October 8, 2020

Advice For Writers ~ Ane Mulligan~ Part 1

Ane Mulligan

• A nonstandard typeface—most places still prefer to see only Times New Roman or Courier fonts in 12 point.

• 1.5-line spacing rather than 2-line (double spaced) spacing

• Full justification instead of ragged right (left justified)

• Too narrow or too wide margins (standard is still 1” to 1.25”)

• Top and bottom margins are under 1" (the standard)

Five Steps To Develop Your Skills

There are many things you can do to develop your skills, but these five ideas will provide a great return:

1. Join a critique group. Several writers organizations incorporate critique options, like American Christian Fiction Writers.

2. Purchase, read, and use resources. Excellent books are available on standard manuscript formatting.

3. Proofread your work. Form a partnership with a writer friend and pass manuscripts back and forth. Then proof again—and again.

4. Take classes. You can do this through conferences, online courses, or a local university.

5. Join a professional organization. You have your choice from faith-based or secular (or both), including ACFW, My Book Therapy, and Writer’s Digest Online. If you do these things, your take on one of the seven basic plots could end up published—rather than tossed in File 13.


How real are they? Does the writing pull you, the reader, into the story enough for you to experience it? Do you feel like you're part of the story? That this character is your friend?

If we can relate to the character, through his/her motivation, we will follow the character through anything.

For instance: let's say your heroine wants to teach elementary school, third grade. What's her motivation? Your first answer might be that she loves kids. But is that a great story motivation? Or are you yawning? Yeah, not much conflict. Sure you can have a resistant kid, but where's the story? Unless you're a school psychologist, you'd probably pass on that one.

We need to go deeper. Okay, how about she wants to help kids.


Uhm, maybe a teacher helped her learn something hard that changed her life. So? That doesn't excite me. Does it you?

Again we ask why teaching kids is so important that if she doesn't reach her goal, she's devastated? That's the question that needs answering.

Could it be she wants unconditional love? The kind of love a child can develop for their teacher? Is that why she wants to teach?

Now we have a universal desire … unconditional love.

That's something with which any reader can empathize. And now we have a story, because she's looking for unconditional love in all the wrong places.

And now we have a motivation that will carry a story forward and give us lots of conflict.

Description With Purpose

Writing description for its own sake doesn't add anything to your manuscript other than telling the reader what you're seeing. They aren't experiencing it with your character, though, and that distances them from your story.

So how do you draw them into the story world? How do you create an intimacy between the character and the reader?

Everything in your story should have a reason to be there. Even the description of where your heroine is should have a purpose. Make its purpose more than just showing the where or what. Let it tell the reader something about the character.

Climb inside your point-of-view (POV) character's head and describe the scene through her eyes. Filter it through her mood, her circumstances, and her past. Yes, even her upbringing, because that helped form her response to circumstance and environment. What does the place—the scene—tell us about her?

Let's take a look at a simple description. It's good and includes some good details, but it lacks the character's reaction to what we're seeing.

The original paragraph:

Mary dipped one toe into the water, sending a ring of ripples outward. The early morning sunrays shone like spotlights through the trees across the inlet. Morning birds sang their happy songs and two glimmering dragonflies chased each other along the water’s edge. Towards the mouth of the cove a fish jumped.

Besides the fact that one toe won't send out a ring of ripples, what was Mary's reaction to the water? Was it cold? Warm? What's Mary's mood? Is she pensive, happy, sad, or nervous?

Let's try another example of the same paragraph:

Mary dipped one toe into the water. The iciness surprised her, since it was May. Shivering, she pulled her sweater tight across her chest. The early morning sun shone through the trees, spotlighting two mocking birds as they called out warnings to nest-robbers. In the mouth of the cove, a fish jumped, sending out a ring of ripples. Like the little lie she told sent out ripples of consequence.

Now we know something about Mary through the description. Even without the last sentence, you sense she's on edge. The use of mocking birds and warnings give the general feeling of uneasiness.

Here's another example of the same basic paragraph:

Mary dipped one toe into the water, followed by its mates, then her whole foot. Then the right one. Closing her eyes, she let the cool water massage her tired dogs. A trill of birdsong rang out nearby. The sun sparkled through the trees, spotlighting white-throated sparrows as they sang and flitted from branch to branch. In the mouth of the cove, a fish jumped, sending out a ring of ripples. She wished Rose could share this magical cove.

Even without the last sentence, we'd know Mary's delight in this spot. The description is filled with relaxation, comfort, and hope. Happiness. . .

Join me tomorrow about deepening characterization. Friday, October 9.

Ane Mu Ane Mulligan has been a voracious reader ever since her mom instilled within her a love of reading at age three, escaping into worlds otherwise unknown. But when Ane saw PETER PAN on stage, she was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. She submerged herself in drama through high school and college. One day, her two loves collided, and a bestselling, award-winning novelist emerged. She lives in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her websiteAmazon Author pageFacebookTwitterInstagramPinterest and The Write Conversation.  



  1. Thank you Ane for being such a gracious author always willing to share writing advice for beginning writers as well as multi-published authors. We appreciate you.

  2. I appreciate the platform to share my passion, Susan.

  3. Great points, Ane! And I so agree that new (as well as old) writers need a network of critique partners to point out habits we might not be aware of. If you're writing in a vacuum, you'll keep making the same mistakes over and over.

    1. Pat, it makes all the difference in the world. Just this week, I read a wonderful article that is more slanted to the multi-published. I shared it with my crit partners and we're going to work on the point. And 2 of them are Christy winners and one is a USA Today Bestselling author. Always learning and growing!