Showing, Telling, and Paddling Ducks

“Show, don’t tell.”

That’s the mantra that gets hammered into the head of every beginning writer. If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class or attended a writer’s conference, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of, “Don’t say ‘Sally is sad.’ Show us Sally being sad.” This leads to painting a picture of Sally’s sad expression, describing the teardrops streaking her face, and detailing Sally’s posture and movements in a way that makes it clear to readers just how unhappy Sally is.

That’s good advice, as far as it goes. The problem is that for most people, external emotional responses are just a tiny part of their actual reaction. Indeed, one of the most important things we learn as we grow from childhood to adulthood is to hide our emotions.

It’s like that famous quote, usually attributed to actor Michael Caine: “Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath.” If your characters are to come off as real people, most of their emotional reactions are going to be entirely internal. And if we only ever describe the tranquility above the surface, our readers might never guess at the frantic paddling that’s going on down below.

My Own Achilles’ Heel

I’m blessed to be in a writing group with three perceptive readers who are diligent at reminding me when I’m not telling enough. We submit our chapters to each other using Google Docs, and we use the platform’s commenting feature extensively. When my group reviews my writing, the most common response I get from them is something along the lines of, “Where’s the emotional response?”

Okay, I’ll be honest. Sometimes I just forget. What happens, I think, is that I get lazy and assume that readers will take their own emotional response to the story and project it onto the POV character. This usually falls flat. Just as often, though, I’ll write a character’s physical response but forget to dig into the inner reaction to help carry the story along.

So I submit my chapters. The next day, I’ll open up them up to see a comment from Kris: “How does she feel about what just happened?” Mike has responded to Kris with something like, “I was wondering the same thing.” Inevitably, Kelli has added, “That makes three of us.”

That’s how I know I need to go back and revise.

Show and Tell

In a guest post on, author Joshua Henkin calls “show, don’t tell” the “Great Lie of Writing Workshops.” As he explains:

“A story is not a movie is not a TV show, and I can’t tell you the number of student stories I read where I see a camera panning. Movies are a perfectly good art from [sic], and they’re better at doing some things than novels are—at showing the texture of things, for instance. But novels are better at other things. At moving around in time, for example, and at conveying material that takes place in general as opposed to specific time…. But most important, novels can describe internal psychological states, whereas movies can only suggest them through dialogue and gesture (and through the almost always contrived-seeming voiceover, which is itself a borrowing from fiction).”

Showing is good. We have to show. But the best writers also embrace telling as a technique that allows them to provide much better insight into what the duck is doing down there with its little webbed feet.

As author Lee Child says, “We’re not story showers. We’re story tellers.”

Balancing Show and Tell

I’m still learning how to use both showing and telling effectively in my own writing. Honestly, it’s been difficult for me. From my work with my writing group, though, I can single out four suggestions that have really helped me improve.

1. Keep your POV character(s) in mind.

If you’re writing in first person, you’re telling pretty much all the time. The conceit of first person is that the reader is getting a direct feed of the point-of-view character’s inner monologue. This can lead to a vivid, unique voice that’s difficult to achieve from other points of view.

Stories in third person unlimited aren’t as common as they used to be. With this POV, the narrative voice drifts in and out of heads, reading the thoughts and emotional reactions of whatever character makes sense at the moment. In contrast, with third person limited the inner voice comes through a single character who is the focus of the book, chapter, or section.

Regardless of how you deal with points of view, it’s critical to consider how your characters would react to everything happening around them. Knowing your characters—their wants and needs, strengths and weaknesses, goals and regrets—is the easy part. Translating those character traits into genuine human reactions is where things get really tough.

2. Take an “all of the above” approach.

We usually start by showing. Your characters say and do things. They act and react. Even the “stage directions” that accompany your dialogue can go a long way towards portraying realistic human responses. A sidelong glance, a cock of the eyebrow, or a sudden intake of breath all say something to the reader.

Beneath all the “camera and microphone” stuff is the internal dialogue. You can present your characters’ direct thoughts (“Geez—what’s her problem?“), or you can report their thoughts in third person (“Gwendolyn wondered what Julie’s problem was.”). The things your characters notice and internally comment on can go a long way toward rounding out your POV characters’ responses.

If you do this enough, you’ll often find yourself monitoring your own thoughts and feelings, gauging your own private reactions to things as they happen to you, so you can use your responses later in your writing. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself wondering whether your personal reactions might be a little different if you weren’t watching them like a fly on the wall of your own brain.

Yeah, Heisenberg is kind of a jerk.

3. Do an “emotional response” edit pass.

My experience with my writing group has told me that I need to spend more time crafting my characters’ reactions to emotion-inducing events. As I’m getting my chapters ready for review, I set aside time to go methodically through each section, noting response-worthy moments and checking the narrative for appropriate reactions.

There are so many things to consider as you do this. Aside from your characters’ actual reactions, you have to figure out the right way to couch them in the voice you’ve chosen. In fast-paced action sequences, your characters may not have much time to respond to things. It may take a beat or two (or the end of the action) until your characters’ heads and hearts can catch up. If your story uses a “scene-sequel” structure, you may provide an immediate reflex to the emotional high points and then amplify your characters’ reactions in the scenes that follow.

However you choose to do it, explicitly tying the big moments in your story to specific reactions in your characters can solidify the impact these moments have on your reader.

4. Ask readers for help.

No matter how much effort I put into fine-tuning my characters’ responses, I always miss something. Usually multiple somethings. The amazing people in my writing group know me well enough that they instinctively look for off-key or absent reactions in the chapters I submit for review.

If you have similar challenges in your own writing, you can ask your readers to be specifically on the lookout for areas where characters’ emotional reactions don’t seem to meet their expectations. Give them a shorthand comment or a specific highlight color to use to indicate particular passages where a little telling could supplement what you’re already showing. Once others have helped identify the problem passages, go back to your characters to find out what their inner (and outer) responses should be.

My own writing has benefited from this process. I hope yours does, too.


David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, shoots guns, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play is published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at

Writing (or not) After Loss

This post is going to be difficult for me to write. Difficult, because that’s what all writing has been for me lately–difficult. And for a very good reason. . . .


For many people, writing comes as a solace during difficult times. When someone experiences the loss of a loved one, for instance—like I did this summer—writing can be a way to either escape or process emotions. I actually felt like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t even journal. The thoughts and feelings running through me were stuck inside my body and refused to exit onto the page. Fortunately, I had friends who were there to tell me this was okay, and not at all abnormal. They told me to take a break, take all the time I needed, and when I was ready to write again, I’d know it. And now I’m here to tell this to you, along with some other things that surprised me about writing after loss.

When I did eventually get back to writing (sporadically) about a month ago, I found I had a completely new perspective on my story and my characters. Interestingly, my main character’s father has died a month or two before the story begins, and oddly, it’s in a similar(ish) way to how my own dad died. This was not something that I added to the story after my own loss. Nope, it’s been that way since I first started writing it almost a year ago. Complete coincidence. However, I’ve been in my character’s shoes now, and I’ve realized the way my main character felt and acted in that first draft no longer resonates with me. It isn’t realistic anymore. So in the rewrite, I’ve been fixing that. And it’s (I hope) making my character so much richer. I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled about having this new perspective. If I could have gained it any other way, I would have preferred that. But I am grateful that I’m able to take this horrible experience and use it in a positive way. Silver linings and all that, I guess.

You may also find you’ve gained a new perspective toward your characters. You may find yourself adjusting things in ways you never would have thought to before. You may even find the story you’re currently working on doesn’t fit you at all anymore. That’s okay. Run with it. Fix it. Set it aside, if that’s what you need to do. My last finished novel—one I’ve queried and debated going Indie with, no longer fits me. At least, not right now. I’ve outgrown it, I guess you could say. As I see things now, I’m not likely to ever publish it. Or maybe someday, if I’m up to it, I’ll go back over it and make some major changes. And either way, that’s perfectly fine.

One more thing that has surprised me is how much less I’m censoring myself as I write. And by that, I mean I worry less about how my writing will be received by agents and publishers, and just write what I want to write. I write more for me now than I ever have before, and though I’m not completely oblivious to my future plans for this story, I’m pushing those concerns aside for dealing with when I actually get there. And what’s funny is, I thought I’d been doing this all along, but now I can clearly see that I hadn’t been. I’d been far too occupied with the dream of being published when I wrote my previous stories, that I’d become an anxious drafter, which made writing less fun and less satisfying. Now, the anxiety is gone. I’m not going to get into the psychology behind this, because I don’t completely understand why this has changed. But it has, and I’m good with that.

I’m telling you all of these things, not to give you any kind of road map or template for “when you experience loss, this is exactly how your writing will change,” because everyone experiences loss differently, and everyone writes differently. I’m telling you these things because they surprised me, and you may have some surprising experiences too. But whatever your experiences are, they are normal for you. And you may need to adjust some things, and that is perfectly okay.


File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Using Symbolism to Enhance Mood: 2 Ways

So you have an important scene coming up—one where your character’s emotions really need to come out and shine. You have the actions, you have the dialogue, you have the moments of inner contemplation . . . but the scene’s still missing something. It needs more oomph, more . . . something. Something to really get the reader into the character’s head. What is it? What else can you do?

Well, you could use symbolism. Try using external details like the weather, the colors of a room, a particular object, or the actions of surrounding characters to enhance and play off your main character’s mood and really get your reader sucked into the scene.

There are two ways you can do this. You can use symbolism that is congruous to the mood you want to showcase, or symbolism that is dissonant to it to really make those emotions resonate and stand out. Some examples below:

Examples of Congruous Symbolism: 

  • Sunny, blue skies to enhance cheerfulness or calm.
  • Red décor to help add energy to an emotionally charged scene (think angry, sexy, energetic, urgent)
  • A loud, chattering crowd adding anxiety to your character when he/she is nervous.

The trick with using symbolism that is congruous to your character’s emotions is to make it work with the character by intertwining it with their actions. For instance, I recently wrote a scene where, at the end, my character finally lets down her guard and cries about the death of her father in front of a boy she’s developing feelings for. I use the weather (an impending rain storm) and an object (an umbrella) to help add depth to this emotional scene. While reading, it may not be obvious that that’s what I’m doing (I hope—and to be honest, I didn’t even realize I was doing it until afterwards, which always makes me feel like such a genius. Haha. Ahem), but it’s there just the same. It’s drizzling as my characters start down the path through the woods, and by the time they reach their destination, it’s pouring. At the same time, due to the conversation along the walk and various other things that I won’t go into here, my character breaks down and begins to cry. And when the boy she’s with pulls her in for a hug, she drops her umbrella—she’s also dropping her guard. Get it? Get it? Yeah? Genius here. Yup.

In my summary of this, the use of rain = crying sounds super obvious and trite, but if you’re subtle about it, weaving it into the scene and only pointing it out when necessary, but also giving it a point (they end up running back to the house to get out of the storm, and are stranded there together . . . alone . . . until it passes) it will only serve to enhance, not detract. I swear. Trust me.

Examples of Dissonant Symbolism:

  • Sunny, blue skies to contrast with anger, sadness, fear
  • Tidy décor in calm tones (baby blue, beige, etc), relaxing music (think waiting room) to make a character’s nerves stand out that much more.
  • A single object or mini-situation for the character to focus on that is congruent to the character’s mood, but dissonant to literally everything else about the scene.

Okay, so what do I mean by that last one? Let’s say your character is at the park. It’s a beautiful day, kids are playing, couples are picnicking, dogs are playing fetch. Everyone is happy . . . except your character. Your character is very unhappy. She is broken inside. Everything hurts. (There’s that first example coming into play—cheerful environment contrasted with extreme sadness). But your character isn’t focusing on her own emotions right now, or so she thinks, because she’s just now noticed a burnt out tree in the middle of this park that appears to have been struck by lightning not too long ago. She’s now going to hyper-focus on that tree: how the bark is blackened and scarred. How its leaves are singed or missing. How there’s a ring of burnt grass surrounding it. Yet the children play on, skipping around it as if it isn’t even there. Don’t they notice it too? Doesn’t anyone see this damaged, hollow, dying tree right in front of them? Then, just to add insult to injury, a dog trots over to it and lifts his leg. I don’t know. Play around with it. That tree is your character’s mood personified.

Adding symbolism to your scenes can be both daunting and fun. Sometimes you’ll come up with it during the drafting process, sometimes it’s easier to add in later. Sometimes you’ll even add it in accidentally. Just don’t overuse it, because symbolism can be powerful stuff. Keep it for the really important, really emotional scenes. And most importantly, have fun with it!


When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here. 

Hybrid Emotions Create Fascinating Characters

For the longest time, I thought that bittersweet was the emotion reserved for funerals, particularly for people who had battled a debilitating disease for a long time (#cancersucks) or those who had lived a long, quality life.

But this past week, I had several moments of bittersweet. One came from realizing that my strengths are very much in written communication as I was able to write a civil but firm email notifying an employee that his services wouldn’t be needed, that I was able to make readers judging a sample of my writing cry in just ten pages. This strength, though, does not manifest itself well in big groups (introverts unite! quietly and in small groups) which means I am not the kind of person sought out at big public events. One came from coming home from that event to be greeted by my amazing kids who gave me big, strong hugs – the kind of embrace that little kids could never give. One came from working my last day at a job I’d thought would be my last job, to acknowledge that the exceptional friends I’d made in the past nine years would always hold a strong place in my heart, but that our different places of employment meant that our everyday conversation will naturally decrease.

Often, when we talk about the nuances of emotions, we consider what I like to call the preschool emotions:

  • angry
  • happy
  • sad
  • scared
  • surprised
  • silly
  • tired
We are good at depicting the nuances of anger, understand the fluctuations of happy, have varying levels of tolerance for the silly. But people are much more developed than these basic groupings suggest, and the only way that we can understand how to better convey these emotions in our characters is to understand the way they show up in ourselves, in the people around us. 

I have a friend who can talk to anyone. Easily. It takes her minutes to make a connection and people remember her for a long, long time. When I am with her, my reactions run from jealousy to relief that all those people don’t seek me out. Yes, those are in direct competition with each other. 
I have another friend who has signed a book deal for a really decent amount of money. There are parts of me that hope and long for that kind of recognition when I go on submission, and then I get stressed thinking about what it might be like to have that kind of recognition before even really starting. 
About a week ago, I received a text from my daughter. It had a short video link and included the text SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY SOORRRYYY!!!! The video showed a decent sized crack in her viola and a strange thing happened to me. Frustration, yes. Concern over the extent of the damage and ease of repair, absolutely. But there was no anger. And for some people, that may seem strange, but I’m the kind of person who is quite prone to anger, and several months ago, and event like this would have launched me into a physiological sort of silent rage that would have been hardly noticeable to people around me, but would have completely occupied my thoughts, accelerated my heart rate, and set me off in to a lecture about taking care of things or getting rid of the things. 
But, you see, a few months ago, I was officially diagnosed with depression and started medication to help level me out. And in that moment when I was trying to sort through how to solve the problem, I realized what WASN’T happening. And in that moment, I was filled with gratitude that I got to live in a time when mental disorders aren’t a reason to lock up and ignore, but were seen as a reason to treat and nurture. This gratitude was further amplified because I had the good fortune to start with a medication and dosage that worked for me from the beginning, and that it was keeping me in a state that I could guide, correct and teach instead of lecture, guilt-trip and yell. 
So my challenge for your writers is to take time, daily or weekly at least, to reflect on your own unique mixture of emotions. How do they manifest? What do they feel like? How does the hybrid nature of your humanity merge together to create someone who is uniquely you? And how can you blend this complicated internalization to create character who are more fascinating? 


Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Why It Helps Me to Write on the Dark Side

A writer friend of mine once shared with me why she wrote the type of stories that she wrote. She first began writing while she was on extended bed rest due to a difficult pregnancy, both factors of which combined to make her severely depressed. The story that she wrote was funny and uplifting with a happily-ever-after ending because it was exactly what she needed to cheer herself up, and that’s the type of story she’s written ever since.

Every writer’s story is different (pun intended), and maybe you don’t have one specific life event that spurred you on to write the stories that you do. But I’m a firm believer that the best writers write from their hearts, and it’s useful to think about your motivation to writing what you write. Why? Because this will affect your characters’ emotions and motivations as well.

I’d like to think that my stories have uplifting messages. There is hope if my characters look for it, but my stories also always incorporate dark elements. For instance, I always have romance as a key element of the story, and while one main character is bright, the love interest is always damaged because of something dark that happened in his/her past. Even my brightest characters have something dark within their backstories. After polling some of my writer friends, I discovered that I’m not alone. Cumulatively, our characters and stories have dealt with issues such as mental illnesses, alcoholism, sexual assault, drug abuse, domestic violence, anorexia, gambling, manslaughter, child abuse, bullying, and so on.

I love writing dark stories. I don’t think I could ever pull off anything different.

Channeling darker experiences helps me connect with the emotions that my characters need when faced with similar challenges. Even if the exact experiences aren’t identical, it could still elicit the same emotions and motivations in your character. Being taunted by bullies in high school made me wish I was invisible and led me to be extremely introverted and self-reliant. I share these qualities with one of my characters who is misunderstood because of her paranormal abilities. 

Writing about darker experiences helps me understand and put them in their proper place, a place that allows me to cope with these things in real life. Conducting research on drug abuse and alcoholism for my characters helps me understand the people I love that are struggling with drug addiction and alcoholism. Helping one of my characters work through her experience with sexual assault was the only thing that helped me, fifteen years later, put my own demons to rest and allow me to find peace and forgiveness.
I write romance because I remain a hopeless (or is it hopeful?) romantic. I believe in the happily ever afters, and accordingly all of my stories have HEAs. Perhaps most of all, having that bit of darkness in my stories gives me the power to turn things around, to write for my characters those happy endings and outcomes, even when the ones from real life were not.

What about you? Why do you write what you write? 


Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about Helen at

Writers are Readers: Best Lessons from New Adult Books

Read, read, read. And read some more.

We here at Thinking Through Our Fingers are strong proponents of the idea that writers must be avid and analytical readers in order to learn the craft. By reading in our genre especially, we can learn much from the example of others.

In this “Writers are Readers” series, several of our blog contributors will be sharing some of the best reads within the genre that we write along with the lessons learned from these gorgeous reads. I write both Young Adult and New Adult, and my spotlight will be on New Adult books. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this genre, these are stories that feature characters between the ages of 18-24. This is a time of newfound independence and freedom, of self-discovery and exploration, of trying out new and often risky things, of testing the waters of adult relationships, of incurring emotional hardship and damage, and perhaps most of all, of the tumultuous emotional development that brings us into adulthood and makes us who we are. Particularly popular within this genre is contemporary romance, likely because this age represents a time when we can explore and experiment with those adult relationships for the very first time.

As such, the following book picks are some of the New Adult contemporary romances that drove a lesson home…and in a few cases, a stake through my heart. ❤

Note: Due to the nature of the genre, all of the contemporary romances in this list contain mature subject material, including varying degrees of sexual content associated with emotional progression of characters (some more on the sweeter side, others definitely steamy). Everyone has different tastes, so you may want to check out non-spoilery book reviews or preview a sample of a book if you think this may be an issue for you.

For a lesson in realistic romance: Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park, Deep Blue by Jules Barnard

For a lesson in humor and voice: Imperfect Chemistry by Mary Frame, Imperfectly Criminal by Mary Frame, With a Twist by Staci Hart

For a lesson in building sexual tension: A Little Too Hot by Lisa Desrochers, Obsession by Jennifer L. Armentrout

For a lesson in emotional development: Wait for You by J. Lynn, Charade by Nyrae Dawn

For a lesson in damaged characters: Tragic by J.A. Huss, Unbreak Me by Lexi Ryan, Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

For a lesson in external conflict/suspense: The Untamed Series by Jen Meyers and Victoria Green, The Chicago Underground Series (1-3) by Skye Warren (note: this is a dark romance)

For a lesson in romance that will break your heart into a million pieces: Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

If you want to catch any of the other posts in Thinking Through Our Fingers’ “Writers are Readers” feature, here they are! 🙂


Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. Find out more about Helen at

Writers Are Readers: Best Lessons from Middle Grade Books

I strongly believe that writers must be voracious readers. Read widely, read critically, read for fun, and definitely read as many books as possible in the genre you’re writing. It’s definitely helpful to read new releases to get a sense of what’s selling (or what was selling a year or two ago), read classics to get a sense of what lasts, and read as a way to connect with your author peers.

Some of the best writing lessons can also come from thoughtfully and analytically reading the very best books in your genre or age group. If you look at the books that have had the greatest impact on you, stop and ask yourself what it was specifically about that book that was done so masterfully.

The best books do many things well, but I find I can often pinpoint one characteristic of favorite books that made each truly memorable and exceptional. Here are the titles I turn to when I want a book to show (rather then tell) me how to get it right.

For a lesson in voice: Ida B by Katherine Hannigan, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
For a lesson in dialogue: Twerp by Mark Goldblatt (and its sequel, Finding the Worm)
For a lesson in making the reader fall in love with a character, even when they’re making terrible choices: Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
For a lesson in humor: The Tapper Twins Go to War (with Each Other) by Geoff Rodkey; The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
For a lesson in mystery and suspense: The Greenglass House by Kate Milford; Nooks and Crannies by Jessica Lawson
For a lesson in just the right amount of scary: Mothman’s Curse by Christine Hayes; The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox
For a lesson in weaving together multiple threads: Holes by Louis Sachar
For a lesson in just beautiful writing: Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith; Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
For a lesson in writing authentic and caring parents: Loser by Jerry Spinelli; Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
For a lesson in writing unforgettable siblings: The Penderwicks by Jeannie Birdsall; Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
For a lesson in establishing a sense of place: The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin; Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
For a lesson in how to really write a novel in verse: House Arrest by K.A. Holt; The Crossover by Kwame Alexander; Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
For a lesson in packing an emotional punch: One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis

What about you? What novels have given you your best lessons on writing?


Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂