Book-Writing Tips

Getting Unstuck Tip #6: Writing into Exposition

What Is Exposition?

Exposition is the telling, instead of showing, that fills in back story or world-building information. Although exposition can be skillfully integrated into a story, many writers rely on a “data dump” approach to conveying information.

Exposition is anything that is not direct action in the present moment of a scene.

Often exposition establishes setting, reveals back story/character motivations, explains rules/laws/magic systems, and recalls past events in the midst of a current event. Exposition is interruptive of the present action.

Passages of exposition force readers to digest data instead of visualize action. Readers must use their brains and not their “eyes” to process exposition.

Characters gazing into a mirror and remembering some distant lover or traumatic past event as they brush their hair is one of the common moments of exposition you’ll see across genres. The hair-brushing is interrupted by the remembering, and the remembering is exposition.

Direct action: See Dick run.

With Exposition: Dick was running, and boy did he have a lot to run from. His own past was catching up with him. All the candy he’d stolen from Mr. Cooper’s store, as were all the strange feelings overpowering his young mind in regard to Jane, who, although his same age, was a girl.

I just made up this example to illustrate exposition, but you can really see a big-time example further below in this post from the fantasy author Chaste Uncanton.

Using Existing Exposition to Get Unstuck

Imagine you’re feeling stuck in your writing. Don’t worry: it will pass, and you can use any number of techniques to break the proverbial spell of binding that is keeping you from a creative flow state. (The spell of binding is used in the Chaste Uncanton example at the bottom of the post.)

One technique is to identify the exposition in your current document.

  • Go through your manuscript and literally highlight all the expository elements.
  • Pick one section of your exposition that catches your eye. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it should be substantial enough that you could, if forced, expand on it.
  • Copy that exposition to a blank page.
  • Bring that exposition into its own current moment. In other words write a scene that brings us into direct action. Show us a moment, don’t tell us.

Long story short: You are transforming a passage of exposition into a “visual” action-oriented scene to get your creative juices flowing.

Getting Unstuck: Writing Into Exposition Technique Example

Using the See Dick run example above, let’s say the exposition that grabbed your attention was the mention of the stolen candy from Mr. Cooper’s store. Write into that exposition: put us in Cooper’s store with Dick, and let us watch as he pilfers candy. What kind of candy does he choose (and which does he skip)? How does he evade Mr. Cooper’s extensive video surveillance? Is he stopped and searched by the Armenian security guard on the way out? Where does he hide the Laffy Taffy? Does he go to Jane’s house to give her stolen candy? Was Jane the criminal mastermind extorting Dick for candy all along?

What you develop may merit inclusion in your draft, or it may not. Regardless, the exercise has now forced you to break into your exposition and bring the story into direct action, thus stimulating a renewed creative flow.

Give the technique a shot, and let me know if it helped you get unstuck! Were you able to use the resulting direct-action scene in your draft? Let me know at May we can include your before-and-after example here in the Book Writing Tips blog.

Free Writing Consultation

Interested in one-on-one feedback and encouragement to help you finish your novel? Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with Chaunce Stanton Author Services.

Classic Example of Exposition: Chaste Uncanton

As promised, here is the text-book example of exposition from the fantasy classic The Sword of the Paladin’s Wrath by Chaste Uncanton, which many of us English majors studied as an object lesson.

Uncanton is known for florid prose and often falls prey to the blatant misuse the exposition. This tendency often can be found in fiction genres requiring extensive world-building, such as fantasy and science fiction; however, every writer may find plenty of awkward exposition, regardless of genre.

Even in Uncanton’s work some exposition may be useful to the reader, but when dumped in large piles, exposition, exposition takes readers out of the moment—out of the immediacy of the action—just as the same as someone explaining a movie to someone else while the movie is playing. It’s distracting and, often, not as helpful as writers imagine it to be.

Consider the “before and after” difference, first in the full exposition version, and then after it’s reduced to its direct action.

Full Exposition (Before)

Just as Zildar, the dragon with the worst imaginable attitude owing to an electrolyte deficiency, swooped from the sky, Gregory the Paladin swung his sword skyward so its tip seemed to touch the sun, which was one of three suns orbiting the gentle red-green planet of Arthe. Gregory’s sword, which gleamed a brief, shining moment in mid-arc, was forged by the Sylvan tribe, remnants of the elvish kingdom, who were wiped out in the Dwarven Wars under King Zaranos’s eldest son, the one with the goatee and raspy voice. The Sylvans, known for their ability to weave magic into the items they manufactured, were rendered powerless when the Fendarian Dwarves employed powerful de-magicification counterspells. They were wiped out almost completely, except for Gregory’s loyal side-kick, Qwerkian, whose favorite food was Terdish cheese, mined from beneath the royal stables. Then with a single bold stroke, Gregory killed the dragon.

“Ah,” Gregory said humbly, recalling his lost love, a young peasant woman from near the Nictic marshes. Her name had been Rubella, and she had left a mark on him.

Qwerkian, whose mouth was full of ripe Terdian cheese as usual, cheered, then hurriedly swallowed the brownish clump he’d been chewing even during the heroic battle, such was his appetite as befitted a member of the Tumtum tribe.

“You’ve killed the Zildar the dragon! Now you must track his lair in order to rescue the Princess Aberfitch! For only she can reveal the spell of binding to release the curse on your home village of Diggle-Diggle, which lies far beyond the Frindian Sea, a journey fraught with brigands and sea monsters, like the many-vented Porpipus.”

Exposition Removed (After)

When we remove the expository sections from this bloated passage, what remains is the action within the moment:

Just as Zildar the dragon swooped from the sky so its tip seemed to touch the sun, Gregory the Paladin swung his sword skyward. Gregory’s sword gleamed a brief, shining moment in mid-arc, then with a single bold stroke, [he] killed the dragon. [Qwerkian ate cheese.]

Side Note: Maybe Uncanton’s epic 650,00-word book could have been reduced to something smaller than a cannonball to the gut? Who am I to argue with the greats, though.

Book-Writing Tips

Getting Unstuck Tip #5: Skip to the End

Writers often find themselves stuck in the opening chapters of their novels. For some writers, the beginning is the end of their writing attempts. Why is that? Especially considering that many writers—creative and intelligent folks on the whole–have imagined a complete plot for their novel, and, in fact, may even “see” the entire story like a movie in their heads.

More often than not, the problem rests with the internal critic or internal editor voice. There’s a nagging perfectionist who sits next to us and groans every time we touch the keyboard. The critic voice urges us to make sure every word is perfect in the beginning.

Even when you’ve made it chapter two or three, the critic says, “Better go back to the beginning and make sure everything is just right before we move ahead.”

The critic’s justification may be that the opening of the story is the equivalent of a building’s foundation.

“If you put your story on a faulty foundation, it may collapse,” the critic says.

That’s sound advice. AFTER YOU’VE COMPLETED THE FIRST DRAFT! (I’m yelling at your inner critic, not at you.)

I understand: you want your novel to be perfect, but the number criteria for something to be a book is that is completed. If it’s not done, it’s not even a book.

It’s kind of like how pancakes aren’t pancakes until you have on the griddle for a minute. Before that it’s just batter that you keep over-stirring.

Pour that batter in the darn griddle!

The first draft is about getting your story out. Revision comes after that. Revision is when you can make space for your inner critic’s opinions.

When you find yourself returning to the same opening passages and honing and tweaking and polishing instead of moving forward, try this technique: write the ending. Literally.

Hit the return key a few times in your document or if you write longhand, turn to a blank page. Tell your inner critic to take a break for a couple hours and start writing the ending. Here are some prompt questions to help you get you rolling:

  • What’s the very last image that your readers will see?
  • What emotions do you want to leave with them?
  • What is one unexpected thing you can weave into the ending?
  • Are there any sound effects associated with your ending? (e.g. a waterfall, the clatter of keys in a lock, the whistling wind)
  • If your story had a soundtrack what would the final song be?

(For a technique to help generate images for your final scene, consider incorporating Unstuck Tip #2: Snapshotting into this approach.)

I realize that some discovery writers (aka “pantsers”) may balk at this suggestion. A discovery writer may argue that they need to write from the beginning, through the middle, and discover the ending through a more linear process. I think that’s fantastic, and if you’re doing that and you’re already past the beginning in your first draft, then congratulations: this tip isn’t for you. But if you are stuck, no one will die (in real life) if you try this technique.

Here’s a secret: you may not keep this ending. It is not written in stone. (Well, unless you wrote it in stone.) You could repeat this technique more than once. You could write three endings, or six endings, or an entire novel comprised of nothing but endings.

Okay, maybe not six endings your first time out, but hopefully you get the point. By writing the ending, we’re cracking open the cage door so your creative mind can sniff the cheese of the ending and get out of the cage.

Remember: we gave your inner critic the morning off, so this isn’t an exercise where you will now begin to obsess about perfecting your ending. You’re not here to start polishing and wordsmithing. You’re only here to plant a flag on the mountain and then head back down to the village below and sherpa your plot up to the ending.

Uh oh, I think the inner critics are returning from coffee break. What are you going to tell them? Maybe you should give them the rest of the day off so you sherpa some batter all over your cheese.

Did I go too far mixing the metaphors?

Just try writing the ending. Now go write.

Free Writing Consultation

Interested in one-on-one feedback and encouragement to help you finish your novel? Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with Chaunce Stanton Author Services.

Book-Writing Tips

Getting Unstuck Tip #4: Morning Pages

On a recent episode of the Stop Writing Alone podcast, Nicole Rivera replayed an episode (“The Morning Pages”) dedicated to something that inspired her practice: Morning Pages. She is convinced that practicing the Morning Pages technique has done more than affect her writing: it’s also helped her work through personal challenges, helping to center her.

Her ongoing enthusiasm about Morning Pages finally made something click for me in regards to how Morning Pages could be adapted to help writers get unstuck in their novels.

First, I’ll explain Morning Pages, and then I’ll introduce my Getting Unstuck adaptation.

What Is The Morning Pages Technique?

The Morning Pages technique comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a book designed to help people recover their creativity. The Morning Pages technique is just one component of a 12-week practice outlined in The Artist’s Way.

To practice morning pages, all you need is a pen and a notebook, and you write three notebook pages as quickly and fluidly as you can, no editing, no crafting. Your Morning Pages will just capture whatever thoughts are flitting about your head at the moment or you may capture ideas you’ve been mulling over the past day or it might include a list of tasks that lay ahead of you for the day.

It doesn’t really matter what the words are, because the morning pages technique is an exercise in free writing. For this to be effective, you need to write continuously for those three pages: no stopping to think, no checking email, no rereading (or editing) what you wrote, and no contemplating the drops of dew on the rose bush outside your window. Writing non-stop, that what it is: three pages worth of words in a single, fluid writing session.

Oh, and once you’ve written the Morning Pages, you can’t go back afterwards to re-read them. Ever. Why? Because you are learning to let go. You’re learning to clear your mind.

More than just “writing in the morning”, Morning Pages is free-writing exercise that becomes meditative. It is separate from writing for production, and that necessarily activates a different part of our brain that those times we sit down to do structured writing. Morning Pages immediately removes the need to write only for progress in your writing project.

In other words, this isn’t a writing session intended to add words to your novel; however, the practice of morning pages will boost your ability to write more freely when you do sit down to write the novel.

The technique can help us to silence the internal editor that haunts many of us and who bogs down our productive writing sessions.

Adapting Morning Pages to Getting Your Novel Unstuck

As identified above, Morning Pages frees your mind and is part of restoring your innate creativity. But what if you also could adapt the technique to help you get unstuck within a specific writing project?

Imagine you’ve encountered a roadblock in a novel. Maybe you’re having a tough time trying to advance the storyline without getting bogged down or wandering off into a dead-end narrative cul de sac. Here are the steps for Unstuck Morning Pages technique, adapted from The Artist’s Way.

  1. Grab your notebook and pen.

  2. Find somewhere to sit (or stand) that’s away from your usual working space.

  3. Begin your Unstuck Morning Pages writing by posing the specific challenge you’re facing.

  4. If you’re unsure of the specific challenge, but you know that something’s “not right”, start by writing that: something like There’s just something in this story that’s not working.

  5. Keep going from there and DO NOT STOP writing. Let your words flow around the topic of the story challenge you’re facing.

  6. If you find yourself pausing, write that down and bring it back to your problem-solving focus: I was just looking out the window but I really want to figure out why my character would want to chuck his old life to move to an uninhabited island.

  7. If you find yourself in a circle of non-resolution, inject some what-if questions, as wild as you like and answer them: What if he knows he’s dying? What if he is the son of a billionaire yachtsman whom he is afraid of becoming? What if he is allergic to pizza? What if he’s not alone on the island?

  8. Write at least three pages. You may end up in a state of flow. Go with it.

  9. Repeat this process until your brain unlocks the solution, because it will. True magic happens when you combine intention, focus, and action.

Focusing your writing on the place your stuck is the primary difference between the Unstuck Morning Pages and the original Morning Pages as applied in The Artist’s Way. Another difference is that you may re-read what you’ve written, because you are going to take the parts you need to help you get your story unstuck.

Just as in my Greenrooming Unstuck Tip, Unstuck Morning Pages bring you to a place outside of the story in order to observe and interact with the story. When we sit down for productive writing sessions, we have on our author hats and we dive into the forest and start counting trees. But for Unstuck Morning Pages we soar high above the forest, carried by universal creative forces.

This Unstuck Morning Pages may sound like sacrilege to those devotees of the The Artist’s Way, but I am not suggesting you skip the original Morning Pages exercise: I am merely proposing the Unstuck version in addition to your meditative, creativity-unlocking practice.

My First Experience with Unstuck Morning Pages

I tried this myself, and it was effective the first time out! In fact, it helped me:

  • Uncover where the story needs to start (and how to adjust chapter order accordingly)

  • Understand a character’s motivation

  • Confirm when a specific character learns an important skill

  • Introduce a resolution beat for a specific character action

…and it ENERGIZED me.

All that in a 15-minute session of 550 words. It worked for me, because I needed to step away from the living characters and scenes that draw me in when I sit down for my productive writing session. Now I have a “plan of action” from the Unstuck Morning Pages exercise to guide my next writing session.

Give it a try, and let me know how it worked for you!

Book-Writing Tips

Getting Unstuck Tip #3: Draw It!

If you’re familiar with Anne Lamott’s book Bird By Bird, you’ll know one of her tenets is write a sh*tty first draft. Instead of getting bogged down in making a perfect first draft (whixh is impossible), writers should get the story down as quickly as possible (even if it takes years).

But even knowing this, we sometimes still get stuck. In my book coaching and in these writer tips, I’m pointing out tips and techniques that can help you get unstuck and draft novels faster.

In a recent episode of the Fiction Writer podcast, (entitled Don’t Write Your Next Draft, Draw It!), host G.K. Lamb described a technique he has used to overcome the blank page.

He drew his first draft.

Yes, you read that correctly: He DREW it.

He recently applied this technique while converting a short story into a short film script, but he found himself overthinking it, so he decided to come it at from a different angle. He already had story visuals in mind, but the act of writing was giving him anxiety. Instead, he drew a crude storyboard. He said the result help him create the script more fluidly—and it opened up the story for him in new ways.

To be fair, G.K. Lamb is no stranger to films and script writing, but many of us writer also have clear visuals in our minds. I know what you’re thinking: But, Chaunce! I suck at drawing!

No worries—the point of this technique isn’t to make you feel self-conscious or to improve your drawing skills. It’s about freeing your mind from anxiety and stuckness.

Everyone from fine-art filmmakers to cottage cheese advertisers use storyboards to layout the general “shots” of their scenes. Here are some random examples of storyboards in action.

Instead of trying to skecth each change in an imaginary camera’s perspective, what if you had a single, specific image in mind? Maybe the expression on your character’s face as he or she confronts a dark secret. Or maybe it’s the little cabin along the stream as seen from horseback on a high ridge by a ghostly lone rider. For this technique, you don’t need to sketch every change in camera perspective, like a filmmaker might. You just need to engage a different part of your brain and start drawing.

It could be a single moment, or it could be a setting, or it could be the scars on your character’s arms from his/her ceaseless attempts to escape writing duties. 

It’s a simple technique, but appeals to that creative child inside of us. Remember when you would draw alligators and rockets as a kid? You’re calling on that innate creativity and disengaging—for only ten or twenty minutes—that logical, perfectionist adult that’s towering over you with a red pen in hand.

The important thing is to try it, just for a short time, to see if the technique works for you.

Free Writing Consultation

Interested in one-on-one feedback and encouragement to help you finish your novel? Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with Chaunce Stanton Author Services.

For Fun

Sprout’s Revenge

Minnesota is a great state, isn’t it? I mean, if you don’t count the Twin Cities. And summer just isn’t summer without a road trip.

My wife and I recently returned from a meandering Minnesota road trip during which we passed through 18 of Minnesota’s 87 counties.

We stopped by any and all roadside attractions that caught our eye.

Why? Well, restrooms for one reason, and for another, I’m doing research on these touristy landmarks, because some will appear in the Norwegian Pontoon Mafia series.

Or disappear…

Our stops included the fantastic Runestone Museum in Alexandria, the St. Urho statue in Menahga (why are Finns so weird?), the world’s largest tiger muskie statue in Nevis, and even the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove.

St. Urho statue in Menahga. This was before flyswatters were invented. 

We were, however, denied entrance to the Hewitt Historical Museum for refusing to offer a blood sacrifice to the god Moloch.

Hewitt Historical Museum. Admission price: Blood.

On the way home, we stopped in Blue Earth to see the nearly 60-foot Jolly Green Giant.

(Ho, ho, ho.)

We arrived while the actors were on lunch break, so all there was to see was the empty pedestal that says Welcome to Blue Earth. He and “Sprout” had ducked into the Dairy Queen at the north edge of the park.

TRAVEL TIP: The DQ in Blue Earth is the only franchise location to offer a novelty Brussels Blizzard, which consists of Brussels sprouts mixed in frozen textured dairy product. It’s served with a knife so you can chop off your own tongue before you drink it.

Irwin Robertson is the actor who plays the Jolly Green Giant statue. He insists that people call him “G.G.” when he’s in character, because he is a method actor of the highest calibre, which is Hollywood code for “he’s kind of an a-hole”.

Irwin Robertson demonstrating his powerful method acting as “G.G.” in Blue Earth, Minnesota.

He had a brief stint in the Fruit of the Loom advertising campaign back in the 1980s, but he had a run-in with the red apple character and “accidentally” crushed his Datsun 300ZX. 

Fruit of the Loom Guys with rare photo of Irwin Robertson as the Hardy Giant Kiwi.

You may also remember Irwin from his work in James and the Giant Peach at the Children’s Theatre. (He played the Peach.)

Irwin Robertson as The Giant Peach.

Now, I know there are some pretty rough jobs out there, but trying to look jolly all day with a four-foot-wide smile and standing still for tourists so they can take the same photos and make the same banal comments, like It’s not as big as I thought has got to be one of the worst jobs.

How difficult it must be not to shout back, “That’s what she said!” and scare them back to Missouri. Not all heroes wear capes, I guess.

Then again, what else would a 55-and-a-half foot man do other than act as the spokesmodel for a vegetable processing company? Poor guy was drummed out of the Marine Corps because of his temper, which was very short for such a tall man.

Apparently Irwin (or G.G.) manages his anger issues well enough while he’s in character, which is sunrise to sundown, seven days a week. After sundown, however, stuff happens that they don’t tell you about on the nicely painted placards. And don’t bother asking for any real info at the Museum: they all toe the company line there. For the real dirt, you have to talk to Gloria at the DQ or Bernie over at the Bomgaars.

After his traumatic experiences in the marines and in children’s theatre, Irwin resorted to drinking distilled pea liquor. As soon as the last tourists pulled out of Blue Earth, he would become a drunken maniac.

On more than one occasion he tried to have intimate relations with the drive-through window at the Dairy Queen. It happened often enough that the DQ barred the window to prevent “intrusion”, and now they can offer only very narrow to-go items.

Side rant: There’s always that one kid working the drive-through window who can’t figure out you can just turn the Dilly Bar sideways to make it fit through the bars, isn’t there?

Irwin’s violent behavior damaged his working relationship with coworkers, too, like his little side-kick, Sprout.

I had a chance to speak briefly with the actor who plays the Sprout statue, and he’s a super nice guy. His name is Russel Von Hinderloop, and originally he came to Minnesota from Denver for treatment at the Mayo Clinic for his rare leafy-green eczema disorder.

G.G. focused his drunken hijinks on poor little Sprout. More than one morning, park workers would have to pull Sprout from the drainage pipe near the parking lot after G.G. played a round of what he called “Sprout Ball”.

The “Sprout Spout” – now sealed.

It got so bad that the public works staff finally capped the drain entrance to keep G.G. from repeatedly shoving Sprout in the spout. Sprout told me that things were still pretty bad after that, and no matter how many times G.G. apologized and promised he’d quit drinking the pea liquor, things would always turn ugly after dark.

“I had to learn how to stand up for myself,” Sprout revealed. “And I figured I needed a way to humble G.G. Cut him down to size, so to speak.”

Russel “Sprout” Von Hinderloop, formerly of Denver, Colorado

Using the City of Blue Earth’s operating budget for the next fifteen years, Sprout ordered a giant wind turbine from Amazon. He tracked the shipment number and as the oversized trucks lumbered towards Blue Earth on Highway 90, Sprout taunted G.G., saying there was no way he could straddle the highway like a real giant. G.G., who had been hitting the sauce a little early that particular day, called Sprout a baby dink and marched right off to prove him wrong.

Some people recognize wind turbines as an alternate source of energy, but for those who had to drive through the bloody carnage on highway 90 after the convoy of wind turbine trucks roared between G.G.’s legs, they know that the blades of a wind turbine are even more effective at circumcising giants.

Wind turbines: alternate energy production or emasculating ball choppers?

Next time you visit, you’ll notice that under the leaf-strewn tunic of the Jolly Green Giant, G.G. is not “intact”, and the only way G.G. maintains his jolly demeanor is at the thought of kicking Sprout’s tiny ass all the way to the Spam Museum.

Sprout’s clever plan has worked pretty well, for the time being. He’s in good spirits and even told me a silly joke: Did you hear that the Jolly Green Giant’s balls got chopped off by a wind turbine?

Well, okay, it wasn’t so much a joke as it was a gleeful retelling of actual events.

Moheled Again

So life in Blue Earth, Minnesota, is pretty good for now. Under the drive-through window at the DQ hangs a sign that reads 271 days since last giant humping.

Now, there’s a t-shirt you can’t buy in the museum gift shop.

To order your commemorative t-shirt, send $52.99 to me. All proceeds go to the purchase of child labor.

Book-Writing Tips

Is Writing a Craft or a Trade? Why Writers Should Care


Can we get a little word-nerdy here?

What follows is an exploration of the origins of these two words: craft and trade.

‘Craft’ Word Origin and Meaning

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, craft can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic language where it meant strength or skill—possibly as far back as 500 B.C.E., if not earlier.

By 900 C.E., the definition (in Late Old English) expanded to include ingenuity and mental ability paired with a learned skill. Think of it as brains meets brawn, like Beauty and the Beast.

That brought us to the sense of craft as a skilled trade or an item made by a skilled worker. For example, a hand-carved wooden whistle is crafted; however, a plastic, mass-produced children’s sippy cup is not a craft (even though much skill was required in the product design and manufacturing).

Notice there is no financial component attached to this progressive definition: Craft is a skill-based pursuit.

Now, how about we put that other five-letter word under the etymological microscope?

‘Trade’ Word Origin and Meaning

Trade emerged from the Proto-Germanic root word meaning predictable path, related to the word tread. Initially trade referred to a ship’s path for exchange from one port to another—a predictable path for the exchange of resources, and, deplorably, humans, as in the slave trade.

Trade doesn’t appear fully formed as relating to a person’s line of work until until the 1540s when it came to mean a habitual line of work for which a tradesperson earns resources. Unlike craft, trade definitely has a financial component, blossoming fully in the phrase commercial trade.

Interesting side note: Trade wind preserves in verbal amber the initial meaning of the word trade in that it referred to a wind that exhibits a predictable directional behavior. It does not use trade in the sense of ships in pursuit of commerce following a fair wind. Bear that in mind if you’re writing pirate fiction, matey.

‘Craft’ Versus ‘Trade’ in the Real World of Construction

A good friend of mine is a very talented builder of high-end homes. His work is beautiful and inspires house envy. There is nothing cookie cutter about his houses, either. Each one is unique.

This guy can do it all, and I should know. (I’ve seen him in action and nearly wore myself out working side-by-side with him on a renovation.) I asked him about the difference between craft and trade. He only took a moment to answer.

The biggest difference is finesse. A tradesman will force something together, but a craftsman can smooth it in, because he knows all the techniques, all the tricks of the trade. People who work in the trades do what they’re told but the craftsman solves problems with efficiency.”

Wow. That’s hitting pretty close to home for writers.

From design to foundation pouring, from framing to finishing flourishes, my friend can do plumbing, electrical, and roofing, and that makes him a jack of all trades. However, he excels at carpentry. His knowledge of all those other components of house-building serve only to make him the best damn carpenter in the Upper Midwest.

I asked him about his multiple skills, and he gave me plenty of examples where he identifies as being “only” a tradesperson: things like cement work and finishing trim. He doesn’t consider everything he does to be “craftsman” level, but he’s proficient in many trades.

Another insight into the craft: my pal said that when he is employing his craftsmanship, he creates a flawlessness, the perfect intersection of skill, effort, and patience.

“I’m good enough that no one knows that I did it better than anyone else. But I know.”

The Writing Craft & The Writing Trade

Clearly, both terms, craft and trade can apply to writing. We can show up every day at the computer or at the notebook and keep at it, pumping out words. We follow the advice of more seasoned writers further along in their writing careers and (hopefully) further along in their writing craft than we are. We might even make a living (ideally) from our writing.

That’s the trade part, merely the entrance ticket that gets you into the mechanics of writing production.

Children are burgeoning tradespeople. They have unfettered creativity paired with a limited skillset. Adults encourage their efforts by hanging drawings of eleven-fingered Mrs. Clauses in their work cubicles. If the child increases their skills over time, something happens: a wild alchemy linking imagination and transporting others into the artwork.

Over time, your inherent strengths and predilections merge with writing chops to form something only you can deliver in your writing craft. Yes, you must be a jack of all trades and learn a smattering of vocabulary, grammar, story structure, character development and all the other functional components of storytelling.

Realistically, however, you’ll master only a subset of these skills.

You might be a word-efficient and spartan writer like Hemingway. You might apply efficiency with surprising twists in the short-story form like Raymond Carver. You might combine lyrical narrative with heart-wrenching storylines like Barbara Kingsolver. You might let your wild imagination explode the boundaries of the known world while walking in parallel with its ruins like Susanna Clarke.

More than just winning the book-deal lottery, these writers practice the craft of writing.

From the components of story, they wizard whole worlds with their writing witchcraft.

They don’t necessarily pump out words and just show up every day. As masters of their craft, they make stories that are unique to them and seamless. They’re good enough to know they did better than anyone else could—not through arrogance, but through the hard-won application of skill and persistence.

Where are you at in your writing career? Are you working the trade? Are you working towards craft?

Understanding the difference necessarily affects your next writing session, and the thousands beyond that one.

Free Writing Consultation

Interested in one-on-one feedback and encouragement to help you finish your novel? Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with Chaunce Stanton Author Services.

Chaunce Stanton Author King of the Waves

Styled to Keep You Out of the Crowd

For my next novel (King of the Waves), I'm researching the year 1976, among numerous other rabbit-hole topics. I'm sharing a smattering of these fabulous finds to bring you with me back in time to the mid-1970s—back when they still made cars.

I mean REAL cars.

Hear the audio version of this post.

by Chaunce Stanton | Boxflap Podcast

Met the Ford Elite with a 351-in³ V8 engine. The asking price started at $4,879, but if you wanted some 8-track music with your AM/FM stereo, it ran you an extra $326.


Fuel efficient? Hell yeah! The Elite got 12 miles to the gallon. By comparison, a Boeing 747 gets about 0.2 miles per gallon, and, unlike a 747, you didn’t have to worry about those pesky seatbelt signs dinging on and off when you want to go to the bathroom.

Don’t get me wrong: the Ford Elite had seatbelts, but they were the kind you just kept buckled and sat on. And if you wanted to go to the bathroom while you were cruising, well, that’s why you kept an empty jar in the huge glove compartment.
There was no “Driver Confidence Package” to add on. If you drove a Ford Elite, you already had all the confidence you needed. There was no forward-collision warning system. If you ran into something with this car, you meant to do it.


The mirrors weren’t for parallel parking. There was no parallel parking this car. You just made a hard right turn in front of the Woolworths and put it park. Then you’d use your rear-view mirror to check your look. You only used the sideview mirrors to watch the state patrol saunter up to the driver’s window when he pulled you over.


When he asked, “You know why I pulled you over?” you’d answer, “Because you’re jealous that I’m driving a 1976 Ford Elite.”

These beauties are still around. The current average asking price for this classic is about $10,000.

Book-Writing Tips

Getting Unstuck Tip #2: Snapshotting

‘Unsticking’ the Visual Imagination to Free Your Story

With a technique I call snapshotting, you can harness the power of visual brainstorming for stronger description, theme-specific symbols, and gripping scenes, while helping you get your story unstuck.

As writers, we begin in our imaginations. It is where we conceive story lines and characters. It is a place where we can “see” scenes and “hear” dialogue, like movies, impossibly perfect, being projected on the front wall of our craniums. Then we transform those movies into words.

Not as easy as it sounds, is it?

Words being the final product that we produce, there are points in the writing process when we focus on generating those words. We fret about counting those words and polishing them like gold coins in a miser’s grip. We analyze readability scores, we find-and-replace overused words, and we obsess about getting those little squiggly punctuative symbols right.

Those activities pull our attention away from the visual imagination, which can trigger stuckness in many writers. We’re asking our brains not only to make the movies, but to sell tickets, scoop popcorn, change the marquis sign, and clean the toilets.

Our brains may have a hard time making frequent shifts between the visual imagination and the verbal, word-generating tasks necessary to set words on the page.

Next time you feel stuck in writing, ask yourself: are you still seeing the movie in your head, or are you turning the crank on the word-making noggin and finding it jammed?

Snapshotting brings you back into the visual mindset.

With snapshotting, we generate images in a focused manner. We aren’t searching for the right words at this point: we’re jumpstarting the movie projector. Similar to brainstorming, snapshotting is a guided visualization of specific images around a scene, relationship, or theme.

Let’s imagine you are struggling to show versus tell about a love triangle. A beautiful baker is being pursued simultaneously by a mime and a park ranger, and the baker is reluctant to commit to either.

For snapshotting purposes, imagine she’s literally running away from the two suitors. Is our baking beauty running away from love because she doesn’t want to choose (or choose wrong)? Okay! How can you show us her problem with making choices? Maybe she can’t decide between butter cream or sour cream for a frosting recipe, and she uses both—or maybe neither! Maybe in her unwillingness to make a wrong choice, we now are looking a kitchen full of naked cupcakes. Those naked cupcakes are the visual symbol encapsulating her internal conflict.

Maybe the baker’s love-crazed suitors are pursuing her on foot. Imagine those two trying to trip each other up, hurling insults (well, silent insults for the mime), and trying to woo her on the run. It’s awkward and silly, but already we’re seeing it unfold. How do they move? Why does the park ranger have a limp? Is the limp from the time he rescued the baker from a mountain lion who’s crazy for angel food cake? The limp is a snapshot of the sacrifice he’s willing to make for love.

Why is the baker carrying a wedding cake? It sure is slowing her down, and she is trying not to drop it. That wedding cake represents her idealized view of relationships. It’s perfection. It’s what she’s holding out for, and it should not be sullied by common mimes and park rangers.

What if the three members of this love triangle were in different vehicles: what would those vehicles look like? The white baking van with the pink lettering being tailed by an olive-green Jeep and whatever mimes drive—maybe a black-and-white Prius (because it’s quiet and looks mimey).

What’s hanging from the rearview mirror of each vehicle? That crystal angel reminds the park ranger of when he first met and fell in love with the baker. Maybe the mime still displays the baker’s prom garter from high school after all these years. He can’t let go, and that garter is a snapshot symbol of his motivation to recapture his youth—the years before he found himself walking into the wind, trapped in a box, and pulling imaginary ropes (that’s all mime jargon).

Obviously, I just kind of winged it here, but this snapshotting exercise took me no more than ten minutes, and already I’m seeing the characters and action clearly—even though I have no intention of pursuing the baker-ranger-mime love triangle story. It’s all yours.

Snapshotting in 3 Steps

1. Pick one place in a story where you’re stuck.

2. Brainstorm images associated with the point where you’re stuck (character, theme, scene). Let related images flow. 

3. Ask what-if questions but answer those questions in images.

Do you keep all the ideas you generate from snapshotting? No. Snapshotting is not about production or output. It’s about getting unstuck by re-engaging the visual imagination to free your writing once more. Yes, you may encounter an interesting twist, compelling action, or insights into relationships, so keep those for inclusion in your story if they advance your story/character/theme.

When you’re stuck, the most important thing to do is figure out why you’re stuck. If you’re stuck because you are experiencing “word overload” and production burnout, then try snapshotting your way back into the imagination.

Keep a box of tissues handy, because snapshotting is guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing.

And if you ever finish writing that beautiful baker love triangle book, I’d love to read it. Just give me credit for the naked cupcakes.

Free Writing Consultation

Interested in one-on-one feedback and encouragement to help you finish your novel? Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with Chaunce Stanton Author Services.

Book-Writing Tips

Getting Unstuck Tip #1: Greenrooming

Put your characters to work for you by taking them outside of your story.

If you’re feeling stuck in your novel or if you feel your characters are lacking a little zip, here’s a technique I can recommend based on personal experience.  

Greenrooming Is Like The Office Party Where Nobody Gets Fired

Have you ever had one of those jobs where you work side-by-side with your fellow drones day in and day out without ever really getting to know anyone, and then one holiday party and three drinks later, you find out Greg from accounting is a raging party animal who loves performing Miley Cyrus songs for karaoke?

Greenrooming is like an office holiday party. Everyone’s off the clock and letting their hair down, but Greenrooming is even better than an actual office party, because your character won’t get fired for saying or doing something inappropriate. 

What happens in the Green Room stays in the Green Room.

Greenrooming: Your Characters Outside of the Story

Have you ever interacted with your characters outside of your story?

I call the technique Greenrooming, named after “the green room” on talk shows where guests wait to be called on stage. It’s a place where you can meet your characters on neutral ground where they’re not acting or suspicious that you’ll throw a plot twist at them. 

The green room could be any space where your characters are momentarily out of the spotlight. Perhaps you’d like to put one of your characters in a therapy session, or maybe you’d like to sit down a couple of your characters for relationship counseling—or maybe three of them if they’re tangled in a love triangle!

Maybe you want to hypnotize them or take them to a psychic. Maybe you want to waterboard them.

No. Let’s keep it friendly. 

Once you have them in the green room, you have an opportunity to have a little chat or interview them. Pour them a glass of bubbly and help them relax. After all, you’ve really been putting them through the wringer in your novel. They deserve a little break.

Then once everyone’s relaxed, start asking probing questions that help you uncover more insights into their natures, their fears, their motivations. Let them answer you in the Green Room, outside of the story, but still in character. 

Greenrooming Is About Liberation, Not Creating a New Scene

Here I want to emphasize: Greenrooming isn’t moving your character from one cage and putting them in another.  

The primary advantage of this Greenrooming exercise is to liberate your character. We are freeing your character from expectations and limitations. We are freeing your imagination from your outline and your ‘stuckness’, if only for a few minutes. You’re now dealing with your characters free of the constraints of story threads and plot lines. In Greenrooming, your characters are on an equal footing with you. 

Not What You Think: What Your Character Says or Does

Greenrooming isn’t another opportunity for you to write what you think your character would say or do. You observe the character and let the character act according to her/his nature. 

Too often we think of our character from in-story perspectives. In other words, we observe characters from the perspective of other characters. Greenrooming removes that funhouse-mirror situation so that we have a direct connection with the character, without the limiting filters of other character perspectives.

Greenrooming Lets You Get to Know Your Character for Who They Are and Not Just What They Do In the Story

How does this character make you feel when you’re alone with him or her? Not sure? Then you need to get to know that character better.

Instead of approaching the character as a necessary function of your story, you are now engaging that character as a fully formed entity. 

This is a safe space, remember, outside of the story. Whatever this character says or does in the Green Room doesn’t have to change a single word in your storybut it might, if you play your cards right.

Will they be honest with you? How will you know?

You want something from this character, and you’ve got to earn her or his respect first.

For The Blank Slate Boarding House for Creatives, I really wanted to spend some quality time with my antagonist, Perjos, the world’s greatest mind magician. I used my Greenrooming time (visualized as an actual changing room backstage at a theatre, complete with lighted mirrors, props and bizarre theatrical garb stuffed in old trunks) to interview my character.

I tried to be sincere in my compliments, thoughtful in my questions, and very aware not to look into his eyes for too long.

I discovered why he dislikes everyone, and—more importantly—why he distrusts everyone. He told me what keeps him motivated even when he’s feeling pessimistic. I learned his attitude towards other characters and several secrets that he was keeping about them.

Questions for Your Character in the Green Room

What should you ask your characters in the green room?

It can be anything, really. Perhaps you have a specific challenge you’re trying to resolve, and you think they hold the key. Ask them about it. Here are some sample questions to get you started, but I’m sure you have your own.

  • Did your character have any odd requests for the caterer in the green room? (Only green M&Ms or sixteen unscented prayer votives, unlit, for example.)
  • What does your character think of your story? What’s his/her favorite part? Least favorite?
  • Which characters in your story does this character like the best? Dislike?
  • What does your character think your book should be called?
  • How would your character describe your book to someone else (in an elevator pitch)?
  • Does your character have recurring dreams?
  • What is your character’s earliest memory?
  • Does your character believe in God or the afterlife?
  • Has your character ever cheated on a partner?
  • What’s the most expensive thing your character stole and why?
  • What’s your character’s favorite book, movie, or song?
  • When was the last time your character cried?
  • When was the last time your character was happy?
  • What does your character think of when they think of water? (Do some word association with him/her.)
  • What did your character want to be when she/he was a kid?
  • How far is your character willing to go to get what he/she wants?

Ask your character anything, but make your questions count.

After you’ve had your chat or therapy session or psychic consultation, thank them for their time and let them get back to their cheese platter. Take what you can use and apply it to your story.

PRO TIP: Whatever you learn from your characters in these greenrooming sessions, hang on to it for your content marketing! Much of what Perjos the magician told me I didn’t use in the novel, but I did use it for blog posts to help market the book, framed as “Get to Know The World’s Greatest Mind Magician”.

Free Writing Consultation

Interested in one-on-one feedback and encouragement to help you finish your novel? Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with Chaunce Stanton Author Services.

Book-Writing Tips

Writers Breaking Free

From birth we’re trained.

The training we’ve received from birth is (mostly) well intentioned. It is meant to keep us safe by teaching us not to run into traffic or light the house on fire or eat Tide Pods. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

That initial training puts us on a training treadmill on which we are fed even more training, the kind that also helps us conform to societal expectations so that we’re “successfully integrated” into the hierarchical power structure.

While avoiding alligators and learning to get along with other people are good things, all of that training can have unintended and deleterious effects on our creative selves.

In short, we’ve been trained to be trained, like circus lions in cages trained to perform by puny people who require whips to keep us lions in line.

The assumption remains that you are not equipped to self-actualize (at least not on your own). Only someone other than you is qualified to direct you, correct you, and protect you from yourself.

The same is true for those independent writers trying to find their voice and to learn the writing craft. The perpetual cycle of training and being trained can get in your head. Suddenly you’re trapped in a cage of your own making, beating up on yourself while using the harsh language of the lion tamers.

In this mindset, you will never feel quite ready to step outside of the cage. You will remain captive in someone else’s circus.

“Obviously, you are not equipped to take on such a monumental challenge as writing a book all on your own,” the lion tamer says. “You need to copy Great Author A’s style or join a Critiquing Coven of Professional Lion Tamers or pursue your MFA.”

These are all cages for us lions.


Do you need to learn and study the writing craft?

Yes—that is, if you’re interested in connecting with your readers. Maybe your spelling and punctuation are so lousy the grammar police keep you on a no-fly list.

Well, good news! You can learn those rules without breaking your creative spirit. (Or you can hire professionals to fix these things for you.) Fun? No. Useful? Yes.

Grammar and syntax are merely tools for storytelling. They are not the story itself. The same is true for dialogue, character development, three-act structure, pacing, inciting incidents, and every other element needed for a ripping good yarn that draws readers in and won’t let them go.

Those lion tamers also beat into us the idea that there is something immoral about making mistakes. A low grade on a school paper or receiving a negative review on the internet is on the same spectrum as murdering babies.

Phooey. Or insert a stronger expletive here if the mood strikes you.

I happen to be the kind of lion who often practices T & E: Trial and Error. It’s not a perfect process, and often it’s not pretty, but I make unusual discoveries in pursuit of my own solutions to writing challenges. There’s gold in them thar mistakes.

For one thing: they’re your mistakes. You created them. You own them. You can learn from them.

The world doesn’t need more caged animals. We need free and powerful beasts who amaze us with their unique strengths and (yes) weaknesses. Get untrained and untamed.

Do it your way, but do it well.

Roar, lion, roar.