10 Writing Tips from Lisa See

Author Lisa See was the guest of honour at this year’s Historical Novel Society virtual conference. Lisa’s writing is highly acclaimed and includes wonderful tales such as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Shanghai Girls, and her most recent The Island of Sea Women. During one conference session, she presented her tips for writing and publishing.

  • Write 1000 words a day. Lisa had this advice from her grandfather and still follows it once she starts writing a new novel.
  • Write a charming note every day. According to Lisa, this is her mother’s advice. On any given day, Lisa might write to another author, an editor, her agent, a bookseller, someone in the local media. Her objective isn’t to ask for something but to compliment the recipient in some way.
  • Be passionate about your writing. Words are the author’s heartbeat.
  • Look at the bestseller list for the books that came ‘out of nowhere’. Analyze why they’re successful and consider what you might apply to your own writing.
  • Writing is not a one-night stand, it’s a marathon. You have to be in it for the long haul and there are always ups and downs.
  • Say yes! Go everywhere and do everything to build your readership one book at a time. Lisa gave bookclubs as an example and said that she always includes book club questions with her novels.
  • While you’re writing, forget about the marketplace. Instead, leverage the passion you have for the story itself.
  • Continue writing even when you know it could be better. You can shape it later once the story is down. When editors give feedback, they might be right, they might be wrong, or they might have pointed out that something is wrong and you have to figure out what.
  • Read your manuscript out loud. If you do, you’ll discover the morning parts, the places where the dialogue isn’t right, and whether your writing has rhythm.
  • Find your own beautiful voice. Don’t try to mimic some other writer’s voice.

Toward the end of her presentation Lisa said to remember that writers are paid to daydream, but it’s difficult work to be creative.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Take Off Your Pants – Libbie Hawker’s advice

One of our special guests at the HNS North America 2021 conference was Libbie Hawker. Libbie is a prolific and excellent writer with many novels to her credit. A recent favourite for me is The Ragged Edge of Night under the pen name Olivia Hawker. But I digress. Libbie put on two master classes, one called Take Off Your Pants and the other called Making It In Historical Fiction. Both were very well attended and received.

Libbie’s master class, Take Off Your Pants, was based on the advice packed into her book by the same name. The subtitle is “Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing”. After writing my first novel by the seat of my pants – what folks call a pantser – I adopted an outlining technique cobbled together from a few sources such as Elizabeth George’s Write Away. But Libbie’s advice has added another important layer that I plan to incorporate in the next novel (whatever that is!)

During the three-hour class, Libbie spent most of her time taking us through the outlining technique using a simple document which she develops for each main POV character.

What stood out for me?

  • the notion of specifically identifying the main character’s flaw, something that is a deep, personal flaw and a source of tension for the MC; something that makes interactions with others difficult
  • the need for the main character to recognize and acknowledge his/her external goal
  • finding a way early to to display the MC’s flaw
  • defining an ally for your main character who is someone that helps the MC at their most difficult moment and forces them back onto their path; someone who has power to move the MC’s heart; someone they always say yes to
  • the external goal is something a main character will obsess about, a goal that will compel them throughout the story; a goal that will push the story forward
  • identifying a theme that will help determine scenes that should be in the story; a unifying concept for the book that isn’t too broad and sweeping and that applies to all main characters in the novel

Libbie uses the outline to help build pacing into the novel and to create the sense of urgency that keeps readers wanting to find out what happens. With more than one main character, Libbie encourages writers to use different colours for each character so that when you weave the beats together, you can see which character is carrying the story at which points of time.

This is a very cursory look at Take Off Your Pants. Based on the master class, I feel there is something in Libbie’s book for every writer no matter what stage you’re at in your career. I’ve already purchased my copy!

Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker ~~ When it comes to writing books, are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?” Is one method really better than the other?

In this instructional ebook, author Libbie Hawker explains the benefits and technique of planning a story before you begin to write. She’ll show you how to develop a foolproof character arc and plot, how to pace any book for a can’t-put-down reading experience, and how to ensure that your stories are complete and satisfying without wasting time or words.

Hawker’s outlining technique works no matter what genre you write, and no matter the age of your audience. If you want to improve your writing speed, increase your backlist, and ensure a quality book before you even write the first word, this is the how-to book for you.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Reflections on Writing Historical Fiction with Ben Kane

Ben Kane was born in Kenya and moved to Ireland when he was 7. With a veterinarian for a father and a love of animals, Ben did the logical thing and became a vet. All his life he’s been an avid fan of military and historical fiction. In 1998 he set out to travel the world for three years. It was during this time that he first had thoughts of writing military historical fiction. As Ben tells it: “What started as a hobby soon became an obsession, and about four years later The Forgotten Legion emerged into the light.” His latest novel is LionHeart.

Is there a particular time period you concentrate on? If so, why? If you’ve switched time periods, why?

My first thirteen novels were set in ancient times. I have long wanted set books in other time periods, however, because my interest in history is not confined to Rome and its enemies. When my publisher offered me the opportunity to write a non-Roman novel, I seized it with both hands. Why Richard the Lionheart? Because he has fascinated me since childhood, and because there aren’t that many books out there about him.

Why historical fiction? Why not contemporary stories?

History is my one true love; I have adored it since childhood. While I have toyed with the idea of writing contemporary stories (and may yet do that too), history is what really lights my fire – all time periods!

What are you passionate about in terms of historical fiction?

See above! In short, everything. Getting it right regarding how people lived, spoke, behaved, ate, drank, fought, died. Filling the pages with tiny brush-stroked detail so that the reader is transported to the time and place that the book is set in.

How do you choose the stories you tell?

With one eye on the story and the other on the market. I wish I could just write novels about whatever takes my fancy, but my book sales keep a roof over my head, and feed my kids. (I am, fortunately, a fulltime author.) I could write the best-written work about the pottery making people who lived in southern India in the fifth century BC, but no one would buy it. The title and subject have to appeal to the reader.

How has your writing style changed over time?

It has improved immeasurably – I am so much better at writing than I was ten, twelve years ago.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

I would re-write my first three novels knowing what I know now, and edit thousands of overwritten sentences. Things like, ‘he shouted loudly’ really grate with me now!

What are you working on now?

I am in the finishing stages of Crusade, which is the sequel to Lionheart. It’s been a blast to write – so many contemporary accounts of Richard’s crusade have made my job pure joy.

What advice do you have for new authors?

For the vast majority of us, it takes years of writing to hone your craft well enough to publish. Do not assume that because you have finished a novel that it is ready for publication. Set it aside for a month or two when you have ‘finished’ it, and then go back and re-read the whole thing. You will see it through different eyes, and your edit then will be worth a dozen of the ones that went before. PAY for a professional editor to edit the book before you publish – and make sure they are high-quality. Only then should you consider publishing. Never give up!

Many thanks, Ben. You can read another blog post featuring Ben Kane here

Lionheart by Ben Kane ~~ 1179. Henry II’s Norman conquerors have swept through England, Wales – and now Ireland.

Irish nobleman Ferdia has been imprisoned in Wales to ensure the good behaviour of his rebellious father. But during a skirmish on a neighbouring castle, Ferdia saves the life of the man who would become one of the most legendary warriors to have ever lived: Richard Plantagenet. The Lionheart.

Taken as Richard’s squire, Ferdia crosses the Narrow Sea to resist the rebellious nobles in Aquitaine, besieging castles and fighting bloody battles with brutal frequency.

But treachery and betrayal lurk around every corner. Infuriated by his younger brother Richard’s growing reputation, Henry rebels. And Ferdia learns that the biggest threat to Richard’s life may not be a foreign army – but Richard’s own family . . .

Available on The Book Depository and on Amazon.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.