The Power of Descriptive Language

When it comes to descriptive language in fiction, some authors revel in rich, detailed descriptions, while others prefer a minimalist approach. But most writers agree that well-crafted descriptions, no matter their length, build worlds that come alive in our hearts and minds, creating an immersive experience for the reader.

I love this quote by Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

In my mind, this advice reaches beyond the standard catch phrase of “show, don’t tell.” It teaches us to imagine ourselves in our characters’ circumstances, to see what they see, feel what they feel. To draw on personal experience, tune in to every emotion, engage every sense. Then, after sifting through that wealth of data, to capture and re-create those circumstances by putting words to page.

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Think of your favorite novels, the ones where you’re left blinking in surprise at your real-life surroundings when you finally put the book down. Whether the story took place in your own hometown or on an alien world, the author’s skill with building and conveying the setting doubtless played a role in drawing you in.

What types of descriptive language are most effective? What techniques? Are adjectives becoming a thing of the past, or should you use as many as you want? I suspect that every writer will give you a different answer. It can be dangerous to get caught up in the game of what’s “okay” and what isn’t: counting adjectives and adverbs, using words other than “said,” or agonizing over whether you’re allowed to describe what a character is wearing. So much depends on personal taste, style, and instincts.

Don’t ever stop honing your craft. Find critique partners. Always do your research. But please allow yourself some freedom of expression. The debate that’s currently raging in the literary world about what authors are and are not allowed to write about is a sure path to self-doubt and creative stagnation.

Maybe your description of a spaceship’s corridors will be sterile and crisp, with clipped phrases and stark language to convey the coldness and loneliness of space. Or maybe you’re writing an epic space romance where the main character waxes poetic on the infinite beauty of the stars.

At the end of the day, your goal is to create an experience for the reader that is both visceral and vicarious. How you achieve that is the real trick, as any writer well knows.

There is no perfect way to write. But I will close with a favorite passage from one of my absolute favorite books, The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud:

“Long gray hair lay thick and lush across an ivory pillow. It cradled a gaunt white face, the skin flowing like wax beneath our candlelight. It was the face of a woman; an aged, wrinkled woman—bony, with a nose curved thin and sharp like the beak of some bird of prey. The lips were closed tight; the eyes, too.”

In this one short passage I count 13 adjectives (14 if you count curved as an adjective vs. a verb) and two similes. And it’s freaking fantastic.

Enough said.


Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at


How Will Your Setting Affect Your Fight Scene

One thing in fight scenes that I often find is overlooked (or at least not as utilized as it could be) is the setting. Setting is crucial to a fight scene since where your characters are greatly affects what they can do and how they will fight. This is particularly applicable to fantasy, but if you have two characters get into a sword fight in the middle of a large, flat, empty section of land with no one and nothing in it, they can pretty much to whatever they want. They can draw their sword and swing it wildly.

But there aren’t really places like that. Parking lots have cars. Runways have airplanes. Even Nebraska has dips and rises and barbed wire fences and cows that would need to be taken into account. Chances are, if you’re writing a fight scene, there’s going to be something in your setting that needs to be taken into account.

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Take a crowded bar. If you have a character challenge another to a sword fight in a tavern, they might not even have enough space to draw their sword. Swords are long and take quite a bit of space to draw. Crowded taverns are often short on space. They are filled with tables, chairs, dishes, food, and other people that might end up as collateral damage. If you need to have a fight take place in a setting like this, you might have to modify things so that it’s physically possible to fight. Maybe they take the fight out into the street. Maybe the ceilings are high and they fight on the tables. Or maybe your characters don’t care about collateral damage and are willing to kill and destroy to get what they want. But you as a writer need to be aware of the situation and know how the setting will affect the way they fight.

The way people fight changes based on their setting. I used to co-teach a martial arts class full of teenage boys. They’d trained together for years and were all higher rank or black belts. Since they were more advanced (and less likely to hurt themselves) we would sometimes let them try out new things. Fighting with different weapons. Simulating different settings. That sort of thing.

One day, we pulled out the ground mats to simulate fighting on top of a building. The rules were that the first person to step off the mat lost (ie, fell off the building). Suddenly these boys, who had spent years kicking and punching together, completely changed their fighting styles. Kicking put them off balance in a situation where balance was vital. Instead, they were grabbing each other by the shoulders and trying to throw their opponent off balance and off of the “building.” A different fighting style for a different situation.

There are even variations in martial arts styles based on the setting they were developed in. For example, there are some subsets of Pencak Silat that were developed in slippery rice fields. Practitioners of those styles use low stances and are often quick to go to the ground in a fight. Their style of martial arts developed in response to the specific challenges of their setting.

If you have an action sequence in your story, how will your setting affect that? How can you use the unique details of your setting to add authenticity to your fight scene?


20180131_162833 (4)Jenilyn Collings loves to read and is always looking for books that will make her laugh. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She enjoys watching Korean dramas, BBC period pieces, and thinks Avatar: the Last Airbender is the best show ever made.

Sketching Your Setting

I’ve been working on a revision of a project and, as I was thinking over the events that took place, I realized that many of the scenes take place in very vague settings. The main character’s house, for example. I have a clear idea in my head of what some of the rooms and the furniture look like, but when it comes to the rooms all fitting together, I have a house no architect would ever design, not unless they were, um, very eccentric.

And eccentric was not the look I was going for in their classic, colonial revival style of house.

So I had to sit down and sketch out a believable design for the house, as well as a layout for the furniture in the rooms. I plan to do it for other scenes in the story. Why? Because setting is so crucial to what takes place in a story. It affects how your characters can move in a space and even what they can do in that space. For example, if you’re writing a mystery and you want your character to shoot someone, you have to make sure to place a gun somewhere in their setting so that they can use it. If you are writing a romance and there’s only one small sofa in the living room, they have no choice but to sit next to each other. However, if there are multiple couches, there are different choices to be made and the character’s actions will tell a lot about them by how they interact with one another within the space of the setting.

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Setting, especially a home, is a reflection of your characters. In this particular story, another character called the main character “a control freak.” But her house, and her space, was always messy. One reader pointed this out and asked if the main character really was a control freak. Not that it’s impossible to be both, but it’s important to look at how the two work together and whether or not your setting is contradicting the character you’re trying to establish. And if you are setting up a contradiction, make sure to do it deliberately.

Setting can also show readers who your character is by showing us what they notice in a setting. But how can you, as a writer, know what they will notice if you don’t actually know what’s in the setting? By drawing out your setting, you’ll better know what is in it, which will help you figure out what your character will notice and what they won’t.

Your sketch of your setting does not have to be pretty—it doesn’t even have to be something that you ever show to anyone else—but it can be a very useful tool for you to figure out the blocking within a scene. For me, even something as simple as realizing where my characters kept their garbage can outside helped me work through a snarl in my plot.

What tips to you have for creating a setting? Do you have a particular process you use for your writing?

Jenilyn Collings loves to read and is always looking for books that will make her laugh. She is currently working on an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She enjoys watching Korean dramas, BBC period pieces, and thinks Avatar: the Last Airbender is the best show ever made.

Mindful Details: Paying Attention to the World Around You

How many times do you find yourself in a waiting room, on a bus, sitting outside a restaurant waiting for the rest of your party . . . and to pass the time, you pull out your phone. You might be thinking it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on social media or to shoot off some emails you’ve been procrastinating on. Maybe you’re playing a game or reading an e-book.

We all do this. I know I’m guilty of it. Actually, I shouldn’t use the word “guilty” here, because I, for one, see nothing wrong with this. I’m not here to shake my fist in the air and shout to the world that electronic devices are destroying human interaction, yada yada yada. (I actually believe they’ve brought people closer together in some ways, but that’s another post for another blog).

Nope, I’m not going to chastise anyone for playing a game of Candy Crush while sitting at the bus stop. I might, however, be so bold as to say that frittering away the “boring” moments of life on our phones is wasting an opportunity to improve our writing skills. When was the last time you kept your phone in your pocket and just sat, observing and experiencing the world around you? When was the last time you were fully mindful of your surroundings? When did you pay attention–really pay attention to the people passing by?

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While at an art museum this last weekend, my friend, who’d recently moved into the town in which I was visiting her, was asking the woman at the front desk if she had any recommendations of other things to do in the area. They talked for a long time, and I sort of let myself fall off to the background. At first, I busied myself taking pictures of the cool architecture in the lobby, then posting the pics onto Instagram. But eventually, as the two continued to chat, I became fascinated by the way the woman’s heavy jewelry clacked with every movement she made. And she moved a lot. She was animated, talking with her hands. I watched for a while, wondering how it didn’t bother her, deciding it would certainly bother me. And then . . . it occurred to me that I could use this for one of my characters. I excused myself, pulled out my phone again, opened up a note app, and wrote the description down.

The next time you have the opportunity to people watch, take it. See if you can find at least one unique detail about a person, whether it’s a distinctive article of clothing that hints at their personality, the way they carry themselves, what their voice sounds like, what they smell like (if they’re close enough)–and write it down. (One caveat: don’t be obvious about it. You never know how someone might react. I take no responsibility for any black eyes.)

Don’t stop with people. Be mindful of scenery too. Of the feel of a room when you enter it for the first time. Of the sounds of wildlife outside your window bright and early in the morning. Don’t push these observations to the background as you go about your day. Keep your eyes, ears, and nose open and really take it all in. Then write it down. Even if you don’t have a place for a particular observation in your current project, it’s good practice anyway.

One more thing: don’t focus only on the strange and/or unique. Focus on the mundane as well. Some of the best writing I’ve read has been able to transport me into a scene via one or two simple sensory details of something as plain as the sticky feel of over-waxed wood beneath fingertips, or the citrus scent and fizz of bubbles in a sink full of soapy dishes. You can feel that wood yourself now, can’t you? Because we’ve all felt it at one time or another. You can smell that dish soap and hear that faint crackle of foam, and now, you’re in the scene. These are mindful details. And the more often you take the time out to pay attention to the world around you, the more often these details will seep into your writing, making it so much stronger.


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.


Shaping Character Through Setting

Who tells the story? Every writer has to figure this out for their story.

Let’s go next level on this, yeah? Let’s talk about how you approach POV when the setting is a character. You can usually tell if the setting is a character if it’s a significant part of a character’s conflict (Harry Potter in the forest surrounding Hogwarts) or identity (Anne of Green Gables).

POV is a really big deal in any setting-rich story because it characterizes your narrator. Just . . . stick with me.

In third person, the author can do some of the descriptive work. In first person, the protagonist must describe the setting to the reader while still sounding authentic and relatable and not like some weirdo who talks about everything they see like they don’t have a filter.

Well, unless that’s what your character is supposed to do.


Author Marion Dane Bauer says that the advantage of third person limited is that it moves into action easily with a tendency to show what is happening rather than tell how a character feels about it. She also notes that third person limited lends itself to rich language more easily because every single sentence isn’t ruled by the character’s voice the way first person point of view is.

For example, in my current manuscript (working title: Dark Bayou), the protagonist Sylvie regularly interacts with the swamp she lives in. Sometimes a description that works in third person becomes awkward in first person, like this one:

“She knew every scent of their bend in the bayou. The heavy smell of death and resurrection always lay over everything. The swamp reclaimed its own. From every rotting cypress trunk, a thousand blades of sawgrass or palmetto shoots unfurled with the sharp tang of new life.”

Although this is purely in Sylvie’s point of view, third person limited tends to give a sense of an unseen narrator who fills in what Sylvie has noticed over time. The description is for the benefit of the reader. That’s fine for third person. If Sylvie says the above in her own voice, she’s going to sound super philosophical, which she isn’t.

In first person, the reader should experience consciously only what Sylvie would experience consciously, and that means that if Sylvie noticing the cycle of life in the swamp fauna, she needs to have a specific reason for noticing it. Is it because the smell triggers a memory? Or because it comforts her in the aftermath of a difficult experience? Does she notice because something unusual about it draws her eye? Maybe she’s thinking about the circle of life right at that moment and the sight of sawgrass sprouting from a cypress trunk reinforces her musings? Because otherwise, it’s just weird to comment on her environment for no reason.

If we use a first person narrator to communicate too much about his/her setting, they won’t feel authentic. On the downside, keeping the narrator authentic makes it hard to build the setting/world when it’s one the character knows well.


This forces us to be incredibly smart in choosing the exact right setting details to include because we must give the narrator a believable reason for noticing them. Each detail must:

  1. Ground the reader in a sense of place.
  2. Connect to what is currently happening in the story.
  3. Characterize the narrator believably; how she describes her setting must reflect the way she would think and speak.

I resisted first person narration in Dark Bayou because I associate it with a contemporary vibe and it’s a YA historical fantasy. I like the more timeless feel of third person past tense for a historical novel, but first person seems like a far better choice for engaging young adult readers. So I switched.

Now I’m puzzling through the challenge of writing setting-as-character when using a first person narrator. The swamp needs to be fully developed in the reader’s mind because it has utterly shaped Sylvie and will continue to feature in the story. This means that I have to choose carefully what Sylvie will notice and why.

For example, my current draft only shows Sylvie’s house as she interacts with it—climbing stairs, walking across creaking floors, lying in her straw pallet in the corner, eyeing the statue of St. John in their shrine. I don’t show her thinking explicitly about the exterior of the house because I couldn’t figure out why she would stop to describe the home to the reader, but a super sharp beta reader was like, “Um, I have no sense of this house. I need more.”

So. I had to think: what reason would Sylvie have to make a direct observations about her house? I decided it would make sense to contrast her leaving the familiar, comfortable swamp to return to the house and really feel the contrast between a place she feels safe and a place she doesn’t. This gave me a chance to let the reader in on Sylvie’s emotions while describing a part of the setting:

The swamp did not unsettle me the way the house did, and I had to force myself to lead the goat back to it. It stood two hundred paces from the bank of the bayou, crouching with the forest at its back, a clearing a half-acre wide in front of it all the way down to the water. The unpainted cypress wood had weathered gray so long ago I couldn’t remember it being another color. The roof sloped down to cover a small porch, a furrowed brow over the creaky door. Somehow the two-room shack managed to look smaller from the outside than it felt on the inside. But then no space would feel large enough if I had to share it with Osanne.

Now we know more about Sylvie as a character AND about the house she lives in, all from her description of it. I think it works. Maybe. But maybe on draft ten I’ll think differently. Right now, it feels good.

Exploration of place through a character’s eyes leads to discovery of the character herself.  It’s a loop that gives beautiful resonance to us as writers as we seek to create the same resonance on the page.

Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and champion shopper. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and romance novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Melanie is a former English teacher who loves to laugh and make others laugh. In her down time (ha!), she writes romantic comedies for Covenant and maintains her humorous slice-of-life blog. Her sixth novel, Always Will, hits shelves in October. Melanie’s contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin.

2 Truths and a Buy: Write What You Know

I believe that elements of truth breathes the soul into writing. Truth makes the writing real and irresistible. It makes readers want to reach out, hug, and adopt it into their family tree… never to be tossed in a DI bin. Do you want to encourage readers to buy into your writing?

Well then, put a little truth in your writing.

Ok, all of you fiction writers don’t tune out yet.

As a non-fiction writer I have come to feel the power of truth. My type of writing is solely based on truth. However, you don’t have to write non-fiction to breathe soul into your writing. You just need to write what you know.

Yadda, yadda. I know we have all heard this before but there is power to writing this way. Weave elements of truth into your writing and you’re well on your way to being a successful writer.


Ultimate Example of How to Write Truths into Fiction Genres:

I visited the home of Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) last summer. He was known as one of the great humorist writers of his time. I was impressed with a plaque I found in Hannibal, Missouri, near his boyhood home. I realized it was a key to his success:

“As a writer in the 1870s, Mark Twain returned to this house in his memory. He used his imagination to turn the people, places, and events of his childhood into stories that captured the soul of America.”

Truth. He wrote of the truth of a place and time in Hannibal, Missouri. The truth of a boy exploring caves and neighbor crushes and childhood whitewashing fence pretenses. He tuned into his boyhood self and wrote what he knew and experienced… or what he wished would have happened.

Mark Twain was a master at inking in elements of truth. Here are a few simple ways to imitate the great and pull some truth into your writing.

Truth of Imagination

Think about when you were a kid. Did you totally believe the truth of some far-fetched idea? I full heartedly believed there was some meek, sleek-maned, lion in my attic. In my mind he was nice- though I never wanted to be near him. I was also convinced that snow had different flavors: lemon, lime, orange, whatever (and no, I never ate yellow snow… thanks for asking). But I could actually taste them because the power of my mind convinced me so. And my sister in law believed that they used cat hair to make cement for sidewalks.

So, to tap into the beliefs of a certain time period makes the writing real and relatable. This is a simple way to use truth in your writing. Use the truth of your imagination when you were a child, a teen, an adult, what you envisioned marriage to be, etc. Whatever. Use your self- believed truths to make your story come to life.

Mark Twain was a ring leader at this.

Truth of a Setting

Let yourself visit new places. Even new places in your own town can inspire a great setting. So, here are a few key elements I learned while visiting Hannibal, Missouri. It’s the truth of how a setting can play into creating a piece of writing.

Ok, so we decided to visit the lighthouse at the top of the hill. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea on this vacation. Afterall, we decided to visit Hannibal on the day where the other visitors claimed it to be the highest humidity they have had in years.

Great. Fabulous.

I’m a dry heat girl. But, I didn’t know I was a dry heat girl until this day, I actually didn’t know it until I climbed all 244 stairs to the top where the lighthouse overlooked the Mississippi River. There were three sets of steep stairs to a large platform.

All I could think of was accelerated death by accelerated breaths. (My health condition hates stairs. I was going to prove it wrong. Yeah, um… didn’t.)


Once we got to the top I realized one horrible truth: there was a driveway and a parking lot before the last set of stairs. I wanted to cry (though you would never know if I was by the rivers of sweat glistening in the sun) but I laughed instead. I laughed because why on earth would you not tell people about the drive up to the lighthouse. There must have been a spy camera recording everyone’s reactions when they discovered this little… truth.

Funny. Yeah, real funny.

Isn’t that like writing? We sweat and climb the writing steps to the top and realize that all along there was a shortcut. But, really you don’t come to know the shortcut until you actually climb the writing stairs to the top. The more you write the better you get and what used to take you hours becomes a quick drive to the top.

Just keep doing the writing steps and the shortcut will come naturally.

Take the elements of a setting you know and create a piece of writing that shouts the truth of what you learned in a particular setting. Settings are great ways to add some truth to your writing.

Share What You Know/ Get a Buy:

Take what is real and turn it into something that will capture the soul of America. This method will help people to buy into your writing. Everyone likes truth.

It’s so simple. Mark Twain became a well-known writer with a big fan base because he wrote what he knew then livened it up with his imagination. (And this is where I get stuck… I have to just write non-fiction. Props to you fiction writers.)

Take a great lesson from Mark Twain and use the truth of your imagination and a setting to give your writing a little more oomph. You want more powerful writing? Put these 2 little truths into it and maybe you will get a buy.

Challenge yourself this week to add a little truth to your writing.


Christie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing and is a nonfiction junkie. A couple of national magazines have paid her for her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her at

Getting Your MG Story Ready for the Classroom

A little while ago, there was a bit of a hullabaloo about soft censorship and Kate Messner’s new release, The Seventh Wish. I read several of Kate’s blog posts about it and some of the responses from teachers and librarians. But the post I found most interesting was this one from a teacher who used the book as the center of a unit study for several weeks.

As I read about all the different ways she infused this book into different subjects, I asked myself these questions.

Do I have material in my book that can reach across subjects?

Is there enough meat in my books to be at the center of a unit study?

The thing is, as a middle grade author, my biggest prospective customers are teachers and librarians. If I can position my book as a great asset to a classroom, a way to study several different subjects at once, I’ve gone a long way in marketing my book already.

That’s not to say that all middle-grade books must be written with this sort of research and subject material, several of my friends brought up Kate DiCamillo’s books, which are used widely for what they teach children about hope, heart, and empathy. But…these two kind of books are definitely not mutually exclusive. And as I finish revising another middle-grade novel, this one with a lot of material that spans different subjects, I realized that adding certain things to my book enhanced it. And so I want to talk about some ideas for how to write with the idea of classroom use in mind.

Revise with discussion questions. 

I love this blogpost from Rebecca McLaughlin about writing some discussion questions for your book before you begin revising. This helps you better focus in on theme, symbolism, and imagery. And yes, middle-grade books can and should make use of all of these tools. It also helps you keep a broader picture in mind, especially with non-contemporary books. How can this story still apply to the lives and struggles of the children reading it?

Here are a few questions from one of my favorite books, Where The Mountain Meets the Moon. 

  • When Minli sets off on her journey, she writes a letter to Ma and Ba, and she signs it “Love, your obedient daughter. 
  • Is Minli being obedient or disobedient at that moment? 
  • In what ways are her actions similar to or different from the actions of Jade Dragon’s children?
  • Have you ever been faced with decisions like the ones Minli and Jade Dragon’s children have to make?

Include school in your story. 

School is a huge part of every middle-grade characters life. Many MG stories take place during the school year and this fact alone is the perfect opportunity for you to add material in your story that can be used for activities in the classroom.

  • Give your character a school project. This idea of a long-term project is used to great effect in Kate Messner’s The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. Reading it, one could see how easy it would be for a classroom teacher to assign her students a similar “leaf identification project.”
  • Have on subject play a pivotal role for the character. Think of the science class in Rebecca Stead’s Liar and Spy, or the teacher in Wonder, who writes a different motivational quote on the board every day. Both of these classes are vehicles for interesting information as well as touch points to show character arc.

Give your main character interests and hobbies that can be used in the classroom. 

Now, you have to follow your character as much as possible. Don’t try to make them fit a certain mold just to appeal to a certain teacher. However, hobbies and interests are great ways to sprinkle in lots of information and factoids that teachers can use as jumping off points into other subjects.

  • Think about all the information about jellyfish in The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin.
  • In my current manuscript, I’ve made the main character a paper engineer. I show her creating several different origami designs throughout the book and reference the story of the 1000 paper cranes and the Hiroshima Peace Park in relation to this interest. This one interest can be used to practice a handicraft, study history, and geography.I also love the character in Stead’s Liar and Spy who is obsessed with reforming spelling and Benjamin Franklin’s revised alphabet to make all spelling phonetic. It’s just a minor part of the story but it’s another thing that can be used in the classroom to take that book from just a language arts discussion to so much more.

Make your setting important. 

If you’ve really used your setting the way you should and played up certain details of it for imagery and symbolism purposes, then this should flow naturally. But no matter where you have set your middle-grade novel, you should have done enough research and included enough fact in your fiction that a teacher can draw out details from your setting to use in a wider discussion about geography, social studies, or science.

Do cross cultural writing correctly. 

If you are writing from your own experience of a culture, this shouldn’t be as difficult, but if you are writing about a culture that is not your own, make sure you RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. Books from the perspective of other cultures are great tools in the classroom for unit studies. And a book that explores other cultures really well gives rise to so, so many classroom activities.

The best recent book I’ve read for this is Lois Sepahban’s Paper Wishes. The story is about a Japanese girl and her family when they are put in a camp during WWII. That in itself is history. But beyond the basic premise of the book, there is so much just in the telling of the story that you can pull out to talk about. Like the celebration of the Japanese holiday, Obon, the tea ceremony, etc. These little details are not the crux of the story. But they help sell the story to teachers looking for a book to base a unit study on.

As always, story comes first. It doesn’t matter how many interesting tidbits you include, a boring book will never sell. But, if you have the story part down and are looking for a way to make it more marketable, give some of these ideas a whirl.


Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.