writing fiction mechanics

English Mechanics 101: What Are Writing Mechanics? (Definition and Examples)

writing fiction mechanics

If you want to learn more about English mechanics, this is the article for you. You'll learn what the main aspects of mechanics are, how to use them in your writing, and why you should.

  • English Mechanics are the rules that govern written language. They tell you how to write in a way that is coherent and standardized.

This article is part of our free online Grammar Book .

The Main Parts of English Mechanics

English mechanics provide a way to standardize writing so that you may get your message across effectively. They're the rules you look to when you're unsure which punctuation to use or whether to capitalize a word, to mention just a couple of examples.

In other words, they cover the technical aspects of writing in English. It's like when you have a car. You may know how to drive it, but there are mechanics involved, too, if you want to keep your vehicle on the road. Do your tires meet the legal requirements? Do you have the right level of oil? How should you position your seat? These mechanical aspects ensure you can drive your car safely and according to legal standards.

  • Knowing about English mechanics accomplishes the same thing: it ensures your writing meets the standard rules.

So why should you care about English mechanics? Well, I think it's safe to say that when you write, you want to be understood by your readers, right? You don't want to be misunderstood, do you? That's what understanding mechanics will help you to do. It ensures you express yourself with accuracy.

The four main aspects of English mechanics include:



Let's take a look at these one by one.

Word order, also known as sentence patterns, tells us which order we should place the words in our sentence. You can't just place words wherever you like, as this affects the sentence's meaning. In order to communicate effectively, you must know that certain parts of speech must be placed in specific parts of the sentence.

The most basic sentence pattern is:

[Subject] + [Verb]

That could look like this:

I am sleeping. 

You might want to add other parts of speech to make your sentence more complex. There are sentence patterns for these cases, too. For instance, if you want to add an adjective, you should remember to always place it before the subject. And objects come after the subject and verb.

Here are some more example sentence patterns:

[Subject] + [Verb] + [Adjective] + [Noun] I used brown sugar.  [Adjective] + [Subject] + [Verb] + [Adverb] The excited puppy barked loudly. [Subject] + [Verb] + [Direct Object]  I study English mechanics.  [Subject] + [Verb] + [Indirect Object] + [Direct Object]  We sent everyone an invitation.

These are just a few of the possible combinations. If you'd like to learn more, check out our blog on sentence patterns .

Knowing whether or not to capitalize or word can be tricky business. Also, different style guides might advocate for slightly different practices.

  • Capitalizing a word means you start it off with an uppercase letter.

There are seven instances when you should use a capital letter at the beginning of a word, and those are:

  • The first word of the sentence You look fantastic tonight!
  • Proper nouns Is it ok if we bring our dog, Rex ?
  • The pronoun 'I.' It's high time that I get my own place.
  • The first word after a colon (if it's a complete sentence) You must keep track of your main goal: You need to graduate with a scholarship.
  • The first word of a quote (if it's a complete sentence) As Gandhi said: " Be the change that you wish to see in the world."
  • Most words in titles Have you ever watched The Shawshank Redemption?
  • Titles and honorifics (if followed by the person's name) I'd like to introduce Sir Paul McCartney.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you spelling is a major aspect of English mechanics and is essential in getting your message across accurately. One big reason for this is that English words don't tend to be spelled the way they sound, so you'll need to be familiar with spelling conventions in order to avoid errors.

As well as this, there are homophones to content with: words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Getting the spelling right for these words is key so your reader knows what you mean.

Look at the following words, for example:

  • 'Ware' vs 'wear'
  • 'Isle' vs 'aisle'
  • 'Sow' vs 'sew'

The spelling makes all the difference here because when you hear them out loud, they sound like the same word, but when you write them down, you see they are different.

Of course, a spellchecker can always help with this, and we're lucky to live in an age where these are available, so we can ensure our writing is error-free before publishing/handing it in. But it's good practice to familiarize yourself with the different spelling rules over time so that you're not entirely relying on your spellchecker.

To learn more about the spelling rules, check out our article on the topic.

Without punctuation, our writing would just be a jumbled-up mess of words; it would be impossible to make any sense of it.

There are three different types of punctuation:

  • punctuation to end a sentence
  • punctuation to mark a pause
  • punctuation for quotations
  • punctuation to edit words

Punctuation to End a Sentence

Exclamation points , question marks , and periods are the three kinds of punctuation you can use to end a sentence. They help the reader know if you're expressing emotion, asking a question, or simply making a statement.

Here's an example sentence for each of these:

Oh wow, that's great news! What's your name? Sorry to hear that you lost your job.

Punctuation to Mark a Pause

Most kinds of punctuation are intended to mark a pause or separate a piece of information from the rest of the sentence. Some of the most commonly used ones are commas , colons , semicolons , and parentheses .

Let's take a look at what these look like in a sentence:

I'd like a blueberry muffin, a flat white and a glass of water, please. Today we're going to be discussing a topic dear to my heart: English mechanics.  She's skipping movie night ; she isn't a big fan of the action genre. Everything I set out to do today (clean the house, fix my car and eat a nourishing meal) was a complete and utter success.

Punctuation for Quotations

This category's pretty straightforward: it's the kind of punctuation that allows you to demark quotations in your writing. These are called quotation marks . You can use either single or double quotation marks. The former tends to be more common in countries that use British English, and American English-speaking countries prefer the latter.

You can use quotations to directly quote what someone said, report dialogue , mention titles of works, or set words apart from the rest of the text.

Here are some examples:

" In three words I can sum up everything I've learned in life: It goes on ." — Robert Frost She asked, "Do you know anyone here?" John Donne's poem "No Man Is an Island" really resonated with me. He was nicknamed "The King of Pop".

Punctuation to Edit Words

The English language is very versatile. Though it contains a wide variety of words, we'll often use the same word in different ways to mean something different. That's where apostrophes and hyphens come in.

Apostrophes allow you to contract a word or form possessive nouns:

I've never been so happy to see you in my life. The young girl's speech was very moving.

Hyphens can be used to create compound words, connect a word with its prefix, and for numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine:

We live in a fast-paced world and it can be difficult to slow down. They host a bi-annual gala. In my class of thirty-six students there are only three boys.

Other Types of Punctuation

There are other kinds of punctuation that don't fit into the aforementioned categories but that still perform an essential role in English mechanics. Slashes and brackets are two examples.

Slashes are used to show a contrast or a connection between two things:

Dear Sir/Madam. Do you take sugar/milk?

Brackets allow you to add edits, comments, or further explanations for something you have said:

My mom always says "Carpe diem [ seize the day]"

To learn about the other punctuation marks not discussed here, visit our Grammar Book. We have an entire section on punctuation.

Other Aspects of English Mechanics

We've covered the main aspects of English mechanics, but there are others too. Many grammarians disagree on what constitutes mechanics vs grammar , so what you're reading here is just our take on what constitutes the building blocks of English mechanics.

But don't worry; there's no need to get stuck on semantics. The important thing is that you're familiar with all the rules, whether mechanics or grammar, and this is something you'll accomplish over time just by practicing and reading all our Grammar Book articles.


Abbreviations are shortened versions of words. They're not typically used in formal writing, but you will see them around, so it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with them. Plus, you can also use them in your writing to shorten your text/save time.

Here are some different examples of abbreviations:

Did you see that ad on TV for the new iPhone? He's from the FBI. They're raising money for UNICEF. I honestly had to LOL when he said that.

To learn more about abbreviations, check out our article on the topic .

Prefixes and Suffixes

  • Prefixes are added to the beginning of words to change their meaning
  • Suffixes are added to the end of words to change their form.

Most prefixes and suffixes are standardized, so learning about them can mean you'll be able to decode a word's meaning, even if you've never seen the word before. How cool is that?

For example, here are some prefixes that give the word its opposite meaning:

  • de declutter deficient
  • in inexpensive inadequate
  • dis disadvantage disagree

Here are some examples of common suffixes that change a word into a noun:

  • -acy private → privacy
  • -ism optimist → optimism
  • -ance maintain → maintenance
  • -er train → trainer

If you want to learn more about prefixes and suffixes , we've got an article that covers everything you need to know. Check it out here.

Singular vs Plural

Nouns can be either singular or plural. Their basic form is singular; to pluralize them, you must follow a certain set of rules.

Sometimes it's as simple as adding -es  to the end of the word, like for words ending in  -s, -ss, -sh, -ch, or -x.

  • bus → buses
  • pass → passes
  • church → churches

Sometimes you'll have the option to add either -es or -s , like with words ending in  -o.

  • piano → pianos
  • volcano → volcanoes
  • hero → heroes

And other times yet, you'll need to change some of the letters in the word first. That might look like adding a -z and then the plural ending:

  • quiz → quizzes

Or changing the - v  to an  -f:

  • wife → wives

So yes, the rules are a bit more complex than simply adding an  -s  or an  -es , like many would like to believe. I would like to believe that myself, as it would make life much easier!

To learn about pluralization rules in more depth, check out this article .

Concluding Thoughts on English Mechanics

That concludes this article on English mechanics. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • English mechanics exist to help us express ourselves accurately in writing.
  • The four main aspects of English mechanics are word order, capitalization, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Important aspects also include abbreviations, prefixes and suffixes, and pluralizing nouns.

If you found this article helpful and would like to learn more, check out our Grammar Book , a free online database of grammar articles just like this one.

Learn More:

  • Singular and Plural: Understanding Singular and Plural Forms in English (Examples)
  • Confusing Words: 51 Commonly Confused Words in English (Examples)
  • Periods: When to Use Periods in Writing (Examples)
  • Exclamation Points: When to Use Exclamation Points in Writing (Examples)
  • Commas: When to Use Commas in Writing (Examples)
  • Semicolons: When to Use Semicolons in Writing (Examples)
  • Colons: When to Use Colons in Writing (Examples)
  • Parentheses: When to Use Parentheses in Writing (Examples)
  • Brackets: When to Use Brackets in Writing (Examples)
  • Ellipses: When to Use Ellipses in Writing (Examples)
  • Slash: When to Use Slash in Writing (Examples)
  • Language Register in English Writing: Definition, Meaning, and Examples
  • Hyperbole: What is Hyperbole in English? Definition and Examples
  • Onomatopoeia: What is Onomatopoeia? Discovering Sound Words in English (Examples)
  • Curse Words: What Are Bad Words in English to Call Someone? (Examples)

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook . Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Add new comment Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Post Comment

writing fiction mechanics

Table of Contents

Ai, ethics & human agency, collaboration, information literacy, writing process.

  • © 2023 by Joseph M. Moxley - University of South Florida

Learn about mechanics -- the rules and conventions that inform written as opposed to spoken discourse.

writing fiction mechanics

What are Mechanics ?

Mechanics are the conventions or rules that govern written language , including


  • Parts of Speech
  • Parts of a Sentence


  • Run-on Sentences
  • Sentence Fragments
  • Sentence Errors
  • Sentence Patterns
  • Sentence Structures

Mechanics are a socio-cultural-rhetorical construct. Mechanics evolve over time as communication technologies and discourse communities/communities of practice evolve.

Related Concepts: Grammar ; Register

Why Do Mechanics Matter?

Mechanics enable writers, speakers, and knowledge makers . . . to communicate with audiences .

Mechanics and grammar are the rules and conventions that inform communicative practices among members of a discourse community. Mechanics rules are for governing written language.

When writers violate conventions related to mechanics, readers are likely to be confused.

Mechanics vs Grammar

Mechanics and grammar are interrelated concepts. For some users, they are equivalent terms. Traditionalists make this distinction, however:

  • Grammars govern the language patterns of oral discourse
  • Mechanics govern the language patterns of written discourse.

While this distinction between mechanics and grammar is nice and tidy, it breaks down in practice. Some elements of language practice pertain to both written and oral discourse. This may explain why Grammar Handbooks and online websites (e.g., The Owl at Purdue University or Grammarly.Com or Wikipedia) disagree about whether or not some elements of discourse such as Modifiers , Parallelism (Parallel Structure) , Punctuation or Sentence Fragments should be indexed under Grammar or Mechanics.

Regardless, the takeaway here is that you need a firm grounding in grammar and mechanics in order to edit your work on the work of others.

Mechanics as a Socio-cultural-historical-Rhetorical Process

Mechanics evolve  over time as technologies empower new methods of composing . 

Related Articles:


Suggested Edits

  • Please select the purpose of your message. * - Corrections, Typos, or Edits Technical Support/Problems using the site Advertising with Writing Commons Copyright Issues I am contacting you about something else
  • Your full name
  • Your email address *
  • Page URL needing edits *
  • Name This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Understand the logic and cognitive science behind punctuation


  • Joseph M. Moxley

Featured Articles

Student engrossed in reading on her laptop, surrounded by a stack of books

Academic Writing – How to Write for the Academic Community

writing fiction mechanics

Professional Writing – How to Write for the Professional World

writing fiction mechanics

Credibility & Authority – How to Be Credible & Authoritative in Speech & Writing


Write your book in Reedsy Studio. Try the beloved writing app for free today.

Craft your masterpiece in Reedsy Studio

Plan, write, edit, and format your book in our free app made for authors.

Reedsy Community

Blog • Perfecting your Craft , Book Design

Last updated on May 01, 2024

60 Literary Devices With Examples: The Master List

Literary devices are perhaps the greatest tools that writers have in literature. Just think — Shakespeare could have written: Everyone has a role in life.

Instead, he used a literary device and penned what is likely the most famous metaphor in literature:

All the world’s a stage

And all the men and women merely players

And the rest is history.

eN0dwIdqYmo Video Thumb

What are literary devices?

A literary device is a writing technique that writers use to express ideas, convey meaning, and highlight important themes in a piece of text. A metaphor, like we mentioned earlier, is a famous example of a literary device.

These devices serve a wide range of purposes in literature. Some might work on an intellectual level, while others have a more emotional effect. They may also work subtly to improve the flow and pacing of your writing. No matter what, if you're looking to inject something special into your prose, literary devices are a great place to start.

How to identify literary devices

A writer using a literary device is quite different from a reader identifying it. Often, an author’s use of a literary device is subtle by design —you only feel its effect, and not its presence. 

Therefore, we’ve structured this post for both purposes:    

  • If you’re a reader, we’ve included examples for each literary device to make it easier for you to identify them in the wild. 
  • If you’re a writer, we’ve included exercises for the literary devices, so that you can practice using them in your works. 

Let’s get to it.

60 common literary devices, with examples

1. alliteration.

Alliteration describes a series of words in quick succession that all start with the same letter or sound. It lends a pleasing cadence to prose and Hamlet and the dollar as currency in Macbeth .

Example: “ One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.” — “Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne

Exercise: Pick a letter and write a sentence where every word starts with that letter or one that sounds similar. 

2. Anaphora

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a series of clauses or sentences. It’s often seen in poetry and speeches, intended to provoke an emotional response in its audience.

Example: Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.

"… and I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.

"… I have a dream that little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Exercise: Pick a famous phrase and write a paragraph elaborating on an idea, beginning each sentence with that phrase. 

Similar term: repetition

3. Anastrophe

Anastrophe is a figure of speech wherein the traditional sentence structure is reversed. So a typical verb-subject-adjective sentence such as “Are you ready?” becomes a Yoda-esque adjective-verb-subject question: “Ready, are you?” Or a standard adjective-noun pairing like “tall mountain” becomes “mountain tall.”

Example: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing.” — “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

Exercise: Write a standard verb-subject-adjective sentence or adjective-noun pairing then flip the order to create an anastrophe. How does it change the meaning or feeling of the sentence?

4. Chiasmus

Chiasmus is when two or more parallel clauses are inverted. “Why would I do that?” you may be wondering. Well, a chiasmus might sound confusing and unnecessary in theory, but it's much more convincing in practice — and in fact, you've likely already come across it before.

Example: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” — John F. Kennedy

5. Congeries

Congeries is a fancy literary term for creating a list. The items in your list can be words, ideas, or phrases, and by displaying them this way helps prove or emphasize a point — or even create a sense of irony. Occasionally, it’s also called piling as the words are “piling up.”

Example: "Apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order, what have the Romans done for us?" — Monty Python’s Life of Brian

6. Cumulative sentence

A cumulative sentence (or “loose sentence”) is one that starts with an independent clause, but then has additional or modifying clauses. They’re often used for contextual or clarifying details. This may sound complex, but even, “I ran to the store to buy milk, bread, and toilet paper” is a cumulative sentence, because the first clause, “I ran to the store,” is a complete sentence, while the rest tells us extra information about your run to the store.

Example: “It was a large bottle of gin Albert Cousins had brought to the party, yes, but it was in no way large enough to fill all the cups, and in certain cases to fill them many times over, for the more than one hundred guests, some of whom were dancing not four feet in front of him.” – Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Example: Write three sentences that are related to each other. Can you combine the information into a cumulative sentence? 



Literary Devices Cheatsheet

Master these 40+ devices to level up your writing skills.

7. Epistrophe

Epistrophe is the opposite of anaphora, with this time a word or phrase being repeated at the end of a sentence. Though its placement in a sentence is different it serves the same purpose—creating emphasis—as an anaphora does. 

Example: “I’ll be ever’where – wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there . If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ – I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build, why, I’ll be there .” — The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Similar terms: repetition, anaphora

Exercise: Write a paragraph where a phrase or a word is repeated at the end of every sentence, emphasizing the point you’re trying to make. 

8. Erotesis

Erotesis is a close cousin of the rhetorical question. Rather than a question asked without expectation of an answer, this is when the question (and the asker) confidently expects a response that is either negative or affirmative. 

Example: “ Do you then really think that you have committed your follies in order to spare your son them?” — Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Similar term: rhetorical question

9. Hyperbaton

Hyperbaton is the inversion of words, phrases, or clauses in a sentence that differs from how they would normally be arranged. It comes from the Greek hyperbatos, which means “transposed” or “inverted.” While it is similar to anastrophe, it doesn’t have the same specific structure and allows you to rearrange your sentences in whatever order you want. 

Example: “Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.” — “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

Similar terms: anastrophe, epistrophe

10. Isocolon

If you’re a neat freak who likes things just so , isocolon is the literary device for you. This is when two or more phrases or clauses have similar structure, rhythm, and even length — such that, when stacked up on top of each other, they would line up perfectly. Isocolon often crops up in brand slogans and famous sayings; the quick, balanced rhythm makes the phrase catchier and more memorable.

Example: Veni, vidi, vici (“I came, I saw, I conquered”)

11. Litotes

Litotes (pronounced lie-toe-teez ) is the signature literary device of the double negative. Writers use litotes to express certain sentiments through their opposites, by saying that that opposite is not the case. Don’t worry, it makes more sense with the examples. 😉

Examples: “You won’t be sorry” (meaning you’ll be happy); “you’re not wrong” (meaning you’re right); “I didn’t not like it” (meaning I did)

12. Malapropism

If Shakespeare is the king of metaphors, Michael Scott is the king of malapropisms . A malapropism is when similar-sounding words replace their appropriate counterparts, typically to comic effect — one of the most commonly cited is “dance a flamingo,” rather than a “flamenco.” Malapropisms are often employed in dialogue when a character flubs up their speech.

Example: “I am not to be truffled with.”

Exercise: Choose a famous or common phrase and see if you can replace a word with a similar sounding one that changes the meaning. 

literary devices

13. Onomatopoeia

Amusingly, onomatopoeia (itself a difficult-to-pronounce word) refers to words that sound like the thing they’re referring to. Well-known instances of onomatopoeia include whiz, buzz, snap, grunt, etc.

Example: The excellent children's book Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type . “Farmer Brown has a problem. His cows like to type. All day long he hears: Click, clack, moo. Click, clack, moo. Clickety, clack, moo. ”

Exercise: Take some time to listen to the sounds around you and write down what you hear. Now try to use those sounds in a short paragraph or story. 

14. Oxymoron 

An oxymoron comes from two contradictory words that describe one thing. While juxtaposition contrasts two story elements, oxymorons are about the actual words you are using.

Example: "Parting is such sweet sorrow.” — Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. (Find 100 more examples of oxymorons here .)

Similar terms: juxtaposition, paradox

Exercise: Choose two words with opposite meanings and see if you can use them in a sentence to create a coherent oxymoron. 

writing fiction mechanics

15. Parallelism

Parallelism is all about your sentence structure. It’s when similar ideas, sounds, phrases, or words are arranged in a way that is harmonious or creates a parallel, hence the name. It can add rhythm and meter to any piece of writing and can often be found in poetry. 

Example: “ That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” — Neil Armstrong

Which famous author do you write like?

Find out which literary luminary is your stylistic soulmate. Takes one minute!

16. Polysyndeton

Instead of using a single conjunction in lengthy statements, polysyndeton uses several in succession for a dramatic effect. This one is definitely for authors looking to add a bit of artistic flair to their writing, or who are hoping to portray a particular (usually naïve) sort of voice.

Example: “Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.” — The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Exercise: Write three or four independent sentences. Try combining them using conjunctions. What kind of effect does this have on the overall meaning and tone of the piece?

17. Portmanteau

A portmanteau is when two words are combined to form a new word which refers to a single concept that retains the meanings of both the original words. Modern language is full of portmanteaus. In fact, the portmanteau is itself a portmanteau. It’s a combination of the French porter (to carry) and manteau (cloak). 

Example: Brunch (breakfast and lunch); cosplay (costume and roleplay); listicle (list and article); romcom (romance and comedy)

Exercise: Pick two words that are often used together to describe a single concept. See if there’s a way to combine them and create a single word that encompasses the meaning of both.

18. Repetition

Repetition , repetition, repetition… where would we be without it? Though too much repetition is rarely a good thing, occasional repetition can be used quite effectively to drill home a point, or to create a certain atmosphere. For example, horror writers often use repetition to make the reader feel trapped and scared.

Example: In The Shining , Jack Torrance types over and over again on his pages,  “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” In this case, obsessive repetition demonstrates the character’s unraveling mind.

Similar term: anaphora

Exercise: Repetition can be used to call attention to an idea or phrase. Pick an idea you want to emphasize and write a few sentences about it. Are there any places where you can add repetition to make it more impactful? 

literary devices

19. Tautology

A tautology is when a sentence or short paragraph repeats a word or phrase, expressing the same idea twice. Often, this is a sign that you should trim your work to remove the redundancy (such as “frozen ice”) but can also be used for poetic emphasis.

Example: "But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping, And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door" – “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

20. Tmesis 

Tmesis is when a word or phrase is broken up by an interjecting word, such as abso-freaking-lutely. It’s used to draw out and emphasize the idea, often with a humorous or sarcastic slant.

Example: "This is not Romeo, he's some-other-where." – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

21. Allegory

An allegory is a type of narrative that uses characters and plot to depict abstract ideas and themes . In an allegorical story, things represent more than they appear to on the surface. Many children's fables, such as The Tortoise and the Hare , are simple allegories about morality — but allegories can also be dark, complex, and controversial. 

Example: Animal Farm by George Orwell. This dystopian novella is one of modern literature’s best-known allegories. A commentary on the events leading up to Stalin's rise and the formation of the Soviet Union, the pigs at the heart of the novel represent figures such as Stalin, Trotsky, and Molotov.

Exercise: Pick a major trend or problem in the world and consider what defines it. Try and create a story where that trend plays out on a smaller scale. 

22. Anecdote

An anecdote is like a short story within a story. Sometimes, they are incredibly short—only a line or two—and their purpose is to add a character’s perspective, knowledge, or experience to a situation. They can be inspirational, humorous, or be used to inspire actions in others. Since anecdotes are so short, don’t expect them to be part of a main story. They’re usually told by a character and part of the dialogue. 

Example: Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way , part of his series of novels, In Search of Lost Time, deals with the themes of remembrance and memory. In one section of this book, to illustrate these ideas, the main character recalls an important memory of eating a madeleine cookie. “Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell.”

23. Deus Ex Machina

Literally meaning “god in the machine” in Greek, deus ex machina is a plot device where an impossible situation is solved by the appearance of an unexpected or unheard of character, action, object, or event. This brings about a quick and usually happy resolution for a story and can be used to surprise an audience, provide comic relief, or provide a fix for a complicated plot. However, deus ex machinas aren’t always looked upon favorably and can sometimes be seen as lazy writing, so they should be used sparingly and with great thought. 

Example: William Golding’s famous novel of a group of British boys marooned on a desert island is resolved with a deus ex machina. At the climax of The Lord of the Flies, just as Ralph is about to be killed by Jack, a naval officer arrives to rescue the boys and bring them back to civilization. It’s an altogether unexpected and bloodless ending for a story about the boys’ descent into savagery. 

Exercise: Consider the ending of your favorite book or movie and then write an alternate ending that uses a deus ex machina to resolve the main conflict. How does this affect the overall story in terms of theme and tone?

If you struggle to write consistently, sign up for our How to Write a Novel course to finish a novel in just 3 months. 



How to Write a Novel

Enroll in our course and become an author in three months.

24. Dramatic irony

Dramatic irony is when the readers know more about the situation going on than at least one of the characters involved. This creates a difference between the ways the audience and the characters perceive unfolding events. For instance, if we know that one character is having an affair, when that character speaks to their spouse, we will pick up on the lies and double-meanings of their words, while the spouse may take them at face value.

Example: In Titanic , the audience knows from the beginning of the movie that the boat will sink. This creates wry humor when characters remark on the safety of the ship.

25. Exposition

Exposition is when the narrative provides background information in order to help the reader understand what’s going on. When used in conjunction with description and dialogue, this literary device provides a richer understanding of the characters, setting, and events. Be careful, though — too much exposition will quickly become boring, thus undercutting the emotional impact of your work.

Example: “The Dursley’s had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Exercise: Pick your favorite story and write a short paragraph introducing it to someone who knows nothing about it. 

26. Flashback

Flashbacks to previous events split up present-day scenes in a story, usually to build suspense toward a big reveal. Flashbacks are also an interesting way to present exposition for your story, gradually revealing to the reader what happened in the past.

Example: Every other chapter in the first part of Gone Girl is a flashback, with Amy’s old diary entries describing her relationship with her husband before she disappeared.

Similar term: foreshadowing

27. Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is when the author hints at events yet to come in a story. Similar to flashbacks (and often used in conjunction with them), this technique is also used to create tension or suspense — giving readers just enough breadcrumbs to keep them hungry for more.

Example: One popular method of foreshadowing is through partial reveals — the narrator leaves out key facts to prompt readers’ curiosity. Jeffrey Eugenides does this in The Virgin Suicides : “On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide — it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese, the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.”

Similar term: flashback

Exercise: Go back to your favorite book or movie. Can you identify any instances of foreshadowing in the early portions of the story for events that happen in the future? 

28. Frame story

A frame story is any part of the story that "frames" another part of it, such as one character telling another about their past, or someone uncovering a diary or a series of news articles that then tell the readers what happened. Since the frame story supports the rest of the plot, it is mainly used at the beginning and the end of the narrative, or in small interludes between chapters or short stories.

Example: In The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Kvothe is telling Chronicler the story of his life over the span of three days. Most of the novel is the story he is telling, while the frame is any part that takes place in the inn.

29. In Medias Res

In medias res is a Latin term that means "in the midst of things" and is a way of starting a narrative without exposition or contextual information. It launches straight into a scene or action that is already unfolding. 

Example: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” — The opening line of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Exercise: Pick a story you enjoy and rewrite the opening scene so that it starts in the middle of the story. 

30. Point of view

Point of view is, of course, the mode of narration in a story. There are many POVs an author can choose, and each one will have a different impact on the reading experience.

Example: Second person POV is uncommon because it directly addresses the reader — not an easy narrative style to pull off. One popular novel that manages to employ this perspective successfully is Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.”

Exercise: Write a short passage in either first, second, or third person. Then rewrite that passage in the other two points of view, only changing the pronouns. How does the change in POV affect the tone and feel of the story? 



Understanding Point of View

Learn to master different POVs and choose the best for your story.

31. Soliloquy 

Soliloquy involves a character speaking their thoughts aloud, usually at length (and often in a Shakespeare play). The character in question may be alone or in the company of others, but they’re not speaking for the benefit of other people; the purpose of a soliloquy is for a character to reflect independently.

Example: Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech, in which he ruminates on the nature of life and death, is a classic dramatic soliloquy.

Exercise: Pick a character from your favorite book or movie and write a soliloquy from their point of view where they consider their thoughts and feelings on an important part of their story or character arc. 

Which writing app is right for you?

Find out here! Takes 30 seconds

Tone refers to the overall mood and message of your book. It’s established through a variety of means, including voice, characterization, symbolism, and themes. Tone sets the feelings you want your readers to take away from the story.

Example: No matter how serious things get in The Good Place , there is always a chance for a character to redeem themselves by improving their behavior. The tone remains hopeful for the future of humanity in the face of overwhelming odds.

Exercise: Write a short paragraph in an upbeat tone. Now using the same situation you came up with, rewrite that passage in a darker or sadder tone. 

33. Tragicomedy

Tragicomedy is just what it sounds like: a blend of tragedy and comedy. Tragicomedy helps an audience process darker themes by allowing them to laugh at the situation even when circumstances are bleak.

Example: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events uses wordplay, absurd situations, and over-the-top characters to provide humor in an otherwise tragic story.

34. Allusion

An allusion is a reference to a person, place, thing, concept, or other literary work that a reader is likely to recognize. A lot of meaning can be packed into an allusion and it’s often used to add depth to a story. Many works of classic Western literature will use allusions to the Bible to expand on or criticize the morals of their time. 

Example: “The two knitting women increase his anxiety by gazing at him and all the other sailors with knowing unconcern. Their eerie looks suggest that they know what will happen (the men dying), yet don’t care.” The two women knitting in this passage from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness are a reference to the Fates from Greek mythology, who decide the fate of humanity by spinning and cutting the threads of life.

Exercise: In a relatively simple piece of writing, see how many times you can use allusions. Go completely crazy. Once you’re finished, try to cut it down to a more reasonable amount and watch for how it creates deeper meaning in your piece. 

35. Analogy

An analogy connects two seemingly unrelated concepts to show their similarities and expand on a thought or idea. They are similar to metaphors and similes, but usually take the comparison much further than either of these literary devices as they are used to support a claim rather than provide imagery. 

Example: “ It has been well said that an author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.” — P.G. Wodehouse

Exercise: Pick two seemingly unrelated nouns and try to connect them with a verb to create an analogy. 

36. Anthropomorphism

To anthropomorphize is to apply human traits or qualities to a non-human thing such as objects, animals, or the weather. But unlike personification, in which this is done through figurative description, anthropomorphism is literal: a sun with a smiling face, for example, or talking dogs in a cartoon.

Examples: In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast , Mrs. Potts the teapot, Cogsworth the clock, and Lumière the candlestick are all household objects that act and behave like humans (which, of course, they were when they weren’t under a spell).

Similar term: personification

Exercise: Pick a non-human object and describe it as if it was human, literally ascribing human thoughts, feelings, and senses to it. 

writing fiction mechanics

37. Aphorism

An aphorism is a universally accepted truth stated in a concise, to-the-point way. Aphorisms are typically witty and memorable, often becoming adages or proverbs as people repeat them over and over.

Example: “To err is human, to forgive divine.” — Alexander Pope

38. Archetype

An archetype is a “universal symbol” that brings familiarity and context to a story. It can be a character, a setting, a theme, or an action. Archetypes represent feelings and situations that are shared across cultures and time periods, and are therefore instantly recognizable to any audience — for instance, the innocent child character, or the theme of the inevitability of death.

Example: Superman is a heroic archetype: noble, self-sacrificing, and drawn to righting injustice whenever he sees it.

Exercise: Pick an archetype — either a character or a theme — and use it to write a short piece centered around that idea. 

A cliché is a saying or idea that is used so often it becomes seen as unoriginal. These phrases might become so universal that, despite their once intriguing nature, they're now looked down upon as uninteresting and overused. 

Examples: Some common cliches you might have encountered are phrases like “easy as pie” and “light as a feather.” Some lines from famous books and movies have become so popular that they are now in and of themselves cliches such as Darth Vader’s stunning revelation from The Empire Strikes Back, “Luke, I am your father.” Also, many classic lines of Shakespeare are now considered cliches like, “All that glitters is not gold” from The Merchant of Venice. 

Exercise: Write a short passage using as many cliches as possible. Now try to cut them out and replace them with more original phrasing. See how the two passages compare. 

40. Colloquialism

Colloquialism is the use of casual and informal language in writing, which can also include slang. Writers use colloquialisms to provide context to settings and characters, and to make their writing sound more authentic. Imagine reading a YA novel that takes place in modern America, and the characters speak to each other like this:

“Good morning, Sue. I hope that you slept well and are prepared for this morning’s science exam.”

It’s not realistic. Colloquialisms help create believable dialogue :

“Hey Sue, what’d you get up to last night? This science test is gonna suck.”

Example: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh takes place in Scotland, a fact made undeniably obvious by the dialect: “Thing is, as ye git aulder, this character-deficiency gig becomes mair sapping. Thir wis a time ah used tae say tae aw the teachers, bosses, dole punters, poll-tax guys, magistrates, when they telt me ah was deficient: ’Hi, cool it, gadge, ah’m jist me, jist intae a different sort ay gig fae youse but, ken?’”

Exercise: Write a dialogue between two characters as formally as possible. Now take that conversation and make it more colloquial. Imagine that you’re having this conversation with a friend. Mimic your own speech patterns as you write. 

41. Euphemism

A euphemism is an indirect, “polite” way of describing something too inappropriate or awkward to address directly. However, most people will still understand the truth about what's happening.

Example: When an elderly person is forced to retire, some might say they’re being “put out to pasture.”

Exercise: Write a paragraph where you say things very directly. Now rewrite that paragraph using only euphemisms. 

42. Hyperbole

Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that emphasizes the significance of the statement’s actual meaning. When a friend says, "Oh my god, I haven't seen you in a million years," that's hyperbole.

Example: “At that time Bogotá was a remote, lugubrious city where an insomniac rain had been falling since the beginning of the 16th century.” — Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez

Exercise: Tall tales often make use of hyperbole to tell an exaggerated story. Use hyperbole to relate a completely mundane event or experience to turn it into a tall tale. 

43. Hypophora

Hypophora is much like a rhetorical question, wherein someone asks a question that doesn't require an answer. However, in hypophora, the person raises a question and answers it immediately themselves (hence the prefix hypo, meaning 'under' or 'before'). It’s often used when characters are reasoning something aloud.

Example: “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.” — Daisy in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

literary devices

An idiom is a saying that uses figurative language whose meaning differs from what it literally says. These phrases originate from common cultural experiences, even if that experience has long ago been forgotten. Without cultural context, idioms don’t often make sense and can be the toughest part for non-native speakers to understand. 

Example: In everyday use, idioms are fairly common. We say things like, “It’s raining cats and dogs” to say that it’s downpouring. 

Exercise: Idioms are often used in dialogue. Write a conversation between two people where idioms are used to express their main points. 

45. Imagery

Imagery appeals to readers’ senses through highly descriptive language. It’s crucial for any writer hoping to follow the rule of "show, don’t tell," as strong imagery truly paints a picture of the scene at hand.

Example: “In the hard-packed dirt of the midway, after the glaring lights are out and the people have gone to bed, you will find a veritable treasure of popcorn fragments, frozen custard dribblings, candied apples abandoned by tired children, sugar fluff crystals, salted almonds, popsicles, partially gnawed ice cream cones and wooden sticks of lollipops.” — Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Exercise: Choose an object, image, or idea and use the five senses to describe it. 


Show, Don't Tell

Master the golden rule of writing in 10 five-minute lessons.

Irony creates a contrast between how things seem and how they really are. There are three types of literary irony : dramatic (when readers know what will happen before characters do), situational (when readers expect a certain outcome, only to be surprised by a turn of events), and verbal (when the intended meaning of a statement is the opposite of what was said).

Example: This opening scene from Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil is a great example of how dramatic irony can create tension.

47. Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition places two or more dissimilar characters, themes, concepts, etc. side by side, and the profound contrast highlights their differences. Why is juxtaposition such an effective literary device? Well, because sometimes the best way for us to understand something is by understanding what it’s not .

Example: In the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities , Charles Dickens uses juxtaposition to emphasize the societal disparity that led to the French Revolution: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…”

Similar terms: oxymoron, paradox

Exercise: Pick two ideas, objects, places, or people that seem like complete opposites. Introduce them side by side in the beginning of your piece and highlight their similarities and differences throughout. 

48. Metaphor

A metaphor compares two similar things by saying that one of them is the other. As you'd likely expect, when it comes to literary devices, this one is a heavy hitter. And if a standard metaphor doesn't do the trick, a writer can always try an extended metaphor : a metaphor that expands on the initial comparison through more elaborate parallels.

Example: Metaphors are literature’s bread and butter (metaphor intended) — good luck finding a novel that is free of them. Here’s one from Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass : “Wishes are thorns, he told himself sharply. They do us no good, just stick into our skin and hurt us.”

Similar term: simile

Exercise: Write two lists: one with tangible objects and the other concepts. Mixing and matching, try to create metaphors where you describe the concepts using physical objects.

One metaphor example not enough? Check out this post , which has 97 of ‘em!

49. Metonymy

Metonymy is like symbolism, but even more so. A metonym doesn’t just symbolize something else, it comes to serve as a synonym for that thing or things — typically, a single object embodies an entire institution.

Examples: “The crown” representing the monarchy, “Washington” representing the U.S. government.

Similar term: synecdoche

Exercise: Create a list of ten common metonymies you might encounter in everyday life and speech.

Whatever form a motif takes, it recurs throughout the novel and helps develop the theme of the narrative. This might be a symbol, concept, or image.

Example: In Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, trains are an omnipresent motif that symbolize transition, derailment, and ultimately violent death and destruction.

Similar term: symbol

Exercise: Pick a famous book or movie and see if you can identify any common motifs within it. 

51. Non sequitur

Non sequiturs are statements that don't logically follow what precedes them. They’ll often be quite absurd and can lend humor to a story. But they’re just not good for making jokes. They can highlight missing information or a miscommunication between characters and even be used for dramatic effect. 

Example: “It was a spring day, the sort that gives people hope: all soft winds and delicate smells of warm earth. Suicide weather.” — Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen 

Exercise: Write a conversation that gets entirely derailed by seemingly unrelated non sequiturs. 

52. Paradox

Paradox derives from the Greek word paradoxon , which means “beyond belief.” It’s a statement that asks people to think outside the box by providing seemingly illogical — and yet actually true — premises.

Example: In George Orwell’s 1984 , the slogan of the totalitarian government is built on paradoxes: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.” While we might read these statements as obviously contradictory, in the context of Orwell’s novel, these blatantly corrupt sentiments have become an accepted truth.

Similar terms: oxymoron, juxtaposition

Exercise: Try writing your own paradox. First, think of two opposing ideas that can be juxtaposed against each other. Then, create a situation where these contradictions coexist with each other. What can you gather from this unique perspective?

53. Personification

Personification uses human traits to describe non-human things. Again, while the aforementioned anthropomorphism actually applies these traits to non-human things, personification means the behavior of the thing does not actually change. It's personhood in figurative language only.

Example: “Just before it was dark, as they passed a great island of Sargasso weed that heaved and swung in the light sea as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket, his small line was taken by a dolphin.” — The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Similar term: anthropomorphism

Exercise: Pick a non-human object and describe it using human traits, this time using similes and metaphors rather than directly ascribing human traits to it. 

54. Rhetorical question

A rhetorical question is asked to create an effect rather than to solicit an answer from the listener or reader. Often it has an obvious answer and the point of asking is to create emphasis. It’s a great way to get an audience to consider the topic at hand and make a statement. 

Example: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” — The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Writers use satire to make fun of some aspect of human nature or society — usually through exaggeration, ridicule, or irony. There are countless ways to satirize something; most of the time, you know it when you read it.

Example: The famous adventure novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift is a classic example of satire, poking fun at “travelers' tales,” the government, and indeed human nature itself.

A simile draws resemblance between two things by saying “Thing A is like Thing B,” or “Thing A is as [adjective] as Thing B.” Unlike a metaphor, a similar does not posit that these things are the same, only that they are alike. As a result, it is probably the most common literary device in writing — you can almost always recognize a simile through the use of “like” or “as.”

Example: There are two similes in this description from Circe by Madeline Miller: “The ships were golden and huge as leviathans, their rails carved from ivory and horn. They were towed by grinning dolphins or else crewed by fifty black-haired nereids, faces silver as moonlight.”

Similar term: metaphor

57. Symbolism

Authors turn to tangible symbols to represent abstract concepts and ideas in their stories  Symbols typically derive from objects or non-humans — for instance, a dove might represent peace, or a raven might represent death.

Example: In The Great Gatsby , Fitzgerald uses the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg (actually a faded optometrist's billboard) to represent God and his judgment of the Jazz Age.

Similar term: motif

Exercise: Choose an object that you want to represent something — like an idea or concept. Now, write a poem or short story centered around that symbol. 

58. Synecdoche

Synecdoche is the usage of a part to represent the whole. That is, rather than an object or title that’s merely associated with the larger concept (as in metonymy), synecdoche must actually be attached in some way: either to the name, or to the larger whole itself.

Examples: “Stanford won the game” ( Stanford referring to the full title of the Stanford football team) or “Nice wheels you got there” ( wheels referring to the entire car)

Similar term: metonymy

Zeugma is when one word is used to ascribe two separate meanings to two other words. This literary device is great for adding humor and figurative flair as it tends to surprise the reader. And it’s just a fun type of wordplay. 

Example: “ Yet time and her aunt moved slowly — and her patience and her ideas were nearly worn out before the tete-a-tete was over.” — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

60. Zoomorphism 

Zoomorphism is when you take animal traits and assign them to anything that’s not an animal. It’s the opposite of anthropomorphism and personification, and can be either a physical manifestation, such as a god appearing as an animal, or a comparison, like calling someone a busy bee .

Example: When vampires turn into bats, their bat form is an instance of zoomorphism.

Exercise: Describe a human or object by using traits that are usually associated with animals. 

Similar terms: anthropomorphism, personification

Readers and writers alike can get a lot out of understanding literary devices and how they're used. Readers can use them to gain insight into the author’s intended meaning behind their work, while writers can use literary devices to better connect with readers. But whatever your motivation for learning them, you certainly won't be sorry you did! (Not least because you'll recognize the device I just used in that sentence 😉)

6 responses

Ron B. Saunders says:

16/01/2019 – 19:26

Paraprosdokians are also delightful literary devices for creating surprise or intrigue. They cause a reader to rethink a concept or traditional expectation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraprosdokian)

ManhattanMinx says:

17/01/2019 – 02:07

That's pore, not pour. Shame.....

↪️ Coline Harmon replied:

14/06/2019 – 19:06

It was a Malapropism

↪️ JC JC replied:

23/10/2019 – 00:02

Yeah ManhattanMinx. It's a Malepropism!

↪️ jesus replied:

07/11/2019 – 13:24

Susan McGrath says:

10/03/2020 – 10:56

"But whatever your motivation for learning them, you certainly won't be sorry you did! (Not least because you'll recognize the device I just used in that sentence. 😏)" Litote

Comments are currently closed.

Continue reading

Recommended posts from the Reedsy Blog

writing fiction mechanics

What is Tone in Literature? Definition & Examples

We show you, with supporting examples, how tone in literature influences readers' emotions and perceptions of a text.

writing fiction mechanics

Writing Cozy Mysteries: 7 Essential Tips & Tropes

We show you how to write a compelling cozy mystery with advice from published authors and supporting examples from literature.

writing fiction mechanics

Man vs Nature: The Most Compelling Conflict in Writing

What is man vs nature? Learn all about this timeless conflict with examples of man vs nature in books, television, and film.

writing fiction mechanics

The Redemption Arc: Definition, Examples, and Writing Tips

Learn what it takes to redeem a character with these examples and writing tips.

writing fiction mechanics

How Many Sentences Are in a Paragraph?

From fiction to nonfiction works, the length of a paragraph varies depending on its purpose. Here's everything you need to know.

writing fiction mechanics

Narrative Structure: Definition, Examples, and Writing Tips

What's the difference between story structure and narrative structure? And how do you choose the right narrative structure for you novel?

Join a community of over 1 million authors

Reedsy is more than just a blog. Become a member today to discover how we can help you publish a beautiful book.

Bring your stories to life

Use our free writing app to finally write — and publish — that book!

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account:

Effective Writing Mechanics: Essential Guide & Tips

1. get to know the basics, grammar rules, punctuation guide, proper capitalization, 2. build your vocabulary, explore thesaurus, learn new words, use vocabulary apps, 3. write regularly, set writing goals, join writing groups, use writing prompts, 4. edit your work, proofread for errors, use editing tools, hire a proofreader, 5. learn from others, read quality writing, take writing courses, follow expert bloggers, 6. experiment with styles and tones, try different writing styles, adapt various writing tones, write in different genres, 7. engage your readers, use interactive content, respond to comments, create engaging titles, 8. stay motivated, set personal goals, celebrate small wins, keep a writing journal, 9. practice mindfulness, meditate for focus, practise mindful writing, stay present while writing, 10. reflect and improve, get feedback, analyse your progress, plan for improvement.

Have you ever pondered about the question: "what is mechanics in writing"? If so, you're in the right place. Writing mechanics are the nuts and bolts of language that make a piece of writing clear, fluid, and enjoyable to read. It's the underlying structure that holds your words together and gives them meaning. This blog aims to help you navigate the realm of writing mechanics with practical advice and actionable tips, making the complex simple and the daunting achievable. Let's start with the basics.

Learning the fundamentals of writing mechanics is like building a strong foundation for a house—it ensures everything else you build will stand strong. With a firm grasp of grammar rules, proper punctuation, and correct capitalization, you'll be able to express your thoughts accurately and impressively. Let's dig a bit deeper.

Grammar is the rulebook of writing—it's what helps us make sense of language. Here are a few key things to remember:

  • Understand the eight parts of speech: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.
  • Ensure your subjects and verbs agree. If your subject is singular, your verb should also be singular.
  • Use correct verb tenses to express time accurately.

Remember: even the most interesting ideas can lose their appeal if they're tangled in grammatical errors. So, give grammar the attention it deserves.

Punctuation is like the traffic signals of writing—it guides the reader through your words, indicating when to pause, stop, or expect more. Here's a quick guide:

  • A period (.) signals the end of a sentence.
  • A comma (,) indicates a pause or separates items in a list.
  • Colons (:) and semicolons (;) can be used to connect related sentences or divide complex lists.

Tip: Punctuation misuse can lead to confusion or misunderstandings, so it's worth taking the time to learn the rules.

Capitalization helps distinguish specific words, like proper nouns, from the rest of the text. Here are some capitalization rules:

  • Capitalize the first word of a sentence.
  • Capitalize proper nouns, which include names of people, places, organizations, and sometimes things.
  • Do not capitalize common nouns unless they're at the beginning of a sentence.

Note: Incorrect capitalization can be a distraction to readers, so keep these rules in mind as you write.

Getting the basics right is the first step to understanding what mechanics in writing is all about. Once you've nailed these, you're ready to tackle more advanced aspects of writing mechanics.

Expanding your vocabulary is like adding more colors to your palette—it allows you to paint more vivid, precise pictures with your words. Let's look at some effective ways to build your vocabulary.

A thesaurus is a treasure trove of words. It's an invaluable tool to help you find synonyms (words that mean the same thing) and antonyms (words that mean the opposite). Here's how to make the most of a thesaurus:

  • When you come across a word you're overusing, look it up in the thesaurus. You'll find a list of alternatives to add variety to your writing.
  • Use a thesaurus to learn new words, but make sure to also learn their definitions to use them correctly.

Tip: While a thesaurus can enhance your writing, remember that simplicity often trumps complexity. Don't use complicated words when a simpler one will do.

Just like a chef needs to know a variety of ingredients to create different dishes, a writer needs a vast vocabulary to express diverse ideas. Here's how:

  • Read widely and diversely: Books, newspapers, magazines, and even websites can be rich sources of new words.
  • Use a word of the day calendar or app to learn a new word every day.
  • When you encounter a word you don't know, look it up. Try to use it in a sentence to help remember it.

Remember: Language is continuously evolving, and so should your vocabulary. Challenge yourself to learn new words regularly.

In today's digital age, learning new words is as easy as tapping on your smartphone. Vocabulary apps like Magoosh, Vocabulary.com, and Anki can make learning new words fun and convenient. Here are some benefits:

  • Most vocabulary apps feature a word of the day, flashcards, quizzes, and progress tracking.
  • They allow you to learn at your own pace, whether you have a few minutes or an hour to spare.
  • They make learning interactive, which can help improve retention.

Note: While apps can be helpful, they should supplement—not replace—reading as a means of building your vocabulary.

Building a robust vocabulary not only helps you express your ideas more precisely but also understand others better. It's an integral part of what mechanics in writing is all about.

Writing, like any skill, improves with practice. The more you write, the more you'll hone your mechanics in writing. Let's dive into some practical ways to write regularly.

Setting goals can give your writing practice direction and purpose. Here's how to set effective writing goals:

  • Start with small, achievable goals like writing 200 words a day. Once you're comfortable with that, gradually increase your word count.
  • Be specific about what you want to achieve. Instead of "I want to write more," say "I want to write a 500-word blog post every week."
  • Hold yourself accountable. Track your progress, and celebrate your achievements—no matter how small.

Remember: The goal is not just to write more, but also to write better. Always strive to improve your writing mechanics.

Writing may be a solitary activity, but that doesn't mean you have to do it alone. Joining a writing group can provide support, feedback, and motivation. Here are some benefits:

  • Writing groups can provide constructive feedback to help you improve your writing.
  • They can offer encouragement, especially when you're feeling stuck or uninspired.
  • You can learn from other writers' experiences and techniques.

Note: You can find writing groups in your local community or online. Choose one that aligns with your writing goals and interests.

Writing prompts can kickstart your creativity when you're feeling stuck or uninspired. They can be a word, a phrase, a situation, or even a picture. Here's how to use them:

  • Choose a prompt that interests you. Don't feel limited by the prompt—let your imagination run wild.
  • Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and write without stopping or editing. This can help you get into the flow of writing.
  • Use prompts to explore different genres, styles, and tones. It can help improve your versatility as a writer.

Tip: You can find writing prompts in books, websites, or even writing apps. Use them as a tool to practice and experiment with your writing.

Writing regularly is like exercise for your brain—it strengthens your writing muscles and improves your writing mechanics. So, grab your pen or keyboard and start writing!

Editing is a crucial part of writing mechanics. It's the stage where you refine your work, clarify your ideas, and eliminate errors. Let's delve into some ways you can effectively edit your work.

Proofreading is the process of checking for and correcting mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting. Here are some tips:

  • Take a break before proofreading. Coming back to your work with fresh eyes can make it easier to spot errors.
  • Read your work aloud. This can help you catch awkward sentences and misplaced punctuation.
  • Use a spell-checker, but don't rely on it completely. It can miss homophones and context-specific errors.

Remember: Proofreading is not just about finding errors—it's also about making sure your writing is clear, coherent, and engaging.

Editing tools can help you catch errors and improve your writing. They can check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, as well as readability and style issues. Here's how to use them:

  • Choose a tool that suits your needs. Some popular options include Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, and ProWritingAid.
  • Use them as a guide, not a rulebook. They can offer suggestions, but you're the one who knows your voice and message best.
  • Don't forget to proofread even after using an editing tool. No tool can catch every error.

Note: While editing tools can be useful, they're not a substitute for understanding writing mechanics and editing skills. Use them as a complement, not a crutch.

If you're working on a big project or you want a professional touch, consider hiring a proofreader. A proofreader can provide a fresh perspective and catch errors you might have missed. Here's what to consider:

  • Look for a proofreader who specializes in your type of writing. A proofreader experienced in academic writing might not be the best fit for a novel, for example.
  • Be clear about your expectations. What do you want the proofreader to focus on—grammar, formatting, style, or all of the above?
  • Remember to budget for this. While it can be a worthwhile investment, professional proofreading services do come with a cost.

Tip: You can find professional proofreaders on platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, or even LinkedIn.

Editing is like polishing a rough diamond—it can transform your writing from good to great. So, embrace the editing process and see your writing shine!

Learning from others is a crucial aspect of understanding what mechanics in writing is all about. It's about observing, understanding, and implementing the styles, techniques, and strategies of successful writers. Let's explore how you can learn from others to improve your writing mechanics.

Reading quality writing is a powerful way to learn. It exposes you to different styles, tones, and effective uses of language. Here are some strategies you can adopt:

  • Read a variety of genres. From novels by Stephen King to research papers by Albert Einstein, different genres offer different lessons.
  • Analyze what you read. Look at how the writer structures sentences, builds paragraphs, and uses punctuation. This is an excellent way to learn practical writing mechanics.
  • Take notes. If a piece of writing impresses you, jot down why. Did they use a clever metaphor? Was their argument well-structured?

Remember: Reading is not just about consuming content—it's also about understanding how effective writing is crafted.

Writing courses are a structured way to learn writing mechanics. They can offer guided lessons, practical exercises, and expert feedback. Here's how to go about it:

  • Choose a course that suits your needs. There are courses on everything from basic grammar to advanced narrative techniques.
  • Engage fully with the course. Complete the exercises, ask questions, and take advantage of any feedback offered.
  • Don't forget to apply what you learn. Practice is key to improving your writing mechanics.

Note: You can find a wealth of writing courses online, on platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and even YouTube.

Following expert bloggers can offer insights into successful writing. You can learn from their style, their engagement strategies, and their content. Here are some tips:

  • Choose bloggers who write about topics you're interested in. This will make your learning process more enjoyable.
  • Take note of how they engage their readers. Do they use humor? Do they ask questions? Do they use storytelling?
  • Try implementing some of their strategies in your own writing. Remember—it's not about copying, but about learning and adapting.

Tip: Some popular bloggers who are known for their excellent writing include Seth Godin (marketing), Maria Popova (culture), and Tim Urban (science and philosophy).

Learning from others is like standing on the shoulders of giants—it gives you a higher vantage point from which to improve your writing mechanics. Embrace the journey, and see your writing skills soar!

One of the best ways to understand what mechanics in writing truly means, is to experiment with different styles and tones. By varying your style and tone, you can discover your unique writing voice and learn how to adapt it to different contexts. Here's how to go about it.

Writing styles are like the clothes that language wears - they can completely change the perception of your words. Exploring different styles can teach you a lot about writing mechanics. Here are some steps to take:

  • Explore styles across genres. Write a short story one day, a business report the next, and maybe a poem after that.
  • Imitate the styles of writers you admire. This can help you understand the mechanics behind their writing.
  • Experiment until you find a style that feels authentically yours. Your unique style is your trademark as a writer.

Remember: Trying different styles isn't about being inconsistent, but about understanding the vast possibilities of language.

Tone is the mood or attitude conveyed by your writing. Adapting your tone to suit different contexts is a key part of mastering writing mechanics. Here's how to get started:

  • Write the same content in different tones. Try writing a cheerful blog post, a serious academic essay, and a satirical commentary.
  • Take note of the words, sentence structures, and punctuation that set the tone in different pieces of writing.
  • Practice adjusting your tone based on your audience and purpose. A speech for a wedding will have a different tone than a speech for a business conference.

Note: The right tone can make your writing engaging, persuasive, and memorable. So, don't be afraid to play around with it!

Writing in different genres can help you explore new perspectives and challenge your writing mechanics. Here's how to do it:

  • Choose a genre you're unfamiliar with. This could be anything from science fiction to journalistic writing.
  • Research the conventions and expectations of the genre. What makes a crime novel different from a romance novel?
  • Write a short piece in your chosen genre. Remember, it's not about producing a masterpiece, but about learning and growing as a writer.

Tip: Writing in different genres can also help you discover new interests and expand your writing horizons.

Exploring different styles, tones, and genres is like a fun adventure in the world of writing. So, get ready to experiment and learn, and watch your understanding of writing mechanics deepen and evolve!

Writing is a two-way street. As you explore what mechanics in writing is, remember that a significant part of good writing involves engaging your readers. Here are a few strategies to help you connect with your audience better.

Interactive content is a great way to engage your readers and make your writing more memorable. Here's how you can incorporate it into your work:

  • Use quizzes, polls, or surveys to encourage reader participation.
  • Include infographics or interactive diagrams to explain complex concepts.
  • Add a comments section where readers can share their thoughts.

Remember: Interactive content not only makes your writing more engaging but also helps you understand your readers better.

Responding to your readers' comments is an excellent way to build a community around your writing. Here's how to do it effectively:

  • Thank your readers for their comments, even if they're critical. This shows that you value their input.
  • Answer questions and provide additional information where necessary.
  • Use readers' feedback to improve your writing. Their perspectives can help you understand the mechanics of writing from different angles.

Note: Responding to comments can take time, but it's worth it for the connection you'll build with your readers.

Engaging titles can draw readers in and make them eager to read your content. Here's how to craft compelling titles:

  • Keep your titles short and clear. Avoid jargon and complex phrases.
  • Make your titles intriguing but not misleading. The content should deliver what the title promises.
  • Use powerful words that evoke emotion or curiosity.

Tip: A great title can make the difference between your content being read or ignored, so spend time perfecting it!

Engaging your readers is an art in itself, and mastering it can take your writing to new heights. So, as you explore the mechanics of writing, don't forget to keep your readers at the heart of your work!

Writing can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, but staying motivated is key. Even as you grapple with the question, "what is mechanics in writing?", maintaining your enthusiasm for the craft is crucial. Here are some ways to keep your writing spirit high.

Personal writing goals can help you stay focused and motivated. Here are some tips on setting effective goals:

  • Set both short-term and long-term goals. A short-term goal could be writing a certain number of words per day, while a long-term goal could be completing a novel in a year.
  • Make your goals achievable but challenging. This can help you push your writing skills to the next level.
  • Track your progress. Seeing how far you've come can be incredibly motivating.

Remember: Setting personal goals is like creating a roadmap for your writing journey. It keeps you on track and makes the destination seem achievable.

Celebrating small wins can boost your motivation and make the writing process more enjoyable. Here's how:

  • Celebrate each completed chapter, blog post, or poem. These small victories are stepping stones to your larger goals.
  • Share your accomplishments with others. Whether it's a supportive friend, a writing group, or your social media followers, sharing your progress can be motivating and rewarding.
  • Give yourself a small reward for each achievement. This could be as simple as a cup of your favorite coffee or a walk in the park.

Tip: Celebrating small wins can make the writing process more enjoyable and keep your motivation levels high. It's all about enjoying the journey, not just the destination.

Keeping a writing journal can be a great source of motivation and a way to track your progress. Here's how you can use a writing journal:

  • Record your daily writing achievements, no matter how small they may seem.
  • Write down your thoughts, ideas, and inspirations. They could be useful for your future writing projects.
  • Reflect on your writing journey. This can help you see how much you've grown as a writer.

Note: A writing journal is more than just a record of your writing—it's a tool that can help you stay motivated and inspired.

Staying motivated as you navigate the world of writing mechanics is key. With these strategies, you can keep your writing spirit high, no matter the challenges you face.

As you continue to explore "what is mechanics in writing", it's important to stay grounded and focused. Practicing mindfulness can bring clarity to your writing process and instill calmness in your practice. Here's how.

Meditation can help you clear your mind and focus on your writing. Consider these steps:

  • Before you begin a writing session, take a few minutes to meditate. This can help clear your mind and prepare you for focused writing.
  • Focus on your breath or a calming word or phrase during your meditation.
  • Try to make meditation a part of your daily writing routine for maximum benefits.

Keep in mind: Meditation isn't about achieving a certain state—it's about being present and focused. This can greatly enhance your writing practice.

Mindful writing involves being present and focused while you write. Here's how to practice it:

  • Before you start writing, take a moment to become aware of your surroundings. Notice the feel of the pen or keyboard under your fingers, the sound of your breath, the words forming in your mind.
  • As you write, stay focused on the present moment and the words flowing from your mind to the page.
  • When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your writing.

Remember: Mindful writing can help you write more clearly and creatively. It's about enjoying the process, not just the end result.

Staying present while writing can help you write more effectively and enjoy the process more. Consider these tips:

  • Try to stay focused on your writing, without worrying about the past or the future.
  • If you find your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the task at hand.
  • Take regular breaks to rest and refocus.

Note: Staying present while writing isn't always easy, but it's worth the effort. It can bring a new level of depth and enjoyment to your writing practice.

Practicing mindfulness can bring calmness and clarity to your writing practice. As you continue to explore the mechanics of writing, remember to stay present and enjoy the process.

Understanding "what is mechanics in writing" is a journey that involves continuous learning and improvement. Here's how you can reflect on your progress and plan for improvement.

Receiving feedback is a powerful way to improve your writing. You can:

  • Ask friends, family, or fellow writers to read your work and give their opinions.
  • Consider their feedback and decide which suggestions can help improve your writing.
  • Apply these suggestions in your next piece of writing.

Don't forget: Feedback is not about criticism, it's about growth. Every piece of advice is a step towards becoming a better writer.

Tracking your writing progress can help you see how far you've come and where you can improve. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Keep a record of the pieces you've written, noting the date, word count, and any feedback you received.
  • Every few weeks or months, review your progress and note any patterns or improvements.
  • Use this information to guide your future writing efforts.

Tip: Analysing your progress can help you appreciate your growth and inspire you to keep improving. It's a way of saying "look how far you've come!"

Once you've analysed your progress, it's time to plan for further improvement. Here's how:

  • Identify areas where you'd like to improve. This might be grammar, vocabulary, or a specific aspect of writing mechanics.
  • Create a plan to work on these areas. This might involve setting aside time for study, joining a writing group, or taking a course.
  • Stick to your plan and review it regularly to ensure it's helping you reach your goals.

Remember: Improvement is a journey, not a destination. As you continue to learn about the mechanics of writing, celebrate your progress and always strive to do better.

Understanding "what is mechanics in writing" is a lifelong journey. By reflecting on your progress and planning for improvement, you can continue to grow and develop as a writer. And remember, every step you take is a step towards becoming a better writer.

If you're eager to improve your writing skills and learn more about the art of storytelling, be sure to check out Jessy Moussallem's workshop titled ' Scriptwriting '. This workshop provides valuable insights, tips, and techniques to help you craft compelling scripts and elevate your writing abilities to the next level.

Kinetic Art of Yuko Mohri: Insights & Inspiration

Live classes every day

Learn from industry-leading creators

Get useful feedback from experts and peers

Best deal of the year

* billed annually after the trial ends.

*Billed monthly after the trial ends.

Mechanics 1.jpg

Follow the online continuing education series for fiction writers of all levels: The Mechanics of Fiction Writing . Links to video forms of each lecture are available via the thumbnail in the appropriate section heading. You can support this series and future productions by purchasing a copy of the accompanying book of lecture notes and skill-sharpening exercises for yourself or as a gift to a fellow writer.


Lessons 1 & 2

Laying the foundation for Mechanics . Learn why fiction gets taught the way it does, how Mechanics changes the game, and how we can construct a functional definition of fiction as a target to aim at as fiction writers.


Lessons 3-14

Build a comprehensive understanding of how plot works in fiction based on decades of scholarship in narrative theory, breakthroughs in cognitive science, and a thorough grounding in narrative craft.


Lessons 15-25

Develop a bulletproof framework for understanding the narrator. Learn how the narrator's posture in relation to the story affects the narrator's attributes and functions, and how these characteristics shape the story each narrator tells.


Lessons 26-30

Learn how your readers form their impressions of your characters from the cues your writing presents them. Explore major attributes from reliability and agency to likability and roundness: access the keys to building characters readers will see as vivid human avatars.


Lessons 31-36

Discover how cognitive science shapes our understanding of how readers construct storyworld space in their minds: everything from how readers map space and even feel a "sense of a place" to how you can craft lasting images, you will enhance your ability to create vivid and immersive storyworlds.


Lessons 37-46

Sharpen your ability to convey your stories clearly, accurately, and beautifully. Heighten your awareness of rhythm, style, and sentence structure, and learn how reader-focused prose can more effectively and artistically convey stories worth reading and sharing.


Lessons 47-51

Survey both the abstract and more concrete elements of stories that exist between the lines: explore everything from metaphors (small and large) to the implicit rules of conversation to the symbolism and epiphanies that give stories their emotional force and meaning. Build a framework for understanding how and why stories are meaningful for readers.


Lessons 52-54

Cover a wide range of ground beyond the pages of the book itself. Consider useful advice on how to adapt well to a life as a fiction writer, from effective ways of approaching a blank page to protecting your mental health and well-being. Also examine the comprehensive list for further reading on the topics covered in Mechanics .

References .jpg

Lesson Notes

References for each of the sources discussed in the individual lessons are on the attached PDF file, organized by section (unfortunately not by individual lesson) But all lesson references are listed through the button below.

The Mechanics of Fiction Writing is the most comprehensive, original, skills-based method yet created to instruct the art of fiction writing. Drawing from the diverse fields of Narratology, Cognitive Science, Linguistics, and established traditions in craft, this series offers accomplished and aspiring writers alike the best body of knowledge available on the crucial elements of fiction writing. Through this series, writers will deepen their explicit understanding of narrative techniques and sharpen their ability to apply them in their own writing.

The companion volume (available through the bookstore linked to the image on the right) offers writers a vehicle for practicing the specific skills presented in each lecture above. every exercise follows a specific lesson, challenging writers to sharpen each facet of their writing in a unique and useful way. the notes and exercises encourage a mastery of plot, narration, character building, storyworld construction, sentence-level prose, and symbolic meaning. this is where knowledge meets function..

Cover RES 1.jpg

mechanics of story

You may have the insight of a Buddha, but if you cannot tell a story, your ideas turn dry as chalk. For talent without craft is like fuel without an engine. It burns wildly but accomplishes nothing.  

Robert McKee

writing fiction mechanics

Characterisation, dialogue, description, plot, action, point of view, suspense . . . each playing a vital role in enabling the confident creation of stories.

Workshops are available for the MECHANICS OF STORY in the following areas:

(half day or full day)

Description is one of the fundamental elements in storytelling and has multiple functions.  We use it to ground and set a story in place and time, build character, mood, tension and suspense, shift pace, add plausibility, provide metaphors and deepen thematic exploration. In any story there is also a balance that should be sought, between action, reflection and description. Too little description and the story remains floating, ungrounded. Too much description and the story threads become lost.

Through a combination of discussion, readings and exercises, this workshop asks a range of questions in order to deepen our understanding of description. What more is this scene trying to tell us? How might it act as metaphor, as an expression of a universal truth, a human emotion, a philosophical idea? In answering these questions, it becomes possible to layer and deepen our stories and their themes, while at the same time creating a convincing setting that transports the reader into the world of the story, enabling them to suspend disbelief until the end.

(full day or weekend)

Whether we are writing a screen or stage play, a novel, memoir or short story, characterisation is an important element that infuses much of the narrative and drives the plot. But how do we create credible three-dimensional characters that drive our plots and emotionally engage our readers?

This workshop is designed to explore a range of technical tools for creating nuanced credible characters. Through a combination of discussions, readings and linked writing exercises, students will develop their own character/s.  In the process they will explore the role of description and dialogue, the archetypal function/s of characters, how a character’s desires and fears drive the plot, the role of conflict in story development, and how a character might change and develop through the course of a story.

Alternatively, each of the following character workshops can be run individually:

It’s all in the detail – Describing our characters (half day)

Action versus Reaction – Motivating our characters (half day)

Character and Conflict – Inner, inter and outer (half day)

Character Arc – From character to story (half day)

 Whether you’re writing a screen or stage play, a novel, memoir or short story, dialogue is a powerful tool for revealing character, imparting information and advancing plot. Dialogue helps to bring a story to life, shifting the emphasis from telling to action, and in so doing, building pace, intensifying conflict and communicating themes. Dialogue is concentrated speech. At its best it should go to the heart of the story and say only what needs saying and  highlighting the often unspoken tensions between and within, characters.

Through discussions, readings and writing exercises, this workshop explores techniques for improving our dialogue skills, looking at when, where and how to use dialogue in our writing in order to create unique characters and credible stories. 

Openings need to be intriguing, they need to seduce us, startle us, make our spirits lift with anticipation or make us sigh with the beauty of their description. In short, they need to draw us into the story, in whatever way they can, hooking the reader and making sure they keep turning the pages.

Through discussion, readings and writing exercises we will explore the various functions of openings, a range of tools for writing a compelling opening and a number of different approaches to openings depending on the genre and style of a project. And crucially we will also look at how to take the seeds of an idea, choose where to start and begin grounding it in narrative. 

Whether you are writing fiction or narrative non fiction, action is fundamental element of story, moving the plot forward, creating pace and revealing character. We often think of action as only the big events – a birth, a wedding, a murder, a car chase . . . but action also plays an important role in helping more static scenes flow easily, such as ones which involve contemplation or conversation. To make the most of these contemplative moments and to ensure they are engaging for the reader they also need to be grounded in simple action and in setting.

Through discussions, readings and writing exercises, this workshop looks at ways to bring to life the big dramas as well as the simple moments in our stories. We’ll explore techniques for ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’, and consider how to build tension and work with pace, as well as character and setting, in order to write compelling scenes.

Whether you’re writing fiction or creative non-fiction, working with short stories, full length novels or screen plays, flashbacks are a commonly used technical device. They provide crucial backstory about the plot and characters, as well as ease the monotony of a linear story structure. A flashback can be written as a full scene, a partial scene or simply as a quick summary of a memory. It can be a hint of something to add texture and help build a nuanced character or it can be a major thread in a story.

Through discussions, readings and writing exercises, in this workshop we explore what flashbacks add to a story and when they are needed. We also look at techniques to seamlessly weave flashbacks into our stories in ways that enrich our plots and deepen our characters. 

Short stories are hugely diverse in genre, style and structure and can be anything from a few words to just short of a novella. While the short story shares some techniques with longer forms, it is an art in its own right. As VS Pritchett wrote, a short story is ‘something glimpsed from the corner of the eye in passing.’

Through a combination of readings, discussion and exercises, we’ll look at a range of short story techniques as well as a number of short story forms and styles. We’ll explore the difference between conflict and contrast, and experiment with ways of employing them in our stories. We’ll also consider potential story structures, look at the function of epiphany and play with character, setting and language, in order to discover how to effectively use these techniques in our own stories.

Writing memoir is more than simply putting facts onto paper; it involves delving into the past, making meaning from it and bringing it to life for the reader. It is a rewarding and often healing process, but the emotional roller coaster of reliving the past results in many people becoming lost along the way. It makes sense to begin that journey by asking ourselves some big questions. What are our defining stories? Why do we want to write about our lives? What themes do we wish to explore? What parts of our life do we wish to document? Who are we writing for? . . .

Incorporating discussion, examples and creative writing exercises, this workshop offers participants an introduction to some of the art and the craft of life writing. During the workshop, we will dig for the stories that form the roots of our identities and tap the themes that flow through our lives. We’ll also identify transitional points in our lives, seeking to understand their purpose and express them in creative ways. Further discussions and exercises will explore voice, perspective and reflection as tools to express our stories and connect with our audience.

Alternatively, each of the following life writing workshops can be run independently:

  • Framing Our Stories: Epiphanies, Turning Points and Themes (2-3hrs)
  • Finding Our Voice: Point of View, Perspective and Reflection (2-3hrs)
  • Bringing Our Stories to Life: Immersive Detail (2-3hrs)

Many people see editing as simply a process of tidying up grammar and spelling but there is much more to it than that. Line editing should come at a later stage, once the bigger issues are dealt with, because if we get lost in the detail we fail to see the larger problems in our stories: the gaping holes in our plot, the weak structure, the underdeveloped characters, even the rhythm and flow of the pace.

In this workshop we cover structural and content editing, as well as basic proof reading, with exercises designed to identify and address the most common problems. Students also learn to prepare manuscripts for submission, write publisher proposals, consider the market and decide on the appropriate direction to take a manuscript. If you wish to develop your own writing, this workshop will provide you with tools to redraft your manuscript before submitting it to an agent or publisher, thus greatly enhancing your chances of publication. If you wish to learn how to edit the writing of others, this workshop will provide an introduction.

Writing a novel is an immensely rewarding experience but it’s also a long and often lonely process and many people give up along the way. This series of online workshops will get you started on that novel you’ve always wanted to write or help kick-start a novel you’re bogged down with. Limited to a maximum of eight participants, this highly interactive workshop series is designed to give you support and encouragement, regular deadlines, constructive feedback and an understanding of the craft of writing a novel. You’ll receive help formulating your idea, explore ways to hook your reader from the beginning, learn how to develop credible characters and use turning points to move the plot forward. The emphasis in the first workshop each month will be on exploring and experimenting with technical writing elements, while the second workshop each month will focus on reading and discussing a short segment of your work, considering its context and helping to resolve any problems you’re struggling with.

All our workshops range in length from two hours to a few days. All are easily adapted for the needs of different audiences and for length requirements.

While our workshops reference creative writing techniques and contain writing exercises, they are designed for everyone, regardless of writing experience or skill.

If you’re interested in any of the listed workshops do get in touch so we can discuss your requirements.

Each workshop can be run as a stand-alone workshop or a series of workshops can be run together.

“Rosie’s workshops have been incredibly inspiring for me.

 I love how she is able to express the inexpressible parts of human experience,

and how she is artfully able to teach what she knows.

I’ve also really appreciated Rosie’s capacity to encourage group participation and cohesion,

so that the learning and writing is enhanced by being in a very alive, warm and enjoyable environment.”  

Cindy Aulby


for information about workshops, services, resources and our latest articles.


Rethinking the Craft of Fiction Writing: Resources on Teaching and Learning Creative Writing (January 2022): Mechanics

  • Creativity and the Writing Life
  • Craft Classics
  • Modern Takes
  • Characterization, Structure, and Style
  • The Non-Neutrality of Craft

Works Cited

The writer of fiction will benefit as much as the journalist or the scholar from The Copyeditor’s Handbook , by Amy Einsohn, and the “Style and Usage” section of The Chicago Manual of Style , but there are conventions particular to stories and novels that are beyond the scope of such texts. Brian Shawver’s The Language of Fiction: A Writer’s Stylebook , and Renni Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print represent a subclass of craft books dedicated to the mechanics of writing. With chapters such as “How Should You Format and Punctuate Dialogue?” and “What Are Your Options for Portraying Characters’ Thoughts?” The Language of Fiction provides novice writers with the tools they need to make informed stylistic decisions. It also includes a helpful glossary for intuitive writers who remain a little foggy about such things as the distinction between a gerund and a present participle. Drawing on years of editorial experience, Browne and King adopt a direct, self-assured tone in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers , in which they seek to steer beginning writers away from styles and tics likely to evoke an eye-roll from an editor deciding whether or not to publish the writer’s story. In a chapter on dialogue, for example, they argue for using “said” almost exclusively for speaker attributions (and eliminating any “-ly” adverb that modifies “said”). Browne and King also provide examples and exercises aimed at eliminating some of the writer’s bad habits and encouraging better ones. 

Cover Art

  • << Previous: Characterization, Structure, and Style
  • Next: The Non-Neutrality of Craft >>
  • Last Updated: Feb 16, 2022 8:57 AM
  • URL: https://ala-choice.libguides.com/c.php?g=1212931

Logo for Open Library Publishing Platform

Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.

Unit 4: Writing Mechanics

Writ course learning outcomes (lo) addressed.

  • COMPOSE complete sentences and paragraphs using effective vocabulary  (LO 6).
  • EXPRESS a clear written argument (LO 7).
  • PROVIDE evidence in support of arguments (LO 8).
  • APPLY basic principles of quotation and/or paraphrase integration (LO 9).

Rubric Spotlight

writing fiction mechanics

  • Errors that are absent or minor
  • An assured and sophisticated command of grammatical structures, punctuation, mechanics, usage
  • Language use that enhances your message

Putting the Pieces Together Copyright © 2020 by Andrew Stracuzzi and André Cormier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Welcome to the Purdue Online Writing Lab

OWL logo

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University houses writing resources and instructional material, and we provide these as a free service of the Writing Lab at Purdue. Students, members of the community, and users worldwide will find information to assist with many writing projects. Teachers and trainers may use this material for in-class and out-of-class instruction.

The Purdue On-Campus Writing Lab and Purdue Online Writing Lab assist clients in their development as writers—no matter what their skill level—with on-campus consultations, online participation, and community engagement. The Purdue Writing Lab serves the Purdue, West Lafayette, campus and coordinates with local literacy initiatives. The Purdue OWL offers global support through online reference materials and services.

A Message From the Assistant Director of Content Development 

The Purdue OWL® is committed to supporting  students, instructors, and writers by offering a wide range of resources that are developed and revised with them in mind. To do this, the OWL team is always exploring possibilties for a better design, allowing accessibility and user experience to guide our process. As the OWL undergoes some changes, we welcome your feedback and suggestions by email at any time.

Please don't hesitate to contact us via our contact page  if you have any questions or comments.

All the best,

Social Media

Facebook twitter.

writing fiction mechanics

  • Writing, Research & Publishing Guides

Kindle app logo image

Download the free Kindle app and start reading Kindle books instantly on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required .

Read instantly on your browser with Kindle for Web.

Using your mobile phone camera - scan the code below and download the Kindle app.

QR code to download the Kindle App

Follow the author

Barry B. Longyear

Image Unavailable

Science Fiction Writer&#39;s Workshop-I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics

  • To view this video download Flash Player

Science Fiction Writer's Workshop-I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics Paperback – April 26, 2002

SFWW-I is that book. It's the book I was looking for when I first started writing fiction. -- Barry B. Longyear

  • Print length 172 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Backinprint.Com
  • Publication date April 26, 2002
  • Dimensions 6 x 0.75 x 9 inches
  • ISBN-10 0595225535
  • ISBN-13 978-0595225538
  • See all details

The Amazon Book Review

Popular titles by this author


Editorial Reviews

About the author, product details.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Backinprint.Com (April 26, 2002)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 172 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0595225535
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0595225538
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 9.6 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 0.75 x 9 inches
  • #570 in Science Fiction & Fantasy Writing
  • #11,172 in Fiction Writing Reference (Books)

About the author

Barry b. longyear.

Hugo & Nebula winning author of Enemy Mine (made into a major motion picture by Fox)

BARRY B. LONGYEAR is the first writer to win the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer all in the same year. In addition to his acclaimed Enemy Mine Series, his works include the classic Sea of Glass and Infinity Hold series, SF & fantasy novels, recovery and writing instruction works, and numerous short stories.

Nominations and Awards*:

1979 (Nomination) John W. Campbell Award for best new writer.

1979 John W. Campbell Award for best new writer.

1979 Hugo Award, best novella, "Enemy Mine."

1979 Nebula Award, best novella, "Enemy Mine."

1979 Locus Award, best novella, "Enemy Mine."

1979 (Nomination) Hugo Award, best novelette, "Homecoming."

1980 (Nomination), Hugo Award, best novelette, "Savage Planet."

1980 (Nomination), Locus Award, best novelette, "Savage Planet."

1980 (Nomination), AnLab Award, best novelette, "Savage Planet."

1981 (Nomination) Locus Award, Single Author Collection, Manifest Destiny.

1981 Distinguished Achievement Award, University of Maine at Farmington.

1982 (Nomination), AnLab Award, best short story, "Collector's Item."

1984 (Nomination) Prometheus Award, best novel, The Tomorrow Testament.

1990 (Finalist) Philip K. Dick Award, best novel, Infinity Hold.

1990 (Nomination) Prometheus Award, best novel, Infinity Hold.

1991 (Nomination) Prometheus Hall of Fame, Circus World.

1993 (Nomination), Locus Award, best novelette, "Chimaera."

1994 (Nomination), Locus Award, best novelette, "The Death Addict."

1999 (Nomination) Prometheus Hall of Fame, Circus World.

2002 (Nomination), Locus Award, best novella, "Silent Her."

2006 AnLab Award, best novella, "The Good Kill."

2007 AnLab Award, best novella, "Murder in Parliament Street."

Customer reviews

Customer Reviews, including Product Star Ratings help customers to learn more about the product and decide whether it is the right product for them.

To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Instead, our system considers things like how recent a review is and if the reviewer bought the item on Amazon. It also analyzed reviews to verify trustworthiness.

  • Sort reviews by Top reviews Most recent Top reviews

Top reviews from the United States

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. please try again later..

writing fiction mechanics

Top reviews from other countries

writing fiction mechanics

  • Amazon Newsletter
  • About Amazon
  • Accessibility
  • Sustainability
  • Press Center
  • Investor Relations
  • Amazon Devices
  • Amazon Science
  • Sell on Amazon
  • Sell apps on Amazon
  • Supply to Amazon
  • Protect & Build Your Brand
  • Become an Affiliate
  • Become a Delivery Driver
  • Start a Package Delivery Business
  • Advertise Your Products
  • Self-Publish with Us
  • Become an Amazon Hub Partner
  • › See More Ways to Make Money
  • Amazon Visa
  • Amazon Store Card
  • Amazon Secured Card
  • Amazon Business Card
  • Shop with Points
  • Credit Card Marketplace
  • Reload Your Balance
  • Amazon Currency Converter
  • Your Account
  • Your Orders
  • Shipping Rates & Policies
  • Amazon Prime
  • Returns & Replacements
  • Manage Your Content and Devices
  • Recalls and Product Safety Alerts
  • Conditions of Use
  • Privacy Notice
  • Consumer Health Data Privacy Disclosure
  • Your Ads Privacy Choices

C. S. Lakin

No products in the cart.

writing fiction mechanics

Writing Mechanics: To Paragraph or Not to Paragraph

Today editor Christy Distler continues  our look at Fatal Flaw #12: Flawed Writing Mechanics. We’ve looked at how novels are structured like mini novels , and explored sentence structure . Now we’ll take a look at paragraphs to see just what problems they pose to the fiction writer.

Earlier this month, Rachel talked about scene structure, describing how to write scenes as “mini novels.” Today I want to talk about another type of structure in fiction: paragraph structure. We’ve already looked at why white space is important, but to use white space well, we need to understand when to start and end a paragraph.

Here are some basic guidelines for paragraphing (in fiction):

  • Begin a new paragraph anytime the speaker changes . By starting a new paragraph, the reader will automatically know a different character is talking.

“Good morning, Joe,” John said from the next cubicle over.

“Hey, John.” Joe sat down at his desk.

  • Keep individual characters’ actions, thoughts, and speech in one paragraph. Character actions, also known as action beats (e.g., “He smiled” or “She crossed her arms”), allow the reader to “see” what’s going on in the scene and also provide a great alternative to repeated dialog tags (e.g., “he said”).

Jenna grabbed a bottle of orange juice from the refrigerator case and checked her watch as she headed for the register. Late again. She forced a smile at the cashier. “Good morning.”

“How’s it going?” He nodded at her drink. “That all for today?”

  • If, for some reason, keeping a character’s actions, thoughts, and speech together results in a very long paragraph, consider shortening the paragraph by either adding another character’s interaction in a new paragraph or breaking the paragraph into two paragraphs at a logical place.
  • When conveying action involving more than one character, (in most cases) allow each character his or her own paragraph.

Colleen started down the aisle of the nearly full bus, glancing over the riders. Jim said he’d save her a seat. Hopefully he had.

Near the back of the bus, a hand went up.

She hurried back and dropped onto the seat next to him. “Thanks.”

  • Start a new paragraph with a change in time or place.

Amanda closed her locker. “I’m going to the library. You coming?”

“I’ll catch up with you there.” Jana said. “I have to stop by Mrs. Patterson’s classroom first.”

Twenty minutes later, Jana finally walked into the library.

Amanda waved her over to where she sat at a computer. “What took you so long?”

She sighed as she pulled a chair over beside her. “Mrs. Patterson could talk the teeth out of a saw.”

  • In fiction, as in nonfiction, begin a new paragraph whenever the main idea of the paragraph changes.
  • Start a new paragraph to offset a sentence or two for emphasis. Paragraphing so one sentence (or two) stands alone can provide extra punch to the sentence(s) and even the scene. (Just be sure not to overuse standalone sentences because the repetition will diminish the effect.)

With these guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at how both faulty and appropriate paragraphing would affect a scene.

My chest tightened as Mother and Daddy’s car drove out of the parking lot late that afternoon. My first day at Covington Hall had gone much better than I’d expected, but the reality of my parents going home unsettled me. Strange. How many times over the last few years had I wished they’d give me some space? Now I was getting plenty. Forty-minutes’-drive worth of space to be exact. Daddy always did say to be careful what you wish for. Shoving my hands into my hoodie pockets, I drew a breath and let it out. What now?

“Hey, Cassie!”

I turned to find Ashley and a girl I hadn’t met coming across the parking lot. Connor, Landon, and another guy followed, joking among themselves. Ashley grinned as they neared.

“We’re about to go get dinner. You want to come along?”

Sure. Except that I couldn’t bear the thought of eating the cafeteria food—or in the cafeteria. Let the awkwardness begin.

“Uh . . . I have my own food. It’s in our room.”

Landon held up the insulated lunch bag he carried. “Me too. Allergic to milk, eggs, beef, and chicken.” At least I wasn’t the only one with food issues.

“But I’m not real good with cafeteria smells either.”

Connor shrugged. “No biggie. We eat out on the terrace when the weather’s nice anyway.” Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“Sounds good to me.” We started toward the dorms, and Landon stepped into pace beside me. “You have allergies too?”

I forced myself to look at him, and the sincere kindness of his expression eased my apprehension a bit. “Well . . . mine are aversions.”

He nodded. “We’ve got something in common then. My body’s allergic to some foods, and your mind’s allergic to some foods. Right?” Oh, this guy was awesome. I smiled.

“I’ve never heard it put that way before, but yeah, that pretty much covers it.”

I stopped and looked at Ashley as we reached the path to our dorm. “I have to grab my food. You can go ahead and get your dinner. I’ll meet you on the terrace.”

“I try not to go in the cafeteria,” Landon said. “Mind if I walk with you instead?”

Did I mind if the only guy I’d ever met who made me feel remotely comfortable—well, besides Daddy—walked with me? “Nope.” Not a bit.

My chest tightened as Mother and Daddy’s car drove out of the parking lot late that afternoon. My first day at Covington Hall had gone much better than I’d expected, but the reality of my parents going home unsettled me.

Strange. How many times over the last few years had I wished they’d give me some space? Now I was getting plenty. Forty-minutes’-drive worth of space to be exact. Daddy always did say to be careful what you wish for.

Shoving my hands into my hoodie pockets, I drew a breath and let it out. What now?

I turned to find Ashley and a girl I hadn’t met coming across the parking lot. Connor, Landon, and another guy followed, joking among themselves.

Ashley grinned as they neared. “We’re about to go get dinner. You want to come along?”

Sure. Except that I couldn’t bear the thought of eating the cafeteria food—or in the cafeteria. Let the awkwardness begin. “Uh . . . I have my own food. It’s in our room.”

Landon held up the insulated lunch bag he carried. “Me too. Allergic to milk, eggs, beef, and chicken.”

At least I wasn’t the only one with food issues. “But I’m not real good with cafeteria smells either.”

Connor shrugged. “No biggie. We eat out on the terrace when the weather’s nice anyway.”

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. “Sounds good to me.”

We started toward the dorms, and Landon stepped into pace beside me. “You have allergies too?”

I forced myself to look at him, and the sincere kindness of his expression eased my apprehension a bit. “Well…mine are aversions.”

He nodded. “We’ve got something in common then. My body’s allergic to some foods, and your mind’s allergic to some foods. Right?”

Oh, this guy was awesome. I smiled. “I’ve never heard it put that way before, but yeah, that pretty much covers it.” I stopped and looked at Ashley as we reached the path to our dorm. “I have to grab my food. You can go ahead and get your dinner. I’ll meet you on the terrace.”

Did I mind if the only guy I’d ever met who made me feel remotely comfortable—well, besides Daddy—walked with me? “Nope.”

The wording of the Before and After are identical. The only difference is in the paragraphing. Chances are, there were a few places in the Before where you were confused. Did you ever wonder who was speaking? In the After, the use of appropriate paragraphing makes the speaker obvious. As well, the standalone line at the end of the excerpt emphasizes how Cassie feels about Landon’s kindness.

Paying attention to writing mechanics is important for clarity and ease of reading. You might write beautiful sentences and plot out riveting stories with compelling characters. But if your “mechanics” are flawed, you might experience novel failure. So be sure to put this last fatal flaw on your checklist of things not to ignore when writing fiction.

Your turn. Do you ever have difficulty determining when to start or end a paragraph? Or can you think of other paragraphing guidelines to add to the list here? Do you ever use standalone sentences for emphasis? Join the discussion.

Search Posts Here

Subscribe to my blog, similar posts.

The Devil’s in the Details

The Devil’s in the Details

We’re continuing our look at Fatal Flaw # 1: Overwriting. Fiction writers often overwrite, and have trouble seeing how this manifests in…

Showing Your Scenes through Your Characters’ Senses

Showing Your Scenes through Your Characters’ Senses

One of the reasons readers willingly immerse themselves in a story is to be transported. Whether it’s to another planet,…

Building Blocks: Avoiding Weak Sentence Construction

Building Blocks: Avoiding Weak Sentence Construction

This month our editors are tackling Fatal Flaw #3: Weak Construction. Often fiction sags and wilts due to lackluster word choice,…

Unnecessary Discourse, Talking Heads, and the British Butler Syndrome

Unnecessary Discourse, Talking Heads, and the British Butler Syndrome

Today editor Christy Distler tackles further pitfalls of dialog in our month-long look at Fatal Flaw # 8: Flawed Dialog…

Staying in Character: The Convergence of POV and Voice

Staying in Character: The Convergence of POV and Voice

We’re wrapping up our look this month into Fatal Flaw #5: POV Violations. And there are many. POV “rules” aren’t hard…

The Art of Masterful Fiction Dialogue

The Art of Masterful Fiction Dialogue

Writing great dialogue is probably the hardest skill fiction writers need to acquire. If you’ve tried your hand at it,…

Readers don’t like big blocks of text. It’s like a wall that says “stop here.” So, white space is a good thing.

I’ve noticed as I’ve switched to reading so many ebooks that what would be a normal but longer block of text on paper is now a big block of text. Something to think about as we paragraph.

Good point about ereaders. I try to break up long paragraphs in my writing (books and blog posts). I just think it’s easier on the eyes overall. And nowadays people have little ability to focus or concentrate for long. Maybe in time every paragraph will be only one sentence lol.

Very timely post for me as I revise, and my paragraphs become shorter and shorter.

I also like Ray Bradbury’s guideline: Think of each paragraph as a separate [camera] shot in a movie.

I like that concept. Doesn’t apply always, but I think in cinematic terms, with camera shots for scene segments, so often each paragraph is a kind of attention shift.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.


Next Steps for Your Manuscript

writing fiction mechanics

Free Amazon Email Course

writing fiction mechanics

Guest Blogging

writing fiction mechanics

Get your Free Ebook!

Subscribe to my email blasts to level up your writing and be notified of upcoming events and offers!

Review Cart

The Writing School: a guide to being a fiction writer

Publisher description.

How are fiction writers supposed to understand the behind-the-scenes mechanics of constructing stories? What is the language for the blueprint for a novel? Classic terms like plot, conflict, setting, make sense for literary analysis. But the art of analysis and the art of construction are different. Fiction writers need a flexible and complex way to articulate the facets of their mechanics. This book explores the deeper issues of what fiction writing is all about. Fiction writers are experimenters of causality, inventors of experience.The Writing School, a guide to being a fiction writer, engages you in the complex process of thinking about your own writing approaches while providing ways to chart the blueprints of your processes. Adam Tramantano draws on more than twenty years of exploring the writing process as a writer, editor, educator, and academic. He has a doctoral degree in education and his dissertation focused on how individuals conceptualize their writing processes. In addition to the writing process, he has written about the processes of art, teaching, and research. Tramantano offers breadth and depth of experience in the process of exploring creative productions. In this book, Tramantano is a guide and a cultivator of creativity: "a cultivator's main positioning is always towards the magic of the creative process. A cultivator believes, fundamentally, that there's just something wrong with steering anyone off the path of creative production. " Fiction writers are not simply people who make things up. They demonstrate the beautiful limitlessness of the human imagination. They are choreographers of imagination. They create worlds that can become just as valuable, just as meaningful, and perhaps just as real as the one we're living in. This book reveres the power of fiction writing by regarding it for its complexity and its possibilities.

More Books by Adam Tramantano

Katherine Ramsland Ph.D.

Law and Crime

10 mistakes fiction writers make about forensic psychology, these errors can be avoided with better research..

Posted May 4, 2024 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

  • Many crime fiction writers often make mistakes about what forensic psychologists do.
  • The range of errors covers investigations, consulting, and the courtroom.
  • There are resources that can help to present this profession correctly.

Source: Photo by K. Ramsland

Forensic psychology is the application of concepts and research from social, clinical, experimental, and cognitive psychology to the civil or criminal legal arena. Forensic psychologists generally work within the prison or court system. My discussion below covers typical conditions.

In most of the U.S., forensic psychologists generally ascertain a defendant’s mental state when they’ve committed a crime (MSO) and/or determine competency to participate at various stages of the legal process, e.g., waive rights, confess, stand trial, testify, or represent themselves. Psychologists might also serve as experts to explain complex concepts or conditions to fact-finders (judge or jury), and might be involved in offender assessment or treatment programs. In addition, they might offer predictions about future potential violence or advise on such behaviors as lying, malingering, and falsely confessing. They might offer police training or consult on unusual investigations.

When I reviewed depictions of forensic psychologists in crime novels for my MFA, I found many incorrect assumptions. For example, forensic psychologists were often posed strictly as profilers. Some writers understood their clinical work, but many thought they’d be active investigators. (My own forensic psychologist in my Nut Cracker series, Annie Hunter, has a PI license and uses an investigative team.)

Following are 10 errors I’ve seen in fiction about forensic psychologists:

Error 1. They’re used as profilers because detectives can’t do this work.

The FBI offers U. S. jurisdictions its Behavioral Analysis Unit at no cost, if needed, and plenty of detectives get training in profiling at the FBI’s National Academy. Britain has a program where psychologists (and others) might be trained as behavioral investigative advisors, but BIAs mostly gather victim and crime scene data. Research psychologists with special knowledge about certain types of crimes might consult, but they don’t generally step in as profilers. Frankly, detectives resent the notion that they’re deficient in criminal behavioral analysis.

Error 2 . They visit crime scenes to advise on catching a killer.

Forensic psychologists might view crime scene photos for their reports, but they don’t lie in graves, barge into active investigations, or examine bodies to advise on how to locate and arrest offenders.

Error 3. They profile a person.

Even when they do act as death investigation consultants (my character is a suicidologist, a discipline in which few cops are trained), they don’t profile a specific person . Profiling focuses on victimology and crime scene behavior to envision the type of person who would behave in this way. It’s about reconstruction and linkage analysis. Profiling a person is more correctly called kinesic analysis or reading body language . Also, the phrase, “s/he doesn’t fit the profile,” mistakenly suggests that a profile is a blueprint developed before a crime has even occurred.

Error 4. They undertake hypnosis or therapy in the courtroom.

If they’re testifying as experts, they’re explaining psychological concepts or conditions that would be difficult for a layperson to understand. They don’t approach defendants, let alone put them under hypnosis. They also don't betray their own clients by revealing the content of sessions without permission. (When the experts who are testifying are the defendants’ treating clinicians, they’re not acting as expert witnesses. They might be there to clarify motivation or aberrant conditions or to offer mitigating factors for sentencing.)

Error 5. They interrogate suspects.

Although psychologists might advise detectives about interrogation research and strategies, they don't displace detectives to interrogate suspects as some kind of specialized expert.

Error 6 . Forensic psychiatrists, forensic psychologists, criminologists, and criminalists all do the same work, so the titles are interchangeable.

Psychiatrists obtain medical degrees and complete specialized training in psychiatry . They can prescribe medications. Psychologists cannot. A criminologist typically studies crime and criminal behavior from a sociological perspective, specifically regarding trends and causal factors; they devise ways to contain or prevent crime. Criminalists deal with physical evidence from a scene. (I differentiate these roles in detail here . )

Error 7 . Police psychologists act as “the” profiler.

Clinical psychologists employed in police departments carry out activities such as fitness for duty evaluations, critical incident debriefing, counseling, or stress management . They might offer advice in a hostage situation or provide training, but they’re not invited into brainstorming sessions with detectives to perform the profiling.

Error 8 . Thanks to their clinical training, psychologists can always spot a liar.

Unless they do specific research on deception , research shows that forensic psychologists have no special talent for spotting liars. (Neither do detectives, despite what they want to believe.) Even those who do deception research know they have limits.

writing fiction mechanics

Error 9. Forensic psychologists pronounce defendants to be sane or insane.

During the 19 th century, insanity was a medical term, but now it’s a legal term that describes a mental disease or deficiency that prevents a person from knowing that what they did was wrong or from comporting themselves according to the law. In addition, a finding of insanity is the “ultimate issue” for the fact-finder (judge or jury) to decide, not an expert witness. Psychologists can describe the mental state at the time of the offense, but the fact-finders determine whether it qualifies as legal insanity. Each state has its own criteria for an insanity defense (or has none at all).

Error 10. Forensic psychologists can accurately predict long-range future violent behavior without standardized tools.

They can’t predict potential future danger with much range or accuracy, and best practices call for using detailed standardized assessments based on several life domains. Some clinicians are risk assessment specialists, but even they know that the ability to predict future violent behavior is complicated and limited in scope.

Crime writers can avoid errors like these with some basic practices:

  • Don’t expect television series to provide accurate models. TV is for entertainment, period. If facts conflict with a cool plot, the plot wins. (I’ve experienced this as a TV writer.)
  • Don’t look to other fiction writers as models unless you have reason to accept their credibility, e.g., they have professional background in the field or they use consultants with professional background.
  • Take seminars or classes, or purchase some nonfiction books by professionals in the field. Many writing groups host such experts or offer seminars or courses. Listen to them.

Costanzo, M., & Krauss, D. (2018) Forensic and legal psychology , 3rd Ed., Worth.

Hafemeister, T. (2019). Criminal trials and mental disorders . New York University Press.

Ramsland, Katherine. (2002). The criminal mind: A writer’s guide to forensic psychology . Writers’ Digest Press (outdated info for the DSM, which changed editions in 2013.)

Ramsland, Katherine. (2018). The psychology of death investigations . CRC Press.

Scherer, A., & Jarvis, J. (2014). Criminal investigative analysis: Practitioner perspectives. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin . https://leb.fbi.gov/2014/june/criminal-investigative-analysis-practicioner-perspectives-part-one-of-four (a 4-part overview of profiling).

Katherine Ramsland Ph.D.

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University and the author of 69 books.

  • Find a Therapist
  • Find a Treatment Center
  • Find a Psychiatrist
  • Find a Support Group
  • Find Online Therapy
  • United States
  • Brooklyn, NY
  • Chicago, IL
  • Houston, TX
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • New York, NY
  • Portland, OR
  • San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, DC
  • Asperger's
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Chronic Pain
  • Eating Disorders
  • Passive Aggression
  • Personality
  • Goal Setting
  • Positive Psychology
  • Stopping Smoking
  • Low Sexual Desire
  • Relationships
  • Child Development
  • Therapy Center NEW
  • Diagnosis Dictionary
  • Types of Therapy

May 2024 magazine cover

At any moment, someone’s aggravating behavior or our own bad luck can set us off on an emotional spiral that threatens to derail our entire day. Here’s how we can face our triggers with less reactivity so that we can get on with our lives.

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Gaslighting
  • Affective Forecasting
  • Neuroscience


  1. The 6 Basic Key Elements of Fiction Writing

    writing fiction mechanics

  2. Top 11 Mechanics of Writing For Effective Writing (2023)

    writing fiction mechanics

  3. Science Fiction Writer's Workshop-I: An Introduction to Fiction

    writing fiction mechanics

  4. Mechanics in Writing

    writing fiction mechanics

  5. Mechanics for All Kinds of Writing « A Brave Writer's Life in Brief

    writing fiction mechanics

  6. Mechanics of Writing

    writing fiction mechanics


  1. The Mechanics of Writing./Research Methodology/ Season-4 Presentation

  2. Mechanics in writing a composition/essay

  3. Part 3 Mechanics.mp4

  4. Mechanics of Writing, Writing Concisely

  5. Stunt Paradise

  6. Understanding the Mechanics of Publishable Essays


  1. English Mechanics 101: What Are Writing Mechanics? (Definition and

    The Main Parts of English Mechanics. English mechanics provide a way to standardize writing so that you may get your message across effectively. They're the rules you look to when you're unsure which punctuation to use or whether to capitalize a word, to mention just a couple of examples. In other words, they cover the technical aspects of ...

  2. Fiction Writing Basics

    The distinction between beginning and intermediate writing is provided for both students and instructors, and numerous sources are listed for more information about fiction tools and how to use them. A sample assignment sheet is also provided for instructors. This resource covers the basics of plot, character, theme, conflict, and point-of-view.

  3. Mechanics rules for written language

    Why Do Mechanics Matter? Mechanics enable writers, speakers, and knowledge makers . . . to communicate with audiences.. Mechanics and grammar are the rules and conventions that inform communicative practices among members of a discourse community. Mechanics rules are for governing written language. When writers violate conventions related to mechanics, readers are likely to be confused.

  4. 60 Literary Devices With Examples: The Master List

    Example: Veni, vidi, vici ("I came, I saw, I conquered") 11. Litotes. Litotes (pronounced lie-toe-teez) is the signature literary device of the double negative. Writers use litotes to express certain sentiments through their opposites, by saying that that opposite is not the case.

  5. Lesson 1. Introduction & Philosophical Foundations │The Mechanics of

    Welcome to The Mechanics of Fiction Writing with P.E. Rowe. This introduction lays the foundation for the series and discusses the reasons fiction writing ha...

  6. Effective Writing Mechanics: Essential Guide & Tips

    It's the underlying structure that holds your words together and gives them meaning. This blog aims to help you navigate the realm of writing mechanics with practical advice and actionable tips, making the complex simple and the daunting achievable. Let's start with the basics. 1. Get to Know the Basics.

  7. Writing Essentials: Brush up on Writing Mechanics

    The Importance (and Benefits) of Mastering Writing Mechanics. Brush up on your mechanics and it will reverberate to every area of your life. If you're a strong writer, you'll imbue all your communication—every email, every job application, every tweet, every love letter, every text message—with something akin to fairy dust.

  8. The Mechanics of Fiction Writing: Full Course

    Develop a bulletproof framework for understanding the narrator. Learn how the narrator's posture in relation to the story affects the narrator's attributes a...

  9. The Mechanics of Fiction Writing

    The most comprehensive and unique Fiction Writing course ever created, grounded in Narrative Theory, Cognitive Science, Linguistics, and Narrative Craft. A c...

  10. Mechanics of Fiction

    The Mechanics of Fiction Writing is the most comprehensive, original, skills-based method yet created to instruct the art of fiction writing. Drawing from the diverse fields of Narratology, Cognitive Science, Linguistics, and established traditions in craft, this series offers accomplished and aspiring writers alike the best body of knowledge available on the crucial elements of fiction writing.

  11. Writing Mechanics & Grammar

    Writing mechanics concerns rules and conventions for using the building blocks of communication within a language that are organized by grammar. Studying parts of speech, sentence structure ...

  12. The Truth about Writing Mechanics

    Show words the honor they deserve and work with them respectfully. Take time, too, to learn the mechanics of writing so you say what you mean and don't say what you don't mean. Aim for excellence, precision, creativity. Don't settle on the first things that gush onto the page. Go back and make them better.

  13. mechanics of story

    Whether you are writing fiction or narrative non fiction, action is fundamental element of story, moving the plot forward, creating pace and revealing character. We often think of action as only the big events - a birth, a wedding, a murder, a car chase . . . but action also plays an important role in helping more static scenes flow easily ...

  14. Mechanics in Writing

    In writing, the term mechanics refers to the rules and technicalities that assist with readability, ... British Fiction for 9th Grade: Tutoring... Ch 6. Contemporary Fiction for 9th Grade:...

  15. Mechanics

    The writer of fiction will benefit as much as the journalist or the scholar from The Copyeditor's Handbook, by Amy Einsohn, and the "Style and Usage" section of The Chicago Manual of Style, but there are conventions particular to stories and novels that are beyond the scope of such texts.Brian Shawver's The Language of Fiction: A Writer's Stylebook, and Renni Browne and Dave King's ...

  16. Mechanics Introduction

    Mechanics. These OWL resources will help you with sentence level organization and style. This area includes resources on writing issues, such as active and passive voice, parallel sentence structure, parts of speech, and transitions. Exercises relating to spelling can be found here. Exercises relating to numbering can be found here.

  17. Unit 4: Writing Mechanics

    An essay demonstrating EXEMPLARY MECHANICS includes: Errors that are absent or minor. An assured and sophisticated command of grammatical structures, punctuation, mechanics, usage. Language use that enhances your message. Previous: 9.4 Refining Your Writing: End-of-Chapter Exercises.

  18. Welcome to the Purdue Online Writing Lab

    The Purdue On-Campus Writing Lab and Purdue Online Writing Lab assist clients in their development as writers—no matter what their skill level—with on-campus consultations, online participation, and community engagement. The Purdue Writing Lab serves the Purdue, West Lafayette, campus and coordinates with local literacy initiatives.

  19. The Mechanics of Fiction Writing: Exercises & Notes

    The Mechanics of Fiction Writing is the most comprehensive, original, skills-based method yet created to instruct the art of fiction writing. Drawing from the diverse fields of Narratology, Cognitive Science, Linguistics, and established traditions in craft, P.E. Rowe offers accomplished and aspiring writers alike the best body of knowledge available on the crucial elements of fiction writing.

  20. Science Fiction Writer's Workshop-I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics

    Science Fiction Writer's Workshop-I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics [Longyear, Barry] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Science Fiction Writer's Workshop-I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics ... 5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book on Science Fiction Writing I've Seen. Reviewed in the United States on October 29, 2009 ...

  21. Lesson 44. Rhythms and Patterns│The Mechanics of Fiction Writing

    One of the often-overlooked elements of prose (as opposed to poetry) is how a writer's sentences sound. Rhythm is a tool good fiction writers can use to make...

  22. Writing Mechanics: To Paragraph or Not to Paragraph

    Here are some basic guidelines for paragraphing (in fiction): Begin a new paragraph anytime the speaker changes. By starting a new paragraph, the reader will automatically know a different character is talking. Example: "Good morning, Joe," John said from the next cubicle over. "Hey, John.". Joe sat down at his desk.

  23. The Writing School: a guide to being a fiction writer

    Classic terms like plot, conflict, setting, make sense for literary analysis. But the art of analysis and the art of construction are different. Fiction writers need a flexible and complex way to articulate the facets of their mechanics. This book explores the deeper issues of what fiction writing is all about.

  24. Flash Fiction Writing Contest Mechanics

    Mechanics. Flash fiction writers shall be given one (1) hour to write their flash fiction strictly composed of 250 words or less. Hence, the goal is to capture the elements of a story in a limited number of narrative expressions. Flash fiction writers shall be given prerogative to choose their own genre (romance, horror, mystery, etc.).

  25. School of the Arts Alumni Named Finalists in 2024 Pulitzer Prizes

    The 2024 Pulitzer Prizes were announced by Columbia University on May 6, 2024, and the list features three School of the Arts alumni and several Columbia alumni among the finalists and winners.. The Pulitzer Prizes, annual awards hosted by Columbia University in New York, celebrate excellence across journalism, arts, and letters in the United States.

  26. Lesson 13. Time: Duration │The Mechanics of Fiction Writing

    "Showing" versus "telling" and scene versus summary is often discussed by writers, but rarely do writers talk exactly about what makes a scene a scene and a ...

  27. 10 Mistakes Fiction Writers Make About Forensic Psychology

    Many crime fiction writers often make mistakes about what forensic psychologists do. The range of errors covers investigations, consulting, and the courtroom. There are resources that can help to ...