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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #307

Updated on May 4, 2020

Garden Planted, Backyard Cleaned, House Cleaned . . .

If I had the energy I had twenty years ago, I’d finish up my to-do list and then go over to your house and work on yours.

It’s kind of cool catching up on projects.

It’s kind of cool saying hi to so many neighbors while out on walks.

It’s kind of cool having Bev home more.

No, there is nothing “cool” about the virus, but it has forced me to stop, re-evaluate, and adjust, and none of those things are bad. In fact, I like my current life.

But what do I really know?

The Mail Room
The Mail Room


From Ann: “I have a question (which I sort of hinted at in a comment on another hub). When trying to drop subtle hints about a character or how events might pan out, how much 'hinting' can one do without making it too obvious? I want to try to make the reader think, to create suspense, rather than just drop a bombshell at the last moment. What's too much, what's not enough?”

This is a new one, Ann, and I’m really surprised it’s never been asked before, because foreshadowing is a major tool in any fiction writer’s toolbox.

Hallie Ephron from Writers Digest says this about foreshadowing:

“When you insert a hint of what’s to come, look at it critically and decide whether it’s something the reader will glide right by but remember later with an Aha! That’s foreshadowing. If instead the reader groans and guesses what’s coming, you’ve telegraphed.”

How many of you have watched the wildly successful “This is Us” on television? The creator of that show, Dan Fogelman, is a master at foreshadowing. He will sprinkle hints liberally throughout all episodes, and yet most viewers cannot figure out what is coming. In fact, articles are written daily about past episodes of that show, discussing what has happened and what it means for the future of the characters.

If you can achieve that kind of guessing from your readers, you will have mastered foreshadowing as a writer.

To answer Ann’s question, how much hinting can one do, the answer is this: as much as you want without mortgaging the future.

Giving Hp Advice

From Eric: “Bill I have a serious question. I follow some topics here and am treated to brand new writers here. The vast majority very passionate. I comment on their hubs and am not always bashful in giving a critique. This has created a unique loving opportunity to meet new friends. From Oslo to Kandahar to New York and Cape Town. How wonderful. Such a gift writing has given to me.

“They don't ask me much about being a stellar writer they ask me about succeeding on HP. I give them the 8X12 (8 capsules including 3 pics, 2 video and 3 text and 1200 words in text) I welcome and I encourage and suggest passion but try to send them here for advice on tools.

“Should I do more on intro? (I leave out here my criticism of HP's start up advice) So do your thing and advise me, please.”

Eric, it seems to me you’ve done quite a bit. In fact, you’ve done basically what I do when asked for advice. One thing I do add is an offer to help further if they want to contact me by email. You might be surprised how few take me up on that offer, but at least I’ve done my part in offering. What I have found, by making that offer, is that the serious writers quickly rise above those who want to appear to be serious writers. If they contact me, I figure they really are serious and really do want help. If they don’t contact me, it couldn’t have been too important to them.

Make sense?

Choose your own path
Choose your own path

Freelancing and Ethics

From Marcie: “I’m facing a dilemma. I have a company that wants to hire me to write some articles about their product, and it pays pretty well, but I have an ethical objection to their product. I don’t want to name the product because that might be revealing too much info online, but I just wondered what you would do facing the same dilemma? Thanks in advance!”

Marcie, I actually have faced this dilemma before, and I refused the gig. I was offered some pretty good money about three years ago to write for a manufacturer of semi-auto rifles, and I wouldn’t do it. I don’t need the money that badly; I’ll never need the money that badly.

But I can’t answer for you. I don’t know your financial situation, and I don’t have your ethics. I’m afraid this one you’ll have to face alone. Good luck!

Overused Words

From Linda: “Are there words (in your opinion) that are over-used or misused (and I'm not thinking of Corona, Covid, or quarantine)? For example, on the Food Network "chefs" often call a food unctuous or speak of accouterments to a dish. And don't get me started on "literally." A penny for your thoughts.”

Oh my yes, Linda! I’m not going to bother listing them. I think all of our readers here know what you are talking about. It’s a fingernail-on-a-chalkboard type of thing with me. There are what, close to a million words in the English language if you include slang; why does a writer find it necessary to use the same word over and over and over again?

Either they don’t know any better or they are lazy!

In fact, I think this is one facet of writing which separates the mediocre writers from the good ones, the willingness to pay attention to the small details, and the willingness to put in the effort so that staleness and repetition do not become an issue.

Thanks for spiking my blood-pressure, Linda!

Be all you can be as a writer
Be all you can be as a writer

Stopping the Trolls

From Victoria: “I was wondering what to do about the mean, negative comments on HP. I wrote an article once about birth control, and I couldn’t believe the hateful things that were said in comments. How do you deal with those?”

Victoria, welcome to the Dark Side of online writing! Trolls are everywhere, and really the only way to avoid them completely is to not write online. I don’t mind debating things online, as long as it remains civil, but once a comment crosses that line where I am attacked for my viewpoint, that is the time for me to say goodbye to that troll. You can always report a troll to the HP administration and let them handle it. You can choose not to write about controversial topics, but I don’t believe writers should be shamed from writing about things they believe in strongly.

It all comes down to respect with me. Tell me I’m wrong in a respectful manner and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you. Attack me and I close the door to further discussions.

Again, that’s just me and my response to trolls.

The Garage Is Calling Me

What a mess my garage is. I really need to get in there and start the purging, so we’ll call it quits for this week. Thanks for the great questions. If you have a question, leave it in the comment section or email it to me at I’ll include your question in the next Mailbag.

Have a great week a productive week, a safe week, and a week guided by love!

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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