)

 Music: “Creative Minds” by Bensound (Royalty Free) – https://www.bensound.com/


You can find more WORDS FOR WRITERS here.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – In Conversation with Kisa Whipkey – Part II
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WORDS FOR WRITERS – How to Make Author Connections

WORDS FOR WRITERS – How to Make Author Connections

We all know the importance of networking and community when it comes to the arts. Word-of-Mouth buzz is the most important kind of marketing your book or story can ever receive, which is why so many writers (whether they have a marketing team connected to their publisher, or they’re their own marketing team) spend so much time talking about their books on social media and forums.

One of the ways authors can build some of that buzz is to make connections and friendships with other authors. You can recommend each other’s books on your blogs and social media, write each other reviews, offer manuscript reads and critiques, attend each other’s launch parties, just hang out and complain about the biz together, bounce ideas off one another, and generally just revel in having people in your life who get it.

But how do you find these authorfriends?

When I was starting out there wasn’t much of an online community in public forums (lots in private YahooGroups and Bravenet Chats, but not so much in places where the writers of the internet could just stumble on it.)  So I found lots of my authorfriends in writing classes, at book launches I had randomly learned about and attended for funsies, at open mic and coffee slam nights, in those online forums (for both profic and fanfic), at community or library workshops, and at SF/F conventions.

Now there are sites like Wattpad, Radish, and services like Discord and Tumblr where writers can join groups, post on forums, create servers, and speak easily to one another. But with that comes a different kind of ettiquete when it comes to reaching out to specific individuals.

I’ve put together a list of suggestions for approaching and making new authorfriends based on my experiences. Most of it is aimed at the internet side of things but most of this advice crosses over into IRL interactions as well.


Buy and try to read their books.

… or at least read about them on Wiki/GoodReads/their Website before you even reach out to someone online. Obviously you can’t look them up on the spot at an IRL event (but feel free to ask them what they write, they’ll be happy to share), but if you’re reaching our to someone or trying to forge connections over DMs or in a forum, know who you’re talking to and what they do.

If you’re a true-crime mystery writer and I’m an epic-fantasy romance writer, we may hit it off as people, but be aware that we’d be kinda useless to one another as beta readers or as ins to each other’s community. If you’re just looking for friends, cool; but if you’re looking for colleagues, maybe start with writers who work in the same genre as you to start with.

I cannot tell you the number of times total strangers have asked me to help them get published and I’ve had to say “I don’t even work in your sphere. I know none of the major players, I don’t read that genre, why are you contacting me, I’m utterly useless to you, and you’ve wasted both our time.”

And, my god I can’t believe I have to say this, but be honest if they ask your opinion of their book, but not insulting. You can say, “I had a hard time because I really struggle with reading first-person-perspective books, but I liked the story very much!” You should not say: “You ruined a perfectly good story by making it first person.”

It is also okay to not read someone’s book if it’s really, really not your cup of tea or you’re really slammed. Again, just be both honest and kind about it. I have authorfriends who are very successful in genres I simply don’t enjoy reading, and they know it. I still buy their books to support them, as they still buy mine, but we have an understanding that we won’t be reading each other’s books.

Interact organically and openly on social media.

Nobody likes being shouted at, and nobody likes those aggressive sales people who corner you on the sidewalk or by the cosmetics counter that try to bully you into buying their product or donating to their charity. So don’t assume that using the same tactics on Social Media is going to sell your books – or your self.

When someone follows me on Twitter,I pop over to their feed to see if they’re someone I’ll want to follow back. If their feed is nothing but tweets about their book being on sale, or “please buy my book!” I don’t follow them. Social Media is a conversation not a sales floor, and people whose feeds are only about selling and buying are just going to spend the whole time they interact with me trying to get me to spend money instead of cultivating a friendship. No thanks.

When you interact with folks on social media, be genuine, be generous, and engage in community. (Besides, readers love getting a glimpse into the the behind-the-scenes life of a writer – and I’m not just talking curated desk pictures and posed reading selfies – so it’s also a good marketing tactic to share a bit of your genuine self.)

Go through official channels.

If you’re reaching out to authors for authorly things, do it through authorly channels.

Go through their agent to ask for a blurb for your book, and use the “contact me” part of thier webpage to send emails as they’ll be seen immediately. Sliding into DMs can work, but only if you already have an established relationship on social media. Reach out to them on forums or in Q&A sessions, and if you’re meeting IRL, introduce yourself at launches, koffeeklaches, or in room parties where they are clearly ‘on’.

Writing is ‘work’, so approach them in the most professional and work-appropriate way if you’re asking for worky things like blurbs, advice, or mentorship opportunities.

Be polite and aware of the context if you’re meeting in person.

Don’t interrupt.  Don’t interrupt dinner, don’t interrupt private conversations, and don’t interrupt Q&A sessions or panels to talk about yourself and your work, if they’re the guest and you’re not.

If you’re joining into group conversations or events, awesome – still be polite, and keep the context in mind. As I said above, no one likes a salesperson who corners you, so if you’re adding yourself to a group conversation at a bar or launch even, don’t immediately start to talk about your books. Let the topic come up organically (most writers are either awkward or blunt anyway, so we’ll usually say, “Hi, nice to meet you? Who are you, what do you do? Oh a writer? tell us about your book” anyway) and wait for the invitation – either verbalized or from context clues – before talking about your book.

Again, the key here is that you’re trying to make friends, not make a sale. You’re trying to build a community and support, not just be a marketing machine.

Join writing groups

Want to meet writers? Go find writers!

These sorts of places – either IRL or online – allow you to both build community and make friends, and talk about your books and get advice or support, so it’s win-win!

And if you’re up for it, attend the IRL public events with NaNoWriMo – I attended on in Japan and met some very good writing buddies. They’re back in England now, and I’m in Canada, and their friendship and support while we all NaNo’ed was awesome.

Volunteer at festivals and conventions

When you’re a volunteer you get more access to the guests and get to spend more time with them, which makes it easier to forge a genuine friendship. However, be aware guests may not be looking for friends, and might just appreciate your help as a support at the con – let them dictate the level of friendship they’re willing to have with you. They meet hundreds of volunteers every year. And don’t pitch your work to them unless it comes up organically in conversation; it’s really obnoxious otherwise.

As a guest of honour at conventions, I can tell you that I absolutely have created friendships with my handlers, and still speak with several of them, and was totally pleased to give one a blurb for their novel a while back.

And if you don’t come out of the event with new guest authorfriends, you might find some among your fellow volunteers. If nothing else, you’ll get a nice rosy-glasses-free look at the hard slog and hustle that authors go through to do the speaking and convention circuit.

Attend workshops, festivals, seminars, classes, etc.

Not only will you meet other authors in the audience and have the opportunity to forge friendships that way, you will meet your instructors too.

My playwriting instructor in university was one of the biggest names in playwriting in Canada, a very kind and shy man, and he always came our for beers with us after class. I don’t have much of a connection to him any more because that was two decades ago, but I know that if I were to reach out to him for something specific, he would remember me and be willing to give my work a look or help me forge a connection if I asked.

Work on your craft – and your attitude regarding it

You can’t sit around with your friends and whine that you’re not having any career success if you’re not putting any work into the book-writing side of it. I pretty quickly stop hanging out with snowflake writers who aren’t willing to put in the work and/or take the critiques of fellow writers and editors. They are frustrating and exhausting.

I’m not saying that you have to slave away and hustle at all times, but if you ask your authorfriends for advice or complain about rejections, be prepared to follow through on what you learn – there’s nothing worse than some jerk at a writers meetup sneering “no you’re wrong” at me, when he asks me a question and I give him an answer that he doesn’t want to hear, even though I’m the published one and he’s not.

We all want to be perfect from the outset, but we aren’t. Let your authorfriends lift you up and help you improve, or don’t bother having any.

Write more than one book / series

Don’t just write one book and spend the rest of your life flogging it. Like potters, bakers, cooks, and visual artists, you as a writer can only improve with practice. You can’t just make one jug, one cake, one meal, one painting, and spend the rest of your life trying to sell that one piece. You have to make something over, and over, and over, and over to get really good at it – to learn how you like to tell stories, and how you tell them best, and what kind of environment you need to be able to write. Finish a book, edit that book, polish that book; then query or selfpub or Wattpad that book. And then move on to the next one.

You will meet more authors if you have more than one book because you will have ideas to discuss, or stories to share, and multiple books can take you to festivals and readings series as a repeat guest.

Offer authorfriends copies of your book for free if they want it

Most will likely say, “No, we support one another, I’ll buy it.” and do just that. But if your friend wants one for the purpose of reviewing it, or sharing it with someone, or giving it to their agent, or doing a giveaway on their blog, then by god, give them one.

Todd McCaffrey asked if he could have a copy of Triptych at the launch party and my editor practically threw it at his head, she was so excited. That’s how I got that incredible blurb from him – it’s actually from an email he sent my publisher after he’d read the book, thanking us for the free copy.

Be reciprocal

If your authorfriends tweet your book promotion post, you should tweet theirs too. If they come to your launch party, you should go to theirs. This isn’t a one-way-street, we uplift one another. We’re not in competition, we’re a community. 

I’m not saying it has to be a perfect one-for-one transaction, but you have to make an effort. Writers who ask favors but never repay them are quickly singled out and left in the dust.


Message them on sites or social media feeds that are inappropriate 

For instance: Friend’s, or family member’s social media. If the author you want to connect with doesn’t have social media or isn’t easily acceible, don’t go through the social media of someone close to them. I heard of an incident where someone DM’d an author’s teenaged daughter’s account asking for her father’s contact info. Like. No.

Another example: Dating apps (the number of people who sent me messages on OKCupid that started “Hey, gorgeous girl! You’re a writer? Can you introduce me to your agent?”). It’s insulting and it sure as hell made me feel unwanted, and inclined to give that guy’s name to my agent and tell them to NEVER take that person as a client.

Only message someone over LinkedIn if their profile is specifically geared to writing.

Basically, don’t come at someone for authorly things at functions or sites where the person is not being authorly.

Ask them for something they can’t provide

I can’t introduce you to my agent. Most of us can’t. My agent has a very specific set of things they’re looking for in a new client and if you don’t meet those requirements listed on their website, they won’t take you. I cannot in any way at all influence my agent’s decision to take you on or not. And if I don’t know you personally or have any connection or states in your work, I have no reason to stick my own neck out and champion you. You need to sink or swim on your own merit, just like the rest of us.

If I know you and your work,  like as a very good friend and I’ve helped you work on the book as a beta reader, I might send my agent a message saying, “Yo, so-and-so is submitting and I think you should give their package some attention because XYZ.” But that’s a big risk for an author, because they’re putting their own reputation and relationship with their agent on the line.

I can’t get you published. Again, you need to sink or swim on your own merit, just like the rest of us. I can guide you through the very involved process of putting together a pitch package (see my chapter on this, or visit my shop at sidehustle.ca for private one-on-one-sessions), but I can’t make any publisher accept or sign your work.

Know what it is that authors can, and cannot do for you, before you ask for any favours.

Friend every writer possible on every social media/networking app and then chuck a form note in their DMs asking them to buy/read your work.

Firstly, it’s insulting. As I mentioned above, social media is for social connections. It’s a community, not a soapbox on which to stand and hawk your wares.

Secondly, I’m the wrong audience. I’m a writer, not a book reviewer or the merchandiser for a store. You’re literally wasting both your time, and mine, by doing this. And it’s so brazenly tone deaf and insulting that you think my generous willingness to talk to strangers via my DMs/PMs for the sake of answering questions via my Words for Writers series means that you can throw your story at me like a rotten fruit, that you’ve pretty much guaranteed that I will never read it.

Force them into some sort of physical contact

Being friendly does not mean you get access to my physical person, in any way, shape, or form. There is someone in our local community who thinks that he is entitled to a hug from every person he even vaguely knows, and he willfully ignores the very  obvious cues (verbal, physical, or in body language) that his hugs are unwelcome and it’s really effing gross. He makes so many of us uncomfortable but won’t stop it, even when he’s been told to directly, because he reasons that because we are vague professional acquaintances, that must mean we’re friends, and friends hug.


What you can do is offer your hand to someone to shake and let them decide whether they’d like to shake it themselves. The same goes for a hug – you can open your arms to offer one, and even better verbalize the request: “May I hug you?” and let the other person decide.

 As an extension of this, don’t pinch or pat shoulders, massage people, get behind them and put your hands around their waist or face, etc. unless you have an extremely close relationship and already know that this sort of display of physical closeness is enthusiastically welcome.

Ask them to blurb your book simply because they’re your friend

You should be asking authors whose audience matches yours. Neil Gaiman is an extremely popular author whose endorsement could sell you thousands of copies – if you write the same thing his audience reads. If you write self-help books for small business corporations though, he’s the wrong author to ask. Your audience has no clue who Gaiman is in the context of self-help books.

The same goes for when you’re asking your authorfriends – if they write hardcore SF erotica and you write light fantasy middle grade, it’s not a good fit.


Thanks for reading! Please feel free to drop me a comment or DM if you have questions about this article, or have a question or topic you’d like me to address.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS – How to Make Author Connections
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WORDS FOR WRITERS: Prose vs. Screenwriting

WORDS FOR WRITERS: Prose vs. Screenwriting

Today’s question comes from a writer who wants to know the difference between how I go about braining stories for prose writing, as opposed to how I brain for screenwriting:

Question from Oliver: If you haven’t covered it already, I’d be interested to hear what you have to say about how to switch headspace from Prose Brain to Screenwriting Brain and vice versa.

It’s a great question because there is a difference, at least for me. But before I dig into that, a quick explanation of what each kind of writing is, what it’s used for, and how it’s laid out.


What is it?

In prose, it is the writer’s responsibility to report all of the scenery, setting, action, dialogue, and depending on the POV and tense of the prose, the inner-monologue and life of the characters on the page. Prose leads the reader from scene to scene, chapter to chapter, and tells the story in it’s entirety.

What is it used for?

Prose is meant to be seen by the final audience, the readership.

As a prose writer, you are doing the large majority of all of the work that goes into ultimately creating the entire piece of art / artifact that is a book. You are the driving force of telling the story.

Editors (both substantive and copy), proofreaders, interior designers, cover designers, and illustrators will all contribute to the completed novel, of course; but 95% of the work that goes into a novel is your own, and the ‘visual’ elements and ‘performance’ elements of the novel are up to you, the writer, to record for the audience to consume and understand.

You make the character’s motivation choices; you decide what they like to wear and what they look like; you decide their likes and dislikes; you decide their acting choices – that is, when they blink, when the gesture, when the hold hands, etc.; you decide what the action looks like when there’s a fight sequence.

You decide what the buildings look like and how rooms are decorated. You decide the tone and mood of the novel based on your word choices. You decide what time of day it is, what the light quality is like, and what the weather is doing. You decide how long to linger on a moment, or how quickly to zip through a scene, and how each chapter of the story is portioned out.

What does it look like?

Benjamin stood on the other side of the sofa, hands on his hips, frustration writ large in every tense line of his jaw. “He should be listening to you,” he ground out.

From my seat at the kitchen table – completely taken over by my legal files and the detritus of a week’s worth of unhealthy take-out meals – I ran a hand through his hair and then rested my chin on my palm. I was so exhausted my eyes felt gritty and every bone in my body was warm and heavy. All the same, I aimed for a teasing wink that probably came out more like a slow, stupid blink.

“Now I know for a fact that you’re an only child,” I teased.

“What does that have to do with–”

I wagged a finger at Benjamin. “If you had siblings, you’d know how hard it is to make one do anything. If I had a dollar for every time I heard ‘you’re not the boss of me’ I could…” I trailed off, looking around the disaster that was my twin brother’s condo, misery swimming up my spine. “I could hire a damn cleaner.”

I stood, unsteady on my feet, and shuffled around the table to at least tidy up my files. I wasn’t embarrassed that his brother’s hot doctor had seen me at his unorganized, weary, disheveled worst, but it sure wasn’t giving Benjamin the impression I wanted him to have. Of course, in my foggy state I’d totally forgotten about the goddamned cat.

For reasons that I would never understand, Hightower like to nap under the table. I stumbled against his furry side, and Hightower let out a high-pitched yowl as I stepped on his tail. A furious marmalade blur wound around my legs, swiped a scratch at his knee, and then shot off down the hall to James’ bedroom to hide.

I flailed for the edge of the sofa but it was too far away.

Well, at least there’s a doctor here already when I fall and break my wrist, I thought morosely as I started to go down.

But I never crashed. Said doctor had seen the fall coming and dashed forward, to seize me around the waist and keep him upright. I grabbed Benjamin’s forearms, steadying myself, getting my fumbling feet back under me, and trying very, very hard not to notice how big and warm Benjamin’s hands were, splayed along the crest of his waist like that. How firm his chest was against my own. How we were practically nose-to-nose, closer in height they were than Benjamin’s officious nature made him seem. How I could feel the soft puff of Benjamin’s breath against my own cheek.

How Benjamin’s soft, pink mouth was right there.

“Goddamnit,” I whispered.


What is it?

In screenwriting, it is the writer’s responsibility to create a roadmap of how the final film or television production will look, sound, and be structured. It is their responsibility to set the tone of the production through their word choices and descriptions. The script lays out how the story is told. A screenwriter’s script leads the rest of the production team – crew, designers, actors, director, and editors – and is the basis for all of their work.

In film production, the Director and/or Producer is driving force of telling the story.

What is it used for?

Screenplays are not meant to be seen by the final audience, the viewers.

Screen plays are not whole stories in and of themselves, but are blueprints upon which a completely different product – a film or a television series – is constructed. As a screenwriter you are doing only a very small portion of the work that goes into ultimately creating the entire collaborative piece of art / artifact that is a film.

The screenplay is the foundation on which all that work is based, but is often rewritten, sometimes right on the set during filming itself, and is not often considered the enshrined and protected singular vision of a writer the way a novel is. Films are always a collaborative medium, and a screenplay – while the basis of a production – is only a small part of that.

And depending on how the film is edited, cut together, and tweaked in post-production, the final product can sometimes very little resemble what was put on that first page. (This can be a good thing – other people bringing ideas to the table can make a film much stronger).

As a film is just a blueprint of a film, a lot of the choices that you see on the screen were not the screenwriters. The screenwriter is responsible for: the dialogue, ‘setting the scene’ in terms of location and character but not filling in the details, pacing, tone and mood, and any specific or key action moments.

However, actors are the ones who make the character’s motivation choices and acting choices; costume designers decide what they like to wear and casting directors decide what they look like; stunt coordinators decide what the action looks like when there’s a fight sequence.

Locations scouts decide what the buildings look like, and set decorators decide how rooms are decorated. cinematographers decide what time of day it is, lighting designers light quality is like, and what the weather is doing. Directors decide how long to linger on a moment, or how quickly to zip through a scene, and editors decide how each section of the story is portioned out.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What does it look like?

He should be listening to you.

Now I know for a fact that you’re an only child.

What does that have to do with—

If you had siblings, you’d know how hard it is to make one do anything. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “you’re not the boss of me” I could… (miserable)I could hire a damn cleaner.

Mark starts to tidy up, tired and unsteady. He trips over Hightower. Benjamin seizes Mark around the waist and keeps him from crashing. Hightower bolts into James’ room.


Mark and Benjamin realize that they are in awkward romantic clinch.

The Difference

As you can see, what ends up on the page between prose and screenwriting is very different. So the three question I ask myself when I’m coming up with a story are:

a) how visuals dependent is it?
b) how dialogue heavy is it?
c) how internal-life dependent is it?

If I’m creating a story that will require the audience have a lot of access to the inner-thoughts and motivations of the characters, then I’m going to assume that I’m going to want to tell it as a novel so I can really dig into the character’s heads. If the story requires a lot of “a picture is worth a thousand words” moments, then maybe it’s best told as a screenplay. And depending on the kind of dialogue and the speed and pace of it, I might prefer one or the other.

The kind of story I want to tell dictates the medium I tell it in. And the medium dictates which writer-brain I tell it from. The one who knows that I will have nearly complete control of the story, or the one that knows that the story will be served by collaborative and interactive creation process, of which my screenplay is just the first step.

There’s also something a bit ‘faster’ about writing a screenplay, in terms of getting it on the page. The thought process and revisions stages are way, way longer than novels, I find, but when it comes to sitting down and just banging out line after line of dialogue, with no need to go in and add all the stuff around it telling the reader what’s happening physically and in the space, I find I can get a draft of a feature film together in about two weeks if I’m motivated. Whereas the first draft of a novel takes me about six months.

But of course, there’s many, many more months of revising, table-reading, and taking notes with scripts, and the collaborative process of filmmaking can go on for years and years. While for writing prose, I can have a completed novel in my hand in twelve months if I am diligent and my design team is super on it.

Two Big Pitfalls to Avoid

If you are a screenwriter moving to prose:

Head Hopping

Screenplays can be told from multiple POVs with multiple lead characters that the story follows. Generally speaking, prose should only have one POV per scene – and if you’re going to switch who the POV is, you need to indicate this by putting in a scene separator or text to indicate that the POV has changed.


Benjamin stood on the other side of the sofa, hands on his hips, frustration writ large in every tense line of his jaw. “He should be listening to you,” he ground out. Benjamin’s biggest pet peeve was when people didn’t follow doctor’s orders, especially when it endangered or invalidated all the hard work he’d done in the surgery theatre.

From my seat at the kitchen table – completely taken over by my files and the detritus of a week’s worth of unhealthy take-out meals – I ran a hand through my hair and then rested my chin on my palm. I was so exhausted my eyes felt gritty and every bone in my body was warm and heavy. All the same, I aimed for a teasing wink that probably came out more like a slow, stupid blink. Benjamin was struck between the ribs by how charming that dopey smile looked.

“Now I know for a fact that you’re an only child,” I teased.

What’s wrong with this:

If this is from Mark’s POV, in the first person, how on earth can Mark know that Benjamin’s biggest pet peeve is, or his physical reaction to Mark’s smile? This is what we call “head hopping”, when the reader is suddenly yanked out of the head (or off the shoulder, if it’s 3rd person) of one character to be shoved into / onto that of another without warning.

The Fix:

Ask yourself constantly whose head you are in, and what they can reasonably know as a fact and what they can assume. Mark may not be able to know that Benjamin’s heart has kicked in his chest at Mark’s dopey smile, but he can assume Benjamin’s frustration and upset from outside observation of his body language. So the ‘I’ narrator can speak to those assumptions (“frustration writ large in every tense line of his jaw”), but not to the internal reactions and life of another character (“Benjamin was struck between the ribs by how charming that dopey smile looked”).

If you are a prose writer moving to screenplays:


Basically, when you use the dialogue tags (the stuff in brackets above in the screenplay example above) and the action descriptions (the stuff in italics in the screenplay example above) to tell people what to do. The only stuff that should be there is the stuff that is absolutely vital for the creation team to know.



I have won!

(triumphant and cocky)
Not yet, you haven’t!

GOOD GUY leaps up onto the platform beside the BAD GUY’S ‘Freeze Ray’ – a futuristic, silver torpedo-shaped gun with four glowing blue barrels topped with smoking ports. There are three levers and six buttons. Three are green. Three are blue. Three are yellow. The BAD GUY’S hand hovers over the knob of one of the levers, fingers twitching in delight and anticipation. The GOOD GUY swings a fist at his face, but he ducks out of the way and does a really cool spinning back flip and kicks the lever into the ‘on’ position. The Freeze Ray makes a rumbling sound and starts to smoke harder. Lines of white LED lights up the side of the barrel light up. The GOOD GUY lunges for it, but before he can get to the lever, the BAD GUY does another cool spinning kick and brings his heel down on the GOOD GUY’s wrist so hard that he breaks it.

(in pain)

So why is this example bad? Because the writer is telling the actors how to feel, is telling the art department how to design the Freeze Ray, and is telling the stunt coordinator how to do their job.


I have won!

Not yet, you haven’t!

GOOD GUY leaps up onto the platform beside the sleek and futuristic ‘Freeze Ray’. They fight. The lever is knocked into the ‘on’ position and the Freeze Ray starts to power up. In course of the fight, the BAD GUY breaks the GOOD GUY’s wrist.


This is a better version of that sequence because the writer isn’t doing anyone else’s job. Because, who knows, maybe the stunt coordinator has a much, much cooler fight sequence idea than spinning kicks. Or maybe the props designer has a a totally different but way better design for the Freeze Ray in mind. Or maybe the actor wants to play the lines differently (see: Tom Hiddleston’s delivery as Loki on “Don’t tell me it was that woman?… Oh, it was. Well maybe, when we’re done here, I’ll pay her a visit myself!” It was written as smug, delighted and predatory in the original script, and delivered as heartbroken and lashing-out. Which was, of course, the stronger story-telling choice.)

Now, only the information that is going to affect the future scenes of the screenplay is provided – that they fight, that there’s a Freeze Ray, and that the Good Guy’s wrist is now broken.

The Fix:

Write your screenplay however you want the first time around. But then when you go back to edit, ask yourself whose job you’re accidentally doing, and whose toes you’re stepping on, when you read your screenplay. Look at the action parts and dialogue tags, and make sure you’re not including anything that isn’t completely necessary for the actors, directors, stunt coordinators, set designers, etc. to know.

Braining it Out

So, to answer the original question – how do I go about switching headspace from Prose to Screenplays? Well, generally I only write one story at a time, so I’m not having to switch back and forth between mediums constantly. That’s a big help. Secondly, sitting down and really thinking about why this particular story has to be in this particular medium helps me remember that I chose this medium for a reason, and that I should be adhering to that medium’s rules and tropes because I’ve already made the choice. Thirdly, knowing what and how this text I’m writing is going to be handled, interpreted and used also helps me stay in the right headspace.

And lastly, the character through whom I’m telling the story helps me stay on track. I tend to like telling single POV stories, and I tend to develop very particular voices with very particular speech patterns and word choices. The way that character speaks – to others, inside their own head, and to me as the writer – helps me stay on track, because I develop that voice to match the medium.

I hope this has been helpful!

To hear me speak more about the difference between prose and screenplays, listen to my interview with Three Patch Podcast here.


If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to leave a comment! I’m happy to address specific topics, so feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment here with your query. You can find the rest of my Words for Writers articles here.


JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: Prose vs. Screenwriting
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WORDS FOR WRITERS: The Point of the Scene

WORDS FOR WRITERS: The Point of the Scene

As writers, we all know that books are made up of a bunch of scenes strung together to make a chapter, and a bunch of chapters strung together to make a story. But how, exactly, do you plan a scene? How do you make sure that the scene you’re writing is engaging, interesting, and necessary?

Easy – a scene should make the story go.

I’m not talking ‘pedal to the metal’ here, of course. The go-juice doesn’t have to be fast-go. It just needs to be forward-momentum-of-any-sort-go. (Though sometimes fast-go-juice is necessary, equally necessary are moments of go-ing with slow-go-juice, too.)

If you imagine the materials from which you’ll build a scene as a stack of wood and nails, then what you want to be building with each scene is a ladder to the next peak of the plot mountain; not an observation deck that is very pretty but ultimately useless at getting readers to the next moment of the book.

To that end, when you’re writing a scene, ask yourself what go-ing you intend to achieve with it. Does this scene progress one of three things: the plot, the understanding of the reader, or the character journey?

Good scenes will add some go to all three things in one, if you can manage it.

What do I mean by progressing? This is when some circumstance or someone changes within the action and dialogue of the scene, which propels the narrative forward toward the conclusion. So ask yourself:

Does this scene progress the…


 -Something is confessed

-Something is lied about

-Something is discovered

-Something is revealed

-Something is established

-Something is hidden or covered up

-Something is retrieved, taken away, stolen, or goes missing

-New information is shared

-An action sequence, disaster, tragedy, physical or verbal fight, etc. forces any of the above

…the character journey?

-Makes a choice

-Makes a confession

-Makes a realization

-Learns new information

-Refuses or denies a truth

-Adjusts world view / beliefs

-Learns something about themselves

…understanding of the reader?

-Character is established

-Secret revealed, or clues for later understanding and revelations planted

-Scene is set

-History, backstory, or necessary information is explained

These are all really big-thought and vague concepts to explain, so let’s break it down with an example, shall we? Let’s say we have a scene where an ace pilot has been shot down by her arch nemesis and captured when her aircraft crashed. She’s wondering where the other person in her aircraft is, and at the same time, wants to find out why her arch nemesis only shoots down craft that are already damaged and close to the ground:

Once she was sure she could speak again without her voice shaking, she said softly, “Let me up.”

“Your mid-flight,” the Coyote replied in near-perfect Saskwyan. It wasn’t a question. His voice was low still. Soft. Almost as if he wished to comfort her, which was ridiculous. She must have hit her head harder than she thought. “You do not want to see him.”

“The hells I don’t!” Robin snarled and got her hands around the Coyote’s foot. She twisted, trying to wrench his ankle and lever him to the ground. But he just shifted forward, putting more pressure on her ribs. Robin spasmed and let go, the agony making stars pop behind her eyes and her fingers twitch. Oh yes, humans can be hurt, all right. And boy did she hurt.

“Trust me, you do not,” the Coyote insisted. “It is not what I would want to keep as the final memory of a trusted colleague.”

Another gasping, panicked gurgling scream echoed through the forest. The Coyote’s silver helmet turned toward it, betraying the direction Al was in.
“What have you done to him?” Robin hissed. She didn’t want to obey his orders, but there was something in the way he’d warned her to not let the other soldiers see her move, hear her speak, something in the way the Coyote was talking through tight lips, as if he didn’t want to be caught either, that worried her.
“I did nothing.”

“You shoot down gliders—you steal the bodies.”

There was a sound that might have been laughter if it hadn’t been distorted by the helmet. “Theft! No, my dear Miss Pilot.  Prisoners. Those who live, anyway.” 

Prisoners, Robin repeated to herself. She couldn’t hold back the shudder at the thoughts that  phrase produced. Every hair on Robin’s body leapt up as a chill settled over her flesh.

Fear curdled in her stomach. “What do you intend to do to me?”

“Do to you?” the Coyote said, and a smile lit what little was visible of his face. “My dear, what do you fear I will do?”

She wasn’t going to fall for that. If she told him what she feared, he might make it come true. “If you take them prisoner, why don’t we know? You haven’t ransomed anyone back,” she said  instead, wishing desperately for water and forcing herself to speak through the cracking, anyway.

“I have no desire to give them up,” the Coyote replied. “I keep them.”

“For how long?” Robin asked, unable to raise her voice louder than a fearful whisper.
“For as long as I am allowed,” he said, and there was a sad gravity to the pronouncement that was confusing. “Just as I will keep you.”
Fear spiked again in Robin’s chest, throbbing along in time with her ribs. “You’ll never be able to keep me.”
The helmet angled down, and through the visor slits, Robin saw a pair of light gray eyes narrow. The Coyote huffed an annoyed snort. “Persistent and mouthy. Be advised that it is only because you were once a mid-flight that your life has been spared this day. Otherwise, you would be dead as any other Saskwyan pilot I run to ground. It is not their kind that I seek to hold.”
He leaned back slightly, turning his attention to the soldier on the other side of her, and snapped out something in guttural Klonnish. The other man nodded sharply and moved closer to Robin, one hand going to the pistol sheathed on his thigh holster. The Coyote removed his foot, and Robin took that as permission to be seen to be alive. She sat up so slowly, being as gentle as possible with her ribs, breathing shallowly. When she tucked her knees up, her ankle screamed in protest and she had to clamp her lips around a grunt.
Broken? she thought. No. But sprained, at least. And badly. Rudding hells.
Neither the Coyote nor the guard moved against her as she tried to stand, and so, Robin pushed herself to her feet, taking a moment to close her eyes and swallow against the pain. She wasn’t going to show them any weakness.
She lifted her head to squint through the shadows at the others in the distance. “I want to go to him,” she said. “He’s alive.”
The Coyote cocked his head to one side, eyes narrowing. “How compassionate you are. No worry for yourself? You are, after all, surrounded by the enemy.”
She rubbed the place where his heel had dug into her flesh, trying to work some feeling back into the already forming bruises. Carefully, she put weight on her ankle. Knives shot up her calf, but her ankle didn’t buckle beneath her. She forced herself to ignore the pain and rose onto the balls of her feet, preparing to run if need be.
“I’m not scared of you,” she said, puffing up her chest and trying to feel half as calm and assured as she sounded. 

“Yet you turned tail before the battle was properly joined and fled.”

Robin grimaced, and decided there was no point in lying to him. After all, she didn’t want him to think her downfall was in any way his doing. She did have some pride. “My steering column was sabotaged. Garrote wire, is my guess.”

The Coyote sighed, like an overindulgent instructor. “I would call it a shame that the Saskwyans are so fond of building their aircraft of canvas and wood, if it did not provide me with such an
“What advantage?” Robin sneered. “You pick off the crippled ships. You would never have downed me otherwise. And my flying style has your men baffled. You get outclassed by a healthy
glider every time.”
“Not for much longer,” the Coyote said lightly. He turned his helmet up to the sky, as if he too yearned for it the way Robin did.
Robin waited for him to explain what he meant by that, but he seemed reluctant to furnish his gloat with any sort of details. When the silence drew ominous, she discreetly brushed her shoulders with crossed fingers, just to be sure. But the Coyote caught the movement from the side of his vision and turned back to her. He reached out with one black-gloved hand, slowly enough that it was clear he didn’t mean to strike her. Robin cringed, but stayed still. All he did was brush the side of one thumb along her cheek and up her temple.
“This has healed nicely,” the Coyote said softly, almost to himself. Ever so slowly, he reached out and grasped her wrist firmly. His fingers were wiry and strong, and Robin would have had to allow him to break her wrist to keep him from turning it palm up. He stripped off his glove with his teeth, and then, black leather dangling from his mouth, brushed his fingers gently across the telltale circular markings that stood out against her palm. They were red and swollen from her fight to control the glider’s doomed nosedive, overlapping the other, deeper cuts and puffy white ridges of scars. “And these, as well. What an interesting new development. Since when are Sealies the pilots of Benne gliders?”
“I’m not a pilot,” Robin said, the lie flowing out immediately, reflexively. That was something else her instructors had drilled into her head—never appear to be as valuable to the enemy as you are. Her capelet was nowhere in sight, and she had a vague recollection of it being ripped from around her throat by the crackling branches she had fallen through.
“I have watched you, my dear. I know your face, and I know your flying style. Your warding against ill-luck betrays you,” he said, in a softly mocking tone that she would have called flirting if it didn’t sound so wrong coming from him, here and now. His fingers continued to stroke her palm. “You are certainly a Sealie. So, I ask again—since when do Sealies pilot Benne gliders?”
“But I’m not!” Robin protested. She’d heard the stories of what happened to glider pilots captured by the enemy. If losing a thumb to a Pyrian guard was horrific, the thought of having both her hands cut off by a crazed Klonn general made her woozy. She yanked her arm back, hard, but the Coyote didn’t let go.
“Please, do not lie to me, my dear,” the Coyote said, gently chiding. “I will not allow you to begin this on a lie. You are the mid-flight who kicked my ’ship in the middle of an areal battle. I know your face, even without the goggles.”
Robin’s heart seemed about ready to stop. She bit her tongue  and refused him the pleasure of an answer. She could be a stubborn bastard, too.
“You are an engineering sergeant, or you were, before they promoted you. Do not bother denying it. And you have all the skills of a mid-flight.” It wasn’t a question, but this time, his steely gaze compelled Robin to answer.
“I was. I do.”
“Good,” the Coyote said. “Then you shall be spared.”
“What? Why?” Robin blurted, and then immediately wished the words back.
“Would you prefer that we did not?”
He leaned in close, hauling her body nearly flush against his own, and bent down to her ear. The cold nose of his mask brushed against the fine hair at the nape of her neck, and she shivered. His breath smelled like apples, and made goosebumps pop up all along her skin. His voice, when he spoke, was low and husky with gravel. “Then kindly be silent while I attempt to save your life.”

Okay! So, what has progressed in this scene?

Plot – The plot is clipping along in this scene, which is a bridge between an action sequence (the areal dog fight) and some tense spycraft in the next few chapters. Robin and Al have been shot down, Al is in a bad way, and the Coyote and his soldiers have captured Robin. We’re moving swiftly towards the next part of the plot, where Robin is a POW and has to figure out where the Coyote’s loyalties lay.

Character – Robin has learned some truths, and had some revelations, and has had to adjust her world view: now she knows that the Coyote has been watching her, and that, for some reason, he seems to be behaving tenderly towards her, even though they’re enemies. She’s also worried for Al, and is realizing that she’s not about to be killed by the Coyote, but captured and ‘kept’ by him, whatever that means. This will push against Robin’s stubborn pride. She’s also panicking and admitting things that she shouldn’t be to the enemy, which will absolutely come back and bite her later. In terms of the Coyote’s character, Robin is realizing for the first time that he might not be as horrible as she imagined and might not be as loyal to his cause as she thought – we’ve learned a truth about him.

Reader Understanding – The readers learn some truths and adjusted their understanding of the situation alongside Robin, have learned the truth about what happens to the bodies, and the Coyote’s true character. As well, they’re getting a clearer picture of just how strong and stubborn Robin is.

I hope this makes it clearer. Please feel free to leave me questions and comments if it doesn’t.

Also – remember that if you’re working on a scene and you, the writer are bored, this may be an indication that the scene isn’t progressing anything. Or worse, is superfluous. If it doesn’t progress anything (or if what it does progress can be done more quickly, and more efficiently in another scene earlier or later – like with a throwaway line or a backstory reveal) then you can likely cut the scene and save yourself the trouble of writing it. And of your audience getting bored by reading it.


Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

Excerpt from The Skylark’s Song, by J.M. Frey (REUTS Publications, 2018)


JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: The Point of the Scene
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WORDS FOR WRITERS: Marketing for Writers with No Marketing Budget

WORDS FOR WRITERS: Marketing for Writers with No Marketing Budget


Guest Post by Hayley Zelda

Book sales have previously been heavily associated with traditional publishers putting books in bookstores and various distribution platforms with the hopes of landing on a bestseller list.

In this new age of self-publishing and social media, there are so many new ways to promote books and drive sales. There are self-published books with 0 marketing dollars spent that have outperformed books with huge publishers behind them.

Here are five free ways to effectively market a book for authors who have no money.

  • Give your book to book reviewers for free.

A quick Google search of your genre and “book blog” or “book tube” or “book review” will pull up a big list of potential targets.

The power of book reviewers is that they already have an audience that trusts their tastes and thoughts. Popular reviewers can have regular audiences in the hundreds of thousands, meaning many potential sales.

If a credible reviewer talks positively about your work, you can be sure that it has a lot of weight. Many reviewers also look at other reviewers to see what books to read so if you get a positive rating you could potentially get reviewed on more than one blog.

Now, the idea of handing out free books when you are not making money from it can be physically painful. However, considering the alternative of stacking it at home, giving out your books for free can change the course of your career. It is especially true if you can get in the right hands.

Larger book reviewers tend to have tons of authors fighting for their attention already. Start with smaller ones and work your way up the chain as your reputation builds. To find smaller reviewers, search for lesser known books on Google and see what pops up. Usually smaller review sites are more likely to be reviewing smaller name books. For example, Wired For Youth would be a good target for a non-fiction author as the site is clearly still actively posting and has some audience, but also doesn’t have a huge following yet.

  • Post in Niche Groups.

Facebook is also a fantastic place where you can push your digital marketing skills. The easiest way to promote on Facebook is to join groups that are relevant to your book.

If you’re an expert in the topic, consider hosting an AMA (as me anything) or giving free advice. People love free advice and it gives you a great chance to plug your book.

You can also consider sharing a snippet of your book for people to read. People in Facebook groups hate being marketed to, so be clever about adding value before you start promoting.

If you’re targeting a younger audience, Discord is a fantastic tool as well. Discord is a site for group chats around specific interests with huge numbers of users.

To find Discord groups, use https://top.gg/servers and find groups that have a relevant audience for you. Some servers have hundreds of thousands of members that might be perfect for your book. Utilize the search function to find what you’re looking for. For example, by searching “Harry Potter”, I found the “Hogwarts School”, which is a group of 1.5k passionate Harry Potter fans. 

  • Do events and free readings with relevant organizations.

Notwithstanding the fact that the majority of the human populace is glued to their screens, there are people who appreciate events, especially when it comes to books. Some excellent literary organizations that work with budding authors are also very much in business.

Make plans to team up with them and organize a free reading. Many libraries and bookstores love teaming up with local bookstores. It’s a great way to get your name out there and you never know who might be in the audience! 

If you decide to organize a reading event, get the word out on social media a couple of weeks in advance. 

Here is a link you can visit for more information on literary organizations. 

  • Share samples on storytelling platforms.

Readers from all over the world find their next favorite read online. While some love to hold a tangible book in their hands while reading, some prefer books in the digital format. 

Sharing a sample of your book on storytelling platforms is a great way to extend your reach and gain some readers. Storytelling platforms are great because you can be confident that the people there are interested in reading and finding new stories already.

Share a snippet that hooks people in (plot twists or withholding a key idea is great for this). At the end, include a link to purchase the full book.

A few great storytelling platforms include Medium and Storify for nonfiction and Wattpad and Commaful for fiction.

You’ll need to study the distribution mechanisms on each site as they are all a little different. Studying how to best leverage the platform to grow their audiences is the best way to unlock new sales!

  • Reach out to influencers and people with newsletters.

The power of social influencers in this day and age is staggering. There are tons of people on social media who have built massive followings that you can talk into. 

Reaching to one of these influencers will get you more readers than you can do while spending a fortune on advertising.

The truth is, many influencers these days want money. So many brands are willing to pay them, so they often expect it; however, you can still certainly do influencer marketing without paying.

To find influencers that may be willing to work with you in exchange for a free book, look for influencers with modest followings between 1,000 and 10,000 followers on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms. When evaluating influencers to reach out to, pay close attention to likes and views. There is no use in reaching out to somebody who is getting no engagement or viewers.

Focus on ones that are as relevant to you as possible. Find hundreds of potential candidates. Because many will require payment, it’s important to reach out to a large volume of potential candidates to look for ones who may accept a free book.

Search for specific topics on Instagram and Twitter and look for trending/top posts in specific hashtags that have good engagement. Then open up the accounts to see how many followers they have and evaluate if they might be a good influencer to promote your book. For example, you might search #HarryPotter if your audience lines up with the YA Harry Potter audience. You can reach out to potential influencers via the direct messaging systems or emails if they share their email.

  • Create A Bundle.

Find other authors and make a special deal to sell your books as a “bundle”. The bundle should be cheaper than buying the books individually and because everybody is promoting it, will allow for extra promotion across the board. People love a good deal! For example, if you’re bundling 5 books that are usually $10 each, you can make the bundle $30, which is a whole $20 savings! All 5 of the authors will be promoting.

You want to find potential collaborators that are also promoting their books. If the person’s book is too popular already, they’ll have little reason to work with you. If the person’s book is getting no readership and they aren’t aggressively promoting, then you won’t get any benefit by collaborating with them. You can find many potential collaborators in book marketing Facebook groups and Goodreads giveaway groups. From there, look at their Amazon rankings, ratings, and more to get a sense for if a collaboration will be useful. The key is to align incentives. You all win together.

  • Find Fiction Podcasts.

Many podcasts are made just to interview authors. They are made to promote and have interesting conversations with interesting authors. There are a lot of podcasts, many of them still starting out and just growing. These are great opportunities to get your book promoted. You can get interviewed, have your stories read aloud, or even just buy a podcast ad to promote your book

To find podcasts, you can use the search in your podcast app of choice or use a podcast search engine like https://www.listennotes.com/ From there, reach out to the ones that are relevant to you. Most have websites and a contact form or email address.

Volume is incredibly important here. Don’t just reach out to 5 or 10 and call it a day. If you’re going to use this strategy, go for hundreds.

In general, get creative! When you can’t throw money at the problem, you have to be clever and think creatively. You have to have the mentality that there are people out there who want to love your book. You just need to be clever enough to get it in front of them.


Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.

Read other Words for Writers blog posts here.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: Marketing for Writers with No Marketing Budget
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