Craft in 1,000 words or less: Grounding your reader


So. You want to learn how to ground the reader? Me too. I’ve been doing some research because I want to continue finding these techniques other successful writers have figured out. Here’s what I’ve found. I hope I can help you. So, quick! Before Jackson wakes up, let’s learn how to ground.

 Grounding technique #1—The Well:

Check inside of Stephen King’s THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON. Page 29. 

 “For a moment every thought in her mind disappeared into a silent white explosion of revulsion and horror. Her skin turned to ice and her throat closed.”


Most of Stephen King’s writing moves the story along. Now, please note, THE GREEN MILE is probably one of my most favorite books ever, so by no means am I suggesting Stephen King doesn’t know how to write—clearly he’s got that down. But, he is a tertiary writer—speeding the reader through the story. It’s not so much about flowery language or deeply seeded philosophies. So, this WELL method works out for him. You as the reader will be running on land (reading the book) and then you fall! Not very deep, but enough to make you stop and feel. To be grounded. I would suggest this method for any book that requires pace.

Grounding technique #2—The Portrait:

Look inside of Katherine Arden’s WINTER OF THE WITCH: THE WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY. Pg 175.

Seriously, buy all of the WINTERNIGHT books and build them a fucking shrine. Nay, a TEMPLE.

Seriously, buy all of the WINTERNIGHT books and build them a fucking shrine. Nay, a TEMPLE.

 “Summer came with unnatural suddenness, fell on Moscow like a conquering army. Fires broke out in the forest, so that the city was palled with smoke and no one could see the sun. Folk went mad from the heat; drowned themselves in the river seeking coolness, or simply dropped where they stood, scarlet-faced, bodies dewed with clammy sweat.”

 Can’t you see it? Aren’t you just THERE. Next thing Arden does after painting this beautiful picture is continue with the story. Hm. That sounds redundant. Allow me to rephrase. Okay. In my mind, this kind of grounding by painting is akin to setting a stage and then allowing the actors to go out and say their lines. The scenery, the setting, is there and we as the readers are way, super grounded allowing Arden the freedom to blast through the story until she needs to give us a different picture. This works really well in any genre where world building is necessary. But use it sparingly, otherwise, you’ll end up like J.R.R. Tolkien. Yeah, people love his books, but even his most avid fans will admit that they could have done without the pages and pages of countryside descriptions. Paint it once. Do it well.

Grounding technique #3—The Reverse Hitchcock:

 Pick up Stephen Graham Jones’ FLUSHBOY for this one. Turn to page 172.

So good and so, so gross. Hate that you love it. Urine vapors and all.

So good and so, so gross. Hate that you love it. Urine vapors and all.

 “It was a rich golden color, like the urine of a person with a kidney infection, and the vapor rising from it made my eyes water.”

 Feel how this is different? Any time I read Stephen’s material, I always feel like the gross stuff, the truly BLECH and wicked stuff gets slid up underneath my nose. It’s not rude, it’s more of a persistent ask to LOOK. This technique is the proverbial finger pointing to something truly disturbing. Us humans do that. Have you noticed? We point to the awful. Jones does this with moments peppered throughout all of his books. The loving care he takes to place them there resonates and almost gives you an ICK feel.

Because you don’t want to love urine vapors. Right? Right.

 Yet, that disturbing moment really—dare I say it?—grounds you. Like wadded up chewing gum underneath a desk, you’re stuck. That’s why I’ve deemed this The Reverse Hitchcock. You zoom in closer, closer, and closer until looking away isn’t an option. I’ve got to admit, this seems like a perfect move for a horror writer, but would work for any genre. Just be careful what you zoom in on. Know thy genre. Thine? Thy. Right?


Grounding technique #4—The Whirlpool:

 Go into Julie Berry’s ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME. Page 159 will do the trick.

 This is the whirlpool, so we have to take a big chunk.

 “I sit sewing by the fire and remember last night, before the snow. It might have been another world, another century, when I ran across dry leaves to you at midnight, in only a nightgown and coat. I remember the changing mood in your eyes, and ponder what it meant. I stab a needle through the dry, tough skin on my knuckle by mistake, and inspect the empty tunnel of white flesh that’s left behind when I yank the needle out.”

I love this book so much I wanted to quit reading everything forever that wasn’t this book.

I love this book so much I wanted to quit reading everything forever that wasn’t this book.

 Did you feel it? Did you feel yourself being spun around and around to land at the bottom of an emotional ocean? I do. I think this may be my favorite. In the acknowledgements, Berry mentions she had to write this novel while caring for her infant son, so her time was extremely limited. (Hm, remind you of anyone?) So, she developed a method where she could write little bits here and there and accomplish a great deal. Not a word is wasted and the whirlpool never leaves you seasick. If anything, it grabs you and doesn’t let go. Use this method for any books with letters or stories. Any book that has short chapters or a deep thinker who needs to be separated from the other characters. (Please note: GRRM uses a similar method with Tyrion Lannister’s chapters).

I hope this helps you, fellow writers. Now go forth and put words upon the page! Don’t forget to leave us a review if this has helped and remember to stay dark and stormy.


Craft in 1,000 Words or Less


The reason why its gotta be in 1,000 words or less? One word: newborn. I’m lucky enough to have scored a work-from-home gig, but still. Newborn. I understood that a baby would be a time vampire, but what I didn’t expect were the hormones.

And no. I’m not tired. I’ve always had two or more jobs. This is just the first time that one of those jobs has been feeding off of my deflated, screaming body. It’s for sure the first time a job brought its own set of fuck-all hormones with it that make me walk around my house in a circle, only to settle in a nest of blankets and books.

Here’s the thing, though. If there’s something Lisa and I have discovered on our podcast journey, it’s that every single writer/editor/podcaster we’ve had the pleasure of speaking with all have this one thing in common. They never gave up. No one ever said, “Oh, well I had a baby/got a job/got sick/life stuff/so I stopped everything.”

That’s the key, you see. You don’t stop. You don’t make excuses. But yeah, some things do get their edges cut. That’s what I’m learning, anyway. In this case, it’s words. Words will be emphatically cut. No survivors.

And frankly, I’d always wondered why an entire long-winded essay was required when I could sum up my point in a sentence.

As my mother would say: use your faster feet. That was her G-rated way of telling five-year-old me to hurry the fuck up, child.

I’ve been excited for this, though. Craft was maybe my very second favorite thing about graduate school. I loved finding out the how behind certain writer tricks. I miss finding the details. So, that’s what I mean to do. I’m going back to close readings and I’ll be posting my findings here. Hopefully some of what I find is helpful to you. I mean for this to be a viable source. I hope it makes you purchase some of these books so you may learn, too, because I’ll be talking about specific pages and instances of certain craft elements. Should be fun.


So—my new tiny human is beginning to stir, which means we gotta be quick. Trigger warning: there will be swearing, I will be talking about my child, and I will be merciless. No writer is safe. I don’t mean for that to sound scary. I’m just attempting (poorly) to say that I intend to offer you insights, from anyone and everyone. That’s really what I want to do for you, you see. I want to come to your virtual door and leave you a tool you’d been looking for to fix that one thing. Here’s hoping I can do that for you, in 1,000 words or less.

Hurry. Before Jackson wakes up.

Book Review: The Writhing Skies by Betty Rocksteady


I had no idea what Betty Rocksteady’s The Writhing Skies was about going into it, and I was surprised, disturbed, and unexpectedly delighted. Here is my spoiler-free review.

This book is a sort of sci-fi body-horror mash-up. You could also make a case for classifying this as “cosmic sex horror.” Whatever you call it: I am here for it. To be honest, body horror is not usually my thing. I have a high tolerance for gross and weird, but in terms of preference, I like my horror to be more about mood, character, and emotion rather than blood and guts.

That said, this book works because, for one, it has mood and character and emotion. And the body horror? Well let me just say, it’s not exactly what you would expect. It’s such a strange and weird and bizarre and “cosmic” take on the whole idea of body horror that it’s part of what makes this book so good.


It’s so gross and slimy, and as the story progresses you wonder how some of these characters are still alive, with everything happening to them. But, you get the sense that the only way to stop it is to keep moving, to push forward. And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there are aliens, but they are also...not what you would expect. The aliens are really something Other, something so utterly not-human that I’m in awe of Rocksteady’s imagination. There is also a surprising sexiness to the body-horror that is...unexpected. It’s all just so skillfully done.

In terms of story, the pace moves. The characters feel real and the emotional core drives the plot. I would maybe suggest a trigger warning in terms of the trauma that the protagonist experiences near the end of the book. It is heartbreaking and explains so much of how these characters even ended up in this situation to begin with.

This isn’t the “type” of horror that I usually read, but I am so glad I did. It’s the heart and the emotion that sold me on the rest of it. It’s done in such a skillful, beautiful way that it just works for me. I recommend that you give it a chance!

On November 26, tune in for episode 25 of Ladies of the Fright podcast. We’ll be in coversation with Betty Rocksteady on the show!

Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

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