Clerihew, Haiku, and You

A word fitly spoken
    is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

–Proverbs 25:11

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A few months ago, James Scott Bell posted Micro Fiction for Your Writer’s Brain on TKZ. It was about writing fiction that was less than 500 words long. (I’ll wait while you go back and review.)

That post gave me an idea for writing about even shorter form fiction, and I came across a few types that are both fun and challenging.

The Clerihew

The clerihew is a form of poetry that was invented by E.C. Bentley, the author of Trent’s Last Case and other novels. Bentley’s full name happens to be Edmund Clerihew Bentley. I guess when you have a middle name like Clerihew, you may as well come up with some clever and inventive use of it.

Here’s the definition of clerihew from Wikipedia:

clerihew (ˈklɛrɪhjuː) is a whimsical, four-line biographical poem of a type invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. The first line is the name of the poem’s subject, usually a famous person, and the remainder puts the subject in an absurd light or reveals something unknown or spurious about the subject. The rhyme scheme is AABB, and the rhymes are often forced. The line length and metre are irregular. Bentley invented the clerihew in school and then popularized it in books.

Here are a couple of examples:

Sir Humphry Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

Did Descartes
With the thought
“Therefore I’m not”?

Here’s my humble attempt:

Albert Einstein
Had a very great mind
While in his prime
He relativized time

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The Haiku

Back in 2021, Steve Hooley and his sister, Joyce, wrote a wonderful TKZ post on haiku poetry. defines haiku as

a major form of Japanese verse, written in 17 syllables divided into 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, and employing highly evocative allusions and comparisons, often on the subject of nature or one of the seasons.

Here are a couple of rather famous ones:

“A Caterpillar” by Matsuo Basho

A caterpillar,
This deep in fall –
Still not a butterfly.


“A Poppy Blooms” by Katsushika Hokusai

I write, erase, rewrite
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms.


And another one by me:

Azalea blossoms
Pink, but ragged on the edge
Tomorrow’s lovers

* * *

The Limerick

Here’s what has to say about this poetic form:

Limerick, a popular form of short, humorous verse that is often nonsensical and frequently ribald. It consists of five lines, rhyming aabba, and the dominant metre is anapestic, with two metrical feet in the third and fourth lines and three feet in the others. The origin of the limerick is unknown, but it has been suggested that the name derives from the chorus of an 18th-century Irish soldiers’ song, “Will You Come Up to Limerick?” To this were added impromptu verses crowded with improbable incident and subtle innuendo.


Here’s a non-ribald example.

A tutor who taught on the flute
Tried to teach two tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor,
“Is it harder to toot, or
To tutor two tooters to toot?”

Personally, I love limericks. I occasionally compose one in honor of politicians or other strange creatures.  😎 I won’t share any of those, but here’s one I made up just for today:

My computer decided to die
Just as the deadline drew nigh
When the publisher screamed
I knew I was creamed
So I kissed my contract good-bye

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So TKZers: What do you think about these poetic short forms? Pick one or two (or all three) and astound us by entering your work in the comments. Include something in your poem about one of your books if you’re so inclined.

* * *

There once was a pilot named Cassie
An intrepid sleuth was this lassie
She flew into danger,
But it didn’t change her
And she found the murderer fastly.

A 2024 Eric Hoffer Grand Prize Award Finalist

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One Word Holds Power

Have you ever received a text from a family member or close friend and knew something was wrong even though the words indicated the opposite?

I’ll show you what I mean with a real-life example.

The Kid planned to drive up to deliver ducks to the couple who lives at the top of our mountain, off-the-grid in a year-round camp surrounded by tall pines, oak, birch, and maple trees. By 10 a.m. that morning, we still hadn’t heard from The Kid, which is unusual. He’s always been an early riser.

So, I shot him a text. “Still planning to come up today?”

Several minutes dragged by before he responded. “Yes.”

My intuition tapped me on the shoulder. Something’s wrong. He never responds with one word. Besides, a simple yes didn’t give me enough information. If he brought all three grandkids, I would need to plan to feed six rather than three.

Plus, I let my little fur-babies run around my office during the day, but our grandchildren have a habit of leaving doors open. So, when they visit, it’s safer to leave them in their guinea pig habitat.

I texted back, “The Joe and the chicks coming, too?”

Another long pause. “Just The Joe.”

“You okay? You sound… I dunno… off.”

The Kid knows I’m tuned into him. Over the years I’ve learned to trust my intuition, and it has never failed me. Lying would be pointless.

“I was chasing ducks.”

“Okay, cool,” I texted, but something told me “chasing ducks” wasn’t the full story. Regardless, I didn’t want to push the issue via text. “I get the feeling you won’t be staying long.”

“We can stay for a bit.” The five-minute pause seemed to last twenty. “The longer the better. LOL”

And there it was—the first hint of the real reason he seemed off. Which he’d spill in person. It’s much harder to hide behind a false façade while staring into a concerned parent’s eyes. Though I’d never want to come across as pushy—he is a grown man, after all—I can’t take it when my kid is hurting. I don’t care how old he is. I’ll always be fiercely protective of his beautiful heart.

I do have a point to all this.

With that one simple word—Yes—I, the reader, knew to pay attention. That yes held power. That yes held unlimited power, more powerful than if he’d written an entire paragraph.

Writers should do the same. It’s a simple but effective way to add tension to a scene, cause a disturbance, and cue the reader to pay attention. The one-word, staccato sentence is a tool used for emphasis.

Run. Now.

It’s short and to the point. It calls attention to itself and exploits a reader’s emotions. Varying sentence structure holds a reader’s attention.

The following example looks like an exaggeration, but I once had to critique the first few pages of a novel written just like it.

As he stared at me, I could not look away. As I moved around the room, his stare held me hostage. As he moved closer, I told him to stop. As I backed away, he kept coming.

Every sentence began with “As” for three, never-ending pages. Not only is it grueling and repetitive, it’s annoying to read.


His wolf-like stare held me hostage. Stop. Please stop. He moved closer. I backed away. Dear God, no. Not again. My spine hit the wall, my fingers searching behind me for the doorframe.

See how much more immediate the second example sounds? We don’t want to overdo it, but nothing can replace a well-placed staccato sentence here and there.

Writers have access to a plethora of writing tips, but it’s important not to overlook simple ways to hone our craft, like the act of reading and sentence structure.

Thoughts? Let’s discuss. 


Warriors battle a ruthless animal trafficking ring in Yellowstone. They will protect the sacred lineage of American Buffalo by any means necessary.

Even murder.

Download a sample on Amazon


The Art of Darkness

“Creativity – like human life itself – begins in darkness.” –Julia Cameron

* * *

April 8, 2024  The date of the great eclipse when a wide swath of the United States will be darkened as the sun and moon perform a heavenly pas de deux.

Memphis will see only a 98% covering, so my husband and I plan to travel with some friends to Arkansas to experience the full beauty of the show.

This will not be the first time we’ve observed a total eclipse. Way back in 1970, there was a total eclipse in my hometown of Savannah, Ga. I remember the experience well, but not for the reason you may think.

Unfortunately, the day was cloudy, but as the moon moved between the Earth and the sun, the clouds would occasionally break and give us a series of snapshots of the phenomenon. When the moment of totality arrived, the clouds once again opened, and we saw the black disk, then the bright flash of light as the moon moved on to continue its course. But that still wasn’t what astonished me.

It was the darkness.

Standing on the front lawn of my parents’ home, I looked down the street and saw a wall of black shadow racing toward us. It wasn’t like a cloud that covered the sun. It was a dark, menacing presence, rushing forward to devour the light in its path until it overtook us, and suddenly all was night.

Even though we understood what was happening, I had a sense of primordial awe that I have never forgotten.

* * *

Authors of mystery, suspense, and thrillers are well acquainted with darkness. It’s a symbol of the unknown, and that usually means fear, anxiety, loneliness, or panic will grip the main character and get the reader’s heart pumping a little harder.

“All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness.” –John Ruskin

A character walks out into a black night and senses a presence that he can’t see, or comes face-to-face with his own demons in the dark night of the soul when all appears lost. That heart-stopping look into the abyss rivets the attention and keeps the reader turning pages.

Here are a few examples.


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We probably all studied Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven in high school. Fear and doubt consume the poet as he contemplates his own loneliness late at night. Then he hears a sound and thinks it’s a visitor knocking. He opens the door and sees … nothing.


“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”


The murky setting on the moors gave Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles a sense of mystery and foreboding

“As if in answer to his words there rose suddenly out of the vast gloom of the moor that strange cry which I had already heard upon the borders of the great Grimpen Mire. It came with the wind through the silence of the night, a long, deep mutter, then a rising howl, and then the sad moan in which it died away. Again and again it sounded, the whole air throbbing with it, strident, wild, and menacing. The baronet caught my sleeve and his face glimmered white through the darkness. ‘My God, what’s that, Watson?’”


A sense of impending doom in Dean Koontz’s Midnight builds as a woman goes for a run on the beach in the middle of the night.

“Suddenly, as she was passing a pair of forty-foot, twisted cypresses that had grown in the middle of the beach, halfway between the hills and the waterline, Janice was sure she was not alone in the night and fog. She saw no movement, and she was unaware of any sound other than her own footsteps, raspy breathing, and thudding heartbeat; only instinct told her that she had company.”


Last week Kris introduced us to the Edgar finalists in her post. The first sentence of All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby hints of a violent past returning to haunt a small town.

Charon County was founded in bloodshed and darkness.

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So, TKZers, there you have it. The Art of Darkness. How do you represent darkness in your books? Do you have any examples from the works of others that illustrate either physical or metaphorical darkness? Have you ever seen a total eclipse of the sun?

* * *

I don’t know how much access I’ll have to TKZ during the day, but I’ll respond to comments whenever I can.


“Character, like a photograph, develops in  darkness.” –Yousuf Karsh

Private pilot Cassie Deakin has a lot of opportunity to develop character while she hunts a killer.

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Writing Quotes, Inspiration, and Life Advice From Famous Authors

I love writing quotes. Recently, I stumbled across new-to-me writing, inspirational, and life advice quotes from famous authors. Too much spot-on advice not to share here on TKZ. Plus, I’m writing eighteen different articles to spread the news about my new eco-thriller. 😉

Writing Quotes

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” — Albert Camus

“As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.” — Ernest Hemingway

“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.” — Herman Melville

“As for ‘Write what you know,’ I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” — Annie Proulx

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you have to die if you were forbidden to write.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

“A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

“Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.” — Meg Rosoff

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book. Give it, give it all, give it now.” — Annie Dillard

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

“Tears are words that need to be written.” — Paulo Coelho

Inspirational Quotes by Writers

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” — Virginia Woolf

“The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.” — George Eliot

“Focus more on your desire than on your doubt, and the dream will take care of itself.” — Mark Twain

“Jump off a cliff and build your wings on the way down.” — Ray Bradbury

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” — Neil Gaiman

“Don’t bend. Don’t water it down. Don’t try to make it logical. Don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” — Franz Kafka

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” — Mark Twain

“Maybe it’s not about having a beautiful day, but about finding beautiful moments. Maybe a whole day is just too much to ask. I could choose to believe that in every day, in all things, no matter how dark and ugly, there are shards of beauty if I look for them.” — Anna White

“Trust our heart if the seas catch fire, live by love though the stars walk backwards.” — E. E. Cummings

“One day I find the right words, and they will be simple.” — Jack Kerouac

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” — Maya Angelou

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” — Alice Walker

Life Advice From Writers

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” — Oscar Wilde

“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” — Emily Dickinson

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” — George Eliot

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” — Haruki Murakami

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” — Plato

“Unable are the loved to die for love is immortality.” — Emily Dickinson

“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.” — Sylvia Plath

“Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.” — C.S. Lewis

Are you inspired yet? Great! Get to work. 😉 Do you have a favorite?

Amidst the wild and unforgiving landscapes of Yellowstone Park, eco-warriors Mayhem and Shawnee race against the clock to protect an American Buffalo herd from the ruthless Killzme Corporation.

With a massive bounty on their heads and an army of killers on their trail, Mayhem and Shawnee risk it all to preserve the sacred lineage of the Innocent Ones.

There is no line Shawnee and Mayhem won’t cross.

Even murder.

As the danger intensifies and the clock winds down, will they be able to save the herd? Or will this be the mission that finally breaks them?

Preorder for 99c. Sale ends on release day, April 11, 2024.

Investigating Agatha Christie

I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest. –Agatha Christie

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Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. Her sales are exceeded only by the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.  According to her website at, “She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, as well as the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap. “

Agatha Christie’s books have sold over two billion copies worldwide!

Given Ms. Christie’s extraordinary success, it might be a good idea to see if we can discover some of her secrets.

* * *

A few years ago, I watched a documentary entitled “The Agatha Christie Code” (available on Youtube)  in which researchers examined various aspects of Christie’s writing. These researchers included

Dr. Richard Forsyth, Research Fellow in Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick

Dr. Pernilla Danielsson, Academic Champion of Communications at the University of Birmingham

Dr. Marcus Dahl, Research Fellow at the School of Advanced Study – London University

They used computer technology to analyze Christie’s work, and they found interesting patterns in her stories that may give us a clue as to why she’s so popular.

Word Choices

Christie used simple language in her books, so readers were free to focus on the plot rather than the language. For example, the researchers found she used “said” often in an attribution rather than other words like “responded” or “answered.”

Christie also often repeated words within a short section of prose – something I’ve been warned against. Here’s an example from the novel Sad Cypress that was used in the video. (My notations in red.)

The researchers thought the repetition cemented the information in the reader’s mind. My editor would probably faint if I sent something like that to her, but maybe we should rethink the multiple uses of a word in a short section of prose.

Verbal Structure

The most interesting part of the video for me was when one of the researchers evaluated Christie’s works on the three criteria of

  •             Word length
  •             Word frequency
  •             Sentence structure

Dr. Danielsson plotted information about these aspects on a three-dimensional graph and plotted the same criteria from Arthur Conan Doyle’s works on the same graph. Christie’s books exhibited a consistency shown visually by her plotted points being clustered together while the points of Doyle’s stories were spread farther apart indicating his works were more dissimilar when compared to each other. This indicated that Doyle’s style had changed through the years while Christie’s had remained remarkably consistent.


Christie’s mysteries almost always create a world where

  •             There is a dead body
  •             A closed group of suspects are introduced
  •             A detective (either professional or amateur) is a character
  •             Red herrings are spread throughout
  •             There is a denouement scene where the detective identifies the murderer and brings closure to the story.

Some critics claim Christie wrote the same story over and over, but that’s not fair. For example, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, and And Then There Were None introduced novel twists to the standard murder mystery although they used a typical Christie template.

However, this general structure reassures the reader that there will be a logical puzzle that will be solved in the end, and that contributes to the sense of satisfaction.


While some famous characters appear in multiple books and are popular with the reading public (e.g., Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Captain Hastings), the number of characters in each novel may be just as important. This prompted an interesting theory by David Shephard, Master trainer in Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Mr. Shephard pointed out that people have a limited focus and a conscious mind can only concentrate on five to nine things at a time. When presented with more information than that, a person will enter a sort of hypnotic trance.

Since Christie’s stories often have more than nine characters and several plot lines, Shephard thinks the reader’s mind can’t handle the overload of information, so he/she begins to “feel” the book rather than just think about it. This emotional connection makes readers want to return to Agatha Christie’s books again and again.

I’m not sure I can buy that explanation, but it’s very interesting and makes me think I should count the characters in my future books to see if I can put my readers into a trance.

Content & Style

As we all know, Agatha Christie’s mysteries contain no explicit sexual scenes and no explicit violence. So why do so many readers still buy her novels? Readers of Christie’s books know there will be a logical solution to the murder, the killer will be caught, and the clues are all available to solve the mystery.

David Suchet, who played the part of Hercule Poirot in the television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot, compared Christie’s books to sudoku puzzles. He believes readers enjoy the books because they’re completely absorbed in figuring out the solution to the puzzle.


Although I found a site with the number of pages in each of Agatha Christie’s novels, I only found a reference to the word count on That site had an article that states Agatha Christie’s mystery novels average between 40,000 and 60,000 words. That’s a little short for most novels today, but it could explain why people found them easy to read.



Agatha Christie controlled the speed at which her books were read by laying out more descriptive passages at the beginning, but picking up the pace of the story as it progressed. Hypnotist Paul McKenna had an interesting take on this. He felt her particular pattern of writing caused certain brain chemicals to be released, resulting in a sort of addiction in the readers. This theory goes a little beyond my pay grade, but I do think picking up the pace is a technique that works well in mystery writing.

* * *

So there you have it. While I’m sure there are other reasons for her success, these aspects of Agatha Christie’s writing are worth considering.

* * *

So TKZers: Have you read many of Agatha Christie’s books? Why do you think they’re so popular? Have you viewed “The Agatha Christie Code” video?  Is there anything you think we can glean from the data in this post that will help with our own writing?

* * *


“Very few of us are what we seem.” –Agatha Christie

Private pilot Cassie Deakin lands in the middle of a mystery and discovers things are not always what they seem.

Buy on AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle Play, or Apple Books.

How To Use White Space

When I was first learning the craft, I studied many novels, searching for how the author drew me in, held me in suspense, and propelled me to turn the page. Still do. 😉 One of the things I noticed was their use of white space — the blank field around the words and paragraphs.

White space can help create drama, emotion, or add a quiet pause before the storm hits. With so many “rules” or guidelines, sometimes white space can get overlooked. Yet it’s a powerful tool when used with intent.

Let’s look at a few examples. The first two are from our own James Scott Bell.

Last Call from JSB:

“Yo,” she said. “Go back to your table, okay?”

He stiffened and his smile melted into his beard. “Real friendly.” He shook his head as he went back to his table. He turned his laptop around then sat with his back to her.

Just like the rest of the world.

Long Lost from JSB:

With the wind blowing outside, Stevie fell into a calm sleep. Deep like the desert night.

He woke up with a rough hand over his mouth. Pressing him down. Maybe it was Robert playing a game. But it wasn’t. It was something big.

A monster.


The eye is drawn to the last line in both examples. They’re sharp and dramatic when sectioned by white space.

In the Eyes of the Dead by Jordan Dane:

I wanted to fight it, but I couldn’t. The hopelessness of becoming a victim rushed over me like a floodgate opening. I nearly choked on the magnitude of it. Images of my ordeal bombarded me. I caught glimpses of another face. It all happened too fast, I wasn’t sure I could retain what I’d seen.

Just like last time.

Again, Jordan could’ve set the last line in the same paragraph, but it would lose its punch there.

We can also use white space to break up dialogue.

Here’s an example from Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman:

“Then you know that if I was a witch, I could turn myself into something else. Into a burrowing owl. I could fly out the smoke hole and go away into the night.”


“But I am not a witch. I am just a man. I am a singer. A yataalii. I have learned the ways to cure. Some of them. I know the songs to protect you against a witching. But I am not a witch.”

See how “silence” added to the drama? Had he put all the dialogue into one paragraph, it wouldn’t be as effective, even with an intriguing conversation.

The Killing Song by PJ Parish:

The cold nub that had formed in my gut was growing. I was never one to trust vague feelings. I was a reporter and trained to believe only what I could see, what I could prove.

But the feeling rising up and putting a choke hold on my heart now was real.

Mandy was gone.

That last line smacks you in the face — because it’s separated by white space.

Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes by Karin Slaughter:

The line finally moved, and Julia went into the first stall. She felt her pager vibrate as she started to unbutton her jeans. She didn’t scroll the number right away. She sat down on the toilet. She looked up at the ceiling. She looked at the posters taped to the back of the stall door. She finally looked down at the pager. She pressed the button to scroll the number.


Her heart broke into a million pieces.


Julia looked up, trying to keep her tears from falling. She sniffed. She counted to a slow one hundred. She looked down again, because maybe she was wrong.



The repetition also draws you in. If the author were to continue too long, the rhythm would lose its value. When done with intent, it’s dramatic and effective.

The last example is from my new thriller, Savage Mayhem (releases once my designer completes my cover).

A hair-raising screech stopped me mid-stride, my heartbeat quickened to a fast pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter. Quaking aspen leaves trembled as we passed. Night owls slalomed through the trees, oarlike wings emitting a whoosh with each stroke. To my left, sticks crunched under heavy paws. Or hooves.




Here, I used white space for a dramatic pause and to draw attention to each individual threat. Which allows the reader to wonder. I also used Onomatopoeia words to deepen the scene.

White space can help fix long, rambling passages of text, pacing issues, and story rhythm. It’s a tool we should never overlook. Use the precious real estate to your advantage.

With the exception of mine (this is NOT a shameless plug), I recommend all these books. They’re fabulous.

Have you read any of them? Did you notice the white space while reading? Do you pay attention to white space in your writing?

The Meaning of Success defines success as

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

* * *

There are many opportunities for success in life. Winning a race, getting the lead role in a play, graduating from college, etc. But how do we define success in writing? I can imagine a list of possibilities: publishing that first book, securing an agent, receiving an award. But every time one goal is met, another rises up to take its place. I was having a hard time understanding exactly how to define success in my own writing, so I sought wisdom from that most knowledgeable of twenty-first-century oracles: the internet.

People who are famous must be successful, right? So they would be the logical ones to provide us with clues into what it was that helped them attain their status. I began my quest at and, and I roamed around in their quote galleries, moving from room to room looking for the perfect definition of success. I found an enormous variety of ideas, and I’ve listed some of the quotes below for your enjoyment. I’ve also provided an occasional thought or two of my own in bold.

* * *

I started out with a couple of simple statements.

Reaching the goal is not success; success is moving toward the goal. –Bob Proctor  So it’s the journey, not the destination?

Eighty percent of success is showing up. –Woody Allen Well, that’s encouraging, but I’m not convinced.

I moved on and found some quotes that were more to my liking.

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure. –Confucius

Success is dependent on effort. –Sophocles

Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it. –Dalai Lama XIV

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome. –Booker T. Washington

So it has to do with hard work and overcoming obstacles. But that’s not to say happiness doesn’t play a part.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. –Albert Schweitzer

Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get. –Dale Carnegie

All of these were good, but I soldiered on and found a group of fascinating (and confusing) quotes that mentioned the part failure plays in success. 

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. –Winston Churchill  I usually like quotes by Winston Churchill, but this one left me scratching my head.

Success is falling nine times and getting up 10. –Jon Bon Jovi  I don’t understand this. How can you get up ten times if you only fell nine times?

Failure is success if we learn from it. –Malcolm Forbes  It seems like this would depend on what we learn from it.

Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable. –Coco Chanel  I read this one over about ten times, and I still don’t understand what it means.

Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom. –George S. Patton  Once again, failure plays a part, and General Patton gives us a nice image to go along with it. 

Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time. –George Bernard Shaw  This one made sense to me.

Then I found a surprising quote from Andrew Carnegie who was once the richest man in the world. His net worth in today’s dollars would be over $300 billion.

There is little success where there is little laughter. –Andrew Carnegie   I bet Mr. Carnegie was laughing all the way to the bank.

Speaking of laughter, here are a couple of quotes that had me chuckling.

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. –Mark Twain

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it. –W.C. Fields

* * *

All of the quotes were interesting, and different people clearly have different measures for accomplishment, but I still hadn’t come up with a definition of success in my writing. Then I realized success may not be what I was looking for after all. I remembered this quote by Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Don’t aim at success. …For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication.”

Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere. 

Interesting note: James Scott Bell’s TKZ post yesterday quoted Louise Parr, an author who had contributed to On the Art of Writing Fiction, published in 1894. Ms. Parr observed

there is a moral satisfaction in having done good work which no one can rob us of.

That was written 130 years ago, and it’s still as fresh and meaningful as it was then.

* * *

So TKZers: What is your definition of success in your writing? Is it one over-arching achievement or many goalposts along the way? Do you consider doing good work independent of recognition or success? Do any of the quotes in this post appeal to you?

* * *

Private pilot Cassie Deakin has one measure of success: to find the culprits who assaulted her uncle. But when she achieves that goal, she faces a much more difficult challenge.

Buy on AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle Play, or Apple Books.

#BookTok Tips for Writers

Last week, Steve asked for a post about #BookTok on TikTok. Since I wrote an article for Anne R. Allen’s blog in October 2022, I’ll repost it here so all of TKZ can benefit. I’ve included 2024 updates in bold.

When the buzz of TikTok started spreading, I wanted no part of it. With two Facebook accounts, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Goodreads, etc. the last thing I needed was another social media site. I could barely juggle the audience I’d amassed on social media over the last twelve years. Then I discovered #BookTok, and my outlook changed.


The hashtag #BookTok opens a doorway to a subsection of TikTok where thousands of voracious readers spend their time, along with #WriterTok and a host of genre hashtags. #BookTok exploded over the last two years. In fact, #BookTokers call the dancing/singing videos “the wrong side of TikTok.” Rarely, if ever, do we venture outside of #BookTok — a loyal, generous community bonded by our love of the written word.

Remember when social media was your guilty pleasure, your happy place, and you looked forward to hopping online? For many of us, that drive faded away when politics and rants filled our timelines.

Yet, having a social media presence is a vital part of an author’s career. The problem is, once we form the emotional connection between social media and publishing, engaging with readers can start to feel a lot like work. #BookTok reignited my spark, and it can do the same for you. Not only is it a blast, TikTok in general is a selling machine.


TikTok calls itself an “entertainment platform.” Statistics show people spend more time watching TikTok videos than Netflix. Shocking, right? By its very nature, TikTok is a storytelling platform. The videos that reign supreme tell some sort of story, engaging the viewer through drama, comedy, or bewilderment.

The beauty of TikTok is that even with only a handful of followers, content can still go viral. I’ve personally witnessed new accounts gain 20-30K views on one video. Romance (all genres) do the best, followed by fantasy/sci-fi, mystery/thriller/suspense, YA, paranormal, and horror. True crime and nonfiction have their own massive audience. No matter what genre you write in, your audience is on #BookTok. All ages, all genres.


  1. I’m too old for TikTok.

As someone in their — ahem — mid-fifties, I thought the same thing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When TikTok hit the scene, it did cater to a younger demographic. That’s changed over the years. #BookTokers range from 20s to 80s.

  1. I refuse to make a fool of myself to sell books.

Sure, there’s a lot of silliness on TikTok, but you don’t need to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Be your beautiful, reserved, crazy, funny, introverted, or extroverted self. That’s who readers want to know, not some made-up version of yourself. Although, if you write spicy romance and want to conceal your identity, that’s okay, too.

  1. I don’t have time to learn another social media site that’ll probably disappear in a few years.

All writers suffer with the same issue. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Here’s a cold, hard truth: sooner or later authors won’t have a choice about joining TikTok. Our audience is turning away from Facebook and Twitter. At the end of last year (2021), Facebook reported its lowest daily views yet, and they attributed the loss to TikTok.

Of all the social media sites, X-Twitter has the lowest ROI for selling books. Do you know who has the highest? TikTok. Why? Because it’s unlike any other social media site.

  1. You must be tech-savvy to create videos.

TikTok does have an advanced video creator built into the app, but it’s very easy to use. They also provide video tutorials. If you still have trouble, head to YouTube. Creators post step-by-step instructions that anyone can follow.

  1. You must be comfortable in front of the camera to use TikTok.

I’ll tell you a little secret. The thought of shooting videos scared me half to death. The few videos I posted on social media took me forever to create, obsessing over every tiny detail, and I still wasn’t happy with the end result. Before I jumped on TikTok I froze in front of the camera. I wasn’t a fan of public speaking, either. Sure, I could hold my own at a book event, but I still trembled inside.

#BookTok helped me overcome that heart-stopping fear. And tomorrow, I fly out to film three episodes of a true crime series for TV (UPDATE: They’ve aired. Check out A Time to Kill, Season 6, on Investigation Discovery). Guess how the producers found me? Initially through my website — I still say authors need a home base — but they got a feel of my personality through my TikToks (videos). I can’t say that sealed the deal — they also read my books — but it definitely helped.


Download the app and setup an account. I started with a business account, but that was a mistake. Personal accounts get more views. Be sure to use your author name. If you use more than one pen name, then either create an account for each or umbrella them all under your real name. Choice is yours.

All you’ll be doing at first is lurking. Let me warn you. TikTok may seem overwhelming at first. You can spend hours watching talking dog videos, cooking videos, and any other passion you may have. Here’s the thing. The more content you watch that’s not book related the more you’ll confuse the algorithm. Learned that lesson the hard way.

Once you gain a thousand followers, the link in your bio becomes clickable. Still include one, though. People know to copy/paste a dead link. I use LinkTree. Back in 2016, LinkTree solved social media’s most annoying problem — only allowing one link in bios. Now, all your social media, newsletter sign-up page, website, blog(s), books, giveaways, etc. can be housed under one LinkTree link. And it’s free!


TikTok’s secret algorithm far exceeds all its competitors. When a new user signs up, it throws all kinds of videos at you, then watches and learns which ones you react to or re-watch. If you stop at every talking dog, the algorithm will flood your For You Page (timeline) with more talking animals. The longer you watch, the more it thinks that’s what you want. I can’t resist anything animal related. Hence why it took me a while to train the algorithm to gain more #BookTok followers.

Some authors advise to create two accounts. One to watch animals or whatever. The second for book related content. Alas, I use one account for everything, but I’m cognizant of the type of videos I watch. The algorithm has figured out that I love books and animals. Since I include animals in my books, I feel it’s related.

Pay close attention to authors in your genre.

  • What type of content do they create?
  • Do their videos get a lot of interaction?
  • Do they post only book content?
  • What other type of content do they post?
  • How does their audience react?


Once you get comfortable with the app, you’ll feel the urge to jump in. Resist that urge for another week. I did nothing but lurk for a solid month. By the time I created my first TikTok *cringe* I felt I knew the rhythm of #BookTok. I didn’t. And neither will you. But that’s okay. The only way to learn the ins and out of #BookTok is to jump in headfirst.

Then why did you tell us to lurk first?

Because you’ll be ahead of the game if you do. All that knowledge you’ve acquired will benefit you when you’re ready. Think about this… You’re in #BookTok and stumble across a how-to video. If you don’t know what they’re talking about, you’ve wasted valuable information. For example, Trending Sounds or “how to invert” the title on your cover so it’s not a mirrored image.


A Trending Sound could be a fragment of music or a voiceover that helps you connect with an audience. All of TikTok uses Trends. You’ve probably seen the dance videos that everyone copies. Well, #BookTok has their own Trends and Trending Sounds.

2024 UPDATE: TikTok also owns CapCut, a video software app. If you use a trending CapCut, you’ll get more views. This video sold 100 books in one day. Why? Because I used a trending CapCut. When’s the last time one of your Facebook or Twitter posts sold that many books in a day? A video, I might add, that took me less than one minute to create.

It’s fantastic exposure. TikTok content lives forever. Unlike other social media sites, the algorithm constantly pushes old TikToks to new people.

Early on, I created a video of calling “my” murder of crows for breakfast. I showed the empty trees, me calling for Poe (the alpha), and the crows flying in moments later. That one video has over 5K views and climbing (2024 UPDATE: 31K views and climbing). It relates to my books because in my Mayhem Series, my antihero has three wild crow companions (Poe, Allan, and Edgar).


Duets are when you, well, duet someone else’s video. Here’s an example of me duetting a cop’s video.

It works for my audience because I’m a crime writer. Romance writers duet male models, and their audience goes crazy. Paranormal writers might duet a medium or ghost hunter. If you write cozy mysteries in a library setting, duet a librarian. Write about vampires? No problem. Duet a vampire (yes, they’re on TikTok). Serial killer thriller author? Duet videos about serial killers. Think outside the box.


Are your books geared toward an older audience? Use the #GenX hashtag along with a genre hashtag. Are you targeting millennials? Use #GenY. Knowing who your audience is the key to finding potential readers. Niche down from there.

Some authors say never to follow other authors, but that’s a mistake. Writers are your people, your tribe. We learn from each other. We help boost each other’s views. #BookTok wouldn’t be nearly as fun without other writers. And we read, too!


We also start our own Trends, and they’re hilarious. Last week, a writer friend used the videotape filter. I’d need a whole other post to discuss filters. Suffice it to say, the TikTok looks like you’re being videotaped by someone else. In this case, the police were searching for a missing person: Grammarly. She was Suspect #1. In her video, she named me and a slew of other mystery/thriller authors as possible suspects, and we all created videos of being interrogated by the cops. Mystery & thriller readers loved it! We all gained new followers and sold books from that one idea.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the genius behind #BookTok. It’s marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing. Some savvy authors sell between 200-600 books per week from #BookTok alone. Still think it’s a waste of time?


I’m not sayin’ it’s easy to get started. Finding your groove takes time. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll find your audience much faster than any other social media site. If you’ve never watched a video review of one of your books, you’re missing out on something special. It’s humbling to witness the reaction of a reader who just closed the cover, tears still in her eyes while she gushes about how much she loved your characters or the story, and how she felt while reading.

Duet every review.

Authors can either “blind react” to a review or prepare themselves first, both done via the Duet feature, helping the review reach more and more readers. After watching a particularly emotional review of I AM MAYHEM, my son said to me, “Imagine how many other readers you’ve touched in the same way?” He’s right. Before #BookTok, authors never had the pleasure of witnessing immediate reactions from readers. Now we do.

Have you considered joining TikTok? Has this post inspired you to see if you’d be happy there? What are your biggest concerns?

Surprise in Fiction: Trent’s Last Case

Surprise – noun — a completely unexpected occurrence, appearance, or statement.

* * *

Unsurprisingly, there’s been some research done on the science of surprise. I read this summary on Melissa Hughes’s blog.

There is science in surprise. Neuroscientists have discovered that surprise is one of the most powerful human emotions. As it turns out, the brain’s pleasure center (or the nucleus accumbens) lights up like a Christmas tree when you experience something that you didn’t expect. Not only do you get a nice boost of dopamine, the brain releases noradrenaline – the neurotransmitter responsible for focus and concentration. Think of it as the reset button for the brain. It actually stops all of the other brain activity to let you find meaning in the surprise.

An article on highlights the work of neuroscientists Dr. Gregory Berns and Dr. Read Montague who ran experiments that used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure changes in human brain activity in response to a sequence of pleasurable stimuli, in this case, fruit juice and water.

“Until recently, scientists assumed that the neural reward pathways, which act as high-speed Internet connections to the pleasure centers of the brain, responded to what people like,” said Montague.

“However, when we tested this idea in brain scanning experiments, we found the reward pathways responded much more strongly to the unexpectedness of stimuli instead of their pleasurable effects.”


Given this data, maybe we authors should look closely at the element of surprise in our works. If we can cause the reader’s brain to suddenly experience a pleasurable shot of dopamine, we will have captured their attention and their loyalty.

* * *

“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.” — Julia Cameron

* * *

When we read a mystery novel, we expect to be surprised. All those twists and turns are designed to keep our attention. When the shy, gentle woman suddenly pulls a gun out of her purse, or the disconnected nerd leaps into the line of fire to save a stranger, we love it.

According to an essay on,

The importance of surprising your readers should never be forgotten by any aspiring writer. In fact, it should always be considered a vital part of a storyteller’s toolkit. By seeking to confound your audience with plot twists, subverting the reader’s expectations with ‘the element of surprise’ can often allow you to heighten dramatic tension in your story, add suspense, or introduce humour.

Mystery readers, though, are a fairly sophisticated bunch. Most dedicated mystery readers have a sense of the story. We’re accustomed to surprises in the form of strange clues and red herrings to distract us from figuring out who the real culprit is. Complex twists and turns are part of a good mystery, but readers know that no matter what surprises or unusual events are thrown at the amateur sleuth, she will eventually solve the mystery and save the day.

However, I read a book recently that took a couple of turns I didn’t expect. (Note: spoilers in the paragraphs below.)

* * *

Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley was published in 1913 and is widely respected as one of the first, if not the first, modern detective novel. Agatha Christie called it, “One of the best detective stories ever written.” It was dedicated to Bentley’s friend G.K. Chesterton who encouraged him to write it and, maybe unsurprisingly, called it, “The finest detective story of modern times.”

The story begins when the body of a very unlikeable financial magnate, Sigsbee Manderson, is found by one of his servants, and there is concern that his death might shake up the financial markets  When the editor of an influential newspaper hears of the probable murder, he calls on the charismatic Philip Trent, an artist who is also a freelance reporter and amateur sleuth, to help solve the case. Highly respected by the police authorities, Trent seems to have the intellectual acuity of Sherlock Holmes since we’re told nothing can escape his astute powers of observation. (It turns out this is an intended comparison.)

There are the usual suspects in the case: the beautiful widow, the unhappy uncle, and various others who had reasons to do away with the unpleasant Mr. Manderson. And there is an abundance of strange clues to keep the reader busy trying to put the puzzle together. Not to worry, though. Trent puts his considerable analytical skills to work and comes up with a brilliant theory that satisfies all the clues. The only problem is that he has fallen in love with Manderson’s widow, and he believes she was having an affair with one of her husband’s employees who subsequently murdered Manderson.

Trent writes his dispatch to the newspaper editor but doesn’t send it. Unwilling to implicate the woman he loves, he gives the dispatch to the widow, leaves the site of the crime, and accepts a freelance reporting assignment in another country..

Surprise #1: Trent’s solution to the mystery comes just a little after the midpoint in the book. That threw me since I’m accustomed to the reveal coming in the last chapter. I read on, curious to see how the author would continue the story. Will the widow turn out to be a scheming murderer who hunts down Trent and kills him? Will she and her lover taunt Trent with his unwillingness to accuse them?

Several chapters later, we discover:

Surprise #2: The widow wasn’t involved. Trent was wrong.

Very clever, Mr. Bentley. You led me down the garden path, convinced that Trent could not make a mistake because he was modeled on the extraordinary Sherlock Holmes.

It turns out E.C. Bentley was not a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and he intended Trent’s Last Case to show the amateur sleuth as a fallible human, not a flawless reasoning superhero. But I didn’t know that when I began reading the book, and my expectations set me up for a few surprising plot twists.

There are a couple of other surprises in the book, but I won’t reveal them here in case anyone wants to read the story. Even though Bentley employs an early 20th-century style of writing that is no longer popular, the story is enjoyable and stands the test of time.

* * *

“I love surprises! That’s what is great about reading. When you open a book, you never know what you’ll find.” –Jerry Spinelli

* * *

An interesting postscript: I uploaded this post to the TKZ site last week. Over the weekend, my husband and I had lunch with a fellow author who was telling us about a book he recently read: Fade Away by Harlan Coben. Although I hadn’t said anything about my TKZ post, our well-read friend said the thing he loved about the book was that it held many surprises. So there you have it. The proof is in the pudding.

So TKZers: Have you read Trent’s Last Case? What books have you read that took you by surprise? How do you include elements of surprise in your books?

* * *

Private pilot Cassie Deakin is in for a string of surprises when she lands in the middle of a murder mystery. Even Fiddlesticks the cat takes on a new persona that’s shocking.

Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, or Apple Books.


How To Write a Dance Scene

I was eavesdropping on Quora again and stumbled across a thread about how to write a dance scene. Because I included a sensual dance in the WIP, the question piqued my interest. I’ve written dance scenes before, but my characters spent most of their time spying on bad guys. Nothing like the scene I wrote in the WIP (which also ties into the plot).

The writers who responded on Quora had such great advice, I had to share.

Each answer attributed to the writer, of course.

Original question: How can you describe a dance in writing?

Emma Thomas, Novelist wrote:

Here’s two examples of how not to do it.

She stepped onto the floor and awed them all with her dancing.

Under-descriptive. Dancing is such a physical and emotional movement that you have to balance those two in your writing and neither happened here (Sue: She means in the above example).

She gazed across the lacquered wooden tiles and, with a sudden burst of courage that she hadn’t known she’d possessed, stepped onto the dance floor. As the thrumming rhythm of classical music whispered into her ears, she began to dance.

Sliding her right foot back and the other one forward, she dropped low so that her dress brushed the ground, then sprang back up again, so quickly that she got whiplash. She threw her arms out and waved them from side to side, perfectly in tune with the beat, before jumping into the air. Her dress spun around her and for a moment it felt like she was flying … then the ground was beneath her again.

That hurt as much to write as it did to read. I shouldn’t be telling the reader each one of the movements that our dancer makes, unless I want an incredibly monotonous one-hundred page instruction manual on how to jump up and down and fling your hands in the air, like what the MC is doing here. Did you catch that? Possibly not; it sounded like it had taken an hour for her to dance when it was really just a split-second.

When you write about someone dancing, make sure that it’s obvious. It’s okay to say the word “dance.” Not everything has to be a ten-page description — but not everything can be a one-word summary, either. Tie in enough of the surroundings to establish a mood and a sense of place. Lastly, make sure that the dance conveys what you want it to — if it’s careless, make it sound careless. If it’s more meaningful, make it sound like that.

Let’s try this again.

She was dancing. Arms flailing in the sky above her, she whirled around and whooped her happiness into the sweat-stained air. Foot forward. Back. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d done this — why had she ever stopped? A hand grabbed hers and she was swung backward, dipped low, then soaring into the air, the flashing colors momentarily blinding her … she touched ground again and skidded to a smiling, breathless halt.

That’s a rough paragraph but it conveys what it needs to. It established a sense of place, action, and a connection with the dancer. Not under-descriptive or over-descriptive, just effective.

Aaaand that’s it. Hope it helped.

Shreya Pandey wrote:

Do not describe each and every dance step in detail. It’ll get complex and it’ll sound very mechanical. Describe one step, then follow it up by describing how a character felt while they did it. Do they feel dizzy? Happy? Feel an adrenaline rush? Feel scared?

Describe what they see. Does the room start to spin? Do they see the audience looking at them in awe? Describe the way their body moves. Is it effortless? Are they having trouble remembering the steps? Is any part of their body sore?

Describe the atmosphere. Are they dancing at a party? What kind of music is playing in [t]he background? What kind of beats does it have? Can they fee the bass thumping through their body? Is it a popular song? How many people are there? Are they dancing in a crowd, or alone on a stage? What are they wearing?

Give meaning to the dance. It must be significant if you are introducing it in your text. Why is it significant? Is it about how liberated, happy and care free the character feels when they dance? Is it an intimate dance sequence the character shares with someone they love? Does the dance bring back memories? Is it demonstrating their hard work? Is it something they are doing to lose some steam? Do they have a purpose behind it?

The dance scene is always more than just the movement of the character’s body. It is significant to the plot in some way. You need to subtly highlight that significance. At most, if it isn’t anything serious, it can be used to manipulate the reader’s senses. Make them feel, hear, touch, smell, move, see, etc. Transport them. Make them feel as if they are dancing, or as if they are the audience and they are watching someone dance from up close. Writing the perfect atmosphere perfectly is the key.

And my favorite answer…

James Sams, Writer/Editor wrote:

I’d like to caution you against “over describing”. Books are not movies. We can see every step of the Tango in a movie, but no one wants to read what every step is. If you write things like…

“He moved his left foot backward in a smooth motion, sliding across the slick floor. She slid her right foot forward, chasing his retreating foot with hers, like a fox on the hunt. Dipping forward and looking into her eyes, his fingers tightened on her ribs as his left foot came forward again, surprising her foot and chasing it back. They stopped, toe to toe, and he pulled her hips in close to his.

Threatening to brush his lips against hers, he looked to the left, and then to the right. She mimicked him, turning her head opposite. To the right, then to the left.

He pushed her away as though she were too terrible, yet to[o] wonderful, to be near, yet he held on to her left hand with his right, catching her as their arms pulled taut and spinning her out and away. Then he reeled her back in, unable to give her up.

She fell into him, his strong arms wrapping her tight, protecting her before casting her out again.”

… you can get away with it for a paragraph, maybe two. Even with the nice similes and small details, it will soon become agony for a reader to get through. You have become a puppet master, forcing the reader to imagine each foot, each hand, each head motion exactly the way you want it to be. Readers don’t like that. They like to use their imaginations. They want you to give them a coloring book outline and then hint at what colors they should use when they color it in with their imagination.

To give them those subtle colors, only give sweeping descriptions, and add in the senses. Put in the emotions, even if they are only faux representative ones [that] describe the types of movement.

The best thing you can do with a dance, is keep it short, at least in your description. Focus on the characters’ feelings, fears, hopes and thoughts, and then come back for another quick description. If you took the dance I wrote above and stretched it out for the full dance, describing every move in detail, I guarantee even an editor will begin skipping over it as they read. Even if you don’t give every little dance step, it will be too long and people will just let their eyes slide over it, looking for the place you stop describing and get back to the story.

Don’t be afraid to use a dance, just remember, readers are reading for the characters and their thoughts, feelings, and stories. The descriptions, backgrounds, clothes, etc. need to always take a back seat.

I hope that helped.

What do you think, TKZers? Have you written a dance scene? If so, did you follow these guidelines? Any other tips to share?