Category: ask s

I’m having a hard time deciding whether or not I want to make my novel into a series. Any tips on how to decide if your story needs to be broken up into multiple books? Thank you!

Let’s take a look at dramatic structure. 

The tried and true method to writing a novel involves splitting the plot into various “acts,” much like one would for a play or musical. You start with the prologue, where the characters are met and the setting is described (protasis). Then conflict arises, climaxing a little after the middle of the plot (epitasis). The climax is the part with the highest suspense. Then, the story begins to simmer down. Plot twists are revealed, loose ends are wrapped up, ending with the final outcome (catastrophe). This way of writing, while I split it up into three sections, is really a five-act structure that is the formula for Shakespearean plays. It’s formulaic, some might say that it’s boring, but it provides a reliable backbone for reference on how to structure fiction. Here is a list of other structures. 

Take a look at your WIP. How much action is there? Does more action happen after the loose ends are tied up? If so, it may be in your best interest to break up your work into a series. Breaking up a novel due to length should not be the priority, but it is something to consider. Some of my favorite novels are 400+ pages, but they follow structures that allow for clean endings. Knowing when to break up a plot will take a bit of intuition. Is your plot too busy? Break it up. Are your characters enjoying their happy ending, but are suddenly blindsided by disaster? If it isn’t a plot twist, break it up. Use the provided structures as a guideline in your decision making. 

xx Sarah

Hey so do you have any tips on writing mute or characters with difficulty speaking

I present to you three key points to keep in mind when writing mute characters. Not all of these points need to be explicitly laid out in the writing, but are still important to keep in mind for the sake of continuity/realism/ease/etc. 

  1. Determine a reason for your character’s muteness. This is one of those points that does not necessarily need to be explained in the writing, but defining a cause will add a layer of realism to your story. There is a difference between become mute because of malformed vocal cords and having one’s tongue cut out. Both instances prohibit speech, but one is more traumatic than the other and may have a larger impact on the character’s development. Additionally, remember that being mute by physical means does not mean the character will be stricken with complete silence. They may still be able to make sounds, just unable to speak.
  2. Think about how they will communicate. Please refer to this post if you plan on having your characters communicate through sign language. This area is the most broad and where one can take the most liberties. Telepathy seems to be the most common solution in fiction, altough not necessarily the best solution. And, whatever you choose, be respectful and do your research. 
  3. Remember that your character is still a living being. I work/have worked with a lot of d/Deaf people in my life, and I myself am hard of hearing. There are too many writers who treat people who are d/Deaf/HoH/mute as exotic or romanticize their struggles. Please, do not make your character an object of pity, or romanticize their difference. Treat them like you would treat any other character. For more information, see the above link to “How to Write x Characters When You Aren’t x.” 

xx Sarah

Hello! I have a question. So I have a story with 3 lead characters on a journey. One is a bodyguard with air magic, one is sort of the brains of the operation, and the last one is a mute toddler with powers of her own. Her character contributes quite a bit as far as plot goes, but as for her participation in the group I’m kind of at a loss. I was wondering, is there a way to get her a bit more involved with the others? Are there any resources you would recommend looking into?



Infants, toddlers, and children are fantastic opportunities for humor, symbolism, and character development for the older characters. Toddlers are rambunctious little scamps who are at the cusp of realizing that they are independent beings. They often oscillate between wanting freedom and wanting to rely on their caregivers. So, unless your toddler is completely self-reliant (which, realistically, they are not), she will always be involved with the other characters. 

Toddler-hood tends to span between the ages of 12 and 36 months. There are a set of milestones [1,2,3] that children are typically expected to reach within this time period, but those goals are not always met. The growth and personality of a toddler will change multiple times between the ages of 12 and 36 months, and so will her cognitive, physical, social, and motor skills. Depending on the age range, your older characters could be dealing with a completely helpless child, or one who is able to run around and climb all of the dangerous objects. The toddler will require a lot of care and supervision regardless of her age, but the types of supervision will be different throughout her growth and development. 

Having a mute toddler is an entirely different struggle. Toldder-hood is when children start being able to speak and communicate. Not being able to speak will lead to a lot of frustration on the toddler’s part. The parents of children who cannot speak for one reason or another often choose to teach their children sign language. This has been said to reduce frustration [1,2], although are very few formally reported sources. If your toddler is unable to communicate with her caretakers, this will be the cause of many tantrums. Since your toddlers also possesses powers, those tantrums could turn deadly in a moment’s time. 

At the bare minimum, the older characters will need to help feed her, dress her, make sure she does not seriously injure herself, and provide social interaction. The level of interaction the older characters have with the toddler is completely up to you. The best way for the characters to interact with the toddler is by acting as her caretakers and guiding her through this frustrating period of her life. 

xx Sarah

How do I write quiet characters as first person POV? He rarely speaks. I know how he acts, but trying to give him an internal monologue feels forced.


I’m quiet. 

My hearing isn’t so great, which makes my speech kind of wonky, which means in social situations I prefer to stay silent. This comes off as rude, and I know it comes off as rude, but observing conversation and watching how people interact with each other often gives me more information that the conversation itself. 

The key word here is observation. We have the rare opportunity to see inside the mind of a person who spends a great deal of time watching the world around him. What does he see? It might seem boring to desribe every tiny detail as your main character sees it, but what he sees may be different that what other characaters see– whether it be body language, an unsteady water glass, someone acting strangely on the other side of the room. Along with the descriptions of his surroundings, descriptions of how his surroundings interact with him are just as important. His fingers might feel itchy when he sees his sister place her water glass too close to the edge of the table. Then what does he do? Does he act on an impulse to move the glass away from the table? Does he let her knock it over? How does the following moment make your MC feel? That’s a lof of questions, but they are important for making your prose feel less forced. 

These descriptions of how your MC’s surroundings make him feel will break up the long strings of action without the need of dialogue. If you need a more concrete example, I wrote a few sample sentences at the bottom of the post.

Please feel free to send a follow up question or chat if any clarification is needed.

xx Sarah

A gust of cold air smacked me in the face as the strange man passed me, knocking the wind out of my lungs. I gasped, trying not to fall over. While trying to regain my balance, I noticed a small tattoo peeking out of the corner of his sleeve. Vampire.  
I triend to warn Flynn, but it was too late. The vampire already had a hold on my best friend. My face burned with rage, cutting through the frost that had formed around me. My fists clenched, and before I could stop myself, I had thrown myself at the vampire. 

How does copyright work? In my story, my characters have an affinity for certain bands or artists that exist in real life (it’s sort of an urban fantasy). They often sing their favorite songs too. But if my work ever becomes public, can the author get in trouble for “advertising” or “plagiarizing” someone’s work? Or is that considered public domain?

Unfortunately, since none of the PLHL admins are legal experts, this question is out of our scope of practice. I know that song lyrics are copyrighted, so you will need to obtain specific permission to use them in a manuscript. However, please do your own research on fair use. We are not qualified to give any sound advice.

Best of luck,
xx Sarah

Outlining and Organizing Master Post

The words “pantser” and “planner” get thrown around a lot within the various virtual writing communities, especially those who participate in National Novel Writing Month. November has come and gone, but writers do not let the changing of the seasons stop their craft. If one is a planner, they find planning out their novel in advance to be most productive. Some people plan their stories for months in advance before starting to write. Conversely, if one is a pantser, they prefer to take a more freeform approach to their writing projects. In a way, the stories of a pantser write themselves because the author is not afraid to take a concept and run with it. 

I am a scientist by trade. My entire life revolves around meticulous planning in order to get the accurate and precise results I need. A byproduct of that is that I seem to not be able to do anything without creating a game plan first. If I don’t, writer’s block sets in and nothing gets done, or I get so focused on one certain detail that the rest of the work falls short. So, I’ve put together a master post of resources to help other planners (and people who want to be planners) organize their thoughts for a productive writing project.

As always, the links I find to be especially apt will be in bold.


7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story

How to Outline a Novel (Even If You’re Not an Outliner)

Outlining Your Novel: Why and How

How to Outline a Novel Chapter by Chapter

5 Steps to Outline a Story

Plot Outline Creation: 7 Smart Methods

How to Write a Character-Driven Plot Outline


How to Organize and Develop Ideas for Your Novel

How a Scene List Can Change Your Novel-Writing Life

Planning, Outlining, and Organizing Your Novel – Or Not!

A Novel Strategy: How to Organize Big Writign Projects

Organize Your Novel with Excel

Novel Structure Diagram [Image]


Everything You Need to Know About Planning Your Novel

Planning a Novel in Ten Steps

Your Novel Blueprint

25 Ways to Plot, Plan, and Prep Your Story

The Ultimate 10 Step Guide to Plan and Write Your Book

How to Create a Special Snowflake (No, Really! Creating Fiction Through the Snowflake Method) 

How To Write A Novel Outline (Like the #WriteBoss You Are!)


The Story Map [Educational Tool][Flash]

Character Outline [1][2]

xx Sarah

I want my character to be spiritual/religious to an extent but the problem is it’s a partly world-built belief system and I’m writing a short story so I can’t have too much exposition or non-plot related fluff (especially since said beliefs do not relate heavily to the plot


You have no obligation to explain the fictional religion in your short story. 

The beauty of writing a short story is that you only need to include aspects of your religion that are relevant to the plot. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t a previously known religion or not. There is no reason to explain every single aspect unless you plan on using the precious page-estate of your story to expand upon it. Write the aspects of the religion that are relevant to the plot. Don’t focus so much on trying to make every single point make 100% sense if it’s not going to be used in the future. Your character is religious, the reader is unfamiliar with the religions in your world, and there isn’t any issue with that. 

Just don’t explain the religion.

If the religion is not all that relelvant to the plot itself, you can show that the character is religious by adding a sentence or two about how they leave an offering at a shrine before work or pray before every meal. Maybe they become uncomfortable when one of their coworkers uses the diety’s name in vain– there are so many options that indicate a person is religious without knowing the details of the religion. 

If you find yourself wanting to describe the aspects of the religion, add it in after you finish the first draft of your story. Sometimes it is easier to add details in after the big picture is completed. 

xx Sarah

Hi, I plan a Thriller and thought plotting I came up with ideas that are intertwined on multiple levels and would cover years inside the stories time frame. Sadly it would be too much for one novel so I got the idea of a triology but I am unsure about doing it. Would it be a smart idea to plan it as a triology from the beginning? How does plotting change then? Are there any downfalls to avoid?

My initial reaction is to say that you should plan your novel as a trilogy. If you plan out the trilogy beforehand, the books will seem more cohesive, and if you don’t like the idea of the trilogy, it is much easier to cut down a plot than it is to make up a believable twist on the spot. 

Let’s take a deeper look into the pros and cons, though.

The pros to “winging it” and not planning it as a trilogy in the beginning is that if you end up running out of steam mid-novel, you will have the majority of your world building and character development already finished.  There will be less pressure to push on and possibly end up with a finished product that you don’t particularly like. If there is one aspect of your story you are particularly drawn to, you have the option of letting the plot end there until you have the resources to expand on the world and character development whenever you wish. If you decide to stop after one book, you will have a self-contained story with the option of continuation. If your writing style tends to be succinct, then you won’t feel forced to expand your story over several novels.

The cons of “winging it” is that there is less motivation for you to spend time elaborating on specific parts, because you may or may not continue your series. Everything needs to be somewhat restricted and contained into one novel just in case something happens and you decide to end the story at one book. You will have to cut back greatly on the lore you planned on explaining in the first book because there just simply might not be any room or use for it in the future. Character development will have to be more abrupt, the depth of your world may be shallower, and there just generally would not be enough “page-estate” to add a significant amount of detail. 

The pros of planning the trilogy are that you have the freedom to expand and draw character development out for however long you can imagine. There is no set timeline of when you need to have certain points wrapped up, as long as it happens before the final climax. You would have much more space to play around with your characters and mold them to their final selves. You say that there is a lot of lore you want to develop during the course of your plot, and by planning the trilogy out beforehand, you can choose exactly when these developments happen. It is much simpler to spread years of plot over the course of multiple books than it is to try to cram it all into one. 

The cons of planning are that if you decide you don’t want to continue, you will leave piece of unfinished work. If you decide to publish and then run out of steam, you may leave fans hanging about the end of your storyline. There is a lot of pressure to finish a story than has been planned out in three novels. If you tend to struggle to meet word lengths requirements on essays, having to elaborate on the world and character development will be more difficult because you will need to be able to spread out your arcs. 

It’s your choice as to what direction you take when writing. It depends on your comfort level, writing style, and ultimately commitment level. 

I hope I answered your questions in full. Please follow up if you still have questions. 

xx Sarah

(subplot 1/2) I’m stuck on one major subplot of my project I’m working on; have you ever heard of the Sentinel & Guide trope? Well I decided to rework it around my universe and I did it by having this group of empaths. Basically they need a partner to help them fight in battle. The Empath can do both defensive and offensive attacks, but their partner can do mostly offensive, but they don’t have powers like their Empath partner yet they’re still strong enough to take on a battle.

(subplot 2/2) With the S/G trope the Sentinel is the one who has the advanced senses and the Guide is just there to help them come back down, so they don’t do much- but I want to expand on my version but I don’t know how. The Empath is my version of the Sentinel but I don’t know what to turn my Guide into. I’m sorry, I read fanfic alot but this idea popped up in my head and I didn’t know who to ask, so if you can’t help that’s totally fine.

I must admit, I had to look up the Sentinel & Guide trope, but I think I know some ways to help you out. 

They way that I understood the Guide is that they are someone who has to “ground” the Sentinel. You say your Sentinel is an Empath, so how does being an Empath require someone to bring them back to reality? Are your characters just partners in battle, or is there any room for personal relationship in your story? A bad example of what I’m thinking of is L and Watari from Death Note. On one side you have a person who has near-magic levels of intelligence and analysis skills, and on the other you have his handler, who is somewhat of a fatherly figure and acts as a liason to deliver information to the “Sentinel” (I remember something about Watari being able to calm L down when he gets riled up, but I may be misremebering).  

Your Sentinel is an Empath, but your Guide can be a handler, or assistant, emissary, intermediary– the possibilities are endless. Even just using a thesaurus may give you inspiration if you’re looking to change the title. The direct opposite of an empath is a narcissist, although that word generally has negative connotations/is not exactly a superpower. Since empathy is the ability to share and understand feelings, the opposite would be one who has no ability to connect emotionally to others. If the Empath can’t stop themself from augmenting and aprehending the emotions of others, how does the Guide help to protect the rest of the team.

Who is the main character in this story? If you decide to focus on the Guide, I see no reason as to why they can’t have their own development outside of the Sentinel. If the Guides are capable of some supernatural ability, how does being a Guide affect their usage? There are a lot of directions in which you can go that allow the Guide to be so much more than ‘just’ a Guide. Just as a general warning, make sure your characters (and powers) have balanced strengths and weaknesses. That alone may prevent the Guide from being ‘just a Guide.’

I don’t want to force feed you ideas, but some plot points could be:

  • Guide becoming fed up with their position
    • Possibly want better assignment/different Sentinel
    • Guide not fully understanding why they have the role
      • Why Sentinels exist and the reason Guides are needed
  • Sentinel turning against Guide in moment of confusion
    • How Guide reacts to this (emotionally, physically…)
  • Guide feeling inadequate becaues of Sentinel
    • Guide finding their own self satisfaction/self worth
  • Guide dealing with the downside of their own powers

xx Sarah

I’m writing a story about two girls in highschool, A and B. They just found out that there’s a secret organization in the school ran by deliquents. They were threatened not to tell anyone or else the organization would reveal some of their horrible secrets in the past. A is terrified because this would ruin her reputation as a good student, but B isn’t. She’s planning on writing an exposée in the school paper (to get all the glory of cracking a huge case). But A and B are getting closer [1/2]

I’m planning to make B choose between A and the glory, and I need help on the reason why B would insist on wrting the exposée, even when they’re already close (without A knowing of course), up until the very moment she would have to make the choice. I’d really appreciate if you could help me out. Thanks! [2/2]

Greed. Selfishness. Fulfillment of some deep desire for power.  

I’m going to start this off with pseudo-case study. If you look at the social climate in some of the top univeristies in the United States, I guarantee that you will find students who are willing to sabotage their classmates for the sake of their own well being. It makes for a terrible environment, but when the stakes are high, some people will do anything to make themselves come out on top. Whether that be cheating, unplugging their roommate’s alarm clock, or purposely destroying a curve. That isn’t true for every student and every university, but people like that do exist. 

If B has the chance to write an

exposé that may increase her credibility, or gives her a chance at rising in the ranks at the school paper, she may be blinded by her own selfishness. In her eyes, the pros of writing the piece may outweigh the cons of possibly losing a friend. People aren’t always rational thinkers. If a person is motivated enough to betray one of their close friends, they will do it. Human beings are selfish creatures by nature– being selfish is a trait that is explained in part by Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Survival of the fittest, doing whatever it takes to get ahead.

Rebekah has answered a few[1,2] questions in the past about writing stories in the high school setting. I highly suggest that you read them over.

xx Sarah