so i just googled the phrase “toeing out of his shoes” to make sure it was an actual thing

and the results were:


it’s all fanfiction

which reminds me that i’ve only ever seen the phrase “carding fingers through his hair” and people describing things like “he’s tall, all lean muscle and long fingers,” like that formula of “they’re ____, all ___ and ____” or whatever in fic

idk i just find it interesting that there are certain phrases that just sort of evolve in fandom and become prevalent in fic bc everyone reads each other’s works and then writes their own and certain phrases stick

i wish i knew more about linguistics so i could actually talk about it in an intelligent manner, but yeah i thought that was kinda cool

Ha! Love it!

One of my fave authors from ages ago used the phrase “a little helplessly” (like “he reached his arms out, a little helplessly”) in EVERY fic she wrote. She never pointed it out—there just came a point where I noticed it like an Easter egg. So I literally *just* wrote it into my in-progress fic this weekend as an homage only I would notice. ❤

To me it’s still the quintessential “two dudes doing each other” phrase.

I think different fic communities develop different phrases too! You can (usually) date a mid 00s lj fic (or someone who came of age in that style) by the way questions are posed and answered in the narration, e.g. “And Patrick? Is not okay with this.” and by the way sex scenes are peppered with “and, yeah.” I remember one Frerard fic that did this so much that it became grating, but overall I loved the lj style because it sounded so much like how real people talk.

Another classic phrase: wondering how far down the _ goes. I’ve seen it mostly with freckles, but also with scars, tattoos, and on one memorable occasion, body glitter at a club. Often paired with the realization during sexy times that “yeah, the __ went all they way down.” I’ve seen this SO much in fic and never anywhere else

whoa, i remember reading lj fics with all of those phrases! i also remember a similar thing in teen wolf fics in particular – they often say “and derek was covered in dirt, which. fantastic.” like using “which” as a sentence-ender or at least like sprinkling it throughout the story in ways published books just don’t.


I love this. Though I don’t think of myself as fantastic writer, by any means, I know the way I write was shaped more by fanfiction and than actual novels. 

I think so much of it has to do with how fanfiction is written in a way that feels real. conversations carry in a way that doesn’t feel forced and is like actual interactions. Thoughts stop in the middle of sentences.

The coherency isn’t lost, it just marries itself to the reader in a different way. A way that shapes that reader/writer and I find that so beautiful. 


and it poses an intellectual question of whether the value we assign to fanfic conversational prose would translate at all to someone who reads predominantly contemporary literature. as writers who grew up on the internet find their way into publishing houses, what does this mean for the future of contemporary literature? how much bleed over will there be?

we’ve already seen this phenomenon begin with hot garbage like 50 shades, and the mainstream public took to its shitty overuse of conversational prose like it was a refreshing drink of water. what will this mean for more wide-reaching fiction?



I’m sure someone could start researching this even now, with writers like Rainbow Rowell and Naomi Novik who have roots in fandom. (If anyone does this project please tell me!) It would be interesting to compare, say, a corpus of a writer’s fanfic with their published fiction (and maybe with a body of their nonfiction, such as their tweets or emails), using the types of author-identification techniques that were used to determine that J.K. Rowling was Robert Galbraith.

One thing that we do know is that written English has gotten less formal over the past few centuries, and in particular that the word “the” has gotten much less frequent over time.

In an earlier discussion, Is French fanfic more like written or spoken French?, people mentioned that French fanfic is a bit more literary than one might expect (it generally uses the written-only tense called the passé simple, rather than the spoken-only tense called the passé composé). So it’s not clear to what extent the same would hold for English fic as well – is it just a couple phrases, like “toeing out of his shoes”? Are the google results influenced by the fact that most published books aren’t available in full text online? Or is there broader stuff going on? Sounds like a good thesis project for someone! 

See also: the gay fanfiction pronoun problem, ship names, and the rest of my fanguistics tag.

Interesting stuff about fanfiction language patterns!

One Month One Book – October: Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper – Daniel José Older (2015)

When I heard @danieljose reading from Shadowshaper during the first morning variety show of NerdCon: Stories this past weekend, in Minneapolis, Kevin MacLeod was providing live background music for this exhilarating scene of the book’s protagonist, Sierra Santiago, discovering some of the things she could do with her newfound ability to magically infuse her art with willing spirits, and it was GREAT. And I pretty much immediately ran to the Expo Hall and bought his book for my friend Moti, as a thank-you present for catsitting for me while I was away.

Of course I read it first.

Shadowshaper is incredibly fun and exciting and delightful and tense in all the right ways. It is full of smart, caring, fallible people who feel real, whether the stuff they’re dealing with is familiar (body image, crushes, owning your heritage) or unfamiliar (necromancy, animated murals, etc). The world Older builds is a riot of colour and movement and heart, rooted in contemporary Brooklyn and rooted deeper in the many traditions carried by the borough’s diverse inhabitants. The whole thing is shot through with magic that feels old, magic that feels vibrant and as incredibly full of life as the shadows that inhabit the corners of the world (”The dead were so alive! They carried their whole lives with them in those tall, walking shadows, brought each second, each thrill and tragedy with them wherever they went.”). There’s so much energy there that reading Shadowshaper feels like plunging into it, like being buoyed up by the same timeless force of life and love that surrounds the characters in the book’s most spiritual moments.

Also Sierra is a freaking badass and I love her. 

She’s a badass like anybody would actually want to be a badass, like I would want to be a badass. She’s braver than she is careful, but she’s also got some pretty solid common sense, and is aided by a group of friends who refreshingly avoid the genre tropes of miscommunication and making dumb decisions. She carries this great power and loves it; even when it frightens and confuses her, she embraces it and what it means, and uses it to help others without feeling weighed down by the responsibility it brings. She has playful, positive relationships with most of the people around her, and even when she gets into disagreements with her family, the mutual care and respect there is always evident. It’s really really hard not to want to be Sierra Santiago. And I haven’t even mentioned the cute boy.

Older’s characters might make mistakes, and they might have disagreements, but I love how most of them actually want to do the right thing, and are often willing to listen to others to help them get there.There are moments where it might feel a little too neat, a little too ideal – Sierra’s judgment calls are almost always correct, and her friends believe and support her even when she comes at them with really unlikely supernatural shit and death-defying plans. But it’s still really refreshing to read about a bunch of caring and sensible teenagers, when the opposite is so overrepresented in fiction.

I’m going to finish off with a quick mention of the writing itself – it’s fantastic. Sierra’s voice is clear and honest, and the book gallops forward in a fluid idiom that draws me seamlessly into the life of this young Afro-Latina woman and her passion for art and her Bed-Stuy neighbourhood. I’m really excited that this was the first book I chose for my “read a book a month” project, because hell, if somehow I don’t end up feeling inspired to read any other things later, I can always devour the rest of Daniel José Older’s excellent stuff. 



Before you say, Write your own! – let me tell you that we do. But this page is a resource for writers, so we thought writers might want to know what kinds of representation would make us more likely to get excited about your book. We don’t speak for everyone in our demographic, just ourselves, but we hope this post gives you some cool writing ideas.

Note: This is additional info writers can keep in mind
when writing characters of those backgrounds. We believe it’s a good
thing to ask the people you’re including what they’d like to see.

hearing from misrepresented and underrepresented people and asking us
what we’d like to see of ourselves is much better than unthinkingly tossing
characters into tired tropes or reinforcing stereotypes that do us harm.

Colette (Black): More Black people doing shit! Going on adventures, riding dragons, being magical! More Black characters in prominent roles in fantasy + sci-fi and historical settings and not always and only as slavess. These stories are important, but they’re NOT our only stories. We were kings and queens too. Let us wear the fancy dresses for a change instead of the chains, damn it!

More Black girls being portrayed as lovely and treasured and worth protecting. More Black girls finding love. More Black girls in general who aren’t relegated to arc-less, cliche “Sassy best friends” and “strong black women.”

More positive, dynamic roles of Black men (fathers, brothers, boys…) More positive, dynamic family roles of Black families as a whole, families that are loving and supportive and there. More Black people from all socioeconomic classes. More Black characters that don’t rely on the stereotypes that the media is currently going full force to reinforce.

Yasmin (Arab, Turkish): More Arabs who aren’t token characters. I want to see Arabs normalised in literature. Arab teenagers in high school, Arab young adults behind on their taxes, Arab dads who cook amazing food, Arab moms who refuse to soften their tongue for others. Arabs who aren’t mystical fantasy creatures from another planet. Arabs in YAs and in dramas and nonfiction and comedies and children’s books. We are human just like everyone else, and I’d like to see that reflected in literature. Often we are boxed into very specific genres of literature and made to feel ostracised from the rest. Let’s see some change!

Alice (Black, biracial): I’m hoping for more Black and biracial (mixed with Black) leading characters in all genres, but mainly in SF/F who fall outside of the stereotypes. Characters I can relate to who love, cry and fight for their ideals and dreams. It would be great if their race would play an active role in their identities (I don’t mean plot-related). Some intersectionality with sexuality and disability is also sorely missed, without it becoming a tragedy or it being seen as a character flaw. More mixed race characters who aren’t mixed with some kind of monster, fictional race or different species. Dystopias about problems usually faced by poc having actual poc protags, without all the racial ambiguity which always gets whitewashed. 

Shira (Jewish): More Jewish characters who feel positively about their Judaism and don’t carry it around as a burden or embarrassment. While the latter is definitely a real part of our experience due to anti-Semitism and all we’ve been through as a people, the fact that it overrepresents us in fiction is also due to anti-Semitism, even internalized. (Basically, Jews who don’t hate Judaism!)

More brave, heroic characters who are openly Jewish instead of being inspired by the Jewish experience and created by Jews (like Superman) or played by Jews (Captain Kirk) but still not actually Jewish. I’m tired of always being Tolkien’s Dwarves; I’d like a chance to play Bard, Bilbo, or even Gandalf’s role in that kind of story.

Elaney (Mexican): While we’re discussing what sort of representation we’d like to see, I am using the word “latinista” and I want to quickly address that since you may have not seen it before: “-ista” is a genderless suffix denoting someone is from an area (“Nortista”, a northerner), or who practices a belief (“Calvinista”, a calvinist), or a professsion (you’ve heard ‘barista’).  I find it more intuitively pronounceable than “latinx” and also more friendly to Spanish, French, and Portugueze pronunciation (and thus more appropriate), personally, so I invite you to consider it as an alternative.  If you don’t like it, well, at least I showed you.

1. I want legal Latinista immigrants. The darker your skin is down here, the more likely you are to be assumed to be illegal by your peers, and I want media to dilute this assumption so many have of us.

2. I want Latinistas who are well educated, not just smart, and I mean formally educated, with college degrees, professional skillsets, and trained expertise.  Being in fields which do not require a formal degree is no less legitimate of a lifestyle than being in a field which requires a PhD, but I want you to consider when casting your Latinista character that We, as a people, are assumed to be little more than the drop-out and the janitor by our peers, and People Of Color in scientific fields are mistaken as assistant staff rather than the scientists that they are.  I want media to dilute this assumption.  

3. I want Latnistas who are not marketed as “Latin American” but as their actual country of origin, because “Latin America” is a conglomerate of individual entities with their own, distinct cultures and if you are, for example, Cuban, then Mexican characters may appeal to you but they don’t have the same relatability as fellow Cuban characters. Wouldn’t you be a little more interested, too, to pick up a book that’s about a character who lives where you do rather than about a character who lives somewhere in general?

4. I want rich or well-to-do Latinistas.  Looking back, I notice that several of the character concepts that have been bounced off of us with regards to Latinista characters incorporate poverty despite an astronomical and diligent work ethic. I don’t think this is on purpose but I do think that it is internalized because so often the stereotype of us is poor and uneducated in a vicious cycle (uneducated because we’re poor, poor because we’re uneducated) and I think that there should be more media to dilute this.  

Lastly, I personally do not want these tropes to be explored and subverted by people, I want them to be avoided entirely because I feel that normalizing positive representation rather than commenting on negative representation is far more beneficial and validating to the people these works are supposed to help and represent. We don’t need sympathy, we need empathy! 

Jess (Chinese, Taiwanese): Stories that don’t center around the identity of being Chinese-American. That doesn’t mean “erase any references to protag’s Chinese identity” but I’d definitely like stories that have us go on awesome adventures every now and then and don’t have the Chinese character being all “I AM CHINESE” from beginning to end.

Please round out the Chinese migrant parents instead of keeping them as strict and/or traditional. PLEASE. I could go into how my parents and the Chinese aunties and uncles here are so awesome, seriously, and we need more older Chinese migrant characters who are awesome and supportive and just people. Also! EAST ASIAN GIRLS WHO AREN’T SKINNY AND/OR PETITE. Please. PLEEEEEASE. And more stories about Taiwanese and Chinese folks who aren’t in bicoastal regions (the Midwest, the Plains, etc.) WE EXIST.

More Chinese-Americans who aren’t necessarily Christian. Maybe it’s because of the books I’ve wound up reading, but there seems to be this narrative of Chinese migrants joining churches and converting when they’re in the US. This doesn’t mean I want less Chinese-American Christians in fiction, mind: I’d also just like to see more Chinese families in the US who are Buddhist or who still keep up with the traditions they learned from their homelands, like me, without having it considered in the narrative as ~old fashioned~ or ~ancient~ or ~mystical~. Tangentially, when writing non-Christian Chinese families, I’d rather people keep the assumption of Communism being the underlying reason why far, far away. I have been asked in the past if Communism was why my family didn’t go to church, and needless to say, it’s really, really offensive. 

Stella (Korean): I’d love to see more Korean (and Asian-American) characters that don’t perpetuate the super-overachieving, stressed-out, only-cares-about-succeeding Asian stereotype. These Koreans exist (I would know; I went to school with quite a few of them) but they don’t represent all of us. I want to see more Korean characters solving mysteries, saving the world and having fun. More Koreans that aren’t pale, petite, and a size 2. Not all of us have perfect skin or straight black hair or monolids. And some of us love our short legs, round faces and small eyes!

And fewer stoic&strict Korean parents, please. So many of us grew up with loud, wacky, so-embarrassing-but-endearing parents!  

Recently, there’s been quite a few novels with Korean American female protags (particularly in the YA section) that deal with being in high school, dealing with strict parents, getting into college, and boys. Lots of boys! I think it’s awesome that there are more books with KA protags, and I’m so so so glad they’re out there. But I also recognize that those are definitely not the kind of books I would have read as a teenager, and it’s not the kind of book I want to read now. I want to see more Korean characters that are queer, trans, ace, bisexual. More Korean characters that are disabled or autistic or have mental illnesses. More Korean characters in fantasy, SFF, mystery! Heck, space operas and steampunk Westerns. I want it all! :DDDD

A lot of Korean-Americans struggle with their identity. It’s hard to balance things sometimes! But I’d love to see more stories that *aren’t* overtly about Korean-Americans dealing with their racial identity or sexual orientation, but stories about Koreans saving princesses and slaying trolls and commandeering spaceships. I want a plot that doesn’t center on Korean-American identity, but on a Korean-American character discovering themselves. White characters get to do it all the time; I want Korean characters to have a turn. 

And honestly, I just want to see more Asians in media, period. South Asians, Southeast Asians, Central Asians! Thai, Hmong, Tibetan, Filipino, Vietnamese characters. Indian characters! There’s so much diversity in Asia and among Asian diaspora. I want us to be more than just ~~mystical~~ characters with ancient wisdom and a generic Asian accent. We’ve got boundless oceans of stories within ourselves and our communities, and I can’t wait for them to be told.

I would also love to see more multiethnic Asian characters that are *not* half white. It seems to be the default mixed-race Asian character: East Asian and white. But so many of my friends have multiethnic backgrounds like Chinese/Persian, Thai/Chinese or Korean/Mexican. I have Korean friends who grew up in places like Brazil, Singapore and Russia. Did you know that the country with the largest population of Koreans (outside of Korea) is actually China? 

And while I’m at it, I’d love to see more well-translated works from Asia in the US. Like, how awesome would it be to have more science fiction, fantasy, and historical novels from Asia that are easily accessible in English? SUPER awesome!!

Kaye (Muslim): I am so hungry for Muslim representation, because there is so little of it. You can see one or two (YA) titles I currently think or have heard are good representation on the shelves – notably, Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars – on an AMA I did the other day for /r/YAwriters.

However, I’d just love to see stories where Muslim characters go on adventures like everyone else!

I’ve been saying recently that I’d LOVE to see a cozy mystery. Or a series of Muslim historical romances a la Georgette Heyer (there are a LOT of Muslim girls who love romances, and I’m just starting to get into the genre myself!). I’d love to see Muslim middle grade readers get girls who find secret passages, solve mysteries, tumble through the neighborhood with their dozen or so cousins.

I have a lot of cousins and thus I always have a soft spot for cousins. And siblings.

I’m looking forward to Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham because Jen is writing Scarlett as a detective a la Veronica Mars. And she’s Somali-American. How cool is that?!

Let’s see some classic road trip YA with Muslims. Let’s see comedies with quirky characters – for instance, I know one or two tween Muslim girls who are driving their moms MAD by suddenly turning vegetarian and refusing to touch the celebratory biryani at family Eid parties, who join relevant societies at their schools and start preaching to their extended families about the benefits of going vegetarian and all the funny little interactions that are involved with that. Let’s have a story with some wise-cracking African American Muslim girls.

My cousin is a niqaabi who loves YA and hates that she doesn’t see herself in it. Let’s see some stories with teen niqaabis! Let’s explore the full, joyful spectrum of diversity in Islam. Let’s have stories where we talk about how one word in Bengali is totally different in another language, and one friend is hilariously horrified and the other friend doesn’t know what he/she said.

(True story.)

I want to see joy. I want to see happiness. Being a woman of color and a hijaabi often means facing so many daily, disheartening scenarios and prejudice and hatefulness. So many of the suggested tropes recently in the inbox focus on trying to force Muslim characters into beastly or haraam or just sad and stereotypical scenarios. I know that writers are better and have bigger imaginations than that.

You want angst? Push aside the cold, unkind, abusive Muslim parents trope. Let’s talk about the Muslim girls I know who have struggled with eating disorders. Let’s talk about Islamophobia and how that is a REAL, horrible experience that Muslim kids have to fear and combat every day. Let’s approach contemporary angst without the glasses of the Western gaze and assumptions about people of the Islamic faith on.

We can have Muslim novels that focus on growing pains like Sarah Dessen and Judy Blume (and speaking of that, my “auntie” who used to teach in a madrasah used to press Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret on the Muslim girls she knew because of how Margaret approached growing up and had concerns about her faith and her relationships, etc.)

Having Shia friends, I would like to see more stories that aren’t just assumed to be Sunni. How about stories about Su-Shi kids, too? (Sunni and Shia – the name always surprises me!) Let’s see some Muslim-Jewish friendships. Because they exist.

And of course, I always, always hunger for Muslim voices first. Because it’s so important to have these voices there, from the source, and some of the issues with answering here at WWC is how people seem to be approaching certain tropes that a Muslim writer could explore with the nuance and lived experience of their faith behind it.

Words to describe someone’s voice

adenoidal: if someone’s voice is adenoidal, some of the sound seems to come through their nose
appealing: an appealing look, voice etc shows that you want help, approval, or agreement
breathy: with loud breathing noises
brittle: if you speak in a brittle voice, you sound as if you are about to cry
croaky: if someone’s voice sounds croaky, they speak in a low rough voice that sounds as if they have a sore throat
dead: if someone’s eyes are dead, or if their voice is dead, they feel or show no emotion
disembodied: a disembodied voice comes from someone who you cannot see
flat: spoken in a voice that does not go up and down. This word is often used for describing the speech of people from a particular region.
fruity: a fruity voice or laugh is deep and strong in a pleasant way
grating: a grating voice, laugh, or sound is unpleasant and annoying
gravelly: a gravelly voice sounds low and rough
gruff: a gruff voice has a rough low sound
guttural: a guttural sound is deep and made at the back of your throat
high-pitched: a high-pitched voice or sound is very high
hoarse: someone who is hoarse or has a hoarse voice speaks in a low rough voice, usually because their throat is sore
honeyed: honeyed words or a honeyed voice sound very nice but you cannot trust the person who is speaking
husky: a husky voice is deep and sounds hoarse (=as if you have a sore throat), often in an attractive way
low adjective: a low voice or sound is quiet and difficult to hear
low adverb: in a deep voice, or with a deep sound
matter-of-fact: used about someone’s behaviour or voice
modulated: a modulated voice is controlled and pleasant to listen to
monotonous: a monotonous sound or voice is boring and unpleasant because it does not change in loudness or become higher or lower
nasal: someone with a nasal voice sounds as if they are speaking through their nose
orotund: an orotund voice is loud and clear
penetrating: a penetrating voice or sound is so high or loud that it makes you slightly uncomfortable
plummy: a plummy voice or way of speaking is considered to be typical of an English person of a high social class. This word shows that you dislike people who speak like this.
quietly: in a quiet voice
raucous: a raucous voice or noise is loud and sounds rough
ringing: a ringing sound or voice is very loud and clear
rough: a rough voice is not soft and is unpleasant to listen to
shrill: a shrill noise or voice is very loud, high, and unpleasant
silvery: a silvery voice or sound is clear, light, and pleasant
singsong: if you speak in a singsong voice, your voice rises and falls in a musical way
small: a small voice or sound is quiet
smoky: a smoky voice or smoky eyes are sexually attractive in a slightly mysterious way
softly spoken: someone who is softly spoken has a quiet gentle voice
sotto voce adjective, adverb: in a very quiet voice
stentorian: a stentorian voice sounds very loud and severe
strangled: a strangled sound is one that someone stops before they finish making it
strangulated: strangled
strident: a strident voice or sound is loud and unpleasant
taut: used about something such as a voice or expression that shows someone is nervous or angry
thick: if your voice is thick with an emotion, it sounds less clear than usual because of the emotion
thickly: with a low voice that comes mostly from your throat
thin: a thin voice or sound is high and unpleasant to listen to
throaty: a throaty sound is low and seems to come from deep in your throat
tight: a tight voice or expression shows that you are nervous or annoyed
toneless: a toneless voice does not express any emotion
tremulous: if something such as your voice or smile is tremulous, it is not steady, for example because you are afraid or excited
wheezy: a wheezy noise sounds as if it is made by someone who has difficulty breathing
wobbly: if your voice is wobbly, it goes up and down, usually because you are frightened, not confident, or are going to cry

You Will Be Rejected


Not: You might be rejected.

Not: You’ll have a few rejections.

Not Even: Well, if you’re only mid-list worthy you’ll have at least twenty rejections.

You want to get published? Fine. You need to accept that every single day of your career will have rejection.

Everything you write will be rejected.

Every book you publish will be hated.

Every character you love will be degraded.

Every hour you put in – the blood and sweat and tears – will be dismissed as “…talentless hack who doesn’t know how to string a sentence together.”

Millions of people will never read your book because they can’t read at all.

Millions of people will never read your book because they don’t speak the same language as you.

Millions of people will never read your book because they hate your genre.

Millions of people will never read your book because they don’t like fe/male authors.

Millions of people will never read your book because they didn’t get into it.

Billions of people will reject your work. They will mock you. They will dismiss you. They will talk trash about you.

You. Will. Be. Rejected.

It doesn’t matter. You aren’t writing for the millions. You are writing for the one.

The one person who tells you your book made them cry because it spoke to them.

The one person who tells you your book changed the way they saw the world.

The one person who tells you your book was the only light in a dark time.

The one person who tells you your book inspired them to be something more.

You are writing for them.

They will wish they could take your characters to prom.

They will read your book after their mother’s funeral.

They will curl up in bed with your book on a cold night after their first real break up.

They will turn to those pages time and again to revisit the places they love.

You’re going to get rejected. And you’re going to take that punch square on the chin and not ever back down because you know who you are writing for. Because you know it takes more than a pretty font to make a book work, you have to be willing to take the rejections. You have to go into this knowing you will fail a million times with a million readers, and that it doesn’t matter because you aren’t writing for them.

Keep your chin up. You are someone’s favorite author even if they don’t know it yet.

“A’ghailleann”: On Language-Learning and the Decolonisation of the Mind – The Toast


A beautiful article on The Toast by Iona Sharma about heritage language learning and decolonization. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s the beginning: 

Here are the things you need to know first. I am thirty years old. I am Indian. My parents arrived in Scotland as newly minted immigrants in the eighties, thinking they’d go home after I was born. Decades later, we’re still here.

My parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, their friends and their community, speak Hindi as a first or joint first language. I do not. I stopped being a fluent Hindi speaker at the age of six, perhaps earlier. The school didn’t like it. Too confusing to educate a bilingual child. If you don’t speak to her in English at home, she’ll never learn.

Gaelic, sometimes referred to as Scottish Gaelic to differentiate it from Irish and known to its own speakers as Gàidhlig, is a Celtic language spoken by just over 58,000 people. It has been in decline for centuries. Anglicisation, colonisation and the Highland clearances all had a role in destroying its traditional heartlands, driving it to the far northwest of Scotland and the islands. In the nineteenth century schoolchildren were forbidden to use it in the classroom; by the 1970s the last monolingual speakers were gone. To speak Gaelic now is a political act.

I am not very good at languages.

Read the whole thing

Stunningly beautiful writing from Iona Sharma about belonging, decolonization, and linguistic identity. Unquestionably worth reading the whole thing. 

“A’ghailleann”: On Language-Learning and the Decolonisation of the Mind – The Toast

Writing the Perfect Query Letter


The point of a query letter is to sell your story. 

Writing your query letter, your goal is to make the reader want to pick up the book. That is the entire purpose. We’ve all recommended books to friends before. It’s exactly that, except now that book is yours and the stakes are high. A query letter is, above all, persuasive. While writing your query letter, make sure you draw your reader into your story with every word. 

A query letter is not a creative letter; it’s a business proposition. 

Writing a query letter, don’t think of yourself as a writer, especially not of this particular story. You are now Don Draper. He’s creative, but not a creator. His job is to make the product appeal to the consumer. He’s not rolling the cigarettes. He’s selling them. You were the writer of your manuscript. Now you’re its ad man. An industry professional. Your task it to sell an idea to someone you want to sell your idea (the agent) to someone you want to sell your idea (the editor) to someone you want to buy your product (the reader). By querying your manuscript, you’re requesting a place in an industry. This means that you should follow some industry standards:

  • Use business letter formatting. 12 point font. Single spaced. Left alignment. No indentations. A space between paragraphs.
  • Don’t be familiar. This is a business letter. A formal letter. Unless you already have some sort of a relationship with the person you’re querying, if you’ve met at an event or corresponded in some other regard, write like you’re writing to a potential business associate. 
  • Write the letter as yourself. Don’t write as your character. Don’t write as your narrator. Don’t write as the historian who discovered your story 1,000 years into the future. It’s a risk that rarely pays off. On that point…
  • Don’t be creative with the form of your query. Save the creativity for your manuscript. Don’t think out of the box. Don’t quote a section in your opening lines. Don’t include a box of chocolates with it when you mail it off. Don’t be gimmicky. If you feel the need to resort to a gimmick, the agent is going to assume it’s because you don’t know how this works or your story isn’t strong enough to stand on it’s own. Play by the rules. Trust in your story. 
  • Keep it short. 250-400 words. Remember your goal: to get them to pick up the book, to spark their interest. Agents can read hundreds of queries a day. They don’t have time for wasted words. They’re looking for an excuse to go on to the next query. To get through their inbox. Get to your point as quickly as possible. 

Writing Your Query:

You don’t have long to tell your story. Just a page. This means you can’t include much more than the information that is absolutely vital to your story and the querying process. I’ve outlined the information, and separated it into paragraphs. You don’t have to divide it the way I’ve set out here, but these are the general lumps of Query Stuff. 

Each point I’ve bulleted should only be a sentence or two long in your query. If your reader wants to know more, they’ll read the first chapters and request the manuscript.  

The Opening Lines: The Formalities

  • Address the agent. As this is a business letter, start with a “Dear Mr./Ms. [First Name, Last Name] or [Last Name]:” For example: Dear Mr. Tolkien: 
  • State your intent. In my research I’ve found this unecessary, but if you choose to do so you can say something along the lines of: “I’m submitting for your consideration my completed novel, [TITLE]…” 

The First Paragraph: The Introduction

The meat of the letter. You should introduce your story as cleanly as possible. It should be minimal, yet evocative. Specific to your story, but skimming the surface of it. The more set-up you give, the more complicated you’ll make things for yourself. 

  • The set up. What was life like for the character when the story began? Where does the story take place? 
  • The inciting incident. The “but when…” What set the ball rolling? This can be in the same sentence as the setup. 
    • The combination of the set up and inciting incident should work as a sort of tagline. 
  • Character motivation. What does your character want? 

The Second Paragraph: The Story 

I’ve made this a separate paragraph because shorter paragraphs make a page more inviting for a reader. In this paragraph, you don’t want to summarise the entire book; you want to show your ability to weave a compelling story. It should have energy. It should tell the reader just enough to get them excited.

  • Highlights of the first two acts. Give your reader the flavor of your story with the juiciest bits of the rising action. This part can be a few sentences longer than the rest. Make these specific. Don’t say Jane gets injured. Say Jane was caught in a swarm of flying tea cups. 
  • The central conflict. What is the main obstacle your character will face to achieve their goal? What’s at stake? 
  • The hook. The line or question that will make your reader want to read more. If you’d like, you make it it’s own paragraph. 

The Third Paragraph: The Details

Some people make this their first paragraph, but I’ve decided to put this after the introduction to the story. These are the formal details of your story, where it gets very Industry.

  • The title. You might have said it earlier, but it won’t hurt to say it again here. 
  • The word countgenre, & age range. All necessary industry information. Round your word count to the nearest 1,000. 
  • Comp titles. What books might this person have read that are similar to your own, either in tone/setting/story? This can give your reader a sense of the potential audience for your story. You only want to include one or two. 
  • If you really want, you can choose to personalize the submission here and say why you’ve queried this particular agent. If you only want to show that you’ve done your research, you should have already gotten this point across clearly with the summary, age range, and genre. But, if you really love this agent, if you follow their blog or twitter or love some of their authors, it won’t hurt to say so. 

The Fourth Paragraph: The Author

The last paragraph is usually set aside for a line or two about yourself. This should only include information relevant to writing this manuscript: awards, university degrees, writing conferences/workshops attended, expertise related to the content of the book. You should be able to summarise this paragraph with: here is why you should trust me to tell this story. 

If you don’t have any qualifications, say what else you’re currently writing/enjoy writing/have written. Let the agent get to know you as a writer outside of this one story. If you have qualifications, you can still save a line for this.

The Closing Line

Thank the agent for taking the time to read your query. A small but important consideration. 


  • Highlight your story’s strengths. If your story is funny, include the funniest moments in the short summary. If the writing is lyrical, your query should have a hint of that, too. You don’t want to drown the agent in your writing style, but you should splash them a bit. 
  • DON’T INCLUDE THEMES. Don’t say this is a story about “friendship and the power or love,” or “children will relate to this story of bullying.” A query letter isn’t a literature class. Don’t analyse your manuscript for your reader. Let the story speak for itself. 
  • Don’t sing your own praises. Don’t say that your mom loves your book, or that your little cousins devoured it. Don’t compare it to Harry Potter or any other best-seller. Don’t say you think the book will sell well. The agent won’t believe you. 
  • It’s okay if it takes you days and days to write your query. It should take days to write. Whether or not the agent even looks at your first chapter will depend entirely on this single page. You can write the novel of the century, but no one will look at it unless your query sells it. 
  • Have someone else look over your query before you send it out. Share it with the smartest person you know. Share it with your old English teacher. Share it on a writing website, like r/writers. Have them judge it on clarity and quality. Ask them where it can be trimmed. Ask them what they think the strongest sentence is. Ask what the weakest sentence is. Have them check for typos. 
  • Triple-check you’ve spelt the agent’s name correctly. They’re looking for a reason to toss this query in the trash. Don’t give it to them in the first line. 
  • Triple-check the agent’s submission requirements. Getting these wrong is another way to get your query tossed directly into the trash. 
  • Let them know if there’s a potential for sequels. If you’re writing a trilogy, don’t try to sell all three books at once. Use this query letter to sell the first book of the series only. Then, casually let the agent know that “[Your Title] has the potential for two sequels continuing [Your Protagonist]’s story.” An agent wants you to have more than one book in your arsenal, but this is a short letter. There’s only room for the one book in it. 

I know this is a long post, and it may seem like too much information to handle. If it all seems impossible to accomplish in a single letter, remember: you’re recommending a book. That’s all. It just happens to be your book. 


/surreptitiously saves this for hopefully-early-2017

I’m trying to develop a character who’s arrogant, has a big ego, and needs to be reminded to think about how his actions affect others – all without turning him into someone hateful. Right now my writing keeps wavering between “100% jerk” and “woobie who can’t think mean thoughts.” Does anyone have any tips to keep him true to what he’s supposed to be, without being too unlikeable?


So, we’ve talked about character likability before, but this is a question I’m seeing crop up in the ask box a lot recently.

To start, here’s just a friendly reminder that we have a navigation page.

Likeability’ is located under the ‘Character Help’ section, and there we have this response I wrote a while back which breaks down how to present an unlikeable character as likeable.

As a summary, in the case of a character like this, it is more important how you present the information, over what the information itself is. The ‘information’ here, being that your character ‘has a big ego’, ‘needs to be reminded to think about how his actions affect others’, but ‘isn’t hateful’.

Since you’re the writer, you need to feed the information to your reader(s) in a way that makes them feel positive towards the character (as this is what you want). A really good example of this type of character for you to look at is Moses, in Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt. I’ll refer to him throughout, but in general, here is how to write a potential jerk character as likeable:

1. Juxtapose the Good and the Bad

You already have your character’s flaws worked out, so what about the good stuff? We have one to start with: he’s not hateful, which means he doesn’t do cruel things with the intention of being cruel, even if his arrogance leads to him doing cruel things in the first place.

This is exactly how Moses is in The Prince of Egypt.

It helps that the first we see of Moses, is through the eyes of his family as they desperately try to save his life from the slaughter befalling baby Hebrew boys. We see their pain, fear, and worry as they smuggle him to the river’s edge, and release him into the water. So our first glimpse of Moses is that he is helpless and vulnerable, but also incredibly, incredibly lucky to survive the perils ahead of him, and be welcomed into the house of the Pharaoh himself.

The next we see of Moses, however, is him riding through the streets with his brother, Rameses, causing a huge amount of chaos and upset for the ordinary people there. They ruin a temple that the enslaved Hebrews have worked under the crack of a whip to build. What this tells us is that, in his sheltered, privileged life, Moses has become complacent, selfish, and arrogant. He does what he wants, because he can.

Yet… he is also honourable. He readily takes the blame for what they did afterwards, and encourages their father to show mercy on Rameses. This is important because in comparison to the reckless Moses we saw charging through the streets, we now see a fair-minded, humble Moses. He isn’t power hungry. He doesn’t wallow in self-pity over the fact that it will be his brother, Rameses, who will inherit the mantle of Pharaoh. He seems genuinely interested in helping Rameses to gain a better relationship with their father…

Only for him to go straight back to his cunning, childlike foolishness in the very next scene. He wants to help Rameses, sure, but for him it’s funny to see Rameses get in trouble, and to torment Hotep and Huy. This scene reiterates that Moses is carefree of what he does to others. In harsher terms, he’s ignorant and cruel to people in the name of having fun.

But then we have to…

2. Consider the Consequences

The way to remedy the negative effects this type of behaviour would usually have, is to show the reader that either,

  1. Your character can express remorse, or make an effort to right the wrong he has committed; or
  2. The wrong is inconsequential, or played down as mere tomfoolery.

Alongside the opening number in The Prince of Egypt, we see the toil and slavery that builds the setting of the story around us. Any sympathy we have after Moses and Rameses damage the temple should only be directed at the slaves who worked to build it.

Yet we don’t see, at this stage, any direct consequence on anybody but Moses and Rameses. Nobody gets whipped or beaten. There are no guards yelling at the workers for what has been done. What we see is the Pharaoh scolding his eldest son, Rameses, whilst Moses is mostly left out of it. Plus, all we have really seen of Rameses at this stage is him as a much younger child, desperately reaching for his mother’s attention after she fishes Moses out of the water. Now his own father is treating him harshly, whilst apparently favouring Moses. It is Rameses we feel sorry for here, because he is the one facing the consequences.

The reason we don’t hate Moses for this, is because he then tries to make things better by asking the Pharaoh to go easy on his brother, which shows he can be sorry for what he has done, and that his aim isn’t to be cruel, even if his actions look that way at first.

We can see this notion of consequences appear again in the scenes afterwards, as Hotep and Huy are one matter, Tzipporah (the captive Midian woman Moses allows to fall back into the water) is another. Hotep and Huy are comic relief characters when Moses drops the sack of water on them. There’s no real consequence to what has been done, at least not to Moses, because 1) it is Rameses again who is stood in the spotlight, and 2) the worst Hotep and Huy can do is run to the Pharaoh, and all the Pharaoh will do is scold Rameses. There’s no real consequence, as Hotep and Huy aren’t injured, and are relatively privileged themselves.

Tzipporah, however, is there in the palace against her will. We see her fighting to be free, and refusing to bend to the will of the elite. Moses’ natural instinct is to protect what he knows, which is the Pharaoh and the people around them. He wants to embarrass her, because to him, her indignance is disrespectful. Of course, what he does do is in poor humour; Tzipporah is degraded and embarrassed in front of a whole crowd of people, and Moses is immediately invited to feel shame about it when his mother shows disapproval. There was none of that in the earlier scenario with Hotep and Huy. It was a much more lighthearted affair in comparison.

So we get to see that Moses can feel ashamed of his actions, and does, as he later helps Tzipporah to escape as a way of making up for what he did.

To summarize, if you can’t have your character make up for the wrong he does, then downplay the wrong to be inconsequential, so that the reader doesn’t have anybody else to feel sorry for, or compare the main character to in a negative way.

Then comes the most important part…

3. Redemption

Even if your character has these flaws, you need to show that the more positive traits are able to quell them. Moses doesn’t lose his playful, lighthearted nature, it just grows into a more harmless version of what it was. Instead of belittling and hurting other people in the name of fun, he instead chooses to save the Midian High Priest’s three young daughters from bandits. With age, he calms down, and becomes a hard-working, trusted member of Jethro’s desert village. The rest, you probably know… and if not, I’d highly recommend you watch it…!

All characters should grow throughout the story. It helps the reader to understand who the character is, and where their morals lie. So long as your character isn’t always stuck in the mischievous, arrogance stage, the reader will be able to appreciate his more positive traits as and when you reveal them.

I hope this helps, Anon. As always, keep an eye on follower responses via replies/reblogs, as more helpful information could be added there…!

Best of luck.

– enlee

This is super interesting. I’ve never thought about this systematically!