Tip ~ INKAS ~ #1.1

I’d like to expand upon my first INKAS post.

There are, roughly, twenty INKAS our group created. Over time, I will try to cover all of them, sharing with you what our students discovered.

Since I was working with writers in grades 3 through 8, the explanations I’ll use have been directed at kids. But, the advice still applies, and I count on you to ‘upgrade’ the tip to your own level.




Our INKAS were divided into groups. The first group consisted of stories we classified as ‘Words that Tell’; words that tell a story. This group of INKAS includes Short Story, Children’s Story, and Children’s Story with Illustrations. (I’ll elaborate on the Children’s Story categories in the future.)

We all pretty much know what a short story looks like, but the INKA will help you remember what a reader expects to find in one.

Remember the best story you ever read? Think about why you liked it. It probably had dialogue, or conversation. It’s much more interesting to ‘hear’ the characters speaking for themselves than to read about that they said. Many exciting stories start out with dialogue. What would you write for a story that started out with this line?

“Hey! Stop!”

A story will usually have action, and description, too, to let the reader know what people and places look like.

It may sound funny, but a writer needs to make sure their story has a strong beginning, a sturdy middle, and a definite ending. Some new writers lose steam after starting out, and they simply stop writing.  A good story has something definite to say, and it stops only when it has said it.

What else makes a good story? What helps it capture your imagination and keeps you reading? One answer: when you can care about the characters. And a reader only will care about the characters if the writer cares about them first.

Whatever happens in your story, whether it is full of action or full of internal thoughts and reflection, the characters should grow and change; something should happen in their lives that is important to them.

Finally, whenever you write, write what is  in your heart. Write about something that you care about. Write with passion ! You will enjoy the writing more. You will stay engaged with the story, and you will keep your reader engaged, too.



Tip ~ INKAS~ #1

INKAS ?   What are INKAS?

INKAS are a tool I created while working with a school writing club. We discussed what makes up a good story (or poem, or essay, etc), and then jotted down our thoughts.

We came up with INKAS for the 20 categories of writing we studied. Each INKA lists the characteristics of the type of writing named on the box.  The image illustrates the definition of INKAS.




A recent discussion at our writing group showed me that some new writers don’t know (and some experienced writers lose sight of) the basic characteristics of the kinds of writing we do. So I have resurrected INKAS to help with that understanding. We begin with Short Story.

Short Story   –  typical length: 1500 words

  1. Has a complete beginning, middle, and end; is long enough to tell the whole story

May be aimed at any age

  1. May be based on truth, but is usually made up

May have dialogue in it (use proper quotations marks and paragraphing)

  1. Uses description and active words (verbs); remember the 5 senses


and a short story

… tells the reader about something

…has events that are important to the main character and that make the reader care.

…is written economically; every word counts


3 Basic Rules for Starting New Paragraphs

Okay, so you want to write – a book, a story, an essay – whatever you want to write. But you have ZERO experience.  

You know pages have words on them, and they seem to be broken up into patterns called paragraphs, but how do you know when to do that? Here are the beginning rules. Use them to get started writing your work the way it should be written.


  1.  Begin a new paragraph whenever you change speaker.

This means, in dialogue, one person says something, then another one says something.

Each time this happens, each time the speaker changes, they get a new paragraph all to themselves, and their spoken words are contained in quote marks (BONUS tip there)


  1. Begin a new paragraph whenever you change topic.

You begin your essay by describing the outside of your house. Then you want to move on to describing the inside of it. Make a new paragraph for the inside description. When you want to describe what the back yard looks like, that is another new paragraph.


  1. Begin a new paragraph when it feels like one is needed.

This can be for a pause, a change of direction in the action, or just to change theme or thought, much like a change of topic.

You may have spent some time describing how you felt when the ambulance arrived. Then the EMT has you move into the ambulance, and you need to describe how you felt – maybe more physically than emotionally -, and what the inside of the ambulance looked like.

The arrival is one paragraph, the move into the ambulance is a second, and the description of the interior is a third.


Most of all, watch for these things in your reading. As you identify them in what you read, it will be easier for you to remember to use them in your writing.

It’s been a busy month at home….

WritersWorkWe had some repair, we had a party, we had some social activism…. and we had some writing. Just nothing terribly visible at the moment. Ie, it ain’t done yet.

Ever have that feeling you’ve fenced yourself in so well with activities that you either can’t get to your desk to write, or you can’t get away from your desk to take care of other parts of your life? I know so  many writers with this problem or variants, I’ve lost track of their numbers the way people lose track of how many times they go to the grocery store. It’s part of the game, and the solution is balance.

Of  course, everyone is asking how you balance your life these days. We are all so overworked, over-scheduled, and overdone with it all.

The best thing I can recommend are: LISTS. I am a great lister. In fact, my kids have told me more than once that their most common memory of me is at the kitchen table (or at my desk or at the steering  wheel of my van) writing down or consulting a list. Things to do, things to buy, things to make, appointments to keep, stuff to fix. All the different lists of things and tasks that make up our lives. Christmas lists. Halloween & dance costume lists.

And then there were the lists for writing. Projects to work on, people to call, revisions to do, plot points, characters, settings, timelines (not a true list, but I often list scenes or plot points to get them in order). You get the picture.

What did I do with the lists? you ask. How did they help?

Well, some didn’t. Some became nags as days went by before I could complete the items on the list. Some, embarrassingly, I find years later stuffed in a tote bag or box, still unfinished and crying out at me for abandoning them. Some deserved to be abandoned. Others are proudly marked with checkmarks, cross-outs, and revisions and additions. Beautiful working lists that helped solve my problems and put order to my universe,

Now, I have found that I have to be careful of lists. If I don’t intentionally and purposefully keep them at hand to checkmark off what I accomplish, I am more likely to forget about them as well as everything I’ve put on them. Because sometimes, putting an item on a list convinces my mind that I took care of it.

Sometimes I think the beauty of the list is in the writing. By putting things down where I can see them, I eventually detect patterns and priorities and can order things by criteria that make sense to me. It’s a  matter of using a manual tool to assist a largely mental process.

So, it works or it does not work, but it’s my way of calming the whirlwinds and taming the chaos. Although, I’ve always felt a touch of chaos is a good thing.

What’s your favorite way of trying to organize?



In ‘A Return to Show, Don’t Tell‘ I shared information about a useful tool called the Emotion Thesaurus.

There is a now a coterie of such thesauri, practically establishing its own genre. If writing is what you do, you might want to check these out.


The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Psychological TraumaThe Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Attributes (Writers Helping Writers)


The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Personal and Natural PlacesThe Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws


Having just completed a triple review of my REMAINDER manuscript, I wanted to share a tip with you all.

When you can’t think of anything else to check your book for in terms of grammar, punctuation, word choice, structure, etc, do one thing more.

Read with an ear toward flow. Anything that interrupts the flow of your reading or pulls you out of the story whether by distracting you with a fancy word or ruining your suspended disbelief, must go.

It can be deleted, it can be replaced, it can simply be reworded, but it has to go. You want your story to flow so smoothly that all your reader complains is that he can’t get anything done because he can’t put it down.


Image result for cargo net traps

Remember, without sounding too sinister, you want to ensnare your readers in your world so that they will never want to leave.

A Return to Show, Don’t Tell

Now…. let me see…. where were we?

(sound of foot tapping – or is it a pencil?) You were going to explain about how you show, don’t tell your story.

I was?

Oh for heaven’s sake, will you get on with I? I’ve been waiting weeks!

Not possible. It’s  only been days since I posted the first part. You can re-read it if you want.

(grumble) I suppose it hasn’t been that long, but you sort of left us hanging, you know.

Well, I hope you got some writing done while you were waiting.

No, I was waiting to see what you had to say.

Ohh! Well, as flattering as that is, you should have used your time to get something done on your writing project. You can’t depend on me – or others – for whether or not you write. But that’s another topic. About showing your reader, I think I said, you need to get out —

Out of the reader’s eye.

Close. You have to get out of the reader’s way. And we do that through the use of active verbs, dialogue, good word choice and being in the moment of the story.

For instance, my son (continuing our discussion of  Altered Carbon*) said they introduced new technology in the story, a communications device called an ‘ONI’  that worked with an attachment on the back of  the hand (for sound) and some way of seeing the image displayed directly on the eyeball. They could – even on video but definitely in print – have had the character stop to recall the invention, who invented it, how the device was first used and received by the public, how popular it was, and how it gets implanted to some colleague or other. This would delay the story, and all to let the reader understand how clever the writer was to have made it up.

Image result for prideful


Well, that’s what we do, isn’t? All that information may let your reader know about technology  in the time of your  story, but it really serves to let you step in, thumbs behind the suspenders, chest puffed out in pride about your brilliant world-building. All you need is for your character to make what amounts to a phone call, probably to convey an essential fact to the investigator at the other end of the call, and do it in a way that is pertinent to the times. That alone reinforces what this world looks like, and the content discussed (done right) advances the story.

But you, the writer, need to set yourself down and get out of the way. The writers and actors and directors at Altered Carbon did this by showing, without commentary, the ONI being used as a communications device. Technological changes and additions are germane to the plot and premise of this show, but sharing them is accomplished far better by  demonstration over description. You don’t bore your reader. In fact, you draw them further into the story.

Okay, I get the idea. But how do you make it happen?

If I said it’s done with words, you’d make fun of me, but that is really it. Words selected with care, and with an eye to pace, energy, and exactitude. Precisely chosen words used with economy and without an excess of qualifiers tighten your writing and keep you invisible to the reader.

This is the very reason writers are told to avoid adverbs and passive structure. Read your manuscripts carefully and find ways to excise (okay, I know I’m on an ‘e’ roll) extra words. Especially words you use repeatedly. Delete ‘small’ for the more precise ‘tiny’, ‘minute’, ‘compact’, or ‘dainty’, each of whose meanings convey something more than mere size. Drop words such as ‘very’ or ‘just’, which only confer shades of emphasis; employ single words that don’t require modifiers. And be tough on your writing. You want it to be the best it can be.

All right, I can see that. Makes it a lot of work, though.

(stern voice) No one wants to turn in sloppy work that isn’t one’s best. The time and trouble is worth it.

Can you give us some more hints? You’ve talked about words. What about actions? You say that we should use actions to show things. How can actions show something like appearance – or emotions?

Granted description is a little tricky to do in terms of action. Unless, of course, you choose to drop in ‘black, curly hair tangled  by the wind as she loped across the field’, or some such. Emotions, actually are easier.


Emotions tend to cause us to move or talk or make faces. Specific actions can be associated with specific emotions. There’s a wonderful book out, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, called The Emotion Thesaurus, which categorizes emotions and the physical actions that accompany them. So, you can look up an emotion and see possibilities for how your character might behave.

Example (found on pages 48-49):

They define Depression as ‘extreme sadness and reduced vitality’ with Physical Signals (their term) of ‘staring down at one’s hands’ or having poor eating habits. Internal Sensations include a slow pulse or shallow breathing, and Mental Responses might include an inability to concentrate or ‘bleak observations about the world’.  It’s true these read a little like a list of symptoms, but can you ask for a better way to SHOW this emotion?


The next move is to come up with a way to use this. Maybe in conversation, your character can’t focus. Or he keeps complaining in dark ways with words out of proportion to the situation. Or, while staring at her hands at the dinner table, she only  picks at her food and then leaves the table. (ah, a 2-fer1 there!). These all make for greater entertainment than writing “Billie was depressed.” The pictures draw the reader into the story. The writer fades from view, and now the reader is part of that world. That is what you are striving for as a writer.

You’ve spent a lot of time creating the world of your story. You want your reader to enjoy their time there. And you want them to visit your world(s) again.

So keep showing. Don’t just tell.




*A word to the wise, Altered Carbon isn’t ‘just’ a TV show. It’s based on a book of the same name by Richard K. Morgan published in 2002 and awarded the Philip K. Dick Award in 2003. Might want to check out how  he did it.