Kindle highlights and best writing advice

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Okay, this has apparently been going on for a year and a half and I’m only now catching on. But I just discovered that the Amazon pages of my books are continually compiling the most highlighted quotes from my books.   

To explain for those of you who might not have an e reader – yet! – you can highlight passages of books that you read on your Kindle, and I’m assuming other reading devices, to refer back to at your leisure.  Whether or not you, the reader, know that this information is being compiled online is a different question.

Well, do you?  Some books you might not want to have those special passages spotlighted, if you see what I mean.

The debate about that aspect happened a year ago, (and here’s another) and granted, a year ago was not a very good time for me, to put it mildly, but I certainly didn’t know about this little Amazon feature.

Now, I’m not a big fan (also putting it mildly) of the overshare zero privacy aspect of soclal networking in general. Some things I don’t mind people knowing. Anyone who wants to know my politics, for example, only has to take one look at my hair. And like most authors I’ve gotten used to living in a semi-spotlight; I don’t mind that. On the other hand, I regularly lie on Facebook so that anyone who tried to put together a profile of personal details on me would have a hard time sorting the wheat from the chaff. The idea of Facebook Timeline horrifies me – I don’t even want to be able to look at what I’ve done in my life in what order, much less have anyone else be able to look at it.  Except that it would be fun to put together an entirely fake timeline. That is, if one had any of this said time to begin with.

And I find it horrifying that you would have to KNOW to opt-out of an e reader highlighting feature. Privacy should be the default, not something you have to opt in to.

But Big Brother aside, for the moment this highlighted quotes feature is actually totally EXCELLENT news for me because it means today, instead of a long blog post on what I think is important advice for those of you in the middle of Nanowrimo, I can just give you a pithy list of what readers think is the best advice in my Screenwriting Tricks books. And you all know how much I love lists.

So here you go:


Top Ten highlighted quotes from Screenwriting Tricks for Authors:


– The premise sentence should give you a sense of the entire story: the character of the protagonist, the character of the antagonist, the conflict, the setting, the tone, the genre.  
– All of these premises contain a defined protagonist, a powerful antagonist, a sense of the setting, conflict and stakes, and a sense of how the action will play out.  

– Write a one-sentence premise that contains all these story elements: protagonist, antagonist, conflict, stakes, setting, atmosphere and genre.  

On a character’s GHOST or WOUND

– We all unconsciously seek out people, events and situations that duplicate our core trauma(s), in the hope of eventually triumphing over the situation that so wounded us.  


– The arc of the character is what the character learns during the course of the story, and how s/he changes because of it. It could be said that the arc of a character is almost always about the character realizing that s/he’s been obsessed with an outer goal or desire, when what she really needs to be whole, fulfilled, and lovable is _______ (fill in the blank).  


– Our fear for the character should be the absolute worst case scenario:  
– The lesson here is – spend some quality time figuring out how to bring your hero/ine’s greatest nightmare to life: in setting, set decoration, characters involved, actions taken. If you know your hero/ine’s ghost and greatest fear, then you should be able to come up with a great setting (for the climax/final battle) that will be unique, resonant, and entirely specific to that protagonist (and often to the villain as well.)  

On PLAN (and ACT II)

– This continual opposition of the protagonist’s and antagonist’s plans is the main underlying structure of the second act.  


– STACK THE ODDS AGAINST YOUR PROTAGONIST. It’s just ingrained in us to love an underdog.  


Top ten highlighted quotes from Writing Love

– “Every genre has its own game that it’s playing with the audience.”

– The game in the romance genre is often to show, through the hero and heroine, how we are almost always our own worst enemies in love, and how we throw up all kinds of obstacles in our own paths to keep ourselves from getting what we want.   
– A great, emotionally effective technique within the final battle is to have the hero/ine LOSE THE BATTLE TO WIN THE WAR.  

– This continual opposition of the protagonist’s and antagonist’s plans is the main underlying structure of the second act.  

– I’m a firm believer that just ASKING the questions will prompt your creative brain to leap into overdrive and come up with the right scenes. Our minds and souls long to be creative, they just need us to stop stalling and get our asses in gear.  

– So once you’ve got your initial plan, you need to be constantly blocking that plan, either with your antagonist, or the hero/ine’s own inner conflict, or outside forces beyond her or his control.  
– Very often in the second act we will see a battle before the final battle in which the hero/ine fails because of some weakness, so the suspense is even greater when s/he goes into the final battle (climax) in the third act. 
– The final battle (climax) is also a chance to PAY OFF ALL YOUR SETUPS AND PLANTS. Very often you will have set up a weakness for your hero/ine. That weakness that has caused him or her to fail repeatedly in previous tests, and in the final battle (climax) the hero/ine’s great weakness will be tested. 
– “Get the hero up a tree. Throw rocks at him. Get him down.”  

– After I’ve finished that grueling, hellish first draft, the fun starts. I do layer after layer after layer: different drafts for suspense, for character; sensory drafts, emotional drafts, each concentrating on a different aspect that I want to hone in the story, until the clock runs out and I have to turn the whole thing in.  


Now, if I’m remembering my own books correctly – always a big if – these are all quotes from the first few chapters, in both lists. I don’t know if that’s because all my best material is in the first chapters (JUST KIDDING) or if this is some quirk of the system that because only the top 10 quotes are listed, the quotes tend to be from the first chapters. Maybe someone else who is more familiar with this feature can explain this to us.

But actually, I’m pleased with the quotes that people have pulled. It makes me realize that sometimes short is best.  (It just takes so long to be short…).

So, everyone – have you all known about this highlights-sharing all along?  Whether you did or didn’t, what do you think about it? Are we all already doomed on the privacy front? Are we just going to let it all slide?

And those of you who are doing Nano, how’s it going?


41 thoughts on “Kindle highlights and best writing advice

  1. Sarah W

    So highlighting is kind of cool and kind of creepy at the same time . . . yep, that fits.

    There's a reason most libraries don't keep borrowing histories (unless the patrons requests that it be done) and/or share a patron's current borrowed items without a warrant (and sometimes not even then). Reading preferences and research needs should be private until the reader wants to share.

    So I do think it's important that this feature be turned off my default — or that people know what it could mean if they use it.

  2. Pari Noskin

    I didn't know it, Alex.

    That said, I LOVED the quotes that were pulled out — highlighted. You're a brilliant instructor and writer.

  3. Shizuka

    I'm pretty creeped out about the highlights thing. I had no idea.
    This is small compared to the shit Facebook pulls, but still…
    The funny thing is that I mistakenly highlight things so my data's not that helpful.

    My Nano thing (can't really see it as a book) is sort of, well, proceeding.
    Slowly and very weirdly.

  4. billie

    I think I sort of knew – in that it seems familiar now that I am reading it here but I had forgotten it. :0

    Agree that the feature worked brilliantly in pulling out favored quotes from your readers. What a treat to have them sitting here in lists! You know, you could actually do a separate book of "Favorite Quotes From Sokoloff" and sell it – just pull these lists out for every chapter of both books. I would LOVE being able to refer to it while working – when I get stuck or something feels not quite right – just to open and read a random quote often moves me forward. And these would be perfectly aimed at doing just that.

    Not doing NANO but working on a brand new novel and probably feeding off the energy of NANO whether I mean to or not. 🙂

    It is downright weird to be reading you here on Friday, but I will adjust!!

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Thanks, Pari. I don't know about brilliant, but the quotes do make me pretty confident that I'm getting my points across.

    Shizuka, then I'm glad to have informed you – this is definitely not the kind of thing that should be going on behind our backs. Good luck with your Nano "thing".

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Billie, it's weird for me, too – I forgot until last night that it would be my day today.

    I'm not sure I could handle a book of quotes all by me. Talk about weird! Though I suppose that's what any book is…

    Yes, Nano is like a world meditation or something. More powerful to do it when others are.

  7. Allison Brennan

    Wow, I didn't know about that feature, either! Very scary. The civil libertarian in me is cringing at the potential for misuse …

    GREAT quotes, however. You also just solved a story problem for me–why Lucy is willing to risk her career and life to help a young woman who has broken numerous laws (all for the right reasons, but still very questionable.)

  8. Alaina

    *full-body shudder* I'm now very, very glad I don't have an e-reader. The idea that that sort of thing could be shared with the world, without my consent… I'm one of those people who barely has a facebook profile, no twitter, and I forget about my blog (do I still have one?) so I almost don't exist online. I like it that way.

    As for Nano… I won it five times, so I'm zokutoing it. That's a clause that says someone can do something not strictly in the rules, if they won it the 'correct' way in the past. Which, in my case, means I started off with 60,000 words of what I think will be a 110-120,000 word rough draft. Since it's a sequel, and the other book had almost 130 in the first draft (now cut to a more reasonable, for fantasy, 109), I think I can make it. Especially since I'm currently at 82.

    And I will say: I read your 'get a character up a tree' quote before, I think on this blog. It's something I've committed to memory. Endlessly useful.

  9. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Okay, if ALLISON didn't know, then this is a pretty well-kept secret, I'd say.

    Well, at least I'm glad the quotes were helpful.

    Alaina, I shudder with you. Funny, I never do Nano officially, I'm always at some later stage in whatever I'm working on. But the energy still works for me.

  10. David Corbett


    I'm so behind in all the tech stuff I feel like a knuckle-dragging simian from the backwoods.

    But what I most enjoyed were your quotes, and the instructive insights are stellar: clear, powerful, and insightful.

    You never fail to make me sit up in my chair and go: Wow.


  11. Barbie

    Uh-oh! I should probably stop highlighting the dirty quotes in my books to make them easy to find later on for a second or third or fourth read!!!!! 😉 KIDDING!!!!!!!!! I SWEAR!!!!!!! It was a joke! I don't highlight no dirty anything. I'm too shy for that. And innocent and angelic :))))

    I had no idea about it. None. Not that I mind. But it's funny, some books I read, I highlight everything that has touched me (like Allison Brennan's book), then I write her a mile long email telling her everything I liked and why I liked it, and how I think it helped to enrich the books and the characters. I might highlight something I didn't particularly like for some reason, too. So, by a couple authors, my Kindle books are full of highlights. Honestly, I don't really care about the breech of privacy. They don't know my agenda or why I highlighted that or what I was thinking. If something, way to make the hightlight-bot curious what are my criteria :)))))

    I'm not a big privacy person on social networking. The only reason I keep my Twitter locked is because I like to criticize people from school (classmates or professors for example) and don't want strangers reading. Nothing I wouldn't whisper to my friends. So, I don't really care.

  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I think the quotes that were pulled from your work are outstanding and I should read them every time I sit down to write or rewrite my work. Like you, I truly enjoy the polishing aspect, while the first draft simply kills me. As I look at your quotes I worry if I'm accomplishing my task in my current WIP. I did it right in the Hayden books, but I'm trying something new now and that brings all kinds of new complications, and I sometimes forget the basics in an attempt to push the envelope. I forget to "keep it simple stupid."

    The highlight feature on the Kindle surprises me. As an author I think it's cool, but as a citizen I'm rather horrified. That just ain't right. It should be made very, very clear to the consumer that the Kindle has this feature. It should not come as a surprise to anyone highlighting on a Kindle. That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.

  13. Allison Davis

    I need a new hair do…("Anyone who wants to know my politics, for example, only has to take one look at my hair"), I spit coffee laughing on that one. I have a fake name on facebook, dearly love Twitter but FB ruined everything and now we're broadcasting on Kindle but they haven't told us? Don't they read the newspapers? FB is getting spanked because it changes its privacy contract with customers without telling them.

    That being said, how cool are those quotes. I love seeing them there.

    As for nano, you advised me to edit like I was writing, but it's not quite the same (I need that graph!). I am doing more and did some good editing this week and hope to make further progress on the weekend. Two nights I got home from work around 9, so it's hard. But this is a good book and serves to be finished. Thanks for all your advice and encouragement.

  14. Lisa Alber

    This is a funny little coincidence. I borrowed a Kindle from a friend last week, and this week I am completely and totally annoyed by the highlights. Especially in a novel!! What the hell do I care about what readers thought of certain passages? The highlights bring me out of the story. It's like it's trying to tell me what to think–328 people think THIS is a good sentence so you should too. Screw that.

    Also read a nonfiction piece (Ann Patchett's short about writing and life). Those highlights didn't bother me quite as much, though they still did. Can't any entity out there let us think for ourselves?

    As for NaNo, does it count as a cheat if you realize that you have a bunch of filler and cross it out rather than delete it so as to maintain your wordcount? 🙂

    I'm fascinated by your process of going through the manuscript in layers. That's very interesting to me.

  15. Tom

    Thanks for the warning about privacy vs Kindle, X. The granddaughters have one; steps must be taken.

    I often e-mail your writing lists to myself. This one is no exception. Unfortunately, it confirms what I concluded – my narrative frame is upscrewed in my longtime WIP. So, thank you again. Some day this dog may hunt.

  16. Jenni L

    I use the highlighting feature all the time, but hadn't realized until you posted on your blog yesterday that my highlights were being broadcast and publicized. I think they are done so anonymously, though, right? It's not like there is a feature on Amazon that lets you see what individual readers highlighted, is there? If Amazon keeps our highlighted passages in a big, old database that the FBI or police can subpoena to try to prove a case against someone, that in itself is a frightening idea. The idea that my highlighted passages could be available with my identifying info open to the public is also very worrisome.

    It reminds me of store loyalty cards and why I don't like them. Years ago when I worked in family law and loyalty cards were a new thing, I worked cases where we subpoenaed loyalty card records to show someone's buying habits – i.e. how many cases of beer they bought a week, etc.

    Good, provocative post, Alex. I highlighted my way all the way through your books – way more than just the first chapters.

  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Thanks, David – always a huge compliment coming from you! I think if we tried to team teach the room might explode, though…

    Barbie, YEAH. I would NEVER highlight any quotes like THAT. For future reference or – anything. NEVER. SWEAR.

  18. Alexandra Sokoloff

    SJS, I couldn't agree with you more on making this very clear to the consumer. It IS horrifying. And I can't believe it took a YEAR AND A HALF before I even knew about it. Seriously underpublicized.

  19. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Allison, we're all rooting for you and your book. I have a ton of distractions right now. Do just ONE sentence a night sometimes, if that's all you can do. A book responds to that kind of commitment, I swear.

    And yeah, the title song from HAIR was pretty much written for me.

  20. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lisa, as far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as a cheat in Nano. If people are out there feigning a wordcount to get a certificate, I have serious doubts about their commitment to the actual, you know, BOOK.

    You can turn off that highlight feature, too,you know.

  21. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Tom, there's always something screwed up in a story. But it's infinitely fixable!

    Jenni, of course Amazon says the highlights are aggregated, completely anonymous. Even if that's absolutely for real true, I don't want anyone reaching into my Kindle to collect data on me for ANY reason.

  22. Lisa Alber

    No doubt about it, I'm a luddite at heart. I'll go in and fool around with the Kindle. Thanks!

    I do feel a perverse need to track all the words I'm writing even if I know on December 1st I'll delete everything I've crossed out. It's one thing to pound out 50K words, it's another to think that all those words are actually keepers. I figure 15% will go right away–but I know I overwrite my first drafts too. I always need to cut a bunch right away.

  23. Reine

    Hi Alex, I am a highlighter on my iPad and iPhone. It knew that it stores the information so I can use it. I didn't know Amazon saved my Kindle book highlights for their own use. I don't mind that if they don't save or publish my identity along with it, if it helps sell your books.

    Yes, Facebook is an opt-out "service," and I think that is wrong. But you can set your privacy settings to make it almost bearable. For an author's page that might be so private as to be useless. And I don't like that family photos are easily accessed by anyone, so I am careful about which photos I post.

    I am no longer a hugely private person, but there are some things that I disguise and try to protect for safety's sake.

    NaNo is slow for me, but I am hoping to catch up, and I am finally — finally — enjoying the process. Your outlines – extraordinarily helpful! Thank you. xxx

  24. Sheri Hart

    I did not know that about the Kindle. I find it extremely creepy, particularly since they are being so underhanded about it. Fortunately, I do not use that feature. Never marked up paper books either.

    I'm doing NaNo for the first time and have glommed onto your tips and any others I can find. I followed the advice to have a synopis. Had it all done a month ahead so I could do a cold review before nano and hopefully identify the gaps. Yeah. That didn't work. When Nov 1 rolled around I had zero interest in writing the story I'd mapped out.

    So I'm winging it with a totally new idea that finally came to me on Day 4. Happy to report I passed the halfway mark yesterday, with 25,200 words. This is a MAJOR breakthrough for me. I am a polish-as-I-go writer but am finally admitting defeat with that process. I have a stack of manuscripts in various stages of completion — except for, you know, an end.

    This one I am just pushing through. Not even reading what I wrote the day before. I'm having a blast (which was the whole point of nano for me). I crazily signed up to a fast drafting class with author Candace Havens right in the middle of nano, and she demands 20 pages a day. And I can't believe I'm keeping up.

    Yes, a lot of it is crap, but I'm moving forward and even if 75% if it is junk that's still 5 salvegeable pages a day — beats my regular output!

    Sorry for rambling….the newly converted are always so annoying, aren't they?

    Go fellow wrimos! And thanks Alexandra for all your great insights and tips. Love it when writers share the knowledge!

  25. Barbie

    Alex, I could have been a bit overly dramatic 😉 Yes, I'm VERY shy, and, in many ways, I'm innocent, and I suppose angelic is a word people would use to describe me . But I AM twenty-three years old! ;-P

    My mom swears to this day she skips sex scenes in books. I admit to reading them. But I'll never admit to REreading them! ;D


  26. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Reine, I know you CAN set your privacy settings on FB. HOW is a different story. But you're right, I use FB as an author and I am assuming zero privacy. Therefore I lie a lot.

    How wonderful that you're enjoying writing your book! I'm thrilled to hear it.

  27. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Sheri, HOWEVER it works is exactly what you need to do. But… you're going to have to finish something sometime, or it doesn't count. So work through your process, celebrate at the end of the month, and then I expect to see you back here or on my blog to deal with taking that draft or partial draft to the next level. You need a book, with an end. No excuses! 😉

    And believe me, I'm just talking to myself, currently struggling with my own end…

  28. Lisa Alber

    Indeed. Even NaNo isn't enough to drive my inner critic away entirely. Though each day it's getting easier to move on without agonizing over what I wrote the previous day.

  29. Barbie

    Alex, I don't have a problem admitting anything, I'm an angel, I don't do anything, like ever! As far as my parents are concerned :))))

    And, Alex, you LIE on Facebook? :O That's so… shocking. Isn't Facebook like, for telling only the truth and solely the truth? tsk tsk! 😛 Since my mom joined FB and reads everything I say (and likes most of it), and everyone I've ever met from school and other places friended me, I only post things I would tell random acquaintances. It stopped being personal to become a reflection of my "public" persona, which is different from who I really am, even though I'm not a public person. I just hide a lot of myself. Which is fine, I don't mind it. It's a fun, random place to post funny anecdotes and share random videos and pictures!

  30. KDJames

    I'm with Barbie in the angelic but shocked corner: Alex, YOU LIE ON FB?! I thought I was the only one. 😉

    I've known about the highlight thing for quite a while now. I don't use it, but it sure irritates me when I'm reading along and notice it. Not sure what purpose it serves. Does anyone give a fig which passages some anonymous people decided to mark? You can't even tell whether they did it because they loved something or hated it and plan to quote it in a nasty review or an email to the writer. It might be entertaining if they'd figure out a way to colour-code them… No, it'd still be irritating.

    Alex, the ones you listed are excellent. I suspect the reason there are more in the beginning is because people get so wrapped up in the book, they forget to highlight. When I was reading the draft of the second book, I was learning so much that I kept forgetting I was supposed to be giving you feedback.

    I'm not participating in NaNo (not at a stage with the current ms where that would be useful), but I am (re)writing like crazy.

  31. Reine

    So . . . you mean OTHER people's highlights show on the book you have on your Kindle? That doesn't happen on my iPad Kindle app. Then again I only highlight when I need the information for a proper quote or to summarize for a review or article. It only shows my own highlights, book marks, and notes.

    I'm curious why some people think highlighting is weird. Authors often get me thinking about something that I'd like to look into later. Louise Penny once wrote about a historic event that interested me, because it involved an ancestor. Due to that, I bought several books to learn more about it.

  32. Lynn in Texas


    Whoa–thanks for bringing this info about Kindle to my attention. I feel I'm in good company, as with David, I'm somewhat of a luddite myself. I don't yet have an e-reader, and will always prefer holding *real* books made of paper for my reading pleasure. I debated adding a Kindle or Nook to my Xmas list, and now am having second thoughts. Like, wtf?

    I'm not crazy about social media, and have a fake name for the few sites I visit, as I'm a pretty private person, and enjoy what *used to be* some basic rights to maintain said privacy, of myself, family and friends. I feel like enough of our rights have been taken away, as it is, and I'm pretty tired of it. Okay, rant over!

    That said, I want to thank you for your NaNo prep tips, though I haven't been able to follow through with a lot of them—I'm still a pantster, with notes! This is my second official year doing NaNo, and it's been harder than last year, carving out time to write the average word count during this upcoming holiday season, with real life throwing curve balls. But I intend to persevere!

    BTW, I totally agree, and laughed out loud at your statement about your hair being a political statement–mine's not as wild as yours– I've got long auburn hair, tho' sometimes people may think I'm a bit freakier than I actually am!;)

  33. Alexandra Sokoloff

    KD, great to see you! Yeah, I'm editing for Nano, too. Always happens this way. I guess I must start most of my books in the winter and finish in the fall.

    I've never come across any highlighted passages in the books I read on my Kindle, so that feature must be off for me by default.


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