Blind Baby Raised by Worms

By Joe Moore

When I first started attempting to write fiction many years ago, I subscribed to and devoured all the writer’s magazines out there. Writers Digest, Writer, and many more. I read every article, sometimes multiple times, and I would use a yellow highlighter to mark those pearls of wisdom from the experienced wormzauthors on how to be a better writer. Over the years, I accumulated large piles of magazines containing many yellow highlights. When the day came to clean out my closet and give the copies away to some of my writer friends, I first sat down and went through every edition, copying those jewels of advice into one complete list. Today, I will share them all with you. Maybe you might not agree with them all, but there’s a wealth of advice from countless bestsellers that can help improve anyone’s efforts at being a better author.

And if you’re wondering why this blog post is called Blind Baby Raised by Worms, check writing tip number 35. It’s the only one I personally contributed. Enjoy.

1. Easy writing makes hard reading, but hard writing makes easy reading.

2. Surprise creates suspense.

3. Vulnerability humanizes a character.

4. Anything that does not advance the plot or build character should be deleted.

5. Their reaction to a situation shows a great deal about your characters.

6. What your characters say and do under stress reveals their true feelings.

7. Coincidence is used effectively when it sets up a plot complication instead of a resolution.

8. Use all the senses to build your setting.

9. You are not accountable for the absolute accuracy or completeness of your factual information as long as it’s plausible. Write so it sounds right.

10. You can build characterization by seeing your character from another’s viewpoint.

11. The reader doesn’t know how a story will resolve, but they should have no doubt what must be resolved.

12. As a story grows, so should the obstacles.

13. Any word that can be substituted by a simpler word should be.

14. Suspense is created by having something extraordinary happen in an ordinary situation.

15. The simile includes the quality that is being compared as well as the comparison. The metaphor’s comparative frame of reference is only alluded to in the image used.

16. There must always be conflict in some form to keep the story interesting.

17. Deleting “very” usually strengthens a sentence or phrase.

18. Your story must interest you. If it does, there’s a good chance it will interest someone else.

19. Credible prose is not self-indulgent; it exists to illuminate the story, not to show off how clever the writer can be.

20. If you cannot describe your story in one or two sentences, you’re in trouble.

21. Rather than describing your characters, come up with actions that show what they’re like.

22. One way to decide if sex in a scene is necessary is simply to delete it.

23. If it comes easy, it’s a cliché.

24. Don’t give your characters names that are similar, start with the same letter, or are hard to pronounce.

25. A cliché is a sign of a mind at rest.

26. Think of your settings as a character.

27. The reader must feel that your characters were alive before the story began and will live on after it ends.

28. Begin the story where the reader will anticipate what happens next but is compelled to guess wrong.

29. A commercial novel is one that a lot of people buy, finish reading and tell others to read it.

30. The average reader must be considered a genius with the attention span of a two-year-old.

31. To get an editor’s attention, you have about three paragraphs in a short story and three pages in a novel.

32. Conflict, the basis of all good writing, arises because something is not going as planned.

33. Villains never think of themselves as “bad guys”.

34. Always start with the character, not the plot. The needs of the character will drive the plot.

35. Always use a cheap tabloid-style blog title to grab attention.


“Sholes and Moore have been writing stellar thrillers that use religious themes for some time, and their fifth effort, the first to feature Seneca Hunt, is their best yet.” – Booklist

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18 thoughts on “Blind Baby Raised by Worms

  1. All good points, and encouraging, too. I like how even the critical elements are not a list of “don’ts”, but a list of suggestions on what to replace (i.e., deleting sex scenes, removing the word “very”).

  2. Thanks, John. I don’t like “don’t” rules, either. The only one I ever came across that made sense is: Don’t bore your reader.

  3. Love this list, Joe. Each one (except perhaps the last) would make a good stand alone post.

    Like you, I devoured mags and books when learning. My favorite was Lawrence Block’s fiction column. I still have six binders of WD mags, not only highlighted but indexed with sticky notes. I couldn’t bear to part with them.

    If I had to single one out, I’d go with #33. Very important for new writers to remember. “Pure evil” is boring. Evil that thinks itself fully justified, now that’s scary.

  4. I saw the post title and my first thought was “I see he had the Enquirer with his morning coffee.” *-)

    Good keeper list.


  5. Miller, I see you were at the grocery checkout, too.

    Hey Jim, what’s wrong with the last tip in the list. It made you read my post. 🙂

    Glad you liked it, Chaco. Years in the making.

    BK, the title actually came from a tabloid many years ago. Always wanted to use it. My other favorite is “Queen of England impregnated by alien lobster creature.”

  6. Building on your last point (which I love), I’m now trying to imagine famous novels retitled by the tabloids: “Alien Pigs lead Takeover of Rural Farm” (Animal Farm); “Zombie Governess Makes Man Go Wild” (The French Lieutenant’s Woman). Any others? Basil?

  7. Great list, Joe!! I like how most of these ideas are open-ended and make you think about your story from different angles. They provide focus but aren’t limiting. Thanks!!

  8. Joe, love the list. Can’t say I agree with #34, though. To me, plot vs. character is a chicken or egg dilemma. Still, great post!

  9. Excellent tabloid headlines, Kathryn. Turning well known book titles into tabloid headlines might be a fun future blog. I don’t care what Jim says, there great value in tip #35.

    I agree, Paul. That’s what drew me to them over the years.

    Fletch, the way I look at #34 is that once I have a basic idea for a book, I start fleshing out the characters first. The plot is the series of events that make up the story, but what brings it to life are the wants and needs of the characters. For instance, if the plot involves a detective stopping a bomb from going off in order to save lives, that might make for a good story. But what if the detective was blind and/or in a wheelchair for the whole story. I would bet that the detective’s needs would be a big driving force in what moves the story forward.

  10. I almost always start with a “What if” plot point or twist. That’s my foundation. Then, like Joe, I start to create the people who will move through the story. Sometimes I’ve started with a character and asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to her?”

  11. I love the times when simple logic sticks. These accumulated learnings of yours Joe are like that. Now I just need to remember them.

  12. Your absolutely right, Mike. Even if I don’t keep it, I have often rewritten a scene from another POV just to get a better handle on the character.

  13. Great list – I am a repeat offender for 24…I always have go back and rename at least one character as a result. Love tabloid blog idea…must try it out.

  14. I have those magazine piles as well, and files of articles. All highlighted. I like to think they’ve accumulated as inner wisdom by now! Great blog, Joe!

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