50 Great Details For the Setting Of Your Victorian Novel

50 Great Details For the Setting Of Your Victorian Novel #historical research #how to write setting

Creating a convincing setting in a story, or a sense of time and place, helps readers escape to a whole new dimension. There are a lot of articles out there with advice on how to research a historical novel, and different writers approach it differently. If you’re writing a Victorian novel, this is just one quick way to get inspired.

Victorian romances are popular, and it’s also a common setting for mystery novels. Victorian details can also help with many steampunk novels. My first published novel was set in Victorian England, and I remember how much time it took to think about and research small details.

I’m breaking this list down into images, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations. These details are focused on England and particularly on London, and to a lesser extent on the United States of America. Pin it for future inspiration!


50 Great Details For the Setting Of Your Victorian Novel #historical research #how to write setting




Streets filled with pedestrians and carriages… Here’s what that looked like in several European cities late in the Victorian era.

In late Victorian London, the traffic could get pretty congested.

Bicycles… For much of the Victorian era, most bicycles had those huge front wheels. Women rarely rode them, because with their big skirts, it was too hard to mount and dismount. In the 1880s, they began manufacturing bicycles with equal size tires and adult-size tricycles, which women and children could easily ride. Bicycling became hugely popular before the turn of the century.

Soot… Everyone knows about the famous fog in Victorian London, but it might have been more accurately referred to as “smog.” In industrial cities, there was a lot of soot in the air from factory chimneys and coal-burning homes. In Bleak House, Charles Dickens wrote of “Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun…”

Whitened front steps… A maid in a nicer house would scrub and whiten the front steps every single morning.

Ladies’ fans… In a hot, crowded ballroom, you might see many of these waving back and forth. They were often made of silk, but sometimes made of paper, with hand-painted or printed scenes. Here’s an article about the secret language of fans.

Flies… In general, there were more flies indoors back then because they didn’t have good screens.

Rooms full of framed pictures… And other decorative objects. This wasn’t a time for minimalism.


Terrariums… These were first known as “Wardian cases,” named after a guy named Ward who came up with the idea, and they were pretty popular, especially for ferns. You can read a little more about them here.

Christmas trees… Christmas was not a big deal at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and a huge celebration by its close. Christmas trees were often put in a tub with sand or rocks to hold it up, and smaller ones could be attached to flat boards for display. I’ve seen lots of Victorian illustrations of smaller trees set on tabletops. Victorians decorated Christmas trees with gilded apples and walnuts, popcorn strings, dolls, paper cones filled with candy or almonds, and of course, lighted candles, which seems like a huge fire hazard.


50 Great Details For the Setting Of Your Victorian Novel #historical research #how to write setting


Scrapbooks… People used these to collect greeting cards and pictures, sometimes with a particular theme. Here’s a great gallery of Victorian scrapbooks.

Handbills… On Victorian city streets, people would hand out flyers advertising performances, restaurants, and sales. Sometimes they also invited people to political meetings, praised or condemned politicians or laws, or conveyed general announcements, such as news about a cholera outbreak or a wanted criminal on the loose. Putting “Victorian handbills” into Google images will pull up hundreds of examples.




Little dogs… Victorian ladies loved their lap dogs, and some of them took the little beasts everywhere they went. (I can relate, although my three little rescue terriers aren’t nearly as posh as fashionable Victorian pets were.) This article has a bunch of great portraits of Victorian women with their dogs.

Extravagant hats for ladies… These were a big deal. You can learn all about them throughout the decades here.

Top hats… These were popular for decades. Read more about them here. You can check out men’s 1840s fashion here, 1860s fashion here, and 1880s fashion here.


50 Great Details For the Setting Of Your Victorian Novel #historical research #how to write setting


Hair receivers… Many Victorian ladies had little porcelain containers on their dressers where they put the hair that collected on their hairbrush. They’d use the hair to stuff pincushions or to make a “ratt,” which sounds a lot like a early version of a Bumpit. I have to say this completely grosses me out. You can read more about hair receivers here.

Sentiment rings… These rings were gifts from men to women they loved. They had several gemstones, and the first letter of each spelled out a message. The most common message would be “regard,” with a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, another ruby, and a diamond lined up.

Open caskets at home… Many funeral services in the home, with an open coffin so people could see the body. If the funeral was at a church, the casket would often be closed. You can read more about Victorian funeral customs here.

Flocks of sheep… Still a familiar sight in the countryside for many people, though I never see them in my part of the U.S. For details about a Victorian farm, this BBC show is a great resource.




Street musicians… In London, musicians played all kinds of instruments on the street, including the accordion, the fiddle, the clarinet, the cello, the harp, the hurdy-gurdy, and the barrel organ. There were a lot of Italian street musicians in particular.

50 Great Details For the Setting Of Your Victorian Novel #historical research #how to write setting


Factory whistles… Telling people it was time to go to work.

McCutcheon’s Apple Products in Frederick, Maryland, got this steam whistle from an older steel mill. I’m not sure how old it is, but I think it’s probably similar to the sound of steam whistles used by Victorian era factories.


Church bells.

Household bells or gongs… In many houses, these would tell you it was time for a meal, or even time to dress for dinner. In David Copperfield, there’s a warning bell that that rings a half hour before the actual bell for breakfast.

Coaches… The rattling of coaches and carriages, along with horse hooves clopping on streets, was so loud in some cities that people had a hard time hearing sermons in church on Sunday mornings. Here’s the sound of a rattling stage coach. I’m not sure why this video and the next one are so long, but maybe it’s for people who want to fall asleep to it.

Steam locomotives… the railroad industry exploded during the Victorian era.


Crowing roosters… These would have likely woken you up in the country.

Street sellers… In a city, men, women, boys, and girls selling watercress, oranges, fish, fruits, vegetables, flowers, walnuts, newspapers, and all kinds of other things would shout or even sing about their wares. Tradespeople would do the same about the services they offered. You can read a little more about it here.

Sewing machines… By the late Victorian era, many households had these, allowing women to make and mend clothes more quickly. The early Singer machines sounded somewhat similar to modern ones.




Otto of roses… This expensive and popular perfume was made from the petals of rosa centifolia. You can read more about it and other Victorian perfumes here.

Excrement… The Thames in London smelled of human waste. Any city full of horses and carriages would have smelled of horse dung.

Fresh hay… A stable or barn would have also smelled of this.

Tallow candles… These were the cheapest candles, made from animal fat, and they didn’t smell great. Beeswax candles, which were more expensive, smelled better.

Tobacco smoke… Lots of Victorian men smoked pipes and cigars, particularly in gentlemen’s clubs. Sometimes after a dinner, the men would go in a different room from the women to smoke. Smoking around women or on the street, and reeking of smoke, were generally considered bad manners. You can read more about smoking in the Victorian era here.

Pears soap… This transparent soap was popular in 19th century England, and the formula of modern-day Pears is somewhat similar to the original. Hints of rosemary, thyme, and pine rosin were part of that formula until recently, and it had a delicate, spicy herbal scent.

Scented ink… A company called J. Herbin produced inks with rose, violet, and other scents in the late 19th century. There may have been other companies who did, too, but I’m not sure. You can still buy scented ink from them today (scroll down to take a look.) 

Vinegar… Victorians used vinegar for a lot of cleaning jobs: floors, after they’d been scrubbed with soapy water; brass and copper, which were cleaned with vinegar plus salt; and mirrors and windows (I use vinegar for these, too.)



Mutton… Also known as sheep. We don’t eat it much at all in the United States today, but in the Victorian era, people ate it all the time.

Hot elder wine… People made this from elderberries, and the Regency period recipe I’ve seen calls for cloves, ginger, and plenty of sugar, among other things. Sometimes a dash of raspberry vinegar or other flavorings were added, so I imagine you’d have a sweet, slightly spicy, and slightly tart drink. Vendors on the streets sold this in cold weather, usually with a small piece of toasted bread that you could dunk in it.

Roasted (or baked) chestnuts… These were also popular with street vendors in the wintertime. Here’s a picture of a vendor.

Ice cream… I always think of ice cream as a modern treat, but it’s been around for centuries. Ice cream was a common thing to buy from a street vendor in the summertime. Here’s a picture!



Comfits… These are usually nuts or sometimes dried fruit, covered with a sugar shell (think of modern-day Jordan almonds.)

Corn pone… This was a specialty of the American South, made out of corn meal, milk or buttermilk, and eggs. Here’s an article about the difference between corn pone and cornbread.

Boiled calf’s head… Putting this on the table would disgust a lot of modern-day diners, but this was popular on both sides of the pond. I know that in the United States people cooked the whole head at least through the Depression era (and probably beyond), at least in rural areas.

Turtle soup, and mock turtle soup… Victorians ate so much turtle soup that they almost made turtles extinct, which is why mock turtle soup became a thing. Here are old recipes for both. From the accounts I’ve read, turtle is closer to beef than chicken in taste.  If you’ve got a fancy dinner scene, this is a good choice for a first course.

Roast goose… I’ve never understood the expression “Your goose is cooked!” That’s a bad thing? Victorians loved this at Christmas especially. Roast goose is fattier than roast chicken or roast turkey.

Deviled kidneys… These lambs’ kidneys were cooked in a sauce that might contain mustard, vinegar, sherry, brandy, spices, anchovy ketchup, and even tomato ketchup (though that was a rare ingredient back then). I’ve seen a lot of variation among original recipes. They were popular with toast for breakfast for upper-class and maybe some middle-class people. I’ve read the kidneys can smell a bit like urine, which doesn’t surprise me, and it sounds like this is less of a problem when they’re very fresh.



Washing up with cold water… A pitcher and a big bowl were often in bedrooms so people could wash their face in the morning. In the winter, though, this water might be pretty cold.


50 Great Details For the Setting Of Your Victorian Novel #historical research #how to write setting


Taking off a corset… Some people maintain that Victorian corsets were all tight-laced torture devices, and tell stories of organs being malformed and ribs surgically removed to create a tinier figure. Other people say these are exaggerations fed by vintage erotic fiction. Even if a corset wasn’t laced so tightly that a woman could barely breathe, it must have been a relief to take it off at the end of the day, just like it is for many women when they take off their bra in the evening. The corset might have left red marks in the skin, and a woman might be able to take deeper breaths without the corset.

Riding an omnibus… An omnibus was a large horse-drawn vehicle. Only men sat in the uncovered seats on top. An omnibus passenger was likely to be squished up against other people or poked with somebody’s umbrella or parasol. You can read more about them here.

Shaving with a straight razor… A man might have done this at home, or if he were middle class, he might have gone to the barber regularly. A rich man’s valet would often do this for him. You can read more about the sensations of a straight razor shave here.

Being hot on one side and cold on the other… Because that’s how stoves and fireplaces worked.



For more intensive research, I strongly recommend the following books: Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders, Everyday Life in the 1800s by Marc McCutcheon, and Victorian London: The Tale of a City, 1840 – 1870, by Liza Picard. For a wonderful online resource, check out Lee Jackson’s victorianlondon.org (and tip him a pound if you use his huge site — I can’t imagine how long it took to put it all together! I made a donation because I used his site for this post.)

If there’s another setting you’d like me to do, or you have suggestions about Victorian settings in novels, please let me know in the comments! And if you aren’t doing so already, follow the blog so you don’t miss future posts like this — there’s a place to sign up on the lefthand side of the page. Happy writing!


11 Signs That You’re a Romance Writer

11 Signs That You're a Romance Writer #writer life

All writing genres have their own quirks, and the romance genre probably has more than most. I was thinking about things that a lot of romance writers have in common, and I thought it would be fun to share.

If you’re a romance writer, see if any of these sound familiar!


11 Signs That You're a Romance Writer #writing life


1. You point out that some things are not real romance.

No happy ending?

Cary Grant GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY


2. Your vacation plans: RWA conference.

An organization called Romance Writers of America holds a national conference every year, and it’s a big deal.




3. You use a lot of acronyms.

“I’m almost done with this PNR WIP and I’m still not sure if it’s going to have a HEA or a HFN, and I need to figure it out before I go to RWA.”


4. You can’t stand inaccuracies in historical dramas.

Nobody wants to watch them with you, because you keep saying things like, “Oh my God, they did not wear dresses like that, and don’t even get me started on the hair.”

11 Signs You're a Romance Writer #writer problems #amwriting
Are you kidding me.


5. You don’t even care any more if people say romance novels aren’t “real books.”

The Comeback Hbo GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

You used to get mad, but you’ve heard it so often that now you’re immune.


6. You spend a lot of time thinking about whether your characters kiss too soon, or not soon enough.

Or about when they should say “I love you,” or consummate their relationship. Timing is a tricky thing.



7. You have a lot of saved pictures to help remind you that you should be writing.


11 Signs You're a Romance Writer #writer problems #amwriting   11 Signs You're a Romance Writer #writer problems #amwriting   11 Signs You're a Romance Writer #writer problems #amwriting


8. You would think nothing of having three or four pen names.

“I use Victoria Cresswell for historical romance, and I think I’m going to use Allie Hayes for young adult romance and Elara Nyx for my space opera romance trilogy.”


9. You’ve gotten at least one one-star review because your romance novel had sex scenes in it…

Or you’ve gotten a one-star review because your romance novel didn’t have sex scenes in it.


10. Some male models on covers are so familiar to you, they almost seem like friends.


11 Signs You're a Romance Writer #writer problems
Oh hi, Jason! Good to see you again.


11. You cheer on other romance writers… and you get advice from them, too.

Romance writers may be more supportive of one another than any other kind of writer. I think it’s one of the reasons the genre does so well. Most romance writers are happy to share their secrets to success.


If you’re a romance writer, what did I leave out? I bet you can think of a lot more! And if you work in another genre, what are some quirks that go along with that? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!

Self-Publishing: Book Cover Design Mistakes to Watch Out For

Self-Publishing: Book Cover Design Mistakes to Watch Out For #bad book cover designs #how to design a book cover

One of the things I loved about self-publishing after being traditionally published was the fact that I had control over my own book cover design. I think a lot of indie authors enjoy that!

Although I have strong opinions about covers, I’m not a designer. I hired a professional to design my self-published book cover, and I’ll do that again in the future. Unless you have strong design skills, I think this is the way to go if you can afford it. (Here’s a breakdown of self-publishing costs, in case that’s helpful.)

Some writers have zero dollars in the budget for book cover design, and I’ve seen some covers created by authors who weren’t designers but who did a really good job. I also see writers fall into some common mistakes when they design a book cover, so I’m hoping this will help.

I’m not going to show real-life examples of bad book cover designs, because that would be mean. I did mock up a couple of fake bad examples, though!

Here are some common problems with indie book covers — and just to be clear, major book publishers also run with bad book cover designs now and again.



Self-Publishing: Book Cover Design Mistakes to Watch Out For #bad book cover designs #how to design a book cover



1. The type is too small.


Self-Publishing: Book Cover Design Mistakes to Watch Out For #bad book cover designs #how to design a book cover


This is the #1 problem I see with indie covers. Remember that most of your sales are going to go through Amazon, and shoppers will be scrolling past small thumbnails of books. If your title isn’t in large type, it’s not going to get noticed. Don’t be shy about your author name, either.

When I contracted the cover for my Master Lists for Writers book, I told the designer I wanted to be able to read the title from outer space. The cover really pops in a search of writing guides. You probably won’t do anything so extreme for your book, but you do want the title to show up.


2. There are two many layers of messages.

It’s fine to have one line that explains a book is part of a series. For instance, you could have:



A Mermaid Kingdom Novel


However, if you have more than one line explaining where it is in a series, like this:


A Mermaid Kingdom Novel


Book 1, the Golden Pearl Trilogy of Novellas


That’s probably too much going on.

There are a lot of extra phrases you can put on a book cover. A short quote from a reviewer, such as “Bryn Donovan is a master storyteller.” A tagline, like “She’s his worst enemy… and his only hope.” Don’t layer too many messages.

Make sure that taglines, quotes, and subtitles are small compared to your title and author name. Nothing else should compete with those two things. Advertising people call this “hierarchy of messaging.”

Don’t put a paragraph explaining what your book is about on the cover. That goes in the blurb, or on the back cover of a print version.


3. The fonts are gimmicky.

It’s totally understandable: a horror author finds a font made out of blood spatters, or someone writing a paranormal historical about Nikola Tesla discovers a font that looks like it’s made out of lightning, and they want to use it. Get a second opinion, at least. Novelty fonts can be difficult to read and can look amateurish.



4. The design doesn’t tell you what the genre is.

For instance, let’s say you have a thriller that looks like this:


Self-Publishing: Book Cover Design Mistakes to Watch Out For #bad book cover designs #how to design a book cover


The sunny wheat field image does not scream “thriller.” Even if the author puts this book in the thriller section, people are going to be confused.

Shoppers only take a couple of seconds to decide whether they’re interested in a book. You want the cover to say to them, “Hey, here’s one of those books that you like.”

As an example: soon, I’m going to be contracting a cover for a paranormal romance. There’s a good chance that it’s going to have a shirtless man as part of the cover design. This isn’t because I love covers with shirtless men — I don’t have strong feelings either way — but because it’s a quick way to let potential readers know that it’s a steamy romance (the title, The Phoenix Codex, will tip them off that it’s paranormal.)



5. There are too many images.

Again, because shoppers are scrolling through thumbnails, simpler is often better. For a novice designer, incorporating several images can also be tricky.


6. The artwork or photography is stolen.

Whatever you do, don’t just grab an image from a Google search and use it for your cover. This is theft. You could get sued for a lot of money, and it’s terrible behavior. I’m sure you wouldn’t do this! But I had to mention it for other people reading this post.


Do you have some advice on designing book covers, or about other things to avoid? Please share them in the comments! (Do not link to bad examples, however!) Thanks for reading, and happy writing!

Writing Playlist: Music to Listen to While You Write Your Epic Fantasy Novel

Writing Playlist: Music to Listen to While You Write Your Epic Fantasy Novel. Over 2 Hours of Songs! #playlist for writing #music for inspiration

In one of my early blog posts, I shared a playlist for writers working on a high fantasy or a medieval historical novel. I wanted to make another one! The last playlist had a definite European flavor. This one is slightly more multicultural, and longer — a little over two hours of music for writing inspiration. A commenter on this blog, Annabel, suggested some of these. Thanks so much, Annabel!

I’m going to share one or two writing playlists through my monthly newsletter this year, so if you’re not getting that and you’d like to, you can sign up!

I’ve linked to each song on iTunes, and if if you have Spotify, you can just listen to the whole playlist here. I hope it inspires you to epic stories about dragons, elves, swords, sorcery, or whatever you like!


Writer Playlist: MUSIC TO INSPIRE YOU WHILE YOU WRITE YOUR EPIC FANTASY NOVEL. Over 2 hours of songs! #writing #playlist for writing #music for inspiration #NaNoWriMo



“Garador’s Flight,” Jo Blankenburg

“Illumielle,” Jo Blankenburg

“Gryphonheart,” Jo Blankenburg

“A Wedding Interrupted,” Tan Dun, Yo-Yo Ma

“Through the Bamboo Forest,” Tan Dun, Yo-Yo Ma

“Sorcerer’s Dream,” Sound Adventures

“Gwen & Arthur,” Rob Lane

“Dance of Hope,” Hossein Alizadeh

“The Sky,” Hossein Alizadeh

“The Escape,” Hossein Alizadeh

“Prince Caspian Flees,” Harry Gregson-Williams

“The Kings and Queens of Old,” Harry Gregson-Williams

“The Door in the Air,” Harry Gregson-Williams

“The Guardian,” White Wall

“Serenity Infliction,” White Wall

“One Summer’s Day,” Joe Hisaishi

“The Dragon Boy,” Joe Hisaishi

“The Sixth Station,” Joe Hisaishi



“Chasing the Storm,” Patrick Doyle

“Science and Magic,” Patrick Doyle

“Forgive Me,” Patrick Doyle

“Ori, Lost in the Storm,” Gareth Coker

“Neru, Embracing the Light,” Gareth Coker

“Calling Out,” Gareth Coker

“Danny’s Balloon — Namibian Coast,” Ramin Djawadi

“Danny’s Balloon — Okavango Suite,” Ramin Djawadi

“Over Victoria Falls,” Ramin Djawadi

“Mako,” Ramin Diawadi and Priscilla Ahn

“Dragon Age Inquisition Theme,” Trevor Morris

“Dawning Promises,” ICON

“A Legacy Uncovered,” ICON

“Rose, Dragon,” Javier Navarrete

“The River,” Javier Navarrete

“Road to Glory,” Kokia

“Battle of Destiny,” Kokia

“Aqua Vitae,” Future World Music

“Passion of Victory,” Future World Music

“Victory of Life,” Future World Music

“The Ride of the Rohirrim,” Howard Shore

“Twilight and Shadow,” Howard Shore




I hope you find songs you like in here, and you can always choose your favorites for a pared-down playlist for writing!

Are there playlists for other genres that you’d like to see? Do you have some favorite writing music? Let us know in the comments! Thanks so much for reading, and happy writing!


The Three Word Documents That Will Help You Write Your Novel

The Three Word Documents That Will Help You Write Your Novel #writing advice #how to write a novel faster

Hey there! Today I wanted to share with you the word documents (besides the manuscript itself) that I always maintain when I’m writing a novel or novella. I don’t know if this will help if you’re trying to figure out how to write a novel faster, but I do think it’s a good way to keep things organized! If you use Scrivener rather than Word, the same principles can still apply.


The Three Word Documents That Will Help You Write Your Novel #writing advice #how to write a novel faster


When you’re writing a first draft, issues and changes will occur to you as you go. You can keep going back again and again to change things, but sometimes that can kill your momentum. On the other hand, you don’t want to forget about them.

If you keep a document called “fix list,” you can use it to keep track of all of the things you need to change. Once your first draft is done or you just feel like you’re at a stopping point, you can go back and address all those issues.


Short snippets of dialogue, random descriptions, and other fragments may pop into your mind as you’re writing your draft. The stuff that comes spontaneously into your head is often really good material – but you may not even know where it goes yet.

Don’t lose it! Keep it all together in a document called “bits and pieces.” (Since I don’t always have my computer with me, I often write snippets like this down in my planner or my phone, and transfer it to this document later.)


Here’s something I used to do. I’d cut out a short exchange between characters, or even a whole scene… and then later, I’d regret it and wind up re-writing it again. So annoying, and such a waste of time! If you keep all your deleted material in a document, it’s there for you in case you change your mind.



After every writing session, don’t forget to back up these documents, if you’ve changed them, as well as your manuscript. I email mine to myself and I often use a USB drive as well, though USB drives can fail eventually.

Do you have any suggestions for keeping things organized as you write? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Happy writing!

What Is “Head-Hopping” In Writing, and Why Shouldn’t You Do It?

What Is "Head-Hopping" In Writing, and Why Shouldn't You Do It? #what does head-hopping mean #writing advice

A lot of writers have never come across the term “head-hopping” or its definition. I was one of those writers when I completed my first novel (which is unpublished, and will probably remain that way forever.) That’s why I thought I’d take some time to explain it here.


Read and pin to avoid this rookie mistake. || What Is "Head-Hopping" In Writing, and Why Shouldn't You Do It? #what does head-hopping mean #writing advice


Head-hopping is something that typically happens in stories written in third person. The writer fluctuates between the thoughts of one character and another within a scene. Head-hopping looks like this:

Josiah froze behind the bar of the saloon as Emmeline pointed a pistol directly at his heart. Hatred burned in her eyes, and he knew that she must have heard about what he did at the brothel. Holy mackerel, Bob thought, and stopped playing the piano. After all, the song “Git Along Little Dogies” didn’t seem like appropriate music to die to. Emmeline wondered if Josiah would try to come up with some excuse, and whether she should even wait to find out.

We’re in the heads of three different people in the space of five sentences.

The more generally acceptable way would be to pick one person’s point of view and stick with it. Here’s the whole scene rewritten so that we only have access to Josiah’s perceptions.

Josiah froze behind the bar as Emmeline pointed a pistol directly at his heart. Hatred burned in her eyes, and he knew that she must have heard about what he did at the brothel. Bob stopped playing the piano. Just as well, maybe — Josiah didn’t want to die to the sounds of “Git Along Little Dogies.” Would Emmeline even give him a change to explain?

Head-hopping does not refer to alternating points of view. If a scene from Josiah’s perspective is followed up by a scene from Emmeline’s point of view, that’s fine.

Plenty of novels tell their story from two or three points of view. If you have more points of view than that in the same story, you are giving yourself a big challenge as a writer, because it’s going to be difficult to get the readers to care about all of those characters.

With multiple points of view, you just need to avoid switching back and forth mid-scene. (Some authors don’t switch within a chapter, which keeps things very clean, but it can be difficult to write your whole story that way.)

It’s all right to switch a point of view once in the middle of a scene (though I wouldn’t do it in every scene.) To indicate a point of view switch, leave an extra space between the two paragraphs.



Whenever you switch from one point of view to another, you want to make the switch clear in the first sentence or two of the new point of view. Here’s an example of a mid-scene point of view switch from the novel I finished last month, The Phoenix Codex. In this scene, Cassie just tried to kiss Jonathan, but he backed off (even though he’s very into her) because he was afraid she had Stockholm Syndrome. This is in Jonathan’s point of view and then switches to Cassie’s.

She hugged her arms. “Okay, let’s stop talking about this. When people are telling me why they don’t want to kiss me, I like to keep the conversation short.”

Frustration rose up in him. “It’s not about what I want!”

She jumped. He was scaring her again. In a quieter tone, he explained, “Whatever you’re feeling right now is a response by trauma. Trauma I caused.”

“Right.” Her eyes flashed with annoyance. “Because my hitting on you has nothing to do with you being a good person or hot as hell.”

A smile crossed his face before he could stop it at the unexpected compliment. She said, “I know how I feel.”

Maybe she did. Maybe she genuinely liked him. His resolve was slipping, but he made a last-ditch effort to resist her. “You’ll feel differently later.” His phone buzzed.


Cassie mentally cursed whoever was calling for his shitty timing. Jonathan gave her a pained look. “I have to take this.” He answered it, saying, “Salam, Nic.” After listening for a moment, Jonathan said, “Yeah, I know.” He got up and strode into the living room.


Getting access right away to Cassie’s thoughts and seeing Jonathan through her eyes makes the point of view switch clear.

You’ve probably read novels with head-hopping. If you’ve read a lot of Victorian and Regency novels, you’ve definitely encountered it. So what’s wrong with it? Why do editors hate it?

Staying in the point of view of one character for a while means that you’re not just telling your readers a story. You’re allowing them to really experience it, through the thoughts and the perceptions of a character.

This helps them get completely lost in the story. It also makes them bond with your characters more strongly. Both of these things will make them love you as an author, and that’s what you really want.

Have you experienced challenges in handling points of view, or do you have any advice for others? Let us know in the comments! Thanks so much for reading, and happy writing!

STEAL THIS PLOT: 50 Plot Ideas from Victorian and Regency Novels

STEAL THIS PLOT: 50 Plot Ideas from Victorian and Regency Novels #master plots #idea starters #NaNoWriMo #novels

Hey, everyone! Some of my most popular posts of all time are about master plots, and since NaNoWriMo is coming up in a few weeks, I thought I’d do another list of ideas for stories!

These are so simplified that that they’re really just idea starters for novels. It’s easy to take them in a whole new direction, in any setting or time period you like. In some cases I’ve taken liberties with the description to make them more general, and they’re often just a part of the plot of the novel.

It’s absolutely fine to take plot inspiration from another work. The award-winning novel On Beauty by Zadie Smith was loosely based on E.M. Forster’s Edwardian-era novel Howard’s End. The delightful 1990s movie Clueless was a contemporary adaptation of Jane Austen’s EmmaAusten’s Pride and Prejudice was a huge inspiration for Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, a book which I think is underrated in terms of literary quality, probably because it’s such a fun read.

It took a while to put this together, but it was really fun, because some of these are my very favorite books. Here’s the list, and you might want to bookmark it or pin it to Pinterest for future inspiration!


STEAL THIS PLOT: 50 Plot Ideas from Victorian and Regency Novels #master plots #idea starters #NaNoWriMo #novels


  1. A man who was framed for a crime he didn’t commit escapes prison, makes a fortune in another country, and returns in disguise to get vengeance on his enemies. (Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas.)


  1. An orphan boy falls in love with his foster sister. As an adult, he’s still obsessed with her even though she’s married to somebody else. (Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë.)


  1. Members of a club decide to each travel to a different place and then report what they learn back to the group. (The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens.)


  1. A rich man proposes to a young employee of his only to learn that she’s already secretly married to his son. (Vanity Fair, William Thackeray.)


  1. A man searching for a sea monster meets a guy with a fantastic submarine and they explore the ocean depths together. (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne.)


  1. A guy falls in love with a woman who spurns him. Later, he gets a job and then realizes she owns the business. (Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy.)


  1. In the future, humankind has evolved into two separate species. (The Time Machine, H.G. Wells.)


  1. A woman who’s new in town believes the owner of a local business is unfair to his employees, but later she falls in love with him. (North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell.) (There is a fantastic miniseries of this one!)


  1. A young man steals money from her father in order to leave the country and elope with her boyfriend against her father’s wishes, but then her fiancé gambles the money away. (The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope.)


  1. A man is found dead in a room with a word written in blood on the wall, but there are no wounds on the corpse. (A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the first of the Sherlock Holmes stories, when he and John Watson are just becoming friends.)


  1. A man believes a woman he loves is having an affair, but she’s actually meeting with her brother. (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë.)


  1. A man arranges for the abduction of his recently orphaned teenage nephew because the kid is the rightful heir to a family estate. (Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson.)



  1. A poor child falls asleep in a stream and becomes a magical water creature. (The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley. When I was a kid, this book blew my mind.)


  1. A woman refuses two marriage proposals from good guys and marries a foreigner who winds up being mean to her. Much later, one of her former suitors takes an interest in her daughter, while the other one tells her he’s still interested in her. (Portrait of a Lady, Henry James.)


  1. A boy fakes his own death, runs away from home, and teams up with another runaway for adventure. (Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain.)


  1. A mistreated animal comes into a better situation. (Black Beauty, Anna Sewell.)


  1. On his deathbed, a father leaves his son a mysterious artifact with an equally mysterious message inside. (Little DorritCharles Dickens.)


  1. A young man falls in love with the girl next door, but she rejects him because she sees him as a brother. Later, when he’s on vacation, he crosses paths with the girl’s sister, and those two fall in love. (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott.)

STEAL THIS PLOT: 50 Plot Ideas from Victorian and Regency Novels #master plots #idea starters #NaNoWriMo #novels

  1. A cynical slacker redeems himself by trading places with a great guy who’s been imprisoned and dying in his place. (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens. Sydney Carton is one of my literary crushes.)


  1. A rich man runs over and kills a poor child in the street, but he shows no remorse. Later, he is murdered in his bed. (Also A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.)


  1. A woman is caught in a love triangle between her fiancé and her fiancé’s father. (The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.)


  1. A man desperately seeks money to pay what he owes to his fiancée so that he can leave her and run off with the woman he really loves. He then finds out that the woman he really loves has taken up with a former boyfriend again. (Also The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.)


  1. A person never ages due to a sinister spell. (The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde.)


  1. A girl follows an animal guide to a strange new world. (Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll.)


  1. Facing the facts of his mortality, his unpopularity, and his worthless existence, a man makes a drastic change for the better. (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens.)


  1. A man forgives his wife and his wife’s lover for having an affair. His wife’s lover is so embarrassed he attempts suicide, but fails. The adulterers then run away together. (Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy.)


  1. A young woman teaching at a school abroad develops relationships with both the schoolmaster and a rich doctor. (Villette, Charlotte Brontë.)

STEAL THIS PLOT: 50 Plot Ideas from Victorian and Regency Novels #master plots #idea starters #NaNoWriMo #novels

  1. A respectable man has a secret and horrible past: he sold his wife and baby daughter. (The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy.)


  1. A bitter old man gets robbed and becomes the foster father for a little girl. (Silas Marner, George Eliot.)


  1. A woman marries an old man who has no interest in her, but becomes friends with an interesting guy her own age. When the woman’s elderly husband dies, he leaves a note in his will that she can’t inherit anything if she marries the younger guy she’s friends with. (Middlemarch, George Eliot.)


  1. A woman only realizes she’s in love with her good friend after another woman falls in love with him. (Emma, Jane Austen.)


  1. Nobody knows that this beautiful young bride faked her own death, abandoned her child, and assumed a new identity in order to find a wealthy husband. (Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon.)


  1. Aliens attack a country on planet Earth and crush its human army, but then they all die of some alien disease. (The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells.)


  1. An orphan becomes a criminal’s apprentice. (Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens.)


  1. A woman gets news that the man she was once in love with has gotten married to girlfriend. Later, she learns she was mistaken – the man’s girlfriend dumped him to marry his brother instead. (Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen.)


  1. A young woman is heartbroken when the dashing and charming man she loves ignores her and then breaks up with her. After she recovers from a dangerous illness, she receives attentions from a man who’s loved her all along. (Also Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen.)



  1. After discovering that his grandmother was a fairy, a young man’s room turns into an enchanted wood in Fairy Land. (Phantasies, a Faerie Romance for Men and Women, by George McDonald.)


  1. The statue of a woman comes alive. She runs away, and man searches for her. (Also Phantastes, a Faerie Romance for Men and Women, by George McDonald.)


STEAL THIS PLOT: 50 Plot Ideas from Victorian and Regency Novels #master plots #idea starters #NaNoWriMo #novels

  1. A woman is punished and ostracized for adultery while her husband, in disguise, seeks revenge on her lover. (The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne.)


  1. In a remote location, a scientist creates grotesque human hybrids. (The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells.)


  1. A young man manages to pick fights with three different guys in one afternoon, but they all wind up being friends. (The Three Musketeers, Alexander Dumas.)


  1. A young man impersonating someone else has a romantic rendezvous with a rich woman. In doing so, he learns a secret about her that leads her to try to get him killed. (Also The Three Musketeers, Alexander Dumas.)


  1. A man makes a large bet with his friends that he can travel a large distance in a short time frame. (Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne.)


  1. A mild-mannered teacher at a school snaps and beats up an abusive headmaster. (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens.)


  1. A man is in love with a woman who’s marrying some rich and selfish old man who’s offered to pay off her father’s debt in return. (Also The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens.)


  1. A young woman falls in love with her employer only to learn that he’s married to a woman he keeps locked up. (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë.)


  1. A man falls in love with a woman, but she’s pretty mad at him because she found out he talked another guy into breaking up with her sister. (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.)

STEAL THIS PLOT: 50 Plot Ideas from Victorian and Regency Novels #master plots #idea starters #NaNoWriMo #novels

  1. A mischievous boy develops a huge crush on a girl at school, but he keeps messing things up with her. (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain.)


  1. A boy secretly witnesses a murder and is scared to tell anyone, even when the wrong man is blamed for it. (Also The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain.)


  1. A relentlessly cheerful man’s good nature is tested when he moves to a dangerous and difficult new place. (Martin Chuzzlewit, Charles Dickens.)


STEAL THIS PLOT: 50 Plot Ideas from Victorian and Regency Novels #master plots #idea starters #NaNoWriMo #novels


I hope this was helpful for you, and if you want more plot ideas and inspiration, check out Master Lists for Writers, if you don’t have it already! Whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or you’re just writing at a pace more suited to a sensible human being, I wish you the best. Thanks for visiting the blog, and happy writing!


Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan

50 Spooky Writing Prompts for Horror, Thriller, Ghost, and Mystery Stories

50 Spooky Writing Prompts for Horror, Ghost, Thriller, and Mystery Stories #plot generator #plot ideas

If you’re looking for idea starters, writing prompts and plot ideas for a mystery novel, a horror novel, a thriller, or any kind of spooky screenplay, you might find what you’re looking for here! These are also great for creative writing exercises, especially around Halloween.



If you are easily scared and have an over-active imagination, just skip this one. If you do get a little creeped out by it, just remember it’s all nonsense that I made up while I was exercising on the treadmill or sitting in bed.

Some of these are skeletal (ha) plot ideas (or master plots), while others are images or suggestions. And I’ll be sharing a spooky music playlist in my next newsletter for writing… or just for getting into the Halloween spirit. (If you don’t get my newsletter, you can sign up here!)


50 Spooky Writing Prompts for Horror, Ghost, Thriller, and Mystery Stories #plot generator #plot ideas

  1. A musician practices. When she finishes a piece, she hears someone clapping for her, although she lives alone.


  1. Frightening events in a small town lead its citizens to dig up the grave of a deceased inhabitant.


  1. Someone gets on the elevator by himself and is never seen by his friends or family again.


  1. The Furies—the vengeance deities of classic mythology—are back in business again.


  1. A collector buys an unpublished manuscript by an obscure writer that describes a terrible historical event a year before it occurred. The collector learns the writer wrote many unpublished stories…


  1. Creating a hybrid of a human and this particular animal turns out to be a bad idea.


  1. A person has the ability to make other people very ill.


  1. The dead walk out of the sea.


  1. An individual begins seeing and hearing from someone who looks just like her – and learns she had a twin who died at birth.


  1. A killer places an advertisement for a willing victim and finds one.


  1. A basement contains jars filled with unusual specimens.


  1. A person finds new photos of herself on her cell phone that she didn’t take.


  1. The spirit of a brutalized slave or prisoner of war wants revenge on his tormentor’s descendants.


  1. A couple vacationing in a remote area begins having the same nightmares.


  1. All of the circus performers were killed in the train wreck.


  1. The television switches to another station of its own accord and plays footage of something horrible that happened long before the technology existed to record it.


  1. A spouse or sibling dies. He or she begins to take over the body of the surviving spouse or sibling.


  1. Weekend adventurers explore a cave and can’t find their way out again. Then they encounter something terrible…



  1. Authorities go through the cluttered apartment of a deceased man who lived alone with no known friends or relatives for decades and find something disturbing.


  1. A group of teenagers trolls everyone else in an online group by telling made-up stories about terrible things they’ve done. Things then get out of hand.


  1. It’s bad luck in the theatre to call the Shakespeare play Macbeth by name, but someone in the company keeps doing it anyway… and the superstition proves true.


  1. Every exhibit in this carnival sideshow is fake. Except this one thing.


  1. An individual develops a terror of water – drinking it, touching it, or even being near it. There’s actually a good reason why.


  1. The grandfather clock starts running backwards.


  1. People in this neighborhood begin having freak accidents that involve normal appliances and machinery, such as blenders, weed whackers, and garage doors.


  1. The cure for a new deadly epidemic is almost scarier than the disease.


  1. He locked the doors and shuttered the windows; it came in through the roof.


  1. A woman is happy when her dead loved one comes back to life… but he’s changed.


  1. This centuries-old beauty secret is effective but horrifying.


  1. A killer toys with his victims by orchestrating a series of false hopes for them.


  1. She wakes up in the middle of the night and runs out to a certain tree.


  1. Tourists on a ghost tour, along with their guide, fall into the hands of an evil presence.



  1. A young woman is impregnated by her handsome new boyfriend, who turns out to be something other than human.


  1. The empty swing is swinging.


  1. A bride on her honeymoon discovers she’s not her new husband’s first wife… not even close.


  1. Long ago, when he was a baby, a man’s parents made an unwise deal in order to bring him back from the dead.


  1. Members of a family or people in a town begin sleepwalking and doing strange things in their sleep.


  1. A young man confesses to a killing that hasn’t happened. The murder he describes takes place while he’s in custody.


  1. Grisly events happen after the arrival of a hypnotist in Victorian London.


  1. An author’s fictional villain stalks him.


  1. Fraternity hazing goes way too far.


  1. It always happens when he’s alone in the car.


  1. A patient in a mental hospital encounters a malevolent ghost, but nobody believes her.


  1. A mother’s young child may or may not be a changeling.


  1. Swarms of insects appear in various places in a town, always followed by an untimely death.


  1. The ghost at the movie theater wants everyone to watch one particular snippet of film.


  1. A child’s imaginary friend starts to cause real trouble.


  1. When putting together a slide show for a wedding or funeral, someone notices that for decades, the same man, dressed in the same fashion, has been appearing in the background of photographs taken in public places.


  1. A politician, religious leader, or celebrity exerts mind control over the will of his or her followers.


  1. The fairy godmother isn’t the good kind of fairy.


I hope this list was useful! If you don’t want to miss future posts about writing, follow my blog, if you aren’t already — there’s a place you can sign up on the lefthand side of the page. Happy writing!

Stay Motivated With These Word Counters for Writers!

Stay Motivated With Word Counters for Writers! #word trackers #NaNoWriMo #daily word counts

Many writers love setting daily word count goals. It’s not for me, because days can vary so wildly. On one day, I might get a ton of writing done. On another day, I might have to drastically rewrite something, or take my dog in for emergency surgery, like we had to do last week. (He’s making a good recovery!) I like to look at my progress month to month.



No matter how you feel about word count goals, tracking your progress can be really motivating! I think making your progress public on your blog or website, or sharing it on social media, can be especially inspiring. I talked about mine on the last WIP Wednesday, and some people wanted to know where to get one. Here are four word counters available for free. See if one of them works for you!


Stay Motivated With Word Counters for Writers! #word trackers #NaNoWriMo #daily word counts


For your WordPress.org blog…

The Author Wordcount widget.

This is the one I’ve added to my blog (you can see it near the bottom on the lefthand column on this page.) It’s only an option if you have a blog on WordPress.org, but it’s pretty handy.

For your WordPress.com blog or other website…

Sarra’s Word Meter.

This gives you an html code that you can paste onto your website. If you have a WordPress.com blog, for example, you can paste it into a text widget and it’ll look great. Bookmark the page. When you need to update your word count, you can do it on this web page and your word counter, wherever you put it, will update. You don’t need to paste in the code again.

Here’s how it looks!

Stay Motivated With Word Counters for Writers! #word trackers #NaNoWriMo #daily word counts





There are actually a lot of word counters like this out there, but I like this one because you can change the colors however you like.

Stay Motivated With Word Counters for Writers! #word trackers #NaNoWriMo #daily word counts




For your iPhone…

If you track your daily word count on Wordly, it makes a graph that you can send to Facebook or Twitter. And if you are the kind of person to set daily word goals, Wordly will give you prompts, and it will also give you stats. (I for one do not want to know how many words I write per hour, but some people might!) Although I haven’t tried out Wordly myself yet, it looks like it’s worth checking out.


For your computer…

Justin McLachlan has made a pretty sweet spreadsheet with NaNoWriMo in mind, but you can adjust it to any word count goal for the month. It’s color-coded (green means you’re doing great, yellow means you’re doing so-so, and red means you’re behind.) Check it out here, and check out his great blog!


Stay Motivated With Word Counters for Writers! #word trackers #NaNoWriMo #daily word counts


If you have a word tracking method or app that you love, or you want to chat about word count, please share in the comments. Have a great week, and happy writing!



How to Write a Great Sex Scene: My Personal Advice

How to Write a Good Sex Scene: My Personal Advice #how to write a sex scene #tips on writing a romance novel #erotica

A couple of times, I’ve gotten bad reviews from people who are mad that my romance stories have sex scenes in them. Some readers love explicit scenes, some readers hate them, and that’s fine!

However, editors and beta readers who enjoy steamy romance in general rarely have complaints about the way I write sex scenes, even when they have great constructive criticism for me about other things. That’s why I feel like I can write this post, even though, naturally, people’s preferences with sex scenes can vary wildly.

Here’s my advice, and I would love to hear what other people have to say, too!



Make sure the scene moves the story forward.

If you’re just writing a story with regularly scheduled sex recesses, readers are more likely to find the sex scenes gratuitous or silly. A sex scene may move the external plot forward: now she’s definitely going to refuse the other woman who asked her on a date, or now he’s going to have to resign from his job, because this kind of thing isn’t allowed between a boss and an employee at their company and he has no intention of stopping it.

The scene may also move the internal plot forward. Maybe she’s seen another side of him that makes her trust him after all, or maybe he realizes he’s in love with her, even if he’s not ready to say it yet.



Reveal more of the characters as you reveal more skin.

Sex scenes are a wonderful opportunity to show more character depth. Characters may be more raw and vulnerable, or they may reveal a side of themselves that they don’t often show to others.

A confident man may have a moment of awkwardness or doubt. A shy woman may turn out to have a mischievous side. Revelations like these can make your readers love your characters even more. In a love story, this higher level of honesty brings your two lovers closer together emotionally.

Stay in one person’s head at a time.

“Head-hopping” is frowned upon in fiction in general, and it’s especially jarring in a sex scene. If in one sentence, he’s thinking about how beautiful a part of her body is, and in the next sentence, she’s thinking about how good something feels, your reader will have a hard time getting swept up in the scene.

It’s fine to make one point of view switch in the middle of a sex scene as long as you make it clear that there’s been a shift. Many authors put a space break (without asterisks) to indicate a point of view shift mid-scene.

Concentrate on all five senses.

Describe sensations, physical reactions, sensual visuals, and sounds, scents, and tastes. When you engage more of your reader’s senses, they’ll be more wrapped up in the scene.

Make sure all of the action is believable.

A sex scene may be idealized, particularly in the romance genre, but there are still limits to credibility. Sometimes I’ll be reading an explicit scene and something in it contradicts what I know about the characters’ height, people’s average flexibility, human physiology, or gravity.

Don’t censor yourself in the first draft.

You can always pull back later if you feel something’s too over the top, but in the first draft especially, just go with it. Keep in mind that if you think something is hot, chances are pretty good that some other people out there will, too.

If you don’t feel comfortable reading them, don’t write them.

Writers can get caught up in chatter about “what sells,” and some might get the idea that sexually explicit material is a ticket to immediate riches. Um, if only. It’s really not, and if it’s not for you, don’t let anyone tell you that means you’re a prude or old-fashioned or anything else. If you’re true to yourself, it will make your unique style so much stronger.



In addition to all of these things, there are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself about the scenes you write. They are:

Is clear consent important to you as a writer?

In my own writing, I like to make it obvious that both participants are 100% into what’s happening. This is different from many romances written in the 1970s and 1980s, which often featured the hero raping the heroine. Themes of rape and questionable consent have made something of a comeback in the genre. If depicting clear consent is important to you, that may affect some of your choices when you write a scene.

Do you want to handle safe sex and birth control realistically?

This question, of course, only pertains to characters who could conceivably (heh) get pregnant. Personally, I have my characters use condoms if they haven’t had the chance to have The Talk. As a reader, unprotected sex throws me out of the story and gives me a poor opinion of the characters’ judgement. However, not all readers react that way.


By the way, if you struggle with vocabulary for a sex scene, you might like to check out my posts 500 Great Words for Writing Love Scenes and Synonyms for Intimate Parts of the Body.

Do you have advice or questions about writing sex scenes? Or do you just want to chat about how you write them (or don’t write them)? Let us know in the comments! And if you want to get updates on posts about writing, follow the blog, if you aren’t already — there’s a place you can sign up on the lefthand side of the page. Happy writing!