ACFW Rewind: Learning by Teaching

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(Editor’s Note: Today, ACFW re-runs a worthwhile post from the past, in this case June 2012, in what we call the ACFW rewind, highlighting previous posts that deserve a second look. )

by Rachel Hauck

At the ACFW conference in Houston ’03, I watched the bubbly and newly published Susan May Warren dash off to teach a writing workshop one afternoon.

I remember thinking, “How does she know what to teach? She’s only been published a year.”

As a newly contracted author four months from my first print publication with an e-book following a month later, I barely knew what I was doing let alone how to teach someone else.

But Susie was one who dug in to figure out how things worked and why. I was a bit more intuitive and gut driven. While knowing the basics, I wrote what felt “right” to me more than because it fit a writing rule or craft element.

Yet to get better I needed to understand writing tools and more specific elements that created a great novel.

I learned from other writers. I learned from writing. When I finally jumped to teaching, I learned the most.

By mentoring other writers, developing workshop curriculum and reading craft books, I began to see what worked or didn’t work in a story – mine as well as others – and why.

The why is important. Anyone can criticize or make suggestions. They key is to give the why and the solution.

Over time, I developed some of my own tools that helped me become a better writer.

Here’s a brief list.

1. Tell the story between the quotes. Meaning, put all the good information in the characters mouths so that when they speak, their words have meaning. The other characters will then respond with something meaningful. This really powers up your dialog.

2. Show a person’s character or personality by physical attributes. Instead of a drive-by description of a character, have another character observe them in a way that reflects their personality. “His wild hair stood on end. So like him, fun, going Mach 10, never having time for details.” Something like that.

3. Every character has to have a problem. Again, these are guidelines, but I think every character that has a small role, some part in the protagonist life should have some kind of problem. It adds depth to their part in the “play.”

4. No one smiles without a reason. I developed this to avoid the place holder attribute of people smiling for no reason. I even went a bit farther once to never let the POV character “see” her own smile. I backed off of that. Got too wearying. But the rule keeps me from an overly smiley cast.

5. Give the protagonist(s) a super power. Something they can do well. Something no one else does. In The Wedding Dress, Charlotte’s super power was she could dress any bride from the inside out. This super power is what made her unique, successful, gave her confidence.

No matter where you are on your writing journey, take some time to develop your own “tool box” of writing craft. I look forward to learning from you!

Rachel Hauck is a writing, learning, teaching author. She’s won an award or two, hit the best seller list but still feels like a novice. Her recent release, The Wedding Dress, debuted on the CBA best seller list. She lives, writes and worships in central Florida. Find her at and

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