Sunday, November 13, 2022

To Tell Or Not To Tell

Hi all! This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Telling vs. Showing: When is narrative exposition necessary?

I'm not fond of giving too much writing advice. I really don't like specifics either, like saying when something is or isn't necessary in crafting a story. I think it can evoke fear or a feeling that there is a definite right and wrong way when it comes to writing. The way I see it: Every writer is different. Their storytelling is different. The way they process and deliver story is different. And readers? The diversity in reader expectation is immeasurable.

As a reader, I love novels that give me loads of essential info at the beginning of the tale and make me feel a connection to the world and main characters. But I've also read novels (and loved them) that start with a bang and catch me up on the background later. Different stories demand different methods, and I think that's part of the beauty of the writing craft.

One thing that has helped me with exposition is this question: Does my reader need to know this information right now in order to understand what's happening?

But again, this can mean different things to different writers. I've found myself thinking information wasn't important until later in a book when I realized the author had a plan, and that certain exposition was laid on the page for a reason. I've done this myself. But in the beginning stages of being a writer, plans can feel thin as water. It can seem like EVERYTHING in your story is important, making it difficult to decipher what background a reader requires to understand the story as it's unfolding on the page. This is often painstaking because--until the author knows the story they're trying to tell--how can they know what information to share?

Here are two things to consider:

  1. Maybe try not to worry about things like too much exposition until you have a draft and know your story. Once you have a better grasp of how things play out, then go back and trim what needs trimming.
  2. Examine other author's work. Look at bestselling and beloved books in your genre (and even outside your genre). Really pay attention to how they deliver background information. This is part of studying your craft, and it keeps you in tune with what your general readership is used to in the current market. You may still do things differently. That's okay. But I do think it helps to analyze well-written works.
So that's my very not-so-specific advice on telling vs. showing. I hope it helps!

~ Charissa

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Intuitive Approach to Avoiding Writing Repetitive Scenes

 Yesterday I took Kelly Robson on the mandatory-for-all-creatives pilgrimage to see Georgia O'Keeffe's home and studio. This was my fourth time and as shimmeringly inspirational as the first time.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is how to avoid writing repetitive scenes. 

I confess not much springs to my mind on this topic, probably because I'm much more of an intuitive writer than an analytical one. Even in revision - arguably the most analytical phase of my process - I don't pay a lot of attention to whether scenes are repetitive. I do notice repetitive information, or emotional exchanges that have happened before. But so far as analyzing for goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC) - which is where this topic seems to have sprung from, regarding questions to ask to cull out repetitive scenes - that's just not how I think about story.

So, how DO I avoid repetitive scenes? I think it helps that I'm a linear writer. I write from beginning to end and thus the story trajectory is always in my mind. That's part of holding the thread to me. 

It also helps to approach the story from a character-driven perspective. This is part of what people are getting at with GMC - it's an analytical lens on character. If you're an intuitive writer, like me, you'll want to be in the flow of the character's thoughts, emotions, and personal journey. Sometimes they might regress, as our growth isn't always linear, but those steps back before the moving forward again can be important to the story.

Finally, probably the most analytical I get, I look at each scene as I'm revising and pay attention to what it's accomplishing in the overall story. What aspects of the plot is it advancing? What questions are being asked and answered in the scene? How does this deepen or strain the relationships between the characters. Occasionally I'll have two scenes doing more or less the same thing, and then I might consolidate them - or tweak the later one to be adding something new and different.

One thing I think is really important to keep in mind - especially in the face of the GMC/analytical types, who tend toward making a clean (and therefore somewhat sterile) formula for the story structure, to my thinking - is that not every scene has to "advance the story." This is especially true in genre writing/escapist fiction where some of the story is there for the sheer joy of it. There is nothing wrong with having parts of the story exist entirely for sensual delight. Even in the most rollicking plot, we sometimes need a bubble of space to breathe, to relax a moment, for the characters to remember what they're fighting for. 

In fact, don't we all?

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Vote, Damn It!

While I should be blogging about 6 Tips to Avoid Writing Repetitive Scenes, I'm dragging out my soapbox instead. What wild hair is poking my patookus? Well, for those of us residing in the US, today is Election Day. It's the midterms, which means we aren't voting for the US President, which --historically--also means voter turnout is significantly lower. Shame on us. 

My people, we cannot "meh" our way out of the crisis and hope "somebody else" takes care of what matters to us. So, if you're a US citizen, please, please, please, go out and cast your vote today. I won't tell you for whom to vote or what issues you should prioritize. I could. I have an abundance of opinions. I will, however, tell you to do your damn duty as a member of this republic.

Remember, if you don't vote, you can't complain about the outcome.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Writing tools I can't live without


As an independent author with a full time job and mother of two under four, efficiency is imperative. Things have changed so much since I first self-published back in 2003! Back then, it was vanity presses. And then again in 2010, we mostly just had Microsoft Word and InDesign to make files for Smashwords and CreateSpace. I’m so excited by the opportunities we have today, and want to share some of my key tools.

Bright Bird Press stationery 

The note pads, journals, and notebooks from Bright Bird Press are made specifically by a writer for writers. Everything is undated, so it doesn’t matter when you begin or when you have to stop, you can just open another page and keep going. I use the writing sprint sticky notes to help me keep track of my stats no matter which journal I picked up. There are tear off daily notepad sheets helping you focus on your writing goals for the day. There’s a popular year-long planner that allows you to track two fiction projects, break your goals down into monthly and weekly tasks, and provides quarterly self-care reminders specific to writers. I love this stationery set and just know you will too. 

I’ve been a pantser my entire life, but when I realized I wanted to make a series out of one of my books, I realized I needed a place to do some reverse engineering. is a document repository with some light relational database features. There are kanban, calendar, gantt, meeting notes, etc. It’s a free service, so if you’re looking for a way to organize the business of writing, I’ve loved

I use as my story wiki to hold all the metadata about my stories. Marketing blurbs, back cover copy, elevator pitches, character profiles, plot summary and story beats all live on template pages I created in my Notion. I have a promotions calendar, table to calculate estimated royalties from paid ads, etc.


Making sure I have a clean file is so important when it comes to saving editing fees. People seem to fall under two camps: Grammarly and ProWritingAid. I like the latter, because it has extensions for your browser and Microsoft Word. It allows you to create your own dictionary and you can pick your grammar style, whether it’s academic or creative. I love knowing that when I hand off my draft to my editor, I will have caught most of the obvious problems, saving my editor’s time to worry about the content instead. I went all-in and bought the premium lifetime license using a deal from AppSumo. 

This tool changed my life. Promised to always be a one-time fee, this tool has a writing mode and formatting mode. When in writing mode, you can write in the browser or via the downloadable app. You can create reusable pages, so if you have a standard author bio, newsletter sign up, back cover blurbs, etc, you can create once and use them across all your books. Updating is super simple as well. Just update what you need, then push the changes to all your books. This was a huge time-saver! And in formatting mode, you can use their existing templates or create one from scratch. I’m planning to have a template for each series of books.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for a more traditional alternative for formatting your books, I like Affinity Publisher. It’s a one-time purchase that’s a great alternative to InDesign, if you’ve used that tool in the past. You won’t get the benefit of reusable pages, but at least you’ll save money.


I’ve been a Canva user since 2014, but only recently became a pro user to take advantage of their scheduling tools. I use Canva to make my book covers, character profiles, newsletter and marketing graphics, and also schedule content for my Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Tiktok accounts. Their template library has exploded, making it really easy to schedule content weeks in advance, freeing up your time to get back to writing. You can make reels, stories, and regular posts… I’ve also made book plates, stickers, posters, and t-shirt designs, too. It’s a great, easy-to-use tool that has made my graphics generation process so much easier.

So that’s my core writing toolkit! Journals and stationery from Bright Bird Press. Business and series planning with Notion. Pre-editing via ProWritingAid. Writing and formatting via Atticus. Graphics via Canva. It took a lot of trial and error for me to get to this core set, so I hope I’ve saved you some time in the process. Let me know what you think of these tools! You can find me on Instagram as @worderella.

Belinda Kroll writes sweet and cozy Victorian fantasy. You can find her on Instagram as @worderella or via her website at She was the 2017 winner of the Self-Publishing Review award for her Civil War fiction novel, THE LAST APRIL. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

What We Use to Write

Everyone is going to be bored with asking this question year after year because my answers haven't changed in a very long time. 

Writing Applications:

1. Word for Windows. I started with Word way back in the stone age. It's what we're required to use in my professional life. It's where I am most comfortable. Could I learn something else? Yes. Other authors extol the virtues of Scrivner, for example. But there's significant learning curve. Why spend time on that learning curve when I could be use the time and brain space for story? Not to mention that whenever I see authors compare notes about something like Scrivner, I invariably hear that plotters love it and pantsers hate it. Add into it that in the day job, it's literally my task to learn all the technical things. I don't have to fully learn a thing. I dip my toes in just enough to understand a technology, write about it, and then walk away to go learn about the next thing. I am not all interested in forcing myself to do that super deep dive into a new writing software. Word is simple. I don't have to think about what needs to happen to create a file I can submit to an editor or to format for self publishing. I've learned enough tricks in the application that I can make it do just about anything I need it to do. The only down side is the fact that grammar and spell checker in Words are idiots. They are tweaked for business speak. Not fiction. For that reason, neither can be trusted. I fully admit to being horrified at how many actual words aren't in the spell check dictionary. I wish I'd kept one example for you but I naturally can't think of one at the moment.

4theWords: 4theWords is an online gamification of word counts. It isn't a competition - you aren't competing with anyone else or even with yourself. You fight creatures who have been infected. If you defeat them, you've helped cure them. As you 'battle' creatures by attaining a word count in a set amount of time, you win in-game cash and prizes. This really is a case of the pen being mightier than the sword. There's a narrative story arc through the game that you can follow and a million special events that take place in the game through out the year. It works because there's a vibrant community in the game and with the developers. It's a fun, supportive, no pressure way to practice. To experiment. It's private enough that you can try out anything you'd like with writing and not have to worry about it being seen. If you like what you come up with, you can publish your work to the other writers on the site. Or take your work out into the broader world. I like it just as a means of experimentation and a bit of a sandbox where I can low-stakes mess around with words and bits of story and thought.

OmmWriter: OmmWriter is a lightweight environment meant to eliminate distraction and help silence the critic. The writing screen is tiny and sits within a full screen landscape. OmmWriter blocks all other alerts and notifications that run underneath. You won't hear your email pinging into your inbox, for example. You determine your preferred landscape, your preferred color scheme, and your preferred background sounds. Some are natural, some are musical. You can decide whether you want a key stroke sound or not. If you do, you pick from a variety of sounds. This is purely a drafting tool where the point is going fast without much thought into spelling, grammar, or structure. It's about getting words down and shutting down analysis until you copy and paste the words into something more formal. Like Word. Upside: Very inexpensive. Very zen. Does reduce distraction and helps induce flow. Downside: No formatting at all. When you pull your text over to Word, you will need to format the text into something decent.

Bonus tool
Tidal: Music streaming. I do not live by words alone. Music is vital. Especially whilst living in a house of four adults, three of whom are hard of hearing. I am not being facetious. Everyone in the house but me has or needs hearing aids. It is very loud where I live. A good play list and noise canceling headphones are a necessity.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

4 Useful Writing Apps

 This week's topic: The writing software/programs/apps I can't live without.

Weeeeeellll, Imma show you just how old I am. {grabs walker, adjusts tennis balls}

  1. MS Word -- once Wordperfect was pried from my cold, collegiate hands and I was forced to learn Word for corporate life, I haven't left it. Despite "improvements" that Microsoft insists I need just to please their stockholders, it's still the most widely used word-processing software app that's readily accepted by editors. Yeah, yeah, I know Google Docs is trying to make fetch happen, but it's not there yet...
    • MS Word "Read Aloud" Feature -- before I send a book to be formatted, I have Word read the entire manuscript to me. Yep. It's the final, final, no-really-final editing pass. I learned the hard way that relying on visual-only review exposes me to the great "feature" of the brain that sees what it thinks should be on the page, not what's actually there. Also, Read Aloud helps catch skipped/missing words and excessive word repetition. E.g. Did my OC just "giggle" six times in the last chapter? ACK!
  2. Merriam-Webster Online -- "You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means." (Princess Bride) From homophones to synonym searches to that word that's on the tip of my tongue (or should it be the tip of my [finger] tips?), it's MW for me. Why this dictionary over the others? 'Cause my editors use it when they send me corrections. I find collaboration easier when working from the same reference source. 
  3. Urban Dictionary -- For us olds, it's sadly necessary for us to verify that what we just heard/read means what the yewts meant for it to mean. Definitions don't always align with Merriam-Webster, since language is a living, evolving thing. I don't tend to be too slang-trendy in my writing, but I like to make sure that certain words/idioms from the last century (I can't believe I just typed that) still mean what they used to mean. *Caution: because this site is open to unvetted public contributions, it contains a lot of cruel, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, etc. definitions. Make sure you have a sea of salt at hand and are wearing your "ugh, humanity" t-shirt when using this site.
  4. Grammarly -- I usually run my manuscript through this twice. First, to catch All The Things that MS Word "Editor" misses before I send it to my professional line and copy editors. Second, to catch post-editing errors because, godsdamnitall, it is absolutely possible to correct a mistake while simultaneously creating a new one. {shakes fist at sky}

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Word Processor Who?

This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Writing Programs! And software/apps we can't live without.

I hate Word. I really do. I've lost too many documents to that program and wanted to burn my laptop too many times over it. It's the industry standard, so I use it as the last step in my writing process before I send my MS to my editor. But other than that, I avoid it. For a long time, I preferred Google Docs, and I still do. I like the easy and instant collaboration with critique partners, and I've never lost words or entire documents. That said, it's still not my favorite writing software. My fave isn't even meant to be used as a word processor.

It's Vellum. Vellum is actually formatting software. I found myself randomly drafting a novella in it, and my writing process changed forever. Suddenly, I was writing so much faster.

I'm such a visual person, and seeing my structure on the left, what I'm typing in the middle, and the final product on the right has changed the game for me. I tried setting Scrivener up this way, but that didn't work for some reason. I even tried a newer software called Living Writer that's set up similarly, but it had too many beta issues. Nothing has beat Vellum for me for getting words down quickly. I even have a Freewrite Traveler, but it's Vellum that works magic with my brain, and I can't imagine ever writing a book without it. Maybe I like it because I'm a control freak? And I need to see the finished product? I dunno. But it's my go-to, and you'd have to pry it from my cold hands to get me to stop using it.

As for other things... I don't really use much else. Etymonline is a website I frequent to check dates of word origin and usage, but apps aren't my thing. 

What about you? What writerly program can you not live without??

~ Charissa

Friday, October 28, 2022

Collaboration Station

How many of us have group project trauma from school? I know I do. I was ready to come in here, shrug, and say 'of course I don't do collaboration'. Then I got to thinking. Of course I DO collaboration.

Collab Lite:
I have a critique group. I talk with other authors. We just naturally toss ideas around. We consult with one another or with the group when we're stuck on a plot point. I realize this amounts to talking out sticking points in our work. I submit, however, that it is a form of collaboration. None of us is working in an idea vacuum. That author's idea over there sparks three more in me which hopefully spark five more in someone else. It's a positive feedback loop and I'll claim it as a form of collaboration.

Collaboration fer realz:
Okay. The kind of collaboration you really came for today is the kind with coauthor credits. Again, I was ready to come in today, laugh uproariously at the notion that I'd ever consent to do any such thing. And then. And then I realized I had done a coauthored thing.

That aforementioned critique group. Four of the members came up with an idea for a cozy mystery series involving past lives in ancient Rome colliding with present day lives in Seattle. The notion was that each of us in the group came up with a character in the story. In ancient Rome, we'd all been together until a murder got us all charged and executed. In present day Seattle, the group are scattered and have no memory, of course, of that shared past until one of the present day women is suspected of murdering her husband. We all come together to solve that murder while resolving the murder in the past at the same time through a slow reveal series of flashbacks. The construct was that each of us would write a chapter and the others would edit for character voice and such. The grand vision was a 9 book series.

We hit the ground running with a plot map and a plan. We got six or seven chapters into the story. Then everything fell apart. The thing about any group project is that it is only as strong as its weakest link and in this case, our weakest link was a lymphoma diagnosis for one of our members. She's fine. Finally. But the project was mortally wounded and never recovered.

I'm not sad. Y'all, it was HARD. No joke. Everyone comes to the page with different strengths and different ways of executing story. This was never more evident when trying to corral five very different writers into some kind of homogeneity. It pressed every old group project button I have. Having that project slip quietly in the rear view, especially given the reason, was sad, but freeing. Writing to a story that isn't solely yours and where you need to tone match someone else feels (to me) a bit confining. I wanted to go dark with parts of the story because I felt like it called for that. My coauthors vehemently disagreed. So yeah. GROUP PROJECTS. O_o


Who would I write with if I could? Andre Norton. That would have been fun. She might have hired assassins to come for me, but I would have enjoyed the shared world and writing as long as I could. As to why - I guess because her stories were the first ones when I was a kid that lit me up and made me want to do exactly what she had done with a set of characters. I suppose I started learning how to construct a tall tale from her books. There have been many, many more worthy teachers along the way, but I've heard you never forget your first. I don't care if this isn't supposed to mean that, quite. It works.