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What Are Descriptive Adjectives?

I’m sure many of you remember learning about adjectives at school. But can you remember what they are, as well as why we use them and when? And what is a descriptive adjective? Why is it important that we, as writers, use them? In the following guide, we’ll tell you exactly what descriptive adjectives are, the different types of descriptive adjectives, and how to use them effectively in your work. We’ll even provide you with a descriptive adjectives list to give you plenty of ideas for making your writing stronger. What is a Descriptive Adjective? A descriptive adjective is one that modifies a noun by describing it. Let’s look at a couple of examples: The house was huge.Peter loved chewy sweets. The descriptive adjectives in these two sentences are huge and chewy. From the word huge, we now have an idea in our minds about the size of the house. We also know the type of sweets Peter likes from the word chewy.  Perhaps it’s all coming back to you now, and you’re remembering that adjectives are describing words. There are many different types of adjectives, but descriptive adjectives form the most comprehensive group. Here are a few examples of non-descriptive adjectives: Demonstrative adjectives Where did you find this book? How much is that ring? These photos are clear. Distributive adjectives Either tool will work. Neither tool was successful. Every shop is open. Quantitative adjectives The sun was shining throughout the whole day. We need more resources.   I’ve eaten enough chips.   Possessive adjective Those are your dogs. I want to eat my dinner. I like our car. Interrogative adjectives Whose socks are those? What magazine are you buying? Which chair is broken? These examples differ to descriptive adjectives because no information is given about the noun that’s being modified. Taking the last example, we don’t know what colour the chair is, what material it’s made out of, if it’s a dining chair or one used for another purpose.    Types of Descriptive Adjectives Various references highlight that there are thirteen different types of adjectives. Examples of some of them have been detailed above, but here’s the entire list: Attributive adjectivesComparative adjectivesCompound adjectivesDemonstrative adjectivesDescriptive adjectivesDistributive adjectivesInterrogative adjectivesLimiting adjectivesParticipial adjectivesPredicate adjectivesPossessive adjectivesProper adjectivesSuperlative adjectives In this article we’re going to focus on descriptive adjectives, and how they provide additional information about the associated noun by describing its characteristics or by altering it. This is especially useful in writing when we’re trying to create a picture in the reader’s mind. For example, if you’re writing a ghost story that takes place in a house, and you want the reader to feel goosebumps, you might describe the house as eerie: Sarah looked up at the eerie house. Or if you want to describe another type of house to create a contrasting feeling, you can use a different descriptive adjective. For example: Sarah saw the beautiful house. Both descriptive adjectives portray very different houses. Perhaps your story has a scene that takes place by the sea. See how these two descriptive adjectives once more bring contrasting images of the same noun to mind, just by using different descriptive adjectives: Peter walked into the freezing sea.Peter walked into the balmy sea. As you can see, descriptive adjectives can help to bring your writing to life. Descriptive adjectives can be placed into sub-categories, as follows. Comparative Descriptive Adjectives This type of descriptive adjective is used to compare one noun with another. They have comparative versions. For example: Calm and calmerBig and biggerStrong and strongerDim and dimmerTall and tallerPretty and prettierThin and thinnerQuicker and quickerSoft and softerHappy and happierSilly and sillier Some comparative descriptive adjectives use two syllables, generally the words ‘more’ or ‘less’, to form the comparative term. For example: More beautiful (or less beautiful)Less interesting (or more interesting)Less tired (or more tired)More clever (or less clever) Here are some examples of how to use comparative descriptive adjectives in a sentence: The new car is bigger than the old oneThe latest model is more expensive than similar modelsMy new towels are softer than my other towels.This swimming pool is deeper than other swimming poolsHis phone was cheaper than his previous one.Some athletes can run faster than other athletes.This book is lighter than that bookHer new television is heavier than her last oneThe old curtains were thicker than the new onesTheir holiday was less expensive than similar holidaysThe table over there is stronger than this tableThe new boy is more difficult than the other boys Superlative Descriptive Adjectives Superlative descriptive adjectives are similar to comparative descriptive adjectives, but they relate to the highest/lowest level of comparison. For example: ColdestQuietestShiniestLongestCurliestBrightest Let’s look at how these can be used in a sentence: The new car is the biggest I’ve ever owned.The latest model is the most expensive ever built.His cauliflower was the smallest in the produce show.This holiday is the cheapest I’ve ever had.She was the least famous person in the room.That tree is the tallest in the world.The horse was the slowest in the race.Her shopping bill was the least expensive one she’d ever had.The cake was the creamiest one in the shop.She was the oldest teacher in the school.He was the cleverest chess player in the club.She was the youngest entrant in the competition.It was the most wonderful experience he’d ever had.The test was the easiest one he’d ever taken.The coffee they sold was the strongest in the city.  Positive Descriptive Adjectives Positive descriptive adjectives describe a person, place, thing, idea, orexperience in a good, positive way. This type of adjective isn’t used for comparison. Here are a few examples of positive descriptive adjectives: AmazingAmbitiousAmusingBecomingBlissfulBoldCarefreeCaringCharismaticDazzledDeluxeDynamicEnchantingEnergeticExcitedFabulousFearlessFunGlowingGracefulGenerousHappyHeavenlyHelpfulIllustriousInspirationalInspiredJollyJovialJubilantKeenKindKnowinglyLavishLoyalLuckyMagicalMemorableMiracleNeatNiceNoticeableOriginalOutgoingOutstandingPerfectPolitePositiveQuaintQuick-wittedQuietRadiantReliableRichSafeSereneSuperTastyThankfulTrustingUltimateUniqueUpliftedValiantValuableVibrantWarmWiseWorthyXenial (hospitable)Xenodochial (friendly)YoungYouthfulYummyZanyZestfulZing Let’s put a few of these into practice: The boy was happy.Her test score was perfect.His room is neat.The town is quaint.Their pudding tastes heavenly.The holiday was magical.The nurse was kind.The coat is zany.The old man’s book was valuable.Her steak was tasty.The woman’s face is glowing. Examples of Descriptive Adjectives We’re now going to give you a list of descriptive adjectives to use in your writing: AdorableAdventurousAgreeableAliveAloofAmusedAngryAnnoyingAnxiousArrogantAshamedAttractiveAuspiciousAwfulBadBeautifulBeigeBlackBlueBlushingBoredBraveBrightBrownBumpyBusyCalmCarefulCautiousCharmingCheerfulCleanClearComicalCongenialCordialCrazyCrookedDecayedDeliciousDeterminedDilapidatedDistraughtDimDizzyDrabDreadfulDrollDullElatedElderlyEmaciatedEmbarrassedEnormousEnthusiasticEnviousExultantFancyFantasticFilthyFlatFreshFriendlyFuzzyGhastlyGiganticGlamorousGleamingGreasyGreenGloriousGorgeousGrubbyGrumpyHandsomeHelplessHighHollowHomelyHorrificHotIcyIdealImmenseIrateIrritableItchyJealousJitteryJocularJuicyJumboJumpyKindKnottyKnowledgeableLargeLazyLethalLittleLivelyLonelyLowLudicrousMagnificentMammothMassiveMiniatureMinisculeMinuteMistyModernMoodyMuddyMysteriousNarrowNastyNaughtyNervousNonsensicalNutritiousObedientObliviousObnoxiousOctagonalOddOpulentOrangeOutrageousPetitePlainPleasantPoisedPompousPreciousProudPungentPurpleQuickQuietQuizzicalRainyRectangularRedRelievedRepulsiveRipeRobustRottenRoughRoundSaltySarcasticSelfishShakySharpShortSilkySillySkinnySlimySlipperySmallSmarmySmilingSmoothSmugSparklingStaleSteepStickyStrangeStunningTanTartTeakTenderTenseTerribleThickThoughtfulThoughtlessTriangularThrilledTightUglyUnbelievableUpsetUnimaginableUnsightlyUnusualUptightVastVexedVictoriousVitalVivaciousVividWackyWealthyWearyWetWhoppingWittyWonderfulWobblyWoodenWorriedWretchedXenialYellowYoungYummyZanyZippy Compound Descriptive Adjectives Compound descriptive adjectives are where two words are used toform the description. The following are some examples of compound terms: All-inclusiveBaby-facedBad-temperedBrightly-litBroken-heartedBullet-proofCold-bloodedCross-countryDeeply-rootedDensely-populatedEnglish-speakingFast-pacedFour-sidedFull-lengthGreen-eyedHeavy-handedHigh-heeledHigh-spiritedIce-coldKind-heartedLife-givingLong-lastingLong-windedMiddle-agedMouth-wateringNarrow-mindedNever-endingNext-doorOld-fashionedOpen-mindedPart-timeRed-bloodedSelf-centredShort-hairedShort-temperedSure-footedTen-minuteThick-skinnedThought-provokingTight-fistedWell-behavedWell-educatedWell-knownWorld-famousYellow-stripedYoung-hearted Descriptive Adjective Rules and Best Practices We’ve given you lots of different examples of descriptive adjectives, but there are some rules to follow regarding their use. When you’re writing a sentence, it’s important that descriptive adjectives are used in the correct adjective order. Descriptive adjectives come after limiting adjectives (which define the noun rather than describing it. ‘Articles’ are examples of these - ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’). For example, we would write Sally ate a delicious cake. If we wrote Sally ate delicious a cake, it wouldn’t make sense. Here are some more examples: She wrote three long books (good)She wrote long three books (not good) Keith ordered some new furniture (good)Keith ordered new some furniture (not good) The cat jumped up a tall tree (good)The cat jumped up tall a tree (not good) From these examples, we can see how important correct adjective order is. If it isn’t written correctly, it’s confusing. It becomes even more difficult to understand when more than one descriptive adjective is used to describe the noun. Let’s look at a few examples: The English angry little man was hungry (not good)The little English angry man was hungry (still not good)The angry little Englishman was hungry (better) Steven was eating a sugary huge cream cake (not good)Steven was eating a cream huge sugary cake (still not good)Steven was eating a huge sugary cream cake (better) She was reading the non-fiction old, battered book (not good)She was reading the battered non-fiction old book (still not good)She was reading the old, battered non-fiction book (better).   Descriptive adjectives enhance our writing, but it’s very easy to overuse them. So think carefully about which descriptive adjectives to use to be the most effective. Using lots of descriptive adjectives to describe one noun isn’t always better. For example: The boy has a brilliant bright wide infectious smile. If you use too many descriptive adjectives, the word being described can become lost. Two descriptive adjectives in this instance would be enough: The boy has a wide infectious smile. In some cases, using one strong descriptive adjective can paint a picture in the reader’s mind more vividly than using two or three. We’ll look at a couple of examples: The girl opened her mouth and out came a loud high-pitched scream.   We can imagine what the scream would sound like, but using just one, more powerful descriptive adjective can make us almost hear it for ourselves: The girl opened her mouth and out came a piercing scream. Example two: The miserable cross teacher moaned at us. From this description, we know the teacher isn’t very happy. But we can swap one word for the two descriptive adjectives to create a more vivid image of the teacher and how they are feeling: The grouchy teacher moaned at us. Descriptive Adjectives in Literature Descriptive adjectives play a big part in our writing, but it’s important to understand them and their use – and understand how they can bring your work to life. Here are some examples of quotes by famous writers, who – by simply adding a few adjectives – fill our minds with vivid imagery!“...his voice was like the cracking of ice on a winter lake, and the words were mocking”― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones “Kylpaitryc\'s eyes streamed tears as he coughed explosively on harsh, sinus-raping smoke.”― David Weber, At the Sign of Triumph“Even in its first faint traces, love could alter a landscape. It wrote unimagined stories and made the most beautiful, forbidding places.” —Anna-Marie McLemore, Wild Beauty “My sister, Mrs. Joe, with black hair and eyes, had such a prevailing redness of skin that I sometimes used to wonder whether it was possible she washed herself with a nutmeg-grater instead of soap. She was tall and bony, and almost always wore a coarse apron, fastened over her figure behind two loops, and having a square impregnable bib in front, that was stuck full of pins and needles.”—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations Conclusion We hope you have found this article useful, and now, whenever you’re looking for descriptive words to bring your writing to life, you have the perfect reference guide to turn to. Hopefully our descriptive adjectives examples will have inspired you and ignited your creative juices! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Symbology in Fiction

What does ‘symbology in fiction’ mean? And how can you utilize literary symbols in your work and strengthen your storytelling?  If you’re ever lucky enough to travel to Bergen in Norway, (which, by the way, I would highly recommend) you’ll likely find yourself amongst brightly-coloured buildings packed tightly together as if bracing themselves against the wind and rain (the weather can get fairly atrocious). This is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf (Tyskebryggen).   The buildings are restaurants, studios, workshops, and boutique shops, but once they were merchant houses, many of which still have distinct symbols on them. Why symbols, you might ask? Because these buildings date back as far as the 14th century, to a time when many people couldn’t read, and the symbols made it easier to find which house or place of trade they were looking for.   Symbols have been used, one way or another, since the beginning of time - and that still remains when it comes to writing.  In this blog post I’ll further explore the use of symbols and symbolism in literature, as well as looking at how their uses benefit both readers and writers.  Symbology vs Symbolism The use of symbols in the example above is a fairly obvious one, for an equally obvious reason. But even today, supermarket chains, for example, have distinct branding or logos. These are used to distinguish themselves from competitors and are often in bright colours, sometimes even with a little picture.   My three-year-old pointed out to me the other day that the four yellow dashes above the bright green letter ‘A’ in ASDA look like the sun rising above a field. I must have seen that logo a hundred, maybe even a thousand times, and never noticed. Now I do. Is he right? Maybe. Does it matter? Not at all. What matters is that it’s a symbol we recognise and can distinguish from others.   More recently, the rainbow, a symbol of hope and promise, has become synonymous with the UK’s NHS and the nation’s support of all the hard work that is being done by healthcare workers during the pandemic. It’s also synonymous with the LBTQ+ community. Everybody knows that rainbows are positive and happy symbols.  A red rose symbolises love and romance; a four-leaf clover is supposed to bring us good luck; green means go, and red means stop. These are all examples of symbols that have become ingrained in our everyday existence.   But what does all of that have to do with writing? And what is the difference between symbology and symbolism?   To put it simply, here\'s our definitions of symbology and literary symbolism:  Symbology is the study and use of symbols, whereas symbolism is the representation of a concept through symbols. Let’s look at birds as an example. Doves, usually white in colour, are used to represent peace or love; artists make use of owls to symbolise wisdom, and ravens – with their black plumage, croaking call, and diet of carrion – are often associated with death, loss, ill omens and lost souls.   Types of Symbolism There are many different types of symbolism that we writers use in our work. Let’s look at a few of the most common ones. Simile As brave as a lion, as strong as an ox, as big as an elephant; these are all examples of similes, which is a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid. A lion is renowned for being brave and courageous, so making this direct comparison is a way in which to show meaning through a well-known symbol. Metaphor Whereas a simile compares two separate things, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denotes one kind of object or idea and is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. For example, in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Romeo says: “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet, the sun!”  \'Romeo and Juliet’ by Shakespeare Juliet is not literally the sun and Romeo knows that Juliet is not literally the sun, but this demonstrates he compares her to the sun, thinks her what the sun symbolises: beauty, strength, awe, a life-giving force. Allegory The word allegory has a long history. The first evidence of its use in the English language is in the late 14th century and comes from the Latin word allegoria, which in turn is the latinisation of the Greek word ἀλληγορία (allegoría), meaning veiled language or figurative. That word comes from both ἄλλος (allos), meaning another, different and ἀγορεύω (agoreuo), which is to harangue, to speak in the assembly, which originates from ἀγορά (agora): assembly.   A modern definition is: a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.   George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where each animal is a representation of a different political faction, is an example of an allegory. Another is The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser (which symbolises the moral and spiritual journey of an individual through innumerable temptations of sins towards the ultimate attainment of glory and truth), or Aesop’s Fables (such as the tale of The Tortoise and the Hare, where the tortoise wins because he’s slow and steady). Archetype In its most basic definition, an archetype is a typical example of a person or thing. In literature, there are four main archetype options, each with many examples. I’ve listed a few below, but there are many more.   Character archetypes: The hero – the main character who often has a task/journey to complete. The Outcast – someone living on the outskirts of society, sometimes, but not always, for something that isn’t his/her fault.  Star-Crossed Lovers – lovers who are destined not to be together.   Situational archetypes: The Battle of Good and Evil – a battle in which good triumphs over evil.  The Hero’s Journey – the journey, physical or emotional, that the main character must complete.  Rags to Riches or vice versa – a character rises from a lower position in society to a better one, or vice versa.   Setting archetypes: The Garden – symbolises love and fertility. The River – water symbolises life and a river can show life’s journey or boundaries. The Small Town – a place where everyone knows everyone and generally depicts intolerance.   Symbolic Archetypes: Hourglass – the passing of time.  Heart – love. Square – stability.  Hyperbole Exaggeration can be used to reflect how someone feels. These are not statements or claims that are meant literally, but instead used to symbolise meaning. An examples of this could be ‘I’ve told that story a thousand times’ or ‘There’s enough food to feed an army’. The speaker hasn’t literally told the story a thousand times, but maybe feels she has. In the second example, whether it be a good thing or not, there’s a lot of food to be eaten.   There are many more types of symbolism in literature, such as allegory, archetype, personification and irony. Symbolism in Fiction Many writers make use of symbolism in their fiction to paint a brighter picture, or add depth or tension.   In The Scarlet Letter by Daniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne, a young woman in 17th Century Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, is punished for giving birth to a daughter as a result of adultery. She is made to stand on a scaffold for three hours, subjected to public humiliation, and made to wear the letter A for the rest of her life.  “They averred that the symbol was not mere scarlet cloth tinged in an earthly dyepot, but was red-hot with infernal fire, and could be seen glowing all alight whenever Hester Prynne walked abroad in the nighttime. And we must needs say it seared Hester’s bosom so deeply, that perhaps there was more truth in the rumor than our modern incredulity may be inclined to admit.” The Scarlet Letter by Daniel Hawthorne The letter ‘A’ initially means adultery and penance, but as the novel progresses it takes on different meanings for different people. For some, ultimately, after Hester spends a lot of time as a visitor in homes of pain and sorrow, the ‘A’ means Angel. Grief is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter, makes strong use of symbolism     “BOYS There’s a feather on my pillow.  Pillows are made of feathers, go to sleep. It’s a big, black feather. Come and sleep in my bed.  There’s a feather on your pillow too.  Let’s leave the feathers where they are and sleep on the floor.”Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter Many cultures believe feathers are a symbol of a connection to the spirit world. The black feathers that appear on the boys’ pillows signal the arrival of something ominous, in this case grief at the loss of their mother. The Crow, who leaves the feathers, is in fact a character within the story, helping both the boys and their dad through those initial dark days. Feathers are also said to represent strength and growth, and as they learn to manage their grief, the Crow moves on.   Nature plays a strong role in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, signifying a sense of freedom. “‘Is this a hint to me, Lizzy,’ said her father, ‘to send for the horses?’ ‘No, indeed. I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is nothing, when one has a motive; only three miles.’” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen The outdoors also plays a role in the relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy as it is predominantly in these settings that they are able to move their relationship forward. Outdoor settings become a symbol of openness and understanding.   Other examples are the green light in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925) symbolising the protagonist’s quest for Daisy and the American Dream; the conch in The Lord of the Flies by William Golding is a symbol of power; and the lake in Housekeeping, by Marilynn Robinson, is synonymous with loss and it is not until the main character, Ruth, crosses the lake on a bridge that she is able to start putting the depth of her loss behind her.   Why Use Symbolism? So, why do authors use symbolism in literature?   Whether it be a conscious or unconscious decision, the main impact of using symbolism in literature is to strengthen its meaning and make a bigger impact on the reader. For example, in To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, using symbolism adds emotional resonance to the story. The mockingbird, which “don’t do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us”, as Miss Maudie explains to Scout, symbolises the innocent characters in the narrative and to kill them, like to kill the bird, would be a sin.    Another way in which symbolism works is providing a visual aid for the reader. In Captain Jesus, by Collette Snowdon, three brothers find a dead magpie in the garden. They hang it on the washing line and when it blows in the gentle breeze.  “‘[i]t’s like we brought it back to life,’ Gabe says.”   The conversation continues with John-Joe saying, “‘we’re not miracle workers, we can’t do a proper resurrection.” The scene, along with the dialogue, alerts the reader to the impending death knowing that no matter how harder they may wish it, they will not be able to bring the deceased back to life.    Using symbolism can help an author portray a complex concept. In the Booker-longlisted novel, An Island, Karen Jennings’ main character, seventy-year-old Samuel, lives in self-imposed exile on a tiny island off the coast of an unknown African country. The only people he sees are those who bring his supplies once a fortnight. One day a stranger washes up on the shore; a symbol of hope, redemption and reparation for Samuel. Looking Out for Symbolism in the Everyday Many readers, I’m sure, don’t pay much attention to the symbols or symbolism in literature. Not consciously, that is (more so if studying a text for school or discussing it in a book club). However, so much is ingrained in our everyday life, in our society and common beliefs, it’s hard not to take them in at all. And there will always be people looking for the hidden meanings between the words on the pages – whether you intended them to be there or not!  As writers, inserting symbols and considering symbolism in our writing is definitely something to pay close attention to. Like Hansel and Gretel dropping breadcrumbs to find their way home, making use of this literary device is providing images and objects, words and concepts, to help deepen our readers’ experience of our writing.   And once those words are printed on the page, carefully chosen words creating a million vibrant images for your readers, unlike in Grimm’s fairytales nothing can come along and gobble them up! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Sensory Language Examples In Fiction

Adding sensory language to your writing is a lot easier than you may think, and it makes a huge difference to your work – be it a novel, poetry, or essays. But where do you start?  Think back to a recent personal experience that you remember well. As you bring it to mind, notice the sensory details you recall: the things you see and hear; maybe the physical feelings, for some people even tastes and smells.   Most of us are able to recreate our previous experiences in our mind’s eye and it’s these sensory memories that help us bring the event back to life. In just the same way, when we use sensory words in our fiction it helps our readers experience the world we’ve created by evoking their own senses.  In this guide I will explain what sensory language is, how to use it effectively in your storytelling, and provide some useful sensory language examples to get you started. What is Sensory Language? Sensory language in literature refers to words and descriptions that relate to the five senses. A writer uses these descriptors to help the reader: See what is happening in their mind’s eyeImagine the way speech is delivered and the background soundsUnderstand the physical sensations of texture, touch and movementEvoke tastes and smells In short, sensory language helps our readers experience scenes, events, descriptions or settings in a richer way – to live through the senses. A story with sensory language evokes feelings in our readers and takes them on an emotional journey.  Sensory language is commonly used in creative writing - short fiction, poetry, plays and novels - to invoke mental images and engage readers. However, descriptors of the five senses are also commonly found in a range of texts:  Advertising and marketing copy – ‘Mouth-watering freshly baked cakes’ (rather than just ‘Cakes’)Newspaper/magazine articles and headlines – ‘Shock new probe as PM rips up plans’ (Rather than ‘Investigation as plans change’)Emails and business writing – ‘Hope you’re not rushed off your feet’ (vs ‘Hope you’re not too busy’) ‘How to’ guides and course descriptions – ‘Wrestle those writing demons to the ground’ (vs ‘Be a more confident writer’)Blog posts titles – ‘Play to win and crush the opposition!’ (vs ‘Tips on how to be successful’)  Examples of Sensory Words To help develop a sensory vocabulary think about the different ways in which you experience the senses. Let’s take each sense in turn and look at contrasts to develop a list of sensory adjectives. Here are examples to get you started:  Visual – words relating to how we see things. They relate to things like colour, shape, size, angle, and appearance. How will you use them to paint a vivid picture?Brightness: Light/bright/shiny/sparkly or dark/dim/dull/tarnishedSize: Large/enormous/immense/gigantic or tiny/small/miniature/littleColour density: Vivid/day-glo/fluorescent or pale/washed-out/sepia  Auditory – words relating to sounds and how we hear them. You can use these to make your writing shout loudly or whisper a quiet hint.Volume: Loud/deafening/booming or quiet/whispering/rustlingPitch: Shrill/high-pitched/falsetto/piercing or deep/low-pitched/baritone/bassRhythm: Repetitive/metronome/regular or varying/intermittent/erratic Tactile – Words relating to how we experience touch or the feel of things through our skin. You might choose to soothe with a light touch or poke and cajole to action.Texture: Downy/soft/feathery or abrasive/coarse/roughPressure: Light/gentle/delicate or heavy/harsh/denseTemperature: Burning/scalding/itching or freezing/icy/soothing Gustatory – words relating to taste. You might like writing which is crisp and lean or spiced up with crunchy descriptions.Sweet vs sour: sugary/saccharine/sickly or tart/unsweetenedFlavoursome vs bland: meaty/umami/spicy/herby vs mild/bland/tastelessTexture: lean/crisp/crusty or oily/greasy/buttery Olfactory – words relating to how we experience smells. How about kicking up a stink or perfuming your text with sweet delicate imagery?Scent: Floral/aromatic/fragrant or odourless/neutral/unscentedStrength: Stinky/pungent/over-powering or insipid/weak/airyFreshness: Musty/stale/decayed or paint-fresh/clean/hygienic There are two other types of sensory words we can use:  Kinaesthetic – words relating to how we move and our internal sensations. Maybe you’re edging into this or leaping in with both feet.Still/balanced/steady or fidgeting/precarious/wobblyCrawling/sliding/shuffling or jumping/running/rushingFluttering/buzzing/churning or grounded/centred/soothing or stabbing/aching/sharp/tingling Emotional – words relating to our mood and the way we feel. Hopefully you feel curious and energised to have a go, even if a little uncertain!Confident/brave/assured or ill at ease/dubious/indecisiveDepressed/low/down or happy/upbeat/jolly or edgy/anxious/restlessMellow/chilled/calm or agitated/energised/hyper The choice of sensory words impacts the reader’s perspective. Consider the contrast in the following three examples:  ‘The young woman is both intelligent and kind.’  This is a clear straightforward description but is lacking any colour as it doesn’t engage our senses.  ‘The woman is around twenty; her tongue cutting, her brain sharp, her heart hard.’  Here we have more of a sense of the woman; the choice of words paint her in a negative light.  ‘She\'s an old soul with young eyes, a vintage heart, and a beautiful mind.’Nicole Lyons This quote from author and poet, Nicole Lyons, is a more poetic description. This time we have a positive impression of the woman.  How to Use Sensory Words in Your Writing Let’s take a simple scene and consider how we can enliven it with sensory language examples. Imagine a woman is about to enter a restaurant to meet a friend.   She’s outside the restaurant looking in through a glass panel in the door. What does she see? Tell us what type of establishment is it? What does the restaurant look like? How is it decorated? What fabrics, furnishing, wallpaper, colours? How many tables, diners and staff?  She steps forward into the room. Take us there so we experience what she hears. Is it noisy or quiet? Can she hear snatches of conversations, if so, what is said and how? What background noises can she hear?  She spots her friend across the room. What does she feel? What sensation does she feel inside and where does she feel it? What is her emotional reaction? How does she move as she walks across the room?   The two friends hug. Does she smell anything? Is her friend wearing perfume? What does the room smell of and does she like it or not? Can she smell the food served to other diners?  Seated at the table they eat their food. What does she taste? What are the flavours? What texture does the food have?   If we strip out all the sensory language, we have something akin to stage directions:   ‘A woman is about to enter a restaurant to meet her friend. She’s outside the restaurant looking in through a glass panel in the door. She steps forward into the room. She spots her friend across the room. The two friends hug. Seated at the table they eat their food.’    This would be described as ‘under written’: there is nothing to help us imagine the scene in our mind’s eye, all we have are a series of actions.  However, if we include every minute detail in our sensory language the passage becomes clogged. It becomes too busy and we long for something to happen. This is referred to as ‘overwritten’. The key is to help the reader to use sensory language to notice and experience what the character(s) would see, hear, feel etc.  This will depend on what you are trying to convey in the scene.   If the woman is anxious about the meeting she may focus on different things to if she is excited about seeing her friend again. For example, she may notice what people are wearing and feel underdressed or overdressed, which would heighten her anxiety; you may want to describe how she loathes the type of food on the menu, how the smells make her feel sick, and the churning in her stomach when she can’t see her friend in the crowded room.   However, if she is excited, her focus may only be on her friend. She may ignore the other people and the restaurant setting as she rushes across the room to join them.   Play around with the same scene by using different sensory examples to convey the character’s state of mind in each writing example, then note how it changes the story each time.  Examples of Sensory Writing A great way to learn about sensory imagery is to examine sensory language examples from literature. These first two are from Victorian literature.  ‘I heard the rain still beating continuously on the staircase window, and the wind howling in the grove behind the hall; I grew by degrees cold as a stone, and then my courage sank.’ Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847) Bronte’s use of sound (beating continuously, howling), and temperature (cold as a stone) help us to feel the character’s dark emotional mood.   ‘Facing the window, in the chair of dignity, sat a man about forty years of age; of heavy frame, large features and a commanding voice; his general build being rather coarse and compact… When he indulged in an occasional loud laugh at some remark among the guests his mouth parted so far back as to show the rays of the chandelier a full score or more of the two-and-thirty sound white teeth that he obviously still could boast of.’The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (1902)  Hardy’s description paints a vivid picture of the man and his character. His confidence and presence are clearly conveyed (heavy, large, commanding, loud) so we can both hear and see him in our mind’s eye.  Here are three modern examples of sensory writing which include simile and metaphor:  ‘…a helicopter bladed the sky in the hills outside Hebron. He had never seen a machine quite like it before. The soldiers, when they leapt out, looked to him like green insects, crouching and running up the hillside, fabulous with fear. His mother ran down from their home in the hillside caved, grabbed his sleeve, shooed him home along the rocky path.’ Apeirogon by Colum McCann (2020) McCann conveys the awe of the child as he watches the way the soldiers move up the hillside (like green insects, crouching and running, fabulous with fear). Then his mother’s urgency conveyed by the way she runs down, grabs and shoos him. We are there, feeling the tension of the mother and soldiers and the wonder of the child watching. ‘I lift the corners of the first sheet; dust and the smell of camphor the papers have absorbed over the years swirl up and taunt my nose.’ The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (2012) Eng uses the word ‘taunt’ in an unusual way to highlight the unpleasantness of the dust and camphor smells.  ‘…in my dreams I see Dharsi’s beautiful face and some other unknown one next to it. A frog, not transforming into a prince but shape-shifting into something frightening. The metallic taste of these dreams tinges my mornings like a flavor stirred into my coffee.’ What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera Munaweera gives her dreams a ‘metallic taste’ that lasts into the next day, the person lying next to Dharsi is seen as a shape-shifting frog. Her descriptions apply both sensory language and metaphor to rich effect.  Make Sense of Your Writing Look out for examples of good sensory language as you’re reading and consider where the author has focused the reader’s attention and how they’ve enriched their descriptions.    What impact does this have on your engagement with the text? What helps draw you into the passage and when is the sensory description too much ‘clutter’?   Notice the different styles in books you enjoy versus those you set aside. So settle down comfortably, wrap up warm, keep your eyes and ears open as you sniff out those examples and get a taste for what rings your bell, lights your fire, and gets your metaphorical taste buds tingling!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Metaphors Dos And Don’ts

Everyone has heard of metaphors, it’s something most people are taught at school, but are they still relevant to your writing? Yes.  Undoubtedly, metaphors enhance your writing, whether you’re penning a novel, short story, poem, or an English assignment. But to use them effectively, it’s important to fully understand what metaphors are in terms of definition, how to not confuse them with similes, and understanding all the different ways they can strengthen your work with examples. In this article I will guide you through everything you need to know about metaphors, so you too can feel confident using this literary device to enrich your writing.  What Is A Metaphor? A metaphor is a comparison between one thing and something else with similar qualities, providing the reader with a visual image that can be stronger in meaning than further description.  For instance, I could write a description of someone with long hair by simply saying they have long hair. Or I could use a metaphor and say, ‘Her hair was a flowing golden river’. This second option invokes the image of long, blonde flowing hair tumbling over her shoulders the way water runs over rocks in a river. The reader is more likely to remember the character and perhaps imagine them as someone they know.  Metaphors also reduce the need to include paragraphs of description or explanation. ‘The World is a stage,’ will have varying meanings for people. Generally, it creates the idea of performing as an actor in your own life. This says a lot (metaphorically speaking) in just a few words.   When you’re trying to hook the reader and make them see the story the way you do, metaphors can draw the reader in while keeping the story flowing. Too much description detracts from the story and loses readers’ attention. You don’t want to take your reader out of the action.  By using metaphors, you can capture an image, feeling, or experience in just a few words. When a reader already has pre-existing knowledge of the comparison, they will be able to fill in the blanks to get a fuller picture.  When used sparingly, metaphors give readers something to think about. Once the words are on the page, we have no further control in how the reader will interpret the metaphor’s meaning, so something which is universally understood has more impact.  Difference Between A Simile And A Metaphor  Metaphors and similes both use comparisons to provide a clearer image for readers, in a more creative way than a straightforward description. Analogies can also be used to do this.   Analogy vs Metaphor: An analogy is still a comparison, but uses a combination of simile and metaphor, and contains more information. One example would be, ‘Her hair whipped backwards and forwards in the wind like an out-of-control river’. It gives a fuller picture of the scene.  So, what\'s the difference between a simile and a metaphor? A simile uses the word ‘like’ or ‘as’ to compare, so would be less direct than a metaphor, but shorter than an analogy. An example of this would be ‘Her hair was like a turbulent river’. A metaphor would shorten this with, ‘Her hair was a turbulent river’. If you ever need to stick to a strict word count, while saying the same thing, the shorter metaphor is one way to help reduce the word count, without losing any of the story.  Although all similes are metaphors, not all metaphors are similes.   If you find yourself asking ‘how are similes and metaphors different?’ Here’s a simple answer:  An indirect comparison is used in a simile, while both make it clear the person or object is being compared to something else.  A metaphor – uses ‘is’ to compare.  A simile – uses ‘as’ or ‘like’.  Another example of a metaphor is, ‘Their home was their prison’. A simile would be ‘Their home was like their prison’. If you’re wondering how an analogy would be used to say the same thing, here is an example. ‘After being trapped in their house for weeks, the rain continued to fall and their home became their prison.’   It gives more information, but also uses more words. And, like with any good analogy, a writer may take their comparison further and add more metaphors to emphasize the point - ‘But there was no visiting hours, no one had come to call for days. They wondered when they would ever be able to escape their confines.’   Very dramatic, and perhaps a bit overkill, but you get the point.  What Is A Mixed Metaphor? If you’ve used metaphors before, or researched it for your writing, you may have heard of a mixed metaphor. The simplest explanation is two metaphors used together, which you wouldn’t normally associate with each other. Generally, they don’t work in serious writing. However, if used in the right context, they can work well together despite the contrast.  If you want to be creative and write some of these yourself, remember they are often humorous so use sparingly. They work less well in serious fiction or poetry.   Here are some mixed metaphor examples.  Homework was a breeze, but the new teacher was a thorn in my side. I’m talking to a brick wall here. Do you have a heart of stone? He was a mighty lion, but now he’s a lame duck. That’s music to my ears, let’s blow off some steam to celebrate.  While these are unlikely to be suitable for literary fiction, they could suit a character who constantly talks in mixed metaphors (if that’s part of their personality and it fits with the story).   What Is An Implied Metaphor? There are several types of metaphors, and implied metaphors take the idea of comparison a little further, by comparing people or things in a subtle way. Unlike other metaphors, these imply a comparison without specifically mentioning one of the things being compared. These rely on using a well-known trait, so the reader guesses what is being implied.  To help you understand, here are some examples: With his tail between his legs, he ran away. (Comparing a man to a scared dog without mentioning the dog, but the description is enough to inform the reader of the implied comparison.) She slithered around my boyfriend all night. (A jealous girlfriend using a well-known trait of a snake, to describe her potential love-rival.) The news crew circled the scene. (Comparing the news crew to a pack of vultures who typically circle their prey before swooping in.)  By using these animals as comparisons, readers will automatically associate the animals’ characteristics in relation to the subject (i.e. the girl is hunting the other woman’s boyfriend like a snake, she’s deadly, she may be poisonous to their relationship, she’s silent, dangerous, and unlikeable).  Once you understand what implied metaphors are, they are easy to use, and you can add them to your writing in a way the average reader will barely notice. In fact, now you’re aware of implied metaphors, you may notice their usage if you look out for them in the next book you read.  How To Use Metaphors By using metaphors, you can vary your descriptions and the visual images you’re trying to create. Some of the best metaphors can be those which people don’t notice, if they’re immersed in your written words.  But why are metaphors used?   Metaphors are used when the writer wants to bring their work to life in a fresh and creative way. Many readers say when they read a great book, they can see the characters and the actions playing out in their mind. This can be achieved by using metaphors here and there.  Metaphors aren’t just used in writing novels and short stories, though. A lot of poets make use of metaphor to express a thought or feeling on a deeper level. If done right, poems can have two meanings.  An example of this is one of my own poems, Winter Trees. This is about aging and missing the advantages of youth, while overlooking the things which weren’t so great about being young.  This is expressed in the following lines:  ‘Decorated in baubles and winter soldiers.  I used to be pretty too, think the winter trees.’  The first line above shows how the speaker views the younger people around her, and the second line shows how she misses that beauty in herself. The full poem is an implied metaphor, but on the surface can be interpreted as a poem about trees.  If you’re looking for a guide on how to create a metaphor, check out this more well-known example of metaphors as poetry in ‘Metaphors’ by Sylvia Plath. Metaphors: Do Switch between different kinds of metaphors in your writing. (This will vary your writing style and keep your writing from becoming repetitive.) Use sparingly. (Nobody wants to read pages of metaphors.) Go with the second or third metaphor you think of. (The first one is likely to be overused.) Use a comparison in your metaphors which readers will understand. (You want your readers to have an immediate understanding of what you’re trying to say.) Use a metaphor which fits with your writing. (Something which doesn’t fit will jolt the reader out of the fictional world you’ve created.) To get used to metaphors, spend time comparing objects in your home, or people you know, to other things. (This will help you see common and not so common comparisons.) Look for metaphors in poetry and stories you read. (This will show you how common they are, and judge what works or doesn’t work, so you can apply them to your own writing or avoid the same mistakes.)  Metaphors: Don’t Don’t clutter the page with them. (They will lose their impact. Less is more when it comes to metaphor usage.)Don’t use them if you know they will weaken the description rather than add to it. (They should blend seamlessly into your writing. Use whatever works best for each description.) Avoid mixed metaphors if writing something serious. (These can make your writing seem humorous or silly, and if you’re writing an emotional scene, this can make light of an otherwise serious issue.) Don’t use cliches or overused metaphors. (Again, unless the aim is to be funny or silly, it can ruin the mood you’re trying to create.) If a metaphor will detract from the story, don’t use it. (Everything about your writing should add something to the story.) Don’t be afraid to experiment. (Even if you never use them, if you’re new to metaphors, the best way to improve is to practice.)  Time To Practise Some Metaphors I hope you have found this guide helpful when it comes to the effective use of metaphors. There are lots of different types to choose from in your writing, and each one has its uses. By choosing the right metaphor, you can create powerful and engaging writing. To practise, go through a story you’ve already written (or write a new one) then change some of the description by using metaphors instead. Compare the two pieces and ask yourself which is more engaging. Time to take a giant leap off the metaphoric edge and spread those writing wings!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Is Chekhov’s Gun?

You may have heard of Chekhov, and you may even have heard of his gun, but what does that have to do with storytelling and plotting a novel? In this comprehensive article we will teach you everything you need to know about Chekhov’s Gun (with examples), and explore similar literary principles and devices. What Does Chekhov’s Gun Mean? The principle of Chekhov’s Gun (sometimes called Chekhov’s Law or Chekhov’s Gun Law) is not to introduce anything that won’t eventually be important to the plot. This principle not only helps writers cut down on extraneous and unnecessary details in their stories, but ensures readers will be satisfied by the end. Drawing attention to something that doesn’t have any significance to the story can frustrate the reader and waste precious words in your novel. Essentially, the principle enables writers to generate clear plots by considering the significance of everything they mention in their story, and tackles the over-symbolism in literature. (The exception to the rule is a red herring – but we’ll look at that a little bit later on.) So who was Chekhov and why is everyone so interested in his gun? History of Chekhov’s Gun Chekhov’s Gun is a dramatic principle that, unsurprisingly, comes from Anton Chekhov - a Russian playwright and short story-writer in the late 1800s. While Chekhov leaves behind a great literary and theatrical legacy, he is probably most well-known for this dramatic principle. In a letter to Aleksandr Semenovich, Chekhov once said: One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn\'t going to go off. It\'s wrong to make promises you don\'t mean to keep. Similarly, he once wrote: Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it\'s not going to be fired, it shouldn\'t be hanging there. Intended as advice for young playwrights, this principle is still widely cited and utilised today. Chekhov used this principle in his play, The Seagull, where there is a literal gun that gets introduced at the start and then fired at the end (hence the name given to the principle). In Act One, Konstantin Treplyev uses a rifle to kill a seagull. In the final act, Konstantin uses that rifle to kill himself. Significance is placed on the rifle in the beginning which draws the audience’s attention to the item, and then the rifle has significant impact at the climax of the play. The audience is satisfied, there are no loose ends, and the principle has done its job. Chekhov’s Gun vs Foreshadowing If you get the concept of Chekhov’s Gun and foreshadowing confused then you aren’t alone. Though they have similarities, they do also have some big differences. Chekhov’s Gun is the dramatic principle whereby the writers won’t make ‘false promises’. That you must only draw attention to something if its significance will be revealed later in the story. Foreshadowing is the literary device where the writer drops hints that the reader will probably overlook until the end, or even until a second read through. This can be something fairly innocuous that hints at a bigger plot development later on. Though Chekhov’s Gun is a form of foreshadowing, the ‘gun’ (item, person, etc) has a direct impact on the plot by the end of the story. While traditional foreshadowing merely hints at the outcome of the plot rather than having a direct influence. Let’s look at an example: In Othello there are examples of both Chekhov’s Gun and foreshadowing. Desdemona’s handkerchief acts as the ‘gun’ here. In Act III Desdemona drops her handkerchief. Iago later finds it and uses it to trick Othello into believing Desdemona has been unfaithful. This is an example of Chekhov’s Gun – Shakespeare draws significant attention to Desdemona’s dropped handkerchief, which then plays a crucial role at a critical moment of the plot. Foreshadowing appears in the play when Desdemona sings a song to her maidservant about a lover who goes mad. This foreshadows the outcome of the play as Othello, Desdemona’s husband, descends into madness and kills her. This moment drops hints for the climax of the plot, but does not have any influence on the plot. How is Chekhov’s Gun Used in Writing? In order to achieve the principle of Chekhov’s Gun there are certain things you need to do as a writer. 1. You must first set up the ‘gun’. The ‘gun’ can be anything potentially impactful in your story, such as an object, a character, an event, or a place. 2. To set up the ‘gun’ you should draw attention to it early in your story, giving it significance and ensuring the reader notices it. You can draw attention to this item multiple times if you wish between the initial introduction and the conclusion of the story, but that’s up to author preference. 3. To round off this principle, the ‘gun’ must then ‘go off’. The item must return by the end of the book and have a significant impact to the conclusion of the story. The item must play a crucial role in order to truly achieve the principle of Chekhov’s Gun. The exceptions to this rule are red herrings and MacGuffins. Red Herring: The exception to the rule of not introducing or emphasising anything that won’t be significant to the plot is the red herring. A red herring is something that distracts from the true plot, and makes the reader guess at the conclusion (it must still be plausible). Red herrings are often used in thrillers, crime stories, and whodunnits, when the author wants to highlight something which makes the reader think it’s significant to the plot, when in actuality it’s there to distract and trick the reader. This literary device is most commonly used in novels where the reader is busy ‘sleuthing’ and purposely looking for clues. It should be noted that a red herring should still have some casual impact on the story, but not significant. The dead ends can’t be haphazardly placed with no tie-in with the overall plot. Red herrings are very common within Agatha Christie novels, particularly And Then There Were None. Ten people are invited to an island under mysterious circumstances, and are killed one by one. There are several convincing red herrings throughout the novel that lead the reader to guess the killer, but each time the new prime suspect is killed. Christie achieves the ultimate plot twist by having the actual murderer \'die\' earlier on in the novel (a death he faked so convincingly that neither the characters nor readers doubt it), so when the reveal occurs it ends up being a twist that no one could have guessed. MacGuffin: MacGuffin is a plot device which many claim is the opposite of Chekhov’s Gun. It’s an object, event, or character that serves to set and keep the plot in motion but actually lacks significance to the outcome. This is usually a goal or object of desire for the protagonist, but whether or not it is achieved has no influence on the plot. An excellent example of a MacGuffin is the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. It seems of vital importance to the characters but the object inside the briefcase is never revealed to the audience so the object is of little actual consequence to the plot. How Chekhov’s Gun can be effective in a series: Used effectively, Chekhov’s Gun creates a cyclical and satisfying conclusion to a story. If you were to follow the Save The Cat plotting beats, for example, Chekhov’s Gun would go off in the last 10% of the book and mirror the first 10% of the novel (either through setting, actions, theme, or dialogue – but with a twist). This way the reader/audience is happy, there are no loose ends, and the plot makes sense. This principle has been used in books and on screen since its inception. Not only can this literary principle be used in standalone novels and movies, but also as part of a series. If an item is mentioned in book one, then by book 3 you expect it to come into play again. The same principles that work within one story, can work across a number of novels in a series. Let’s look at some examples of Chekhov’s Gun in books and on screen. 5 Book Examples of Chekhov’s Gun Great Expectations In Dickens’ Great Expectations, the ‘gun’ is the character Magwitch. He is introduced significantly at the start of the novel due to his interactions with Pip. Enough mystery surrounds him that the reader is interested in his story, but then many years pass and he isn’t mentioned again. When it’s finally revealed that Magwitch has been Pip’s financial supporter this is an unexpected but satisfying twist. The reader has forgotten about this character in the interim but the second he is revealed we instantly remember him again. The use of Chekhov’s Gun here, the initial spotlight on Magwitch and then the big reveal, is both shocking but satisfying to the reader. The perfect plot twist. Ready Player One In Ready Player One, the ‘gun’ is a coin. Specifically, the 1981 Quarter Artefact that protagonist Wade Watts collects from a Pac-Man machine after playing a perfect game. He takes the coin and doesn’t think about it again. There is enough emphasis placed on this moment that the reader remembers it, but not enough that they guess the climax of the book. The coin turns out to be an extra life which enables Watts’ avatar to survive an explosion and continue his quest. This brings about the conclusion of the story and ties up all loose ends in a satisfying way. All the elements of the story were relevant and essential to the plot. The Hunger Games In The Hunger Games, the ‘gun’ is Katniss’ knowledge of poisonous plants. This demonstrates how the ‘gun’ doesn’t have to be an object but can be a character trait. This knowledge is explained and emphasised multiple times throughout the novel, and its significance is revealed at the climax of the novel as she uses poisonous berries to trick the Capitol into releasing both her and Peeta. A Gentleman in Moscow In Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow, the ‘gun’ is a pair of duelling pistols. Count Rostov discovers a pair of duelling pistols hidden behind a wall in the hotel manager’s office. The significance of this discovery is revealed in the climax of the novel as Rostov uses one of the pistols to intimidate the Bishop into destroying secret files on the employees of the hotel, and locks him up in order to resume his plan to escape. The reader already knows about the pistols, and so it makes sense when Rostov later uses one in order to escape. Harry Potter The Harry Potter series contains multiple examples of Chekhov’s Gun, which Rowling utilises within individual books and across the series as a whole. Examples include the mention of bezoar in Harry’s first potions class which is later used in Book 6 to save Ron when he drinks poisoned mead. Also in Book 1 is the introduction of the Snitch caught in Harry’s first Quidditch match which becomes significant again in the final book as the hiding place for the resurrection stone. These are just two of many Chekhov Gun examples occurring within the series. It’s satisfying to the reader when the solution to a problem involves something that we’ve seen before. 5 Screen Examples of Chekhov’s Gun The Shawshank Redemption There are multiple examples of a ‘gun’ within The Shawshank Redemption, namely a poster, rock hammer, and bible. These objects are highlighted when they’re introduced at the beginning of the movie but seem fairly innocuous at the time. Andy requests a poster of Rita Hayworth, supposedly because he’s lonely, a rock hammer for his boredom as he likes rock carving, and a bible, which wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. These items actually have another use which we find out at the climax of the film. The rock hammer is used to dig a tunnel out of his cell (and he hides the hammer in the bible), with the escape tunnel covered by the poster. The reveal is both shocking and satisfying to the audience. The items are only ever alluded to as for their false use, and none of the other characters even know their real use, so when the twist is revealed it has the required effect on the audience. Breaking Bad In the Breaking Bad episode “Box Cutter” the ‘gun’ is, surprise surprise, a box cutter. At the beginning of the episode we see the box cutter, which is then later used as a weapon by Gus to kill Victor. It’s an ordinary object that you wouldn’t be surprised to see in the setting, so the climax is shocking to the audience. The Lost Boys In The Lost Boys the ‘gun’ is the antlers and fence post in the protagonists’ Grandpa’s house. He has a taxidermy collection so the antlers on the wall are unsurprising, and he’s building a fence in the garden with wooden posts, which are appropriate to both the character and setting and, once again, appear completely innocuous. These items are focused on early in the movie, but disregarded by the audience because they simply appear to serve as character building. Yet these items are key to the climax of the movie. Michael, the protagonist, defeats David, a vampire, by impaling him on the antlers, and the head vampire is killed by one of the fence posts as the Grandpa drives through the building and the post flies off the hood of his Jeep. The solution to their problem was highlighted right at the start of the movie, but no one would have guessed – least of all the audience! Shaun of the Dead In Shaun of the Dead, the ‘gun’ is an actual gun – the Winchester rifle. At the start of the film Shaun and Ed are arguing about whether the Winchester rifle mounted above the bar in the Winchester pub is real. Later on in the film Shaun uses the gun to hit the zombified pub owner and it goes off, proving not only that it is a real gun, but its significance is highlighted as it ends up playing a crucial role in Shaun defending himself. Signs In M Night Shyamalan’s Signs, the ‘gun’ is represented by glasses of water and Morgan’s asthma. Graham’s daughter Bo leaves glasses of water around the house (she believes the water is contaminated after being left so gets a new glass each time she wants a drink.) At the climax of the movie they discover that the invading aliens are vulnerable to water, and the significance of these glasses of water becomes immediately apparent in defeating the attacking aliens. Similarly Morgan’s asthma, alluded to in many ordinary ways throughout the film, has a massive significance in saving his life at the climax of the film. His airways are closed due to an attack, meaning he is unable to inhale the toxic gas from the alien and survives the murder attempt. Both of these things (the glasses of water and the asthma) are innocuous and ordinary so it’s surprising to the audience when they end up having a big impact on the plot. Conclusion Having outlined the importance of Chekhov’s Gun in storytelling, we hope you are now confident to utilise this literary principle in your own writing. Go ahead and create an exciting and satisfying cyclical plot for your readers, and remember to cut out extraneous and unnecessary detail in your story. Remember – if you shine a spotlight on something at the beginning of your story, make sure it helps save the day at the end! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Become A Better Writer

Every year, I vow to write more and write better. Sounds easy peasy, doesn’t it? The truth is, becoming a better writer takes time, work, and commitment – and when you add that to the countless hours we already spend on our current writing projects and day-to-day commitments, putting even more work in can feel daunting. Suddenly, your “simple” goal to improve your craft no longer feels do-able, let alone desirable or attainable. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and so many of us struggle to protect whatever precious writing time we can find.   No two writers are the same. How we define “better writer” changes as our careers evolve. You may want to know how to write good dialogue, how to get better at creative writing, or simply get more words down on the page.  Yet, I’ve never met a writer who didn’t want to improve their craft. Writers are strivers and dreamers - my favourite people – and that’s why I’m here to share my top tips on how I’ve become a better writer.  Make A List Of Your Writing Goals Artistic paths differ from writer to writer. So, let’s start by making a list of your writing goals, big and small. This list is for your eyes only so feel free to go for the gold and the glory.  Don’t hold back. You want to win the Nobel Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the Pulitzer, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature? Sure, why not, don’t we all in our heart of hearts?    Propose Action Steps To Support Your Writing Goals Okay, now that you’ve compiled a list, let’s go over each goal one by one. What actions can you take to support your goal of becoming a better writer? Think of it as your personal GPS. Map out the route to get there. Step by step. For example, if your goal is more production and more publications, but you fear rejection (who doesn’t?) then being a better writer might involve putting yourself out there and submitting your work to more opportunities. How to improve your writing could also mean increasing your productivity and output – writing more pages – which we all know has been difficult during this pandemic.   Perhaps you’ve always been shy about self-promotion and how to be a good writer for you means improving your sales and reaching a wider audience. What are some steps you could take to increase sales? Network?    If ‘writing in another genre’ made it on your list, now might be the perfect time to take that risk and invest in yourself. Pursue that new interest that keeps you awake at night and take that course you’ve always had your eye on. Check out the creative writing classes Jericho Writers offers here. Becoming a better writer takes courage, faith, and action. When in doubt, remember, it and you are worth it. Carve Out Sacred Writing Time A writer writes. Ideally, as often as possible. I know life is messy yet the only way to become a better writer is to carve out some time to write. Establish a routine. It can be thirty minutes a day. One hour a day. Five hours a week. Your routine might vary week to week. I know mine does. This is why I plan ahead.   Look at your schedule next week, find the pockets of time and book appointments with your muse. Act like it’s a hot date. Show up.   Hold this time sacred. That is, put your cell phone in another room and don’t check your email or your social media feeds. In fact, just turn off the Wi-Fi and write.  At the end of the week, if you honoured all your “dates” with your muse, please treat yourself. A little chocolate. A leisurely walk in the park. Even that new notebook you had your eye on. This serves to remind you a writer’s life is rewarding.   Be A Voracious Reader It may be a cliché but it’s true, if you don’t read a lot, you won’t improve your writing. Read as much as possible. Read the classics, the award winners, the up-and-comers, the off-beat, self-published, and commercial. Read magazines and newspapers. There’s a wealth of information out there waiting for you to discover and grab hold of it.   One time I read an article about the difficulties of finding organ donors, and for some reason, a lightbulb flicked on and kept flickering until I wrote a play that explores that topic. This has happened more than once, and it always feels like magic.  That book you couldn’t put down, that you had to read from start to finish – what was it about that story that grabbed you? What made it a page-turner? Was it the point of view, the story structure, the gorgeous language, the plot?   Take note of the books you couldn’t finish too. Why did you lose interest? Perhaps you were too stressed, too tired, and should give it another read later?  If that’s not the case, what would you have done differently?   We can learn so much from other writers and stories that are not our own, and it can all lead to becoming better writers.  Document Your Ideas Writers are curious observers so be sure to carry a handy notebook wherever you go so you can jot down ideas. It may be:   Swatches of dialogue or a bizarre turn of phrase you overhear that spark intrigue.  What someone was wearing…or not wearing.   A street sign or joke that made you laugh out loud.  A scenario that made your blood curl.  Unusual or annoying mannerisms that might inform one of your characters.  That musical phrase you keep humming.  Secrets spilt at that family gathering.  Keep a writing pad near your bedside.  Sometimes a weird dream will jolt me awake and I need to write down the details before I forget.  Of course, you can use your smartphone to make notes, record audio notes, and take photos as well.   Capture the vivid colours that surrounded you. Record the sound of the beach. Make a note of how the Hunter’s Moon glowed that night.  Take a photo of that statue or landmark that inspires you to do further research.  Life is full of wonder and delight. It’s our job to live it and write it.  Find A Writing Buddy Writing is a solitary profession, but we don’t have to go it alone. Having a writing friend can be tremendously uplifting in these unsteady times. I have a few writing buddies and we check in with each other regularly. We share resources, what we’re working on, our ups and downs, what we’ve done to advance our careers, and what we hope to do in the next week or two. We hold each other accountable in an honest, supportive, and kind relationship.  Choose wisely. Your writing buddy should be someone who has your best interests at heart, and vice versa. We rarely succeed at the same time or the same rate, so it’s essential to pair up with someone you respect and trust.    Write To Win, Place, Or Show Writing contests provide excellent opportunities to improve your craft, create new work, and have fun. These contests often offer prompts or themes that ignite and stretch our imagination. The fact that these opportunities come with deadlines is a bonus – added encouragement to stick to our writing routines.   I usually choose contests where there are no or low submission fees, but that is a personal choice. Everyone should do their own cost/benefit analyses and compare those results to their goals and finances. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the costs. While rewards vary from opportunity to opportunity – publication, reading, production or a cash prize – the overall goal remains the same: to challenge ourselves and become better writers.   ‘No’ Is Simply A Number I love American baseball because it showed me a new, healthier way to accept that dreaded word - “failure.”  Professional baseball players strike out a lot. In fact, they strike out 70% more often than they hit. If they hit three out of ten balls, they end up in the Hall of Fame. That’s right, three out of ten and you’re in the Hall of Fame.  Like baseball, the arts is also a business of frustration and failure. You will receive more “no’s” than “yesses.” It is very much a numbers game. The more we submit, the more we step up to the plate, the more likely we will get hits. If we’re lucky, we knock it out of the park and end up on some bestseller lists. The trick is to keep showing up at the plate.   Rejection still hurts and Imposter Syndrome is very real, but one way to soften the blow is to think of each “no” as a pass. Yes, a pass, because many times that’s what it is. A question of fit or taste. Not a reflection on the quality of your work. Maybe the literary magazine just published a story with a similar theme, or an agent is looking for something specific. When a pass shows up in your email box, make it a policy to send out another request or pitch.  Beating up on yourself never helps, never leads to your best work. I know, I am my own Tiger Mom. Alligators are known for their tough skin; good writers are known for their resilience.   Whenever I feel myself falling down that rabbit hole, I pull myself back up with Norman Lear’s motto: “Over and Next.”  Norman Lear is an American television and film writer who has created, written, and produced over 100 shows.  Listen To Feedback Now, if we get repetitive feedback that pinpoints a specific area that needs work, then consider that a blessing. That’s information we can process and use to improve our next draft. Perhaps there’s an unclear plot jump and the timeline is confusing to readers. Maybe the dialogue feels stilted and strains credibility because we inadvertently head hopped. Put these notes on your list of goals. Brainstorm the action steps you can tackle your revision. Find resources. Reach out. Outline. Rewrite. You got this. Keep writing, rewriting, and sending work out. Three hits out of ten. That’s what we should all be aiming for.  Keep Growing  Remember your voice and your vision are gifts to the world. Cherish and nurture those gifts. Court your muse. When you’re feeling blue, keep your eye on the prize. Talent is unstoppable. Three out of ten. Over and next!    I’m so happy you want to become a better writer. Me, too. I hope my tips inspire you to be the best writer you can be, and show you there are so many ways we can keep on becoming better.  So many resources are available, too, at your fingertips, starting right here.  We don’t have to do it alone. We form a community and do this together. We can even have fun along our journey.  The writer’s life is rewarding when we stay curious, stay resilient, and we keep getting better. Our writing goals change as we become better writers and our careers evolve, but one thing never changes: You know best better. See you at the Writer’s Hall of Fame! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

A Guide on Writing Memoirs or Autofiction

A Guide on Writing Memoirs or Autofiction Many people have lives that would make incredible stories, yet it can be difficult to figure out how to unpick that life and set it on the page. How do you write a memoir? And is memoir the only option?   In this article I will be walking you through different ways to write your life story and offering tips to help you get started and narrow your focus.  What is a Memoir? A memoir is a first-person account of someone’s nonfictional life story that uses the techniques and crafts of fiction to make it a page-turning read. The word comes from the French word for “memory” or “reminiscence.”   The promise to the reader is that whatever is inside is as true as the author can make it. Of course, writing your exact memories is challenging as very few of us have photographic memories. Readers will forgive small fictions, like writing out a conversation verbatim when you only remember the jist of what was said, but not larger ones.   There are plenty of examples of authors who made up memoirs. The best known one in recent years was James Frey in A Million Little Pieces. Readers felt betrayed and angry because the author had broken the pact and the promise. However, if you still want to use a kernel of the truth but not be beholden to it, read on to learn more about autofiction and other options. Do Memoirs Sell? Memoirs are incredibly popular, especially in the age of COVID. Some recent examples are the Obamas’ memoirs: A Promised Land was 2020’s bestselling book (2.4 million copies in one year alone) and Becoming was also an extraordinary bestseller (came out in 2018 and has sold 3.4 million as of the end of 2020). Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (2016) provides an interesting and heart-breaking account of race in South Africa as he recounts his life with his signature humour.   I don’t know about you, but I am unlikely to ever become President of the United States and have people desperate to know my story. Luckily, people are also hungry for stories from people who haven’t brushed fame or become public figures. This is evidenced by memoirs such as Educated (2018) by Tara Westover. Her memoir’s about growing up as a fundamentalist Mormon and her quest for education—her first day of school was university at Brigham Young when she was a teenager. Maid (2019) by Stephanie Land is about an impoverished white woman cleaning the houses of the ultra-rich. The Glass Castle (2005) by Jeannette Walls, is about her eccentric, nomadic upbringing and her troubled father’s dream of a better life. Roxane Gay’s Hunger (2017) focuses on her relationship with food and her body, as informed by trauma. Many of these have also been adapted into TV shows or films, showcasing memoirs have massive crossover appeal.  Memoir vs Autobiography (and other options) Memoir is part of a spectrum from narrative nonfiction to fiction inspired by fact. You might realise, once you start working on your story, that there are gaps in knowledge that have been lost to time. Or perhaps you’d like to weave several generations together, which of course moves it away from your own lived, first-person experience.   Many people ask, ‘are memoirs nonfiction?’ The answer is yes…and no. Let’s take a look at how flexible written memories, and this genre, can be.  Memoir As we said, memoir aims to be true with small liberties. It rarely starts with your birth and tells the story in a straight As we said, memoir aims to be true with small liberties. It rarely starts with your birth and you telling the story in a straight line, ending with however old you are when you finish writing it. For example, Mary Karr has written three memoirs: The Liar’s Club (1995), which focuses mostly on her childhood, Cherry (2000), which focused more on her late adolescence and blooming sexuality, and Lit (2009), which focuses on her journey of faith and her divorce. Trying to focus on all three of those in one book would have been too much and they wouldn’t have had the space to be as hard-hitting. There is also nearly 15 years’ difference from the first memoir she wrote and the last—the memoir is a snapshot of the writer as much as the contents of the book, as the tone is affected by the author’s age and experience.  Autobiography  Autobiography, by contrast, does tend to be more linear. The author here functions more as a historian. It tends to be less intimate, more expansive. There’s less room to zoom in on certain moments and it can feel more of a summary of a life. This is useful if you want to know what, say, Benjamin Franklin, Malcom X, Nelson Mandela, or Agatha Christie thought about their own lives, but autobiographies are less common for people who aren’t public figures.  Autofiction If you realise that there’s no way to tell the story in a compelling way while remaining fully married to truth, or the truth is unknowable, you may consider autofiction.   There has been a lot of discussion of the ethics of writing fiction based on truth, particularly if the subject has not been made aware (just fall down the rabbit hole of “Cat People” or “Kidneygate / The Bad Art Friend” to see discussions on this). Autofiction still focuses on yourself but gives the story the opportunity to come alive in a different way. You can even write it in third person, if you wish. You can change timelines more dramatically or add characters or subplots who are amalgamations or completely fictive. Because you haven’t promised it’s a straight memoir, readers are fine with this.   On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019) by Ocean Vuong is a great example of autofiction — the main character, Little Dog, is a Vietnamese refugee living in America, writing a letter to his illiterate mother he knows she will never read. Vuong is also a gay Vietnamese refugee, and his mother does not read English or Vietnamese. The story delves into his grandmother and mother’s stories in third person, as well as his own, yet crucially it’s sold as fiction and he doesn’t give us a detailed post-mortem of what is or isn’t true.   Other well-known autofiction authors include James Baldwin, Ben Lerner, Rachel Cusk, Tao Lin, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and more. This is sometimes also called the autobiographical novel, with ‘novel’ signalling that it’s leaning heavily into the fictional side. Autobiografiction And to make things slightly more confusing, there’s also the term autobiografiction, which combines autobiography, fiction, and essay. Stephen Reynolds coined the term in 1906 and describes it as a “record of real spiritual experiences strung on a credible but more or less fictitious autobiographical narrative.” It’s often published anonymously or under a pseudonym, and many queer people used this form to express themselves in times of oppression. It’s not as common a term and tends to be lumped with autofiction: indeed, you could make an argument that Vuong’s book falls more into this category in some respects as there are essays within it.   So, now - the nitty gritty. How do you get started on your project based on truth?  Tips for Writing a Memoir (or Autofiction) Start Researching Now – and Beware the Skeletons Even if you don’t think you’ll start writing your memoir for a while, start gathering information as soon as you can. Depending on the project: sign up for a trial of, interview your family members, start journaling about your memories, look up articles in, flip through photo albums or belongings, request court or other official documents.   It’s so easy for these things to become lost, or for us to tragically lose those close to us, taking their memories with them. You might also have to prepare yourself for more secrets potentially coming to light. You might need to have a discussion with how family members might feel about sharing the truth. Yvette Gentile and Rasha Pecoraro discovered this when they started properly digging into everything for their podcast Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia (2019). The TV adaption I Am the Night (2019), starring Chris Pine, added an entirely fictive noir subplot to make it more dramatic on the screen.  What’s Your Promise to the Reader? How fictional do you plan to be? You don’t necessarily need to know immediately but notice if you start to shift further away from the facts.   This happened with my current project: it focuses on three generations, so I knew it would always have an element of fiction since my grandmother died before I was born, so I can’t exactly ask her how she felt about any of the facts we know. My mother also wrote her sections and I edited over them, and we made-up certain details or massaged timelines so the scene was more evocative. Each draft has had it depart more from the truth and become its own entity. I felt conflicted about this before I realised that my goal is to use the truth as a jumping off point. I don’t actually owe the reader the truth; I owe them a good story. For me, it was more freeing, and I also knew I’d feel less exposed if the project is ever published.   This brings me to:  Check in With Your Mental Health I barrelled right into my project, thinking I was ready. From a craft standpoint, I was – but not from a mental standpoint.   If you are still processing your trauma, you might consider some therapy first, so you are better protected if you have to delve into some painful memories. Remember: it’s all right to take a break and come back, and it also might still be challenging once you return.   As Mary Karr says in her 2015 how-to The Art of Memoir (highly recommended!): “I’ve said it’s hard. Here’s how hard: everybody I know who wades deep enough into memory’s waters drowns a little.” Focus on Experiences and Emotions Whether memoir or autofiction, your reader wants to experience what it was like to be you or this version of you. You might find you’re tempted to relay the information quite factually, but it may read cold. This is fine for the first draft as you focus on story, but when you edit, focus on making it come alive.   Don’t Attempt to Cover Your Whole Life As mentioned, there won’t be room. Think of those touchstones, the main themes you wish to draw out and examine. Again, it might take you a while to hone in on this. That’s all right, as long as you’re willing to set aside writing that doesn’t serve your overall purpose. Save it for another book, potentially! Engage the Reader from the Beginning One thing I found in my previous draft was the opening was too slow and needed a clearer hook. Read the openings of some memoirs and notice how they draw the reader in. And of course…  Read a Lot of Memoirs and Autofiction & Examine Form I’ve recommended a large selection of creative memoir novels I’ve enjoyed in this article, but there are so many more incredible ones out there. The bestseller charts on Amazon are a good place to start (though do consider ordering from an independent bookstore!). Some are even written in innovative and experimental styles, such as In the Dream House (2019) by Carmen Maria Machado. Reading a lot of memoirs or autofiction might give you some ideas on how you can lay out your story.  Think About Tone For some projects, humour might work very well (Trevor Noah, Mary Karr, Caitlin Moran). For others, it might be horribly jarring, and you should consider a more sombre tone. Experiment with this until you find the right voice and approach.  Remember Your Reader You, of course, have no idea who is reading your work once it’s out there. But memoirs have a common theme: they all seem to focus on making sense of the past to inform our present. With a lot focus on healing and letting go, these can be cathartic for both the writer and the reader. That’s the magic of memoir: your book may save your readers without them knowing they had a void that needed filling.   I hope this article has helped you consider how you might start thinking about writing your memoir, or whether taking a more autofictional approach works better. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Complete Guide to Writing Sex in Fiction

A lot of authors have their doubts about writing sex. How much do you include? What should you leave out? How do you structure a sex scene? How do you move past the awkwardness of it all? Most writers find sex scenes harder to write than dialogue and action. Yet sultry scenes don’t have to be a literary challenge. In this guide, you will learn how to approach your sex scenes, how to have fun writing them, how to use them as vessels for characterisation and plot development, and lastly, how to decide whether you need the sex scenes in the first place. The Challenge of Writing Sex Scenes Writing sex can be challenging, and many authors fear how their scenes will be received by readers. Readers can be highly critical when it comes to a bad sex scene. In fact, there’s even an award by the Literary Review for bad sex in literature. Take a look at these eye-opening excerpts from last year’s contenders. Writing about sex makes us vulnerable – no one would deny that. Writers worry their family might read it, that readers may cringe or gasp or yawn at their scenes and judge them. It’s a lot more intimate to be judged on your sex scene than on your action, settings or dialogue, and many authors dread receiving feedback on how they write sex. Other authors want to include a sex scene but are worried about the mechanics of putting the scene on paper. How should the characters act? What should you describe? What should you not describe? How much is too much? These worries, albeit valid, should not stop you from including sex scenes in your work. A sex scene is still just a scene, and chances are if you’re applying the same craftsmanship to these scenes that you apply to the rest of your work, then your readers are no more or less likely to judge it harshly or like it any less. And yes, your aunt Margaret might get a hold of your spicy scene, but that’s just something you’re going to have to live with (unless you consider using a pen name. Check out our complete guide to pen names and our pros and cons of pen names). If you feel that sex scenes will add depth to your work (no one appreciates a gratuitous sex scene that’s irrelevant to the plot), or if sex is integral to your genre (such as romance novels), then there are ways to make writing a sex scene easier and even fun. Tips for Writing Effective Sex Scenes Depending on your genre, readers will either be surprised by your sex scenes, or already expecting them. Expectations such as these can add more pressure to the writer, but here are some things you can do to make sure your scene delivers. Read Many Sex Scenes To write decent sex scenes then it’s important to read sex scenes written by other authors. When you sit down to write your hot scene, it’s likely you will quickly run out of creative ways to say “thrust,” or “straddled” or “throbbing member” (perhaps don’t say ‘throbbing member’). Seeing how other authors are able to keep descriptions interesting and avoid repetition or laugh-out-loud clichés (like comparing genitals to fruit), will inspire you in your own work and help you with your scene. Reading sex scenes from highly acclaimed and popular romance novels means you will be reading carefully edited scenes where the rhythm, metaphors and terminology have all been edited to the highest standard, meaning you can study and incorporate this flow into your own first attempts. Also, try to read diversely - from a sex scene in a thriller or a romance novel, to hardcore erotica. A lot can be learned across genres and understanding the varying degrees of intensity you may require for your own work. Ensure it’s Necessary If you are questioning whether to write a sex scene, ask yourself how integral it is to the plot. Does it move the action forward? Does it deepen the stakes and the characterisation? Will the story be as enjoyable without it? Will it carry as much meaning? Is a sex scene expected in your genre? If you can fade to black or allude to them having slept together in another way, and that feels more natural for your book – then try that. Just because your characters have sex doesn’t mean your readers need to be in the room too. Sex scenes that are forced or gratuitous are like any other unnecessary scene – a waste of time, energy, and words. Hot Tip: Examine Your Chosen Genre Sex scenes can be very important for a novel’s plot, and in some genres they are downright integral. Sexier genres include Erotica, Romance, Paranormal Romance, and a branch of steamy adult Fantasy (think bestselling authors like Sarah J. Maas, who are currently taking bookstores by storm). Sex scenes are important because they characterise relationships and move the plot along, but they can also be important because the reader expects and wants them. The idea that sex sells is not lost in the literary business and it’s no surprise the 50 Shades of Grey books took the top three spots for the bestselling books from 2010-2020! If you are writing in these genres, consider including a well-placed sex scene. If you are writing outside of genres that expect sex, only include it if it feels genuine to you, integral to the story, or necessary for character or relationship development. Sex scenes can also be used to add colour to the setting (such as a drunken orgy to illustrate the gluttony and wealth of a Roman family in your book) but whatever you do, do not include it gratuitously. The advice would be the same for any type of scene.  Don’t be Modest Look, no one wants porn shot by a nun. Writing a sex scene is like art directing a tasteful nude shoot - shame, modesty, indignation, and personal bias all need to be left at the door along with the robe if the scene is to come across as genuine. Your discomfort will affect how you write and how a scene will read, so it’s the first thing you need to tackle. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t let the fact you feel uncomfortable stabbing people with swords keep you from writing an epic medieval fight scene. If you leave out too much detail or keep it too vague, you will only be cheating the reader. Include Enough Detail Great sex writing leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination, yet it must also convey a balanced amount of detail. Of course, how much you include also depends on genre (as you can imagine, Erotica leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, laying out each tryst in all its sordid glory). Researching and reading widely across your genre will also help you decide how much detail to include. As an artist you are of course free to break these conventions, but make sure it’s with good reason and with your target audience in mind. If you feel your historical fiction needs a 5,000-word sex scene, which is uncommon in that genre, make sure you know why it will add depth to your story. Don’t indulge in too much detail (yes, I know it can be fun), but likewise don’t skim over details either. And remember – most people know how sex works. You don’t have to include every literal in and out. Good sex writing isn’t about the mechanics but about the emotion, flow, and imagery. Write from the Characters’ Perspectives Just like sex between two people in the real world, no sex between two characters should or would ever be the same. Sex is a direct extension of the character’s personality. You have to be true to their perspective when writing it, and true to your story so far. The last thing you want to do is insert a generic “who put what where” scene. Put yourself in both the minds and positions of the characters in the scene. If your novel is dual POV, try describing the sex from both perspectives and treat it as a way of extending the reader’s understanding of the character - including mannerisms and deep characterisation. Why would the character like this and that? What would they say? Which actions would make them feel embarrassment, or joy, or excitement? What rhythm would feel natural to them and why? How a character has sex is no different to imagining what they would order in a restaurant, or how they dress. Even if your book isn’t split POV, doing a writing exercise where you write out the scene from the perspective of both participants could be beneficial. Build Tension Building tension is important in any scene, and even more so in a sex scene. You can’t have a two hundred page lead-up to a steamy scene and then have the sex be over in one page. Similarly, if your romantic interests just met and they are already going at it, your readers are not likely to be invested emotionally. So, build tension leading up to the act, but also don’t forget to build tension throughout the scene itself. No one wants the literary equivalent of a ‘wham bam thank you ma\'am.’ Don’t Overlook Emotion Sex scenes shouldn’t be all about the mechanics - they should include the emotional responses and experiences of the characters involved. This is the perfect moment to incorporate characterisation into the scene. What is the character feeling? How are they responding? What do their actions and rhythm say about what they are feeling? Sex should reveal as much about a character as a good piece of dialogue, or showing them in a high-stakes situation, would do. Make it Real (or Don’t)   In order for sex scenes to be believable they need to be realistic and not idealised. That’s not to say you can’t have an alien having sex with a vampire. Just that if they both keep overpraising each other, and the emotions are flat, and everyone climaxes after two minutes, your reader will feel like they’ve been pulled out of the story and doused with a bucket of cold water. Try to stay true to the characters, their individual personalities, the world and the setting the characters are currently in. If your characters are having sex outdoors don’t feel the need to say the thorns scraping their backsides felt like silk. Stay real, even within fantasy. Here are a few things you should keep in mind: If you are writing romance, remember real-life sex can be bumpy, messy and imperfect. I mean, maybe Edward’s penis glittered like a jewel in Twilight, but no one is using that scene as a barometer anytime soon.Consider the need to accurately represent orgasms and how they are experienced by characters of all genders. Sadly, it’s not difficult to find erotica where a woman nearly climaxes simply because she glanced at the man’s thirteen-inch member. Maybe in your dreams, but readers will laugh…not get aroused.If you are writing a sex scene in Young Adult (they are usually subtle but they do exist) consider important aspects such as contraception and consent. Always stay mindful of the responsibility you carry as a writer for young people.Don’t shy away from things that could go wrong. This type of attention to detail can help contribute towards creating believable sex scenes. Use Appropriate Vocabulary It’s all good and well to say, “call a spade a spade” and all that, but the word spade can get tiring if you say it fifty times in a row. His spade did that, then he took his spade away, then he put his spade on the table. See how monotonous that sounds? Though we might think that euphemisms are cheesy, they are also essential for the simple reason that you can’t write ‘vagina’ eight times in a paragraph and still expect the prose to flow well. But you also don’t want to use overly floral comparisons, or terms that sound outright ridiculous. The best thing is to go back to your research on sex scenes and see what kind of vocabulary is appropriate in your genre. Create a list of synonyms, a spreadsheet, fill a notebook up – whatever works for you. Don’t Overdo It The number of sex scenes in a story should be carefully considered and not overdone. Include a few scenes too many and you are teetering on the brink of erotica territory. So consider if that’s the genre you initially wanted to write in, or if you’re being self-indulgent. Consider Using Humour We know sex can be funny and there’s no reason to shy away from adding humour in a sex scene. Maybe your MC cracks a joke because that would be true to their nature. Maybe funny sounds from the weird neighbour next door adds a pinch of humour to an awkward start. Whatever feels true to you and your story is great, just make sure you don’t cockblock humour just because it’s a sex scene. Use Variety Just like any other action scene, if you are planning on having multiple sex scenes, consider introducing variety (you wouldn’t have three car chases in one movie if you could have a motorcycle chase as well). This will make the scenes more believable and retain the readers’ attention. A mental copy and paste simply won’t work because each time your MC has sex is unique, so each interaction must be marked with its own characterisation and emotional weight. Consider also adding variety to the setting, reactions, dialogue, clothing, and rhythm, in order to keep the reader engaged. In Summary There you have it; sex scenes don’t have to be rocket science. Consider your genre and your story when deciding whether you want sex scenes, and how many of them you might want. Treat the sex scenes as if they were any other scene, apply the same meticulous care to them as you would with dialogue and action. Make sure the scenes move the plot forward, and that characterisation is as evident in them as in the rest of your work. Yes, sex scenes can be challenging but (as we all know with real relationships) practice makes perfect. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How to Write Sex for a Young Adult Audience

Sex in young adult literature is one of the topics with the most ‘hot takes’ you’ll ever find. From ‘It’s never appropriate!’ to ‘It’s always appropriate!’ this article will look at the tricky, sometimes controversial, issues involved, before I share some of my top tips for tackling sexual content in your own work.   Writing for Young Adults Let’s start by defining what young adult literature encompasses. YA fiction will typically feature a protagonist between the ages of thirteen to eighteen, although increasingly they’re predominantly in their upper teens. The themes of young adult novels will correlate with the age and experience of the protagonists, mirroring adolescent concerns, motivations and inner thoughts. Young adult fiction is aimed at readers in a similar demographic to the protagonists, although some readers are younger (often eleven or twelve) and an estimated fifty per cent of YA books are actually bought by adults.   You might have already seen what the issue is here. At the lower end, YA fiction has readers who haven’t even started puberty yet. At the upper end, they’re heading off to university. That’s a huge gap in terms of experience and stage of life, and what might be right (and entertaining) for a seventeen year-old reader might not be for a thirteen year-old.   While not everyone has sex, and not every book needs to include sexual content, to not sometimes include it when writing teen characters feels like a glaring omission. Yet what’s acceptable varies from publisher to publisher. When my debut Noah Can’t Even was on submission, some agents and publishers couldn’t get their heads around the fact it featured a fifteen year-old boy who… wait for it…  masturbated. Something that is normal and commonplace for a teenage boy was too much for some gatekeepers in the industry – even against the backdrop of popular publishing ‘buzz phrases’ about how authenticity is important, and teens need to see their lives on the page.   The inclusion of sexual content can also make some schools and libraries nervous, especially if they come under pressure from parents or campaign groups - the recent challenge to Lev Rosen’s Jack of Hearts in a Texas library being a prime example. Meanwhile, some parents are blissfully unaware of the sexual content their children are accessing online, but weirdly furious about content that is far less explicit appearing in written form. When you also factor in religious and cultural sensibilities, it’s a minefield.   Can You Write Sex in YA? Of course you can! With YA books, you’re striving to be authentic to the teen experience, and whether they’re thinking about it, just curious, or doing it, that experience often includes sex.   Before we look at how, it’s important to address the use of the word ‘appropriate’, which regularly crops up in these discussions, and which often masks what someone’s real objection is – namely the inclusion of LGBTQ+ storylines.   “I don’t want my child reading about same sex relationships - it’s not appropriate,” goes the refrain. For other people, no mention of sex will ever be ‘appropriate’, and these people will also typically withdraw their children from sex education classes too.   So, let’s be clear: not discussing these things, not being open and honest, but living in shame, fear and ignorance –those are the things that hurt people. We shouldn’t, as creators, shy away from giving young people the tools they need to help them make safe, informed choices. Some young people can’t access that information easily elsewhere. Maybe home isn’t a supportive environment. Perhaps school sex ed. is lacking. This is so often the experience of LGBTQ+ teens, but it also applies to many other situations young people find themselves in. For me, this is why this subject is so important, and why, while accepting I have to tow the publishing line to an extent, I’ll always fight to include realistic portrayals of teen sexuality in my books.   So, rather than talking about appropriateness, let’s frame this in terms of how much is too much for this age group and their gatekeepers. After all, you want to get published at the end of the day, and a novel containing a hundred pages of overt erotica probably isn’t going to make the cut. However, a storyline featuring teenagers having sex, if described sensitively, will often be deemed acceptable. While there are a few exceptions (Doing It by Melvin Burgess springs to mind) the issue of how explicit you can be is usually the key factor here, and it’s probably the biggest thing that separates YA from adult fiction in terms of writing about sex. While it’s undoubtedly a constraint, you can also use it to your advantage.   How to Write Sex in YA Keep it real. Remember that teenage sexual encounters are often awkward. Conveying this fumbling, nerve-wracking inexperience is important, not just for authenticity, but because many young people use literature as an information source. While porn is overblown, Hollywood is rose-tinted, and the internet is awash with misinformation, YA fiction can be a safe and reassuring place for teenagers looking for realistic portrayals of sex.   This is one reason why explicit material isn’t always helpful, but also why it isn’t necessary – realism is more valuable to the readership than titillation, addressing issues of consent, shame, and safe practices, while giving young people the understanding and language to discuss and explore their own sexual experiences. The best writers do this without it ever being didactic, of course – Lev Rosen, William Hussey, Juno Dawson and Holly Bourne being just a few cases in point.   Don’t Overdo It It’s important not to include sex scenes gratuitously – they need to work within the narrative and support the story. In many YA novels, such scenes may well be the culmination of a romance plot running the entire length of the story. In others, like Lev Rosen’s Jack of Hearts, the content may feature throughout as it’s a key facet of the plot. In the former case, the scenes work because they’re deeply connected with the emotional journey of the characters, so they feel like a natural progression. In the latter, Rosen ensures all his scenes emerge organically from the plot, providing information and a realistic portrayal – a type of sex education, if you like – which is refreshingly upfront without ever feeling gratuitous.   Be Subtle and Sensitive Less can sometimes be more. Writing good sex scenes is incredibly difficult, and you don’t want to stray into cringe territory. In some cases, leaving exact details to the imagination is your best bet, but regardless, be mindful of anything too explicit, especially in books targeted towards the younger end of the market.   Be sensitive to some of your readers’ lack of experience – something that’s too hardcore might not engage your teen reader as much as something that introduces them to the topic a little more gently. Subtle can also make for a pleasing shared joke, which can break the ice when it comes to discussing themes of a sexual nature, which some readers might find awkward.  A brilliant example of this: Read the whole of  Sex and Reproduction in bed last night. Woke up to find that a few hundred million sperm had leaked out. Still, it will give the remaining sperm room to wag their tails about a bit. Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole Use Appropriate Language Be aware that your choice of language can have a huge impact on what gatekeepers consider suitable for their young charges. While you need to make sure your voice is authentic for a YA novel, (and you need to use language familiar to teens) an over reliance on slang and swear words in a sex scene may have the consequence of making it read more crassly and being perceived as more explicit.   What if it’s Us? by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera has some good examples of getting this right, where the sexual scenes never read as explicit.  Remember Emotions   Don’t forget the avalanche of feelings that run through a teen’s head during sex scenes – especially if it’s their first time. Spotlighting these internal thoughts can be a very effective way of conveying the scene, rather than focusing too much on physicality and mechanics. It will also resonate with many of the fears and concerns your target readership will have – Is this right? Are they ready?   Anticipation is Exciting  Anyone familiar with thriller or horror writing knows that there’s as much fun to be had in the build-up and anticipation of something happening, as the event itself. The same can be true of sex scenes. If you get the connection right between your characters, your reader will be willing them together - ‘shipping them’ as the kids say - and doing a lot of the work for you in the process. Sometimes, they’ll then go away and write fan fiction featuring the type of material you weren’t allowed to include, in a sex scene that will make your eyes water.   Funny and Awkward is Good  Humour can be a very effective tool for sex scenes. Sex can be built up into such a huge ‘make or break’ momentous occasion, thanks to the proliferation of that attitude in popular culture. So, why not turn that idea on its head and take a lighter approach? Teens will probably thank you for being honest about the messy, embarrassing, awkward side of it, rather than what the movies and porn tell us it should be.   Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison is great at using humour to convey some of the most real sexual scenes I’ve ever read, and Editing Emma by Chloe Seager is definitely worth a look too.   Know Your Age Group, Trust Your Reader, and Trust Librarians  If your story is aimed at younger teens, ensure the content you include is right for them. Many books are listed as being ‘Suitable for 12+’ or ‘14+’ and while age banding is a blunt tool, it does mean readers, and gatekeepers, have less cause for complaint when they encounter sexual content. While your book may be picked up by younger readers, in my experience teens are good at knowing whether a book is right for them, and will often abandon one that isn’t. Children mature at vastly different rates and it’s impossible to account for that. Meanwhile, all the school librarians I know are experts at knowing what book is right for which student at which time.  There\'s No Formula... There are myriad challenges when writing sex scenes in young adult fiction and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution when including this sort of content. The needs, experiences, and maturity levels of YA readers are so vastly different, you won’t ever tick the right boxes for everyone.   However, sex scenes are an authentic and valuable part of YA stories, and by ensuring your portrayals are sensitive, and emerge out of plot and character you can create something highly effective, rewarding for you as a writer, and truly appreciated by your teen audience.   Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write Creative Nonfiction

When I read Dancing in the Dark by Caryl Philips, I wasn’t quite sure what I was reading, as it was unlike any novel I’d read previously. But I was curious how the author crafted the “voices” or dialogue, which were so finely tuned and authentic it made me feel as though I was in the thick of the plot as it unfolded. Eventually, it dawned on me that the book couldn’t solely be classified as a novel per se, as the story was based on “real life”; because of its biographical and historical context it sat comfortably within the genre of creative nonfiction.  What is Creative Nonfiction? The term creative nonfiction has been credited to American writer Lee Gutkin, who first coined the phrase in the journal he founded in 1993: Creative Nonfiction. When asked to define what creative nonfiction is Gutkin says simply “true stories well told.”   Expanding on Gutkin’s definition I would add that the main difference between creative nonfiction – also known as narrative nonfiction - and other genres is that in creative nonfiction the focus is on literary style, and it is very much like reading a novel, with the important exception that everything in the story has actually happened.   Essentially, creative nonfiction incorporates techniques from literature, including fiction and poetry, in order to present a narrative that flows more like story than, say, a journalistic article or a report. In short, then, it is a form of storytelling that employs creative writing techniques including literature to retell a true story, which is why emphasis is placed on the word creative. I would underscore that it is this aspect which distinguishes the genre from other nonfiction books; for instance, textbooks which are, as implied, recounting solely of facts – without any frills. Types of Creative Nonfiction The good news is that the expanse of creative nonfiction as a genre is considerable and there is ample scope for writers of every persuasion, in terms of categorisation and personal creative preference. Some terms you may be familiar with, and some are essentially the same, as far as content is concerned – only the phrasing may be interchangeable.   Memoirs Memoirs are the most commonly used form of creative nonfiction. It is a writer’s personal, first-hand experiences, or events spanning a specific time frame or period. In it you are essentially trying to evoke the past… and by the end you will, no doubt, hope to have successfully conveyed the moral of your story. Not in a preachy kind of way but in a manner which is engaging, informative or entertaining.   You should note that there are important differences between a biography and a memoir: in writing a biography you need to maintain a record of your sources – primary or secondary – that will stand the rigours of being fact-checked.   A memoir, by contrast, is your recollection or memory of a past event or experience. While they do not necessarily have to be underpinned with verifiable facts in the same way as a biography, there’s more scope for your creative or imaginary interpretation of an event or experience.  Literary Journalism In the early days of the genre literary journalism hogged the headlines; it was, according to The Herald Tribune, “a hotbed of so-called New Journalism, in which writers like Tom Wolfe used the tools of novelists — characters, dialogue and scene-setting — to create compelling narratives.” The way this fits into the creative nonfiction genre is that it uses the style and devices of literary fiction in fact-based journalism. Norman Mailer and Gail Sheehy were exceptionally skilled exponents, though, arguably, critics contended that both could, on occasion, be so immersed that some of their writing was tantamount to an actor who inhabited their character via method acting.  Reportage and Reporting  Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter. If you choose to pursue reportage it is imperative that you pay close attention to notes and record-keeping as reporting is not – as with other elements of creative nonfiction – based on your personal experiences or opinions and, therefore, has to be scrupulously accurate and verifiable.   Personal Essays Other types of creative nonfiction include personal essays whereby the writer crafts an essay that’s based on a personal experience or single event, which results in significant personal resonance, or a lesson learned. This element of creative nonfiction is very broad in scope and includes travel writing, food writing, nature writing, science writing, sports writing, and magazine articles.  Personal essays, therefore, encompass just about any kind of writing. They can also include audio creativity and opinion pieces, through podcasts and radio plays.   The Five R’s of Creative Nonfiction  In Lee Gutkind’s essay, The Five R’s of Creative Nonfiction, he summarised the salient points of successfully writing creative nonfiction and, if you followed these instructions, you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong:  1. Real Life I daresay this is self-explanatory although as a storyteller, instead of letting your imagination run riot you must use it as the foundation. Your story must be based in reality - be that subject matter, people, situations or experiences.  2. Research I can’t emphasise strongly enough that conducting extensive, thorough research is of paramount importance and, not to put too fine a point on it, this is not an area you can gloss over – you will be “found out” and your credibility is at stake. And, no, Wikipedia doesn’t count – other than perhaps as a starting point. Interestingly, by the company’s own admission: “Wikipedia is not a reliable source for citations elsewhere on Wikipedia. Because it can be edited by anyone at any time, any information it contains at a particular time could be vandalism, a work in progress, or just plain wrong.”  3. W(r)ite Not technically an “R” but we get his point… Put succinctly by William Faulkner: “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it\'s the only way you can do anything good.\" 4. Reflection No-one can negate your personal reflections, but you should be aware, given that what you’re writing is based on “fact” that someone mentioned in your article or book may not necessarily agree with your perspective. The fallout can be devastating and damage irreparable. A case in point was the debacle following publication of Ugly: The True Story of a Loveless Childhood by Constance Briscoe. In the best-selling “misery memoir” the author accused her mother of childhood cruelty and neglect; her mother rejected the claims and said the allegations were “a piece of fiction” and sued both her daughter and publisher for libel, and lost.   It goes without saying that when writing about people who are still alive you need to be especially cautious. Of course, you’re entitled to your own unique perspective but, as Buckingham Palace responded to the Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry – which may yet find its way in book form – “some recollections may vary”.  5. Reading It’s often said that the best writers are also voracious readers. Not only does it broaden your horizons but it’s a perfect way to see what works and what doesn’t. And, as William Faulkner admonished: “Read, read, read. Read everything –trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You\'ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you\'ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”   How to Write Creative Nonfiction We now know what kind of creative nonfiction exists, and what to bear in mind before writing, but when it comes to starting your story…where do you begin?  Structure While it may be tempting to jump straight in and start writing, you will save yourself a headache if you begin by deciding upon the structure or form you want your work to be based on. This doesn’t need big whistles and bells, you just need an outline to begin with, something to shape your thinking and trajectory. It’s always worthwhile to know what direction you’re headed in. Nothing is set in stone - you can always add to it or amend accordingly.   For planning there are different models you can employ but I find it easiest to think along the lines of a three-part play: act one, I open by establishing the fundamentals of what I am going to present; act two, allows me to build upon the opening by increasing the dramatic effect of what’s unfolding; and act three, I bring my thesis together by pulling together different strands of the story to a logical, coherent narrative and, even better in some circumstances, a cliff-hanger.  In your outline you should bear in mind the main elements of creative nonfiction and the fact that there are some universal literary techniques you can use:   Plot and Setting  There are many things from your past that may trigger your imagination. It could be writing about an area you grew up in, neighbours you had – anything which can be descriptive and used as a building block but will be the foundation upon which you set the tone or introduction to your piece.  Artefacts  Using what may seem like mundane artefacts can be used effectively. For instance, old photographs, school reports, records and letters etc. can evoke memories.  Descriptive Imagery  The most effective way to ensure your characters are relatable is to work on creating a plausible narrative. You must also have at the forefront of your mind “Facts. Facts. Facts.” I can’t stress enough how your work must be based on fact and not fiction.  Dialogue  Also referred to as figurative language, when using one of the most effective ways to set the tone of your work, the language used in dialogue must be plausible. You simply need to step back and ask yourself, “Does this sound like something my character would say?” There’s no greater turnoff for a reader than dialogue which is stilted.   Characters  If you want your readers to be engaged, they have to “buy what you’re selling” i.e. believe in your characters.   Top Creative Nonfiction Writing Tips Stick to the Facts  Even a mere whiff of fiction in your writing will automatically disqualify it as creative nonfiction. To make sure you haven’t transgressed it’s easier to avoid doing so altogether. Although it’s fine to incorporate literary techniques which include extended metaphor, allegory, and imagery, among others.  Research You will also need to make note of the references you have relied upon. Not only is this good housekeeping it is also what’s expected of a professional writer. There are a multitude of places you can begin your research: family recollections/oral history; my local library serves aspiring writers well with both a respectable catalogue of physical books and online resources such as the British Newspaper Archives; Ancestry; and FindMyPast, among them. These are invaluable tools at your disposal and the list is by no means exhaustive.   Checklist  So, to conclude, what are the takeaways from this guide?   Firstly, methodically work your way through the checklist contained within the 5 R’s. Also, remember, whatever your interest, the extent of creative nonfiction dictates that there’s likely to be a market for your writing.   But, at all costs, avoid falling into the cardinal sin of making things up! It may be tempting to get carried away with being creative and miss that the finished product absolutely must be anchored in facts – from which, no deviation is acceptable.   Indeed, please ensure everything you’ve written is verifiable. You never know when someone is going to fact-check your thesis or challenge an assertion you’ve made.  Best of Both Worlds All in all, creative nonfiction is a wondrous way of telling an important and real story. Never forget that even though you are writing about factual stories and scenarios, you can still do so in an imaginative and creative way guaranteed to bring your readers on a journey of exploration with you.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What is Purple Prose?

How To Spot Purple Prose In Your Writing And Make Your Prose Tighter And More Effective In this guide we’ll look at the definition of purple prose and consider examples of its use. If you’re worried your writing is dangerously close to the purple zone, we’ll help you transform it into tight, effective prose that agents and editors will fall in love with. Purple Prose Definition Purple prose is flowery and ornate writing that makes a piece of text impenetrable. It is characterised by long sentences, multi-syllabic words, excessive emotion, and a plethora of clichés. It’s typically melodramatic and often too poetic. It’s frowned upon because it breaks the flow of a story, slows the pace, detracts from the text, and leaves the reader perplexed or, even worse, bored. It can pop up in patches throughout a story, or it can weigh down an entire novel. Purple prose is most likely to creep into your writing if you’re trying too hard to impress your readers by emulating the style of your favourite author. Or perhaps you’re just being a little over-zealous with your word choices.  We’re all guilty of over-embellishing our writing from time to time. We’re writers - we love words, so who can blame us for getting a little carried away when immersed in a powerful new scene? But if we want our writing to be taken seriously, we need to make sure we don’t go too far. Purple Prose Examples Many authors have been accused of the sin of writing purple prose over the years. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom\'s Cabin’ oozes mushy sentimentality, with sentences such as, ‘Even so, beloved Eva! Fair star of thy dwelling! Thou art passing away; but they that love thee dearest know it not.’ Even though it was written in 1852 when such contrivances were more accepted, this is still considered one of the most purple of the classic texts. Another great example is this short extract from Jim Theis’s 1970 fantasy novella, The Eye of Argon which seeps purple prose from every pore.  ‘Glancing about the dust swirled room in the gloomily dancing glare of his flickering cresset, Grignr eyed evidences of the enclosure being nothing more than a forgotten storeroom. Miscellaneous articles required for the maintenance of a castle were piled in disorganized heaps at infrequent intervals toward the wall opposite the barbarian\'s piercing stare.’ If you’re worried your writing might be tinged with too much purple, take a look at the following red flags, and read how to make your writing leaner and more readable. Purple Prose Red Flags: 1. Too Many Adjectives And Adverbs Writers love adjectives, but if used excessively they become a distraction, interfering with your story and making your prose a deep shade of purple. William Strunk and E.B. White, in The Elements of Style, say: ‘Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.’  Scrutinise every adjective in your writing and consider how it earns its place. If you can do without it, delete it. For example, if you’re describing a lawn, only use the word ‘green’ if that’s out of the ordinary. Or find a stronger noun that doesn’t need an adjective at all – for example ‘light rain’ could be replaced with ‘drizzle.’ And try to avoid using two adjectives if one will do, as increasing the number of adjectives before a noun severely reduces its clout and makes your prose even more purple. The same goes for adverbs. Does the drunk person ‘walk erratically’ or do they ‘stagger’? Pro tip: Use your thesaurus with caution. It will throw up all sorts of unnecessary distractions your story doesn’t need. Only use a thesaurus to help you recall known words. Good writers use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. Cut them with care and decide if your sentences seem less purple as a result. 2. Excessive Sentence Length Every definition of purple prose highlights the excessive use of long, winding and overly dramatic sentences. By the time your reader has reached the end, they won’t remember where they began. The following example is by Victorian writer, Jerome K. Jerome in his book, Three Men in a Boat. He was writing at a time when authors were paid by the word, so perhaps we can forgive him for this lyrical, but rather convoluted and distinctly purple sentence. ‘The river—with the sunlight flashing from its dancing wavelets, gilding gold the grey-green beech-trunks, glinting through the dark, cool wood paths, chasing shadows o\'er the shallows, flinging diamonds from the mill-wheels, throwing kisses to the lilies, wantoning with the weirs\' white waters, silvering moss-grown walls and bridges, brightening every tiny townlet, making sweet each lane and meadow, lying tangled in the rushes, peeping, laughing, from each inlet, gleaming gay on many a far sail, making soft the air with glory—is a golden fairy stream.’ Did reading that make you a little breathless? Be kind to your reader and keep an eye out for overly long sentences. Limit the number of clauses and play with length, mixing up shorter and longer sentences to give your writing a sense of rhythm.  3. Excessive Emotion Some authors unwittingly make their prose purple by sledge-hammering emotions onto the page, especially when describing a visceral reaction to a situation. Trust your reader to get it without telling them twenty times in twenty different ways. Of course, much depends on the genre of your writing. Romantic fiction readers will be more tolerant of a little emotional embellishment than steely-eyed crime fiction fans.  As you write or edit, think about whether the magnitude of the reaction matches the event. Will your main character’s breast heave that violently at the sight of her love interest? Or will Philip’s teeth really gnash and his brow drip with sweat on hearing that Sally has been promoted ahead of him?  Think of other ways to create authentic tension without resorting to purple prose. If you’re unsure how to go about this, identify the essence of your scene; what really matters? Make it exciting in its own right and don’t rely on flowery language to jazz it up. The story, not the distracting writing, should be the thing that grabs the reader’s attention. And if you’ve forgotten what’s going on, then so will your reader! 4. Generic Or Clichéd Images A reliance on clichés is considered the number one crime in creative writing, and for good reason. Clichés are lazy shortcuts to expressing an emotion or situation, suggesting the writer hasn’t been able to think up their own words. They’re old and boring and offer nothing to surprise or shock your reader. Examples of purple prose across the internet cite the deployment of clichés as a key feature. Every first draft will have the odd cliché skulking in its shadows, but if you spot one, get rid of it. And then say what you’re trying to say in your own words. Clichés will only hint at your inexperience, so be brutal and delete those tired old phrases without mercy.  If you’re struggling to spot clichés in your writing, ask a friend or beta reader to read it through or consider signing up for one of our tutored courses to help you identify problem areas such as this. 5. Lack Of Clarity All of the above conspire to create writing that lacks clarity. Imagine for a moment you’re the reader of your book. You’re walking through a forest, surrounded by new and exciting sights, but as you progress, the path turns to mud. It sucks at your boots, slowing your pace. Brambles run their thorns along your bare arms and mosquitos nip at your cheeks. The birds screech, laughing at your sluggish progress. You’re desperate now to get to your destination, but come upon a patch of tall nettles. You beat your way through, your shins stinging …  I’m getting a little carried away here, but do you get my point? When a piece of prose becomes too purple, the overly-ornate text becomes an impediment to the reader’s progress and they’ll simply turn back and go home, or put your book down. As an author, it’s your job to take your reader by the hand and guide your reader to the end of the story without unnecessary hurdles to impede their progress. The following extract from Sean Penn’s debut novel, Bob Honey, is a perfect example of an author’s purple prose affecting clarity. Even though the book is a satire, the text is as impenetrable as my imaginary forest. “There is pride to be had where the prejudicial is practiced with precision in the trenchant triage of tactile terminations. This came to him via the crucible-forged fact that all humans are themselves animal, and that rifle-ready human hunters of alternately-species prey should best beware the raging ricochet that soon will come their way.” I think Mr Penn is trying to say something about hunting animals, but I really can’t be sure. So, how do you make sure your writing never lacks clarity?  Leave plenty of time between writing and editing so you can read your work with fresh eyes. Does it make sense? Do you understand what you’re writing about after time away from it? Is anything confusing? Think how you could make it clearer using the advice listed above. If you’re still not sure, ask a beta reader to help, or consider using our editorial services. It takes skill and experience to write with clarity, so remember, as you write, focus on your story, and keep your reader in mind. Do you really want them to battle their way through that forest, arriving battered and bruised at their destination, or would you rather they enjoyed the journey? How To Write Tight, Effective Prose Even if your writing isn’t that purple, or only purple in patches, thinking about the above will help your writing become tighter and more effective. Keep your reader in mind as you write. Ensure every word, sentence, paragraph and scene drives the story on. Pro tip: Take a narrow-eyed look at your dialogue tags too. Keep them simple, so if possible, use ‘said’. Nothing makes a reader cringe more than a character ‘blustering’ or ‘interjecting’. While you’re busy trimming your work, keep an eye out for modifiers too, like the word ‘very’. Find a better, stronger word, and your writing will be less purple because of it.  Professional, publication-ready writing is lean. The author has taken the time to cut unnecessary adjectives, adverbs and dialogue tags. Only the essence of the story remains, making the text easier to read because not one word is wasted.  Read more tips on writing perfect prose here. A Final Thought On Purple Prose Writing purple prose is a part of the writing journey, and we should never be ashamed to spot it in our work. But we need to learn to recognise it when we see it, and be brave enough to get rid of it. Experienced writers have learnt that the big idea is what makes something meaningful, not the language used to embellish it. The idea should always come first. Don’t try to be Daphne du Maurier. Be you. Play with language until you find your voice and then pare your writing right back until it gleams. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Eliminate Passive Voice From Your Writing

You may have heard the term ‘passive voice’ or even been told not to use it, but why is the passive voice a bad idea and how do you fix it? In this article, you will learn the difference between active and passive voice, how to spot passive voice misuse (and how to fix it), and learn what to do if passive voice becomes a smoke-screen for other issues. At the end, there will also be a checklist to apply when editing your manuscript.  What Is Passive Voice? Most people find it easier to spot the use of the passive voice in single examples and trickier when editing a whole manuscript; also, these things are about balance. It isn’t necessary to eliminate absolutely every example of the passive voice from your writing because there are some modes of writing that require it – more on that in a minute.  With these things in mind, let’s look at a simple example of passive voice. Take a look at these two versions of the same sentence. The first is written in an active voice, the second in a passive voice: Steve stole the sweets from the shop.The sweets were stolen from the shop by Steve. Now try this exercise. Which aspects of the first sentence could I remove and have it still make sense? Yes, I could substitute different words until I had a new sentence: Betty ate the ice cream at the skatepark, for instance, but that’s not what I mean. Which phrase could I take off the original sentence, while still communicating the same information, albeit in less detail? Hopefully, you’ll agree that I could remove ‘from the shop’ but nothing else, otherwise I won’t have a sentence anymore. ‘Steve stole the sweets’ still makes sense. What about the second sentence? How much can I cut and still end up with a sentence? I can take away much more this time. I could go for ‘The sweets were stolen from the shop’ or simply ‘The sweets were stolen.’ Look at my new sentences: Steve stole the sweets.The sweets were stolen. What’s wrong with the second sentence? Identify that, and you’ll get to the nub of the issue: why the passive voice comes with an advisory warning. Can you see the problem? What Is Passive Voice Misuse?  The character or ‘person who acts’ – the subject – is missing from the second sentence. We no longer know who is responsible for stealing the sweets, the object of the sentence. Blame has been removed, or rather, as this is a post on the passive voice, I removed blame from sentence two.  This explains why passive voice isn’t simply a grammar problem you can solve by looking it up on Grammarly or another grammar-correction tool. The ‘why’ – and in writing (as in life) it’s always good to look for the ‘why’ – is that when we use the passive voice, the acting subject is often missing. If you’re telling a story, your readers want to know about the acting subject, so they can stand in their shoes and see the world through their eyes. They can’t do that if the character is no longer the subject of the action. Passive voice misuse is often unintentional and sometimes a hidden problem. Ever wondered why your reading group say they can’t connect with your characters? Perhaps passive voice is to blame. So how do you edit your work to avoid passive voice? Place the acting subject at the beginning of the sentence or clause. In the case of our two examples, the sentence with Steve at the beginning works best. If you’re editing a sentence without an acting subject, like ‘the sweets were stolen’, then introduce one. By the way, if you don’t want your readers to know who stole the sweets, you’ll need to create a different action – “Sarah discovered her sweets were missing,” for example.  Let’s look at another reason for avoiding the passive voice. Both the example sentences lack detail, and both sentences are examples of ‘summary narration’, which is the opposite of ‘show don\'t tell’, but – crucially – at least sentence one contains within it the possibility of ‘show not tell’. It’s much easier to edit ‘Steve stole the sweets’ than ‘the sweets were stolen’. I could change sentence one to ‘after sunset, Steve crept towards the sweetshop, carrying his torch,’ for example, or for my North American readers: ‘after sundown, Steve crept towards the candy store carrying his flashlight.’  But how would you instil some ‘show not tell’ into sentence two? ‘The sweets in the shop were crept towards after sunset’? That sentence feels all wrong. One way to tell that a sentence contains the passive voice when it shouldn’t is that it will be hard to turn it from summary narration into step-by-step ‘showing’. You might also have the reverse problem: you might be finding it hard to incorporate more showing and less telling because you’ve used the passive voice. If so, decide who is acting in any given section of your story, and place him or her centre stage.   I’ve mentioned that using the active voice matters when you’re telling a story, so novelists and short story writers in particular need to look out for it. But editing for active voice can also be useful in nonfiction and poetry.  Let’s look at nonfiction first.  You may have noticed that I’ve occasionally used the passive voice in this article, and other times I’ve put the acting subject (you, we or I) at the beginning of the sentence. If you’re writing something instructional (a recipe, a ‘how to’ book, this blog post) then you are likely to have to use the passive voice occasionally. But any time you tell a story in nonfiction – whether that’s a book-length project or a feature article – edit for the passive voice. The same rules apply. In poetry, if you’ve included a speaker who’s present during the poem, then look out for the passive voice. It’s hard to change the active, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ into the passive voice but imagine reading ‘lonely wandering like a cloud’ or ‘the hills and dales were wandered over’ instead. Arguably, it’s the ‘I’, or the active subject at the beginning of the first line of Wordsworth’s famous poem, that makes the line powerful. With the lyrical ‘I’ missing, it falls flat. If you are editing a poem right now, and you’re stumped, try adding a lyrical ‘I’ as an experiment (you can blame me if it goes wrong). Put the speaker at the start of at least a couple of lines, like Wordsworth does, and see what happens. Not all poetry needs a lyrical ‘I’, of course, but it’s a fun writing technique to try if you get stuck.  When Is It OK To Use Passive Voice? When adopting an objective tone is important (ie a science report or legal document)When you don’t want the subject of the sentence to influence the messageWhen you want to take yourself or the subject out of the equation and make the object the focus, such as when reprimanding someone. For example: ‘The shoes were on the table’ is less accusatory than ‘You left your shoes on the table.’ Changing Passive Voice To Active Voice Did you learn to write up science experiments at school like this?The magnesium was placed in the test tube. The hydrochloric acid was added using a pipette. A lit paper tab was used to ignite the oxygen. The results were observed and recorded, as follows. Sometimes it’s hard to unlearn the way you were taught to write at school. The following passage describes the same thing, but this time I’ve used the active voice, and I’ve fictionalised: Mr Burns was on fire today, literally. He got us to gather round at the front of the classroom and he poured this stuff – mag something – into a little bottle then he got another bottle out and told us never ever to touch it because it can make your whole mouth fall off and your hair fall out or something and he mixed the two together and there was a brilliant white flame and an explosion and the next thing I remember is the sleeves of Mr Burns’ white coat being on fire, and Maize had aimed a fire extinguisher at him. What’s the difference between the two? One is written in passive voice, appropriately for a science report, and one is written in the active voice, again appropriately for children’s fiction. But that’s not the only difference. The tone and the voice are different too. Stop for a moment and consider the following before using passive voice: What genre are you writing in?PacingPoint of viewTarget readership How To Recognise And Eliminate Passive Voice  Changing from a passive to an active voice often means simply moving the acting subject to the beginning of a sentence. In the example I gave earlier, Steve was the subject and the sweets he stole were the object. The shop was contextual information.  But What If Passive Voice Itself Isn’t Your Biggest Issue?  A mistake I see some beginning fiction writers make is this: they’ll skip over the emotionally hard parts of a scene or avoid writing a difficult scene in its entirety, rather than using step-by-step narration, probably because it’s too painful to write. Sometimes they’ll make it seem impossible to turn these scenes into step-by-step narration because they’ve used the passive voice.  Here\'s an example I made up: The diary she had discovered in the attic turned out to be her mother’s and was duly searched for information that might lead to the solution of the case, but no information was forthcoming. Mavis found it made her feel very tired and weepy and, walking a stretch of the coastal path the next day, many memories flooded back to her.  Let’s imagine this was written by a would-be novelist who thinks they have a problem with the passive voice. Although sorting out the passive voice in this paragraph would help, the writer’s ‘real’ problem is that they’ve tried to skip the emotional aspects of the scene, discovering the diary in the attic, by summarising them instead. We could refer to this problem as skip-itis; the desire to skip a difficult or emotionally charged scene.  If the use of the passive voice is simply a way of summarising the information, it’s not the main problem. You’ll notice that this paragraph also lacks detail and contains little or no characterisation. If this writer described climbing up into the attic to find the old diary step-by-step, using detail and an extra 500 words or more, while focusing on the character, it would be almost impossible to use the passive voice.   The good news is that, as far as my made up would-be novelist is concerned, this example paragraph acts as a mini plan for the scene they\'re going to write Here are some tips to help you to solve this problem: Give yourself enough time to write the emotional or difficult scene.Build in extra breaks – don’t go straight from writing this scene to another task, even if you can only manage a five-minute walk or a cup of tea. Make a start. Begin with something easy, like a main character performing a simple action. In my example, this writer could have said: Mavis climbed the ladder into the attic. Put the character at the beginning of most of your sentences in the first draft.If in doubt, have your character perform an action or series of actions before you summarise or use dialogue or internal monologue. That’s because summary, dialogue and internal monologue (along with passive voice) can all be symptoms of skip-itis. Remember first drafts are meant to be rubbish. They get better every time you redraft. Don’t try to make the scene ‘good’, simply try to get your character from the beginning of the scene to the end.  Passive voice usually takes more words than active voice, so if you get a sense that you’re beating about the bush and taking longer to express an idea than you need to, see if passive voice is to blame.  Using the active voice clarifies the idea you’re trying to express, meaning you get to the point quicker and you can cut extra phrases along the way. If you’re unsure about what you’re trying to say in your writing, or lack confidence, you may have (subconsciously) added padding, extra words that hide the central idea. Changing from the passive to the active voice can be like shining a light on these wordy ‘padded’ sentences.  A Passive Voice Editing Checklist Here’s a handy checklist to use when editing your creative writing and checking for passive voice: Have you used step-by-step narration when it’s needed? Is the action unfolding in front of us?Have you placed the acting subject (probably one of your main characters) at the start of your sentences or clauses, on the whole? Have you made them important by placing them centre stage?Have you skipped any of the emotionally difficult scenes by summarising? Could you make an idea clearer or use fewer words by switching to the active voice?  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What are Literary Devices?

What are Literary Devices? We writers are always looking for ways to strengthen our storytelling. One of the most impactful techniques to do this is using literary devices, which are effective techniques used to hint at different ideas, themes and meanings in a story. Literary devices are used across different genres, and each one serves a specific purpose. They are tools that will take your writing to the next level – making it more impactful and engaging for your readers, hooking them in from the first page until the last. In this guide, we\'ll examine the definitions of literary devices and examples of different literary devices. It\'ll be everything you need to know to maximise the effect of literary devices and use them to strengthen your storytelling.  Understanding Literary Devices A literary device is a technique that writers use to express their ideas and hint at larger themes and meanings in a story. These devices are excellent ways to enhance writing, strengthen the narrative and engage readers, helping them to connect to the characters\' themes.  There are many different styles of literary devices, and most are used in tandem; some are used at sentence level, looking at flow and pacing, while others are a broader approach, serving the story as a whole. Understanding different literary devices and maximising their impact can significantly improve your writing and a reader\'s experience.  Let’s take a look at popular literary devices in more detail and see if there are any you recognise… List of Literary Devices Allegory An allegory is a literary device that uses plot and characters to express and explore abstract and complex ideas. This might be used to present issues in a way that is understandable and approachable for the reader. We see many allegories in fairy tales and Biblical stories.  A literary device similar to this is \'anthropomorphism\' – a type of personification that gives human characteristics to either objects or non-humans, such as animals.  George Orwell\'s Animal Farm is one of the most famous allegorical novels (and is also an example of anthropomorphism in literature). Using animals to represent different political beliefs and the rise of communism, it’s a multi-layered commentary with a strong message beneath the story\'s surface. Alliteration Alliteration is a literary device that is a collection of words or phrases that reflect repetition, and all begin with the same sound. It gives more stress to the consonants and creates something memorable in your writing, particularly when choosing the title of your book. For example, Jane Austen\'s use of alliteration in her book titles, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, made them memorable at the time and classics today. Allusion An allusion is a literary device (not to be confused with \'illusion\') that references something in the real world, whether a person, a place or an event. This device can connect with your readers and paint an accurate picture of a situation. An allusion example is referring to someone as ‘a total Scrooge’. This reference (thanks to Dickens famous work) would immediately paint an accurate picture in a reader\'s mind without elaborating further. They would know this person is tight with money and is miserable and grumpy.  Anachronism An anachronism is a literary device that can portray an intentional error in the era of a story. This device can be used to comment on a theme or even for comedic effect. For example, a character appearing in a different time period, using speech from a different era, or technology appearing before its invention. William Shakespeare used anachronisms in his writing, like the dollar currency in Macbeth and the clock in Julius Caesar (mechanical clocks were not invented in 44 AD). Anaphora Anaphora is a literary device used to emphasise a phrase or words to reinforce meaning and feelings for the reader. This is when a word or phrase is repeated, typically at the beginning of successive sentences or phrases.  The perfect anaphora can be found in the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett - \"You is kind. You is smart. You is important.\" This quote reinforces the relationship between the two characters. A famous example in speech is Winston Churchill\'s ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches.’ He rallied the troops and the British people in this speech, and throughout it, repeated the phrase \"we shall fight\" – invoking strong responses and stirring emotions.  Anthropomorphism We touched on anthropomorphism earlier when we discussed an allegory. To anthropomorphise is to ascribe human traits, emotions or behaviours to non-human beings, like objects, animals or phenomena. This literary device differs from personification, which creates imagery, as anthropomorphism is literal. For example, Cogsworth the clock and Lumière the candlestick in Disney\'s Beauty and the Beast are household objects that act and behave like humans. And Pinocchio was anthropomorphised when he gained the ability to talk, walk, think, and feel like a real boy. Archetype An archetype is a literary device that brings familiarity to a story – it\'s typically a \"universal symbol\" with qualities or traits that readers can easily identify. This literary device is used to reveal characters, images or themes that are instantly recognisable to any audience. The literary Hero Archetype, for example, is typically noble, courageous, self-sacrificing and will right wrongs and fight injustice. Cliffhanger A cliffhanger is a classic literary device used as an effective way to keep your reader\'s attention – such as the revelation of who Luke\'s father is in The Empire Strikes Back. It marks the end of a part of the story (the end of a chapter or TV episode), but with the purpose of keeping an audience engaged. A common way to do this is through shock factor, an abrupt ending offering no obvious resolution (until the person turns the page, buys the next book, or watches the next episode).  Colloquialism Colloquialism uses informal language and slang, and when used as a literary device, it can build a character\'s personality and authenticity through their dialogue. A colloquialism is a word or expression common within a specific language, geographic region, or historical era. Therefore, it can also indicate the setting of a story in the context of time and place. The language Holden Caulfield uses in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is a great example of colloquialism.  Dramatic irony Dramatic irony is a literary device used to create situations where the audience knows more than the characters. Therefore, the actions of the characters have a different meaning for the audience. Typically, this device often lends itself to tragedy, as demonstrated in Shakespeare\'s Romeo and Juliet, when the audience knows that the lovers are both alive but the characters think the other is dead.  Dramatic irony is not to be confused with situational irony (when readers expect a certain outcome and are surprised by an unexpected turn of events) and verbal irony (when the intended meaning of a statement is the opposite of what was said). Exposition Exposition is a crucial literary device – it is when the narrative provides background information about events, settings, characters or any other relevant element to help the reader understand what\'s going on. It is typically used in conjunction with dialogue and description, offering a richer understanding of the story.  Exposition is presented through many methods, including dialogue, a protagonist\'s thoughts, a narrator\'s explanation or in-universe media, such as letters and newspapers. For example, in the Star Wars movies, the opening title sequence gives the audience the information they need to understand the upcoming events in the film: \"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….\" Beware, though, that too much exposition runs the risk of undercutting the emotional impact of a story. As we all know, ‘show’ don’t ‘tell’ where possible. Flashback A flashback is a literary device used to split up the current scenes in a story and look back to something that has happened in the past. It is typically used to build suspense. Flashbacks can also present exposition (revealing information or context about something that\'s happened in the past). Examples of flashbacks include memories and dream sequences. In Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the alternate chapters in the first part of the book are flashbacks through the medium of diary entries.  Foreshadowing Foreshadowing is a literary device that can create and build suspense by indicating or hinting to readers that something will happen later in a story. It creates dramatic tension and can often be used in conjunction with flashbacks. However, the difference between the two is that a flashback directly offers readers exposition or background information. In contrast, foreshadowing is a little more subtle and gives just a hint or a sense of what is to come. The symbolism of Harry Potter\'s scar is an excellent example of foreshadowing.  Frame story A frame story is when the main or supporting character tells part of the story or narrative. The frame story essentially \"frames\" another part of it. This device supports the rest of the plot – it is typically used at the beginning or the end of a story, or in small interludes in-between. The movie Titanic is a great example of this. The main plot is set in 1912, but Rose frames the narrative when she looks back over what happened and tells a story within a story.  Humour Humour is a literary device to make readers laugh or keep them amused. It can be difficult to do, as it relies on instinct, making it harder to teach or learn. But there are different techniques, tools and words that can bring funny situations to life and achieve the goal of making an audience happy. Different types of humour include slapstick, surprise, sarcasm and hyperbole, among many others. Humour isn\'t only present in contemporary writing, as Jane Austen used humour throughout Pride and Prejudice, especially in conveying the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet.  Imagery Imagery is a literary device that evokes a sensory experience for the reader by using highly descriptive language. Strong imagery will paint a picture by following the rules of \'show, don\'t tell.\' It means playing to the reader\'s senses by describing sights, tastes, sounds, smells and feelings to bring a scene, character or situation to life. An example of this in Shakespeare\'s work is in The Taming of the Shrew: \"If I be waspish, best beware my sting.\" In Medias Res In Media Res is a literary device used when a narrative begins without exposition or contextual information. It is a Latin term that means \"in the midst of things\". Therefore, the story launches straight into a scene or in the middle of an already unfolding action, creating suspense and tension immediately. Odyssey by Homer is a famous example of this. Irony Verbal irony is when the intended meaning of a statement is the opposite of what was said. It is not to be confused with situational irony; a literary device used when readers expect a certain outcome and are surprised by an unexpected turn of events. There is also dramatic irony, a literary device used to create situations where the audience knows more than the characters. An example of irony in a plot is demonstrated in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, when the characters already have what they are asking for from the wizard. Juxtaposition Juxtaposition is a literary device used to place different themes, characters, or concepts and highlight their differences. Instead of being overtly comparative, juxtaposition is an implied comparison, allowing the reader to discern how both entities are different. Juxtaposition can take many forms, such as human instinct and animal instinct in Life of Pi, and kindness and selfishness in Cinderella. Motif A motif is a repeated element, whether it takes the form of an image, idea, sound or word that has symbolic significance in a story. The defining aspect of this literary device is that it repeats frequently. Through repetition, the motif helps develop the narrative\'s theme and illuminates the central ideas, theme or deeper meaning of the story. Motifs are not to be confused with symbols, which may appear once or twice and help understand an idea in the narrative. An example of a motif is in the Godfather series, through the repetition of oranges featured on screen before a character dies. Another example is in Tolstoy\'s Anna Karenina – trains are a repetitive motif that ultimately symbolises death and destruction. Onomatopoeia Onomatopoeia refers to words that imitate the sound of what they\'re referring to. It can be used as a literary device to make descriptions more expressive and, therefore, more effective. For example, words such as buzz, snap and grunt are frequently used in children\'s books to add action and emotion to a story.  Oxymoron An oxymoron is a figure of speech that pairs two words together that are either opposing or contradictory. It can be used as a literary device to allow writers to take a creative approach and play with the use and meaning of words. As a result, it can create an impression and entertain the reader. An oxymoron is about words, not to be confused with juxtaposition, which contrasts two opposing story elements. An example of an oxymoron is in Shakespeare\'s Romeo and Juliet: \"Parting is such sweet sorrow.\" Paradox A paradox is typically a statement that might appear contradictory at first but makes sense after reflection. It\'s a literary device that asks people to think outside the box by questioning the logic and provoking readers to think critically. A paradox can also elicit humour and illustrate themes, such as in Scarface: \"Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.\"  Personification Personification means assigning human traits to describe non-human entities or inanimate objects to express something creatively and imaginatively. It is not to be confused with anthropomorphism, which actually applies these traits to non-human things – whereas personification means the behaviour of the object or entity does not change – it\'s personified in figurative language only. This literary device might be used to create life and explore abstract ideas and themes within inanimate objects and animals by applying human behaviours and emotions. For example, Shirley Jackson\'s The Haunting of Hill House turns the house into a living entity through personification.  Point of view Point of view is a vital literary device, as it\'s the angle of perspective in the narration of a story. It\'s a crucial decision because each point of view will have a different impact on the story and the reader\'s experience. The point of view effectively governs the audience\'s access and determines how much they will know as the story develops.  The most common points of view in literature are the first and third person. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The first-person narrative (using pronouns I/we) allows the writer to connect with the reader, as this perspective means the reader has access to the narrator\'s inner thoughts and feelings.  An example of a first-person point of view is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, when the story is told by Scout. From a storytelling perspective, the third person narrative (using pronouns she/he/they) is flexible because it allows you to write from multiple characters\' perspectives and show their actions and thoughts. An example of the third-person (omniscient) point of view is Middlemarch by George Eliot. The second person point of view is less common, as it uses the pronoun \"you\" to bring the reader into the story, for example, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Repetition Repetition means intentionally repeating a word or phrase two or more times. While you don\'t want to overdo it, occasional repetition can be an excellent tool to bring clarity to an idea, make something memorable for a reader, drill home a point or create an atmosphere. The best example of this is in horror stories, as horror writers use repetition as a literary device to make readers feel trapped. For example, in The Shining, Jack repeatedly types out \"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.\" This reveals Jack\'s downward spiral as cabin fever takes over. It is not to be confused with anaphora, which is specific in its intent to repeat, and the repetition is typically at the beginning of consecutive sentences, phrases, or clauses.  Satire Satire is a literary device used to make fun of human nature or society to expose or correct it. It is typically done through exaggeration, amusement, contempt, ridicule or irony, usually with the hope of creating awareness and subsequent social change. Satire can be overt or subtle but is common throughout history and popular culture. Examples of this in film and T.V. include Deadpool (satirises the superhero genre), Shrek (satirises fairy tales) and Family Guy (satirises American middle-class society and conventions). Situational irony Situational irony is a literary device used when readers expect a certain outcome and are surprised by an unexpected turn of events. This is not to be confused with verbal irony or dramatic irony, which we already covered. An example of situational irony in a plot is demonstrated in the T.V. programme Schitt\'s Creek when a wealthy family is catapulted into a less privileged life.  Soliloquy A soliloquy is typically a speech or monologue involving a character speaking their thoughts out loud and usually at length. These are frequently in theatrical plays. The purpose of this as a literary device is for the character to reflect independently – they\'re not speaking for the benefit of other people. It\'s an effective device because it offers insight into a character\'s internal thoughts, reflections and emotions. Shakespeare\'s Hamlet\'s \"to be or not to be\" speech is a classic example of a soliloquy.  Suspense Suspense is a vital tool that writers use to keep their readers interested throughout the story. There are many ways to use suspense as a literary device. For example, raising questions and withholding information. The purpose of suspense is to create a feeling of anticipation that something exciting, risky or even dangerous will happen. It helps readers to engage with characters and evokes emotions, such as sympathy, towards them.  In Gillian Flynn\'s Sharp Objects, the dark atmosphere creates questions about what is happening in her hometown and how the complex protagonist will deal with it when she\'s already struggling with complex personal issues. Symbolism Symbolism means using symbols – a word, object, character, action or concept – in a story. These symbols can represent abstract concepts and ideas beyond the literal meaning and evoke additional meaning and significance. This is not to be confused with a motif, which is an element that\'s repeated frequently to develop the narrative and illuminate the central themes or ideas in a story. An example of symbolism would be The Great Gatsby, when Fitzgerald uses the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg to represent God and his judgment of the Jazz Age. Tone The tone of a story is crucial for any writer, as it refers to the overall mood and message of the story. Tone is a literary device that sets readers\' feelings and can be established broadly through voice, themes, characterisation and symbolism. The techniques can be even more specific through word choice, punctuation and sentence structure. Tone can range from cheerful and humourous, to melancholic and regretful. Through tone, the writer essentially creates a relationship with the reader, which influences the intention and meaning of the words. This is why tone is so important. For example, the tone of Charles Dickens\' A Tale of Two Cities demonstrates that the story is serious due to the formal, rich language he used. Tragicomedy A tragicomedy is a blend of both tragedy and comedy that typically helps a reader process darker themes by adding humour and helping them laugh at a situation, even when the circumstances are bleak. When using this literary device, the characters are typically exaggerated, with jokes throughout the story, and sometimes there might be a happy ending. An example of this is Lemony Snicket\'s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which uses bizarre situations and over-the-top characters to provide light in an otherwise tragic story. Make your Story Stronger Strengthening our storytelling abilities is something we writers are always working on (our blog is an excellent resource for this) and a good grasp of the most effective literary devices is certainly beneficial for authors. Literary devices are tools that will take your writing to the next level – making it more impactful and engaging for your readers, hooking them in from the first page until the last. This is exactly what we want to do when telling a story, so these techniques are worth bearing in mind when writing.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Punctuation for Writers: Tips & Advice

Punctuation for Writers of Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction Punctuation matters. Correct punctuation tells the reader how to read the words you have on the page: where to put the pauses, how to make sense of your sentences. It’s not too much to say that bad punctuation will kill a book. It’ll get rejected by agents and readers alike. Trying to sell a badly punctuated manuscript is like going on a date wearing last week’s jogging pants. The underlying problem is the same in both cases. The badly punctuated manuscript and the dirty jogging bottoms both say, “I don’t care.” I don’t care about you, my hot date. I don’t care about you, my precious reader. Any sane date will just make their excuses and leave. A reader will do the same – and quite right too. So here goes with a quick guide to the major punctuation marks. In each case, we’ll talk about: The basic ruleThe most common punctuation errors that writers makeMore advanced ways to use the tool Most of you reading this will know the basic rules. Even so, it’s likely that you’ll be committing at least some of the errors some of the time (a few of them are very common indeed.) And pretty much everyone will get at least something from thinking about how to use punctuation marks in a more sophisticated, writerly way. The Period, Or Full Stop (.) OK, you know when to use this little beast. You use it at the end of sentences, so long as those sentences aren’t questions or exclamations (in which case you’d use the “?” or “!” instead.) Easy, right? The Most Common Error One of the most prevalent errors in manuscripts written by first time writers is the so-called run-on sentence. It looks something like this: She was a breath of fresh air in our little town, she came into school on her first day with a bunch of garden flowers for the teacher and home-made candy for us, her schoolmates, it should have looked cheesy, but we fell in love with her on the spot. The error here is simple. The writer is using commas (“,”) where they should be using periods. The result is like someone just gabbling in your face, yadda-yadda-yadda, without giving you a chance to draw a breath or reflect. The solution is simple. You chop the sentence up with periods, to produce this: She was a breath of fresh air in our little town. She came into school on her first day with a bunch of garden flowers for the teacher and home-made candy for us, her schoolmates. It should have looked cheesy, but we fell in love with her on the spot. Phew! That’s a mile better already. Notice that there’s still a comma dividing two of the sentences (“It should have looked cheesy” and “we fell in love with her.”) The grammar-reason why that comma is OK is that you have “but” – a conjunction, a connector word – joining the two sentences. In a way, though, I’d prefer you to forget about the grammar and just listen to the rhythms. Say the first snippet out loud, then the second one. If it feels right, it is right. That’s pretty much all the grammar you are ever going to need. More Advanced Ways to Use the Tool Back at school, you were probably told to avoid sentence fragments – the name given to sentences that lack a main verb. (Like this one, for example.) That’s rather old-fashioned advice in some ways, and it’s certainly unhelpful advice to offer when it comes to writing fiction or creative non-fiction. Take my own work. My narrator is jerky, tough, awkward, abrupt. Her voice is all those things too, and the consequence is that her prose makes use of a lot of sentence fragments. For instance: There’s a woman at the wheel. Forties, maybe. Blonde. Shoulder-length hair held back in a grip. Blue woollen coat worn over a dark jumper.I kick the door. Hard. I’m wearing boots and kick hard enough to dent the panel. Pretty clearly here, the periods are dividing my language up into units of meaning, not into sentences. The words Blonde and Hard are just words, after all. They’re not even attempting to be complete sentences. Equally clearly, my narrator’s language forces that kind of punctuation on the manuscript. If you wanted to follow the “period = end of sentence” rule, you’d have to rewrite the text so it looked something like this: There’s a woman at the wheel. She is in her forties, maybe. Her blonde, shoulder-length hair is held back in a grip. She wears a blue woollen coat worn over a dark jumper. [and so on] That’s not just differently punctuated. It has a different tone, a different mood. It’s perfectly fine writing … but it’s not what I wanted. The “correct” punctuation ends up destroying the voice I worked hard to create. As a rough, rough guide, literary fiction will tend to have relatively few sentence fragments, while crime thrillers and the like will have many more. But fiction is much more supple than that general rule suggests. So yes, my character is tough. Yes, she uses lots of sentences fragments in approved noir style. But she also reflects on philosophy, quotes poetry, introspects extensive, and so on. In the end, you build from the character to the voice to the punctuation. It makes no sense to try building the other way. The Exclamation Mark (!) An exclamation mark (or point) marks an exclamation, denotes shouting, or otherwise gives emphasis to a sentence. It’s like a shouty form of a period. But watch out! You think you know how to use the exclamation mark, but … The Most Common Error The most common error is to use the exclamation mark! It’s fine in emails. It’s OK-ish in blog posts. But in novels? Avoid it. As Scott Fitzgerald remarked, “An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” It’s like you’re trying to make your punctuation compensate for a failure of your actual writing. If you want a rough rule of thumb, you can use one or maximum two exclamation marks per 100,000 words of prose. If you have zero, that’s just fine. And never, ever have a double or treble exclamation mark in your text. What’s fine on Twitter, looks just awful on the printed page. More Advanced Ways to (Not) Use the Tool So if I (like most pro authors) hate the exclamation mark, what do you do instead? After all, there may be occasions where you feel your work actually needs the emphasis. But consider these alternatives: #1 “Go get it.”#2 “Go get it!”#3 “Go get it,” he ordered her, sharply. Those options are ranked in approximate order of shoutiness. The first option doesn’t feel especially emphatic. The addition of the exclamation mark adds a little force. The third option adds even more, via a highly coloured verb and adverb combo. But neither of the last two options is great. And the issue here is simply this: the actual bit of underlying dialogue is fairly colourless, and that’s not going to change, no matter how many toppings you put on. In other words, if you started out with option #1 and found yourself thinking, “Hmm, this feels a little bland, so let’s get out the heavy-duty punctuation,” that should be a signal that you need to rewrite things. So a better option than either #1, #2 or #3 above would be: #4 “Go get it. Get it now. Give it to me. Never take it again.” You’re not using anything more than a common old period there, and you’re not resorting to ordering sharply, yelling loudly, yodelling wildly or exclaiming defiantly. But because your dialogue is now unmistakeably emphatic, it’s fine on its own. If the burger tastes great, you don’t need the relish. The Ellipsis (…) An ellipsis is a bit of a slippery brute. What it does is mark the fact that some words are missing. So, in dialogue, for example, people will often trail off, rather than actually complete a sentence. That much is easy – but how do you actually write it? Three dots is pretty much universal, but do you have spaces between them? Do you have a space before and after the ellipsis? And if you have the ellipsis at the start of a sentence, do you have a period (to denote the end of the previous sentence), then a space, then the ellipsis? That option sounds technically correct, but also rather fussy. The good news for you is that none of this really matters. Different style authorities advise different things, with some variation between British and American usage. And in the end, who really cares? Your editor won’t. Your agent won’t. Your reader won’t. It’s just not a big deal. I’d suggest, in general, that you use three dots without spacing in between, but with a space before and after. Like so: “Oh, Jen, if you really think that, then we should … I mean, maybe this was never meant to be.” The Most Common Error As with exclamation marks, the primary error is to overuse these little beasts. What works fine in an email, quickly looks annoying on the printed page. But whereas I’d advise you to hunt the exclamation mark almost to extinction, you can let the ellipsis breathe, just a little. One ellipsis per chapter is probably too many, but you’d have to be quite a fussy ready to object to half a dozen, or even a dozen, over the course of a full length novel. More Advanced Ways to Use the Tool As with the exclamation mark, the best way to use the ellipsis is to let it nudge you into querying your own writing. If you feel yourself wanting to use the ellipsis, just check that it’s not your writing that needs to change. In nine out of ten cases, adjusting your text will be a better option than using the ellipsis. The Semi-Colon ( ; ) The semi-colon is a divider, the way commas and periods are dividers. The comma is the lightest of these in weight: it inserts the shortest of pauses. The period inserts the maximum pause. The semi-colon lives somewhere in between. Here’s an example of all three in action: It never normally rained, but the weather that day was awful.(comma = minimal pause)It never normally rained; my mother didn’t even own an umbrella(semi-colon = mid-weight pause)It never normally rained. That day, though, there was a deluge.(period = strongest pause) And look: you can live without the semi-colon completely. Personally, I quite like semi-colons, but my narrator, Fiona Griffiths, never uses them, so in about 750,000 words of published Fiona Griffiths’ novels, there’s only one semi-colon – and that enters the text via a direct quote from Wikipedia. Short message: if the semi-colon scares you, it’s fine to leave it well alone. The Most Common Error There are no common errors with semi-colons, except maybe overuse by people thinking they’re fancy. More Advanced Ways to Use the Tool Thinking of semi-colons as a middle-weight pause is technically correct, but it misses something, nevertheless. A better way to conceive of the mark is this: You need a semi-colon when you have two sentences, and the second one corrects or modifies the meaning of the first. So take those examples above. We used a semi-colon in this context: It never normally rained; my mother didn’t even own an umbrella. The first sentence is, in effect, adjusted by the second. The semi-colon tells us to read the second sentence as a kind of comment on the first one: “look, here’s just how much it never rained.” Or, if you want a slightly more grown-up example, here’s William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury: Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. But you can get too hung up on these things. Arguably, sentences that speak about each other shouldn’t need any punctuation to get their point across. The text itself should handle the communication just fine. So there’ll be plenty of writers (including my narrator) who’d agree with Kurt Vonnegut’s lesson in creative writing: First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. And who cares if you’ve been to college, right? Parenthesis Brackets () | Dashes – – | Commas ,, There are three types of parenthesis you can use. They are: Commas: The comma, always a useful creature, can be used to separate one clause from the rest.Dashes: The dash – a more forceful beast – can be used in much the same way.Brackets: The bracket (perfectly fine in non-fiction) is relatively rare in fiction. But these three are not equivalent, and not equally common. I just opened up my Word document that contains the entire Fiona Griffiths series, and checked to see how many of each punctuation mark I used. In about 650,000 words of text, I used: 39,000 commas, of which, admittedly, many thousand wouldn’t be parenthetical.5,000 dashes, though most of these were actually hyphens, as in “short-tempered”. So I’m going to guess maybe only 1,000 actual dashes.100 brackets, of which many were things like “in Paragraph 22(c)”, where the use of the bracket isn’t really a parenthesis in the normal way. The Most Common Error There are two common errors when it comes to parenthesis. The first error is not to use anything to mark off a clause from the rest of a sentence resulting in (often, but not always) a sentence that is just plain hard to read. For example: The comma always a useful creature can be used to separate one clause from the rest. Tucking commas in around the useful-creature clause makes the meaning pop right out. The second error is kind of the opposite. It’s as though writers get worried that commas aren’t emphatic enough, so they start clamping their text inside brackets, like this: She couldn’t get enough of him (understandable, given her past), so she tried to find reasons why he couldn’t leave. And that feels heavy-handed. A simple rewrite releases the sentence and lets it breathe: Understandably, given her tangled past, she couldn’t get enough of him and she tried to find reasons why he couldn’t leave. There’s more flow there. Less sense of an author forcing information at you. The no-brackets alternative seems much more natural to fiction. The with-brackets version is better suited to the information-delivery task of non-fiction. More Advanced Ways to Use Parenthesis The real trick with parenthesis – and with commas particularly – is to learn to feel the weight of a sentence. In most cases, commas will cover your parenthetical needs. If you need to rewrite something to make it work, then rewrite it. If you need the greater weight of dashes, then go for it, but recognise that you are, in a small way, pulling on the handbrake mid-sentence. If that’s what you want, fine. In many cases, there’ll be better options. Oh, and though I personally never read my text out loud, lots of authors swear by it – and any hiccups or awkwardness as you read is a huge clue that your punctuation or your text (or both) are at fault. Hyphens and Dashes The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash We can’t quite leave a post about punctuation without talking about the various dashes available to you. Specifics in one second, but first, a public annoucement: The specifics don’t really matter. Yes, a lot of writers (especially those college-educated brutes that got Vonnegut all riled up) care a lot about their en dashes and their em dashes. But if you’ve never spent a moment caring about them in the past, you don’t have to worry that you’ve been doing something very wrong. You haven’t. Any “errors” on this scale will bother almost nobody – neither readers, nor agents. So, here’s what hyphens and dashes are and how to use them. The Hyphen The hyphen is on your keyboard as a minus sign. You use it to connect words, as for example: The hot-headed wood-cutter tip-toed past the one-eyed she-wolf. Apart from a slight anxiety about whether a hyphen is needed in a particular context (is it woodcutter or wood-cutter?), it’s hard to get these little fellows wrong. Oh, and although everyone will have a house-style defining when to use hyphens, everyone’s style guide will be a bit different, so there’s often not a clear right and wrong here anyway. The En Dash The en dash is so called because it is a dash approximately the same width as the letter N. And it doesn’t live on your keyboard anywhere: you have to give it life and breath all by yourself. You do this by hitting Ctrl and the minus sign at the same time, to give yourself something that looks like this: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) As that example suggests, it’s used mostly for dates, or for things that feel much the same, for example: Washington–New York (in the context of a flight timetable, for example.) The Em Dash The em dash is so called because … well, you’re going to have to guess which letter-width it’s named after. You create this little critter in Word by hitting Ctrl-Alt-minus. And the em dash performs the following functions: It marks an interruption in dialogue.“The buried treasure,” he said, as he lay dying, “the treasure can be found just to the right of the old—”It marks a parenthesis in the middle of a sentence.The em dash—more forceful than commas—marks out a parenthesis in the middle of a sentence.But it can also mark out a parenthesis at the end of a sentence.He was allergic to fruit, sunshine, exercise and soap—or so he always insisted.(The “so he always insisted” part is the parenthesis here. If you were using brackets, that whole end chunk would be enclosed in brackets.)It can be used as a slightly informal colon.The result of that informal colon—often a little hint of comedy, or something of a “ta-daa” quality.It marks deleted or redacted words.The accuser, Ms — —, struck a defiant tone in court. Best practice is generally to use the em dash without a space before or after, but that’s one of those things that doesn’t actually matter. Newspapers tend to use spaces and British usage is much more tolerant of spacing and lots of people just don’t know the rules anyway. That’s it from me. Beautiful punctuation is often a sign of careful writing and a beautifully readable book. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

Vivid Verbs – The Easy Way to Spice up Your Writing

The ultimate guide on how to use verbs in your writing, including vivid verb examples and a handy list of over 333 strong verbs! Sometimes you write something and it just feels… dead. So you go to work on it, juicing it up with adjectives and adverbs. Trying to put a sparkle into your writing. Only then do you take a step back and look again. And what you have is actually worse. It’s still flat, but somehow trying too hard at the same time. Like playing canned laughter at your own bad party. So let’s pare back and go back to basics. Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.From The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions.Stephen King Others, such as Elmore Leonard and Mark Twain, seem to agree. So what’s the problem that all these authors are getting riled up about? The fix sounds simple enough, and yet we may still find ourselves asking: exactly what are vivid verbs? Weak Verb + Adverb Versus Strong Verb Take a look at these sentences: “No, Thomas,” she said very quietly.He ran as quickly as he possibly could to the station.She jumped as high as she knew how off the diving platform. The words in italics are either adverbs or (same basic idea) adverbial phrases. And don’t you feel how cluttered they are? Don’t you feel like there are a lot of words being used there to communicate very little? Here’s how we could have done it: “No, Thomas,” she whispered.He raced to the station.She leapt off the diving platform. Fewer words. No adverbs. Simple, effective communication. Doing more with less. And that’s the basic idea about vivid verbs. If you use the right verb, you will communicate more swiftly and effectively than if you choose the wrong one to start with – then try to patch the damage with yet more verbiage. OK. So that’s a win. But there’s more to explore here – because, yes, there’s another way to go wrong with creative writing verbs, and it’s this. State of Being Verbs Take a look at these sentences: Jerry was a great believer in the virtues of cold water.Jemima was never out of bed before midday. Notice that both those sentences use a state-of-being verb (in this case, “was”) to link a person to something about that person. And, OK, there are plenty of times when that’s a perfectly fine approach. None of the issues raised in this blog post are rules; they’re more like guidelines, or at least useful things to think about. But in this case, both sentences could be made better by using a more active verb – a vivid verb – in place of that state of being one. Here’s how those sentences could have gone: Jerry believed passionately in the virtues of cold water.Jemima lay in bed well beyond midday. Better right? Jerry is now doing something, not just being something. And in Jemima’s case, we’ve removed that negative / state of being approach, and made a positive statement about her indolence. Both sentences seem somehow more active, more emphatic. Oh yes: and you probably noticed that, in the sentence about Jerry, I slipped the word passionately in there. That’s optional, but if you want to strengthen the verb, you can. There’s no neat one-word way to say “believed passionately”, so using an adverb there is certainly a legitimate choice. There Is / There Are Another perfectly valid construction in English is to start a sentence with “there is” or “there are”. For example: There were countless trees in that forest and only one of them…There are many opportunities at this company… Those sentences are not grammatically wrong. You won’t get shot if you use them. But… Well, we could do better right? For example: Countless trees peopled that forest and only one of them…This company offers many opportunities… Boom! In the first case, we’ve got rid of a horrible empty construction (“there were”), we’ve used a good strong verb (“peopled”), and the whole sentence has got better. It feels like that forest is more alive, more exciting. That’s a perfect demonstration of how a good vivid verb can help fix an underpowered sentence. Same thing with the next sentence too. In the first version, the “company” features only as an afterthought. In the second version, it is actively offering something – it’s the subject of its own sentence and its generosity seems now like a positive act. And note the role of the verb here. The act of generosity is encapsulated in that verb, “offers”. We’ve killed a weak verb, added a vivid one – and our sentence has improved. Better right? And so damn easy. Passive Verbs vs Active Verbs Let’s take a look at two more sentences. The cake was made by my grandma.The fender was bent out of shape by a fallen branch. And yes: you spotted the issue there. In both cases, the sentences use the passive voice, not the active voice. So the person who actually made the cake was grandma. The thing that actually bent that fender was the branch. (Need more help remembering the difference between active versus passive? Check out this easy guide.) So in effect, both sentences pushed the real subject to the back of the sentence, almost as though shoving them out of sight. Here’s how to rewrite those sentences and make them better: My grandma made the cake.A fallen branch bent the fender. (Yes, you could say “out of shape” but doesn’t the word bent already convey exactly that? I think it does.) But again, I want to remind you that we’re dealing with guidelines not rules here. Which of these is better: Detective Jonas arrested and charged the suspect.The suspect was arrested and charged. The first sentence is all about the admirable Detective Jonas. But what if we don’t care about him? What if this story is all about the suspect, and what happens to him? In that case, the second sentence is better. In fact, the use of the passive voice here almost emphasises the suspect’s powerlessness. As always in writing, you need to use your judgement. And if in doubt, you can find extra help here and here! Sometimes Weak Verbs Are OK And while we’re on the issue of judgement, let’s just remember that sometimes weak verbs are really OK. For example, you can’t get a much blander verb than say / said. So you might think that your dialogue should be littered with words like trumpeted, shouted, asserted, called, whispered, muttered, declaimed, hollered, and so on. But can you imagine how ridiculous that would get how quickly? And what do you want people to pay attention to? The dialogue itself, or your comments about it? There’s no contest. In other words: weak / dull / lifeless verbs are fine when you don’t especially want to call attention to that part of your writing. Let the dialogue shine. The rest of it can just go quietly about its job. The Ultimate List Of 333+ Strong Verbs OK. That’s a lot of preamble. But you want some vivid verbs? You got em. Here goes, grouped by the kind of word they might replace: Instead of say: Ask, enquire, reply, answer, state, hiss, whisper, mumble, mutter, comment, bark, assert, shout, yell, holler, roar, rage, argue, implore, plead, exclaim, gasp, drawl, giggle, whimper, snort, growl, scream, sing, stammer Instead of run: Sprint, dart, bolt, canter, gallop, trot, zoom, hurry, speed, jog, saunter, scamper, hurtle, rush, scramble, spring, swing, swoop, dive, careen Instead of walk: Stroll, hike, promenade, saunter, march, amble, stride, tread, pace, toddle, totter, stagger, perambulate Instead of look: Observe, glance, stare, examine, peek, study, notice, see, glare Instead of go: Leave, depart, shift, take off, move on, quit, exit, take a hike, travel, drive, proceed, progress, run, walk away Instead of eat: Pick at, nibble, munch, chew, gobble, devour, consume, demolish, gulp, swallow, scarf, wolf Instead of hold: Grip, clench, grasp, seize, reach, embrace, clamp, clench, clasp, grab Instead of give: Provide, offer, present, hand over, deliver, contribute, furnish, donate, bequeath, pass over, pass to, extend, assign, allow, lend, bestow, grant, award, confer Instead of let: Allow, permit, authorise, agree to, consent to, accede to, give permission for Instead of put: Place, set, lay, position, settle, leave, situate, locate, plant, deposit, plonk, plunk Instead of pull: Yank, heave, haul, draw, cart, lug, hump, drag, tow, jerk, attract, pluck, wrench Instead of move: Progress, transfer, shift, topple, change, redeploy, refocus, relocate, prod, nudge, induce, cause, budge, stir, lead, encourage, propose, induce, slink, scamper, careen, zip, ram, drift, droop, heave, edge, stalk, tiptoe, creep, crawl, plod, waddle, drag, stagger Sensory verbs / quiet: Sigh, murmur, rustle, hum, patter, clink, tinkle, chime, whir, swish, snap, twitter, hiss, crackle, peep, bleat, buzz Sensory verbs / noisy: Crash, thunder, clap, stomp, beat, squawk, shout, yell, explode, smash, detonate, boom, echo, bark, bawl, clash, smash, jangle, thump, grate, screech, bang, thud, blare Instead of tell: Order, command, instruct, dictate, require, insist, warn, caution, decree, mandate, charge, direct, dominate, lead, rule Instead of like: Love, adore, yearn, treasure, worship, prefer, idolise, cherish, admire, enjoy, be fond of, be keen on, be partial to, fancy, care for, appreciate, hold dear Instead of want: Desire, crave, covet, yearn for, aspire to, envy, fancy, require, wish for, hanker after, need, lack, miss, aim for, choose Instead of cover: Bury, wrap, conceal, mask, veil, hide, cloak, shroud envelope, obscure, blanket, curtain Instead of throw: Toss, lob, chuck, heave, fling, pitch, shy, hurl, propel, bowl, cast, drop, project Instead of surprise: Confuse, puzzle, bewilder, baffle, bamboozle, disconcert, flummox, perplex Have fun, my friends, and happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

How To Write Descriptions And Create A Sense Of Place

Your first job as a storyteller is a simple one, and a crucial one. You have to get your passengers into your train – your readers into your story. Only then can you hope to transport them. And that crucial first step doesn’t have much to do with characters or story or anything else. What matters first is this: your fictional world has to seem real. It has to grip the reader as intensely as real life – more intensely, even. Writing descriptions that seem vivid, with the use of evocative language, is therefore essential. The buildings, cities, places, rooms, trees, weather of your fictional world have to be convincing there. They have to have an emphatic, solid, believable presence. A big ask, right? But it gets harder than that. Because at the same time, people don’t want huge wodges of descriptive writing. They want to engage with characters and story, because that’s the reason they picked up your book in the first place. So your challenge becomes convincing readers that your world is real . . . but using only the lightest of touches to achieve that goal. Not so easy, huh? Start Early Set the scene early on – then nudge. It may sound obvious but plenty of writers launch out into a scene without giving us any descriptive material to place and anchor the action. Sure, a page or so into the scene, they may start to add details to it – but by that point it’s too late. They’ve already lost the reader. If the scene feels placeless at the start – like actors speaking in some blank, white room – you won’t be able to wrestle that sense of place back later. So start early. That means telling the reader where they are in a paragraph (or so), close to the start of any new scene. That early paragraph needs to have enough detail that if you are creating a coffee shop, for example, it doesn’t just feel like A Generic Coffee Shop. It should feel like its own thing. One you could actually walk into. Something with its own mood and colour. One vivid descriptive detail will do more work for you than three worthy but colourless sentences. And once, early in your scene, you’ve created your location, don’t forget about it. Just nudge a little as you proceed. So you could have your characters talking – then they’re interrupted by a waitress. Then they talk (or argue, or fight, or kiss) some more, and then you drop in some other detail which reminds the reader, “Yep, here we still are, in this coffee shop.” That’s a simple technique, bit it works every time. One paragraph early on, then nudge, nudge, nudge. As the roughest of rough guides, those nudges need to happen at least once a page – so about every 300 words. If it’s natural to do so more often, that’s totally fine. Be Specific Details matter! They build a sense of place like nothing else. Gabriel García Márquez, opening One Hundred Years of Solitude, introduces his village like this: Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. Boom! We’re there. In his world. In his village. Already excited to see what lies ahead. And yes, he’s started early (Chapter 1, Page 1, Line 1). But it’s more than that, isn’t it? He could have written something like this: Macondo was a village of about twenty houses, built on a riverbank. I hope it’s obvious that that sentence hardly transports us anywhere. It’s too bland. Too unfocused. Too generic. There are literally thousands of villages in the world which would fit that description. In short, what makes Marquez’s description so vivid is its use of telling detail. They’re not just houses, they’re adobe houses. The river doesn’t just flow over stones, its flows over polished stones that are white and enormous, like (wow!) prehistoric eggs. The sentence works so well because Marquez has: Created something totally non-genericVia the use of highly specific detail, andUses surprising / exotic language to make those details blaze in our imagination. That basic template is one you can use again and again. It never stales. It lies at the heart of all good descriptive writing. So here, for example, is a more ‘boring’ space . . . but still one redolent with vividness and atmosphere thanks to the powerful use of atmospheric specificity. In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred introduces her room with details that not only grab us but hint at something dark: A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath and in the centre of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There must have been a chandelier once. They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to. Those clipped words transport us straight to Offred’s enclosed, and terrifying, space. We’re also told just enough to give us an image of that place, enough to heighten tension, enough to tease curiosity. This is just a description of a room – but we already feel powerfully impelled to read on. Be Selective With Your Descriptive Details Be selective – don’t overwhelm. It might be tempting to share every detail with us on surroundings. Don’t. Even with a setting like Hogwarts – a place readers really do want to know all the hidden details of – J.K. Rowling doesn’t share how many revolving staircases it has, how many treasures in the Room of Requirement, how many trees in the Forbidden Forest. That’s not the point. (And it would write off a little of Hogwarts’ magic and mystery.) If you’re describing a bar, don’t write: The bar was approximately twenty-eight feet long, by perhaps half of that wide. A long mahogany bar took up about one quarter of the floor space, while eight tables each with 4 wooden chairs occupied the remaining area. There were a number of tall bar stools arranged to accommodate any drinker who didn’t want to be seated at one of the tables. The ceiling height was pleasantly commodious. That’s accurate, yes. It’s informative, yes. But it’s bland as heck. The reader doesn’t want information. They want atmosphere. They want vivid language. They want mood. Here’s an alternative way to describe a bar – the Korova Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange. This description delivers a sense of intimacy and darkness in a few words: The mesto [place] was near empty … it looked strange, too, having been painted with all red mooing cows … I took the large moloko plus to one of the little cubies that were all round … there being like curtains to shut them off from the main mesto, and there I sat down in the plushy chair and sipped and sipped We’re told what we need to know, thrown into that murky Korova atmosphere and Burgess moves the action on. All we really have in terms of detail are those mooing red cows, some cubies (curtain booths?), and a plushy chair. There’s lots more author Anthony Burgess could tell us about that place. But he doesn’t. He gives us the right details, not all the details. And if that’s not enough for you, then try reading this. Write For All The Senses You have a nose? So use it. Visuals are important, but don’t neglect the other senses. Offering a full range of sensory information will enhance your descriptive writing. Herman Melville, say, describes to us the chowder for the ship’s crew in Moby Dick: ‘small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes.’ Such descriptions are deft, specific, and brilliantly atmospheric. Where else but on board a nineteenth century American whaler would you get such a meal? By picking out those details, Melville makes his setting feel vibrantly alive. Here’s another example. Joanne Harris’ opening of Chocolat plays to readers’ senses, as we’re immersed straightaway in the world of her book through scent, sound and sight: We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausage and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hotplate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters. These non-visual references matter so much because sight alone can feel a little distant, a little empty. By forcing the reader’s taste buds to image Melville’s clams or Harris’s pancakes – or making the reader feel that warm February wind, the confetti ‘sleeting’ down collars – it’s almost as though the writers are hauling the readers’ entire body into their scenes. That’s good stuff: do likewise. (And one easy test: take one of your scenes and highlight anything that references a non-visual sense. If you find some good references, then great: you’re doing fine. If not, your highlighter pen remains unused, you probably want to edit that scene!) Get Place And Action Working Together That’s where the magic happens! Use the atmospheric properties of a place to add to other properties of the scene. That doesn’t mean you should always play things the obvious way: no need for cliché;. You can have declarations of love happen in idyllic meadows, as in Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, but why not at a bus stop in the rain? Shouted over the barriers at a train station? Your character also brings one kind of mood to the scene, and the action that unfolds will bring other sensations. Lynda La Plante’s crime novel Above Suspicion makes a home setting frightening after it becomes obvious a stranger has been in protagonist DS Anna Travis’ flat, and she’s just been assigned to help solve her first murder case. So the place is influenced by action, once Anna notices: Reaching for the bedside lamp, she stopped and withdrew her hand. The photograph of her father had been turned out to face the room. She touched it every night before she went to sleep. It was always facing towards her, towards the bed, not away from it. … In the darkness, what had felt safe before now felt frightening: the way the dressing-table mirror reflected the street-light through the curtains and the sight of the wardrobe door left slightly ajar. Here a comfy, nondescript flat becomes a frightening place, just because of what else is going on. Go for unfamiliar angles that add drama and excitement to your work. Descriptions As Active Characters You know the way that a place can turn on you? So (for example) a place that seems safe can suddenly reveal some other side, seem menacing, then almost try to harm the character. That’s an incredibly powerful way to build descriptive writing into your text – because it feels mobile, alive and with a flicker of risk. You can use plotting techniques to help structure the way a reader interacts with a place: starting with a sense of the status quo, then some inciting incident that shifts that early stability, and so on. The inciting incident can be tiny – discovering that a photo frame has been moved, for example. Having your characters voice their perceptions of a place in dialogue also adds to its dramatic impact, because now the reader sees place both through the eyes of a narrator and through the eyes of the characters themselves. Good, huh? Do you need more help?Did you know we have an entire video course on How To Write? That course has had awesome client reviews, but it’s kinda expensive to buy . . . so don’t buy it! We’ve made that course available, in full, to members of Jericho Writers. Our members don’t just get that course, they also get: An incredible course on Getting PublishedA brilliant course on Self-PublishingA ton of filmed masterclassesAccess to AgentMatch, the world’s best literary agent search toolA brilliant and supportive writers communityChances to pitch your work in front of literary agents, live online every monthAnd more We’ve made the offer as rich as we know how to – and made it incredibly affordable too. You can find out more about our club here. Remember: we were founded by writers for writers – and we created this club for you. Do find out more . . . and we’d absolutely love it if you chose to join us. Use Unfamiliar Locations And smart research ALWAYS helps. Using unfamiliar settings adds real mood and atmosphere. Stephenie Meyer, when writing Twilight, decided she needed a rainy place near a forest to fit key plot elements. Like protagonist Bella, she was raised in Arizona, but explained the process of setting Twilight in an unfamiliar setting on her blog: For my setting, I knew I needed someplace ridiculously rainy. I turned to Google, as I do for all my research needs, and looked for the place with the most rainfall in the U.S. This turned out to be the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest. … In researching Forks, I discovered the La Push Reservation, home to the Quileute Tribe. The Quileute story is fascinating, and a few fictional members of the tribe quickly became intrinsic to my story. As her success has shown, it’s possible to write successfully about a place you don’t know, but you must make it your business to know as much as you can about it. (Or if you’re writing a fantasy or sci-fi novel, plan your world down to its most intricate details.) And to be clear: you’re doing the research, not because you want that research to limit you. (Oh, I can’t write that, because Wikipedia tells me that the river isn’t as long / the forest isn’t as thick / or whatever else.) On the contrary: You are doing the research, because that research may inspire and stimulate a set of ideas you might not have ecountered otherwise. The key thing is to do your research to nail specifics, especially if they are unfamiliar, foreign, exotic. Just read how Tokyo is described in Ryu Murakami’s thriller In the Miso Soup: It was still early in the evening when we emerged onto a street in Tsukiji, near the fish market. … Wooden bait-and-tackle shops with disintegrating roofs and broken signs stood next to shiny new convenience stores, and futuristic highrise apartment complexes rose skyward on either side of narrow, retro streets lined with wholesalers of dried fish. There’s authenticity, grit to this description of Tokyo, as opposed to using ‘stock’ descriptions that could apply to many modern cities. Note this same thing with foods: in Japan, your protagonist could well be eating miso soup, as per Ryu Murakami. Or say if your story was set in Hong Kong, you might write in a dai pai dong (a sort of Chinese street kitchen), something very specific to that city if you’re describing a street there. Alternatively, if you are setting something in the past, get your sense of place right by doing your research right, too. In historical novel Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, set in Holland in 1664, maid Griet narrates how artist Johannes Vermeer prepares her for her secret portrait, musing, to her horror, that ‘virtuous women did not open their mouths in paintings’. That last is just a tiny detail, but Griet’s tears show us how mortified she is. Modern readers won’t (necessarily) think about seventeenth-century connotations like this, so if you’re writing a scene set in a very different era or culture to what you know, research so you’re creating a true sense of place. Use Place To Create Foreshadowing A brilliant technique – we love it! Descriptions of place are never neutral. Good writers will, in overt or gently subtle ways, introduce a place-as-character. If that character is dangerous, for example, then simply describing a place adds a layer of foreboding, foreshadowing, to the entire book. Just read how J.R.R. Tolkien describes the Morannon in The Two Towers: ‘high mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained … like an obscene graveyard.’ It’s obvious from this description trouble lies ahead for Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee. But even if you’re not writing this sort of fantasy, character psychology and plot (as we saw above) can also render seemingly harmless places suspect, too. A boring apartment in Above Suspicion becomes scary when it seems someone’s been inside. In the same sense, we thrill to the sense of a place with excitement and promise, too, like when Harry makes his first trip to Diagon Alley (in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) to shop for Hogwarts equipment with Hagrid. There were shops selling robes, shops selling telescopes and strange silver instruments Harry had never seen before, windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon. … They bought Harry’s school books in a shop called Flourish and Blotts where the shelves were stacked to the ceiling with books as large as paving stones bound in leather; books the size of postage stamps in covers of silk. Just weave place and action together like this to create atmosphere, excitement, tension, foreboding. Think About Your Words – Nouns And Adjectives Specific is good. Unexpected is great! One final thought. When you’ve written a piece, go back and check nouns. A bad description will typically use boring nouns (or things) in settings, i.e. a table, chair, window, floor, bar, stool, etc. If you try to fluff up that by throwing in adjectives (i.e. a grimy table, gleaming window, wooden floor), the chances are you’ll either have (i) made the description even more boring, or (ii) made it odd. Of course, this works for that first passage we looked over from Margaret Atwood. We sense Offred counting the few things she has in the little room she calls hers, the window and chair, etc., in terse phrasing. We sense her tension, her dissociation, and we feel trapped with her. All the same, play with nouns, with taking your readers to new surroundings. Give them a Moloko. Play with surroundings, how you can make them different, how you can render the ordinary extraordinary. With the right nouns in place, you’ll need fewer adjectives to jazz things up – and when you do use them, they’ll feel right, not over the top. And if you want more on writing techniques, then check out this article on verbs – it’s a must read. Happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Show, Don’t Tell – Meaning and Why it Matters

What it Means, Why it Matters – and How to Add Drama to Your Novel “Show, Don’t Tell” is one of the oldest pieces of advice to new writers, but it can be kinda confusing without some show and tell examples. What exactly is the difference between Showing and Telling? Is “Showing” always right? And is Telling always wrong? As we’ll see, “Show, Don’t Tell” is good advice in certain circumstances. Not just good advice, in fact, but absolutely essential to any half-decent novel. At the same time, virtually every novel ever written contains passages that are told, not shown . . . and that’s fine. You just have to understand which mode of writing to use where. These things get confusing when spoken about in the abstract, so we’ll use plenty of showing vs. telling examples to show you exactly what’s what. Sounds good? Then let’s motor. What Is ‘Show, Don’t Tell’? ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a technique authors use to add drama to a novel. Rather than telling readers what’s happening, authors use this technique to show drama unfold on the page. ‘Telling’ is factual and avoids detail; while ‘showing,’ is detailed and places the human subject at the centre of the drama. Show, Don’t Tell: What This Actually Means ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass,’ Anton Chekhov once advised. Here’s an example of what he means: Telling:The night was cold and moonlit. The sleigh moved fast through the forest.Showing:Ekaterina was shocked by the cold. She’d known winters before, but never this far north and never this deep. Burrowed under furs as she was, she still felt her eyelashes freeze. There were crystals of ice on her face where her own breath had frozen solid. It was a clear night, and they raced through the whispering pines, like a feather drawn over a sheet of silver. It seemed magical. Impossible. Temporary. Forbidden. What do you notice? You’ll instantly notice a number of things here. How To Recognise The “telling” Mode Any piece of prose written in the “telling” mode: Is factual.Is brief.Is an efficient way to communicate data.Prefers to avoid detail, and is happy to convey broad overarching messages. (“It was cold.”)Is not necessarily human-centred, and as a result...Does not, in general, stir the heart. How To Recognise The “showing” Mode Any piece of prose written in the “showing” mode: Is human-centred (usually, though sometimes only by implication).Is a slower, richer, more expansive way to communicate.Is not efficient – quite the reverse!Loves detail.Tends to place the human subject right at the centre of things, and as a consequence...Can often stir the heart. An Example Of Showing Vs Telling From Literature You want an example of showing story from literature? OK, try this: TellingThe parties were dazzling and opulent. They spilled out of the house, into the  garden and even the beach. [That’s my version of how a “telling” version might go.”ShowingIn his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. … The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing up-stairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive … floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside … the lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. You want to guess which method Scott Fitzgerald used to describe the parties in The Great Gatsby? I’ll give you a clue: it wasn’t the first of those ways. An Extended Example Of Telling Vs Showing One more example – this one a little bit more extended. The example here comes from my own book, The Deepest Grave, which I’ve chosen just to make the point that these rules and disciplines apply to all of us. To Scott Fitzgerald. To me. To you. So, here’s one more example, as before given in in two possible versions. TellingBowen, Katie and FIona find a sheet of vellum in an old Welsh church.ShowingBowen lifts the 1953 fish-restaurant newspaper out of the wooden wall box.‘I suppose that can go.’He looks glumly at the mess behind the cupboard, knowing that it’ll be his job to clean it. Katie looks into the box, now missing its newspaper floor.Glances once, then looks more sharply.‘No, that’s not right,’ she says, and starts picking at the bottom with a fingernail.I already looked under the newspaper and saw just the pale, bleached colour of old pine – pine that has never seen the sun – but that was me being dumb. Me not knowing how to see.Katie picks at the bottom and it comes away.A sheet of paper, blank on the upper side, but with writing in clear purplish-black ink on the lower. Latin text. A hard-to-read medieval hand. I’ve given you quite an extended chunk of ‘showing’ here because quoting at length makes a few further points very clear. As well as everything we’ve said so far, Showing: Is dramatic – it’s story told as drama. You could actually imagine the long-form version of the scene above as something played out on a stage or in a movie. Literally every time that you could imagine a piece of writing as a stage or movie play, you are reading something that is shown not told.Often involves dialogue. It’s no coincidence. Movies involve actors saying their lines – and again, literally every time you encounter proper dialogue in a book, you are reading a scene that is shown, not told. In the example above, the characters immediately started talking about what they had found, thus emphasising the dramatic quality of the moment.Plays out in real time. Take a look one more time at those two passages just above. The first – basically “three people find vellum” – isn’t real time at all. There’s no sense of elapsed time there at all. It’s told like a news report on CNN or the BBC. In the extended passage – the one from my actual book – you could imagine a clock on the wall, counting out the seconds as the scene  elapsed. If you had to make a guess at how long it took from Bowen fishing out the newspaper to Katie finding the vellum, you could actually make a reasonable guess. These thoughts lead us to the next massive point you have to know about the whole showing / telling thing: Namely, why people get so obsessed by it. Show, Don’t Tell: Why It Matters People get obsessed with showing vs telling. Here’s the reason why. OK. Here’s a question for you: Why do readers read books? That’s a real question, and you should think about your answer. If you think about it, you’ll probably give me some answer like: Readers want to get involved in a story. They want to experience emotion through the lives and adventures of fictional characters. They want to get swept up in other people’s dramas. And yes. Exactly. And to immerse ourselves in the experiences of those characters, we need to feel them as the characters themselves feel them – which is real time, minute by minute. That’s the whole deal right there. If you want to get your readers emotionally engaged, you have to plunge them into the drama of the moment. It would be no good Jane Austen telling us that “D’Arcy proposed to Lizzy Bennet and Lizzy said no.” The whole reason we read Pride & Prejudice is to be with Lizzy as she experiences that first (awful) proposal. To feel her emotions and reactions almost second by second as she goes through that scene. Readers always experience the closest emotional contact with their character during scenes that are shown, rather than via facts that are simply reported. As a matter of fact, I don’t particularly like the “Show, Don’t Tell” mantra for two reasons, the first of which is that Henry James phrased the whole thing better: “Dramatise! Dramatise! Dramatise!” That’s so easy and so clear. If you have a patch of writing that seems a little low energy – a little blank, a little dull – then just let those commandments echo in your head. Those dramatic scenes are all, always, shown not told. Those scenes are what keep your readers reading your novel. Your novel should be formed almost completely of such scenes. By this point, you’re probably thinking, “Ah, OK, I’ve got this. I see why this is so important. I gotta remember never to tell story, and always to show story.” And that’s what some people think. And what some writing tutors teach. And they’re all wrong. Stick with me, and I’ll tell you why. “Show, Don’t Tell”: Why This Rule Is Sometimes Just Plain Wrong So far in this post, we’ve looked at – and preferred – examples of writing that were shown rather than told. We’ve said that showing is more dramatic and more engaging. It’s the way we plunge our readers into the drama of our story. It’s our basic method for getting them to experience the emotions of our characters. And that’s all true. But right at the start of this post, I also said: Telling Is factual.Is brief.Is an efficient way to communicate data. And hold on – those things can be good as well as bad, right? So, sure, if we have some crucial scene – D’Arcy proposing to Lizzy Bennet, or my gang of Bowen, Katie and Fiona finding some vellum in a church – then you have to show that scene, not merely report the action. But let’s say, you have a line in your book that says: “Years passed and during that time Yulia hardly ever thought of the incident again. It was gone. It belonged in some past life,to some past self. She was busy now with other things. Only then, one bright, clear day in March . . .” That’s telling, right? It’s the narrator just reporting stuff, not showing it. And according to the “Show, Don’t Tell” mantra, telling is bad. But It Isn’t! What is telling? Telling is the wrong way to deliver dramatic scenes (which should, of course, compose the vast bulk of your novel), but it can be great way to deliver information that is essential to your story, but of no great dramatic consequence. So take that “years passed” passage above. How would you even go about showing all that? Would you really have Yulia waking up day after day, month after month, and year after year, NOT thinking about whatever that past incident was? Sure, that would be showing not telling . . . but you’d be crazy to do it that way. The truth here is pretty simple: If you have essential factual information to deliver, and that information has no dramatic interest in its own right, then just tell it. Don’t try to show it, because you’ll slow your book right down – and probably kill it. Showing is for drama (and your book should be mostly drama.) Telling is for the efficient delivery of all the non-dramatic information your book requires. The way I usually think about it is that my dramatic scenes are the stones in my wall, but for the wall to hold together, to be intact, it needs a little bit of mortar too. The mortar is the glue that holds all the good stuff together. Yes, there’s a lot more stone than mortar in the wall. Showing and telling: you always need both. How To Use “Show Don’t Tell” in Your Writing Seven steps to totally awesome greatness We’ve talked a lot about general principles, but it would be kinda nice to implement them, right? So here goes with the 7 Ninja Tips of Showing vs Telling Greatness. You are now officially just one short rocket-ride from success … 1. Use Dialogue Dialogue always delivers a scene that shimmers with life and emotional movement. (Especially when you write dialogue right, of course!) What’s especially great about dialogue is that it makes the reader decode the speaker’s true meaning in exactly the same way that we have to decode it in real life. So if a character says, “Yes, I’d absolutely love that,” they probably mean that they’d love it … but if it’s a macho guy being invited to get work experience in a make-up boutique, you would probably guess that he’s being sarcastic. That’s a pretty clumsy example, of course, but the gaps between what a character says and what they really mean can feel really alive to the reader. (And a lot of fun for the writer, too.) 2. Punctuate Your Scene With Actions Some scenes will punctuate themselves with action very naturally. If you are writing a high intensity scene, such as a battle scene for example, your scene will be naturally studded with big, dramatic activity. But almost all books will have plenty of less action-intense scenes. So, for example, you might have a big corporate meeting in some glossy boardroom. The events being discussed might have huge consequences for your characters and your story … but there’s no onrush of dramatic activity. No cities being set on fire. No Vikings with swords. No car chases. No nothing. But you still have to include actions. If you don’t the scene will start to float away from the characters and seem unreal, without anchor. How do you show your story in this instance? What you need to do is insert actions anyway. You actually need to engineer something to punctuate the scene. So yes, getting up, turning pages, pouring coffee, looking out at the view – all those things count and help — somewhat. But maybe the corporate mogul at the heart of the action could at some point get angry. Hurl a coffee cup at a wall. Start shredding a binder full of company documents. Those things wouldn’t count for much if you were writing an action-adventure book, but for the kind of scenes you’re talking about, they deliver exactly what you need. Short message: all scenes need actions, and those actions need to be suited to your place, your characters, and the kind of story you’re writing. Vikings with swords for one kind of book, thrown coffee cups for another. 3. Exploit Your Physical Setting Actions and dialogue help, because they help keep your characters alive on the page – and alive in the mind of the reader. For much the same reason, great descriptions of place help as well. They anchor everything that’s happening in the scene. That anchoring means that the stuff you’re describing feels like real things happening to real place in a real location. Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that you need to write whole pages of purple prose talking about the wind in the palm trees, or whatever else. What I am saying is that you need a paragraph or so to locate the action relatively early in the scene … and then you need to keep nudging the reader to remind them where you are. So let’s say your scene is taking place in a rainy New York garden. You’d have two or three sentences setting the scene. (Let’s say: iron railings, rain, noise of police sirens, a sad-looking willow tree, smells and steam coming from the back of a Chinese laundry opposite.) Then you start to let your scene unfurl and, as the characters move and talk and act, you drop in little sentences like, “rain dripped from the willow.” or “She paused to let the howl of a nearby siren pass down the street.” You’re not interrupting the action. You’re just helping the reader actually visualise it. 4. Make Use Of Your Character’s Physicality In the example just given, I suggested that you might write “rain dripped from the willow.” And, good, that’s perfectly fine. But let’s bring your character right into that rainy garden, shall we? So you might have something like this: “Rain dripped from the willow. Her hair was getting soaked but he couldn’t help noticing that she seemed barely aware of it. And this was Esmee. Esmee who was normally so conscious of the tiniest bit of discomfort or, as she put it, ‘outdoor horribleness.’ That’s effective writing, because you have the physical location and the character interacting – and interacting to a specific emotional / story purpose. In this case, that purpose is to emphasise that Esmee is so taken aback by the events of the scene (whatever those are), she’s stopped noticing stuff that would normally really bother her. The short moral: use your characters’ body and physical sensations to make them physically present and alive in your scene. 5. Use Specific Words, Not Generic Ones Another easy win here. If you are trying to locate a scene in a place that feels real, you want to get specific rather than generic. So “rain dripped from the tree” feels blandly universal. “Rain dripped from the willow” feels already more specific and immediate. Sometimes, of course, you’ll want to get really specific. Something like this maybe: “rain dripped from the willow’s long, drooping tendrils. She noticed that the tree was balding, losing leaves, as though unhappy to be here. As though longing for escape.” I don’t want to suggest you always need to be that specific – sometimes it’s fine for a willow to just be a willow – but in this case, some specific comments about a tree rebound back to hint something about what the character’s might be feeling. Short moral: always prefer the specific to the generic. And sometimes, if it makes sense, you can get very specific. 6. Always Make Space For The Reaction Shot You know how in the movies, you’ll always get the reaction shot? LIke this, I mean: Beat 1: “I don’t want to marry you,” she said. “I never did.” Beat 2: Close up of the guy’s face And it’s kind of obvious why you have those rhythms. If you don’t have the reaction shot, you’ve lost a lot of the drama from the action of beat 1. You need both. And it’s the same with novels. Sometimes, you’ll need a whole paragraph describing a reaction. Sometimes you’ll leave it to dialogue. Sometimes you’ll make do with hints, but leave plenty of scope for creative ambiguity. And any of those routes (depending on the situation, depending on your story) are fine. What’s not fine is to leave the action without a reaction. Short moral: always include the reaction shot! Easy. 7. Don’t Be Rushed: Let Readers Feel The Beats FInal ninja tip of all-out showing & telling awesomeness: Don’t rush. Yes, you want to write a compelling and dramatic scene. Yes, you may have your heart set on a whole long action sequence with plenty of gunplay and chase scenes and whatever else. But let the reader enjoy it! Let them savour the moment! Don’t say, “the car was out of control. The car careened downhill and struck Damon on the hip, smashing him to the floor.” That’s OK, but where’s the time to savour anything? The lovely thing about this moment is that Damon notices the car is out of control and he’s right in the firing line. What does he think? What does he do? What does he feel? I don’t know, because this author hasn’t told us. It’s slower, yes, but it’s actually more exciting to tease out that moment in more detail: The car was clearly out of control. Damon could just about see a driver but there was something about the curve of his shoulders, the loll of his head, which suggested the driver had lost consciousness, or worse. The fall of the hill put Damon right in the firing line. He remembered thinking, “I’m going to be hit. I need to move aside.” He probably took the very first part of that action too. Some sideways move. Some break for shelter. But …” And so on. You can see that by slowing the action down you’ve actually ramped the excitement up. Pretty good, huh? And fun to write, every single damn time. That’s it from me. Have fun with the showing & telling. Do it right, and your scenes will come alive, and you’ll enjoy writing them too. Happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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