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Are S.S. Van Dine’s Rules for Writing Detective Stories Still Accurate?

Hello amateur sleuths!

Welcome to the start of May of Mystery, an entire month dedicated to mystery writing. Two years ago, I broke down Ronald Knox’ Rules of Mystery Writing. Surprisingly, he’s not the only author who has created rules for mysteries. In 1928, S.S. Van Dine published “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories”.

Are these guidelines still relevant to today’s detective fiction? Or are they outdated? Let’s investigate, shall we?


1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.

Absolutely. A mystery story is not only a tale for readers to enjoy, it’s also a puzzle for readers to solve. It’s a game. All the clues must be on the table. Both the sleuth and the audience must have equal opportunity to unravel the mystery in the end.

2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.

Red herrings and plot twists are one thing. Misinforming the readers intentionally is another. Readers are counting on you, the writer, to tell it to them straight. If the antagonist tricks the detective, they are tricking the audience as well, and that’s fine. Withholding information, lying to, or just messing with readers for laughs? That’s bad. It’s a disservice to the audience.

3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.

I disagree with this one. Stories can be multi-layered and fall under more than one genre. A love interest never killed nobody… Wait, let me rephrase that. Having a romance element mixed in with a mystery plot is not impossible and need not be discouraged. Heck, it could even add to the suspense of the plot, if done correctly. You don’t have to be chained to one genre. Balance is key. A love interest, or a spark of romance, in a murder mystery is fine, in my opinion.

4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It’s false pretenses.

True. The detective cannot be the culprit. That’s like saying the protagonist and the antagonist are the one in the same. That actually makes no sense. Like, where’s the conflict? He’s right, it is false pretenses.

5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.

For a clue to accidently fall into the detective’s hands? Where’s the fun in that? Coincidence very rarely happens in an investigation. Sure, that may happen in cartoons, but that’s taking the easy way out. Think of real life investigators. I’m sure they’d love a murder weapon to just fall from the sky. Make sure the evidence is found by means of detection and deduction, not gift wrapped with a bow for the sleuth.

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6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.

You need a detective in detective fiction? Shocker. Well, you don’t necessarily need a professional detective, an amateur sleuth or private investigator works too. I do agree though, whatever the main character’s job is, they do need to detect. No matter their profession, the protagonist must dissect clues and actively investigate the crime.

7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader’s trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.

For a minute, can we just appreciate “the deader the corpse, the better” line? Pure gold.

In my opinion, this point shows its age. The central crime of a detective novel doesn’t have to be a murder. It usually is, but it doesn’t need to be. There are plenty of mysteries out there focused on a kidnapping or a robbery or another major crime. Those can be just as compelling as a murder mystery.

8. The problem of the crime must he solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic seances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.

I understand where he’s coming from with this one. In the real world, yes, a detective must find clues by rational means. However, if a mystery does dip its toe into other genres – say, fantasy or supernatural – them magical means could be plausible. But, for the most part, sleuths should be grounded in logic. Finding evidence in such a mystical way does cheat the audience a bit, unless a fantasy element is heavily present in the plot.

9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn’t know who his co-deductor is. It’s like making the reader run a race with a relay team.

Clearly, this man did not live long enough to see the animated wonder that is Scooby-Doo and Mystery Inc. You can have more than one detective on the case. Many great mysteries have dynamic duos or reliable Watson-types in them. Multiple characters can work together and share the glory of solving a case. A team of sleuths can share the spotlight, each member bringing something different from the investigation.

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10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.

Agreed. Don’t introduce the culprit halfway through the story. That’s cheating. The reader must have an opportunity to solve the case alongside the detective. The antagonist should appear in the beginning of the story and be actively involved in the plot, one way or another. Otherwise, you risk duping the audience, in an unfavorable way.

11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn’t ordinarily come under suspicion.

True enough. ‘The butler did it’ is a bit cliché. When you have a line-up of suspects, think about who, on the surface, looks least likely to commit the crime. That character might be the best choice for a compelling antagonist.

12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.

Keep in mind, this list was written in 1928, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express was published January, 1934. That being said, it is possible to have more than one culprit. Typically though, yes, there is a main criminal performing the crime in a given story. Someone has to be the bad guy, right?

13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.

Personally, I’m not a fan of stories involving secret societies and mafias. At the start of any mystery, the suspects need to be on the same level of suspicion, the same playing field. And yes, if one of the suspects is a freaking crime boss or hit man for the mob, that does not bode well for the plot. It may even fall into the ‘too cliché’ category.

14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure. 

Again, I believe a mystery can dabble in other genres, even fantasy. In any world – real or otherwise – the murder must make logical sense. I do think the means of murder and detection must be realistic. When things feel too farfetched, readers will lose interest.

15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.

When it comes to evidence, you must be upfront with the audience. All the pieces of the puzzle have to be on the table. They don’t have to make a crystal clear picture, but all the relevant clues must be gathered before the ending. Remember, timing is everything. Be aware of when and how the reader and the detective learn the facts of a case.

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16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no “atmospheric” preoccupations. Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.

Well, too much description can be boring. No one likes a word vomit. Details set the scene and paint a picture for the reader’s imagination. On the other hand, subplots can actually benefit the story as a whole. Also, flushed out character are important. Character must have depth and feel genuine if an audience is going to connect with them.

17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities. 

Basically, the culprit should be someone the audience least expects. That makes for an ever so satisfying plot twist. This relates to the point regarding mafias. If one suspect in the lineup is a rogue with a long crime record, that character being the killer may come across as predictable.

18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.

What an anti-climatic ending that would be. All that investigating and clue hunting for nothing. An actual waste of time, for both the reader and the detective.

19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader’s everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.

Before you ask, gemütlich means pleasant and cheerful. I had to google it. Although, there’s not much cheerfulness in a detective story. Every suspect needs a solid motive. Whether those are personal means or not, that’s up for debate. Thinking about it now, I suppose people are driven to crime due to personal reasons. Make sure each suspect has a clear motive or carries an ounce of suspicion, like any one of them could have performed the crime.

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Last point is the lightening round!

20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author’s ineptitude and lack of originality.

  • (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. With modern day investigation techniques, I’m sure this is possible.
  • (b) The bogus spiritualistic seance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. Yeah, I don’t think that would work. No good.
  • (c) Forged fingerprints. On the fence with this one.
  • (d) The dummy-figure alibi. Sure, that’s probably fine, right?
  • (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. Love this! Saw it happen in an old noir film. Made me laugh. 10/10.
  • (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. Evil twin trope, a classic.
  • (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. Somewhat overdone in fiction, however, knockout drugs do exists. I’m on the fence with this one too.
  • (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. Has this guy never heard of a locked room mystery?
  • (i) The word association test for guilt. Not sure what this means, but I’ll take his word for it.
  • (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth. Hate these. Nobody has time for that.

What do you think of Van Dine’s rules for writing detective stories? Do you agree or disagree with any of them? Talk about it in the comments.

Stay safe, keep writing and happy sleuthing!

Love,

Lady Jabberwocky

Do You Need a Writing Degree to Be a Real Writer?

Hello writer bees!

Today, I’m posing a possibly controversial question.

Do you need a degree in writing to be considered a “proper writer”?

To some, getting a college degree makes you a bonafide writer, or a better writer than most. Others feel they can be storytellers without the diploma to back them up. And some young writers have a hard time choosing what they want to study, and if a degree in writing is even worth it.

I want to share my experience. Hopefully, it can give younger writers a bit of insight. Goodness knows I needed some insight when I was just a fledgling. For those of you who don’t know, I graduated from Hunter College with a B.A. in English. What do you do with a B.A. in English? How did that experience impact my journey as a writer? I’ll be diving into everything, the good and the bad.

Why I Chose to Pursue an English Degree

Let’s backtrack first. When I was in high school, I discovered my love of writing. I had an amazing teacher who encouraged my artistic aspirations. Without her, I probably wouldn’t be a blogger or an aspiring author right now. As I decided what college major I would pursue, no other subject could compare to English and creative writing.

I had a lot of ideas for a potential novel. Writing stories in various genres really interested me. I loved fantasy and mystery and historical drama and everything in between. Ah, to be young and full of inspiration. Wanting to narrow down my focus and find my niche, I thought going for a English degree would help me find the genre I’d eventually publish in someday. Like “Congrats! Here is your diploma! Also, you are a mystery writer! Now go write a whodunit and be on your merry way.”

Earning my B.A. in English was a wonderful experience. It wasn’t easy. Lots of late nights, lots of reading material, lots of stress. And I don’t regret a single minute.

Writing Workshops

While in college, my fiction writing classes were full-on workshops. Gathering around with fellow writers, discussing each other’s stories. I learned how to constructively critique someone’s work and became more mindful of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. We read each others short stories and offered feedback in a really safe and sensitive environment. Don’t get me wrong, I was so nervous letting others read my work. But once you realize we’re all in the same boat, it’s not so scary. That was my first taste of a greater writing community.

Also, the very first draft of my current WIP sprouted in that class. Sharing that story in particular with my classmates was like the ultimate test run for my work-in-progress novel. Let me know in the comments if you want to hear more about that particular workshop session.

Reading Everything

Remember when I said I was looking down to settle with one genre to write in? It didn’t quite work out as I expected. In college, I read everything. And I mean everything. Like I was reading Beowulf and Arthurian legend in the morning and Hemingway and Christie in the afternoon. Real talk? My narrator was born after reading an Edgar Allen Poe story. If anything, my horizon only expanded. Once I graduated, I was even more undecided about what genre I wanted to publish in. I really gained an appreciation for literature across all genres. By reading various genres and styles and time periods, a sturdy foundation was built under my feet. Maybe it’s strange to say, but I felt like I had a wealth of source material I could refer to and be inspired by. If that makes sense.

Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, is it?

Hard to Find a Job

After I graduated, It was tough finding steady work. I applied for many publications and ended up with a pile of rejection letters. Apparently, a bachelors degree in English isn’t enough to prove you are good at writing. That was a newsflash to me. I wanted to make a living as a writer, and it just wasn’t happening. Frankly, It was a dark time for me. Finally, I fell into freelance work, starting out as an unpaid intern. Around the same time, I started this blog. Then, more freelance opportunities opened up. And today, even though I’m stuck in a cubicle at an office day job, the passion for writing has not ceased. I’m still working on my goal to write a novel, after office hours, of course.

Final Thoughts

The B.A. in English gave me a solid foundation. My brain thinks differently about literature and storytelling because of my time as an English major. It was a valuable, rewarding experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Well, maybe a finished novel.

Do you need a degree to be a proper writer?

In my opinion? No.

You know that quote from Ratatouille, Anyone can cook? I believe anyone can write. A degree doesn’t make me, or anyone else, a genuine writer. We all have imagination and creativity inside of us. Anyone can write a story and be considered a writer.


Do you think you need a degree to be considered a proper writer? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. And if you earned your degree in English/Creative writing, how has that experience impacted your journey as a writer? As always, I love to hear from you guys.

Also, get your magnifying glasses ready! May of Mystery is right around the corner, less that 2 weeks!

Stay safe and keep writing,

Love,

Lady Jabberwocky

The Tale of a Boy and a Mermaid (Parts 1-5)

(Written 4/16/21 – Hey Writer Bugs! It’s been a stressful week for me. So I decided to repost this old short story I wrote back in fiction writing class, in 2016. Don’t judge, every writer starts somewhere. Appreciate your early work, they’re a representation of how far you’ve come as a storyteller. Keep writing my friends! – Love, Lady Jabberwocky. )

The Tale of a Boy and a Mermaid

[Part One]

[Part Two]

[Part Three]

[Part Four]

[Part Five – Finale]

“I have an important task for you, lad,”

The knight commander was intimidating, over six feet tall with a thick beard and a scar on his forehead. Behind him was the kingdom of Eros’ flag, a deep purple with the emblem of a griffon, wings spread proudly. “I’m sure you have heard of the recent number of casualties out at sea, correct?” Many ships coming into port were either facing horrible storms or being sunken by unknown forces. Some in the village believed it to be a mermaid’s doing. “Take this message to the water’s edge tomorrow morning. Their messenger should meet you half way”The message was a scroll in a glass bottle, sealed tightly with a cork. “Is this…A declaration of war, sir?”

“Just negotiations,” The commander replied shortly, placing a large hand on by shoulder. “This will be a test, to prove if you are worthy of becoming a true knight someday,” He shooed me away with a wave of his hand. “Now, go attend to your other duties”.

I bowed and took my leave, examining the glass bottle in my hands. My brown leather boots shuffled along the dirt path that led to the stables. There were three large stallions, the noble steeds of the warriors of Eros. I began to brush one of the horse’s smooth coat. The sound of metal feet stomping towards me broke me from my daze. Sir Roger entered the stable, removing his helm. He ran a hand through his blonde hair, most likely returning from sparring.

“Have you finished with my sword?” Sir Roger approached me, removing his gauntlet. I nodded quickly. “With haste, mouse” He said impatiently. I dropped the brush and went to retrieve the knight’s sword. Yesterday, the blade was splattered with blood after a day’s quest. Now it shined like a sunbeam. I returned with the sword tucked into it’s leather sheath a moment later. “What do you have here?” He asked, examining the scroll in the glass bottle next to my satchel.

“A message I must deliver,” I informed “Tomorrow morning, to Crescent bay”.

“Well then you’re as good as dead, little mouse,” He laughed. “Have you ever seen a Mermaid before?”


Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky

Writing During Lunch Break: My New Favorite Writing Time

Hello Writer Bees!

Last week, I celebrated my 800th follower milestone, which I still can’t get believe. You guys are so amazing and supportive. Some of you were curious about my writer experience. So today, I’m sharing something new that makes me happy. With all the struggle going on in the world, it’s nice to be reminded of the small things in life that make us happy, right?

I started a new job back in August. A 9 to 5 cubicle job in an office. And as someone with no prior experience, being an assistant is tough work. The stress can be overwhelming sometimes. I’m managing as best I can. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we were given the option of eating lunch at our desks. And the socially awkward introvert in me was thrilled by this. Don’t get me wrong, everyone working in the office is super nice. But, I like a little time to myself now and then. Translation: I like to hide from society now and then.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on my WIP during my lunch break. It’s like this quiet, hour long vacation, in the middle of a hectic day. Did I forget to mention eating while writing is my favorite combination? Seriously. What’s better than munching while making fiction happen? I absolutely love it. I look forward to this short lived writing time everyday. Maybe it’s the change of scenery, or me being away from home distractions, I actually get some writing done. Sure, it might only be 100 to 200 words a day. Still, I’m slowly creeping towards my goal of a finish novel.

Frankly speaking, I’m a night writer. Always have been. I prefer to write during the nighttime. To burn the midnight oil, as they say. My brain just feels more creative in the wee hours of the evening. Not sure why. And now, I can’t stay up as late as I used to when I was a freelance writer. However, writing during my lunch break has been a nice change of pace. I’ve fallen into a new routine. And I’m excited about it. This is a same small window of time, everyday, dedicated to writing and editing and outlining. Maybe that’s what I needed all along, to shake off my writer’s block.

For now, I’m making the most out of this pocket of time and appreciating every second.

Moral of the story, find the time to write, no matter the time of day. Even if it’s only a half hour. Even if it’s only 100 or so words. Progress is progress. Little by little, we all reach our goals eventually.


What time of day do you write in? And be honest, do you sneaky work on your WIP at your day job? Talk to me in the comments!

Keep writing and stay safe!

— Lady Jabberwocky

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3 Tips on Finding Your Blogging Niche

Hello Writer bugs!

Want to start a blog? Don’t know where to start? You’ve come to the right place. When you are just starting out, it can be hard to choose a blogging niche. You can pretty much create a blog about any topic. From dogs to donuts to drawing, the sky’s the limit. How do you find the right blogging niche for you? Check out some of these tips!

Write What You Love

Choose a topic you are genuinely interested in about, that you can talk forever about. Your passion will shine through your content. And by expressing what you love, you will find a community of others with the same passion and goals. Trust me, you can find a blog on just about every subject, from movies to making bird houses. If it’s “your thing”, write about that. Don’t pick a subject because it seems “profitable” or “popular”, or your voice will sound forced and eventually, you will lose interest. Blogging can be a fun, enjoyable experience if you pick a topic you care about.

Need to jog your brain a bit? Try these…

  • Write a list of your likes, your interests and your hobbies. What occupies your time?
  • Consider subjects you are knowledgeable about. What’s your area of expertise?
  • Think about the people and businesses you look up to or the websites and blogs you visit often.

Want to know the real test of a good blogging niche? Brainstorm some potential articles ideas. It could be 10, it could be 50. If you can think of possible posts about your topic, you may have found your subject matter.

For me, I love creative writing. I have a Bachelors in English, I’ve been writing stories for years. Although I’m not a published author yet, my heart is in every post. When I was deciding what to blog about, writing was the obvious choice for me. I wanted to help other writers while sharing my experience. And at first, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in what I had to say. And now, I have over 700 amazing followers.

Write from the heart and your audience will find you.

Narrow Down Your Niche

Finding your blogging niche is like a balancing act. If the topic is too broad, you will face a tremendous amount of competition. Also, you may be lost in a ocean of other blogs with similar subject matter. On the other side of the coin, if the topic is too specific, your blog may not gain traction. With a focus that is too narrow, you will have some difficulty creating content and will hit the wall, running out of post ideas.

For example, let’s say you wanted to start a blog on cooking. That’s great, however, this is a very general idea. How many blogs about cooking are out there? A million? Pear it down. Instead of cooking, think ‘vegan baking’ or ‘all things pizza’. See what I mean? Choose a blogging niche wide enough to write many posts about but specific enough to have you stand out from the crowd.

And I understand the temptation to write about multiple topics. People have many interests. However, this ideal works better for magazine publications than blog sites. A blog with different subjects may come off as unfocused and frankly, unprofessional. Think of it like this, I love tacos and cats and bike riding. Should I combine all three of my interests into one blog? Seems a bit scattered. Probably not the best idea. Could I have three separate blogs dedicated to those interests? Absolutely.

I’ll give you a real world example, from my freelancer writer days. My first internship was writing for a blog centered around the Disney theme parks. From travel tips to restaurant spotlights to the rides, there was a lot to write about. Yet it all stayed under the same umbrella. All the content had a common theme, a common vibe. When you find your blogging niche, make sure you find the focus of the subject.

Do the Research

The real question is, is your blogging niche profitable and will it actually earn views? That’s a tough one. No one can guarantee how much money a blog can make. It’s a shot in the dark and fortune favors the brave.

When you have plans for blog monetization, you need a blog topic that has a potential market. Search for businesses, brands and products that relate to the subject matter. By doing a little research, you can better prepare your blog for affiliate marketing. Let’s use that ‘vegan baking’ idea from before. I have a (hypothetical) blog about vegan baking. If I wanted to dip my toe into affiliate marketing, the blog could advertise products like cooking utensils, cookbooks and even vegan snacks. I could also spotlight services or classes on vegan baking.

Now, how will you know your blogging niche will earn views? Another shot in the dark. With the help of a little research, you can gain some clarity on what folks are searching for. Test out terms pertaining to your topic to see the average views and searches on certain sites. Vary the wording so you find the best results. For the Lady Jabberwocky blog, not only would I search the term ‘writing’, I can try other phrases like ‘creative writing’ or ‘fiction writing’ or ‘writing tips‘ as well. Try Google Trends, it’s a tool that can come in handy when choosing a niche.

Bottom line; If you know what potential readers are looking for, you can gear your content towards that target.


For all my fellow bloggers out there, how did you choose your blogging niche? What other topics did you consider? And if you are thinking about starting a blog or just starting out, what do you want to know about blogging? I might write a post about it. Talk to me in the comments, I love to here from you.

Stay safe and keep writing!

Love,

Lady Jabberwocky

15 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

Hello Writer bees!

Hope you are are staying safe and writing wonderful work. And if you are feeling stuck with your writing, that’s alright too. Sometimes, it can be hard to get the words on the page. Don’t be discouraged. Writer’s block happens to everyone, myself included. So today, I’m sharing some tips for beating the block and rekindling inspiration once again.

Be honest and ask yourself, “how do I break out of this funk I’m in?” and “What’s stopping me from writing?” Depending on what you need, there are three courses of action to take. Whatever route you choose, find what works for you.

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Push to Writing – the need to shake up you writing habits.

  1. Write in some place other from your usual spot. No need to chain yourself to your desk. Write in a different room of your home. Or outside. A new, quiet place.
  2. Freewriting: Write the first things that comes to mind, whatever it may be. Follow where the words take you. On a time crunch? Take a 5 minute writing sprint and write as fast as you can.
  3. Set deadlines and stick to them. Reach for a daily wordcount goal that’s achievable and works with your schedule. Even if it’s only a 100 words a day. You’ll be 100 words closer to your finished draft.
  4. Try writing exercises and prompts. They can be a fun, well-needed challenge for some writers. But where can you find prompts? I post a Prompt of the Week every Monday. Check them out!
  5. Use a different writing tool. Instead of a keyboard, switch to paper or sticky notes or colorful markers.

Recharge – The need to step back from your writing endeavors.

  1. Take a break! A real one. Relax. And don’t think about your story. A little separation from your WIP is fine. Sometimes, lightbulb moments happen when you least expect. I speak from experience.
  2. Go for a walk. Alone, with music, or with a dog. Walks are great. Socially distanced walks while wearing masks is even better.
  3. Get cozy and curl up with a good book. Fuzzy socks included. Let your mind unwind and dive into a whole new world.
  4. Drink some coffee/tea/alcoholic beverage of choice. And stuff your face with your favorite food. Writing is hard work. Treat yourself to that tub of ice cream or bag of potato chips. I won’t judge.
  5. Sleep it off, or just lounge around. Rest, physically and mentally. There are times when the best ideas can come right before you fall asleep. Keep a notepad on your nightstand ready, in case you need to jot down ideas.
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Getting motivated and inspired! – the need to get pumped to write again, or find inspiration.

  1. Browse through photos; especially images that relate to your story’s genre. Create an aesthetic board featuring images that remind you of your story. If you are writing historical fiction, keep a folder of snapshots from that time period.
  2. Talk it out. Talking to another person, writer or non-writer, about your ideas can get those creative juices flowing. Find someone you feel safe with and who encourages you. Don’t waste your time with people who judge you harshly.
  3. Read some quotes from some famous authors. Gather inspiration from the authors who came before you.
  4. Connect with other writers. The writing community is a fantastic group of creatives. Make friends, chat about WIPs, support each other through those tough times. It’s nice to have someone in your corner, to have that support system.
  5. Be okay with writing trash. Not everything you write will be perfect. And that’s fine, that’s what editing is for. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for the story that future readers can connect with. That’s the real goal, isn’t it?

How do you get through writer’s block? What’s your advice to a writer who is struggling? Let me know if the comments.

Stay safe and keep writing!

— Lady Jabberwocky.

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How Lucky We Are – 100 Word Love Story

On our first date, we found a fountain in the middle of New York City.

How lucky we were.

Tossed our coins in, made wishes. I wished for happiness.

Something even more wonderful happened.

We two individuals became us. Together.

Partners. Outliers. Player One and Player Two.

That was almost ten years ago.

We have shared laughter and tears and smiles.

Forged adventures in the mundane.

Made love in thunderstorms.

A comfortable kind of affection, like soft clouds to land on.

All from two characters in a story crossing paths at the right place, right time.

How lucky we are.


With Valentine’s day coming up, I wanted to write about love. Call me a hopeless romantic, or a sap, either one. Inspired by my wonderful boyfriend, Michael and our relationship. He has know idea I’m doing this (Surprise honey!). We will be spending the weekend ordering takeout and having a movie night at home. Sounds perfect to me.

How are you spending Valentine’s Day? Lemme know in the comments. I’m genuinely curious, what with a pandemic and all.

Stay safe and keep writing!

Love, Lady Jabberwocky

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How and When to Cut Unnecessary Characters From Your WIP

Hello writer bees!

Today, I’m sharing some tips on removing unnecessary characters from the narrative. No, I’m not talking about killing off a character, I’m talking about not giving life to begin with. While you are in the drafting phase, know that some fictional folks don’t always make it into the finished product. And that’s fine. How do you know a character is useless? When do you “kill your darlings”, as they say? Let’s figure that out together, shall we?

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My Personal Experience

This dilemma has actually happened to me before. Hopefully, you can learn something from my personal experience as a writer.

A couple months back, I decided to remove one of my suspects from my murder mystery WIP. I thought about it for quite sometime. He wasn’t a poorly constructed character, far from it. However, I realized, the story could survive without him, that his presence wouldn’t be missed if he was gone. And that was a problem. If Also, part of the reason I kept him around was because I wanted five suspects total. Bad idea. Now, I realize four suspects is enough. And perhaps this rejected suspect idea can be reused in another story someday. You never know.

A bit of change had to be done. For consistency sake, scenes needed to be rearranged and edited, plot threads knitted together. Relationships between characters shifted a smidge. An aspect of their nature transferred to another character, adding complexity to their personality. Very quickly, I learned an existing character could do the work of an unnecessary character. Because I removed this suspect, I feel like my story is much stronger without him than with him. I believe like I made the right decision.

Function over Beauty

At the end of the day, every character needs a function. Why is this character in the story? What purpose do they serve? What role do they play? How do they move the plot along? If you can’t answer these simple questions, that’s a real problem. Try to put each character under the microscope and really consider what function they serve in the grand scheme of the story. Then, you can start weeding out the undesirables and letting the true stars of the show shine. And listen, just because one character doesn’t fit one narrative, that doesn’t mean you can’t recycle that character idea in another story. Maybe they’ll be a better fit somewhere else instead. Save ’em for the sequel, I say.

Plot Hole in One

No matter how useless the character, when you do decided to remove them, there will be an empty space. And you don’t want your reader to know or notice a missing piece in the narrative. Think of it like hiding a hole in the wall by putting a picture frame over it, if that makes sense. Be certain all plot holes are covered and tied up any loose threads. That all the relationships and personalities of the existing characters are solid. It might take some rewriting, but don’t be afraid of a little extra drafting. The end result may be even better after these rewrites.

No Tropes Welcomed

Look, frankly speaking, I don’t think “trope-free literature” is a thing. Don’t be surprised if you find a cliché or two in your work. Keep in mind, too many tropes and clichés will drag the narrative down into total boredom. If the character is considered an overused stereotype, they probably fall in the “cut” category. Insist on keeping this extra character? Okay. Trust in your instinct as a writer. Nothing a little reworking can’t fix. Be creative and original and break the mold of a trope. Flush out a character’s personality and motivation, giving their real depth and complexity.


Bottom line, every character needs a function. No one wants dead weight in their story. Really consider what purpose a character holds in your narrative. Weed out unoriginal characters. And if you do decide to remove the character, the changes should make the plot stronger.

Have you ever had to cut a character from your story? Are you considering it? Talk about it in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

Keep writing and stay safe, writer bees.

— Lady Jabberwocky

Things I Miss (And Don’t Miss) About Freelancing

Hello writer bees!

Hope you all are staying safe and creating some beautiful work.

As many of you know, I started my new job a few months ago. Left freelancing behind for a cubicle job in insurance. What a life changing experience it’s been, I’ve learned so much. The other day, when I had to work from home, it reminded me of the good ol’ days of being a freelance writer. Now, I’ve written about the pros and cons of freelancing before. Today, I’m sharing what I miss and don’t miss about freelancing. To give you guy some insight on my time as a freelance writer.

Please note; This is solely based on my experience as a Freelance Writer. Freelancing is different for everyone. And it is possible to have a full time livelihood as a freelancer.

What I Miss

Freedom

With freelance, you really can be your own boss. If I wanted to wear pajamas and sleep in and work in the wee hours of night, I could. Also, I had the opportunity to control my workflow and to choose flexible hours. I miss the freedom to work on what I want, when I want. Sure, the structure of a 9 to 5 is probably better for me. I like the routine of an office job. But once in a while, I yearn for the luxury of sleeping in and wearing sweatpants all day.

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The Creativity

I miss the innovative side of being a freelancer. Like outlining a post or editing material for a customer. Starting from scratch and building something worth reading. And when you finish a creative project and the client loves it, oof, that’s such a satisfying feeling. In the insurance world, the language used is so formal and specific. Nothing lighthearted about it. Thankfully, I have the Lady Jabberwocky blog and my WIP mystery novel, where I can write how I please. I don’t know where I’d be without those projects in my life. Creating engaging, fun content for readers just makes my heart happy. And I do really miss that part of being a freelance writer.

What I Don’t Miss

The Uncertainty

As a freelance writer, I had my dark and scary moments. Not knowing how much work I’d have in a week. Not knowing how much pay I’d make in a week. The stress crushed me. Often, I worried about if freelancing could support me and be a real career. Yes, I know there are amazing freelance writers out there making a good living. For me, it was difficult. Job security, benefits, a steady salary, all those things were uncertain for me. I feel so incredibly lucky right now just to receive a paycheck every other week. Some aren’t so lucky.

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Loneliness

In freelance, you are basically a one person operation. Just you and your workspace. I rarely left the house. It got pretty lonely. Sure, you’ll get requests from clients, but emails aren’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, I like my solitude every now and then. I’m a shy introvert to the core. However, It’s nice to interact and collaborate and learn from other people. Being social and working with a team of really fantastic folks is a gift.


As overwhelming as it can be sometimes, this cubicle job is like my golden opportunity. It helps get my boyfriend and I closer to our goal of one day living together. And I can still manage on my WIP and this blog while still working a 9 to 5. It’s an ‘only for now’ kind of gig. Who knows, maybe one day I can make a real living as a writer.

What do you do for a living, when you’re not writing? Have you ever freelanced before? What do you like about freelancing, or what do you miss about it? Talk to me in the comments! I love hearing from you.

Stay safe and keep writing.

— Lady Jabberwocky

Remember the Crazy Times of 2020? (Humor 100 Word Story)

Sometime after the pandemic….

“Hey, look what I found.” She pulls out a crumpled mask from the bottom on her purse. “Remember those days?”

“How could I forget?” She cringes, inspecting her face in the mirror. “The mask acne.”

“The struggle to find toilet paper?”

“The orange president?” They laugh together.

“And all that hand sanitizer.”

She gasps. “So much hand sanitizer.”

“I’m still trying to lose that quarantine fifteen. During lockdown, I ate nothing but cereal and pizza pockets.”

“Those were crazy times, huh?”

“Crazy doesn’t cut it.”

“But we got through.”

Linking arms, they return to a crowded party.


Is this a great short story? Probably not. But it is a reminder, that eventually, this pandemic will end. And when we get through these crazy times, who knows, maybe we’ll laugh about it someday.

For now, stay safe. Wear a mask. Social distance. Take care about one another.

Keep writing, writer bees!

— Lady Jabberwocky

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