Writing Tips From A Ghostwriter – Developing Setting In The Story

Writing Tips From A Ghostwriter

Consider these writing tips when you’re in the process of developing your story. These considerations and the others you’ll find here provide valuable insights into writing a compelling story!

How to successfully use setting in your story.

All too often in story, setting comes as an afterthought. This is unfortunate because a unique, well designed setting offers rich opportunities to increase the stakes and aggravate character journey. On the other hand an answer to “where” can serve as a means of enabling that character’s journey.

Think of Breaking Bad. Perhaps it’s an old example but once again it applies.

The desert southwest of New Mexico is evocative of lawlessness. The cowboy myth is engrained in our storytelling fabric. When a story opens on a tumbleweed, a viewer feels as though anything is possible.

The wide open spaces offer Walter and Jessie room to do their dirty work. Through the first few seasons, we find the awkward business partners working in their Winnebago, parked on a dusty desert road.

Look at this way and the wide open space enables Walter. If the story were set in a bigger city (their lab surrounded by crowds of nosy neighbors) White’s struggle could be less compelling. Walter would be just as interesting as a human being but Albuquerque ups the stakes around his ascent considerably.

The desert also allows the burgeoning conflict between Jessie and Walter to manifest in unique ways. Often the two men shout at the top of their lungs at one another. Could they in an suburban setting? Frequently we find Walter and Jessie reaching the heat of a conflict, only to step out of the Winnebago and have everything out, right there in the open air.

As you can begin to see, New Mexico was not random. The writers chose it.

Other writing tips involve examining the ways in which setting limits the characters. For example, the desert southwest serves to inhibit Walter White as well. Albuquerque is hot. A hostile climate means if something goes wrong (and it does go wrong) the environment can threaten their lives. When the drug lab Winnebago breaks down on the side of the road one series of problems presents, but that same camper broken down on the side of a scorching hot desert highway amps that up considerably.

Another way that setting inhibits Walter is its close proximity to the Mexican border. This gives the writer access to a different breed of drug dealing antagonist that is only a short drive away from our hero’s door. It doesn’t take much engineering to introduce bad guys like Tuco and Hector Salamanca to the story.

Setting is not strictly city, state and town. Micro settings exist within the larger setting. I keep coming back to the drug lab Winnebago. Why? It is unforgettable. The writers could have given their characters access to a safe house, but the Winnebago as a memorable micro-setting makes the story more iconic.

On the surface, setting may not seem critical. Some writers set it up like a plain white curtain backdrop. The assumption there is that basic allows the characters to shine through.

This is short sighted.

Think about setting in a deeper way. Challenge setting to become its own character. Some stories simply must take place in a certain location. You can’t tell a New York crime story without New York.

Whenever you can though, look at ways to enhance and diversify a story setting. Take a step back from the characters and their situation. Ask the simple question of where does this take place?

How can a few twists on setting create memorable scenes and unexpected opportunities? The answer to this may be the difference between a story that works well and a story that your reader can’t put down.

I hope these writing tips help you on your journey to completing your story! If you’ve never considered working with a professional ghostwriter, now might be the time. Let’s talk about how I can help you turn your dreams of a published book into reality.

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Develop memorable characters – Ghostwriter secrets

Develop Memorable Characters

A ghostwriters secrets for character development

The right character sets a trajectory that is capable of carrying your story the distance. To achieve three dimensional depth for that character requires careful design though.

Memorable characters are rarely happy accidents.

When we describe a well known protagonist such as Breaking Bad’s Walter White, we start with the most basic terms. Walter is a bedraggled family man and high school science teacher who upon discovering that he has a rare from of cancer decides he must come up with a way to pay for his expensive treatment.

This is a classic set-up. A guy with a problem that he has to reach far outside himself to solve. White could have curled up in a ball and accepted his fate, but that would not make for very interesting story telling.

Walter makes the informed decision to start cooking methamphetamine in order to make that kind of money. White is a science teacher. That means he can’t go and ask his boss for a raise. He has to reach outside of his world to drum up any serious cash. His job inhibits him on one hand but it enables him too. White he knows chemistry. Beakers and flasks and gas masks are his native environment.

To develop memorable characters, keep in mind that they must have something working against them achieving their goal. It should be insurmountable. It isn’t enough that White has to buy a broken down old Winnebago and lie to his wife in order to do cook up his drugs. The complications must escalate further and in a unique manner.

Walter White can cook the meth but he doesn’t know the first thing about selling methamphetamine. So, Walter is forced to enlist the help of his former student, Jesse Pinkman.

Herein you find a unique seed of conflict. White is an absolute control freak. The linear trajectory of his plan to manufacture and sell drugs is complicated by Pinkman’s more chaotic nature. The guy is a total screw up. His bumbling academic incompetence is precisely why he stuck out to White in the first place.

How do we escalate a story problem from the main character like in Breaking Bad? Here are a couple of questions I like to ask when I develop memorable characters to get to a deeper level.

Who Is The Character’s Natural Opposite?

I ask this question often throughout the story design stages. Who opposes my main character and their journey? Answering this comes both inside and outside of that character’s team.

In Breaking Bad there are enough competing street toughs and DEA agents to complicate White’s ascendance to meth kingpin. Those are complications from outside of White’s circle.

Character becomes interesting when you antagonize from inside of the protagonist’s circle as well. Pinkman is as much an antagonist as he is sales associate. Jessie offers a natural personality conflict to the power hungry White but they must struggle to work together. Neither White nor Pinkman can thrive in this new world without the other’s skill set.

Who Is The Character’s Story Doppelgänger?

Here is where this can get even more interesting. When creating a character arc, I like to look into the story at who is so similar to my main character that their purposes intersect and complicate one another.

Take Skyler White, Walter’s loving wife. At first the reality of her husband’s drug dealings are abhorrent. The taste of money and control gets to Skyler though. It feeds her in a way that is new and exciting to her.

Much of Breaking Bad is spent in a cat-and-mouse game between Walter and Skyler. Early on he does whatever he can to keep this revelation from her. The series becomes even more interesting (and I would argue attains legendary status) when they become two cats after the same mouse.

If you’d like to get to know how a professional ghostwriter can help you develop memorable characters for your stories, get in touch! Developing a good relationship with a ghostwriter can make the difference between getting published and wishing you could!

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Work With A Ghostwriter

Ready to work with a ghostwriter?

Think you’re ready to work with a ghostwriter?

Unfortunately, there is no checklist or online quiz readily available to determine your readiness, but in my experience critical moments arise that may mean it’s time to make a call.

First way to know you’re ready to make that call is simple. You have a story that needs telling. A narrative that haunts you. A life experience you can’t put down.

Obsession is fodder for good story telling. When Alice Sebold sat down to write her breakout 2002 novel, The Lovely Bones it was because indeed Susie Salmon’s voice was so visceral that she had to write it. You don’t need to reach the point that you’re being kept up nights by your story but if you can’t put it away, it may be time to investigate how you can work with a ghostwriter.

The second way is the age old friend advice: you should write a book. Since I started out in ghostwriting ten years ago, I have lost count of how many times a client came to me off of that very spark of advice. They were out at a party, or at dinner, and after telling a life story, some well meaning friend leaned over and whisper those words.

Some might argue that’s just a friend doing what they’re supposed to. There is another, more critical way to view that moment though. That friend is your first audience. When you question whether that story is worth ghostwriting, think of that friend as your first proof of concept.

Another critical means of knowing whether it’s time to write a book is, you recognize your story is unique. It may be hard to believe but there are stories that have not been told yet. I’ve met numerous clients whose stories were one of a kind, or took a unique view on history.

Publishers and editors have bottomless appetites for untapped stories. If you have something unique and want it told well, be bold and realize, looking into how you can work with a ghostwriter may be what allows you to bring that story to life.

If you’d like to share your ideas with a seasoned professional who knows the ins and outs of the writing business, get in touch with me and let have a conversation!

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Building A Story – Mentoring From A Pro

Building A Story

A professional writer offers guidance.

Building a story is not like building a house. There are no codes.

Every writer comes with their own bag of tricks for fleshing out story. While I would venture to say that while there is some natural overlap, no two bags are going to be the same.

One of the places I like to begin development is through character. Whether or not you are writing a piece of commercial fiction or screenplay, your personal memoir, or a business book, character is the driving force behind your manuscript. Building a story is almost always about someone.

Character is a dynamic entity. Interesting personalities are rarely vague. There are critical elements that enhance a one dimensional figure into a dynamic character that can sustain an entire book.

My first strategy is to ask, what do we know about this person?

It’s amazing what we take for granted in describing a person. Usually though, we know a basic defining characteristic of that lead character. He’s a Dad but he’s also a science teacher. She’s a cheerleader but she’s caught between two men. They are a US Navy Seal but he has a family back home.

Even basic descriptions allow a ghostwriter to narrow down the range of possibilities. No one is as basic as those descriptions. Dad and science teacher doesn’t seed a dynamic element.

There are other shades we need to cast on those characters and those come in brainstorming.

To get there, next, I go the other direction… what do we not know about this person?

Is our main character just a Dad and science teacher as we assumed? Or does he go to sleep each night pondering what might have been? Does your cheerleader harbor a secret life?

A US Navy Seal at the end of his tour is an entirely different character than one just earning his stripes. Take that a step further, you can portray him as a soldier deciding whether to re-enlist for another tour. Now he is caught between obligations and loves: family and country.

The difference between the first character assumption and the second might seem like a small one, but in truth they are enormous. That difference is the one between memorable and forgettable.

That Dad who pines for what he missed is Walter White from Breaking Bad. Our cheerleader with a secret is none other than Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks. That Navy Seal? Chris Kyle from American Sniper.

If you’ve seen any one of those stories, the driving characters don’t need further elaboration.

The question of what we know and don’t know is only a basic development tool. You can see though, how answering even the basic question opens doors wide for crafting memorable characters and building a story.

Effective ghostwriting is about evolving that character concept beyond assumption.

If you’re reading this article and would like my professional input, don’t hesitate to contact me. Whether you’re stuck in the process or need an editorial set of eyes on your manuscript, I can help you reach your writing goals.


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Assessing the freelance writing business

Assessing the freelance writing business

Wile most people consider money a taboo topic, for freelance writing business money is an unavoidable consideration. It is quite simple. You have to earn enough of it to survive. After all, a ghostwriter has to balance their earnings in order to keep their family from going broke or they’ll end up back at their day job in no time at all.

Unfortunately, too many end up failing, which makes money a taboo worth breaking.

Something that is often missing from the freelance money conversation is where money is spent. In order to be a successful ghostwriter, you have to spend money and not just throwing cash around blindly.

You need a spending plan.

Every year about this time, I sit down to do my taxes. I don’t do them myself because I have sadomasochistic tendencies, or I’m too cheap to hire an accountant. Rather, I do my own taxes because I want to see where my money goes.

Here are four questions that I ask myself about my freelance writer spending:

How Do I Value My Time?

A look at the simple bottom line earning tells you how much you make per year. Often this number comes across as a shock, and through the years, I’ve been shocked both ways.

Look at how much you made and give an honest assessment how much time you spent getting to that number. Are you valuing your ghostwriting time correctly?

An answer of “no” here should lead you to make necessary price adjustments.

Am I Delegating?

This was a big revelation for me three years ago. Looking at my bottom line, I realized that I was spending too much money (in the terms of time) trying to learn things outside of my immediate skill set, like web development and graphic design. More valuable uses of my time would have been developing the ideas and concepts, and spending a measured amount of money on paying a professional for their skills.

These days, in the “gig economy” you can baby step into larger expenses. For example, go check out Fivver for basic conceptual ideas before hiring a pro through Thumbtack.

What Is My ROI On Client Capture?

This is perhaps the most important bottom line consideration for the burgeoning freelance writing business. Sober looks at your taxes should answer the question: did you spend $5,000 to secure a $2,500 client?

Be honest with yourself here though. Building a presence takes time. It’s the long game. Writers who are impatient with this process and pull the plug early on this end up losing in the end.

On the other hand, focus your efforts and dollars accordingly. Smaller investments in finding clients through places like Linked In and Thumbtack can build professional rapport and they’re cheap to get into.

Am I Really Going After The Big Fish?

This is one I ask myself every year. Am I investing in getting the jobs that I want? Getting paid and doing work you love are two different things altogether.

That is a strange reality, but get used to it.

Look at your bottom line. Think of your time. More than this, think of your energies. Are you investing enough professional energy into projects you want to do? You need to answer this because more than anything else that sustains the long term writer’s life, doing the projects you love is the most important.

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NaNoWriMo And Your Ghostwriter Consultant

“Do you do NaNoWriMo?”

This is one of the first questions people ask me when I tell them I am a writer. My answer? No. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo but I am all too familiar.

For those unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Taking place every November, the project helps new and aspiring writers write a novel in a single month.

50,000 words. 1,667 per day. Every day. A daunting task.

NaNoWriMo is as much about support as productivity. The umbrella site organizes local groups. It encourages writers with positive words. On almost every social media platform NaNoWriMo groups post daily word counts and sprint together under hashtags.

On one hand, it is one of the most inspiring times in writing.

Our culture is fascinated with marking off processes with chunks of time. Consider the RPM challenge, which is an album written and recorded and released all in February. In April there is a monthlong script sprint. The shelves of every bookstore in America are teeming with books in which an author takes a period of time to abstain from or indulge in something.

Sometimes I wonder whether anything takes on its natural process anymore.

As a ghostwriter, I am particularly fascinated by NaNoWriMo for a couple of distinct reasons. For one, it gets people thinking about writing. Anything that accomplishes that makes me happy. Another aspect is the sheer audacity. Asking participants to wake up on November 1st and produce 1,667 words when they likely have not produced a single line of fiction in their lives is crazy, perhaps dangerous. Would you encourage the guy in the cubicle next door to run a 26.2 mile marathon without training simply because he wore tennis shoes on Fridays?

Writers are readers and readers buy books. The sheer act of staring down 50,000 words raises the bar for everyone in the business. When I am asked, I usually caution writers who want to take part in NaNoWriMo to perhaps consult with a ghostwriter or manuscript consultant first. Get an idea of your story. Flesh out some of the uncertainties. Give your concept a much needed test run and see if it works out. Not everyone wants to do that with their mother or wife or a brother who are likely going to be nice no matter what you have.

Get in shape first. The advice applies to marathons and NaNoWriMo. Bring on a ghostwriting professional to bring it into shape before you try and bring it to life.

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Ghostwriter as editor

Ghostwriter As Editor

Hiring a ghostwriter as editor of your manuscript re-write might be the difference between completing it, or not.

Sometimes I get the uneasy impression that there are an equal number of magazines and blogs about writing as there are writers. In my ghostwriting research, I often find that those magazines are chock full of articles directing aspiring writers to a formula for crafting award winning work into their busy nine-to-five and family life schedule.

These kinds of articles draw eyeballs. They work well for click bait. After all, who doesn’t want to get to the finish line faster?

If I had a guess though, those formulas leave more writers disappointed than fulfilled.

A wise person once said that a movie’s editor is the last writer. This acknowledges a reality any aspiring storyteller should understand. Creative products go through many phases before they are polished and market ready. A movie is written first by a screenwriter. Then it is acted out and directed by its director. Then comes the editor.

Each one of those roles adds a little and takes a little away. By the time the movie makes it to the audience it resembles what the screenwriter wrote. But in no way is that script line for line.

Writing manuscripts takes a lot of time. Between developing concept, building a coherent plot, breathing life into characters worthy of a reader’s time and executing those artfully, there is no magic formula besides pressure and time. We’ve all read those articles about marathon writing sessions or work that came in a flash but what those tall tales ignore is the hard work.

And hard work on a manuscript often translates into re-writing over and over.

Frequently, I am approached by writers who have taken that first draft as far as they can. Often those writers have been lured in by the promise of a quick fix. The truth is, in the craft of story telling there is no magic bullet to success. A writer must at all times be methodical and they have to be aware that there are starts and stops. It is a part of the process.

Hiring a ghostwriter as editor to help move that process along, going back to the drawing board is not indicative of a failure. Instead, it should be thought of as the next step.

You cannot watch the pages of a screenplay on the big screen. It may be helpful to think of ghostwriting on a novel re-write like hiring a director to bring the story closer to life.

Call me today and let’s discuss your manuscript and the potential benefits of working with a ghostwriter.

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Hiring a memoir ghostwriter

The market for a memoir ghostwriter is exploding in a big way. And why not?

Recent studies have shown time and again that reader interest skews toward memoir. They prefer the tell all and personal account over fiction by a significant margin.

Most of the top grossing memoirs got there with some assistance from a ghostwriter. Here are five reasons why you should consider hiring a memoir ghostwriter to help with your project.


A memoir’s success requires balance. The book needs to be a personal and honest account, but it has to show a measure of objectivity as well.

The best ghostwriters on the market are well-versed in how to maintain an objective eye. This becomes a critical skill when the book project is so close to home for the client.


I love interviewing clients. I can say that it is my favorite tasks as a ghostwriter. Among my favorite responses (one I get often too) is: “wow, I never thought of it that way.”

This response speaks to what I have come to see as an almost universal truth. We become so honed in that our perspective on experience narrows and we tend to neglect detail.

Consequently, we leave out areas of a story that might seem insignificant. Bringing a ghostwriter on is key to ensure you’re digging deeper, beyond those first impressions.


Another thing I hear from my clients is how trying to figure out how to tell the story they have lived (or are living) can be suffocating. Quite often, memoirs tackle tough social issues and to write one, a storyteller has to attain a position of remove.

A ghostwriter allows the storyteller and subject to do just that. Tell the story. That freedom to simply tell makes a big difference in the story breadth.


Last but maybe the most crucial is polish. Another universal truth? There are storytellers and there are writers. And rarely do those roles reside in the same person.

A ghostwritten memoir delivers an air of polish. That professional touch is so crucial to success in a very competitive market place. To ensure that your memoir reaches its full prospective audience, acclaim from early readers on Goodreads and Amazon is vital.

Don’t go out with a book that’s not ready. A ghostwriter can help give your memoir that professional shine and that may be the difference between ten sales and ten thousand.

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Four Truths For Increased Success In The Fiction Market

The fiction market today is as mercurial now as ever before. Working as a ghostwriter, I have watched those shifts first hand.

The ghostwriting fiction market that we explore today is vastly different than the one that will greet us tomorrow when the manuscript is done. This reality applies to everyone along the publication food chain. Everyone from authors and ghostwriters to publishers and agents and editors must navigate an ever shifting landscape in order to put fresh books on the shelf.

As unpredictable as the fiction market may be for a ghostwriter there remain a few simple guides that if you follow them, you exponentially increase your chances of success.

After all, readers remain hungry for new material and here is how you can get that to them.

Four Truths For Increased Success In The Fiction Market:

Rule #1: Accept That There Are Rules:

Ever hear that acceptance is the first step? That counts in for ghostwriters too.

One of the things I try and inform my ghostwriting clients is to play by the rules. We all relish heroic stories about rule breakers but the fiction market is very competitive.

You can break all the rules you want on the page (as long as you do it artfully). Your contact needs to feel comfortable working with you as well, or else they will move elsewhere.

Where I advise my ghostwriting clients to play by the rules is in how they engage people in the marketplace. For example, if the publisher is seeking female driven romance manuscripts there is no use in sending them volume one of your geopolitical thriller series.

So many authors apply a blanket approach though but a wide net is never as successful as a targeted on. It is important to remember that everyone from the author up is doing a job.

Rule #2: Regard For Self Publishing Is Increasing:

Dreams of a big publishing contract? We all have one and it’s OK to indulge it…

Just don’t let that get the best of you.

As a ghostwriter, I advise my clients to at least consider self-publishing. Over the last five years, self-publishing has become a vital proving ground for story property and new talent.

When I go to conferences these days (at least a few each year) I invariably hear stories about successful authors who self-published the first book and off of that success, they earned their first commercial break.

If you follow a strong game plan, self-publishing is as viable as any other avenue.

Rule #3: Think In Worlds:

The classic Hollywood ending is mostly a thing of the past. Walking your hero off into the sunset only kills the goose that lays the golden egg.

What readers want is vital characters and stories they can follow for multiple books (and movies and comics and TV shows and… and you get the idea). If you’re hiring a ghostwriter or development consultant to work on concept, discuss with them on how to give your story a life beyond the back cover. Answering the question of what comes next for your story world after your book is done is one you will answer at least a hundred times. Have a good answer.

Rule #4: Be Open To Form:

A hundred years ago, many books were published in serial form. Classic literature came out in installments in magazines and newspapers and in many ways, those days are back.

Now, I’m not going to tell you to hire a ghostwriter to break your novel into ten parts for the local newspaper BUT consider a series short stories. A novella.

A novel is a mighty undertaking. The market is increasingly looking for “proof of concept” from new authors. If you can publish a hand full of short stories in that market, you can feel confident in bringing that editor or publisher a proven story.

They’ll listen. You have, after all, done some of their job for them. Everyone loves that, right?

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Hiring a ghostwriter for your screenplay

In many ways, the market for screenplays is as vibrant as ever. Success there though depends on understanding a few truths. Here are four things that you should be aware of before hiring a ghostwriter for your screenplay.

There Are More Diverse Markets Than Ever:

Remember when thirty-six cable channels and your local video store was the video menu? Twenty-five years ago the media landscape was relatively simple to sort out.

Today it is almost impossible to come up with an accurate estimate of how many so-called channels there are available for media consumers to choose from. What all of those streams really add up to is a lot of opportunity for your product to find its audience.

A staggering variety for consumers translates to an increasing number for content creators. Someone has to write all that programming. Why not consider hiring a ghostwriter for your screenplay?

The Spec Market Is Not Dead (It’s Just Different):

For a while back in the 1990’s writers could name their price for a spec written screenplay. People in the industry still enjoy talking about those days of million dollar auctions.

Sorry, but that isn’t the case anymore. A smaller number of screenwriters are selling for six and seven figures but a growing number are selling at a pretty decent price.

When you’re discussing a ghostwriting budget, be sure that its with an eye on what is realistic to recoup on the end sale. Screenwriting is a business. Your ghostwriter should be able to advise on how the story you’re writing together fits into the screenplay market.

It’s About Who You Know:

When you’re choosing which ghostwriting professional is right for your screenplay, be sure to find out who they know. It matters.

It really matters.

Work is done on a person to person basis. That is why the old myth about going to LA used to be so prevalent. While that isn’t necessarily the truth anymore (after all, I can take a Skype meeting in my pajamas and sometimes do) connections matter. People want to work with people they know and trust already. Whether through by conference, local community or by an on-line community, your ghostwriter should know someone above the line.

Think Bigger & Broader:

The American screenplay and screen and television market is vibrant. So are markets across the globe though and your ghostwriter should be aware of that.

Most films find their funding in a variety of forms. Finance is a global business and the bigger your concept and broader your scope, the more likely your project is to find investors.

Writing screenplays with a broad and global appeal is perhaps more important now than ever. Does your goal include an international audience? Tell your ghostwriter to be sure elements that will enable reaching that audience are alive and well within your work.

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