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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. 
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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. 
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A Complete Guide to Using a Pen Name

Budding writers often ask whether they should use their real name or create a pen name. The truth is pen names can be very handy. Whether you don’t want your boss to know that you spend your nights writing about peacocking lords and their throbbing members, or you don’t want your aunt Susan to find out she was the sole inspiration for your serial killer MC. Hey, it’s her fault for being a countryside taxidermist, right? In this complete guide to using a pen name we will cover the many reasons authors might consider using pen names for their work, explain why it might be right for you, and how to pick a pen name of your very own. And check out our post on the pros and cons of using a pen name to help you decide if it\'s the right move for you. What is a Pen Name? Simply put, a pen name is a pseudonym chosen by an author and used on their by-lines for their work. It’s also referred to as a Nom de Plume. Despite the words being French the expression originates from England, when the English failed to use the then common French expression Nom de Guerre (Name of War) which was used by the French at the time to describe pseudonyms. They later switched to using the catchier expression Nom de Plume (Name of Feather – as in a feathered quill). Famous pen names include Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel), Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), and even the mighty Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet.) Why Authors Use Pen Names There are countless reasons authors may choose to write under pen names - from privacy concerns, legal reasons, or preferring the sound and visual aesthetics, to the desire to choose a pen name that will better appeal to their readers. The reasons can range from the obvious to the very specific. In order to help you make your decision on whether or not you should use a pen name and how to use one, we will delve into the most common reasons pen names are used in the first place. Privacy Of all the uses pen names have, keeping your identity secret is probably the least useful. Yet, nonetheless, one of the most common. Consider this, a book will flail and burn if not properly promoted, and since we know author promotion starts with your existing network, being completely secretive about your work will probably not do you any favours in the long run. With that said, there are reasons authors would like to keep their identities secret from families, colleagues, and institutions. A few notable examples include stories inspired by true events or memoirs that depict toxic family members or dysfunctional family dynamics. Some authors may want to write about the domestic abuse they’ve experienced, but don’t want to write under their own name and have the work traced back to them. Often people will choose pen names to retain privacy from their employers. Just because an employer can look you up on LinkedIn and Facebook doesn’t mean you want them to read your violent novels, or know that you write erotica, or have access to your dark poetry collections. The truth is many authors retain their day jobs whilst simultaneously pursuing careers as authors and it makes sense to keep both worlds apart. Though the degree of anonymity you are able to retain is up for debate. As we mentioned earlier, the success of a book depends heavily on marketing – basic requirements, such as author bios and author pictures, will still give you away – but you can still retain a degree of anonymity with employers and control what they see when they google you. Pen names can also be beneficial if you are being critical of an employer or institution in your work. If you, for example, are on the police force but are writing about incompetent cops and corruption, you may wish to keep the two separate. All in all, privacy plays a large role in people choosing to use pen names. Change Gender Female authors are (whether we like it or not) more popular in the romance genre, and male readers tend to buy more crime thrillers written by other men. This is of course all very outdated, but nonetheless factually accurate. Of course, this won’t stop an author penning the book of their dreams - so those worried that the gendering of their name might affect their sales may opt for a unisex pen name, or a pen name with initials. Back in the mid-nineteenth century, when women weren’t as prolific in the world of writing, Mary Ann Evans wrote under the pseudonym George Eliot in order to be taken more seriously. And it worked! Clashing Names Some authors adopt pen names because their real names clash with, or are the same as, those of existing authors, actors, politicians or even people famous for a negative reason. Before setting off on your author career it’s probably a good idea to look at the viability of your name from a legal, practical, and even SEO standpoint (how easily Google can find you). Something I realised only a year into my career was that Sylvester Stallone’s mother was named Jacqueline, which means I (Jacqueline Silvester) often have to contend with Rambo’s mom trumping my SEO. Of course, this isn’t going to affect my writing career too much, but if your name is similar or the same as someone with a lot of internet presence, you might want to consider a pen name. You especially don’t want your name to clash with an existing author or media personality, it will just cause unnecessary confusion and you will be fighting an uphill SEO battle. Genre It’s common for authors to pick pen names or alter their current name (i.e add an initial or swap to a maiden name or deviation) when switching genres. As an author you build a personal brand, and (hopefully) a loyal following. A readership will have expectations about what sort of work you release. So if you have a following that has read your last six quirky romance books and suddenly you release a bloody psychological thriller, they might be put off and lose faith in your brand. This is especially true if you’re making a massive leap in genre (erotica to middle grade, for instance) in which case it\'s vital you change your author name. You certainly don’t want readers to be confused or auto-buy your books, or for a child who has loved your kids’ mermaid stories to end up getting a hold of your much more…umm… 18+ mermaid content. Another thing to consider is that authors often choose names that suit their genre. Names in children’s literature tend to be easy to pronounce, light and airy, with an air of magic or mystery. For example, the famous pen name Lewis Carroll sounds more delightful than his birth name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and Lemony Snicket (author of A Series of Unfortunate Events) sounds more whimsical and adventurous than Daniel Handler. Consider creating a new, more fitting, pen name when switching genres. Aesthetical Preference Some people simply don’t like their name and don’t think it will look good on the cover of a book, or the by-line of a heart-breaking poem. Sometimes authors want something with more flare, or a less common name. We can’t all have Kris Jenner’s foresight and be born into a family with perfectly trademarkable names peppered with alliteration, like the Kardashian clan. And we can’t all be born with a perfect sounding name like Stephen King. Although even King resorted to using a pen name (Richard Brachman) when he realised his incredible output required two names instead of one, so he chose a separate name for his more twisted work. Author Output and Co-Writing Speaking of Stephen King, in trade publishing authors are generally expected to release one book a year (it takes a long time for trade publishing to market and position all their books), so if your output exceeds that you may choose to use a different pen name so you can churn out more work. Stephen King did it, and so does Sophie Kinsella (who also writes under the pen name Madeline Wickham) because trade publishers will very rarely publish and market multiple books a year under one name. Co-authors will often choose to co-write under one joint pen name too. It simplifies marketing and PR, plus one cohesive name on the cover instead of both names means their new work won’t be mistaken for their previous solo backlist. How to Choose a Pen Name As outlined above if privacy is a concern, or if you would like to distance parts of your life from your work, a pen name could be just the ticket. If you don’t like the way your name looks on a book, or if you don’t think it’s easy to remember or pronounce, or if you think you’ll be fighting an uphill battle with SEO, you should opt for a pen name. Whatever your reason (you don’t even need one), here are some ways to help you pick a pen name. Did you know, like with any other trends, there are trends for author names in your genre? Romance novelists, for instance, often choose names with a romantic flare. When choosing a joint pen name for our paranormal romance series Blood Web Chronicles, my co-author and I landed on Caedis Knight. ‘Caedis’ means ‘slaughter and bloodshed.’ We write romance, and the name sounds quite modern with a heroic surname, but we also wanted to make it clear we write dark paranormal romance. Had we opted to write more floral country romance, then a name like Rose Delacourt would have been a better fit. Or had it been BDSM erotica, we may have opted for Scarlett Pane. Yes, this pen name game is a lot of fun! The first step of choosing the perfect pen name is research. Go to a bookshop (or go online) and browse your intended genre. See what trends you see in the way names look and sound. Examine the names in depth. What are their genders? Do they use full names or initials? Is there anything distinctive about the chosen names? Who is your target audience and what would they like? Ask yourself what sort of name your target audience would find memorable? When you have a shortlist, choose a name that’s easy to spell and pronounce. Make sure it’s not already used and isn’t associated with anything bad (e.g. Fred West). Check the name’s SEO viability; are you competing against the name of a popular brand? For example, Kath Kidson might sound like a great pen name but, because of the brand, you would be crazy to use it. Even if it’s your actual name. Also check whether the URL is already owned. Having your author name as your website is ideal, so if you get to choose your name choose one where the domain name isn’t already taken. Once you’ve completed all your research, start putting pen to paper and get brainstorming! In Conclusion Picking a pen name is a very personal choice, but one you can approach freely and confidently knowing that countless authors have chosen this route. Remember that a pen name is akin to a stage name - it serves a purpose and that purpose can be whatever you want it to be. Consider your genre first, your personal privacy preferences, the aesthetic appeal of your name, and make sure to check it for SEO, legal issues, commonality, and genre appeal. Lastly, make sure that you absolutely love it – because if things go well, your author name will be everywhere! 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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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. 
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Writing Flash Fiction: A Complete Guide

Have you been meaning to write flash fiction, but been put off by the different word counts and apparent ‘rules’? In this guide you’ll get a brief introduction to flash and its history, then we’ll talk about the essential elements to include in your flashes. I’ll also give you a checklist as an aide-mémoire at the end of the guide. And if by the end you feel confident enough to enter a few competitions, check out our guide to the best flash fiction competitions. What is Flash Fiction? ‘Smoke-long’ is my favourite (albeit not very healthy) description for a piece of flash fiction, because it refers to the time it takes you to read the story – the same amount of time it would take you to smoke a cigarette. Some flash fiction is even shorter, one puff-long if you like.  Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata referred to them as palm-of-the-hand stories. Flash fiction is also known as fast fiction, sudden fiction, postcard fiction, a micro-story, a nanotale, a short short, amongst other names.  So what exactly is flash fiction? In a nutshell it simply means very short fiction.  The longest flashes are generally considered to be 1,000 words, the shortest 6 words. Try writing and reading each of these and you’ll soon realise there’s a big difference. In 2007, the Guardian newspaper challenged several well-known writers to write 6-word short stories. Take a look and decide for yourself whether they succeeded.  Just as a short story isn’t a truncated novel, flash fiction isn’t a truncated short story. The challenge, with very short fiction, is to tell a complete story within the word count, one thing that differentiates flash fiction from prose poetry. This gets harder the shorter the word count, and that sense of challenge is one reason flash fiction is so popular. For example, in the above Guardian article, Blake Morrison’s story “Womb. Bloom. Groom. Gloom. Rheum. Tomb” gives a sense of a whole life, with a beginning, middle and end, or an overarching narrative – but contains no detail – whereas Jim Crace’s “See that shadow? (It\'s not yours.)” suggests a story, which readers tell themselves.  Arguably a piece of flash fiction is unique in the way it invites the reader to tell themselves the story like this. Other forms of prose writing do this, but because of their length, they also provide detail and narratorial incursion. In flash, this detail and incursion has to be nifty, playful – or cut out entirely. Hemingway’s $10 bet The above two stories were written in response to the famous 6-word short story allegedly written by Ernest Hemingway as part of a bet over dinner, which won him $10: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” As with Crace’s story, this one suggests a story which the reader then infers, and it’s probably the most famous flash fiction story in circulation today.  However, it is likely Hemingway never wrote this story. You can read the background in this article. There isn’t much evidence that the bet took place, and if it did, earlier versions of the story had appeared in newspapers several years earlier, so he was probably repeating something he had read, as an amusing riposte. Writers from all over the world have used the flash form, including Jorge Luis Borges, Kate Chopin, and Italo Calvino. In fact, ancient myths and fables can be considered a form of flash fiction. This article by Sandra Arnold will give you a sense of the history of flash fiction – very handy if you want to learn about flash fiction in literature. She attributes the first use of the word ‘flash’ to an anthology edited by James Thomas in 1992 – giving more of a sense of the experience of reading the finished story, rather than the word length. Flash Fiction Sub-Genres Flash fiction has a range of subgenres but in the same way, they don’t necessarily have strict definitions either. But if you’re looking for a general guide to flash fiction word counts, we’re here to help.  Here’s a rundown, from the longest to the shortest: 1. Novel-in-a-flash and Novella-in-a-flash. This is essentially a sequence of flashes up to around 18,000 words. 2. ‘Sudden fiction’ or simply ‘flash fiction’ refers to stories of up to 1000 words or sometimes 1500 words, or two pages of an anthology. The ‘up to’ is important. These are usually loose guidelines.  3. Nanofiction or microfiction refers to stories up to 300 words, but the constraint can be stricter than that. Here are some examples: Postcard fiction: stories that can be written on the back of a postcard. Twitterature: microfiction, derived the original Tweet limit of 140 characters. Stories of exactly 100 words http://www.100wordstory.org/, known as the Drabble, or exactly 50 words https://fiftywordstories.com/, known as the Dribble. Not so exacting, some calls for submissions ask for fiction under 50 or under 10 words. Twitter Flashes Twitter is alive with flash fiction. I recently tweeted out a call for resources and the flash fiction writers of Twitter didn’t disappoint. Here are some of the responses.  Thank you to Laura Besley (@laurabesley) who suggested the following journals: @FictiveDream @EllipsisZine @FracturedLit @EmergeJournal @CraftLiterary @50wordstories @101words @flashficmag @flashfroglitmag And these follows:  @kathyfish (who has a flash fiction newsletter) @megpokrass @TommyDeanWriter @nancystohlman Thank you to El Rhodes (@electra_rhodes) who suggested the following: @BBludgers for competition info. @sagetyrtle for a list of UK flash mags.  @FlashFicFest runs an event end of October. @FlashRoundup digests new flash regularly.  Edited highlights of the rest of the responses include: Shorts Podcast (@ShortsthePod), a podcast about the contemporary short story, including flash, @SmokeLong, a journal that has 18 years\' worth of archives, and @RetreatWest, which has over 150 flash stories published on their website, plus 9 anthologies of flash and shorts. Key Elements of Flash Fiction How do you go about writing flash fiction? Flash fiction stories usually include certain key elements, which I’ll explain here, but having said that, one of the elements of flash is its ability to surprise, and the continuous development of the form, creating new writing challenges and new ways of thinking about storytelling. Therefore, it is best to check several different sets of submission guidelines before editing and sending out your work. Story Plot Here are some general guidelines on how to create flash fiction, part of a range of techniques that go into creating short short stories: A piece of flash fiction isn’t a scene from a larger piece of fiction, or an extract. It is a stand-alone, and a complete story. Flash isn’t usually a ‘moment in time’ like a prose poem could be, or a discussion of the narrator’s opinion on something. It has narrative drive. Most flash fiction stories have a beginning, middle and end. This is possible even with the shortest short stories, like Blake Morrison’s “Womb. Bloom. Groom. Gloom. Rheum. Tomb.”But the shorter the flash gets, the more likely it is to use Jim Crace’s “See that shadow? (It\'s not yours.)”  technique and to require the reader to create the complete story for themselves, through implication. Morrison and Crace both provide us with a guide to plotting flash: 1) begin, grow, develop, make things get bad, provide resolution, and 2) make the reader form the story in their own mind. Few Characters What do you do about characters? How many should you include?  Read plenty of examples so you can see how other writers do it, but here’s a rough guide: Keep the number of characters in your flashes to a minimum. Often, you’ll only use one character, or two, as protagonist and antagonist.As you only have a few words available you can’t dwell on anything very much, and that includes character development.To create characters, you can use brief but pertinent descriptions (he wore his best suit trousers over his broken leg), unusual connections (petunias always make the best guard dogs), suggestive statements connecting place and character (he worked as a stripper at the fire station) or assumptions (I didn’t fit in and neither did my imaginary friend). A Hook It’s important to start strongly when writing flash fiction. You don’t have time for explanations. The aim is to ‘hook’ your reader in, engaging them from the first few words. When Tania Hershman starts a story with ‘My mother was an upright piano’, from a collection of the same name, we’re hooked in by the unusual image, which hints at conflict with the narrator. Create your ‘hook’ from conflict because stories thrive on conflict.Both ‘in media res’ and ‘mis en scene’ are important when writing flash. ‘In media res’ means starting in the middle of things, whereas ‘mis en scene’ refers to the arrangement of actors and props, scenery etc. to create a ‘stage picture’. With fiction, the stage is the reader’s mind. 1) Plunge right into the action, cutting extraneous introductions, and 2) create a picture in the mind of the reader using as few words as possible. Don’t do one without the other. Strong Finish Flash fiction writers often use a twist or (more loosely) an unexpected ending. The unexpected ending is like a punchline, it emphasises the ending. They make the ending live on in the readers’ memory, aiding the sense of the reader creating the story in their own mind. If the ending were subtle, the short short story could easily feel like an extract. Making the ending like a sort of punchline gives the flash a shape. That doesn’t mean to say that all short story stories use twists or the unexpected, but it is a technique you’ll see a lot when you read examples of the form. Honed Editing Editing is important with any piece of writing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say redrafting is writing. The first draft provides you with the words you’re going to play with, and in subsequent drafts you form those words into what you want them to be.  Editing takes on an extra function in short fiction writing – I mean specifically anything under 2,500 words – and the shorter the word count, the more this special function applies. Within whatever wordcount constraint you’ve undertaken, you are attempting to hone the writing to create the maximum meaning and story experience for the reader in the fewest words possible. You need to do both of those things for the story to be successful. When writing flash, you may well write much more than you need in the first draft and then cut by chipping away at extraneous words and story threads until you’ve reached the word count required. It sometimes helps to do this in sections, like this:  Divide the word count into beginning, middle and end. Usually the middle is twice the length of the beginning and end, so in a 1,000 word story, the beginning and end = roughly 250 words and the middle = 500 words.Write your story without worrying too much about word count.Now edit each section in turn to get it to the required amount. When editing, you’ve got to be hyper-aware of every word you choose to use. Read Plenty of Flash Fiction From reading plenty of flash you’ll learn how to create a strong start, launching straight into the action, how other writers create characters economically and how they use as few words as possible. Because the flash fiction community is so vibrant, and there are so many opportunities to share your work, from reading you’ll also learn about being a literary citizen, and how to promote the work of other writers, while putting your own work out there. Up for a Fun Challenge? Writing flash fiction is a fun challenge and a great exercise for writers. You also get the chance to become part of the online flash fiction community. Here’s a quick summary of this guide: Read plenty of flash fiction and become part of the flash fiction community. Use your first draft to get your ideas down without worrying about word count, then edit.Create a strong start by launching straight into the action.Use as few words as possible. Use ‘in media res’ and ‘mis en scene’: 1) Plunge right in, and 2) create a picture in the reader’s mind.Use one or two characters and develop them economically.End with a twist or an unexpected ending.Use ruthless editing and redrafting to hone your flashes to get them down to the required word count. Have fun, keep practicing, and in a flash you’ll become a flash fiction aficionado! 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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12 Top Tips on Writing Flash Fiction

Writing flash fiction can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a real challenge. I’ve been a children’s author for the past fifteen years, and I’ve also been writing flash fiction stories since before I knew the term. In this article I will be exploring the meaning and definition of flash fiction, its characteristics, and sharing my 12 top tips while drawing on my own writing experience. What is Flash Fiction? Flash fiction is also known as Sudden Fiction, Drabble, Nanotale or Microfiction. It refers to very short pieces of prose writing. Usually under 1,500 words, the word limit can vary depending on which publication, website, or competition you are writing for. It was popularized in the nineteenth century by writers like Walt Whitman, Kate Chopin, and Ambrose Bierce, but some of the best flash fiction is still being written (have a Google and see what’s out there).  It is also a genre that lends itself well to competitions (way quicker for judges to read entries than your average writing comp). In a world of thumb scrolling and multimedia distractions, it is also an appealing form for writers and readers, because once you get the hand of it you can write an entire story on just one page. Flash Fiction Characteristics The defining characteristic of flash fiction is that it is both short and fictional. So, what is so appealing about having such constraints imposed on your creativity? One of my publishers once set up a competition called 24/7 which involved several authors writing stories with a maximum of 247 words. After I had submitted mine, the editor commented that he was surprised that all the authors had chosen to make their stories precisely 247 words (and no less). It was not a surprise to me. Often the constraints of a commission like this are part of the appeal. They present a challenge. They are puzzles to be solved, and ones which require intricate and precise solutions. So let’s take a look at my top tips for tackling the trickiest of short story writing… How to Write Flash Fiction – 12 Top Tips A good flash fiction story takes the reader into a world which is already established - where things are happening. But it’s not as simple as merely hitting a small word count. Here are some things to consider when writing flash fiction. Select Your Genre Flash fiction can be in any genre, therefore the perfect opportunity to try something new. Whether you usually write romance, thriller, horror or sci fi, consider using your flash fiction to try something new. Unlike novel writing, there’s no need to worry about worldbuilding or backstories – just jump straight in! Choose an Overarching Theme One of the things I notice when I write my flash fiction is that the ideas that most attract me are often related to current events: things I’ve heard on the radio or read about online. I take a news story then think about how one moment of that story could affect one or two of the people involved. From these thin slices of life, you can explore broader subjects such as love, death, power or family. Have a go yourself at re-writing a piece of history in just a handful of words. Use One or Two Key Characters With such a limited word count, you might find it helpful to focus on fewer characters. Try making your protagonist complex or flawed or putting them up against their antagonist from the onset. Choosing first person over third person is also worth considering as it throws the reader straight into the action. Make Every Sentence Count and Don’t Rush As a writer, I both suffer and benefit from both optimism and selective amnesia. I always think that things won’t take long to write. You need a picture book text about dragons in a week? Sure? You need a short story on the subject of sharks in a few days? No problem.  I never learn.  Just because you have fewer word to manage, that doesn’t mean your piece of flash fiction will take any less time to write. Quite the opposite. In many cases, shorter pieces of writing will take more time than longer ones, as you are forced to peel away the unnecessary words in order to find the core of your narrative. I often imagine writing as an act of carving. I throw a pile of words at the page then, through editing, chisel away until I find the shape of the story. This is precisely the technique that is required to make a short piece of fiction impactful and worth reading. Prompt Visualisation One way to draw readers into your story is to focus on one powerful picture or piece of imagery around which to build the story. For inspiration why not look at pictures in a magazine or newspaper, an old photo album, or a piece of art. Sometimes, something as simple as an image of a half-eaten apple, can inspire you to create a glimpse into a story that will entice your readers. Because that is what flash fiction is, a glimpse – a flash – of a story that could easily belong in a much larger world. Start in the Middle & Use Descriptive, Concise Language The reason a lot of flash fiction starts in the middle, is because there’s no time (ie words) to build a rambling intro. It’s the same when writing my children’s books - I don’t have time to spend on floral descriptions, I need to grab my readers from the first line. That’s why the story must start at the most exciting (or most dramatic/upsetting) point, which is often the inciting incident in a longer novel (at about 20%) or the midway point. This is also true of Flash Fiction. Don’t introduce the story - tell it. Your characterisation has to be precise, efficient and entertaining too, without relying on lazy stereotypes. Whether its dialogue or description, every word needs to earn its keep.  Deal with a Single Conflict Flash fiction is not the same as prose poetry. Something should happen. Something should change. It requires a beginning, middle and end. In other words, your story requires movement. It is unlikely that you will have time for a subplot or backstory, but the longer you spend on your piece of writing, the more you will discover you can wrap things up in surprisingly few words. Most fiction is driven by conflict, but with flash fiction you will most likely need to limit your conflicts to one single struggle or choice that your character encounters. Use Descriptive, Concise Language Good writing is all about precision and there’s nothing quite like a strict word count to really sharpen your text. Keep sentences short, and don’t use three words where one will do.  Even if you have no intention of submitting your flash fiction for competition or publication, it is still a useful exercise to try to hone your writing skills. It’s also useful to learn if you write non-fiction or marketing copy - the more you can say, in as fewer words as possible, the more impactful your message. Create Surprise and Provide a Twist One subgenre of flash fiction is Twitterature, in which you have to tell a story in the form of a tweet. That’s 280 characters these days but it was even shorter when I wrote this in answer for a call for twitter stories using the hashtag #StoryShop.  “The shop sold plots, themes, characters, dialogue etc, but reaching the section on twists I realised it wasn\'t what it seemed. #StoryShop” One of the things I struggle with when I write my own flash fiction is my natural inclination to include a dramatic or amusing twist. This is often seen as a key component for a good short story, and one which can certainly be put to good use in flash fiction, but for many publishers and judges it is not as necessary as you may think. A good piece of flash fiction often simply illuminates a fleeting moment, causing the reader to pause and reflect on something or see something differently. If you can surprise your reader then you’re onto a good thing, but that surprise doesn’t necessarily need to appear at the end. Present a Memorable Last Line I once wrote a joke book, which also included hints and tips on writing jokes. In a sense, joke writing is another form a flash fiction. Comedians will tell you that a good gag relies on a precise choice of words and carefully formulated sentences to ensure that the punchline lands in exactly the right place. Just as flash fiction doesn’t require a twist, neither does it call for a punchline, but you’ll still want to find a final line with a little punch. Write a Powerful Title With my own writing, I often start with the title as that can ignite all sorts of ideas for the story. With so few words to play with in flash fiction, your title is a part of the story. Make it catchy, memorable, and in keeping with the theme. You can even be clever with it. Like a piece of art, the title may well provide a different angle in which to view the story. Get Others to Review and Critique Your Story Sometimes it’s hard to find beta readers to read your novel, but when writing flash fiction there’s no excuse for your story-loving friends not to take five minutes to look over your story and see if it impacts them the way you intended. Like with all forms of writing, it’s vital to be open to criticism and suggestions – plus you’ll be getting your friends hooked on flash fiction too! And Finally… Enjoy the Challenge I read various examples of flash fiction before I sat down to write this article, including several stories penned long before the term was coined. One of the most famous flash fiction stories - and one of the shortest - is this example of the six-word story. “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”  The origin of this story is unclear, but the story of the story (that Ernest Hemmingway wrote it to win a bar bet) is as intoxicating as the alcohol that Hemmingway is said that have earned for writing it. It’s the idea that you don’t need a lot of words to move and inspire your readers. But to do this, you do need to find the heart of the story.  However short your piece of writing, flash fiction can be extremely rewarding. Not just in how it forces you to hack away all unnecessary words, but also because it affords you the opportunity to play with a nugget of an idea and, hopefully, come up with something interesting, fresh and illuminating. 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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10 of the Best Flash Fiction Competitions

Finding an affordable and engaging fiction competition is harder than you think- especially if you are a flash fiction writer! Flash fiction writing contests are gaining popularity as well as notoriety. With many affordable or even free entry options out there today, it is no wonder that flash fiction competitions are worth seeking out! But what exactly is flash fiction, and where can you find some of these fantastic opportunities so that you can submit your work to them? That’s what this article is here for- I’ll even supply the deadlines to some of these great competitions! Let’s get started. What is Flash Fiction? Flash fiction is its own unique form of short story. I’m sure you could have already guessed that it is designed to be brief - typically with word counts ranging from 5 words to rarely more than 1000. There are many other terms used to refer to flash fiction: micro-story, nanotale, short short… It all depends on who you are talking to or submitting your work to! Short fiction competitions will all have their own specific guidelines to go over as well. Keep in mind however that flash fiction isn’t simply a truncated short story - it’s a unique story form. Chopping up and editing your existing novella into a flash fiction piece is possible, but not necessarily recommended. This writing style is unique, to the point, and fun, should you feel comfortable limiting your word count! Verbosity is common for writers, but whittling words down in order to fit a flash fiction brief is a talent all on its own. So, what are some of these flash fiction competitions like, and what will they require of you before submitting your work? Let’s take a look at some of Jericho’s top recommended fiction contests out there in 2021, including up-to-date and relevant deadlines! Flash Fiction Competitions I doubt I’m the first person to tell you, but: there are a wide variety of flash fiction competitions. Some are regular and routine to a particular magazine or website, some have annual submission opportunities with larger prizes, some are considered prestigious with publications, and there are also one-off contests with interesting themes. There is a lot of merit to submitting flash fiction for contests and competitions. The most obvious is winning awards and prizes, and therefore becoming an award winning author. However, there are many other reasons to consider writing and submitting your flash fiction, including gaining exposure, getting published, and receiving critiques or more experience writing in this innovative genre. Looking for a home for your piece of flash fiction? Look no further! Here are some of the best contests out there, with upcoming deadlines and low-cost or free entry fees so that you don’t miss a beat. Prime Number Magazine 53-Word Story Contest First Prize: Publication in Prime Number Magazine + a free book from Press 53 Entry Fee: Free Deadline: 15th of each month Prime Number Magazine has a wonderful flash fiction competition posted every month, under a different theme. Each prompt should be inspired by a single word and can only be 53 words long. Should you win, you will receive publication of your short story and bio in Prime Number magazine, as well as a free book. Submission guidelines and prompts can be found on their site- just be sure to submit by the 15th of each month! Flash 500 Contest First Prize: £300 Entry Fee: £5 Deadline: Quarterly- March 31, June 30, September 30, December 31 Looking for a flash fiction contest with some decent monetary reward? Check out the Flash Fiction Competition from Flash 500. There is a small entry fee, and you can even receive critique on your work if you submit a little extra fee. The prize money truly reflects the skill required to encapsulate an entire story in just 500 words- and there’s even money for second and third place too! Check out more about this contest and submit at their website, here. Tadpole Press 100 Word Writing Contest First Prize: $1,000 Entry Fee: $10 Deadline:  November 30, 2021 Now here’s a first prize! Tadpole Press has a flash fiction competition, normally reserved for writers on their own specific retreat. They have decided to open up the competition to everyone, with a $1,000 first prize to boot. Second and third place also get rewards, and the theme for this year’s competition is “Abundance”. All it takes is 100 words to potentially win! More information regarding the prompt as well as submission guidelines can be found here.  River Styx Micro-Fiction Contest First Prize: $1000 Entry Fee: $15–$20 Deadline: December 31, 2021 This flash fiction challenge comes from River Styx, with a word count maximum of 500. You can choose two different submission prices (the higher amount including a yearly subscription to River Styx’s magazine), and first, second, and third prize winners will be published. First prize wins $1000! You can learn more about this micro-fiction contest on their website here. WOW! Women On Writing Quarterly Flash Fiction Contest First Prize: $400 Entry Fee: $10 Deadline: Quarterly- February 28, May 31, August 31, November 30 WOW! is all about promoting the communication between women writers, and their quarterly flash fiction contest is no exception. With an open prompt and a low entry fee, submitting your flash fiction is easier than ever. Make sure your work is a minimum of 250 words and a maximum of 750 before you submit. More guidelines (including how to get your piece critiqued) can be found here. The Third Word Press Great Eighty Challenge First Prize: Publication Entry Fee: Free Deadline: Ongoing With a free entry fee and as many short submissions as you’d like, The Third Word Press has a wonderful flash fiction submission option. Submit a piece of flash fiction of exactly 80 words of your own work- no theme, no genre. You can even take from a larger piece, if you’d like. Submit using this form here, and keep it 80 words or less! Cranked Anvil Press Flash Fiction Competition First Prize: £100 Entry Fee: £3 for 1 entry; £5 for 2 entries Deadline: Quarterly- 28th (or 29th) February, 31st May, 31st August, 30th November With a monetary reward for both first and second place, this flash fiction contest from Cranked Anvil Press may be worth checking out. You can even submit a second entry with a slightly raised submission fee. The deadline is quarterly, so don’t stress about missing out on this one. And you can read more about their publication here. Bath Flash Fiction Award First Prize: £1,000 Entry Fee: £9 Deadline: Tri-Annually With a goal of bringing flash fiction to a wider audience, Bath hosts two international flash fiction competitions, including a novella option. With three yearly submission opportunities and a low entry fee, this contest is well worth checking out. There’s a large first prize, and decent second and third place rewards. Keep it all under 300 words, and learn more about Bath here. Reflex Fiction First Prize: £1,200 Entry Fee: £7 Deadline: Quarterly One of my favorite flash fiction competitions is this one from Reflex fiction. It has a robust prize system, with monetary rewards for first, second, and third place. Their rules are also simple: entries must be at least 180 words but no more than 360 words. You can submit more than one piece, but you will need to pay the entry fee for each one. Winners (and many of the non-winning, honorable mention entries) are published on the Reflex Fiction website, where you can find more submission requirements here. Craft Flash Fiction Contest First Prize: $1,000 Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: October 31st With $1,000 awarded to first, second, and third place, this flash fiction contest from Craft is well-worth considering. Your piece will be published on their website, you will be interviewed by their editor, and you will even receive a book bundle of amazing works from Rose Metal Press. While $20 isn’t the cheapest submission fee out there, you can submit up to two 1,000 word pieces. Learn more about this competition here. Conclusion While this is a comprehensive guide to flash fiction competitions, there are still many more opportunities to consider. I encourage you to research contests that interest you, and submit before deadlines loom! Have you found many flash fiction opportunities that spark your creativity? Let us know in the comments! 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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Writing Under a Pen Name – Pros and Cons

When I used to dream about being a published author, I always imagined taking a paperback off the shelf and seeing my name on it. I’m working on book fourteen now and none of them have my full name on. Instead, I have two pen names - Rhoda Baxter and Jeevani Charika.  A great many authors use pen names (or a ‘nom de plume’ if you want to be fancy) for a whole variety of reasons.  But what are the pitfalls to look out for? Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Read on to find out. Why Writers Use Pen Names Steven King is also Richard Bachmann, Nora Roberts is also J D Robb, Jill March and Sarah Hardesty, and Dean Koonz has had so many names that it’s hard to keep count. Having all these different names seems unnecessarily complicated. So why do it?  Here are some common reasons: PrivacyBrand differentiationDisguising gender or raceTo consolidate several writers under one name All of these and more are discussed below and, because this is a pros and cons article, there are some pitfalls to watch out for too. Advantages of Writing Under a Pen Name Privacy This is probably the number one reason that most people want a pen name. Being a public personality can be scary. It may be that you don’t want prospective employers (or clients) to put your name into Google and come up with all the dinosaur sci fi novels you wrote. Or perhaps you write erotica, and you really don’t want your friends and family to know (or worse, if you’re a teacher - the school to know!). If you’ve written something highly political or an exposé about real people, you might not want journalists hounding you for comment.  There is no wrong reason for wanting to maintain your privacy. In this hyper-connected age, it’s nice to be able to put some space between your public persona and your private life. Branding Some genres have expectations attached. A name like Amy Silver lends itself well to a Christmas romcom, for example, but might jar a bit on the cover of a psychological thriller. But ‘Paula Hawkins’, now that’s a nice thriller name. In case you haven’t guessed, they are the same person writing in two very different genres.  If you write in more than one genre, having two pen names helps you keep your reader groups separate. Sticking with the Paula Hawkins example - having two names stops a reader expecting a romcom and getting a thriller. Some authors write across genres under the same name, but your publisher may ask you to think about using a different pen name if your new book is a departure from your usual style, or if they want to build a new brand for you. For me, the Jeevani Charika books all feature at least one Asian protagonist, while the Rhoda Baxter ones are mostly about white protagonists. To Create a Distinct Public Persona  It can be helpful to have a distinct writer persona, especially if you’re shy in real life. One of my favourite things about having a pen name is that ‘Rhoda’ is slightly different to the real me on social media. While the fundamentals were the same, she’s more outgoing, and much more cheerful than I am. When speaking at events I always feel less self-conscious if I imagine that Rhoda or even Jeevani Charika is a completely different person to me.  Hiding Your Gender If you’re a woman writing in a traditionally male dominated genre, you might want to use a male pen name in order to sell more books. If you\'re a man writing romance or sagas, you might consider writing under a female pen name. Many writers like to keep things ambiguous and use their initials and a last name (which doesn’t have to be their real last name).  Making Your Race Less Obvious Okay, this is a contentious one. This was one of the reasons my early romcoms came out under the name Rhoda Baxter, rather than my Sri Lankan name.  My first book was about Sri Lankans. I got a lot of very nice rejections from agents with notes along the lines of ‘I like it, but I don’t know where I’d place it’. After a while, I wrote a second book - a romcom about a white heroine. I found a publisher (in the US) relatively quickly. They asked if I was going to use a pen name. I’m a microbiologist by training, so I named myself after Rhodobacter sphaeroides, the bacterium I did my thesis on). ‘Much easier to Google’, the publisher said, approvingly.  I used my own photo in the bio and talked about my Sri Lankan heritage openly - this was not a catfishing exercise - but it meant that on the shelf, my romcom looked like all the other romcoms.  That was 2011. I didn’t get a publishing contract for a book under the name Jeevani Charika until 2018. I know a few other romance authors of colour who started off using white-sounding pen names to get established and then moved to using names closer to their real ones as romance publishers became more open to the idea of non-white names on the cover. It\'s not a good idea to try this if you’re actually white. To Make Your Name More Memorable If you have a fairly unremarkable name, then you can have fun choosing a dramatic and memorable author name. To Differentiate Yourself From Another Author With a Similar Name Occasionally, you’ll find two different authors who have the same name. This is a huge pain because it confuses retailer algorithms, and it confounds readers. You can avoid this by using a pseudonym or just adding a middle initial to your name.  To Combine the Work of Two (or More) People The author Juliet Bell writes Bronte retellings set in the early 20th century. Behind the name are two authors (Janet Gover and Alison May) who write romance and women’s fiction. Sometimes a prolific pen name like Franklin W Dixon (The Hardy Boys) and Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew) can be supported by a whole host of ghost writers. As a Whimsical Touch to Enhance the Book Occasionally, you see pen names that are closely related to the characters in the book, which make it look like the book was written by one of the characters. For example, Daniel Handler’s children’s books in A Series of Unfortunate Events are presented as the memoirs written by Lemony Snickett. Because the Publisher Requested it Sometimes publishers will ask you to choose a different pseudonym - either for branding reasons, as discussed above; because you’re too prolific and they can’t publish more than a couple of books under each name in any given year; or simply because they want to market you as a ‘new’ author (especially if your last book didn’t sell very well).  Disadvantages of Using a Pen Name There are undoubtedly many advantages to using a pen name, but it’s not all sunshine and roses. Here is the counter argument. Your Friends May Not Recognise the Book as Yours Imagine you’ve just told your friend about the publication of your new book. Being a supportive and delightful person, they talk about it in the pub later ... except they can’t remember your pen name. Since friends and family can be a good way to spread the word, you could lose some word-of-mouth recommendations. More Names Mean More Marketing I found this out to my cost. When the first Jeevani Charika book came out, I excitedly set up new social media accounts and a new website. But keeping up a presence in all these places is quite hard work with one name - keeping up TWO was exhausting. In the end, I gave up and changed the name of my Rhoda Twitter account to include both names. I still maintain two separate websites, though. Despite the websites mentioning the other pen name, not many readers click through from one site to the other.  Achievements in One Name Don’t Translate to the Other As I mentioned before, readers don’t often go from one pen name to another, even in genres that appear to be closely related. So your achievements in one pen name will mean nothing to readers who read the other pen name.  In real life, you could win a major award, but none of your friends would know about it because they didn’t make the connection. Sometimes the consequences of this disconnect can be massive. An inverse example is Robert Galbraith - whose novels did moderately well, until it was revealed that Robert Galbraith was a pen name for JK Rowling. The books became instant bestsellers. Financial Complications It is usual to sign publishing contracts under your real name, despite the books coming out under a pen name (you can request that your identity is kept confidential). This makes it easier for the publisher to pay you, as they can send payment to your real name.  If you need to keep your identity secret, you can sign contracts in your pen name, but that may make it harder for you to prove that you are the owner of the copyright and there may be additional hoops to jump through to get your royalties paid. Consolidation Difficulty What if one of your pen names becomes a runaway bestseller? You might want to consolidate all the other books you have under the more popular pen name. This is difficult, but not insurmountable. Before the Shopaholic books took off, Sophie Kinsella wrote novels under the name \'Madeleine Wickham’ - they have now been remarketed as ‘Sophie Kinsella writing as Madeleine Wickham’, so that Sophie’s readers can find them easily. Being More Than One Person is Confusing Okay, this might be just me, but sometimes I forget which writer persona I’m meant to be. If you’re going on a podcast, for example, it’s good to work out which persona you’re going to be beforehand, especially if your pen names belong to very different genres. Sometimes Readers Feel Betrayed This is a strange one. Using pen names is long established in the writing world (George Elliot, George Orwell, Mark Twain are all pseudonyms), but some readers are offended by well-known authors using new pen names. They feel like the author is ‘lying’ to them, especially if an established author is being presented as an exciting new debut. There isn’t a lot you can do about this, apart from telling your followers when you’re starting a new pen name.  Legal issues to Using a Pen Name It is not advisable to use an established author’s name as a pen name. If you write a horror novel and stick ‘Stephen King’ on the cover - you will almost certainly hear from his lawyers. You can trademark a pen name.Signing a contract under a pen name does not let you get out of your contractual obligations.In the US, you can register copyright under your real name or your pen name (but the length of copyright is different). So Should You Use a Pen Name? Now that you know all the pros and cons of using a pen name, should you use a pen name? There is no right or wrong answer. Personally, I like having pen names (although I find having two hard work). The pen names provide a tiny bit of separation from my books, which helps me feel a little less awkward about promoting them. Think about the pros and cons and work out what would work best for you. Good luck … whatever you end up calling yourself. 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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Writing And Burnout

If you’re here, you’re probably burned out. You should be writing, but your desire to do so has evaporated. I\'ve been there. It is exhausting and frustrating in equal parts. The act of writing no longer feels like the transformative, relaxing or impassioned experience it usually is. It has become a chore. Your mind feels fuzzy and unfocussed, engulfed by a thick fog. The thought of returning to your work in progress only to struggle with it makes you tired, rather than excited. In fact, you’d rather do anything other than write. These are the signs of writing burnout, and it’s fair to say that at some point in a person’s creative career, we all experience it. In these troubled times of pandemic-related anxiety and stress, it is perhaps no surprise that burnout is more prevalent than ever. The good news is that overcoming creative burnout is entirely possible. In this guide, we examine what writer burnout means, offer tips on how to avoid burnout as a writer, and hopefully, help you rediscover the joy of writing if you’re struggling with it.    What Is Writer’s Burnout? Writer’s burnout is a state of exhaustion that makes you unwilling and unable to do what you love best and can lead to you questioning your entire identity as a creative. This is not the same as writer’s block, which is characterised as an inability to write. Writer or creative burnout is more extreme, and manifests as a writer being physically, mentally and emotionally incapable of performing the most basic of tasks or assignments. I spent much of 2020 in that state, missing several key deadlines as a result. Thankfully, my publishers were understanding and patient, but the inability to do what I have always loved to even a basic degree was heart-breaking. There are many contributors to burnout: stress, fatigue, a pervasive culture of ‘hustle’, and the pressures that come with being self-employed or freelance to name a few. Writers often keep irregular hours, are beholden to tight (sometimes self-imposed) deadlines, and have to contend with a string of other considerations like imposter syndrome, marginalisation, low income, and a highly competitive industry. Writing can also be a lonely business, with a distinct lack of support and opportunities to socialise. Long hours bound to the desk juggling deadlines means you’re left with little time to indulge in healthy, non-work based hobbies, exercise, or other pursuits. All these things combined can sometimes be overwhelming. Signs Of Writing Burnout Recognising writer\'s burnout can be key to making sure you overcome it in the future. If you’re still unsure, ask yourself the following questions: Are you constantly exhausted?Are you struggling with motivation?Is your mindset increasingly negative, or are you often in a bad mood?Are you having a hard time remembering things?Do you feel anxious and overwhelmed?Has your output slowed down, and the quality of your work suffered? Do you feel rundown and in a general state of poor health?Has writing lost all its joy for you?Are you using alcohol, drugs or other stimulants as a crutch?Do you sleep badly?Are you becoming more insular and retreating from the world at large? If the answer is yes to several or all of these, then my advice is simple: stop for a moment. Get used to the idea that you are going through something serious and start taking care of yourself a little. Admitting to and accepting that you are dealing with burnout is the first step towards improving your situation.  How To Avoid Burnout As A Writer ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is the foundation of much in modern healthcare, and it applies to writer’s burnout too. There are several things you can do to pre-emptively stave off burnout: Set Firm Boundaries Boundaries are a formidable tool in any writer’s toolbox. Having a clear idea of your preferred daily working hours, routine, how you want to be communicated with, the number of deadlines and projects you are comfortable with, and who you want to work with is a great way of making sure you don\'t get overwhelmed. Write your boundaries down and stick to them. It will make life much simpler, clearer and easier to navigate.  Be Actively Nice To Yourself Be your own cheerleader and shout about your achievements and successes as many times as you feel you need to. Doing so can be an affirmative process that actively makes you feel better about yourself and your abilities, and this can go a long way towards fighting off burnout before it takes too firm a hold on you.  Keep It Simple And Structured Decluttering your workspace can help create a calmer mindset. Then do the same with your working day. Divide your day into chunks and figure out how you want to use that time. If writing is too difficult, schedule in some admin, or perhaps do some valuable writer research. Answer a few emails, especially if your inbox is filling up. Grab a notebook and do some gentle planning, or jot down ideas. Keep it simple and try to stick to some sort of structure. You’ll still be working and moving forward, even if you aren’t writing. Most importantly, make sure you factor in lots of breaks. A coffee break, lunch, a walk around the block, podcast time while you do the dishes or maybe even calling a friend for half an hour. Break times are important for creative energy. It can be difficult to remember that when all we see is a looming deadline.  Look After Yourself It’s important to look after your physical health and mental wellbeing. A healthier body can mean a healthier mind, and taking care of both is extremely important, especially in today’s world. While it’s certainly beneficial to exercise and get fresh air wherever possible, that isn’t always an option for creatives with mobility issues or other limiting factors, but you can take care of yourself in other ways. Getting enough sleep can make a huge difference. So can carving out time to spend with friends or an inner circle of peers that you trust, like your local writer’s group. Meditation might be beneficial, as is self-soothing: a weighted blanket, a hot bath, time spent with a novel, music, a jigsaw, your kid’s Lego, a freshly cooked, healthy meal, or a special cup of coffee. Simple, small things can make a big difference when you’re burned out.  Take It Easy On Yourself ‘You shouldn\'t write if you can\'t write’, Ernest Hemingway once said, and he was absolutely right. One of the worst ways to recover from writing burnout is by ‘writing through’ it. Slogging ahead whilst battling extreme mental and physical fatigue will only exacerbate the symptoms of burnout. The quickest and best way to tackle your situation is by taking control of your work schedule, as stated above, and, most importantly, allowing yourself to rest. If you can, reassess your deadlines and ask for more time where needed, or, if they are self-imposed deadlines, adjust them to accommodate your current situation. Give yourself some slack when it comes to your own expectations of what you can achieve. If stopping work entirely for a while is not an option for you, then get used to the idea of working at a slower pace until you feel better. Introducing breaks in your working day will also help, especially if they involve time away from a screen, social media, email, and anything else likely to make you feel overwhelmed. Ways To Recover From Writing Burnout If you are currently in the grip of burnout, try not to worry too much. That’s easier said than done, I know, but there are ways to facilitate your own recovery. The most important thing you can do is to prioritise yourself. But what does that look like? Plenty Of Rest And Sleep At the risk of sounding like your favourite aunt, sleep is important. Getting adequate rest on a regular basis can vastly improve both mood and overall health, reduce stress and clear away that brain fog. Frustratingly, burnout and stress can often impact sleep, and ‘coronasomnia’ is also an emerging issue thanks to disrupted routines and prolonged uncertainty. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy could help introduce a better bedtime routine and habits. Having a device-free bedroom could also help, with working in bed on your laptop a big no-no. There are also a range of apps that play white noise, soothing music, or read you a bedtime story. Even if you’re not sleeping, being in a quiet, calm bedroom or sleeping space can help put your body to rest and kickstart the restoration process a little. Explore Other Creative Outlets And Experiences For many writers, their hobby has suddenly become their career. This can make it difficult to find other ways to relax. Art, music, gaming, cooking, crafting or spending time in nature could help. It’s about finding another outlet to express your creativity that isn’t governed by deadlines, pay rates or client expectations. Getting away from your desk, home or studio for a while is also beneficial, as is trying something completely new like life-drawing, pottery, stamp collecting, pony trekking, you name it - anything that intrigues you and gives you the chance to meet new people and gather a different perspective on life. Relax And Socialise Relaxation time allows you to put your needs front and centre for a concerted period. Whether it’s a hot bath, a gentle walk, yoga, meditation or a massage, it’s important to allow your body and mind to relax as much as possible. Downtime also doesn’t have to be all about low lights, baths and herbal tea, however. It can involve hanging out with close friends and letting your hair down during games night, a sports event, a night out at the pub or dancing at a gig. If you’re having fun and socialising, you’re restoring. Just be careful you don’t push it too far and burn the already depleted candle at both ends. Deal With Mundane Chores Sometimes I deal with burnout by diving into household chores. When I am incapable of doing much that requires real brainpower, I can cope with menial, practical tasks. I often tee up my favourite true crime podcasts and dive into cleaning, tidying, gardening, or DIY tasks I’ve been putting off. It creates a sense of momentum that helps me feel less hopeless about my situation. Again, if you are someone with mobility issues some of these things might not be accessible, but you could find that dealing with household admin, finances, or general day to day things you have been putting off equally as helpful. Change Your Writing Location A change can be as good as a rest, and this is especially true if you work from home. The pandemic made getting out and about extremely difficult, and a lack of variety in setting can compound burnout. I rearranged my office so that my desk was closer to a window and added some plants to my workspace, which helped a little. I also took paperwork I needed to do into the garden during good weather, and once restrictions lifted and it was safe to do so, I took my laptop back to my favourite cafe, which helped enormously. A change of scene can work wonders. Identify Sources Of Stress In a similar vein to setting boundaries and structuring your working day, identifying the exact stressors in your life can be enormously helpful. Too many deadlines? Prioritise or cut them down. A particular person bothering you? Limit your interaction with them. Writing project stalling close to deadline? Consider asking a peer to beta-read or give constructive feedback to help kickstart you again. Tackling a series of issues methodically can give you great peace of mind and a better sense of control. Go On Holiday Again, this is not always possible for everyone, but if you do have the means, a vacation is a fantastic way to recharge your depleted creative batteries. But when we say vacation, we mean it - leave the laptop at home, ignore your emails and try to disengage completely. A notebook might be good for capturing any ideas you have whilst relaxing on a sun lounger - but keep it brief and simple. No new novel attempts! From Burnout To Churn Out Finding yourself in a position of creative burnout is nothing to be ashamed of - it is a natural by-product of many individual factors and stressors working against you. There are measures you can take to make sure it doesn\'t happen again: implementing more structure, setting firmer boundaries and being kind to your body and mind key among them. For those in the thick of writer burnout, you can navigate your way out by identifying the symptoms, making a real effort to rest and be good to yourself, and slowing down your expectations when it comes to output for a while. You aren’t alone in feeling this way, and in this line of work you’ll probably encounter writer’s burnout more than once, but hopefully, by following these tips you’ll soon be going from burnout to ‘churn out’ in no time.  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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Writing Humour – Injecting Humour Into Your Story

So, you want to learn how to make your readers burst out laughing, but you can’t even get a pity laugh out of your own grandma? This guide is all you need to gain an understanding of the common forms of humour in writing, and how to use humorous writing techniques to inject comedy into your own writing. Read on to find out how! What Is Humour Writing? Humorous writing is any piece of writing that’s written with the intention to prompt amusement and to be funny. There are many forms of humour you can inject into your writing to turn a ho-hum piece into a side-splitter.  Types Of Humour In Literature From the subtle humour of satire or deadpan, through to in-your-face farce and slapstick, once you have a solid grasp on what forms of humour exist and how to use them, you’ll have a vast toolbox at your fingertips to make your readers smirk, giggle and howl with laughter in any situation.  Let’s dive into some of the most common ones, along with some humorous writing examples to help you recognise these techniques in the wild. Anecdotal An anecdote is a brief, humorous story about a real-life experience. Think of Michelle Flaherty from American Pie, and her endless anecdotes revolving around “this one time, at band camp”. Dark Dark humour, also known as black humour, morbid humour or gallows humour, is a form of humour that makes light of anything especially sad or serious. The term ‘gallows humour’ actually dates back to the 1800s, when people would joke about being hanged at the gallows. ‘On my license, it says I\'m an organ donor. . . I wonder what poor asshole would get stuck with whatever it is in me that passes for a heart.’ ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ – Jodi Picoult Deadpan Deadpan humour, otherwise known as dry humour, relies on delivery to land correctly. Usually a statement will be humorous in content, perhaps even over-the-top or ridiculous, but the wording and delivery of it is intended to be casual, almost as though the speaker is unaware they’re making a joke at all. The word deadpan comes from the slang term ‘pan’, used for ‘face’ in the early 20th century. So, to have a dead pan was to have a face that showed no expression or emotion. ‘Through my curtains I can see a big yellow moon. I’m thinking of all the people in the world who will be looking at that same moon. I wonder how many of them haven’t got any eyebrows?’ ‘Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging’ – Louise Rennison Farcical A farce, or farcical humour, is a form of humour that derives its comedy through the absurd ridiculousness of a situation. A farce will often use miscommunication to create humorous scenarios and misunderstandings. For example, Shakespeare loved to employ farce. Think of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where mistaken identity and confusion causes a love quadrangle. Ironic When something appears to be the case, or should be the case, but the reality is the opposite, you’re dealing with irony. For example, a fire department catching on fire, or the world’s leading skin cancer expert dying after they mistake their own melanoma for a benign mole. At the start of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen writes: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ As the narrative quickly goes on to show us single women spending much time and energy finding a husband, we grow to understand the irony in that opening sentence. Parodic A parody is an entertainment piece produced to mimic an existing work, artist or genre, but dialled up to a hundred in order to poke fun at it. The humour comes from highlighting flaws and overdone tropes through an exaggerated portrayal. For example, think of Austin Powers, which parodies James Bond. Or Bored of the Rings by Douglas Kenney, a parody of Lord of the Rings. Satirical Satirical writing uses wit to make a point about power—be it a commentary on the government, the privileged, large corporations, etc—and aims to cause readers to think deeply about society, and what can be done to improve it. Satirical works range from political cartoons you’ll find in the newspaper, through to books like Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, which satirises organised religion. Self-Deprecating Self-deprecation is a form of humour where an individual makes a comment about their own flaws and shortcomings in a light-hearted manner. ‘They all laughed when I said I\'d become a comedian. Well, they\'re not laughing now.’ ‘Crying with Laughter: My Life Story’ – Bob Monkhouse Situational Situational humour is any type of humour that arises from the situation characters find themselves in.  Think of a character going to a babysitting job and finding out the child is actually the antichrist, or a character going on a blind date only to find themselves face to face with the horrible customer they served at work earlier that day.  Slapstick Slapstick refers to physical humour involving the body. It often involves some form of pain (think falling, or having something fall on you, or accidentally breaking a piece of furniture while using it) or otherwise odd things happening to a body (like a hose going off in someone’s face unexpectedly). An excellent example is America’s Funniest Home Videos. Tips For Writing Humorous Stories Okay, so we’ve covered some of the more common types of humour, and you’re ready to find out how to develop your own humorous writing style? Luckily, all writers have the ability to write humour, even if it’s not something that comes easily to you at first. All it takes is practice! Here are some humorous writing tips to leave your audience cackling. Study Other Writers Think of a piece of writing you found hilarious. Read it carefully. Note what it is that makes it so amusing. Can you spot any of the forms of humour we covered above? Once you can recognise and categorise humour techniques and forms, you’ll find that determining which form of humour fits your own writing in which situation will start to come more naturally. Use Your Own Material Do you sometimes make comments that other people find hilarious? Take note of your own jokes (literally—write it down for yourself to use later) and refer back to them while writing. You’ll be surprised how often you can find a natural spot for that joke to make a recurrence. Use Juxtaposition Utilise juxtaposition, or pairing opposites near each other to highlight the differences between them. Think The Odd Couple, or Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. There are plenty of humorous opportunities for a slacker character or a type-A character, but that humour is magnified if those two characters share scenes. Master Comedic Timing Comedic timing plays a huge role in how a joke lands. Pay attention while you’re reading or watching comedy, and notice how long a joke goes on for, and where the punchline lands. Like stories, jokes have their own arcs: setup, anticipation and payoff. For an example of excellent comedic timing, give Don Quixote a read. Use Alliteration Alliteration, or stringing together words beginning with the same consonant, can make text both more amusing and memorable. Roald Dahl was very partial to this technique. Willy Wonka and Bruce Bogtrotter are amusing and memorable names. Steve Wonka and Bruce Robertson would’ve been less so.  Use Amusing Words Similarly, note how some words simply sound funnier than others. Some comedians believe words with a ‘k’ sound in them are perceived to be funnier. Think about some of the more absurd words in the English language, like filibuster or absquatulate. Get in the habit of searching for synonyms, and ask yourself if the joke would be funnier with a different word choice. Provide Surprise Jokes often involve the rule of three, or listing three things, two straight, and one punchline. Think two brunettes and a blonde, or an Englishman, an Irishman and an American. The first two points establish a pattern, and the third point breaks the pattern, creating humour through surprise.  \'FEDERAL FUNDING, TRAVEL EXPENSES, BOOTY CALLS, AND YOU.\' ‘Red White and Royal Blue’—Casey McQuiston Exaggerate Exaggeration is a widely used humorous technique. Make sure to exaggerate to an extreme extent, going well over-the-top. For example: ‘Mum said I should walk to the shops, but it was about fifty thousand billion degrees outside, so obviously that wasn’t happening.’ Writing Humour By knowing these forms of humour, and following these tips, you can learn to inject humour into your writing in a way that will both amuse your readers, and make your writing more memorable.  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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22 of the Best Writing Podcasts

If you’re a writer looking for some sound advice and a little inspiration, or perhaps you’re in the gloomy depths of your work-in-progress with no hint of light in sight, then I have some fantastic news for you. A plethora of incredible FREE podcasts await you! In this article, I’ll share some of the absolute BEST podcasts for writers. Whether you’re working on your first novel, have a few books under your belt, or if you’ve already been published, I have a novel writing podcast perfect for you.  Why Subscribe to Podcasts for Writers? As a writer who had her very first foray into the world of podcasts just a few short years ago (I’m usually late to the party), I’ve already learned a great deal from them. Not only do author podcasts provide much-needed insight and inspiration, episodes exist on nearly every topic imaginable.  Writing is often a solitary and difficult endeavour but hearing from other writers and industry experts reminds us we’re not alone. Good writing podcasts give us the tools and techniques we need to get the job done. And the best part is you can listen and learn while doing other things – driving, cooking, and walking the dog will never be boring again. Don’t know which writing podcasts are worth listening to? We gotcha covered. Read on… 22 Inspiring Writing Podcasts The Creative Writer’s Tool Belt Hosted by author and creative writing mentor, Andrew Chamberlain, The Creative Writers Toolbelt publishes new episodes bi-monthly, giving writers practical, accessible advice and encouragement. Each episode explores an aspect of creative writing technique, sharing plenty of examples, and allowing writers to immediately apply what they learn to their writing.  This fiction writing podcast also shares the occasional interview with writers or artists, exploring their wisdom on subjects like story, style, character, and writing process. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Podomatic. Minorities in Publishing Minorities in Publishing is the brainchild of publishing professional, Jenn Baker. As its name implies, this podcast focuses on diversity (or the lack thereof) in the book publishing industry. In each episode, Baker talks with other publishing professionals, as well as authors and other people involved in the literary scene.  Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Podbay.  Beautiful Writers Podcast Beautiful Writers Podcast is hosted by bestselling author, writing coach, ex-ghostwriter, and magazine editor, Linda Sivertsen. This podcast features up-close conversations with the world’s most beloved, bestselling authors about writing, publishing, deal-making, spirituality, activism, and the art of romancing creativity.  Episodes are heart-centered and encouraging with street-smart advice and insider success (and failure), featuring stories for every writer and creative type.  Listen on all American Airlines, in-flight entertainment systems, as well as iTunes, Spotify, iHeartradio, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, PlayerFM, Castbox, PodTail, PodbayFM, and ListenNotes.  My Dad Wrote a Porno The title of this podcast says it all! Imagine if your dad wrote an erotic book. Most people would try to ignore it—but that’s not what Jamie Morton did. Instead, he decided to read it to the world in this groundbreaking comedic podcast. With the help of his best mates, Jamie reads a chapter a week and discovers more about his father than he ever bargained for.  My Dad Wrote a Porno is quite simply sex scene-writing gold (lessons in both what and what not to do). Listen on Acast and Apple Podcast.  Create If Writing Podcast Create If Writing Podcast, hosted by author and writing coach, Kirsten Oliphant, is for any writer, blogger, or creative who wants to build an online platform without being smarmy. The episodes provide a balanced mix of inspiration and technical advice to help writers get their name out there.  Listen on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify. Between the Covers Feeling stuck? We’ve all been there. Between the Covers, hosted by David Naimon, might be just what you need. This literary radio show and podcast features in-depth conversations with both fiction and non-fiction writers, as well as poets. It’s been proclaimed by the Guardian, Book Riot, the Financial Times, and BuzzFeed as one of the most notable book podcasts for writers and readers around. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts.  Dead Robots’ Society Dead Robots’ Society was created by Justin Macumber in an effort to offer advice and support to other aspiring writers. This podcast is currently helmed by Macumber, Terry Mixon, and Paul E. Cooley, all of whom have writing experience of some kind. The hosts produce weekly episodes, sharing stories of their individual journeys and discussing topics important to the world of writing.  Listen on PodHoster and Apple Podcasts.  Where Should We Begin While not your typical writing podcast, Where Should We Begin, hosted by therapist Esther Perel, provides behind-the-scenes counselling sessions of real couples. Listening to episodes can help writers better understand the resentments and hopes we all harbour and transfer these emotions over to their fictional writing.  Listen on Spotify.  Otherppl with Brad Listi Are you just starting your writing career? If so, then Otherppl with Brad Listi is the podcast to begin with. Weekly episodes feature interviews with today’s leading writers, poets, and screenwriters. The podcast has been described by NPR as “fun, quirky, and in-depth.”  Listen on Apple Podcasts, Podbay, or get the official free app. Please, Finish Your Book This is another great podcast for beginner writers. Brought to you by John P. Smith, Jr., Please, Finish Your Book is a case study as well as a celebration of how busy people were able to write and publish inspiring, educational, and/or entertaining books despite the distractions from other major priorities.  Listen on Apple Podcasts and Podchaser. Unpublished from Amie McNee Unpublished from Amie McNee is all about building a sustainable, creative life. This podcast delves into the many trials, tribulations, as well as the magic of being a writer seeking publication. It\'s a place to take your art seriously and where you can go to reflect on your own personal journey and build a thriving, creative practice.  Listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.  Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing Do you struggle with the grammatical side of writing? If so, Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing is the place to go. This podcast provides short, friendly tips to help you improve your writing and feed your love of the English language. Whether English is your first or second language, these grammar, punctuation, style, and business tips will help to make you a better and more successful writer.  Listen on Apple Podcasts. Guardian Books Podcast Looking to learn more about books, in general? Guardian Books Podcast, presented by Claire Armitstead, Richard Lea, and Sian Cain, shares in-depth interviews with authors from all over the world. The discussions and investigations make Guardian Books the perfect companion for readers and writers alike.  Listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Writing Excuses Writing Excuses was one of the first writing podcasts I ever listened to, and it’s chock full of high quality, easily applicable advice. Hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Margaret Dunlap, Mahtab Narsimhan, Howard Tyler, and Dan Wells, this fast-paced, educational podcast airs short-ish episodes every Sunday evening. The hosts’ goal is to help listeners become better writers whether they write for fun or for profit.  Listen on Apple Podcasts.  Literary Speaking Literary Speaking is one of the top podcasts for aspiring writers. Hosted by Crystal-Lee Quibell, this podcast features conversations with best-selling authors, literary agents, publishers, and publicity firms. Answering questions such as: How do I establish a writing practice? Find an agent? Get published? Build a platform? Literary Speaking will help you discover all the tips and tricks.  Listen on Apple Podcasts.  Reading Women If you look back at the history of literary awards, few women have received the recognition they deserve. Reading Women reclaims the bookshelf by interviewing authors and reviewing books by or about women from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. This highly-acclaimed podcast releases new episodes every Wednesday. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify. First Draft First Draft is another one of my personal faves. Every Thursday, host Sarah Enni talks to writers and storytellers about their lives, their craft, and how the two overlap. First Draft has over a million downloads and was named one of Apple Podcasts Top 25 Podcasts for Book Lovers.  If you\'re a new or aspiring writer, you can learn about the traditional publishing industry by listening to the Track Changes miniseries on First Draft. Listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.  The Writing Community Chat Show Hosted by author Christopher Aggett, The Writing Community Chat Show was born out of Aggett\'s appreciation for the Twitter writing community. Episodes feature stories of indie authors, traditionally-published authors, and other professionals in the writing world. The podcast is unique in that their shows are live-streamed on YouTube before they are converted into a podcast. New episodes are produced twice weekly. Listen on Spotify, Podchaser, YouTube, and Apple Podcasts. The Honest Authors Podcast On The Honest Authors Podcast, bestselling authors Gillian McAllister and Holly Seddon answer all-important questions such as How do you get a book deal? Why does it take so long for a book to come out? and How many abandoned manuscripts does it take to finally hit a home run?  Once authors get published, they often have more questions than before! This podcast releases bi-monthly episodes with lively discussions, interviews with new and upcoming authors, as well as honest answers to all our burning questions.  Listen on Spreaker, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts.  The Shit No One Tells You About Writing The Shit No One Tells You About Writing, hosted by author Bianca Marais, has a title no one will forget in a hurry. This podcast is for emerging writers looking to improve their work with an aim of publication, or anyone wanting a behind-the-scenes look at the publishing industry.  Marias interviews authors, editors, agents, publicists, copy editors, and many other types of professionals within the world of writing and publishing. She is also joined by agents Carly Watters and CeCe Lyra from P.S. Literary Agency who read and critique query letters and opening pages in their regular Books with Hooks segment. Listeners can expect good advice, honest insights, and a few laughs along the way.  Listen on Apple Podcasts. No Write Way Hosted by bestselling author, Victoria Schwab, No Write Way shares chats with writers about their creative processes, origin stories, hurdles, work-life balance, and how they write books. Episodes are replays of live video casts, but you can catch the interviews live on Instagram @veschwab.  Listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.  Write-Off with Francesca Steele If there’s one thing every writer must face, it\'s rejection. Lucky for us, award-winning journalist and writer, Francesca Steele, talks to authors about their own experiences with rejection and how they manage to get past it on her podcast Write-Off. A must-listen for every writer! Listen on Spotify.  Best Writing Podcasts—It’s a Wrap I\'ve listed 22 of the best fiction writing podcasts available, but, of course, there are many more great ones out there. If you\'re new to the world of writing podcasts, I hope this list will inspire you to get listening and find a few literary faves of your own.    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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How to Write a Story Pitch

You’ve just typed ‘The End’ and you know that this story or article is hands down the best thing you have ever written. I believe you. I do. But before you go attaching your work and bashing out an email where you will tell the recipient that this story will take the world by storm, let’s take a little time to concentrate on arguably the most important part of your road to publication: Your story pitch. With submissions in publishing at an all-time high, with most agents receiving around forty to fifty submissions a day, the job of your story pitch is to (as quickly as possible) make your story stand out from the crowd. In this guide we will look at how to grab the attention of your pitch reviewer from the minute they open your email.  In just the opening line, we are going to make your reader sit up and take notice of your submission. Not only that, but we’re also going to tell them why it will sell, why they should pick your story above all the other submissions, using the example below of a story pitch template. So, before you go hitting that send button, let’s talk about why getting your story pitch right is important and what you need to do to get it right the first time. What is a Story Pitch? A story pitch is a succinct way of explaining what your story is about, what makes it right for the person you are pitching it to, and why it will sell. Pitches are used throughout the publishing industry, be it journalists pitching to newspapers and magazines, screenwriters wanting the next hit on Netflix, or authors hoping to grab an agent’s attention with a view to bagging that all important publishing deal.  Regardless of where in the industry you are aiming to see your work, a good story pitch is vital if you’re hoping to break into this highly competitive market. Why is it Important to Know How to Pitch Your Story? As a new writer, the question I most dreaded was, ‘What’s your story about?’ I would describe what happens at the beginning of the book, waffle on using words like, ‘oh and then’ and ‘meanwhile,’ and after five minutes I would see the person’s eyes glaze over. Publishers, agents, and booksellers do not have that time. Not only do you need to be able to pitch your idea quickly, but they will also need to when they try to sell it to publishers or bookshops. The good news is that if you can show them how easily your story will grab a reader’s attention from the onset, then you’ve just made their job a whole lot easier. How to Pitch a Story Right, so you have this killer story, you know it’s something special, so how on earth do you describe this masterpiece in just one line or, at best, a short paragraph?  The easiest way is to focus on the key elements of your story (for novel submissions, forget about your side characters and subplots for now, that will all become apparent in your synopsis). To hone your pitch, you need to concentrate on the key elements of your story, why it will fit that publishing establishment and why they need you. So, what does a good story pitch include? A hooky first lineA short paragraph describing your story by focusing on the key elements. For fiction these will be your protagonist - the event that upsets their world; what they hope to achieve and what is getting in their wayA popular comparison to explain genre, setting, themeA reason why your work will fit that establishmentCredentials explaining why they should work with you Simple right? But what if you’re not sure of the answers to these questions? Know Your Story Before you begin writing your pitch, you must be able to identify the key elements of your story. For a novel submission, here are five key components you must highlight when writing a good story pitch. 1. Your Protagonist The first thing a pitch reviewer will be asking is who is your protagonist and most importantly why should we be rooting for them? You might know the answer to this, but to pitch successfully, you need to tell that agent/publisher why your readers are going to want them to succeed. Unless we are rooting for them, why should we care what happens to them? Why would we keep turning the pages? Your explanation of your protagonist can be as simple as a bubbly hard-working woman called Helen who has never caught a break, or on the other end of the spectrum, we could have Rob, a grieving father who has tracked down the person who killed his daughter. 2. The Event That Upsets Their World Now we know and are championing your protagonist, what happens to push them out of their comfort zone and into a new world? This is very important because this is often where you will find the hook of your novel, the reason that a reader will have picked up your story from the shelf, the thing that screams out from the blurb. So, does Helen, the bubbly hardworking woman suddenly get offered the job of a lifetime? Or does Rob the grieving father kill the wrong person? 3. What do they eventually want to achieve? What is their goal? Now we have your lovable protagonist thrown into a new world, what is it they want? Does Helen now want to leave the new high-pressure job? Does Rob want to atone for his mistake? 4. What is standing in their way? Next, what is stopping your protagonist from getting what they want?  Has Helen become tangled up in some dodgy dealings with her new employer? Does Rob’s victim’s family come after him? Now you know these answers, it’s time to show where your story fits in the market. 5. Compare Your Story Finally, and very importantly, what book can your story be compared to? Not sure? No problem, these comparisons can be a mix of literature, film or simply an author. It’s all about highlighting the story and the style of writing. Feel free to mix them up! The above examples could be ‘If Sophie Kinsella had written The Firm’ or ‘Dexter meets Gone Girl.’  Take some time to think about comparisons, your examples should reflect your genre, protagonist, and style.   Do Your Research Congratulations, you can now identify the key elements to your story and you have your comparisons ready - so what now? The first thing is to research the organisation you are targeting. Take some time to look at the novels on their lists, or if you’re pitching a magazine or newspaper check if they have published similar articles and when?  Follow Submission Guidelines I know you’re chomping at the bit to get your story out there, but a word of caution. Check the submission guidelines. If the agent/editor/magazine asks for a one-page synopsis, do not send them three. If they only accept email submissions, do not send them a hard copy. If you can’t find submission guidelines on their website, then contact them for clarification. Ensure A Clear Subject Line for Email Pitches Once again, make sure you comply with the submission guidelines. Often an agency will have an email address specifically for submissions; the most common format in this case would be to have your book title followed by your name in the subject line. Check what they are looking for. Engage with a Strong Opening Line Right then, here we go.  You’ve checked who you are sending your submission to and you have stuck to the guidelines - so now it’s time to grab their attention. Remember that first impressions count, so before you explain your idea in more detail, grab your pitch reviewer’s attention with the very first line. A good way to do this is by using the words ‘what if’ or ‘imagine’: ‘What if you landed your dream job only to find out that you couldn’t escape it?’ or ‘Imagine if your daughter was murdered and you knew where her killer lived.’ Within your first line you have grabbed their attention, pitched your hook, genre and shown your protagonist. Construct the pitch Now is the time to expand your story pitch in a short paragraph revealing those all-important key elements:  ‘Imagine if Sophie Kinsella had written The Firm, this is what you get in my romantic comedy THE DREAM JOB where we meet Helen who…’ or ‘With shades of Gone Girl and Dexter, my psychological thriller I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE follows Robert Green, a grieving father who is set on a path of revenge when he finds out where his daughter’s killer lives…’  Provide Compelling Reasons to Publish You have their attention, they like your idea, so why should they consider your story for publication as opposed to the other pitches in their submission pile? Easy, you tell them!  You tell them where it sits in the market, which titles are similar but what makes your story stand out: Do you have an unusual protagonist? Is it set over the course of just one week? Or in a village during a power cut?  This is your chance to show them you know what you’re talking about and how this book is going to make them (and you!) a lot of money. Tell Them About Yourself You’ve done it, you’ve intrigued them - now they need to know about you. Tell them about your qualifications, your credentials and background but keep it brief.  If you haven’t got any qualifications, explain why you’ve decided to become a writer. If you have been published before, mention this and provide a link to any relevant online resources or profiles.  Thank Them for Their Attention Last, but not least, thank the pitch reviewer for their time and attention.  Always be polite and professional.  If you have established a positive professional relationship already, they may keep you in mind for future projects.  Story Pitch Template Excited? I am!  You now have all the tools to pitch your story - so here is a basic story pitch template to help you along the way: Subject line: Follow the guidelines for story pitches to agents/publishers. This will often be your book title followed by your name. Salutation: Be sure to address this to the correct person. If you are unsure who will read your submission, a simple ‘Hi!’ will suffice.Headline and Introduction: Start with a simple and brief ‘I hope this email finds you well’ then get straight to your one-line story pitch or headline, if you are approaching magazines/newspapers.  Make this as engaging and grabby as you can! For fiction, here is where you can use your ‘Imagine’ and ‘What if…’ sentence starters.Story Summary:  Make this a short, concise paragraph where you focus on the key elements to your story.Story Relevance: Explain who this story will appeal to, why it stands out from the crowd, why it will sell. Author Bio: Add your credentials, background, qualifications, or if this is your first foray into the publishing world, explain why; be passionate about your decision.Contact Details: Give details of how you wish to be contacted.  Make sure this is all correct. One typo in an email or missing number in your phone number could mean all the difference.Thanks: Thank them for reading your pitch, be polite, friendly and professional at all times (especially if you are rejected). Writing a Story Pitch And there we have it! I hope that this guide helps you understand the importance of your story pitch and what is needed to pitch successfully.  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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What Are Secondary Characters?

Secondary Characters - Definition and Examples We’ve all done it; spent hours and hours defining the minutiae of our protagonists, even down to their favourite ice cream flavour and dream holiday destination. But what about the people who surround them? These secondary characters, also called supporting characters, are vitally important to our stories. They may even become the fan favourite: just think about the beloved Dumbledore or Shakespeare’s Mercutio. Secondary characters are frequently described as supporting characters because of the role they play. They are often supporting the protagonist and driving the story forward, for example acting as a sidekick or love interest. Or they are supporting the development of the protagonist’s character arc, acting as a foil or to build a character’s backstory. Secondary characters may even offer comic relief or carry subplots all of their own. There is no ‘hard and fast’ rule for how many characters there should be in a novel. Some novels make use of a vast cast of characters (think of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire); while others focus on a single protagonist. But even novels with a minuscule cast will still have secondary characters, even if we only meet them through flashback or another literary mechanism. What is a Secondary Character? So, what are secondary characters? They are those in our stories who play a significant role, and appear in multiple scenes, but who are not the main focus of the primary plot. These supporting characters may be the focal point of their own subplots and so they are integral to the story as a whole.  Characters who only appear in one or two scenes, or who exist entirely on the periphery of the story, are unlikely to be secondary characters. Some characters exist only for a very narrow purpose: a waiter serving dinner, a taxi driver, a colleague who is seen only once. We often refer to these characters as tertiary. Why do Secondary Characters Matter? Secondary characters matter because they add layers to our stories. When we read a book, of course we want to know what happens to the main characters, but we also want to see them as part of the wider world. Secondary characters provide that anchor and an opportunity to showcase a more complex fictional surrounding. One of the most useful things they do is offer our protagonists someone to talk to. It sounds so simple, but without someone to talk to, our protagonists may need to do a lot of pontificating, which is unlikely to feel particularly exciting for our readers!Secondary characters may also provide a subplot of their own to drive the narrative, solidify the themes, or provide a necessary change in pace. Think of the death of Rue in The Hunger Games; the reverence of Katniss’s memorial to her was in stark contrast to the high-octane action during that part of the story. How to Develop Secondary Characters The main thing to remember when creating secondary characters is that they are characters first and supporters second. They should feel like whole people who could step straight off the page, so we must avoid them becoming clichés, or even worse, being contradictory in order to progress the main plot. There is nothing more off-putting, or likely to throw us out of a story, than if a secondary character does something we know they wouldn’t, just to make a plot point work.   The best supporting characters will have all the things we expect from good primary characters: a clear arc, recognisable personality traits, and consistent points of view. So, how do we write brilliant secondary characters? First and foremost, remember that they are real people; they are the product of their life experiences, and this informs how they interact with the world around them and the other characters that meet them. Do we need to write them all a whole and elaborate backstory? No. But we do need to think of some of the key things they have been through that have shaped them. What about their hobbies, their families, their hopes and dreams, the little idiosyncrasies that make them unique?  Secondly, make them interesting and special. Secondary characters are a perfect opportunity to surprise our readers and grab their attention. Keep readers on their toes and they won’t be able to put the story down. These characters don’t have to be likeable, or sympathetic, so have some fun!   Make sure that the secondary characters have purpose within the context of the overall story. They need to be connected to the main narrative, even though that narrative doesn’t revolve solely around them as it does for the protagonist. Remember that old saying ‘kill your darlings’? Secondary characters must be necessary, they aren’t just an opportunity to pad a story with an unrelated back story or sub-plot. And if they are? Well, you know what you must do. When I’m planning my secondary and supporting cast, I create a character profile for each one to enable me to keep track. This includes their names, relationship to other key characters, age, sex etc. But I will also include other more interesting information: where were they at the turn of the millennium for example, although a more up to date example might be what they did during the first lockdown in 2020! These character profiles or bio templates can also be very helpful for making sure that our secondary characters are all unique and we don’t have multiple characters who are too much like one another. We don’t need as much detail for our secondary characters as for our protagonists, but we still need to ensure that are fully formed and feel real. A quick point on names: make sure they are also memorable. Most of us agonise over the names for our protagonists, ensuring it is perfectly suited to their personality and perhaps even finding something with a double meaning to the story. We must make sure our names for supporting characters are similarly suited to them and also that they are different from each other; there is nothing more frustrating as a reader than not knowing who is who because they are all called Dave! Dynamic Characters Dynamic characters are those who have a character arc and therefore change over time. This change may result from a significant crisis or from resolving a major conflict. Our protagonist and other major characters will undoubtedly be dynamic characters, but there is ample opportunity for us to make secondary characters dynamic too. Static Characters Static characters are the opposite of dynamic characters in that they do not change over time. They remain the same throughout the story, with no major transformation or evolution. They are often used to provide a contrast to the main characters’ journeys, especially to highlight the evolution of the protagonist. We can also use static characters to provide some lighter relief to the narrative. Round Characters Round characters are those who are complete and complex individuals. They are likely to have elements of their personality that contradict or provide inner conflict. We can craft these complex personality types to ensure that the reader connects more fully to our characters, as they are seen as more ‘real’. Flat Characters Flat characters are the opposite to round characters and are defined by just one main personality trait or characteristic. Flat characters are most useful as tertiary characters, those incidental people our primary or secondary characters interact with. These flat characters are likely to ‘blend in the background’ and so do not slow down the narrative.  Examples of Secondary Characters We’ve talked about the types of secondary characters, but these supporting characters play a number of important roles too, including acting as companions, assistants, foils, roadblocks, and antagonists. The companion, or sidekick, is a secondary character who stands with the protagonist on their journey. They might be a love interest, a friend, a sibling, or just someone who goes along for the ride. They don’t even need to be human, there have been some great animal companions in literature, offering the protagonist company and someone to talk to, such as Buck in The Call of the Wild.  Some companions play more of an assistant role, offering help and guidance to the protagonist. Probably the most recognisable assistant in literature is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr Watson, without whom Sherlock Holmes would seriously flounder. Batman’s Robin is another great example.  Another significant supporting character role is the foil. The foil exists to contrast against the main character and therefore we can use them to highlight the qualities of the protagonist we wish to accentuate. JK Rowling used this technique to highlight the inherent good in Harry Potter by pitching him against Draco Malfoy. Draco also epitomises the naked ambition that is in direct contrast to Harry’s initial reluctance to see himself as the hero, which only makes us love him more. We often use secondary characters as roadblocks, using them to put challenges in our protagonist’s path. This may provide essential plot elements, or form part of the main character’s arc by providing opportunities for them to grow and change. How they react to these roadblocks may provide significant illumination about the main characters. In Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece, The Road, a father and his son are travelling by foot with all their possessions in a supermarket trolley. The man who steals their cart is an excellent example of a roadblock, this man’s actions may literally spell death for the father and his son. The father responds by tracking the man down and preparing to execute him, but instead leaves him alive, demonstrating that despite their prolonged ordeal, the father still wishes to model compassion for his son.Antagonists provide adversarial opportunities for our protagonists. We use them to generate conflict for the main characters. Antagonists are often the evil villain, such as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia or Mrs Trunchbull in Matilda. Don\'t Neglect Your Secondary Characters! As we’ve seen, secondary characters play a vital role in fiction. They are the companions, the villains, the ones who offer assistance, or the ones that put obstacles in the way. Without these supporting characters, our stories would feel flat, our plots less exciting, and our main characters less rounded. Just because they are described as secondary, don’t scrimp on the way you develop these characters. Make them believable and ‘real’ and they will really help to make your work leap off the page and keep your readers happy and engaged. Try making a list of every character in your story. How many of them are secondary? Now take each of these in turn and build a short character profile. You might want to consider their main characteristics. What kind of person are they? What is their role in the story? Are they round or flat, and does that work well? Are they dynamic or static? 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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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. 
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Freytag’s Pyramid: Understanding Dramatic Structure and Applying it to Your Own Narrative

What is Freytag’s Pyramid? You might be familiar with the Three Act Structure, or the ‘Beats’ of Save The Cat, but have you heard of their predecessor, Freytag’s Pyramid?  Freytag’s Pyramid was the brainchild of Gustav Freytag, a nineteenth century playwright and novelist who liked to peer beneath the surface of his favourite plays – namely Greek tragedies and Shakespearean drama – and figure out how they worked.  He realised they all followed a distinct dramatic arc, which he plotted out in a pyramid for everyone to see. It’s one of the more popular dramatic structures that writers use, and likely the oldest. It consists of two halves, the play, and the counterplay, which together form a pyramid that contains five acts. These five acts are the introduction, rising movement, climax, falling action, and catastrophe. How Does Freytag’s Pyramid Work? As we just found out, Freytag’s Pyramid is formed by five acts: IntroductionRising actionClimax (midpoint)Falling ActionCatastrophe (denouement) In a nutshell, Freytag’s Pyramid works by giving writers a way to structure their story that makes it comprehensible to readers. Each act represents a different stage of conflict or tension. A little disclaimer here: this might not be a structure you’ll want to use if you’re writing a rom-com. Freytag was all about the tragic. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, but Freytag’s Pyramid is in essence all about storytelling, and understanding it will help any aspiring novelist really nail their plotting, whatever their genre. Freytag’s Pyramid, Act by Act So that you can see the Pyramid in action, as well as explaining the acts, we’re going to use one of his most famous sources as our example. Namely the classic Shakespeare play, ‘Macbeth.’ Spoiler alert: everyone dies. Act 1: Introduction It’s always helpful to consider your reader when beginning your novel. Where are we? What’s going on? This is where you show us the world you’ve created and introduce us to your characters. Your first act also needs to tell us what situation your characters are in and it needs to end with the famous ‘inciting incident’ – the kick-off, the discovery, the moment everything changes.  In ‘Macbeth’ we see our anti-hero emerge victorious from war. We’re introduced to our other main players, Banquo, King Duncan, Macduff, Malcolm, and the most excellent of characters, Lady Macbeth. The inciting incident is the three witches putting the worm of ambition into Macbeth’s mind when they prophesy that he could be king… All hail, Macbeth. Act 2: Rising Action This is usually the longest act and it’s where things get meaty. The inciting incident will have set off a series of events that are building to the climax (or midpoint if you prefer). Obstacles that your character must overcome to get what they want will become more and more difficult. They will really have to strive. This is where we can start to learn about the motives of your creations – how far are they going to go to get what they desire? Why do they want it? Your protagonists might make bad choices in this act and get themselves into trouble. Maybe they’ll face danger from enemies, or they might even be the danger themselves. Or things could just be going really well because you know pride always comes before a fall. New characters can cause new problems, but all the elements in this section need to be raising the temperature.  Back to our Scottish friends. The Rising Action of ‘Macbeth’ is full of drama. Macbeth and his wife have plotted and schemed and actually murdered poor King Duncan. Not only that, but they’ve managed to get his sons to run away, making them look very guilty indeed. They’ve also bumped off some pesky guard witnesses. They knew what they wanted and they went to extremes in order to get it – they’re nearly there and things are looking good for them. Or are they? Act 3: Climax (Midpoint) This is the pointy bit of Freytag’s Pyramid, where all the lovely tension has been leading up to so far. From this point on, in our tragedies at least, it’s a race to the bottom. Unlike in other dramatic models where the power scene is at the end (think Battle of Hogwarts or Frodo at the crater of Mount Doom) this instead is a crisis in the middle of the narrative. It was all going so well, but now it’s time to pull the thread that will cause everything in your characters’ lives to unravel.  As for Macbeth, he’s done it. He’s finally been crowned King; his ambition has peaked. Unfortunately, he has also sent some frankly useless assassins to get Banquo, and they’ve let his son escape to tell the tale. And this is before the ghost of poor murdered ex-King Duncan turns up at the coronation banquet and terrifies Macbeth so badly that his lords think perhaps, he’s not such a great kingly option after all. Down we go into Act 4, the Falling Action. Act 4: Falling Action It’s important to know here that ‘falling’ does not necessarily mean winding down – rather once you’ve crossed the point of no return, the protagonists star is falling where it was rising before. It can and should still be full of tension and anticipation. We know the final catastrophe is coming, and we can’t tear our eyes away from the inevitability of it all. This is where you can tidy up some of the plot points that began in Rising Action, and reveal some of the secrets you might have hidden away. You can throw in some hints at hope to make us think maybe everything will be okay if you want to add some suspense, but this is a tragedy template after all. We know it won’t end well.  Back in Scotland, it’s all going terribly for Macbeth. The witches have conned him into thinking he’s invincible, he’s slaughtered his friend’s family in an attempt to strengthen his hold on the throne, and his enemies are coming. Oh, and Lady Macbeth has driven herself to the edge with guilt. Out, damned spot! Act 5: Catastrophe (Denouement) And here we are, all is undone, your character has brought themselves, or been brought, to an ultimate low. It’s the end of the road. This act ends in a roundup of what happens next – if anything – and it’ll be up to you whether there’s a glimpse of redemption or happiness to be had. If this is the case, your final act is a denouement rather than just a catastrophe. If you’re Freytag, it’s catastrophe all round, as per Macbeth, who really has messed everything right up. Wild ambition is bad, guys, keep away from those daggers.  At Glamis, enemies have crept on the castle hiding behind branches, Lady Macbeth is dead, and all Macbeth can think about is the utter meaningless of life. It’s his own fault really, and it’s almost a mercy when untimely ripped Macduff ends his suffering, and Malcolm is made king, restoring the correct order of things. Some Final Thoughts on Freytag’s Pyramid... While this is quite a specific structural template, it has its uses across the board of writing fiction. The idea of the central reversal, a rise, and a fall can really give an emotional hit to a narrative, especially if you have a relatable and sympathetic character in mind. Even Lady Macbeth, who essentially convinces her husband to commit regicide, is doing so out of misguided love for him. We can kind of understand that, and there’s satisfaction in seeing the story resolve itself, even if it is tragic. This pyramid structure really lets you explore the classic human pattern of desire and denial, and what happens when you lose yourself in pursuit of something impossible or wrong. It also provides a helpful way to think of your novel in the sense that each scene needs to be one side of the pyramid – your characters are either pushing the boundaries to breaking point, or they’re suffering the consequences and likely making things worse. This can help you balance your narrative. You could also skew the pyramid if you don’t want to go full-Gustav. In this interpretation, the catastrophe becomes more a resolution of sorts where your character survives the disaster in a slightly better shape than they started out despite their misbehaviour – they learn their lesson. Obviously, this was not the case for poor old Macbeth who really should have been happy with what he had. There are more modern ways of approaching structure that you might be interested in reading about, be that using character arc templates or thinking about different methods of plotting, but Freytag’s Pyramid is a classic and seamless way of structuring a tragedy. If it worked for Shakespeare it can work for us, right? 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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How to Create a Character Bio Template

How to Create a Character Bio Template You have a great idea for a book, but you don’t yet know anything about your main character (being ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ is not enough to move a story forward). Or perhaps you’re struggling with your latest novel and can’t work out your character’s motivation. Elevating a book from a good idea, to a compelling and addictive read, hinges on deep characterisation. This is where a well-crafted character bio template comes in. Or, in this case, all the ingredients you need to create your own bespoke character profile template. You can also sign up for our FREE Jericho Writers Character Building worksheet. What is a Character Profile? A character profile is a document that you, as an author, compiles during the (preferably) beginning stages of a first draft. The character template should document everything about your character’s life – from how they look to mannerisms and their back story. A character profile template will allow you to keep all the important details about your protagonist/antagonist in one place to be used as a writing resource when attempting your first draft. It can also be a handy tool to check details and continuity during the editing process.  But don’t be intimidated!  Character template writing needn’t be boring or laborious. And your character bios don’t have to be cumbersome, lengthy or complicated. There are no hard and fast ‘rules’ about what you can and can’t include. In short, your character template sheet should be crammed with as much information as you can think of. Why is a Character Bio Important? Writing your character creation template is important, because if you don’t understand your character fully, then neither will your readers.  We all know that the concept or plot is what makes us read the first few chapters, but it’s the characters that keep us turning the pages. In fact, even the most implausible story ideas can capture the hearts of many, if they get the connection with the characters right.  Take, for instance, the story of Eleanor Oliphant, in the novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Any other character in her place, anyone less unique and complicated than her, would have made an intriguing and riveting book really quite dull. Readers get invested in a story because they relate to the character on the page, or because they are invested in their growth. They stick around because the characters feel real.  But characters won’t feel real to your readers if they aren’t real to you. So how do you create that with the help of a character bio profile?* *Before we start - a word of warning Once you learn the art of writing a character profile template, you will never look at your characters the same way again.  So let’s begin… What to Include in Your Character Bio Template Creating a character profile will essentially develop the bible that your leading players will live by. And although 90% of what you discover about your characters will never make it to your novel, having a deeper understanding of your characters and their motivations means that when you put them in certain situations, they will show their true selves in the most natural way. There are plenty of detailed character profile templates out there for you to use, adapt, and play with. Some are spreadsheets, some Word documents, some forms to fill in. But I think the best way to get to know your characters is to develop your own outline based on the questions highlighted in this article. Whether that means cutting and pasting my prompts into a Word doc, or even buying a notebook and filling it with nothing but characterisation notes, you need to construct a template of headers and questions that work for you! Let’s start with the simple questions first. Basic Characteristics It’s so important to be able to see your characters in your mind, therefore start with what they look like and who they are.  NameAgeNationality Don’t skip the easy stuff, but don’t stop there. When deciding on a character name, question why.  Was that name passed down by a grandmother? Does that mean that family ties are important to this character?  Something as basic as a name can throw up so much depth and understanding about a character, and small important details can be dropped into your novel to add depth and roundness. Same applies to their nationality and heritage. Physical Attributes Again, these help your reader see your character. Start with: Hair colour Eye colour HeightAny physical disabilities Then take those simple thoughts and dig around some more.  What about that scar on his left cheek? Why is that there? Who gave it to him and why? Is he self-conscious about it? Does this change his behaviour when out in public?Does she have painted nails, or chipped bitten nails? Could this be a sign of vanity, or maybe those bitten nails are a sign of anxiety? Personal Preferences of the Character (e.g. political / tastes / cultural) You can have a lot of fun with this one. Start with the basics and ask why:  Favourite colourFavourite foodFavourite musicFavourite restaurantReligious beliefsSpiritual beliefsPolitical affiliations Then, get deeper still… Is there is a certain phrase your character says all the time?Do they swear and if so, what cuss words does he/she prefer? What hobbies does your character have? Why? Where would we find your character on a wet and rainy day? How would a typical weekend play out in your character\'s world? The answers to these questions will filter in like softly spun gold through the pages of your novel. Health What’s your character’s health like?  Smoker?Drinker?Exercise regularly? Health can be a big issue in our day to day lives, so we should be aware of it with our characters, too. You would be surprised how much of a difference it makes when creating a well-rounded character. Could bad health or hypochondria run the family? Does your character use health issues as a barrier? Do they eat well, or binge eat late at night? Why? Do they walk with a slight hunch due to consistent back pain that they have grown accustomed to living with over the years? Career and Education Even if this isn’t mentioned explicitly in your novel, knowing how your character acted at school and what they do for a living is so important. A career can signal so much about a person and can help you develop who they are simply by looking at what they have chosen to dedicate their life to.  Does the character have a job?How long have they been in chosen career?Are they happy?What job would they choose if they could retrain?Is their job important to them?What are their main priorities in life and where does career fit in? Remember that most of our adult life is spent working with, and surrounded by, others. Work life can change a personality completely.  How does your character view their work colleagues? And how do they feel about your character? Does your character get involved with colleagues outside of work hours, and how does this affect their work/home life balance?What is their greatest career achievement?How did they do in school? Were they popular? Did their early school life affect their chosen career? Asking questions like these can help you figure out the motivation and underlying issues your character is dealing with. If it’s a sense of loneliness, has it been there since school? If it’s a sense of entitlement, could that have come from their upbringing?  Flesh out the ‘whys’ and enhance your character development, and the plot twists (or holes) will reveal themselves. Personality Traits This will most likely be the most in-depth section of your character template – but again, don’t stick to the surface. Even if you have decided your character is mean, narcissistic, and aggressive, ask yourself why. What happened in the past to make them this way?  Are they… Cautious or spontaneous? A daredevil or worry-wart? Why? Do they act the same way around other people or does bravado make this person take risks they wouldn’t normally?An optimist or pessimist?An introvert or extrovert?What do you think is your character’s biggest flaw? What does your character believe is their biggest flaw?What is their greatest strength? Get down to the nitty gritty, even if most of this won’t appear in your book. Start asking questions that really test you as a creative writer. Ask questions that will push you to find out the deeper motivations, such as: What is your characters biggest regret? Why?What is their darkest secret? And how would they react if someone found out?Are they the type to crumble under interrogation, or lie to conceal the truth? Family and Relationships This is an important section of your character trait bible because it’s not until you begin excavating relationship dynamics, that you truly get to know who you’re writing about. Don’t be surprised if your plot changes as your main character deepens. Ask yourself these questions: Spouse/significant other?Are the character’s parents still around?Do they have any siblings?Are they the oldest/youngest in the family?Is there an extended family/family support system? Again, this is surface-level, but look what happens when you start digging a little deeper… How do they get on with each of the family members? What do those family members think of your character? Would they be honest about this to their face and if not why?What’s the character’s first/oldest memory?What member of their family/support system would your character turn to in a crisis?How would they react?Does your character trust members of the family and vice versa?If your character is married, where did they meet? Love at first sight? Were friends happy about the union? Were family members accepting? At this stage you may even find yourself creating complicated spider diagrams to see how your main character connects with the rest of the cast. Don’t be surprised if this exercise begins to alter your plot and deepen your twists. Life Stages, Milestones, and Backstory This section is generally filled with information that you (and only you) will ever know about your character, because no one needs to endure an ‘info dump’ about each character’s backstory. However, small nuggets of this information will always feed into your story if you are adding the required depth of character. So it’s important to know the following before you start: What stage in life is my character in at the start of the story?What stage of life will they be in at the end?What has been the character’s greatest achievement in life?What has been their top three life defining moments? If ‘X’ hadn’t happened to your character, how would life be different now?How would your character describe their life right now? List the major life events in chronological order from birth to now and highlight major events that have changed the course of their life. Look at you go! The character that you only previously knew as ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ is fast becoming a fascinating, deep, and 3D guy. Let’s go deeper. Character Perspectives, Outlook, and Opinions You may think your characters don’t have opinions yet, but that’s because you haven’t asked them. By this point in your character profile template, you should know so much about your character, that this section will seem instinctive. Be prepared, because many of the opinions you discover they have may not be your own. But you have built this fictional person, given them features, history, flaws, and dreams… so you shouldn’t be surprised when they suddenly have their own opinions. What do they think of the state of the world right now? What is the one thing they would change if they could?What is the one thing holding them back from true happiness right now? And do they really believe they will be happy if that one thing were to change? In this section, try to be honest and answer from your character’s point of view, not your own. If your character is lying to you (and you know it), ask yourself what they are afraid of. You must be willing to ask, listen, and analyse.  And finally, ask some of your own questions. These are a few that have arisen after years or doing this exercise: Who is your character’s biggest inspiration and why?How does your character spend the week before this story begins?If your character could jump back in time to one particular point, where would it be and why?What is your character’s most prized possession?Name four things your character would change about themselves. How to Develop Your Character Profile Template Essentially, what you are doing with a character bio template, is sitting down with a large pot of tea and a box of tissues and asking an imaginary person as many deep and meaningful questions as you can.  You are the therapist who wants to know all their secrets, worries, and desires. You are interviewing them for the story of their lives, and you are not leaving until you know each and every last detail.  It’s up to you how you put your character profile template together, whether you go for handwritten notes or a fancy spreadsheet, just remember - the deeper you dig, the more gold you will find.  Once you have built a detailed psychological profile of each important character, you will have all the power you need to help make them come alive on the page! And who knows? It may even inspire new plot twists and scenarios or highlight plot holes. Deep Characterisation is Vital in Good Storytelling As much as we love to plan and predict what we are writing, there’s nothing more exciting for a writer than when a twist comes out of the blue and you didn’t see it coming. Often that’s a matter of chance, but not now. Now you know exactly how your character will react, and why, those twists will be much easier to write. Your character bio template not only helps when creating your first draft, it also acts as the perfect reference guide and checklist during edits. For instance, if you can’t remember the name of your MC’s sister’s boyfriend, no problem, because you will have written all that information down in your ‘family and relationships’ section. Finding and dealing with continuity issues in your manuscript is so much easier if you have a reference guide to check – and it will also save you a lot of hassle when your editor and proof-readers ask for a list of names and places. It’s also invaluable when writing a series of books, as it saves you having to re-read your books to remember back story and character traits. Essentially, your character bio template can be anything you want it to be, as long as it helps you see, smell, touch, and hear your characters in your mind. No one else in the world needs to know any of the answers to these questions because it’s up to you what to reveal to your readers and what to keep hidden. But truly knowing your characters like this means you will create well-rounded, real, and vivid characters that will jump from the page and capture the heart of your readers. 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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How Mannerisms Can Create Memorable Characters

What Are Mannerisms, And How Can They Help You Create Memorable Characters That Jump Off The Page? How do you create characters that feel real? The best stories are brought to life by characters that jump off the page – they are three-dimensional, rather than two-dimensional – as if they’re sat right beside you.  We understand it can sometimes be challenging to do this. After all, strong characters are the heart and soul of every story. One of the most effective ways you can do this in your novel, using a classic ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ method, is through character mannerisms. These are an essential way of breathing life into your character. They can elevate your writing to the next level, helping your readers feel more invested in your characters naturally and organically, ensuring they’re still thinking about them long after they’ve finished the final chapter. But firstly, let’s ask ourselves: What exactly are character mannerisms? Mannerism Definition: Mannerisms are the things that people do repeatedly without realising. They are typically unconscious gestures, vocal tics, or expressions. They can be things that people do with their hands, faces or voices – they might do them repeatedly and not even realise they’re doing them. As mannerisms are individual quirks, they can be a great way to build a character’s personality. For example, when considering how to convey strong emotions, it can be useful to look at a list of mannerisms for specific emotional responses. Mannerism Examples There’s a reason why fiction writers are always people-watching. We love to see how individuals act, and how they react. We don’t all act the same way when shocked or angry. Let’s take a look at some standard mannerisms of everyday emotions and see if you can add any of your own. Mannerisms Of A Sad Character Wobbling lipWiping their eyesLooking upwards to bat away tearsLooking downwards at their feet to avoid eye contactFidgeting with their handsStumbling over their wordsHigh-pitched voiceCoughing to clear their throatBiting their fingernails Mannerisms Of A Happy Character Open body languageThey make tactile movements, such as touching, stroking, and hugging other charactersLaughter and smilingHumming and singingDemonstrate politeness through gestures such as holding a door open for othersDaydreamingSing-song speech patternShortness of breath from speaking too fast and too excitedlyGesturing wildly with their hands while talkingSwinging arms when walking around Sad and happy are quite general emotions, so let’s look at a list of mannerisms for something a bit more specific, like a character who is displaying narcissistic traits, or one who is shy. These types of character traits offer the opportunity to link the character’s mannerisms with their back story and development (a very important aspect of mannerisms that we will explore further in this article).  For example, your character may be timid due to past trauma, a phobia, or a history of abuse – or from having a narcissistic parent. Mannerisms Of A Narcissistic Character Frequently looking at themselves in the mirror and constantly checking their appearanceExaggerating, bragging, or lying about their achievements or talents, and seeking out constant praise and admirationDemeaning or belittling others – they might do this by interrupting other characters and speaking over themPhysical mannerisms might include smirking and sneering and rolling their eyes when others are talkingConfident physical traits – they will likely have a strong posture, with a confident stance and walk with a swaggerLoud speaking voice and loud laugh Mannerisms Of A Timid Character Jumpy and flinching at sudden noisesIsolating themselves, they’re often on their ownNervous around strangersStuttering and stammering and are quite often tongue-tiedNatural response is to freeze in high-pressure or high-stress environmentsShaking – physically with their hands or in their voiceSpeaking quietly and softly, and less frequently than other charactersShowing general social awkwardness – difficulty engaging in conversations, maintaining eye contact, joining in on jokes etc Speech And Dialogue Aside from emotions, there are also mannerisms you can give your characters to elevate them from the page and bring them to life. These can be intertwined with speech and dialogue. Think about the following… Volume: Does their voice boom, or are they softly spoken?Where do they come from, and does it affect how they speak?Do they have an accent? Are there certain phrases they use frequently?Do they talk more than they listen? Do they interrupt other characters?Speed: Do they speak quickly or slowly? Are buffer words such as ‘like’ or ‘erm’ used frequently? (Only add these if they are part of the character traits, or it will be distracting for your readers).Do they make physical noises, like coughing, laughing, clearing their throat, or muttering? Physical Character Traits There are also physical mannerisms that can convey a sense of who they are to a reader. Perhaps a character plays with her hair, implying she’s flirting, or maybe it’s a nervous habit. If they are anxious, they may tense their jaw, grind their teeth, or rub the back of their neck or temples. These physical reactions work well in moments of high-stakes tension.  Think about what a character is doing with their body, as well as what they are saying or thinking. Biting their lip or the inside of their cheek might be seen as a sign of nerves, worry or a lack of confidence. What are they doing with their eyes? Both strong eye contact or avoiding/breaking eye contact can convey emotions or depict personality types. And finally, posture - how does your character present themselves? Do they stand confidently with their shoulders back, or are they slumped over? A broad stance or a slouch can say a lot about a character and offer an immediate impression to a reader. Using External Interactions Considering how your characters physically interact with objects and the environment around them is another important aspect of character building. For example, if they wear glasses, are they repeatedly pushing them further up their nose? Do they take them off and rub their bloodshot eyes? Do they clean them with a handkerchief while pondering in a moment of thought? Imagine our character holding a pen. Would they tap it against the table, annoying other characters? Would they doodle absentmindedly on a blank page while in a daydream? Maybe they’d chew the end of the pen if they’re nervous? Or click it repeatedly? There are many ways you can use external objects or surroundings to add new layers to your character’s personality. Creating Tension And Conflict Mannerisms can also be an excellent tool to create tension and conflict between characters. Conflict is one of the most vital aspects of every story and every character arc (check out our free character arc guide and template for your character development). Without conflict and something for your characters to overcome, there is no story. But how can mannerisms add to this? The conflict and tension concerning an individual mannerism can’t be instant, as the mannerism needs to be well-established. But once it is, then it’s the perfect opportunity to have another character pick up on the quirk or trait and interact with it. For example, they could ask that person to stop doing it (because they’re finding it irritating, and it could be the final straw that makes them snap). Or they could ask why they always do it (inviting a conversation, and maybe creating or diffusing tension, about how that specific mannerism is linked to their back story).  Individual literary genres tend to approach internal and external conflict differently; our blog about conflict in genre writing breaks this concept down in further detail. Let’s go recap all we need to know about creating believable characters through their mannerisms. Character Mannerisms: What To DO ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ It’s the age-old writing advice, but it’s especially relevant when writing character mannerisms. Don’t have your character simply saying “I’m sad” – instead, make them wipe away a tear slowly rolling down their flushed cheek. Link Mannerisms To A Vital Part Of A Character’s Back Story For example, they shouldn’t be shy or awkward for absolutely no reason. Perhaps it’s linked to a childhood experience when they were humiliated at school, and now they find crowds difficult to handle. Our blog about characterisation and character development is a useful resource for creating meaningful backstories and character arcs.  Try And Avoid Clichés Some mannerisms are overused and can therefore turn a reader off (our blog about avoiding clichés and writing believable characters is an excellent guide). Think outside the box if you can and consider how you or other people act subconsciously in certain situations. Sometimes it can help to observe people and actions in these settings.  Character Mannerisms: What NOT To Do Repeat The Mannerism Too Frequently It might distract from the character and the story, and become annoying for the reader. However, on the other hand, don’t just add the odd mannerism in as a throwaway gesture; otherwise, it won’t be memorable enough. Leave Mannerisms As An After-Thought These mannerisms should act as the backbone of your character. They should be deeply connected to who they are as a person and why they act (or don’t act) the way they do. Why Your Character’s Mannerisms Are Important In a nutshell, mannerisms are typically the things people repeatedly do without realising, which means they are an extremely useful tool for developing character personalities and backstories.  As writers, we know that there’s a huge sense of achievement in creating memorable characters that jump off the page and stay with the reader long after they’ve put the book down. That’s exactly why it’s worth investing the time into creating mannerisms for your character – therefore revealing who they are and helping the reader to understand them on a much deeper level.  Just remember not to use mannerisms for the sake of it – always ensure that they tie into your character’s personality, background, and development. 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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The Hero’s Journey

The Hero\'s Journey - Writing a Compelling Story One of the most compelling storytelling structures that writers can use is The Hero’s Journey. In 1949, Joseph Campbell published The Hero with a Thousand Faces, where he discusses the central myth which he argues is at the heart of all stories. However you look at it, the Hero’s Journey has formed the basis for the narrative arc of a wide variety of literary works across time and all cultures – something we’ll look at within this article. Mostly though, this story structure offers a great way to give your narrative both a strong arc and emotional power. In this guide, you’ll learn the essential steps involved in the Hero’s Journey in order to structure your novel with style. What is the Hero\'s Journey? The Hero’s Journey is a particular structure in which the lead – otherwise known as a hero, heroine or protagonist – is called to head off on a journey or adventure in response to facing a problem or challenge. This issue leads them to set a specific narrative goal and they go off to achieve this, finding allies and facing enemies and their own weaknesses along the way. Once this aim has been achieved, the much-changed protagonist then returns home, bringing wisdom and knowledge to share with their community and loved ones. You’ve probably already realised from just reading the above summary that most literature uses this particular storytelling structure. In fact, it has similarities to the three act structure which is also used in drama and screenplays, as well as novels and memoirs to create a powerful narrative arc. In the rest of this article, I’m going to set out the main steps of the Hero’s Journey, so you can use them to build your own compelling story. Stages of the Hero\'s Journey All stories can be broken down into three stages — the beginning, middle and end — and the Hero’s Journey is no different in the way that it is comprised of three main sections: Departure, Initiation and Return. The opening Departure section is very much focused on the way the hero is called to go on a quest (often reluctantly) due to having to deal with a problem or challenge. The Initiation then takes place after they embark on their journey and begin to face obstacles, temptations and fears and develop skills and wisdom as a result which allow them to attain their narrative goal. Hence, once this has been achieved, they return home triumphant and often more enlightened than before.  If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’re probably thinking of how the geeky teen, Luke Skywalker, gets pushed by tragedy into his Hero’s Journey of becoming a Jedi (he even mucks that up!), before defeating evil (cue scary Darth Vader voice!) — and you’d be right on the money, as George Lucas was profoundly influenced by Campbell’s work. Steps of the Hero\'s Journey In Campbell’s original breakdown of the Hero’s Journey, the hero’s story is comprised of seventeen steps. However, in 1993, Vogler broke down this storytelling structure into just twelve steps in his book, The Writer’s Journey, making it much easier for authors to use. In this guide, we’ll utilise this twelve stage model and I’ll go through it step by step.  1. Ordinary World At the start of the Hero’s Journey, we get a glimpse of the everyday life of the lead and the unique world they inhabit. This allows us to grasp the setting if it’s something unusual like we see in sci-fi or fantasy, but we are also able to start to get to know the hero and care about them, as well as noting some of their particular strengths and weaknesses which may get in their way.  2. The Call to Adventure This is what might also be seen as the narrative’s inciting incident or trigger as it’s what really sets the story and the whole Departure section of the book going.  It involves the hero having to face a problem or challenge – just as in the classical story of The Odyssey, Odysseus is called to fight the Trojans. 3. Refusal of the Call The hero doesn’t simply trot off on their journey though – Odysseus struggles with leaving his family and similar inner conflicts beset most leads during this stage, including fear at what might befall them if they accept the call. By showing these doubts, the humanity of the hero is revealed and the high stakes of the journey ahead are brought into focus, increasing the narrative tension in a very potent way. 4. Meeting with the Mentor At this point, the hero meets a mentor who offers advice and wisdom for the journey ahead and whose presence often helps them overcome their reluctance to embark on their journey. (Do we need to mention Yoda here? \"Do or do not\", my writer friends.) This step is important as we come to understand that the quest is something difficult which requires support, as well as personal bravery, and the encounter with the mentor shows that this is a spiritual and personal path, as well as a more concrete journey to get a certain goal.  5. Crossing the First Threshold Here, the hero leaves their ordinary world and takes the decision to embark on their journey. This is incredibly important, as despite the call to adventure having started the story off in some sense, the real adventure begins now for the hero as they leave behind everything they know and walk into a realm of external dangers and personal doubts.  We only have to think of the terrifying quest Frodo and Sam go on in Lord of the Rings to understand how powerful this moment can be in a story as our rather vulnerable, tiny Hobbit heroes shed safety and familiarity to pursue a noble goal. This setting off closes the Departure part of the story and we now see the hero enter the Initiation stage of their journey. 6. Test, Allies and Enemies Having committed to their journey, the hero now has to learn the rules of the new world they’ve entered, encountering friends who will act as supportive confidant(e)s and sidekicks during their quest, as well as dastardly foes who often present terrifying obstacles.  This first section of the Initiation is important in developing the story’s cast of characters, including the hero’s allies and establishing those who will oppose them, such as a vile villain, increasing the stakes by showing that the road ahead will not be easy, despite the hero having assistance.  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave The rising action of the book will see failures and setbacks, with the hero often facing multiple obstacles or finally progressing towards their narrative goal, only to confront an even bigger challenge from enemies, or even due to their own inner fears and flaws. This rises to the point that, in the innermost cave, they’re really in deep and are feeling the pain of their journey! For example, in The Odyssey, the crew opens a bag of winds which blow them far away again when they were almost home – doh! In this second dramatic part of the Initiation, the hero thus needs to persist and be flexible in their approach in the face of these nightmares, trying new ways to reach their aims, as the stakes are rising and they know that the cost of failing to achieve their journey’s end is far too high. 8. The Ordeal You think it was tough in the innermost cave? Well, now the hero faces a major obstacle — often a life or death ordeal.  What’s worse, this challenge often highlights their character flaws to boot, showing they need to overcome their weaknesses or perish. Most heroes barely get out of this ordeal alive, leaving the Initiation phase of their journey in tatters and with readers on the edge of their seat wondering how the heck they’ll ever complete their journey.  For example, you thought the bags of wind were bad for Odysseus? Now, he has to go to the Underworld! (You cannot be kidding me!)  9. Reward (Seizing the Sword) But, hey, it’s not all bad as, after surviving death, the hero gets a reward – maybe even achieving their journey’s goal, such as grabbing the Ring and tossing it away so it cannot darken the world any more. This is a great moment of success and celebration in the story and the hero has clearly emerged from their trials an improved person, although we may not see the full extent of this yet as they still have other preoccupations. However, now the hero has their goal, they need to Return to their ordinary world in the third section – and that’s often not as easy as it sounds. 10. The Road Back After all the challenges of the Initiation phase, meeting new friends and facing off with foes, the hero who left their home isn’t the same person who returns. Hence reintegrating into their old reality can come as another form of challenge in this final part of the story.  In fact, they may not even want to go back! The reluctance to embark on their journey which we saw at the beginning of the story may reappear to haunt the hero as they now cannot imagine returning to their ordinary world, showing just how much the struggles they’ve been through have changed their character. 11. The Resurrection If you thought it was just a case of the hero getting home now, I’m afraid they have to face yet more trouble in terms of a test which puts at stake everything they’ve achieved. This is where the personality changes and skillsets they’ve developed from their challenging journey become obvious and they realise they’re made for the times they’re facing. Hence they emerge as a resurrected hero — reborn from the one who embarked at the beginning. This part is obviously important for adding climactic drama to keep readers engaged right ‘til the end – they think they’ve killed the alien, or other baddie, but they’re back! – and showcasing the full depth of the lead’s character development. 12. Return with the Elixir The hero returns home with knowledge or a particular ‘elixir’ or item which symbolises their achievements on their journey and this is often used to help others. This altruistic result is the real reward for their battles and represents deep personal and spiritual transformation, bringing the Return section and the story as a whole to a close in a way which hopefully leaves the reader both satisfied and enlightened. The Hero\'s Journey in Literature As you can see from my examples above, the Hero’s Journey is prominent in both film and literature. From classical storytelling to more modern sci-fi and fantasy, the Hero’s Journey has given powerful narrative arcs to many great works.  Indeed, if you look carefully enough, even many contemporary crime novels or TV series will feature a reluctant detective who, at first, is scared to take the case – perhaps due to retirement or trauma – who then changes their mind and solves the murder.  The Hero’s Journey has thus influenced many writers across the ages and across all literary genres, but it’s still important to note that not all stories follow this paradigm – so, if it’s not inspiring for you, then don’t use it! Using the Hero\'s Journey to Tell Your Story If you have found the structure set out above to be thought-provoking or something which might fit your story, then the Hero’s Journey model can easily be applied to your writing project. Structure is such a key part of creating a compelling story and the Hero’s Journey offers a clear way to build a potent narrative arc. It’s important to plan ahead though, when using this paradigm, fitting your narrative to the three stages of Departure, Initiation and Return and plotting your scenes along the steps above. Consider your hero’s particular personal flaws, just as Shakespeare often did in his tragedies — making Othello too jealous, for example – in order to set out how your hero might trip themselves up, or what would absolutely freak them out (like Indiana Jones and snakes!) in order to really test them on their journey. You might also riff on the reasons they might be reluctant to embark on their quest – such as family commitments or outright fear, and who might act as a wise mentor and change their minds, or boost them up as allies along the way.  It’s also important to think of a strong opposition figure who is out to stop them achieving their journey’s goal as this is great for adding conflict and tension. The Hero\'s Journey is in so Many Stories As you’ve seen, the Hero’s Journey is present in so many of the stories which surround us — and for good reason as it provides a fantastic narrative structure which allows for deep character development, high drama and profound emotion. Although every story has a hero, not every story is a Hero’s Journey, yet this storytelling structure has a lot to teach all authors. Try it with your adventure or quest novel, and see how far you and your hero get. 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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Writing a Three Act Structure

Writing a Three Act Structure Mastering the three act structure is one of the most important writing skills for any author. If you want to know how to structure a book, whether that’s a novel or memoir, or you want to learn how short fiction works, absorbing and using the three act story structure is one of the best ways to make your piece shine. Used widely by screenplay writers, the three act story structure outline is deceptively simple. A Story in Three Acts Act One is where we see exposition which establishes the world or everyday life of the character, before a dramatic inciting incident occurs which sets the normal life of the lead on its head, causing them to go on a journey to attain a particular narrative goal. Act One is often called the Set Up, or the Inspiration part of a plot. Act Two is the real ‘meat’ of the piece, where we see the lead go after the narrative aim they set in Act One, facing multiple obstacles and their deepest fears. Hence this part is often referred to as the Confrontation, or Craft, as it contains rising action, with the lead fighting against ever higher stakes and building their skills. This also includes the plot’s midpoint which seems to really set back the protagonist in terms of their journey to attain their narrative goal. Act Three is often called the Resolution, for obvious reasons, as this final part is where your lead reaches the end of their journey, achieving or failing to achieve their plot aims. This section includes the pre-climax and climax events which keep the reader on the edge of their seats as we think we’ve seen it all in the pre-climax and, then, boom, there’s more!  This section is also sometimes referred to as Philosophy as it brings to fruition the themes and concepts which have been developed in the course of the narrative. The History of the Three Act Structure Like so many writing craft concepts, the three act story structure has ancient roots, coming from Aristotle’s Poetics. However, modern screenwriters have honed this particular story structure to a high level, creating story outlines which are also very useful for novelists and memoirists. How the Three Act Structure Works If you want to learn how the three act structure works, have a close look at books and films you enjoy, as you’ll likely find it there, propping up the story. You’ll likely see exposition as the lead’s everyday life and, perhaps, in the case of fantasy or sci-fi, the uniqueness of the world the protagonist inhabits is brought to life. Perhaps, in a crime novel, we’ll see the detective’s family and work life to familiarise with the protagonist. Then the lead’s world will be thrown on its head by the inciting incident – say, the detective’s spouse is murdered. They’re in turmoil, but, ultimately, of course, they want to track down who killed their spouse – and this is the narrative goal they will fight their way towards throughout the book or screenplay. The second act shows them fighting through rising action, which is comprised of various obstacles and facing their deepest fears on the way to getting their narrative aim – say, of bringing their spouse’s killer to justice.  But they reach a new low at the midpoint of the book when something happens that makes the reader doubt they will ever get their goal. Perhaps they realise a close colleague may be involved in their spouse’s murder or important evidence is lost and we have to wonder whether they’ll ever solve this crime.  However, somehow they drag themselves back onto their feet and go into Act Three where they face a pre-climax which looks like the resolution, but it isn’t – such as the detective thinking they’ve found the killer, but they haven’t.  Then there’s the real climax which brings resolution in terms of the narrative goal which was set at the start, after the inciting incident – often the lead achieves their plot aim, but sometimes they don’t (although negative endings can be hard to pull off!). How to Use the Three Act Structure If you’re wondering how to plan your novel using the three act structure, it’s easy to do if you learn the basic craft and are prepared to plan your plot. Start by mapping out your story and then break it down into three acts, as follows. Act One – Set Up Exposition is so important, as I mentioned above, both in terms of establishing the setting, but by also familiarising us with the lead and making us care for them.  As a writing teacher once told me, we need to make the reader sympathise with the characters before we show their car hitting a wall! If we know the protagonist a bit, the inciting incident which sets their life on its head will hit home even more powerfully. Also known as a trigger event, this is a key plot point which forces the lead to pursue a particular narrative aim throughout, such as finding a killer, pursuing a quest, winning the guy’s heart and so on. In a memoir, the writer may face a tragic or traumatic life event which sent their life into turmoil, with the rest of the autobiography being the journey of how they recovered. This plot point and its aftermath is so crucial to the narrative arc that I often ask my author clients to consider what their lead wants and why as a result of the inciting incident, as it is this which will fuel their journey throughout the rest of the story. Act Two – Confrontation If Act One sets up the story and shows the plot point which rocks the lead’s world and sets them off on a particular journey, Act Two is where the rubber hits the road. Comprising the majority of a novel, at around fifty percent of the manuscript, this is where we see the lead doggedly pursue their narrative goal, facing obstacles and their deepest fears.  It’s often linked to rising action as the drama gets more intense when the lead keeps trying and failing in each scene as they try different ways to reach their aim or they finally progress … only to face an even worse problem.  This is where the story’s most important characters will be introduced and the midpoint of the book arrives – the next key plot point to consider. This will be linked to the lead revisiting their central goal, often wondering if they’ll ever get resolution as the challenges of this second Confrontation act have really taken it out of them!  Act Three – Resolution If Act Two is where you’ve put your lead up a tree and then cut it down, Act Three is the home stretch where they are heading towards the resolution of their story. However, it’s still not plain sailing as we want to keep readers turning pages right to the end – hence this part might see the lead really face off with the villain or opposition character as the baddie strives to stop your lead from getting their goal. This means the final third act can often dominate the story in terms of intensity, although it often simply makes up the final quarter of your manuscript. You also want to make sure you include a pre-climax, where we think the protagonist’s goal is in sight … and then it eludes them. This makes the story compelling for the reader, right ‘til the end, as they’ve still got to keep going to see what the real climax entails.  Often, the climax takes the form of a single, stand out scene as it’s so important in terms of bringing resolution to the plot and any themes which have been present in the book. Making the Three Act Structure Work for You In this guide, we’ve seen how to create a three act structure and just how powerful a tool this can be for novelists, memoirists or screenwriters. In fact, it can also be effective in helping us learn how to structure a short story by following the same outline, but with more brevity. See if you can spot the three acts next time you are watching a movie or reading a book, and see how you can apply it to your own story. 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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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 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. 
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The 12 Character Archetypes

The 12 Character Archetypes: A Guide for Writers Are you looking for readers to connect to your story on a more primal level? Do you want them to feel close to your characters and to root for them? Well, this article explores how you can use character archetypes to do just that! You may have heard people talk about ‘archetypes and their importance to Jungian theory’ and wondered just what they were talking about. But an understanding of the key character archetypes may be just the thing to help elevate your stories and keep your readers turning the page. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, believed that storytelling and myth making were an integral part of humanity’s development. At the centre of our stories are characters who appear repeatedly, irrespective of culture, custom, or language. They are part of our instinctive understanding as humans, resonating on a fundamental level. What is an Archetype? An archetype is the original pattern on which other things are based; it is the prototype, or blueprint, as it were. In essence it is something that is universally recognised as a typical example of something or someone. In Jungian theory, this definition is taken even further and used to describe the collective unconscious we inherited from our earliest human ancestors, something almost hardcoded into us. What is a Character Archetype? Character archetypes represent a specific set of universally recognisable characteristics and patterns of behaviour. Each archetype is defined by a distinct set of motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. They are so ubiquitous to us that we recognise them instantly. When someone says, ‘the hero’, we instantly think of someone fighting for good, someone who we wish to succeed. The hero is just one of the 12 archetypes, and we will explore these in more depth later in this article. Why are Character Archetypes Important? Character archetypes are important because they resonate with the reader; they are recognisable and intrinsically understood. Using them to our advantage can elevate our stories by drawing the reader more fully into our character’s world. One of the biggest obstacles for writers when creating great characters is ensuring they are believable and that they act in realistic ways when faced with certain situations. Understanding the archetypes can help us ensure our characters are consistent and feel authentic. Put another way, the archetypes can give us a blueprint to ensure our reader sees a truth in our character’s actions because they fit a known psychological profile.  The 12 character archetypes described in this article (along with examples of archetypes from literature and popular culture) will help us develop our characters and ensure they are believable, recognisable, and resonate with readers.  The character archetypes are also often associated with 7 seven basic plots on which almost all stories are built. Archetypes, Stereotypes, Stock Characters, and Clichés Although archetypes are the typical example of certain character types, they are not stereotypes, stock characters or clichés. Stereotypes are overly simplified characters, usually defined by a small number of characteristics and are often negative caricatures.  Stock characters (including the ‘boy next door’ or the ‘cat lady’) represent generic character types and, in contrast to stereotypes, are not intrinsically positive or negative. Their use may be seen as rather lazy; but they may offer great opportunities to subvert the form, especially for comic effect.  The main thing to watch out for with stock characters is avoiding the cliché. This is a character who has been used so often throughout literature that it has become boring and predictable. Stereotypes and clichés will act predictably and according to type in a way that can easily be anticipated. They are therefore likely to be boring for the reader. Archetypes, however, may be seen to speak a universal truth and therefore, although we recognise them and empathise with them, they are not inherently predictable. 12 Character Archetypes Jung noted that there were 12 character archetypes, each with its own set of values, traits, and motivations. They are broadly grouped into three categories: The ego archetypes: the Innocent, the Everyman, the Hero, and the CaregiverThe soul archetypes: the Explorer, the Rebel, the Lover, and the Creator/ArtistThe self archetypes: the Jester, the Sage, the Magician/Wizard, and the Ruler The Ruler The Ruler is obsessed by the pursuit of power and may become consumed by it. They are often the antagonist, someone against whom the protagonist must battle. However, there are plenty of opportunities to subvert the form here and create an anti-hero type like Tony Soprano or Walter White. The main strengths of the Ruler are their status and their access to resources. They may be charismatic and demonstrate enviable leadership skills. However, they are prone to suspicion and fear others are attempting to grab their power. They may also appear aloof and be disliked by many (if not all) of the people surrounding them.  Examples of the Ruler include the titular character in Edward St Aubyn’s Dunbar (based on King Lear), Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, Macbeth, and Joffrey Baratheon from A Song of Ice and Fire. The Ruler may also be described as the Leader, the Boss, the King/Queen, or the President. The Creator or Artist The Creator, also known as the Artist, is a visionary who creates things of enduring value, such as art, music, structures, or even entire worlds depending on the scope of their role within the story.  The main strengths of the Creator are their flair for creativity, their drive, and general ability to execute their vision. This makes them extremely determined, but this may also give rise to perfectionism and egotism. Creators may also demonstrate weakness in their willingness for personal sacrifice in the name of their vision or be overly single-minded at the expense of wider goals.  Examples of the Creator or Artist include Marvel’s Tony Stark, Dr Jekyll from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Geppetto from Pinocchio, and Slartibartfast fromThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who is literally a designer of planets.  The Creator may also be described as the Inventor, the Innovator, the Musician, or the Writer. The Sage The Sage is the wise character who offers up their knowledge, typically using their intelligence to provide context or impart this wisdom to another character to improve their chance of success. They often perform the role of a mentor to the protagonist. The main strength of the Sage is their accumulated wisdom, and they will often provide considerable insight. However, they may be overly cautious and prone to excessive study. This gives rise to a large weakness in the form of a hesitancy to take any action. Examples of the Sage include Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, Magwitch in Great Expectations, Dumbledore in Harry Potter, and Master Splinter in The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.   The Sage may also be described as the Expert, the Teacher, the Scholar, or the Advisor. The Innocent The Innocent archetype is the embodiment of all that is good in the world. They are unsullied by life or tragedy (in contrast to the Hero archetype) and wish for happiness for themselves and others. Often depicted as children, the Innocent is used to inspire a sense of compassion into even an apathetic reader. However, this archetype is not immune to hardship, and many literary Innocents do meet a terrible end (Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol for example). The main strengths of the Innocent are their moral purity and sincerity. They will be kind and by extension well-loved. However, the Innocent’s weaknesses of naivety and lack of skills may make them especially vulnerable.  Examples of the Innocent include Pippin in The Lord of the Rings, Dory from Finding Nemo, and Lyra from His Dark Materials (although she eventually transforms away from the Innocent towards the Hero as she matures). The Innocent may also be known as the Child, the Youth, the Mystic, or the Naïve. The Explorer The Explorer archetype is driven by a desire for adventure and to discover the previously unknown. They are characters who will typically seek out new experiences and opportunities, and who wish for more freedom.  The main strength of the Explorer is their innate curiosity; they demand answers and are driven by a need for self-improvement. However, their weaknesses include a tendency for aimlessness, and they may become misfits, especially if they become unreliable as a friend or ally. Examples of the Explorer include Odysseus in The Odyssey, Indiana Jones, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, and James from Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. The Explorer may also be described as the Seeker, the Wanderer, or the Pilgrim. The Rebel The Rebel lives by the idea that rules are made to broken and are often driven by one of two primary urges: revenge or revolution. They do not live within the boundaries that society has demanded and will often be the character who leads the fight to overthrow the status quo. The main strengths of the Rebel are their independent thinking and dogged perseverance to achieve a change. However, this can make them self-involved and may even force them towards criminal activity. They may also lack the resources to achieve their aims, resulting in frustration which further increases their propensity towards crime. Examples of the Rebel include Katniss from The Hunger Games, Robin Hood, Sirius Black from Harry Potter, and even Elle Woods in Legally Blond as she takes on the status quo entrenched in the legal profession.  The Rebel may also be described as the Revolutionary, or the Outlaw. The Hero The Hero is the one who ‘saves the day’, rising to the challenge with the aid of their unique set of skills. They are generally depicted as the ‘good guy’ and embody the characteristics that are especially valued within society to represent a model of virtue.  The key strengths of the Hero include their courage and force of will, their strength (be that physical or mental), and their ability in specific areas that confers them an advantage over an intimidating enemy. However, they may have a propensity for overconfidence and an inflated ego, often bordering on hubris.  Examples of the Hero include Hercules, Achilles, Superman, Harry Potter, and Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale. The Hero may also be described as the Warrior, the Crusader, the Superhero, or the Dragon Slayer. The Magician or Wizard The Magician, also known as the Wizard, is the archetype who brings significant knowledge or wields an ancient power. They are often key to achieving difficult goals within a story.  The main strength of the Magician or Wizard is their access to the ‘secrets of the universe’, most frequently coupled with a discipline to harness and wield that power effectively. They may provide an innovative solution to a problem; however, this may give rise to a series of unintended consequences. One of the main weaknesses of the Magician or Wizard is arrogance (which may exacerbate those unintended consequences) and they may become corrupted by their power (think Darth Vader in Star Wars).   Other examples of the Magician/Wizard include Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Prospero in The Tempest. Sherlock Holmes may also be considered as a Magician, although his skills are cerebral rather than supernatural.  As well as being known as the Magician and the Wizard, this archetype may also be described as the Shaman, the Inventor, or the Catalyst. The Jester The Jester is a comic character, often also known as the Trickster. They may provide an element of comic relief but may also offer up important truths. They likely live by the motto ‘you only live once’.  The main strength of the Jester is their ability to be funny whilst also offering insight in an accessible way. They are much liked by readers, although this may be a superficial appreciation. The main weakness of the archetype is borne from this superficiality, and they can quickly become obnoxious or time wasters. Examples of the Jester include the Fool in King Lear, the Weasley Twins in Harry Potter, Timon and Pumba in The Lion King, and Joey in Friends. The Jester may also be described as the Fool, the Joker, or the Comedian. The Everyman The Everyman is someone to whom all readers can relate, someone who is recognisable as a ‘regular person’. They are likely to be characters who ‘fit in’ easily and are great at bringing people together. The main strength of the Everyman comes from their ability to integrate; they are down to earth and easy to like. However, they may subsume their own sense of self to blend in, moulding themselves into who they think others want them to be. The main weakness of the Everyman archetype is that as a ‘normal’ person they likely lack specialised skills and so may not prove useful in difficult situations. Examples of the Everyman include Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the anonymous narrator in Fight Club, and Philip J. Fry in Futurama.  The Everyman may also be described as the Person Next Door, the Citizen, or the Regular. The Lover The Lover archetype is the great romantic, in love with the very idea of being in love. They may be anyone within a story, but their leading drive is to find (and keep) love.  The main strengths of the Lover are their passion and devotion, which may make them a powerful ally. However, this devotion may boil over into a willingness to sacrifice everything for love, including identity, life, and liberty (and not just their own). Further weaknesses include irrationality in their behaviour and a tendency towards naivety and a ‘love conquers all’ mentality.  Examples of the Lover include Romeo and Juliet, Edward in Twilight, and Jake and Rose in Titanic.  The Lover may also be described as the Partner, the Intimate, or the Spouse. The Caregiver The Caregiver plays a nurturing role, and this archetype has also been known as the Mother Figure, although they certainly do not have to be female. They are often seen in supporting roles, such the spouse or best friend, in addition to the more obvious parent/guardian role.  The main strength of the Caregiver is their selflessness, and they will frequently put everyone else first while expecting little in return. They will also show significant loyalty and a focus on honour. However, they generally lack leadership skills or personal ambition.  Examples of the Caregiver include Samwise in The Lord of the Rings, Mary Poppins, and Miss Honey from Matilda.  The Caregiver may also be described as the Saint, the Helper, or the Supporter. What Archetypes Work Best For Your story? As this article has highlighted, understanding the main character archetypes can help you to build more believable and realistic characters that readers will be drawn to. Use them as a form of blueprint to ensure your primary characters jump off the page and into the hearts of your readers, keeping them turning the pages as they are sucked into your characters’ lives. Or use them to find new and exciting ways to give readers something unexpected: how about a young child in the Sage role for your ageing Innocent; or the assassin as the Caregiver? Play around with your story and see what archetypes work best for your characters. You never know where your story may take you next! 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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A Guide on How to Build a Fantasy World

Learn what’s involved in building fantasy worlds, why this is important, and how to develop your world-building process. What is a Fantasy Novel? I should start with a confession. I don’t know how I’d define a fantasy novel. Or at least, I don’t know how to do it quickly. In fact, I’d be surprised if anyone can come up with a single short and robust definition for a genre that encompasses so much.  I might not be able to give a quick definition of fantasy - but I can quickly recognise it when I see it. It’s a genre that lands us in a new world. It takes us through the cupboard and into Narnia. It bustles us into Diagon Alley. It sets us trekking through Middle Earth. It opens up new and unexpected vistas.  These new worlds are a huge part of the excitement and appeal, and for a writer and world builder they offer endless possibilities.  There are no limits to what you can achieve in a genre containing landscapes as different as Tolkien’s black and brutal Mordor and Leigh Bardugo’s unsettling and thrilling Grishaverse. It takes in everything from the ruined gothic splendour of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, to Andrew Coldecott’s insular and rural Rotherweird, not to mention all those rugged Orc-filled mountainscapes, terrifying post-nuclear dystopias, and heavenly utopias. And then, there’s Terry Pratchett’s masterful, loving satire of the whole idea of fantasy world building, the Discworld, which drifts through space and time on the back of four huge elephants, who themselves are on the craggy back of Great A’Tuin The Turtle.  In short, fantasy world creation can look like whatever you want it to look like. What is Worldbuilding? Back in the day, fantasy world creation was easy to characterise as a few scantily clad maidens, a lot of swords with names, a couple of big dragons, and a liberal garnish of incomprehensible magic. Luckily, it’s a whole lot more than that now. Yet, even where all those clichés are present and correct, you can still create something profound and compelling: just look at the success of George RR Martin’s Game Of Thrones novels.  There’s also far more to creating fantasy worlds than waving around wands and saying a few magic words. The genre allows writers to explore all sorts of new ideas. It also allows them to say all sorts about our own world. It’s often by encountering these differences that we learn who we are. And if there’s also excitement, adventure, diversity, and mind-bending invention on the way, well, so much the better. In fact, fantasy world-building is all about pushing the boundaries of possibility. It allows you not only to set the stage on which your story will play out, but to turn that stage into just about anything. To fill it with all the creatures of your imagination. In a fantasy world, you don’t have to be bound by the laws of physics. You can invent your own animals. You can create your own societies with their own customs and their own histories. You can give them new mythologies, new religions, new mysteries and power systems. You can invent new philosophies. You can control geography, lore, technology, economics, language, politics. You can - if you dare - entirely ignore contemporary morality.  You can build a world that is better than the one we are living in. You can build one that is much worse. Or, you can just make it interestingly different.  You can, in short, do just about anything. Essential Elements of a Fantasy World I must pause here to re-emphasise that previous “just about”. Because while fantasy writing lets you play God in creative and exciting ways, there are still rules to those games. You can set the limitations - but those limitations do need to be there. When you’re thinking about how to build a fantasy world, you need to think about how to make it feel real as well as how to make it feel extraordinary.  You don’t want to leave your readers thinking that everything in your book is arbitrary. You don’t want them complaining that things don’t make sense. You need to consider how to create a realistic fantasy world. It might sound contradictory, but it’s also fundamentally important. Your characters need to have weight in that world. And that world needs to press on them in turn. You have to remember that while the world may seem fantastical to your readers, it has to be normal for your characters. It is their day-to-day reality. They have to react to it accordingly - and their expectations about how that world will react also have to be met.  Most of the time, anyway. Of course, you can still shock and surprise your characters. You can still overawe them with magic. Just make sure that these events feel as powerful and strange for them as they do for your readers. Make sure they count and have consequences. How to Create a Fantasy World: Ten Key Elements Okay, that’s the theory about how to make a fantasy world. How about the practice? What do you need to put into this exciting world? The short answer - as you might expect by now - is anything you like. The longer answer is that there are quite a few things you can do to set those important limits and give your world solidity.  Here are ten essentials to consider when you’re wondering what to put in your world. 1. Maps: Location and Situation I’ll be honest here. Part of the reason for including a map when creating a fantasy world is that maps are fun. They look lovely. They come with that wonderful promise that there will be new territories to explore and treasures to discover. But they also serve a good practical purpose. They give you a clear idea of the territory your characters will have to cover. They can help you to situate them and to move them around. They will give you ideas about difficulties they may encounter and challenges that will have to be overcome. They also help open up a whole host of other practical questions about how people travel in your world, how long it takes to get from place to place, what those places look like, how it feels to be in those places, what the weather is like... and so on. It’s once you start thinking about the practical outlines of your world that it really starts to take shape. 2. People: Who Lives in This World and What Do Characters Do? Okay, you don’t have to stick to just people. But you do still have to answer important questions about who resides in your world. What do they look like? How do they interact? What they do from day to day? What makes them laugh? What makes them cry? What makes them get so mad that they’ll grab a sword, leave their village, scale impossible peaks, travel across fields of fire, and take it out on Orcs all the way? 3. Creatures Talking of Orcs, who and what else lives in your world? What do they look like? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What motivates them? Are they hungry? Are they angry? Are they peace-loving simple creatures who don’t deserve the brutal culling coming their way? You can see why this bit is fun… 4. Technology Here’s a fascinating thing. A lot of fantasy, from Tolkien’s Middle Earth to Schwab’s many versions of magical London, is set in a kind of pre-industrial world. There are swords and armour and fearsome siege engines. There are castles. People ride around on horses. They sleep on straw beds, and you really have to worry about the toilets… It can perhaps feel like a set of clichés, but it can also be remarkably freeing for a writer. This world is instantly and internationally recognisable - and because it’s so far removed from our time and experiences, it allows you to ignore a great many contemporary cultural hang-ups. And hey! You don’t have to restrict yourself either. If you want to write a futuristic fantasy or one with an entirely different concept of progress and invention, you can do that too. Just look at Laura Lam’s books. 5. Is There Magic? To take the technological discussion one stage further: Arthur C Clarke famously said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Which is certainly food for thought if you’re setting up a futuristic fantasy world. But, of course, in fantasy you don’t have to restrict yourself to advanced tech magic. You can also use good old fashioned wand magic too. Just make sure you think hard about how it works - and how it doesn’t work. About who can and can’t wield it. About what benefits it brings - and what the costs are. You can take inspiration from anywhere. Tomi Adeyemi was inspired by West African mythology and the Yoruba culture and language, when creating the magic system of Orïsha. 6. What’s the History of the World You’re Building? When you build your fantasy world, distance yourself from the real here and now. What has made the present you are describing the way it is? What historic events have led to the development of this world? What is the backstory of the main characters? Where, in short, does your story come from? 7. Belief Just as in our own world, your characters may not want to confine themselves to historical evidence. They may have a set of myths and stories that are radically different from the facts they’ve been told. They may believe in gods that do not exist. They may also fail to believe in gods who are real, and correspondingly suffer for that. Neil Gaiman did a great job of combining old god beliefs with our present world in American Gods. 8. Power: Laws and Governance One of the great fascinations of fantasy is the way it allows you to talk about power and its implications. Who has it? Who doesn’t? Who has education? What does education even mean in this world? Who is rich and who is poor? How are such things decided? What are the systems that govern - and who is in the government? What issues are they dealing with and how do they deal with them? For instance, R. F. Kuang’s grimdark fantasy, The Poppy War, draws its plot and politics from mid 20th century China. 9. Trouble and Conflict Now that you’ve got religion, belief, history, power, and politics you have the basis for building coherent societies. And you also have the things that tear them apart. It’s time to think about conflict within your world. Who are the adversarial groups? What makes friends into enemies? Are there warring tribes? Are there religious differences? Do people have to fight for resources?  Don’t be afraid to look at our own world when dreaming up something abhorrent in your own fantasy world creation. As Margaret Atwood once famously said after having written The Handmaid’s Tale, “There\'s nothing in the book that hasn\'t already happened at one time or another.” 10. Story and more And now that you’ve got conflict, you’ve got the basis for your story. Easy, eh? Well, no.  I know that finding a good plot and a gripping narrative can be challenging to say the least. But it’s that challenge that also makes the writing process worthwhile and exciting. And once you have the motivating ideas that will get your characters moving across your map and exploring all the territories within it, then your world will truly come to life. Managing Essential Elements of a Fantasy World We’ve seen what world-building is and answered some of the big fantasy world-building questions. We’ve discussed the importance of having rules - and also the excitement of not being bound by the limits of our own reality. We’ve got a good list of important ideas to work out and consider that will help you create and populate your new lands. We’ve got our kitbag, our weapons, and our map. We’re just about ready to go on that journey into our new domains.  But how do you manage your fantasy world? Even after you have worked out the structure and rules essential to building your fantasy world, there are still likely to be difficulties and snags along the way. Thankfully, some of these can be alleviated by good planning.  Documenting your world lore is vital. It may help to keep a spreadsheet of magical systems, a timeline of its history, a quick glossary of any key terms or place names you’ve invented. Don’t forget to have a document to keep track of difficult names and back stories, too. Pinterest mood boards may help you fix your ideas about landscape, fashion, and location.  Not only will this be useful for you as you write your book, or grow your series, but your future editor and proofreaders will also thank you! Finally, arm yourself mentally. Don’t beat yourself up if you have bad days and progress is slow. Writing is hard and creating a whole new fantasy world is even harder! The good news is that you don’t have to take this journey alone. Frodo had Sam - and you have a big community of other writers who will want to help you on your way. One of the best ways of finding them is by joining the world’s leading online writers club at Jericho Writers: https://jerichowriters.com/jericho-writers-full-membership/ 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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10 of the Best Apps and Software Solutions for Writing Your Book or Screenplay

How using certain online tools can improve your writing Any writer will tell you that writing is hard. Although it’s something we can all relate to, we are only as good as our tools. Which is why it’s important to know what novel writing software is available for when inspiration strikes. Some of the best apps for writers are made specifically for novels or screenplays. It can be hard to choose and determine the best creative writing app for you, which is why I’ve compiled this handy guide. In this article, you’ll get to know what you might be looking for in creative writing apps as well as a list of my top recommendations for software for writers. Writing/editing software doesn’t have to be complicated, or expensive. Read on to learn more about some of my top picks for your writer’s toolbelt! Selecting the Best Novel Writing Software First thing’s first: choosing the best writing app for your needs and expectations. There’s an ever-growing abundance of software tools and apps available for writers, both for editing grammar and clarity, as well as structuring or formatting your writing.  Having so many choices can be bewildering, especially if you consider yourself a dabbler or a writer of multiple genres or styles. However, there’s an app out there for everyone, whether it be outlining software, proofreading software, or simply an aesthetically pleasing writing platform! Before we dive into these top 10 writing apps, take some time to determine your own needs and wants. For example, are you looking for an app that is just for story planning, or are you looking for a technologically advanced screenwriting software? Depending on how specific your needs are, some writing apps are better than others. One of the most determining factors when shopping for author software is knowing the platform on which the app or software is required to run. Do you have a Mac or Windows computer? The best writing apps for Android or iPad may vary. Are you hoping to work on your phone or tablet? These questions will help you select the best writing software. You should also think about the various capabilities and features that many creative writing apps can provide. These include: TemplatesMany apps offer novel or screenplay templates, a perfect feature for new or structured writers looking for assistance in their formatting.Cost / LicensingOn a budget? Some of these writing apps on this list are free, but many others have fees, including monthly subscription options.Ease of use / easy to learnOften writing apps can feel like you are learning an entirely new language; choosing a more simplistic app could be beneficial if you are searching for something that you can write on right away.Additional useful featuresAre you hoping for formatting tips or assistance with your overall grammar and sentence clarity? Some writing apps offer these features, and many more. If you are looking for something specific, keep an eye out for that!File formatsHaving an app for writing that will save in a variety of formats can be extremely valuable for writers, especially those of you submitting your work under very precise guidelines.Collaboration capabilitiesIf you are working on a writing project with a group or other collaborators, you may want to find an app that allows you to work on the same project with multiple writers, however remotely.  I have selected and examined the following software for writers, considering budget and needs. 6 Best Book Writing Software Programs These are some of my top choices of software to write a book, including manuscript software. While these apps are listed under ‘book writing’, they might also be used for playwriting, screenwriting, or other various writing forms.  Scrivener My own personal pick for writing projects of all shapes and sizes, Scrivener is one of the most popular writing apps out there today. With fantastic template options and digital sticky notes for organising, the sky’s the limit for your writing projects. You can choose manuscript outlines with front and back matter formatting included, screenplay outlines for your next pilot, or even outlines for simple essays or formal documents. You can organise the app however you like, with theme colours and a wide array of content analysing features. While Scrivener has a lot to offer, there is an extremely steep learning curve. It took me a few days of consistent use to master it, and even now I know that I have just barely scratched the surface. However, the app has tutorials that you can follow at any time, should the writing app be confusing! Scrivener works on Mac or Windows systems, each costing £47 ($65) per operating system, and you may also consider purchasing a £20 ($28) app for Android and IOS devices. This allows all devices to sync so long as you have a Dropbox account, updating your writing projects across all platforms, wherever you are!  Read more about Scrivener here, and feel free to download its 30-day free trial so that you can get a feel for it. Microsoft Word The most classic of writing platforms, Microsoft Word still has a lot to offer a writer, no matter your genre or specialization. Microsoft Word will no doubt feel familiar to most any writer, as it is set up similarly to most document programs, such as Google Docs or even Scrivener. Microsoft Word offers an annual subscription fee that includes Microsoft’s entire suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.) as well as 1 terabyte of storage for single users. The fee is a bit steep- around £60 ($70) for the year.  However, their programs work across multiple devices, and offering cloud storage solutions is a great perk for writers with a lot of content or documents. Microsoft Word has grown a lot over the years too; their spell check and grammar tools have only gotten better, and Word can look at your documents for its overall flow and feel. You can check out all that Microsoft has to offer here, as well as compare each and every product that they offer. If you live in a house with multiple aspiring writers, a Microsoft subscription may suit you well. Google Docs A mainstay for many people, Google Docs is a fantastic free writing software available to anyone with an internet connection. You can work on a document both online and offline, with free storage from Google. Oh, and did I mention this writing tool is completely free to use? While Google Docs may not have all of your favourite fonts and editing options, it has a comprehensive grammar and sentence structure editor as well as standard formatting options found in Microsoft Word.  Like Microsoft properties, Google Docs is a part of an entire suite of useful apps and writing tools, such as Sheets, Slides, Drive, and many more. Google Docs is also ideal if you plan on collaborating with people across time zones or otherwise remotely. You can chat in real time in the document or leave comments for people to see later. Multiple people can edit a Google Doc at once with an internet connection, and you have the option to suggest edits that can be rejected or accepted and applied by your peers. A great tool for collaborations and teams. Plus don’t forget it’s totally free! Check out Google Docs here, if you haven’t done so already. Evernote Do you have a big project to tackle with images, deadlines, and more? Evernote may be the app for you, a perfect writing tool for the busy author. Much more than just a writing document, Evernote brings all of your organization needs into one streamlined writing app. With Evernote, you can sync your documents and notes across all devices, no matter the operating system or product, from a Mac laptop to a Samsung phone and back to an iPad. You can organize your documents and notes to your heart’s delight or leave everything in chaos. Because Evernote’s ingenious search system can find the document that you’re hunting for. Do you take a lot of screen captures for your writing? Evernote allows you to annotate and edit screencapped PDFs, images, and more. It can search handwriting, images, and any document type for keywords, giving you access to everything you have saved with a quick search. Evernote keeps any writer’s business sorted and all in one place, no matter how busy you are. And the best part about Evernote? They offer free plans as well as monthly subscriptions depending on your usage and needs. Plans range from £6 ($8)/month to no more than £11 ($15)/month, per person. Check out all that Evernote has to offer here. Hemingway App Are you a writer known for being verbose, and prone to long, rambling sentences? Then you may be a writer that could benefit from the Hemingway App, named after no other than Ernest Hemingway. Import your latest novel and watch Hemingway light up, highlighting your work in various colours that correspond to different editing tips. Hemingway is designed to point out boring words, wandering or passive sentences, and those pesky adverbs. It’s like having a line editor in your own home for just $20 (£15) in total. It can be a great backup writing app, especially once your manuscript is complete. Hemingway works on Mac and PC operating systems, with or without an internet connection. You can format your document and write directly in Hemingway, a simple and focused editor leading to a more concentrated work environment. You can also publish directly to WordPress or other websites from the app. Check out Hemingway here. Grammarly Let’s say that you have your favourite document program, but you just wish the spelling and grammar checker was a bit more informed. Enter Grammarly, a free program that you can use with most popular word document creators, including Microsoft Word and Google. Grammarly is capable of working in tandem with your favourite document editor, pointing out not only your spelling mistakes, but also any sentences lacking in clarity or engaging points. It’s a great free app for anyone to try, and you can download it as a browser add-on here. 4 Best Screenwriting Apps If you are a budding screenwriter looking for apps more directly geared for your work, you’re in the right place. While all of the apps and software I’ve already listed will still work wonders for your screenplay, the following writing apps are made exclusively for plays or screenwriters alike! Fade In Beloved by many Hollywood hotshot writers for its ease of use and comprehensive features, Fade In is a wonderful app for screenwriters at any level. Available for any operating system, including mobile app features, Fade In is your writing companion, whether it be a full-length play or short pilot episode. Fade In is a complete application for writing motion picture screenplays, including tools for outlining, organising, and navigating, plus extensive screenplay formatting and robust tools for managing rewrites and revisions. The app’s appearance is unfussy and simplistic, allowing you room to write and organise as need be. With many templates and the option to collaborate, Fade In is a great app for screenwriters. You can try it for free for a trial period, or buy it for a flat rate of $80 (£60). Learn more about Fade In here. Final Draft If you consider yourself more than a beginning scriptwriter, you might consider purchasing Final Draft. Apparently used by 95% of movie and television writers, Final Draft has been the industry standard for many years. Its price tag may be high for budding writers, but it could also take your work to the next level. Working on Windows or Mac desktops as well as offering a mobile app, Final Draft is key for those of you submitting your writing frequently. With over 300 templates across multiple disciplines, Final draft paginates and formats your writing to industry standards, saving you loads of time when submission deadlines loom. It has story planning and outlining capabilities, and real-time comments just in case you need to make a note and come back to your work later. It has a simplistic, non-distracting design, as well as many formatting options and tutorials included. Final Draft offers a 60-day free trial for those of you on the fence; it’s fair, given that it costs £183 ($250) upfront. You can look at Final Draft’s many additional features here. ScriptBuilder If Final Draft’s features feel daunting, I highly recommend checking out ScriptBuilder. Just like its name implies, ScriptBuilder is perfect for the budding screenwriter, offering both outline and character builders, scene formatting, and more all from your phone or other device. Costing less than £4/$5 to unlock all of the app’s features, ScriptBuilder is ideal for those of you who get ideas for screenplays while you’re out and about but don’t want to forget them. You can easily jot them down on your mobile device, and format using the app later. While it is simple, it is also effective for fleshing out the overall arc of scenes and screenplay plots. You can even build your characters. Keep in mind that this app is only available for Apple products at this time, but you can learn more about it here. Celtx Pro Writing for television, video production, and game production? Celtx may be a great choice for you, especially considering its many collaborative features. By housing familiar screenplay-style script editing within a branching sequence-based structure, Celtx Game & VR editor enables writers to easily create nonlinear, decision-oriented narratives of unlimited scope. Celtx brings your key creatives together in a single, secure, cloud-based workspace that facilitates seamless collaboration at every step of the narrative design process – including project-wide communication powered by an internal commenting and tagging system. This isn’t for the average writer, but it could be perfect for a team of writers and developers, especially if you want to produce games! The cost? It depends on what features you’d like, but pricing begins at £11($15)/month and scales up to £20 ($27)/month. However, they have an introductory first year price that you can check out here. Conclusion Finding a writing app that suits all of your needs is possible, though the search can be daunting. I encourage you to check out the many excellent software apps and programs available to aid authors and screenwriters found on this list. 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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Proofreading Marks: What Do They Mean?

As a new author, there’s nothing more important than a properly edited piece of writing. It can make or break your submissions, and editors on any level, for any project, will no doubt have notes to give you! While many writers use the Track Changes function on Word, or apps that can add changes or allow for suggestions from editors, there are still some writers opting for old-school hand-written edits. But why do proofreaders use all sorts of symbols and silly markings to edit your work? More than that, what do all of these marks mean? These unusual red scribbles are a necessary evil when it comes to your work being edited, and they can mean a variety of things. Let’s go over what proofreading marks are, and how you can best decipher them before your next big round of edits. What are Proofreading Marks? These special signs and symbols relate to sections of your work that need editing or adjusting. This can range from spelling errors to grammatical errors to formatting preferences. These forms of corrections may be less frequently found these days, due to the progression of “track changes” and “suggestions” in many word processing applications. However, some of the symbols are widely used so every writer should familiarise themselves appropriately. It\'s also worth noting that some editors that have their own special characters too - so it\'s important to reach out to your proofreader should you not understand their corrections. How might these marks be used, and what are some marks that have been universally accepted by editors and proofreaders? Let’s go over these now... How Proofreading Marks are Used Proofreading marks are used by editors to point out changes that need making in your document. They are typically located in the right and left margins of a printed document with pointers to where in the text changes are recommended. Both copy editing symbols and abbreviations will be found along your margins or in your text and various sentences, and they can mean anything from improper sentence spacing to transposing your sentence in an entirely different way for clarity.  You will have slashes through words (which means please remove) and abbreviations for formatting changes (such as italics and bold). You will encounter odd squiggles (often meaning “delete” or “transpose”), and your proofreader may even rewrite whole sentences in your margins. Yes, proofreading marks can be overwhelming, especially if you weren’t expecting so many specific edits! These shorthand symbols took me a while to learn and were more complicated than I expected them to be, so be patient with yourself. Once you\'ve gone through multiple rounds of edits with the same proofreader you\'ll soon get the hang of it. What are the Common Proofreading Symbols? Here\'s a comprehensive list of proofreading marks. Note that there are two types - abstract symbols and abbreviations. ^   - Insert something, most likely an edit found in your marginsㄉ - Delete this word or section; usually this symbol will appear in the margins of your work while there will be a diagonal or straight line through the specific word, letter, or sentence that needs deleting[  - Move your writing left]  - Move your writing right] [  - Center your text#  - Add spaceeq#  - Make the spacing equalbf  - Bold a section of textItal  - Italicise a section of text(/) - Insert some parentheses[/] - Insert some brackets=  - Insert a hyphen;/ - Insert a semicolon! - Insert an exclamation point? - Insert a question mark~  - Transpose (meaning rewrite the sentence, usually)❡  - Begin a new paragraphfl  - Flush left, or align the text with the left marginfr  - Flush right, or align the text with the right marginAWK  - Something about a particular phrase or sentence is worded awkwardly or strangelyWW  - This refers to “wrong word”, such as using the wrong form of “there”WDY  - A particular sentence is most likely too wordy, complicated, or overstated This is only the beginning of the many possible symbols and proofreaders’ abbreviations. Communicate with your proofreader so you don’t misunderstand any specific symbols. You may also wish to refer to a professional proofreading mark guide, such as this helpful list. How to use proofreading marks While they may seem daunting and sometimes discouraging, these corrections are necessary for writers at any stage. No matter how many copy-editing marks you receive, know that you are on track to make your work the best it can be, with the help of a skilled proofreader! 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.  If you think you need copyediting for your manuscript, take a look at our copyediting services. Jericho Writers\' experienced editors specialise in editing both novels and non-fiction and would love to help you with your work. Click here for more.
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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. 
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Anti-Hero Vs Villain – A Complete Guide

The relationship between an engaging protagonist and a compelling antagonist against the backdrop of an intriguing plot is what ensures a reader will continue to turn the page. But should your protagonist be an anti-hero – an underdog who goes against the grain of the typical \'hero\'? And what about the antagonist in the story – the character who will stop your protagonist from getting what they want? Is your antagonist somebody morally ambiguous, like an anti-villain? Or are they purely a villain, through and through? In this guide, we\'ll look at these two character types, what they are, how they differ and how to use them in your writing to strengthen your stories and engage your readers.  What Is An Anti-Hero? The definition of an anti-hero is somebody who lacks the virtues and traits of a traditional hero, such as courage and confidence. They can be morally ambiguous in their thinking and actions. However, when it comes to the anti-hero, the audience is rooting for them anyway. That\'s because they do the right thing, but maybe not for the right reasons. They have good intentions, but how they arrive at their conclusion or results can be questionable. An anti-hero typically lacks some of the attributes conventionally associated with traditional heroes. There are several anti-heroes in books, films and TV. Tony Montana in Scarface is an iconic character who ticks all the boxes of a classic anti-hero. Initially, he\'s the good guy, but he develops less than heroic traits throughout the film, as crime and drugs see him descend into a whirlwind of violence and greed. Despite this, he\'s still a character the audience can get behind because he does immoral things for moral reasons (his motivation is strong: getting his family out of poverty). Still, his life of crime escalates his downfall. Al Pacino\'s portrayal of Michael Corleone in The Godfather is another excellent example of an anti-hero. The film is widely regarded as one of cinema\'s greatest masterpieces, thanks to the protagonist\'s gripping character arc and his journey through the world of organised crime. It\'s a superb example of how the \"bad guy\" can be the hero.  Types Of Anti-Heroes One of the most important aspects to bear in mind when writing an anti-hero is that they\'re typically flawed but are usually engaged in doing good. So, now that we\'ve looked at what an anti-hero is and some examples of famous anti-heroes, let\'s explore the traits and characteristics that make up the different types of anti-heroes.  The Corrupt Protagonist Example of the corrupt protagonist: Thomas Shelby, Peaky BlindersA corrupt protagonist will typically act out of self-interest and might be obsessed with motivations such as power, wealth and fame. For the reader to understand and sympathise with this type of anti-hero, the reasons for their corruption must be clear and logical. Another example is Walter White in Breaking Bad. He\'s a normal guy with a normal life at the start of the series - but his obsession with money and power, instigated by his cancer diagnosis, leads to his downward spiral. The Classical Anti-Hero Example of the classical anti-hero: Frodo Baggins, Lord of The Rings.  A traditional hero is confident and intelligent, with few flaws and weaknesses. Therefore, the classical anti-hero is the opposite and is plagued by self-doubt and a lack of confidence. Readers enjoy the complexity that comes with a layered character who is flawed and conflicted. Traditionally, the story arc will follow the classical anti-hero conquering their fears and coming to terms with themselves and their faults to fight and conquer whatever is threatening them. The Pragmatic Anti-Hero Example of the pragmatic anti-hero: Harry Potter This type of anti-hero recognises their role in the greater good, and they see everything through a \'big picture\' viewpoint. For example, suppose the story means this pragmatic anti-hero must kill or sacrifice other characters. In that case, typically, this anti-hero will recognise that it must be done so that they can achieve the higher goal. For example, in Harry Potter\'s pursuit of Voldemort, he carries out actions that would be considered wrong (such as using curses) to ensure Voldemort\'s ultimate demise that\'s for the greater good. The Unscrupulous Hero Example of the unscrupulous hero: Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean  Heroes in this category have good intentions, and they\'re morally good. However, they don\'t care how much collateral damage they cause when they fight to achieve their goals. If your hero is unscrupulous, they\'ll be motivated by revenge and will typically be distrusting. Jack Sparrow is a great example of this as he\'s ultimately fighting on the good side.  Hero In Name Only Example of a hero in name only: Dexter Morgan, Dexter These protagonists tiptoe along the line of a hero and a villain. The reader will still be on their side and root for them, but they won\'t necessarily agree with all their actions and decisions. These characters are on the side of good, but they\'re not entirely good themselves.  What Is A Villain? The best definition of a villain is simple: a villain is a character opposite of a hero. A villain\'s role in a story is vital, and every villain must be compelling enough to be believable while holding a reader\'s interest. A villain is an antagonist who will place obstacles in the protagonist\'s way and drive forward the story. Creating a great villain is just as important as creating a great hero – and the best villains help define and drive the character arc of the story\'s hero. Writing a good villain means examining different villain ideas and villain traits to see which type of character fits into your story.  What Makes A Great Villain? There are some key characteristics that you can use to create a villain. Arguably, the most important is the backstory. Without it, villains feel one-dimensional and inauthentic. With it, you can create a sympathetic villain that feels real – which is exactly what you want. A villain\'s background will ultimately explain their motivations and help a reader sympathise with them. It will demonstrate why they act the way they do due to past experiences and situations that they\'ve been exposed to. Even better, if a villain backstory is connected to the hero, the story and character arcs are even more compelling for readers. The perfect example of this, and the relationship between a hero you\'re rooting for and an engaging villain, is Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. They\'re connected through a shared backstory when Voldemort murdered Harry\'s parents. But they\'re also physically connected; Harry\'s scar on his forehead serves to remind both the characters (and the readers) about their connection throughout the story.  But how to write a good villain? It\'s important to remember that a great villain character design should include some likeable qualities. They can\'t be bad through and through because a reader needs to understand them and even empathise with them to an extent. Typical characteristics of a villain include them being intelligent, capable, persuasive, proud and deceitful. They might occasionally reveal aspects of their personality that are good and perhaps even kind, but creating a villain ultimately means creating a ruthless character at their core.  Anti-Hero Vs Villain To distinguish between an anti-hero and a villain, there are certain elements to look at. The first is motive. Villains are typically motivated by something dark and even evil. Their ultimate motivations are not sympathetic as they will usually involve the protagonist\'s demise (even though a villain\'s backstory might encourage empathy from a reader). However, an anti-hero\'s motivations are sympathetic. A reader might not agree with why they\'re doing what they\'re doing, but they will understand and sympathise with their reasons why – for example, revenge and vengeance. The second characteristic is big picture balance. What would the world look like if the anti-hero won? And what would it look like if the villain won? The hero will ultimately restore balance and normality, with good prevailing. In contrast, the villain\'s victory would see the complete opposite. It\'s understandable that the lines might blur, as both types of character can be morally ambiguous. But you can readdress the balance by keeping in mind who the audience will naturally sympathise with – the anti-hero who\'s the underdog with redeeming qualities, rather than the villain who may encourage a little sympathy but ultimately reveals themselves to be purely acting in their own interests or against the protagonist. A typical character arc of the anti-hero is that they grow into becoming a better person, but a villain will go in the opposite way.  What Is An Anti-Villain? While we\'ve explored anti-heroes and villains and how they\'re connected, it\'s worthwhile looking at another type of character: anti-villain. An anti-villain is somebody who isn\'t completely evil (unlike a typical villain). They\'re much more complex, and their actions don\'t necessarily have to be particularly wicked.  Types Of Anti-Villains Now that we\'ve looked at what an anti-villain is, let\'s explore the traits and characteristics that make up the different types of anti-villains. The Sympathetic Anti-Villain Example of the sympathetic anti-villain: Benjamin Barker, Sweeney Todd The sympathetic anti-villain is a character that the readers feel sorry for, and if some of their actions weren\'t so villainous, the readers might even root for them. The character\'s backstory is key here, as it must garner sympathy from the reader and tug on the heartstrings. It must reveal that the anti-villain is acting the way they do due to past circumstances outside of their control and because they don\'t see any other options open to them. The Well-Meaning Anti-Villain Example of the well-meaning anti-villain: Inspector Javert, Les Miserables The reader can see that this character\'s heart is in the right place, but they take things a step too far in pursuit of their goal. They are driven by what they deem is the \"greater good\" and will stop at nothing to reach their goals, making them ruthless and morally questionable. Ultimately, the character is making the situation worse, but they might not even be aware of it because they\'re too focused on what they think is right and wrong – thinking purely in black and white, with no room for a grey area.  The Situational Anti-Villain Example of the situational anti-villain: Carrie White, in Stephen King\'s Carrie This character might find themselves in a set of circumstances that set them against the protagonist. Or against themselves if they are the protagonist. For example, they might have started as a good person, but they\'ve come up against something that has pushed them to the brink of their limits, and now they\'re out for revenge. Or they might be simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The reader will understand that their acts and motivations could be justified, but they won\'t get away with it.  Choosing Between Your Anti-Hero And Your Villain There are some great characteristics and traits that can create compelling anti-heroes, villains, and anti-villains. Ultimately, the anti-hero does the right thing, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Whereas the anti-villain does the wrong thing, but their reasons are often understandable. And the villain is there to make life hard for your protagonist every step of the way. By incorporating these strong character types, you\'re making the story even more interesting for the reader.  For more writing support visit our blog or join Jericho Writers - the world’s leading writing community. With our membership you get access to resources including 100+ hours of video content and masterclasses, live online events with top authors, one to one with agents and publishers, as well as editorial and mentoring support. 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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Protagonist Vs Antagonist

Protagonist Vs Antagonist - A Complete Guide When it comes to creative writing, the protagonist and antagonist characters are often the main focus and essential in telling the story. These are the characters with depth and complexity, the ones that move a story on, the ones we champion or that we want to see defeated. The conflict between the two is age-old – it creates tension, action and consequence, and, if done correctly, brings great satisfaction to the conclusion of a story. So how do we define a protagonist and an antagonist? How do we write them? What Is A Protagonist? A protagonist is a character who, in most situations, a reader will be rooting for. This character differs from other main characters because they are the ones that drive a story forward with their decisions and actions, and their goals reflect the goals of the story. Consider Lord of the Rings for example.The goal of the trilogy is good triumphing evil, and its protagonist, the big-hearted Hobbit Frodo, has the goal of destroying the ring and thus destroying Sauron who embodies evil. In most cases, a reader follows the protagonist throughout the story, however sometimes we see the protagonist through the eyes of someone else – a supporting character or through a third person narrator. Consider the famous play Blood Brothers by Willy Russell. The narrator is an enormous part but isn\'t the protagonist – the audience care only about the two brothers, Eddie and Mickey. Types Of Protagonists There are three types of protagonist: HeroThe classic good, morally upstanding, saves-the-cat-on-the-way-to-save-the-world kind of character. They will have flaws, but readers will have a fair inkling in knowing who\'s going to come out on top in this conflict from the word go. Think Harry Potter, Scout from To Kill A Mocking Bird, Luke Skywalker from Star Wars.Anti-HeroA deviation from the classic hero, often a reluctant or ill-equipped character who needs to navigate a situation thrust upon them. These characters may not be classic heroes, and they might also have some major flaws, yet they still evoke empathy and affection. Think Scarlett O\'Hara in Gone in with the Wind who, although spoilt and hotheaded, survives through wily means even when her glamorous southern belle life falls apart. Other examples are Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair, and Lyra from His Dark MaterialsVillainYes, you can still have a villain as a protagonist because a villain can still lead and decide the events of the plot. Think Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, Villanelle from Killing Eve, Grinch in The Grinch (who, OK, turns out good but man, in the beginning he\'s downright mean). Keep in mind when writing a protagonist that they need to be relatable. Your reader needs to care about what happens to them. If they\'re not flawed in any way, they won\'t feel real and therefore the reader won\'t care what happens to them. If they\'re too powerful, the reader will assume they can overcome anything and therefore the story will become boring – Superman maybe a classic hero but thanks to Kryptonite he still has one weakness. Yet, if they\'re too weak, the reader will feel annoyed at the character’s lack of gumption and won\'t root for them. And if they\'re too nasty, they won\'t feel like a protagonist. No one will want to see if they make it to the end of the book. What Is An Antagonist? An antagonist is a character working against the protagonist who, in most cases, the reader wants to see foiled. The antagonist creates the conflict and is generally seen as the \'bad\' one but, like the protagonists, there are different types of antagonists. Types of Antagonists There are four types of antagonists: The villainThis antagonist example is all about the evil-doing and often just for the sake of being evil (how liberating to be so horrible!). They live for the destruction of the protagonist and as such, they are mostly found in fantasy and sci-fi writing where the primary goal is ‘good triumphing evil’. Classic villains are The Emperor and Darth Vader in Star Wars, Voldemort in Harry Potter, the shark from Jaws (who still torments me to this day, so well done Peter Benchley for ruining swimming pools for me).The conflict-creatorThese antagonists are not necessarily a bad character. They are still very much human and have their own fears, hopes and dreams, but their goals work in conflict with the protagonist’s. They may also inspire the protagonist to act against their better judgment. Examples of a conflict-creator are Severus Snape in Harry Potter, Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, or Willy Wonka in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (he’s not an out and out bad guy, but he doesn’t make things easy for the children).Sometimes the antagonist in a story isn\'t even a person. Let\'s take a look at the inanimate forces that may challenge your hero...NatureThe antagonist in the Tom Hanks film, Castaway, is the relentless sea who won\'t let him leave the island. The antagonist in Bethany Clift\'s The Last One At The Party is the deadly virus that sweeps the world and leaves one woman pitted against the odds to survive a post-apocalyptic world.The supernaturalThe Shining is a perfect example of this force working against a protagonist.ObjectsThe ominous giant lighthouse in Emma Stonex\'s The Lamplighters causes three men to disappear. It\'s the perfect, atmospheric, antagonist.The protagonist themselvesThis internal conflict, for me, is the most satisfying antagonist, and which also brings the most rewarding conclusion to a story. A character starting a story at A, overcoming a flaw within themselves, and arriving up at B is my absolute favourite thing. The old man in Disney\'s Up is a great example of this – his antagonist is his own emotions, the grief for the loss of his wife which keeps him anchored in the past and unable to enjoy his life. Nudged by Russell, the boy scout, he discovers the joy and freedom of living again. As the saying goes, it’s often simply ourselves who are standing in the way of where we wish to go. It’s important to keep in mind that an antagonist must be as three dimensional as the protagonist. Their backstory should be just as important and relevant as that of the protagonist, and consequently their motivation should be something the reader can understand – even if they don’t agree. Voldemorts\' motivation to kill Harry in Harry Potter is because his broken and mutated soul got stuck in seven different places when he tried to kill Harry as a baby, so you know, if that\'s not motivation for a demise, what is?! Jaws was simply trying to score a meal. Making Your Antagonist Unforgettable Being creative with your antagonist can be a lot of fun and ensures they won’t be forgotten in a hurry. Let’s face it, everyone loves a baddie! They don’t have to be ‘ugly’ or scary or always in hiding, often the most dangerous can be loved by many. Look at giving them redeeming features to make them even more unsettling and unpredictable. Bond villain Blofeld was always cuddling his cat. How can a guy who loves his cat be all that bad? Let your protagonist find out! The Difference Between A Protagonist And An Antagonist A protagonist and antagonist are opposites – antonyms. The protagonists are generally the good guys (even it means that sometimes they are antiheroes) while antagonists are generally the bad guys. Look at the protagonists and antagonists in Disney films or in classic children’s fairytales. They are always perfect examples of clear conflict and well-matched foes. Basically, readers tend to empathise and relate to a protagonist, whereas they won\'t necessarily want to with an antagonist. However, they need to understand both these characters. Their friction needs to be relatable, or at least plausible. If we, as authors, want to hook readers into our stories, we have to make them care. And the only way they are going to care is by relating to our characters and understanding their motivations which drive the decisions they make. It\'s important that a writer addresses this for both the protagonist and the antagonist, not just to drive the plot forward but to connect with the readers. Whichever types of protagonist and antagonists you have in your story, always make sure they are worthy of each other. Opponents need chemistry in order to make a convincing and gratifying conflict. Think Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal who are very different characters but matched in an intelligence in which they find a mutual respect. Batman and The Joker are matched perfectly for their abilities to bring out a madness and darkness within each other. Sherlock Holmes and Jim Moriarty are matched in the depth of their intellectual game playing. Can A Protagonist Also Be An Antagonist? This is an interesting question with some conflicting points of view. For me, certainly a protagonist can be an antagonist. Villanelle from Killing Eve is the antagonist to Eve (the other protagonist) and slips her grasp constantly. However, the plot of the story is very much dual led. Villanelle is funny, unpredictable and wears outrageous clothing, and we find ourselves charmed by her despite her psychopathic, murderous ways. You can have real fun with this sort of protagonist. The appeal of writing someone who says and does questionable and outrageous things so far out of our normal everyday lives is big (at least it is for me, so I wonder what that says about me?!). As a reader, being thrust directly into the mind of someone villainous can be exciting. Not to mention it makes the baddie hard to forget. Also, the antagonist of the story can also be inside of the protagonist – such as the old guy from Up battling against his grief. Woody from Toy Story is another great example of the antagonist within the protagonist. He was Andy\'s most beloved toy until Buzz Lightyear was bought. His presence had a knock-on effect to the internal conflict within Woody – his insecurities and fear of being replaced meant his \'good guy\' persona was rattled and he had to work hard throughout the film to overcome it. Protagonists And Antagonists Make your Story Establishing a strong understanding of the roles played by antagonists and protagonists is essential for all writers. Develop your protagonist and antagonist alongside each other, keep their goals and motivations clear, keep their conflict electric, keep them real, but above all, ensure you enjoy writing them and your readers will be sure to love reading about them. 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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What Is A Prologue And How Do You Write One?

What Is A Prologue And How Do You Write One? Most writers know that the opening of a book is all-important in terms of grabbing the attention of busy agents and editors. Many of us also know from our own experience browsing online that a striking beginning might make a difference between buying a book or not. Hence if how you start your plot can change your literary fortune, prologues can offer a fresh way to launch a narrative.  In this piece, we’ll look at what prologues are, a little bit of their history and their main types and purposes. What is a Prologue? What does ‘prologue’ mean?  Prologues originate in Greek drama, coming from the term prologos, ‘before word’. Ancient dramatists used them as devices to introduce the play to come and you can see the influence of this in later Shakespearean works, such as Romeo and Juliet, where the Bard uses a prologue to set the scene for  the star-crossed lovers. Another famous prologue is that of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which was written in the Medieval period and introduces his cast of characters and the context of the pilgrimage. As you can see, prologues are used at the start of a work to bring the audience into a piece, but, as you’ll see below, in fiction writing, there are particular types of prologue which you might use to make your book opening more compelling.  Purpose of a Prologue As we’ve seen above, in plays, prologues literally set the stage for the action to come, bringing us into the world of the drama in a succinct way. However, prologues are not always necessary in novels and, indeed, they are a source of debate in writing circles as they can tempt writers to add too much ‘backstory’ about their characters and the setting in one go, before the main plot begins in Chapter One, leading to an overload of information which can be off-putting.  Prologues can also easily be too long, meaning the ‘real’ beginning of the story is delayed. Make sure you don’t make your prologue longer than your standard chapter and possibly consider making it even shorter to add real punch. You need to lay the foundations for the plot to come, but without being long-winded. Another difficulty is that prologues often don’t contain the lead character, unless in a mysterious and often unnamed way, so you’ve got to be careful about being too ‘on the nose’ as this device can be a way to generate real tension and excitement about your story. As you can see then, prologues come with various pitfalls, so they can be a challenge to pull off well. We’ll look at some of the reasons why you might use a prologue below, but just remember that not every plot needs a prologue, so don’t feel your work isn’t solid without one. Differences Between Prologue, Preface, Foreword And Introduction If we’re new to writing, it can be hard to tell the difference between prologues, prefaces, forewords and introductions and to understand exactly what is a prologue in a book. A preface is usually a short account by an author, explaining the origins of their book, with a foreword often offering an introduction to the text and its author by another person, usually a writer or authority in the same field.  An introduction, on the other hand, is a summary chapter, outlining the argument and contents to come, which is used primarily in non-fiction. Indeed, most fiction doesn’t have a preface or foreword on the whole, so it’s not something the majority of writers need to worry about.  Prologues are primarily the preserve of novelists then (as well as some playwrights), being a part of the narrative itself, rather than material which precedes it.  Types Of Prologues Considering the various functions prologues can perform is perhaps one of the most important things if you’re going to include one in your novel.  Many writing experts say there are four main types of prologue, involving a future protagonist, past protagonist, a different point of view and one which presents background. Future Protagonist This sort of prologue shows us the future self of the lead character – perhaps including their death – in order to set in motion the story of how they reached that point. It is written in the same point of view and style as the rest of the novel, but if you’re using the third person, the prologue often presents the end of the story first, with the journey towards that point beginning in the first chapter.  If you’re using a first person voice, the prologue might show the lead writing a letter or memoir, stating why they needed to tell this story, and the tone is often reflective. In this sort of prologue, an older character often is introduced, presenting the overall plot as a walk down memory lane. Past Protagonist Sometimes there’s a juicy event in your protagonist’s life which the reader needs to know to understand them fully. Often, it’s a tragic event, such as a loss or trauma, which might not be given its due in the course of a flashback, but which has set up the wounded detective lead, say, to have a passion for justice.  This sort of prologue allows us a look into the past then to let us see what makes the lead tick, bringing to life a powerful event which will draw the reader in and making us sympathise with the protagonist deeply right from the get-go and, luckily, it’s effective when written in the first or third person point of view. Different Point Of View Prologue Sometimes, it’s useful to bring in a different narrative perspective in a prologue than the viewpoints presented in the main plot. It can be particularly useful in order to add mystery to the coming story, perhaps, say, by showing a murder in the viewpoint of the unknown killer before the main plot shows the hunt for this villain. You can also use this sort of prologue to create dramatic irony, so the reader sees some event coming down the pipe – probably something which threatens them in some way – whilst the lead remains unaware. In women’s commercial fiction, for example, we might be presented with a cheating husband, while the protagonist wife goes on oblivious – until reality hits later in the book at some point. This sort of prologue is often useful in historical or adventure fiction with, say, an artefact being used or hidden in the past, which the lead only discovers later on, as this brings the world of the book into focus, as well as establishing the compelling question about what this thing is and why it’s important. However, it’s crucial that this sort of prologue is written in the third person, even if the main part of the novel is in the first person, to make it stand out from the rest of the narrative. Background Prologue If the world of your novel is very different than our own, such as if you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, this sort of prologue can be used to establish your unique setting and its rules in detail, so we understand the main action better. However, this is tricky to pull off as you don’t want to throw your reader into your alien world, say, unprepared, but you also don’t want the book’s opening to become an overwhelming info dump either. Focus then on creating a simple plot which illuminates how your particular world works – preferably one which links to the main narrative. Sometimes, however, the prologue might could take the form of a document which sets out the strange wonders of the world we’re entering and this form of opening offers a lot of opportunities to use your imagination, but, again, it’s a matter or balance as you also don’t want to make the beginning too obscure. Again, it’s good to narrate this sort of prologue in the third person, even if the main plot is told through the first. How to Write a Great Prologue So, does a book need a prologue? As I discussed above, many novels don’t require one at all, so it might not be necessary for you to learn the skills set out here in order to create a killer plot opening. However, as you can see, prologues can perform some very useful functions in terms of opening a plot with power and they can be particularly helpful when writing certain genres of fiction, so you might want to consider including one in your novel.  We all know how crucial a striking and stylish opening is, so bear this in mind when writing your prologue – this will be the first thing agents, editors and the general reader sees of your book, so you must make it compelling.  If you’re wondering how to write a prologue, it’s key that you grab your audience’s attention from the first line and keep it. The prologue needs to be essential reading for the rest of the book, so make sure it’s both relevant to the main plot and dramatic.  Immediately Engage The Reader In order to make your prologue stand out, it’s a good idea to take a powerful event and milk it for all its worth. You must also ensure you’re engaging the reader all the way through and not getting lost in backstory or obscure details.  You want the prologue to keep the reader turning pages right into the main narrative, so keep it peppy, no matter what genre you’re writing in. You might not need a car crash or explosion in literary fiction, but even emotional crises can stir emotions enough to lure the reader in. Provide Essential Information As I said before, prologues can help with world-building for fantasy, sci-fi and historical fiction writers, allowing the reader to become aware of the specific context of the coming story. Indeed, prologues can also provide relevant information about past events which have impacted the lead or show scenes, such as a murder, which set up the ensuing narrative.  In many ways then, prologues can give the reader relevant information for the literary journey to come and can be extremely useful devices. However, as I’ve also stressed, it can be difficult to not overload the reader with information. Add details gradually, like a breadcrumb trail through the forest, knowing you have the whole book to establish your characters and setting and remembering that an air of mystery and unanswered questions can be very alluring. Make sure the reader has the necessary information, but no more.  Use a Consistent Tone and Style It’s important to remember that, whilst the prologue might well be in a different point of view from the main text or come from the viewpoint of a character whose perspective does not appear in the later narrative, the prologue’s style always needs to fit with that of the main narrative. What you don’t want is for your prologue to seem inconsistent with the rest of the book. Yes, you want the prologue to stand out, but if your prologue doesn’t sit well with the rest of your plot and language, it will possibly offer a false impression of your book to the publishing industry and general reader.  You don’t want to confuse your audience as to what your book is like or to have your readers feel perplexed when they reach the first chapter, so make the prologue powerful, but in keeping with the ideas and style of the main text. Keep It Short I described before how prologues shouldn’t go beyond your average chapter length and this is one way to ensure you don’t bore the reader or include excessive information. Indeed, some of the most powerful prologues are brief, offering just a glimpse into a murder scene or a crucial part of the lead’s past, before delving into the main action. In this way, prologues can be very evocative, without giving away the store.  Consider then if less might be more with your prologue. Review Other Prologues Much of our skills as a writer come from reading, so research other prologues, particularly those from books in your genre to see how the best ones work. You could even try to experiment by emulating certain types, copying prologues to see how they’re put together, and experimenting with different types from the four given above to see what might work for your novel. Excellent Prologue Examples I’ve already mentioned some of the most famous prologues, such as Chaucer’s General Prologue, Shakespeare’s opening to Romeo and Juliet, but there are also plenty of more contemporary examples available, including those from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity.  From ancient Greece to modern action and adventure, there are plenty of juicy examples of prologues to ponder. Think carefully as you read about what the author is presenting in the prologue, what type of prologue it is (does it provide background, for instance) and how long the author has made it. By taking notes and really absorbing what the author is doing, your own ideas and writing craft will grow. Prologues Can Add So Much As you can see, prologues aren’t always necessary, but they can add a lot to the opening of a novel if handled well.  From ancient Greece on, writers have turned to prologues to provide important past information on the characters and general background. They also can be part of world-building in sci-fi and fantasy or generate context for historical fiction.  Moreover, prologues can offer a framework for an older narrator to look back to the past, or to present a different point-of-view – such as that of a murderer in crime – thus adding mystery, as well as dramatic irony and a juicy impending sense of doom. Although you have to be careful not to add too much backstory or go on too long, ensuring that you keep the prologue relevant and consistent with the style of the rest of the book, you might end up with a really special opening to your novel. Try it and see how you get on! 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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Round vs Flat Characters

A Complete Guide To Writing Round vs Flat Characters When you’re writing fiction, developing your characters is a crucial point in the writing process. You might have the most compelling plot in the world, full of romance and action and intrigue – but if your characters feel more like paper dolls than people, chances are your book isn’t ready yet. It’s important to be able to tell the difference between round and flat characters, and to know when it’s okay to let a character stay two-dimensional or when they really need that extra axis of development. So let’s dig in! Characters in Fiction Let’s define something out of the gate: what do we mean when we talk about ‘character development?’ Basically, character development is the process by which a character (particularly in fiction) is brought ‘to life’ by giving them motivations, personalities, wants and desires – making them feel vivid and real, essentially. It can also refer to the ways your characters may change over the course of the novel, their literal development on the page thanks to the plot. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be talking about two – well, three, but we’ll get to that – kinds of characters: flat ones and round ones. What is a Round Character and How Do I Write One? A ‘round’ character has layers. They’re nuanced and vivid, the kinds of characters you read about and wish they were your friends or to whom you feel an emotional connection. Essentially, the round characters are the story. These characters are your complex protagonists and antagonists, and your key supporting roles. They serve as the plot drivers because they make the decisions on where the story goes. A fully-formed, well fleshed out character doesn\'t happen overnight. Much like meeting someone at a party, it takes time to get to know them. They all start two-dimensional and then you add layers to them – it\'s like growing little onion-people! (Sorry for that strange insight into my brain.) A reader wants to care about your rounded characters, will want to be surprised by them, and will want to follow them on their journeys. The more we explain why someone is the way they are or acts the way they do, the more complex they become, and that\'s the beauty of a rounded character. A good tip is to spend time getting to know the characters that you need to be rounded, and this can be super beneficial before you start writing because that knowledge can influence and better shape your writing. Here are some tips on how to create them: Outline their goals and motivations A reader cares more when they understand our characters, and the key here is to ensure our reader knows what motivations are driving our character\'s decisions throughout the story. These motivations can be based on good reasons or bad, and will apply to both the protagonist and the antagonist. It seems that the appetite for understanding motivations has increased in storytelling, and so it’s worth looking at two beloved characters who’ve recently had their motivations brought to the big screen: JAMES BONDOver decades, we’ve seen a host of Bond films where he’s more or less the same character: a charmer and a killer. This had a certain appeal, to be sure, but it also made him rather two-dimensional. When producers decided to adapt the 1953 novel Casino Royale in 2006, we were suddenly shown insight into how Bond became a killer (that brilliant black-and-white opening sequence) and what motivated his callous charm (falling in love, discovering her deception, watching her drown). Now we understood why he behaved the way that he did, which made him far more human than he’d been before. THE JOKERPart of the Joker’s appeal in every Batman appearance prior to Todd Phillips’ 2019 film Joker was that he was a madman. He represented anarchy to Batman’s order – very archetypal, comic book stuff. But Joaquin Phoenix’s award-winning performance revealed a failed clown whose inner turmoil gave rise to the chaotic villain we’ve all come to know. Bring conflict into your character\'s life Conflict is not only a tool to drive the plot forward, but also shows a reader how your character will respond to a given circumstance. That in turn is interesting to a reader because it will show up traits in a character like their moral standing, etc. We can use another character to demonstrate conflict, or use an internal conflict, or even both. Take Woody from Toy Story as an example of both. He was Andy\'s most cherished toy until Buzz Lightyear came and took pride of place on Andy\'s bed (and heart). Note that introducing Buzz into the story – who posed no threat to Woody physically because they didn\'t have any historical conflict – had a knock-on effect to the internal conflict within Woody. Woody\'s insecurities and fear of being replaced meant his \'good guy\' persona was rattled. Let your character evolve A rounded character will learn something throughout the story, and they’ll be different by the end than they were at the start. Using Woody in Toy Story as an example again, his acceptance of Buzz by the end of the film – and his willingness to understand what it means to share Andy’s attention -- leaves him in a far different place from where he was at the beginning of the movie. You are a different person from who you were when you started your journey; shouldn’t your characters be, too? What is a Flat Character? A flat character is two-dimensional and uncomplicated. They are often minor characters (though not always) and their role in the story is usually a perfunctory one. It’s rare for a flat character to undergo any kind of development over the course of the story – usually because their development isn’t the point of the story. But that’s not to say that flat characters are a bad thing, or even something to avoid! They can be used for enhancing rounded characters and interaction between the two can reinforce the rounded character\'s strengths, traits and values. Think about The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz: she\'s simply evil and not given any backstory, but she makes Dorothy look like a saint with awesome morals via the ways in which she provokes conflict. Your flat characters might also be supporting roles like Miss Stephanie Crawford, the town gossip in To Kill a Mockingbird: someone who can help deliver the novel’s message and who can help spur the revelations of the rounded characters, but whose story doesn’t need to be filled out for the reader’s enjoyment. Let’s get into some tips on writing your flat characters: Flat Characters get Flat Names I tend to give my flat characters forgettable, common names, or even no name at all – sometimes a job reference will even do, eg. \'the waiter\' if they\'re just in one scene and delivering a cup of tea. Flat Doesn’t Mean Boring Your flat characters can have quirks that will delight a reader but won’t distract them. For example, you can have a clown who\'s not funny, or a dentist with bad teeth.Tom Bombadil is one of Tolkien’s most memorable inventions, but he serves a purpose in The Hobbit, not a distraction – or think about Dame Judi Dench’s performance in Shakespeare in Love, which won her an Oscar and she was on-screen for eight minutes! Enjoy them but don\'t spend lots of energy on them If you feel confused about whether a flat character needs more to them, the likelihood is that the reader will also feel confused about their role. Don’t let that compelling quirky weirdo who shows up in one scene take over the rest of your book (unless, you know, you want them to) – again, you don’t want your flat characters to be a distraction. That’s why they’re flat! Determine their relevance to the scene and then focus on that before getting on with your day. Difference Between Flat and Round Characters If you\'re not sure if you need a round or flat character in any given scene, ask yourself a simple question – do I need the reader to care about them here, or in the story as a whole? If the answer is yes, you need to give them some complexity. If not, they\'re the flat ones. Consider a classic battle scene in The Return of the King: The Ride of the Rohirrim, a last ditch attempt against all odds to save Middle Earth (no pressure). The sequence has both flat and rounded characters within it. We care about the collective force because they are representing the microcosm of the entire trilogy – good vs evil – in a spectacular and emotive way, but do we care about each and every one of the six thousand riders? Nope. We care about Theoden, Eowyn, and Merry – because those are the characters that have been given layers. We’ve spent time with them, seen their lives upended, witnessed their doubts and insecurities, seen their moral and emotional growth, and have agonised alongside them. And while we’re talking about speculative fiction, let’s use a role-playing game example: your well-rounded characters are, well, the characters you’re playing – while your flat characters are your NPCs, your non-player-characters. They’re the ones your main characters interact with along the way. What is a Static Character? A note: some main characters, including some quite famous ones, are decidedly static characters – by which we mean that they don’t change, even as they’re quite memorable and even by many respects ‘well-rounded’ characters. Remember what we were saying about the Joker earlier? Remove that 2019 film from your brain and think about the character again: we often don’t know his name, his motivations are unclear, and he serves mostly as a foil to our protagonist. Another, more literary, example would be Bertie Wooster (and Jeeves, for that matter!) from P. G. Woodhouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories. The relationship between Bertie and Jeeves will always be the same, those two men themselves will always be the same, and that’s really part of the joy of reading those stories: that those characters do not change. Without Character you Have no Story Your characters are the beating heart of your novel or story, and it’s crucial to make sure that you’ve invested them with the time and attention they deserve. Some of them might be well-rounded characters and some of them might be flat – but hopefully these tips and tricks will help you determine which should be which! 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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How to Write a Compelling Plot Twist

How to Write a Compelling Plot Twist - a Complete Guide We all know that a book with a great hook is something agents, editors, and readers are looking for. But when it comes to books that last, the ones that readers will be recommending for years to come, it’s those with the best plot twists that stand the test of time. Yet plot twists are so hard to write. So how do you deliver thrilling twists and turns that will keep your readers guessing until the very end? What is a plot twist? “I feel that the characters in my book, if they were real, would be like, \"Seriously, another plot twist?” (Author, Meghan Blistinsky)A plot twist is a literary device found in all forms of storytelling, where the reader (or viewer) is lured into the intrigue of the plot and left reeling by a grand revelation or turn of events they didn’t see coming. A plot twist can take place in any scenario, but there are three very important rules a writer must follow: 1. It must be plausibleThe reader needs to be surprised by the revelation, but not shocked. All readers love to guess what will happen next, but if the plot twist doesn’t make sense or hasn’t been primed in advance the readers will feel tricked or let down.2. It must be a surpriseIt’s not much of a twist if the reader is able to guess the outcome from the very beginning. A successful plot twist, whether in a book or movie, will keep people guessing all the way through.3. It must be foreshadowedWe all love to think we can outsmart the writer and guess what will happen. But a great writer will make you think you’ve cracked it, and still surprise you with a revelation that makes total sense, but only in retrospect. Why is it important to have plot twists in your book? It’s not. Plot twists aren’t vital in every book, but they are a great way to add intrigue, keep readers turning the pages, and get them invested in the plot. Not to mention add much-needed hype to your book. And it doesn’t matter what genre you write in. A great plot twist transcends all types of books and stories. We often think of thriller plot twists when considering books with a grand reveal – you can’t have a successful murder mystery without a shocking revelation at the end - but every book can benefit from adding a plot twist (or two, or three, or four) to add tension, intrigue, and keep readers talking.A good plot twist can be used effectively in all genres, from fantasy and YA to rom coms and gothic horror. Even if no one has gone missing or been killed. Plot twist examples from books and movies “The best stories are the ones with the unexpected plot twists that no one would have guessed, even the writer.”(Author, Shannon L. Alder) There are too many amazing movie plot twist examples and great plot twists in books to list them all, so we’ve split them up into three types. Plus, we’ve kept the descriptions vague so as not to ruin their big ‘wow’ moments if you are unfamiliar with them. Watching a movie, or reading a book, a second time can be extra enjoyable because that’s when we see how the writer planted the clues to the twists throughout the story from the beginning. See if you can think of your favourite plot twists and where they would fit in to these three categories. Plot Twist #1: The Grand Reveal This is generally known as the ‘who dunnit?’ and is used in all crime, thriller, and murder mystery books and movies.Behind her Eyes by Sarah PinboroughA single mother falls in love with her boss and befriends his wife, but something is very wrong.Sharp Objects by Gillian FlynnA reporter confronts the psychological demons from her past when she returns to her hometown to cover a violent murder. Knives OutWho killed crime novelist Harlan Thrombey? A murder mystery with more twists than Chubby Checker.The Orient Express by Agatha ChristieJust after midnight the Orient Express stops in its tracks. In the morning, an American is found stabbed to death. Who did it?Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen KingPeople are being murdered. But who is the bad guy when you’re a writer living alone? Plot Twist # 2: The Plot Thickens These types of plot twists are often used to change the direction of the story. Sometimes the twist is the inciting incident, sometimes the midway reveal, or it can pull the protagonist in a new direction and lurching into act 3. When it comes to a series, these types of revelations can also serve as great cliff hangers. The Maze Runner by James DashnerDozens of boys, and one girl, must escape a maze for freedom. Yet who is behind their imprisonment? Fingersmith by Sarah WatersA novel set in Victorian England follows the intertwining lives of two women from different worlds. ParasiteA poor family scheme to become employed by a wealthy family and infiltrate their household by lying about who they are. The Girl With All the Gifts by Mike CareyA teacher and a scientist living in a dystopian future embark on a journey of survival with an unusual young girl.I am Legend by Richard MathesonA post-apocalyptic vampire thriller, about a lone survivor struggling to live in a world that is no longer his own. Plot Twist #3: Wait! What? Some of the best plot twists are those that you never asked for and come out of nowhere. By adding a huge twist at the end, one that (unlike a murder mystery) you were not waiting for, it changes the entire story from what you were led to believe to something else. Unlike a simple ‘who dunnit?’, these twists throw the biggest curve balls and leave you reeling as the credits roll or you close the book for the last time. Sixth SenseA little boy can see ghosts and is helped by a psychologist…who may not be all he seems. Everything, Everything by Nicola YoonA teen girl has an illness which means she can’t leave her bedroom. Then she falls in love. SevenSomeone is killing people based on the seven deadly sins. But what’s in that box at the end? American Psycho by Bret Easton EllisWe know he’s a cold-blooded killer. Or is he?We Were Liars by E. LockhartA lonely teen girl recounts one beautiful summer, that may not have been so beautiful after all. How to write your own plot twists “Beneath every story, there is another story. There is a hand within the hand...... There is a blow behind the blow.”(Author, Naomi Alderman) You only have to read the latest Amazon reviews of a newly-hyped thriller to see how important plot twists are to readers. Many books are sold as having a ‘twist you never saw coming’ – which can backfire if readers are able to guess the grand reveal too early, leaving them feeling cheated. In other words, readers want you to surprise them with twists that they never saw coming yet were obvious in retrospect. This is easier said than done. So how can you, as a writer, achieve that? Here are five plot twist writing tips to keep your readers intrigued and guessing until the very end:1. Let your characters do the hard work If you have created well-rounded characters with clear intentions and strong personalities, they will often reveal to you something you never initially planned. Relax and leave your main characters to do the walking and talking. Perhaps put them in a strange scenario and see what happens. You may be surprised by where they take you. 2. Work backwards When it comes to the best thriller plot twists, authors often work backwards. They start with the big reveal, then go back and insert subtle clues and pointers alongside dead ends and red herrings. It’s important the clues are hidden amongst the more obvious clues that are placed on purpose to misdirect the reader. For example: If you want the killer at the end of your novel to be the cleaner, you may have her polishing the gun in act one, and you may have her cleaning in a scene where another suspect is acting more obviously guilty. The best places to add plausible clues that lead to your twist is to hide them among action or dramatic narrative where the readers won’t be noticing them as much. Let your readers think they’ve cracked it, then lead them down a dead end and make them circle back. 3. Mislead your readers on purpose This leads us on to misdirection, red herrings, and dead ends. The only way to keep your readers guessing is to play with them. Like any good magician, you make them look at your right hand while hiding the coin with your left. This doesn’t mean simply pointing at the wrong culprit until the big reveal at the end, but entertaining your readers with plenty of action and intrigue until they are yanked out of their comfort zone with a big twist.For example, in Life of Pi by Yann Martel, we are so intrigued by the concept of a man having to survive on a life raft with a killer tiger, that it doesn’t occur to us that the story may be an allegory. And in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, we are so enthralled by the depiction of a seedy club full of men fighting one another, that we never once consider that perhaps our narrator is far from reliable. 4. Give them a mega twist at the end of the first twist There are no rules when it comes to how many plot twists you can have in one book (as long as you don’t make your readers dizzy with them). One fun device is to build up to an expected twist, then deliver a mega-deadly twist straight after. One example of three twists in a row is in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. In the original novel, not only does Dorothy discover that the Great Oz is merely an inept man behind a curtain, but she learns that she could have got home simply by clicking her heels. And then, as if that’s not enough drama, once she’s back in Kansas we discover it was a dream all along. Or was it?These twists after twists are a fun way to add tension and speed up the pace during the last act, and to keep readers thinking of the story long after they close the book. 5. Play with your readers’ emotions Authors love to make you feel – whether that means making you laugh, cry, shocked, or even so angry you throw the book against the wall (then quickly pick it back up, because you simply have to know what happens next). The best way to play with a reader’s emotions is to deliver a roller coaster of gut-wrenching twists. In Romeo and Juliet, we go from the throes of passion and teen love to Romeo’s best friend Mercutio being killed by Juliet’s cousin. A big dilemma we never saw coming. From love to despair, Romeo then delivers another twist when he kills Tybalt in revenge. We go from a cute YA love story to one of violence, tragedy, and drama when Romeo is banished. If Romeo and Juliet were a teen novel today, most readers would expect that arc to lift by the end of the book, proving that love can overcome everything. Yet this is no love story, it’s a tragedy that purposely messes with your emotions. As a final, fatal, twist we see Romeo not only kill himself in the last act because he thinks Juliet is dead – but Juliet wakes up, sees that her lover is dead, and kills herself too! This onslaught of dramatic twists leaves the spectators reeling with every imaginable emotion until at the end of the play they are left completely bereft. But in the very best way. Because, ultimately, a reader wants a writer to make them feel. A plot twist with a difference As a final plot twist of our own, we’re adding a little bit more to this article and supplying you with some inspiration for your own memorable plot twist creations. Now we’ve had a look at what plot twists are, which ones work best, and how to write your own, here are some fun prompts to get you messing with your readers’ minds. What if… - The bad guy isn’t the bad guy after all? The MC is? - The MC falls in love with the friend helping them get the girl? - The imaginary world is the real world? - The MC isn’t the narrator? It’s all been from someone else’s POV? - The good guys were never there to help after all? - The MC isn’t alone, as we have been led to believe? - The narrator is unreliable? - The MC has been lied to all along? - They were pretending to be someone else? - They are not dead? - Or…are not alive?Plot twists, when executed well, are not only fun to experience as a reader, but are also a lot of fun to write. There’s no greater thrill than a reader exclaiming they never saw your twist coming. Next time you are reading a great book, or watching a movie, study where the writer or director is asking you to look and look in the opposite direction. Study the clues, guess the outcome, and try to get one over on the writer. You may even be inspired to write your own unforgettable plot twist. For support with your creative writing and helping you get published, join the world’s leading online writers club at Jericho Writers.
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What does book coaching really mean?

One of the huge advantages of taking a writing course is having a book coach, or mentor, by your side giving you one-to-one support. But what does this actually involve? How closely will you work with your book coach, and what will the dynamic be? We asked the US/International tutors on our Ultimate Novel Writing Course to tell us about what mentoring means to them and what to expect. JW: What is book coaching? Can you say a few words about what you would expect your relationship with your students to be like? Lindsey Alexander: The mentoring component of the UNWC is one-on-one customized coaching that\'s calibrated to your needs as you move through the course. Your mentor is your creative collaborator, someone who\'s going to get to know you and your project really well in order to help you ensure that your novel reflects your intentions in a way that\'s going to captivate your reader. Each month, you\'ll submit a portion of your work-in-progress to your mentor. You and your mentor will connect for a conversation over Zoom or by phone, typically for about an hour. You can also opt for written feedback, or choose a combination of the two. \"Your mentor is your creative collaborator, someone who\'s going to get to know you and your project really well in order to help you ensure that your novel reflects your intentions in a way that\'s going to captivate your reader\" In our conversations, we think big and brainstorm, review specific passages in your manuscript to look at what\'s working well and where there might be room for improvement, and navigate the ups and downs of the writing life as you build toward a sustainable creative practice you\'ll be able to stick with long after the course is over. Between these conversations, your mentor is there to field your questions, concerns, and middle-of-the-night epiphanies, and each month, your mentor will gather their group of students for a  Zoom conversation to reflect on the tutorials and discuss progress and challenges together. You\'ll also have the option of continuing your work with your mentor through a manuscript assessment in the final months of the course A.E. Osworth: I have a really particular pedagogy. I teach it a lot, and I teach a lot of different kinds of students. One thing I find that nearly every writer has in common, especially when they’re working on their first draft, is that momentum is more important than anything else. You don’t know what’ll happen to the finished draft. Then you can go back and apply things to it, but up until then, you are experimenting with choices. So when it comes to working with me – as an instructor, as a mentor, as a peer, as anything – my pedagogy is one that focuses mainly on praise, so that you know which of the choices you’re experimenting with are the strongest, and are getting across your message the strongest. And so you can hoard those choices. My approach to coaching is praise-focused because it gives students the chance to write toward their strongest choices instead of away from criticism, which honestly could stop a writer in their tracks. And the most important thing is to finish that first draft. “My approach to coaching is praise-focused because it gives students the chance to write toward their strongest choices instead of away from criticism.” The other thing that people can expect from me when it comes to coaching is that I have a pedagogy of decentralising the instructor. So in any group of novelists, I believe that we all have things to learn from each other; I am not special in that room. Working with me is a really non-hierarchical experience. I have tools and I am happy to hand those tools over to someone else - but someone else’s experience of their life and their art and their career is just as valid as my experience of mine, and their experience is more relevant to their life. So what you can expect from me is: here is an array of tools, we get to practice using them and then you get to pick which ones are actually working for you. I’m not going to impose my taste or aesthetic, or my practice, on somebody else. My practice works for me because I’m me. Read more on ‘useful praise’ by A.E. Osworth for Catapult. Brian Gresko: I try to be very available to students to field questions, and essentially to be a kind of accountability buddy but also there for support– that might require a pep talk, but sometimes it’s just knowing that somebody is there listening. I think especially with writing for publication – it’s a communicative art. It can help to have someone who is waiting to get your pages, and that gives you a certain amount of energy to complete them. Your mentor gives you real-time feedback on your work, and that also can help guide how you’re moving the narrative forward. I like really getting into the text and talking about story decisions. Structure, and pacing, are both really important to me. Besides reading, I’m a big television watcher and I think it’s a similar principle. Keeping your audience’s attention over around 300 pages is hard, and you have to really think about how you’re going to keep the energy of the reader chapter by chapter. “I try to be very available to students to field questions, and essentially to be both a kind of accountability buddy but also sometimes for support– that might require a pep talk, and sometimes it’s just knowing that somebody is there listening.\" So I will be talking to my students face-to-face once a month and seeing them together as a group once a month, and hopefully getting everyone to share some of the challenges and experiences finding their way through a story I try to help the author thread their way through their narrative structure, before they become lost. Sara Lippmann: As writers, we sit at our desks all day, in our own worlds, with all these characters looming large in our heads. It can be extremely isolating. I know. I get it. I\'ve been there. I\'m still there. As a mentor and coach, I am personable, honest, and hands-on. I will walk alongside you, cheering you on when you need it, but I will not blow smoke. I am an intuitive, close reader - that is, I read for intentionality in order to help you realize your vision on the page. “As a mentor and coach, I am personable, honest, and hands-on. I will walk alongside you, cheering you on when you need it, but I will not blow smoke.” I will keep you on track by holding you accountable, and I will push your work to the next level, encouraging you to lean into your natural narrative strengths and to stretch them beyond your comfort zone, toward greater urgency and resonance. I\'ll challenge you to take risks and dig deep, in order to excavate a larger truth. My style is a mix of merciless and generous, but I always come from a place of openness and love. Lindsey Alexander, A.E. Osworth and Sara Lippmann are available as tutors on the UNWC US/International course. They\'ll give you one-to-one book coaching and expert tuition as you write a publishable novel over a year. Find out more below. UNWC US / INTERNATIONAL Brian Gresko is now available as a mentor on the course with a UK/European timezone: UNWC UK / EUROPE
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How taking a writing course helped my confidence grow

We’re thrilled to be launching another year of our Ultimate Novel Writing Course. It’s the most practical, hands-on course we offer, helping you go from first draft to full publishable manuscript with expert tuition and ongoing support. We chatted to Sharon Dunne, a student on the 2020-2021 course, about how the UNWC has impacted her writing journey.   JW: Hi Sharon! What stage were you at with your writing before the UNWC?   SD: I had very little experience before the course. I\'d always loved writing but it just wasn’t feasible as something to do as a career, at least not in my circle. I started writing properly about a year beforehand and, after eleven or twelve months, I realised that I needed help. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I was just going with it - but if I wanted to make it a serious career, I really needed some help.   JW: What was your favourite part of the course?   SD: It’s hard to choose! Meeting my group was absolutely amazing because they were such great support. You end up building a friendship - a supportive circle where you can help each other when someone is struggling. That was one of my favourite things. I think the weekly exercises, the feedback, and the tutoring have been excellent as well. I had started with a book, but I ended up deleting a whole 96,000 words and starting again. I’d thought I needed a little bit of help, but I realised quite quickly that it just wasn’t good enough. The first tutor feedback I had was from Wes (Brown, UNWC tutor) and it was really good. He gave feedback in such a supportive way that it encouraged me to start again. Now I’ve just finished my manuscript. It’s just been sent off to Lindsey (Alexander, UNWC tutor) and it’s so much better. I basically learned from the ground up and I worked really hard at it – the whole experience was great.   JW: Amazing! Do you think starting from scratch on your MS was made a little easier because of that support?  SD: Yes, definitely! I had started writing without knowing I needed the basics, but once I’d started learning them I realised that [my original manuscript] wasn’t good enough and there was no point in trying to make a load of changes. In the end I just wanted to start again. Actually, I think I was more excited than anything. Whatever chapter I was writing, I would use that for whatever was the focus of the course each week – so I was kind of tweaking as I went, as well. The weekly tasks were really good because I performed them on my work-in-progress as I wrote.    I had started with a book, but I ended up deleting a whole 96,000 words and starting again... JW: It sounds like that corresponded really well then! Which aspect of the course did you find the most challenging?  SD: I have four small children and I work, so I suppose for me the most challenging thing really was just finding the time. But I was, and still am, very creative and I was learning very fast throughout the course. It was during that time I realised I just loved it – I really loved it. So I made sure I made the time, whether it was 9pm at night or getting up at 6am and doing a couple of hours in the morning. That was probably the most challenging aspect, but it was good to fully commit.   JW: How have you found fitting the course round your schedule?  SD: The course is great; it’s so flexible, especially for someone like me whose time is very limited. The amount of time and effort you give it is up to you and I think the more you put in, the more you’re going to get out of it. So I just decided that I was going to do the task every week no matter what, whether that was late night or early morning. I think that helped with building relationships with everyone in my group, as well. We also set up some monthly zoom calls where we could talk things through and see if anyone needed any help.   JW: It must be lovely to have that nice, supportive environment, because sometimes writing can be quite isolating. How would you rate your confidence with writing after the UNWC?  SD: I’m way more confident now! I believe that it’s possible now, and I’ve just committed to keep going.    JW: That’s brilliant! Do you feel that you have something close to being ready to submit?  SD: I’ve just submitted my work-in-progress to Lindsey (Alexander, UNWC tutor). I’m waiting for the response and then I’ll have feedback to do the next draft. I have a few drafts done – the second draft is the one that’s just gone over for critique. I would hope that I could then do another draft with Lindsey’s feedback – she’s been great as well – and hopefully then be ready to submit. Actually, last year I booked the Jericho Writers Self-Edit Your Novel Course  for this September, so I’ll do that with my new draft, and I’m hoping that after that I’ll be ready to submit.   I\'m way more confident now! I believe that it’s possible now, and I’ve just committed to keep going. JW: Amazing – I look forward to hearing about how you find the Self-Edit course as well. Lots of people have said great things about Debi [Alper] and Emma [Darwin].   SD: Yes I’ve definitely enjoyed them in webinars! I’ve also found the webinars really good – on the Jericho Website I found the ‘How to Write’ video course that Harry did, and I found that super-useful. I watched the whole thing when I first started writing.  JW: To what extent do you feel being an UNWC student has helped you find new opportunities?  SD: I think I’ve been opened up to an awful lot of opportunities because now I understand so much more about the fundamentals of writing. I have a lot more knowledge of how agents and publishers work, the different ways to get published, how difficult it is to get published and the standard your work needs to be at before you submit. Also, the importance of having a supportive team – I got to know all the other writers, knew where I could go for help, the different types of assessments and reviews you could get on your manuscript, and the whole writing world in general. I suppose that was especially good for me because I was very new to it – before I started this course, I didn’t know any other people who wrote in their spare time.   JW: I’m so glad you had that for support; having like-minded people around you is so important to keep going. In what ways do you think taking a writing course is helpful (compared to learning independently)?  SD: I think mainly it helps because of all the support. I know some people don’t like critique, but I loved it because it told me where I was going wrong. It made me want to change it - otherwise I would have never known! Obviously so much was wrong – nearly everything was wrong – and it was all revealed in the critique so maybe even from the first week it set me on the right track. Lindsey talked me through and I realised, okay, this is just not good enough. I know if I’d kept writing independently, I wouldn’t have improved. Some people perhaps are born being able to write well, but I needed to learn.   JW: You definitely do need that constructive criticism sometimes, especially in the early stages. Is there anything else you’d like to add?   SD: Generally, the tutors were all fantastic, and the group as well. I’ve found that the whole thing has been a really enjoyable experience and it’s taught me so much.   Sharon Dunne is an Irish mother of four young boys. She is a primary school teacher (who previously worked in advertising) and lives in the sunny South East, although she often questions the \'sunny\' part! Sharon is writing a novel called Phoenix Park, which follows the lives of three Irish women, two of whom are running for President. The third is a relentless reporter with the Viral Touch, who\'s covering the election. One of them is hiding a secret and when it\'s uncovered, the trajectory of all three women\'s lives are changed forever The Ultimate Novel Writing Course is now open for applications for 2021-2022. With online tutorials and mentoring sessions led by leading authors in their fields alongside in-person events, editorial assessments, literary agent inductions, and more - no other course offers this level of support as you work towards publication. Find out more: Ultimate Novel Writing Course UK / Europe (GMT time zone) Ultimate Novel Writing Course International (ET time zone)
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Character Arcs: What They Are And How To Create Them – With Template

by Dr Sharon Zink Character arcs are some of the most important tools in terms of writing compelling fiction, even if they’re played out on a smaller scale in a short story, but certainly when writing a novel.  They play a central role in not only establishing your lead’s motivations and thus narrative aims in a book and thus form the spine of the plot arc, but they are what makes the reader believe in and root for the lead which contributes hugely to how much they’ll invest in your story. In this piece, we’ll discover the different ways to develop a strong character arc, together with some examples and a template to help you create your own powerful character arc based on a lead who feels ‘real’ to the reader and who keeps them turning pages. What Is A Character Arc? Basically, in the course of a novel, or even a short story, a character needs to be pursuing a certain goal. What they want and why needs to be obvious to your audience so they can root for the lead to get their aim in the novel.  This goal is usually something noble, like finding love in women’s commercial fiction, solving a murder in a crime novel or even saving the world in action or adventure writing, although in literary fiction, the ultimate direction of the character arc might be something more subtle like seeking redemption or freedom.   However, whatever genre you’re writing in, your character arc is based upon this purpose or quest the protagonist is set on and is doggedly pursuing through the piece and your story arc will not have the poignancy or sense of purpose it needs without this being crystal clear to your audience and thus forming the backbone of your plot.  How Do You Write A Character Arc? One thing readers are looking for in a satisfying character arc is that the lead will have changed by the end of the book due to all they’ve experienced whilst fighting to get their narrative goal. Therefore, it’s key that your protagonist has grown by the end of your story arc and is not the same person as they were at the start.  First Act -- How Your Character Starts In some ways, this is the prologue work. Who is your character, on a fundamental level? Name, age, race, class, occupation -- the basics, yes, but also things like what kind of food they like, what their aspirations in life might be, if they\'re left or right-handed. (You don\'t necessarily have to know everything about them like their mother\'s maiden name or their third-grade crush or the places they want to visit before they die... but maybe those things are useful, so if you think of them, why not jot them down?) The arc begins (as does the plot of your novel or story) when the character\'s normal life is turned upside down by a trigger event or inciting incident – say, a murder in a crime novel which sets the detective on the hunt for the killer. As they do this, like any lead in any genre, they need to be proactive in going after their narrative goal, entering each scene with the intention to get their story arc aim or move nearer to it, only usually to fail or to make some progress, only to face an even bigger obstacle.  Second Act -- How Your Character Develops You\'re not the same person you were yesterday, and you\'re certainly not the same person you were last week, or last month, or last year, and so on -- and neither are your characters. As things happen to them (or because of them), their world changes and how they respond to those changes is key to developing their arc. Maybe the milquetoast office drone thrust into a plot of murderous high-stakes intrigue has discovered that she\'s actually really good in a knife fight. Maybe the fast-and-easy pirate has developed feelings for his first mate, despite saying that he\'d never settle down. Whatever the case may be, these developments and discoveries aren\'t happening in a vacuum: the character is going to have some feelings about what they\'re going through! So it isn\'t just that office drone turns out to be good with knives, but also that she\'s morally conflicted about how exciting she finds it. Authors often forget that there needs to be this emotional reaction after action to make their characters feel human to the reader, but then the planning part too, so the story arc has a causal connection and we see why one thing happens after another, this set-up ensuring the protagonist seems energetic and plucky and which keeps the story arc full of drama and an obvious forward-moving purpose.   Third Act -- How Your Character Ends Up As your plot builds to a climax or conclusion, the changes your character has undergone will be brought to the fore. How do they react to this new situation, with everything that\'s happened to them? Do they accept it? Do they fight against it? How will they attain their goal -- and how might their goals have changed, as they have changed? Bilbo Baggins is not the same hobbit when he comes home to The Shire as he was when he left. Some of that is obvious, but some of it lives in the background: he\'s traveled, he\'s seen horrible things and wondrous ones too, and now as the book comes to a close, he returns to a life that doesn\'t look familiar any longer. Your character doesn\'t have to go through such immense changes, but chances are they will whether you planned for them to or not. As your story comes to a close, your characters will have been pushed to their limits in one way or another and become someone new. It doesn\'t have to be satisfying, necessarily, but it should be real. It\'s unlikely that the knife-wielding office drone is going to be quite such a shrinking violet after everything that\'s happened to her -- and even if the pirate doesn\'t stay with his first mate, his heart might not be so freewheeling now. Conflicts – Internal And External An antagonist for your protagonist -- an opposing figure or force against your main character -- is a great way to help build out a character arc because it gives your character something to fight or push against, adding tension and strengthening the lead as the story arc progresses.  However, there can be other causes of external conflict than the villain figure, such as a confidant(e), which may be a best friend or family member, who acts as a sounding board for the protagonist and offers support, but who can also accidentally cause trouble for the lead due to well-intentioned meddling. This is something we sometimes see in chick lit, where the boozy best mate might tell the lead’s love interest they’re seeing someone else to create jealousy and supposedly add to the dreamy guy’s interest, but it just leads to a misunderstanding between the would-be couple and scares him off.   Indeed, terrible weather, a rough environment or even disasters can also be ways of preventing the lead from going after their goal, but they can also show their mettle too as often they will carry on anyway.  In terms of external conflicts, things get much more interesting when we put our leads in situations which are utterly hellish based on their past traumas or personal phobias or fears and make them face them! Say, in the simplest terms, someone hates spiders (like me!) and then our protagonist has to crawl through a web of poisonous arachnids to save the kidnapped girl which has been the goal of his or her story arc – not only will the reader be sat on the edge of their seat, wondering if the lead will finally overcome their terror for the sake of their bigger plot aim, but we’ll also be privy to the inner world of the lead and the immense inner pressure NOT to do this scary thing and this is called internal conflict.   It can feel mean to us writers, as we’re often so attached to our characters, but the best thing you can do to create a compelling character and story arc is to put your protagonist in the midst of an external situation that makes them quiver (public speaking is more scary to more people than death, believe it or not!) and ensure that you’re also showing the internal monologue of your lead as they fight against their fears.   You can even make them self-sabotage en route to their goals as humans are often wont to do. For example, a detective character could be out to make a big break in a case and then he’ll go out on an alcoholic bender which makes him lose the trail of the villain.   What If You’re Writing A Series? Generally, I tell author clients that if they’re new writers and want to write a series that they should keep this quiet in their submission package and make their first book as self-contained in terms of its character and story arc as possible so agents and editors can sell it as a standalone novel. This is because taking on a rookie is always a risk and the burden of having to sell multiple books may put some publishing personnel off.   In this case then, the character arc needs to be pretty complete by the end, with the story goal attained or near enough so, although you may want to allow a little wiggle room for a future sequel by not providing complete closure.   However, this is good advice across the board as a too sugary ending can seem unrealistic, but this also depends on the genre you’re writing in as certainly chick lit allows for more happy ever afters.  Obviously though, if you are intending to self-publish, you have carte blanche and often writing a series is a good idea as a way to develop a following, so your character and story arcs can be left more loose at the end, but with important questions left to be answered, despite the lead’s obvious growth, in order to intrigue a reader enough to buy the next book.  What Is A Flat Character Arc? Flat character arcs are exactly as they sound – they stay on a flat line, with the character neither growing in strength and awareness or falling from grace, as in Shakespearean tragedies. They mostly appear in genre fiction, like action writing – James Bond doesn’t change much for all his enemies and situational struggles, for instance – but, more and more, even genre writing is moving towards the emotionally shifting character arc of the protagonist playing a key role in the plot and the book’s overall interest.   If you think of most crime leads now, there’s often a wounded detective figure at the centre (something noted by James Frey in his books on thriller and mystery writing) who finds personal healing by solving the crime and Scandi Noir has brought the victims of the killed characters’ families to the fore so that these figures finding peace and moving on is a key part of the murder plot.   Hence whilst you can pull off a flat character arc by writing in a genre where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or add much nuance to your main figure, it often helps if there’s a sense of inner doubt about their ability to pull off the huge goal before them which adds something of Joseph Campbells’ ‘Hero’s Journey’ (which deeply influenced Star Wars) into play in which the hero hesitates in their confidence to pull off the story arc aim and this adds some important tension – even if, say, Frodo, is good at the start and good at the end of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and so, arguably, for all his struggles, a flat arc character.  How Do You Work Character Arcs Into Your Story Structure? One thing my first writing teacher, Leone Ross, taught me was to really get to learn about my main characters before I started planning my plot, let alone writing my book. She showed us how to create a template for discovering our protagonists in depth. Hence I create a list now that includes the character’s name, age, strengths and weaknesses, their goals etc. Editor’s note: we’ve compiled Sharon’s full list on this Character Arc Worksheet, free for you to download, keep and re-use as often as you need to! A Basic Example Of A Character Arc: Cinderella  Her nasty stepfamily (the opposition figures) are treating her like dirt when a handsome prince comes looking for his ideal dame (the trigger or inciting incident).  The mean girl stepsisters try to force Cinderella aside, but she’s determined to catch her man (the lead sets her story goal and her character arc flows from here).  She may be getting grubby scrubbing floors, but she schemes her way to the ball (character takes dogged action to get her goal and grows in defiance and strength).  She gets to the ball and catches the eye of the prince, only to have to return before her carriage turns into a pumpkin at 12 (darn external obstacle!).   However, she leaves her glass slipper behind and the prince is now so infatuated with Cinders that he scours town looking for its wearer – and, bam, as much as the mean stepsisters may try to force their feet in, only Cinderella’s dainty foot is a match (she gets her story goal and her character has grown from subservience to power and from loneliness and contempt to love).  Does Every Character Need An Arc? Minor players who don’t play a fundamental role like the lead, love interest, confidant(e) or opposition figure certainly don’t need a character arc as their role in your story arc is tangential.  These other key players though should have clear goals too which they pursue and which develop their character over the course of the story arc. The love interest’s aim should always be to win the lead’s love, the opposition figure fights to stop the lead getting their story goal and a confidant(e) is there to support the lead and let them talk about their main plot issues and inner turmoils, but they can also accidentally get in the way of the protagonist’s aims by causing mistaken mix ups and so on.  Hence we need to see the love interest growing as s/he strives to become the person the lead can adore and the opposition figure may grow in strength through conflict, but also face their own fears and weaknesses in this process so perhaps become changed by the end of the plot. A confidant(e) might well also develop in the process of supporting the lead through their journey, realising their own needs.   Conclusion A character’s arc or development involves their proactive pursuit of their story goal which is established when their life is changed by the inciting incident at the start. This helps create a lead readers will identify with and cheer for, but also makes a compelling plot.   The way your lead deals with external challenges, such as conflict with your opposition figure, extreme weather or terrain or natural disasters, as well as facing their inner demons, will all change them as the course of the novel goes on, usually bringing to the fore strengths they never knew they had, as well as some flaws and even possible tendencies to self-sabotage which all add realism to protagonists and make them three-dimensional.  Although some genres have flat character arcs without much, if any, development in the lead, generally it’s a good idea to show the evolution of your protagonist over the course of the book towards a positive end, such as healing grief, as well as getting their external goal, such as catching a killer.   Indeed, in most plots, there’s the main one – say, solving a murder – and a subplot perhaps involving romance, so it could be that both story arcs bring out different parts of the protagonist they didn’t know existed at the start.  However, it’s also important to remember to give character arcs and a sense of personal change to your other main players too, such as the opposition figure, love interest and confidant(e). The latter two don’t always need to be included in a story arc, but I’d argue that a lead without a villain has less chance of becoming all they can be as the enemy figure forces the protagonist to grow in strength and resourcefulness and confront their inner fears and traumas. Plus, without a concrete opposition figure, there’s less conflict, which is the lifeblood of fiction, and you risk your story arc losing drama and impact.  Get to know your lead and other key players well then, preferably by filling in a character questionnaire like the one above before you start work on your book or even short story. Keep asking yourself why, say, a character buys underwear from a certain place and on and on as this will reveal more and more of their values and beliefs and, even if you never directly use this material in your novel, it will give you a confidence as you write these characters.   After this, imagine the world through their eyes – not yours – considering the language or diction they would use as fits their education, interests and background, as this is key to establishing a convincing narrative voice and viewpoint, as well as creating distinctive dialogue – all on top of making a great character arc.  It’s worth every moment that you put into knowing your main characters and especially your lead, so you can convincingly show how they act to get their plot goal and react to the obstacles the villain and other external and internal elements which stand in the way of them getting their story arc aim.   It may be painful to see your treasured protagonist suffer as you make them face their worst fears, but it’s what will guarantee your book is gripping and up its chances of publication or be successful when you self-publish.  And, mostly, by the end, you get to give the lead their dream or a form of closure which life often doesn’t offer, so it’s not all bad news, but just being cruel to be kind to make them figures your reader never forgets.  About Sharon Dr Sharon Zink is a former English Literature academic and the author of Welcome to Sharonville (Unthank Books, 2014), which was longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award.   She is also a feminist writing coach, long-term Jericho Writers editor and founder of The Feminist Writing School which has a mission to get more womxn’s books written, published and out there changing the world, hosting online courses and in-person workshops and retreats.   She lives in the UK by the sea with her cat, Muse, and a large book collection. You can receive her weekly Love Letters from the Literary Revolution with a bundle of articles on writing as a thank you for joining her community, follow her on Instagram where she is drsharonzink or join her supportive feminist writing group on Facebook as she loves getting to know her fellow authors.  
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Protagonists And Antagonists

by Dr Sharon Zink Having a strong protagonist and antagonist is key to making a novel compelling, no matter what genre you are writing in. In this piece, we’ll look at what protagonists and antagonists are and the different types of characters which can play these roles, as well as exploring the key elements which can bring them alive and give your manuscript the kick which will grab agents’ and editors’ attention from the opening page. What Is The Difference Between Protagonists And Antagonists? Sometimes also referred to as the lead or main character or a hero or heroine, an enthralling protagonist gives your work a powerful story arc as this is based on their narrative goals. However, the antagonist – which is also talked about as an opposition character or villain – creates much-needed conflict by getting in the way of the protagonist as they pursue their plot aims, usually wanting the exact opposite of the lead and doing all they can to stop them attaining their desires. Hence, whilst other factors like the protagonist’s own inner fears and turmoils, plus external factors like the environment, institutional bureaucracy and even the weather can all get in a lead’s way, the best means of really generating conflict, which is, arguably, the lifeblood of fiction, is to create a flesh and blood protagonist who matches the antagonist in strength, so there’s an exciting and equal fight played out in the pages of your book.   This gives the lead a great foil to fight against as they travel through their story arc, which, in turn, injects energy into the plot and keeps readers rooting for the main figure, whilst also allowing the protagonist to grow in a way which is vital to their character development as they face the obstacles the protagonist presents.  What Is A Protagonist? A protagonist is the central character of a novel – the one whose journey we follow as readers.   Usually, they have the lion’s share of the viewpoint in the book and their narrative aims – which might represent one goal for the main story arc and another for the subplot – dominate the novel, being the focus of the reader’s attention and what they keep turning pages to discover.   The standard plot begins with the protagonist’s world being turned upside down by an inciting incident or trigger event which sets them off on a quest to find a new ‘normal’ by the end of the novel, this journey representing the backbone of the story arc.  Hence what the protagonist wants and why – their character arc – is key to creating an intriguing plot which readers will invest in.   Types Of Protagonists Every book needs a protagonist or lead character, even if other figures are given viewpoints in the plot too, but the nature of this main player can differ according to the particular genre you are writing in. For example, in police procedural fiction, a cop usually takes centre stage, but crime novels also often feature ordinary citizens who have personal motivations to solve a murder, such as in Rosamund Lupton’s bestseller, ‘Sister,’ in which the protagonist is out to find the family member given in the title.   In chick lit or women’s commercial fiction though, the protagonist is usually a woman out to get a guy or rescue a romantic relationship and, in fantasy writing, the lead is often sent on a quest, such as Frodo in ‘Lord of the Rings’ who sets out to take the ring to Mordor and save his world from dark forces.  Indeed, action and adventure fiction often has a similarly heroic lead who combats an evil villain to stop him/her destroying civilisation (just think of James Bond).  In young adult writing, there’s often a teen who is either simply navigating the struggles of coming of age or who can also adopt the roles of an action or fantasy protagonist by engaging in a quest to free their imagined realm.  In terms of literary fiction though, the protagonist’s identity is more diverse and their goals often more subtle, but they will always be there, often involving themes such as the lead finding redemption or healing, with romance still frequently being the core of the subplot.   Whatever you write then, a strong protagonist who has clear narrative aims is crucial to creating a powerful character and story arc and so this is something to really ponder and plan before beginning work, preferably, unless you’re the kind of writer who needs to hit the keys to discover one’s plot and characters. Can The Protagonist Be A Villain? This question often pops up as we’re largely taught that our protagonist should be sympathetic and likeable so we can root for them to get their goals and there is some truth to the power of a lead having a noble aim in a novel. However, the key thing is that we understanda protagonist’s motives, even if they’re badly behaved or even overtly negative or evil, as once we comprehend whya figure is acting a certain way, we can usually find ourselves drawn into their story. Hence Satan is, arguably, the most intriguing figure in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and we’re often drawn to serial killer and Mafia stories in true crime and fiction, this perhaps revealing the shadow side of human nature. So, yes, you can create what is often called an anti-hero or heroine, so long as you’re able to convey the reasoning behind their immoral actions in a way your readers can easily follow. This can be a delicate and complex act of characterisation though, so only engage in this if you’ve got the will to really delve into the darkness of the psyche and the reasons why bad people do what they do. How To Write A Protagonist If your protagonist is so important then, no matter what kind of book you’re writing, it’s essential to ensure that you create a powerful lead with a compelling need to meet certain narrative aims by the end of the book. You need to know what they want and why and to show them doggedly going after this throughout the story arc, entering each scene attempting to get their goal, whether the main one or that of the subplot (these are interwoven throughout with the main plot getting the most narrative space), but failing or progressing, only to find themselves facing an even bigger obstacle. Their story arc could involve solving a crime, saving the world in a thriller with the clock ticking or getting a guy’s love in chick lit. Often the protagonist’s story arc in literary fiction will be somewhat less obvious, but it is commonly concerned with getting freedom from something (like oppression, war, a bad marriage and so on) or freedom to do a certain thing (travel, seek spiritual peace, justice and so forth).   If you’ve got an anti-hero or heroine in play, the story arc may involve them in murder, world domination or other evil schemes, but it will be something which to them – and thus to the reader – makes sense.   The same is true when writing magical realist or fantasy protagonists who may have special powers – so long as you can make the reader believe in the lead’s clairvoyant skills or their blue head with a hundred eyes, then all is well!  Getting into a protagonist’s inner monologue or thoughts and the physical sense of being in their particular body and really using the senses and how they perceive the world via the lens of their own specific background, education, beliefs, relationships and so on and also giving them flaws and inner conflicts, like Hamlet’s notorious indecision, is really how you can creating rich and three-dimensional leads which readers both find ‘real’ and won’t forget, much as Shakespeare’s protagonists remain vivid to us now, hundreds of years after the Renaissance.  Generally, though, it’s important to get the reader on the protagonist’s side, giving them a clear grasp of the character’s reason for wanting a certain goal for the main and subplots of the story arc from the start and showing them developing as characters as they face obstacles and conflicts as they fight for their aims in each scene, usually regularly confronting the antagonist who is the main thing standing between them and what they want most in the novel. It’s this all-important baddie figure which I will explore next.   What Is An Antagonist? As I mentioned above, an antagonist is the main figure who stands in the way of your protagonist’s story arc goals – the villain or opposition character who adds the most conflict to a narrative by doing their utmost to stop the lead getting their narrative aims, with their own character arc often focussing on obtaining the exact opposite of what the lead wants.   Types Of Antagonists In a mystery, a cop lead will want to solve a murder, but the antagonist then may be the killer who’s out to flout being captured or stopped in his bloody rampage, no matter what. In a women’s commercial or chick flick novel, the protagonist may be in love with and out to catch a certain guy, but she might find herself face-to-face with an antagonist in the form of a love rival, such as his poisonous ex, or being distracted, at least temporarily, from winning the heart of the real romantic interest by a guy who is bad news. In literary fiction, where the protagonist’s character and story arcs may be more understated, the antagonist will have to be shaped more specifically to the lead’s particular narrative aims. Hence if they want freedom from a painful marriage, the main figure’s spouse could stand in their way, suffocating their bid for personal liberty and a new life. Indeed, as much as larger obstacles, such as war, can cause huge issues for a protagonists, very much getting in the way of their goals – such as, for instance, a refugee’s attempt to escape dangerous lands with their child – it’s almost always crucial to actually embody these issues in a specific antagonist figure. Hence a refugee could be confronted by a cruel or unyieldingly bureaucratic guard at a detainment camp which thus symbolises the broader struggle the lead is facing. This allows the protagonist to face a tangible threat in the form of an antagonist figure, rather than the mere abstractions of a situation and this offers way more opportunities in the story arc then for juicy conflicts for, as much as a refugee having to trek across a hostile landscape is impactful, one-on-one fights between a lead and the opposition figure (who in this scenario could be separating the lead from their children and imprisoning them) are definitely more memorable, especially if ‘shown’ in ‘live action’, like dialogue between the two enemies. In this way then, a strong antagonist is crucial to create a powerful story arc and to make the protagonist’s journey all the more of an interesting and wild ride and, therefore, it’s key that you create a figure who’s equally matched to your lead and has as much determination to stop them getting their story goals as the lead has in terms of achieving them. Don’t start a novel then without knowing your antagonist as well as your protagonist, even though the lead will take up most of the reader’s attention, as the opposition figure is key in adding essential dramatic tension to the story arc as everyone loves bad news (just watch a soap opera to see the truth of this!). The antagonist also brings both the main character’s grit and inner issues to the fore, thus making them more three-dimensional and providing the reader with the expected sense of the protagonist’s personal growth over the course of their character arc. Hence an antagonist injects conflict into a story arc, but facing off against the opposition figure often makes the protagonist grow positively during the course of the novel by forcing them to confront their worst fears or work on their less pleasant personality traits. In this way, the baddie has the ‘side-effect’ of bringing out the best in your lead and thus performs a vitally important function. How To Write An Antagonist If it’s often, arguably, a good idea to make your lead likeable, so that readers cheer for them to get their story arc aims, with the antagonist, you can really have fun creating chaos and a figure everyone loves to hate. Look carefully at your protagonist’s story arc goals – for example, maybe they’re a woman detective looking to solve a murder in the main plot and to find love with a fellow cop in the romantic subplot – and then create a figure who’s going to make their life hell by blocking the lead’s plot aims as best they can. Basically, the development of the antagonist is the primary means by which the writer puts their protagonist up a tree and then cuts it down, as the saying goes! Hence, the antagonist in the above hypothetical cop’s story could be the murderer who’s going to fight being caught tooth and nail, but they may perhaps threaten her beloved’s life as well or even make matters personal by sending unsavoury materials from the past to her love interest in order to taunt the detective and ruin her life, as well as killing others. You can see then that the protagonist and antagonist are really mirror images of each other, wanting exactly opposite aims and being just as dogged about getting them. The antagonist’s motives for acting the way they do needs to be understandable here, though in a standard fight against a protagonist, as much as if you’re making a villain central. The reader needs to understand, even if the antagonist’s logic is warped. Hence we may see a tragic childhood which has shaped the killer’s psychopathy in a crime novel or a jealous ex’s refusal to give up on her past love which gets in the way of a couple getting together in women’s commercial fiction. In literary fiction, a toxic family member may refuse to let the lead grow up and be their own person, but only because they are insecure about being abandoned. Whatever their rationale is, it’s key to balance the book so that the protagonist’s aims in the story arc are mostly blocked by the antagonist in the plot ‘til towards the end, making the story arc, an uphill battle, and for reasons which make sense to the opposition figure and are as clear to the reader as the lead’s narrative goals. We may not agree with the antagonist’s perceptions or incentives, but we must understand what they are and what they want and why as much as with the main character. Again, the importance of face-to-face confrontations in dialogue or even physical fights, depending on the genre, cannot be overstated in terms of creating the requisite drama to really give a story arc adequate oomph. It’s possible to have an antagonist operating secretly against the lead, with the plot building up to a betrayal at the end, with the reader being privy to this hidden villain’s ill doings when the protagonist is not – a literary trope which is called dramatic irony. This can work as the reader is then on the edge of their seat as they wait for the horrible truth to hit home – just as Shakespeare shows Iago’s manipulation of Othello leads to the latter killing his wife, Desdemona, in jealous rage, although she is innocent of committing adultery, as the audience watches helplessly on, but also with a grim fascination. However, this sort of plot, without direct confrontations between the antagonist and protagonist until the very end, when the deceit and horror is revealed, is hard to pull off, so I’d encourage you to consider bringing your lead and opposition characters into each other’s immediate orbits, with verbal conflict and machinations by the antagonist which ensure the lead has to fight ever harder for their story arc goals, until we reach a crisis point in the plot where we think it’s impossible for the main character to get their narrative aims … except usually they then prevail and get their narrative aims at the end as negative conclusions are also tricky, so most shy away from them, especially as fiction offers the chance to offer positive resolutions, closure and justice which we so crave as humans, but so often, arguably, find missing in real life. Thus, the antagonist is central to making a compelling book, so I’d recommend getting to know them as well as the protagonist – who can take up all your attention if you’re not careful – as without a strong baddie, a story arc can lose its sense of drama and your lead can be seen to too seamlessly flow towards their goals, with the other characters they meet all being too pleasant, something which may wind up losing the readers’ interest as we want to see the lead facing major challenges and preferably having a particular villain to focus our wrath on as the person who’s doing all they can to mess with our treasured protagonist’s story aims. However, I’d also be wary of going over-the-top when creating an antagonist as we have to be careful not to lean on stereotypes of the moustache-twirling villain and, instead, come up with more original figures. You don’t have to recreate the wheel with genre fiction, but it’s always good to bring some freshness to writing as agents, editors and the general reader love to see angles they’ve never seen before, such as unusual and unexpected murderers or love rivals. We absolutely need then to create a protagonist who readers can get behind and to make it crystal clear what they want and why, so the reader can root for them to succeed throughout and be thrilled by their wins and sigh about their failures. However, an antagonist is a key part of developing the relationship our audience has with the main character by giving them a figure who they can see confronting and obstructing their beloved lead, being someone they can dread and loathe, but also are intrigued by and maybe they may even have some small sympathy for in all their damaged humanity. It’s crucial then to know your antagonist as well as the lead, giving them good sides as well as flaws to make them more rounded and comprehensible, even if this takes some deep thought about the past or present circumstances which make them act the way they do. Indeed, if you’re struggling to come up with an antagonist to stand in the way of your protagonist, think who is most likely to have the most power to obstruct your lead’s story goals and who represents their deepest fears – and can make them come true. In this way, sometimes creating an antagonist to fight our lead can feel rather mean to us writers, but just remember this is how you bring plots to life and, ultimately, develop your protagonist and allow them to shine. By making a powerful villain, you’re really being cruel to be kind as antagonists bring out the best in both your narrative and lead and get your manuscript one more step towards being published. About Sharon Dr Sharon Zink is a former English Literature academic and the author of ‘Welcome to Sharonville’ (Unthank Books, 2014), which was long-listed for The Guardian First Book Award.  Sharon is also a feminist writing coach, long-term Jericho Writers editor and founder of The Feminist Writing School which has a mission to get more womxn’s books written, published and out there changing the world, hosting online courses and in-person workshops and retreats.   She lives in the UK by the sea with her cat, Muse, and a large book collection. You can receive her weekly Love Letters from the Literary Revolution with a bundle of articles on writing as a thank you for joining her community, follow her on Instagram where she is drsharonzink or join her supportive feminist writing group on Facebook as she loves getting to know her fellow authors.
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NaNoWriMo: How To Write A Novel In 30 Days

NaNoWriMo: How To Write A Novel In 30 Days Ah, autumn. Crisp mornings. Brisk winds. Back to school weather, new pencil cases, pumpkin-flavoured everything, and writers all over the world preparing to take part in NaNoWriMo. They’re all a bit bonkers – right? Surely there is no sensible reason to write 50,000 words in 30 days? I beg to disagree. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and if you’re reading this then I am hoping that it’s something that you’re considering, and if you are, then let me share five good reasons why you should go for it.  5 Good Reasons to Join NaNoWriMo 1. November is a Great Month to Write The weather’s dire, even when we aren\'t in a global lockdown, so why not put every moment of spare time to use and write? And if not now – when? Even better, get a head start this year in October with JW\'s free NaNoWriMo event. 2. You Have Nothing to Lose It’s only thirty days, and at the end of it you will potentially have 50,000 words that you didn’t have before. The key to it is letting go of the expectation of writing something GOOD. Nobody can write a perfect novel in a month. Whatever you end up with will need serious editing, if you feel like it. You’re not writing a masterpiece in a month, you’re just going to WRITE. And that is tremendously liberating. 3. It\'s Great Fun! Writing is by nature a solitary business, but this is an annual opportunity to be cheered along whilst you do it, to engage in competitive sprinting (writing for a given amount of time without stopping) if that’s your thing, or at least to be encouraged by a host of pep talks and discussions with fellow writers locally and around the world. And a side note: if you’re having fun while you’re writing, it will probably be better than anything you’ve written that’s felt like a chore. 4. It\'s a Magic Cure for Writer\'s Block No, really – it is. There is nothing like the pressure of a deadline to get you writing. If you get stuck, you can skip to the next scene, or change your story completely, or even throw in the Travelling Shovel of Death (a traditional NaNoWriMo technique). There are many suggestions on the NaNoWriMo forums to help you if you get stuck, and because there is no pressure for your writing to be good, then there is nothing stopping you bouncing off that metaphorical wall and back into the story. 5. You Never Know Where This Might Lead There are many published novels that started life in November - have a look here if you don’t believe me. Seven out of my eight published novels were NaNoWriMo novels. Admittedly each one took a year or more to edit, but we’re not talking about editing now, we’re talking about writing. What I’m saying is: I’m a normal person, whatever that is, and if I can do it, you can do it. How Do I Plan For NaNoWriMo? There’s plenty you can be doing now to prepare to write your novel. If you’ve already got a story idea, there are some brilliant, encouraging and comprehensive guides to planning your novel right here on the Jericho Writers website – see How To Plan A Novel and this guide on how to flesh out your ideas quickly with The Snowflake Method. Planning is just part of it, however. You’re writing a novel, you’ll need to take yourself seriously. If you tell all your friends and family that you’re going to do NaNoWrimo, then you are making yourself accountable, because you can bet they’ll all be asking you how the novel’s going during November and beyond – and as a bonus, it’s a great excuse to get you out of things you don’t want to do. Social events can wait till December – you’re writing a novel. The laundry can wait for a bit – you’ve got writing to do. Shopping? Let someone else take their turn. (On a practical level, if you celebrate Christmas, it’s a good idea to do some festive shopping and Christmas card writing now – December is going to come around mighty quickly if you’ve spent the whole of November writing.) It’s also worth pointing out (in case you’re reading this on Halloween) that you don’t need to plan at all. You can dive straight in on day one, or even several days in, if you missed the start. You can write an entire novel without planning – it’s called Pantsing, or writing by the seat of your pants. It will mean that you’ll probably have more editing to do later, but it’s no less valid a technique. In fact – hands up – I am a Pantser and proud. I never plan. I get bored if I know what’s going to happen. How Many Words Am I Going To Have To Write? To reach your goal by the end of the month, you’ll need to write 1,667 words a day. That sounds like a lot – and it IS a challenge, let’s be honest: if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, wouldn’t they? But if you manage to turn off your inner editor, put aside the urge to fix problems as you go along, and just WRITE – you’ll be surprised how quickly your total goes up. Remember, NaNoWriMo is all about quantity, not quality – and while that might sound counter-productive, actually in the process of writing freely you’ll find that some of what you’ve written is really pretty good. As a 15-year veteran of NaNoWriMo, here are my top tips for getting it done: 1. Try and Get Ahead of the Game Inevitably, there will be some days in the month when real life will intervene, and you won’t be able to write. If you’re ahead in terms of word count, it won’t feel quite such a slog to get back to the story. Aim for 2,000 words or more a day in the first week, if you can. 2. Track Your Progress and Celebrate Milestones The NaNoWriMo website has a helpful graph to show your progress and it’s very motivating to stay on or ahead of that target line. Every 10,000 words is a victory! 3. Sprints are Great You might not be accustomed to writing at speed, but in fact, the only writer you are competing against is yourself. If you can write 300 words in 20 minutes, set a timer and try to do 320 words next time. How Can I Stay Motivated? Writing a novel in a month is something of a rollercoaster. There will be days when your story just flies and it’s hard to write fast enough, and then there are days when every word is painful. There is an acknowledged ‘Wall’ that most participants hit, often around Week Three – so if you’re struggling, you’re definitely not alone. This is where your writing buddies can help. Others in the Jericho Writers community will also be taking part – find a friend for a bit of mutual accountability, and maybe do some sprints together. Join your local NaNoWriMo region, too. There are no in-person events taking place this year, but every region will have its own community and online writing events throughout the month to help you with your wordcount. If you’re not feeling sociable, there are plenty of other resources to keep you going – personally, I can recommend Focusmate and Brain FM to help maintain concentration. Tell yourself that this is only a month, and the achievement at the end will feel amazing. Give yourself rewards for sticking with it, and try to write every day – or don’t go more than a day without writing at least something, even if it’s a sentence. You’ll probably write more. If you’re stuck, the NaNoWriMo forums provide solutions to most problems. You can ask others to unravel your plot dilemmas (often the act of describing the issue to someone else will help your brain to find the solution). You’ll also find extensive lists of user-provided ‘adoptables’ – for example, ‘adopt a plot twist’, or ‘adopt a character’ – ideas for you to throw into your story when you get stuck. They might not work, but they will keep you writing while your brain works out how to pick up your story again. Beware of procrastination, and getting in your own way! At this point I think it’s important to say it again: YOU CAN DO IT. How Much Should I Edit My Writing? Not at all. Just – don’t. It’ll interrupt your flow, cause you to doubt yourself, and takes valuable time away from driving that word count forward. November is not the time for editing – your inner editor should be locked in a virtual cupboard for the duration. I’ve made that sound very absolute, but it’s not quite that brutal. If you make a spelling mistake as you go along, by all means fix it, especially if it makes you twitchy. But what you shouldn’t do is delete anything. If what you’ve just written doesn’t make sense, type ‘FIX THIS’ or some other searchable place marker, and write the paragraph or chapter again. If your plot takes an unexpected detour that you know is horrendously waffly, leave it be. If your characters end up having a long conversation about pandemics, let them carry on and maybe encourage them to discuss Brexit while they’re at it. You know you’re making a mess. You know you’ll read this all later and wail ‘what was I thinking?’ but that doesn’t matter during November. Quantity, not quality! What\'s Next? Whether you make 50,000 (or more!), or any amount at all, celebrate your achievement, collect your winner’s goodies from the NaNoWriMo website, and have a well-deserved rest. It’s a good idea to let that novel sit undisturbed for a while, certainly at least a month. In the dark days of the new year you can revisit it, read through (and marvel at the bits you can’t even remember writing) and decide whether your story has potential. Mostly, despite the mess, it will have some really rather brilliant bits, and then the work of untangling, restructuring, and developing can begin. Have I convinced you to have a go? I hope so. It’s a complete blast. In the words of Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, the world is waiting for your novel. This is your chance! 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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Punctuation for Writers

Tips & advice for writers of fiction and creative non-fiction Punctuation matters. 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. Oh, and the images that are scattered through this blog post? Those free-flowing floral designs are what beautifully punctuated text looks like. Fluid, but ordered. Mobile, yet tidy. That’s what we’re after. 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 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 a lot of use 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 alter, 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 alter. 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 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. If you’re new to the site, don’t forget to check out the Garden of Delights that is a Jericho Writers membership. If you’re serious about writing, we’d love to have you join us. More here. About The Author Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. (More about Harry, more about his books). As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. More about us.
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How To Revise A First Draft

A checklist for your novel or manuscript rewriting process In this blog post, pro novelist and writing tutor, Emma Darwin (full bio below) gives you her advice on how to revise a first draft of your writing. So you’ve written your first draft novel (or other manuscript). That’s great. Congratulations. It’s a big moment. But now you need to make sure that your novel draft works on other readers as you want it to. Maybe you’ve just about managed to tame your novel, but now you’re facing A Big Revision or Rewriting of your first draft – so where on earth do you start? Before you edit, revise or rewrite anything, here are some pointers. Step 1: Read Through Your Book First, I suggest, you need to do your own appraisal, trying to read your first draft novel straight through, and as much like a reader as you can. I call this “problem-finding”, and by far the best way to do this it on paper, with a pen in your hand. Using track-changes and comment balloons on screen is a poor second, but possible; either way, you’re trying to record your reactions, as a reader, to the story, not start problem-solving: that comes later. Also note any wider thoughts that this reading throws up, but don’t then just dive into the most urgent or least frightening job. Because so many decisions and changes will affect all sorts of other things, it’s terribly easy to lose track, get diverted, lapse into fiddling and tinkering, and generally get into a worse muddle than you started in. Step Two: Organise Your Thoughts So, first bring all the different feedback you’ve had together, make an enormous pot of coffee or your working-drink of choice, and start sorting it out into rough categories. Problems that run all through the story: the order you’re telling the story in doesn’t work; a character is cardboard, or vanishes, a lost-letter plot’s in a muddle; the narrative voice is dull.Problems with particular sections: a saggy middle; that scene where the dialogue is flat as a pancake; the too-confusing opening; the crucial but oh-so-difficult sex, or battle, scene.Problems of continuity and consistency, such as paragraphing, how dialogue is punctuated, or how you represent dialect.What I call “bits”: individual corrections and tweaks, from typos, to one-off clunky paragraphs, to missing research. Once you have the overall picture, you can sort it out into a to-do list, and decide on the order to tackle your rewrite. The temptation here is to plunge straight into the revision process . . . but you need to resist that. Before you start to edit, revise and rewrite like crazy, you have a little more organising to do. Step 3: Work From Big To Small One possibility is to look at p.1, do everything it needs, then move on p.2, but that’s probably not the best way to tackle it. As with totally renovating a house (only this one you don’t have to live in at the same time), it’s not wise to do the whole of one room, from damp-course to top-coat, before you start the next. You neeed to make sure the structure is solid and the roof waterproof, only then get the electrician in to move lights and install heating, and only when all that’s done, do you paint the walls and lay carpets. Whichever order you do things in, any major change probably has ramifications elsewhere. Get into the habit of not galloping off to follow up now, but make a note on your To Do list to tackle it at a logical point. And although every writer is different, this I suggest, would be a good order in which to tackle things: Big structural changes. Don’t worry about the close-detail of stitching the sections into their new places, just do the rough carpentry.Any all-through-the-story things which need shrinking, changing or enhancing.Individual work on scenes and sections, now that they’re all in the (probably) right place.Consistency and continuity things which are most easily done when you put on the right glasses and deal with that issue all together: a character’s taste in clothes, say, or the punctuation and paragraphing of dialogue.Just work through from the beginning of your manuscript, and any other mark-up by your readers. Step Four: Work In Layers As much as you possibly can, tackle any particular problem working forwards in the story, so that you stay in touch with how the reader reads. It’s super-important for plots which depend on who-knows-what, about what, when. But it also matters for things like characterisation and setting, because the reader is encountering this person or place in stages, through time: make sure you’re in control of how that knowledge develops. If it helps you, work through the novel focusing on just one layer: Aunt Anita’s character arc, let’s say, or the way you build a picture of 1940s Manhattan. Ignore anything else (good or bad) if it doesn’t pertain to those exact issues. I know it feels inefficient to “go through the book” so many times, but believe me, you save far more trouble than you spend, because you don’t get in a muddle, duplicate work or cause muddles elsewhere without realising. Step 5: Re-read The Entire Text If you follow the advice above, you’ll have far less work to do once you get to the last stage: Do another straight read-through-like-a-reader, in print or on screen. Use this to pick up any darning-in of the big structural changes that’s still needed, and anything else you might have missed. This also is a very good moment to read it aloud, pen in hand, if you haven’t already: it’s brilliant for picking up typos, and more generally getting outside the novel to read it as if you didn’t write it. Just have a big jug of water to hand. Step 6: Stay Positive If all this sounds as if it’s more work than writing the first draft was – you’d be right. All authors know that writing is rewriting. Revising the first draft of a novel isn’t easy. True, some rewrite each page or even line, until it’s perfect, then move on, while others hurl a whole first draft down on the page, spelling-mistakes and all, and only then go back and start to hammer it into shape. Still, most would say that they spend perhaps three or four times as long on that rewriting of a page or novel as they did on putting the first version of those words on paper. Guest Post By: Emma Darwin Emma Darwin’s debut novel was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book and the Romantic Novelists’ Association Novel of the Year awards, and she is the author of Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction. Her blog is used for writing courses around the world. For more on these and a host of other writerly topics, click through to resources via my blog.
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Opening Lines For A Story (Great, Effective & Bad Examples)

What’s great & effective? What’s downright bad?Real Examples From Real Writers. Recently, we ran a competition solicited opening lines or sentences from real writers, with a small prize available for the winner. We’re going to look at some examples drawn from that competition . . . along with my own (hyper-picky) comments about what’s really good, and really effective. And what’s just a bit . . . not so good. Before we plunge into our sentence surgery, three quick comments. First, the examples that follow are drawn from writers writing real novels (or short stories). They are, like you, serious aspiring writers, but not yet published. For the most part, we were looking at works-in-progress, so these examples were all subject to change anyway. Second, opening sentences don’t matter all that much. The opening paragraph of the novel I’ve just handed to my publisher ran, in its entirety, as follows: Rain. Was that a good opening line for a novel? Well, no one asked me to change it, but does that sentence hook a reader in? And hook them into a story set in Wales, where the presence of rain hardly merits much discussion? I don’t think so. The fact is that the process of hooking a reader usually takes longer than a sentence and writers shouldn’t obsess unduly about the stuff above and to the left of the manuscript’s first full stop. There’ll be plenty more full stops to come. And last: I’m horrible. I mean, yes, I’m nice to widows, orphans and stray dogs, but I’m horrible to slightly iffy sentences. I’m very picky and my standards are high. So if some of my could-do-better commentary below depresses you – well, forget it. It’s not you. It’s me. But if you want to learn how to write opening sentences, then you probably want to look at what follows … How To Write A Good Opening Line: Full stops are your friends. Short, clear sentences will grab your readers’ attention.Use language that will add weight to your sentences.Use your verbs correctly, and your adjectives sparingly.Opening lines don’t have to be loud, subtlety is just as effective. Opening Lines To Novels / Short Stories: Examples So much for the preamble. Now for the sentences. (No authors are named because very few of the sentences I had had named authors on the page.) Example #1There were just three things that Samine was certain of in her life; first she was dangerous; second, she was never allowed to leave her room and, third, the spirit of a dragon lived inside her. Not bad, though it’s a little too close to Stephenie Meyer’s now famed three-part quote from Bella Swan in Twilight. Still, you can see what the author is wanting to do and the idea itself is fine. Here’s one way of tweaking things without altering anything too much (though it brings it still closer to Stephenie Meyer’s phrasing): There were just three things that Samine knew for certain. First she was dangerous. Second, she was never allowed to leave her room. Third, a dragon lived inside her. That’s shorter, clearer. It’s also better weighted. The key word in the first part of the writer’s sentence is “certain”. The addition of “in her life” doesn’t add much meaning but it does de-emphasise “certain”. My formulation is that bit clearer about where the interest of the sentence lies. One other thing, I’m not sure if this is the place to reveal that Samine can’t leave her room. The middle of one of the three certainties doesn’t tie obviously to the other two and feels a bit different. (#1 and #3 feel like existential statements; #2 feels like a simple, known fact.) But if the middle of those three statements goes, then the whole opening needs reconsideration. Example #2The most ironic thing about your first impression of me – I looked like butter wouldn’t melt. Interesting. I almost like this. My only real worry is that “the most ironic thing” bit. It feels a bit like a teenage use of ironic, which is perhaps not correct given the context, but in any case, I do wonder if there aren’t simpler, less laboured ways of doing the same thing. Suppose, for example, we just said this: Your first impression of me: I looked like butter wouldn’t melt. That is surely strongly suggesting that that first impression might be way off base, yet it conveys that impression by making the reader do most of the work. As a rough guide, the more the reader feels they’ve made a deduction, the more powerful that conclusion will feel. Example #3He’s stalking behind the disused factory, waiting for the flapping of wings to alert him to where you are. You remember when I said I’m pedantic? To stalk is a transitive verb, that is, it requires an object. I stalk you, etc., I don’t just stalk in the abstract. So that first clause feels a bit uncomfortable. And “alert him to where you are” also feels a little bit strained. Wouldn’t “alert him to your position” read better? And the double participle (waiting for the flapping) seems a bit needless here. But you only need a little tweaking and this is a strong, engaging opening: He’s searching you out behind the disused factory, waiting for a sudden flap of wings to reveal your position. That’s better. (Oh, you want to delete the word “sudden” from that? Yes, that’s probably better.”) Example #4The house had something American Gothic about it, though nothing it was minded to share. Excellent! Nothing to pick at, except that me personally I’d probably sooner say “had something of the American Gothic …”. But it’s a great, subtle opening. I like it a lot. Example #5What do you pack when you have four minutes to leave your husband? Again, that’s great opening line. Oh, and you want to know why that sentence works as well as it does? It’s because it makes you do a double-take. The first part of the sentence makes you think, “oh, this is a question about packing . . .” The second part makes you go, “whaaaaaat?!” It’s that mid-sentence pivot that gives it wellie. It’s also nice, because it instantly launches the reader into two important story-questions. Not just “why is this woman leaving her husband?”, but “why does she only have four minutes?” Of those two questions, it’s the second one that has the greater bite. Marriages collapsing are (unfortunately) a rather everyday occurrence. Marriages that collapse and give the wife just one minute to get away – well! We want to know more. Example #6My mother’s shroud was a grubby net curtain and her coffin was a gun case. You like that, don’t you? Yes, and it’s almost terrific. But I don’t like that word “grubby”, at all. It pulls attention away from “net curtain” and the use of a net curtain for a shroud is quite striking enough irrespective of whether it’s grubby. Just delete the adjective. The sentence gets instantly stronger Also, I hope this writers is about to tell us how come the gun case was big enough to fit a mother. I mean, that’s a very large case, or a remarkably small mother. So long as the author explains that niggle sometime soon, that’s fine, and (once you’ve deleted that “grubby”) it’s a good opening line. Example #7It was not a good day to bury a child, let alone ‘The Chosen One’, and the more Thomas Cowper tried to console his mother the more she sobbed, ‘Fear not, Mary … Blessed art thou amongst women.’ Hmm. I’m afraid I don’t rate this as an opening line. It’s almost good, but gets itself into a tangle, then trips over itself. And the thing is, the best bit of this sentence is the very opening and the longer it goes on the more the writer overwrites that clean and striking opening. Some full stops would help: It was not a good day to bury a child, let alone ‘The Chosen One’. The more Thomas Cowper tried to console his mother the more she sobbed. ‘Fear not, Mary … Blessed art thou amongst women.’ That’s already a lot better. Even so, I’m not completely happy. That opening line now has real merit and launches plenty of story questions (why is this a bad day? Why is a child being buried? Why is this child The Chosen One?) So if it were me, I’d leave the reader dangling a bit more, before starting to answer the questions they really cared about. So I’d run with the first question (why is this a bad day?), and just answer it with a description of winds and rain. Mourners getting soaked. Rain on the preacher’s Bible. That kind of thing. And this approach would work because I’m pretending to answer the questions I opened up with my first sentence . . . but not the ones the reader really cares about. It’s like the reader is yelling at me, WHY ARE YOU BURYING THIS CHILD? and all I’m doing is explaining why the day is a bad one. I’ve basically created suspense already, and my description of the weather is just keeeping that suspense going for longer. Example #8Deano’s hair was still wet from the pool and he swept his palm over his scalp trying to chase off the cold. ‘Come on, cock-snot. Pick up. Please.’ Okay, I very much like the dialogue. I like the contrast with the more formal opening line. The writing itself is fine. Just … I don’t quite believe the gesture you’re telling us about. When people get out of the pool their hair is normally already very flat and smoothed from the water. You definitely can’t chase cold away by palming your already flat hair and it’s not even a gesture most of us feel tempted to make. If he’s cold, he grabs a towel, or moves into the sun, or does something other than what you tell us he’s done. Picky? Yes. But getting those kinds of details utterly convincing from the off is part of what gets a reader into the story. Here, you do get the reader in, but you’ve done so with a tiny – and needless – stutter upfront. Example #9The hands on the clock didn’t seem to move, unlike mine as I drummed and fidgeted on the table. Hmm, this is okay, but it’s not quite good. The hands-not-moving-on-the-clock isn’t a cliche exactly, but it is a very familiar idea. Likewise fidgeting hands: also a very standard way of conveying impatience. Further into a novel, those kind of issues dissolve a little bit. Sometimes it’s just quicker and cleaner to reach for the familiar, so the novel can hurry onto wherever it’s heading. But in an opening sentence, I think any whiff of cliche threatens a reader’s trust, and you need to extirpate it completely. As I say, there isn’t an out-and-out cliche here, but I do think you’re cycling a little too close to the edge. My verdict? Rethink this sentence from scratch. Example #10The cat barked. Everyone will want to read on to see what follows. Purrfect. That’s a terrific opening line. Example #11The fucking train is cancelled. Again. Yep, good – cancelled trains as a sign of commuter distress is well-used, however, so I hope the writer has an interesting way to develop the incident. I would be disappointed in an opening page that just rehearsed the various woes of the commuter – but we’re on sentences here, not pages, and the sentence itself is fine. And finally: Example #12I had not been awake long, when I heard the knock on the door, I opened it and saw Sheriff Dennis Munroe on the porch, he stood a little over five foot six, but gave the appearance of being almost cubic he weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds and had arms like a bear, thick, powerful and covered in coarse black hair. Here’s one of those ‘sentences’ which is begging to be carved up. A few full stops instantly make this a mile better: I had not been awake long, when I heard the knock on the door. I opened it and saw Sheriff Dennis Munroe on the porch. He stood a little over five foot six, but gave the appearance of being almost cubic. He weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds and had arms like a bear, thick, powerful and covered in coarse black hair. That’s a relief already, only a few remaining niggles really. Using Munroe’s full name doesn’t seem right, since the narrator clearly knows the guy, and we don’t think of people as know as Title Firstname Lastname. Yes, you may want to give us Munroe’s full name in due course, but you don’t have to do it here. Secondly, that last sentence has four ands in it. That feels awkward, especially so early in the book. Third, how does the narrator know what Munroe weighs? I mean, the sheriff is clearly a fellow who likes his meat and potatoes, but that’s different from knowing someone’s measured weight. I’m not convinced. And finally, a minor thing, I have a hesitation about ‘I opened it’: it’s just that you’re narrating every tiny incident, even those we take for granted. Better to take a slightly less blow-by-blow approach. Something like this, maybe: It was early, when Sheriff Munroe came calling. He stood at my door, five feet six and almost cubic. He must weigh close to two hundred and fifty pounds, and he has the arms of a bear: thick, powerful and profusely hairy. I know that last sentence still has three ands, but the restructuring helps the rhythm, at least to my ear. And it’s so much shorter! It has the exact same content as the first sentence, but compresses it into a much shorter space. Result: much more energy per pound – and a much more compelling story. Do you want more help with your sentences?Did you know that Jericho Writers is a club. We’re here to help writers just like you. Membership of the club is low cost and can be cancelled any time (there are no lock-ins.) And what you get is extraordinary. A huge, premium video course on how to write. Loads on how to get published. Opportunities to put your work in front of literary agents and get their feedback direct. And so much more. We created our club for writers like you and we’d love it if you joined! Find out more. Best Opening Lines: The Winner There, we’re all done. If I must pick a winner, I’ll go for: What do you pack when you have four minutes to leave your husband? Or: The house had something [of the] American Gothic about it, though nothing it was minded to share. I like both of those. The second is a bit more literary; the first is a terrific opening line for a psychological thriller, or something of that sort. They’re both excellent. And One Last Comment On Story Openings The thing to remember? That your opening line it doesn’t really matter. The opening sentences for my five Fiona Griffiths novels are: #1: Beyond the window, I can see three kites hanging in the air over Bute Park. #2: It’s a Friday afternoon. #3: I like the police force. #4: Rain. #5: ‘Well?’ None of those are good opening sentences (though none of them are terrible). And, in most cases, it doesn’t take long to get something that puts a scrap of meat on the reader’s dish. The opening paragraph to my second Fi Griffiths novel, for example, goes like this: Example: Love Story, with MurdersIt’s a Friday afternoon. October, but you wouldn’t think so. High clouds scudding in from the west and plenty of sunshine. The last shreds of summer and never mind the falling leaves. That last sentence already advertises a certain strength and confidence. The reader feels immediately placed in the mood of the story. Because the writing has that confident tone, the reader trusts me. It’s as though they’re thinking, “OK, this is supposed to be a crime story. Nothing much seems to be happening yet, but I can tell this author knows what he’s doing, so I’ll stick with him and see what develops.” An opening paragraph can do more if it wants to, but it really doesn’t have to. Notice that this opening para sets up nothing interesting about the character, the situation, or, indeed, even the weather. It just sets a scene and does so with confidence. If your manuscript does that then, no matter how unshowy that opening sentence, you’re doing just fine. Oh, and if you need a little more inspiration for your opening lines, check these out. Happy writing – and happy editing! About the author: Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.) 
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Diversity in genre fiction

Guest author and blogger Rhoda Baxter studied molecular biology at Oxford, which is why her pen name takes after her favourite bacterium. She writes contemporary romantic comedies in whatever spare time she has. Here are her thoughts on diversity in fiction. When Is A Book ‘Not Asian Enough’? There’s been a lot of recent discussion about diversity in publishing. A lot of people lament the fact that there aren’t enough diverse characters in fiction. There is diversity in the people who live in the UK and diversity in the subsection of those people who write books, so why the mismatch? As part of this discussion someone brought up the fact that books with BAME protagonists are judged by a different set of criteria – one of which is is this book Asian enough/black enough? This question winds me up. What is the benchmark for a book being Asian enough? Who sets it? How often is it reviewed? What is the point of it? I write romance, arguably the biggest selling genre in fiction. I’m British/Sri Lankan. Asian is part of who I am. It’s not something I consciously work at. If you asked me to list the things that define me, my Sri Lankan background would not make it into the top five. As a kid, I lived in a regular house, went to a regular school, read the same books, watched the same TV shows and listened to the chart show every week, just like the rest of my classmates. Of course, there was the odd Goodness Gracious Me moment, but mostly, my life wasn’t vastly different to my friends’. It wasn’t as though as soon as I shut the front door I was transported into another world of sari’s and spices. Yet, if you read mainstream fiction featuring Asian characters you’d think that was the case. No wonder everyone was so astounded that Nadiya Hussein chose to flavour her cheesecakes with fizzy pop (or that she even baked in the first place!). My first book featured middle class Sri Lankan characters. I wrote about people who were, basically, a bit like the Asian people I know. I submitted to agents and small publishers, I had a few notes back, a few requests for the full manuscript. ‘Asian Lit’ was popular at the time; White Teeth and Brick Lane were still riding high. The most useful feedback I got back was “I like it, but I don’t know where I’d place it”. It wasn’t Asian enough for literary fiction and not white enough for genre fiction. Being the pragmatic sort, I wrote the next book with white main characters. Given that I write about middle-class people, the things that worry white characters would be pretty much the same as the things that bother Asian characters – job security, sexism, bullying, the quest for love. Besides, people are people, regardless of what shade they are, and white characters have the same range of feelings as brown ones. I placed this book with a small publisher relatively easily. If you want fiction to represent the experiences of a wide range of people, you need accept those experiences as they are presented – even if they don’t fit into your preconceived notions. Rich people face different challenges to poor ones. First generation immigrants face different challenges to their children. No two Asian homes are the same, because no two families could be the same. So perhaps we should stop trying to pretend that they are. How can fiction show the reading public any variety in the Asian experience of life if the publishing industry insists that very variety does not exist (or, more accurately, that the reading public won’t buy it). ‘Diversity’ isn’t about showing Asian characters doing things in an Asian way, or gay characters doing things in a gay way or disabled characters doing things in a disability adapted way. That’s just pandering to stereotype. Diversity is achieved by showing characters of different backgrounds doing things in their own way and telling their unique stories. If it makes minority characters look less different than the majority expect them to be, that might even be a good thing. In case you hadn’t guessed, I write under a pen name since my real name is difficult to spell, and it helps to keep my writing career distinct from my day job – but I have always submitted my work to publishers and agents under my real name. I think (although I have no data to back this up) that the ‘is it Asian enough’ question arises not from racism as such, but from a skewed assumption of what readers can stomach. As a point of principle, I always have at least one Sri Lankan secondary character in each book. In my latest book (Please Release Me) the heroine is mixed race. I’m sneaking minority characters into mainstream genre fiction one book at a time. Interestingly, readers don’t seem bothered at all.
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How to write according to Myers-Briggs personality type

Guest author and blogger Lauren Sapala is a writing coach, the author of The INFJ Writer, and writes about writing, creativity, and personality theory on her blog. She currently lives in San Francisco. It’s often empowering to understand what helps you as a writer, but types only take us so far. First and foremost, you’re you. What builds your own creativity and what holds you back? If you’re struggling to make headway on a writing project, think how you best work, how maybe a “weakness” could be a strength, and what’ll most help you finish – will it be a deadline? Or a designated day of the week to write? For more on the MBTI system, the Myers & Briggs Foundation website is a great place to start. However, I’d urge every writer to experiment with many different methods of writing to find what works best for them. There can be great variation, even among the same type. Every artist is an individual. All artists should give themselves the permission to do whatever works best for them. Are You An Intuitive Writer? I struggled for years as a writer. I wanted desperately to write a novel, but I couldn’t even write the first page. Then, when I finally worked up the courage to take a creative writing course in college, I failed miserably. I stopped writing altogether for seven years. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I discovered my Myers-Briggs personality type that I began to shine as a writer. Finding out that I was an intuitive personality was just the information I needed to finally move forward. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a system of 16 personality types that divides people along a spectrum of traits that determine how an individual interprets and reacts to the world. The MBTI system focuses on such tendencies as introversion versus extroversion, and intuition versus sensing (i.e. relying primarily on concrete information gleaned from one’s five physical senses). The complexity of the MBTI system is too vast to be addressed fully in this article, so if you don’t already know your type or you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating area of psychology, I recommend you make use of the wealth of helpful resources that can be found online. If you do already know your type, and you want to know a bit more about how this affects your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, look at my selection of “writers by type” below, to discover how you can start using your type as a creative advantage. These below are intuitive personalities on the MBTI system – ones I seem to work oftenest with, encouraging their ideas and intuitive talent. Tips For INFJ Writers I’m an INFJ writer myself, and so I’m intimately acquainted with many of the most common obstacles INFJ writers face. The number one challenge I see INFJ writers struggle with is perfectionism. INFJs have a rich, all-consuming inner life, and they excel brilliantly at seeing the big picture and imagining the ideal version of how something could take shape in the future. Because INFJs are such amazing abstract thinkers, it’s easy for us to bring together different elements in our mind to form a perfect whole. It’s when we try to make this “perfect whole” a physical reality that we’re confronted with the real world and all the messiness, pitfalls, snags, and less-than-perfect elements it contains. INFJ writers who are unconscious of their own perfectionistic tendencies will get stuck at this stage, always dreaming and never making any of their dreams a reality. It’s only when INFJ writers realize that the real world is never perfect, and anything they create will necessarily be bound to this real-world truth, that they can begin to accept their writing for what it is, flaws and all. Tips For INFP Writers INFP writers suffer the most from too many ideas, and a feeling of being overwhelmed by all the choices and different creative paths they could take. I’ve written on my site on the non-linear way I’ve often seen INFP writers work. This can be a strength, though – a means to connect patterns between scenes, images, characters, and ideas. It’s also not uncommon to see an INFP writer working on several writing projects at once, but the problem is not that INFPs work on too many things at the same time. Instead, the problem is that they tend to judge themselves harshly and resist their natural tendency at every turn. INFPs need a lot of variety. They also need a sense of flexibility and the freedom to be spontaneous and fluid in their artistic pursuits. Out of all the types, INFPs are most likely to work in circles. This means that the INFP writer usually works on one story, then moves onto painting for a few days, then moves onto writing a poem, and finally circles back to the story. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach and, in fact, it can work quite well for INFPs who have accepted their nature and embrace this circular way of working. INFP writers run into trouble though, when they compare their creative processes to others and try to force themselves to work in a linear manner. Tips For ENJF Writers Out of the four intuitive feeling types (INFJ, INFP, ENFJ and ENFP) the ENFJ is the type that is most likely to fall prey to an extremely harsh inner critic. ENFJs are almost preternaturally aware of the relationship dynamics surrounding them, and that includes a thorough assessment of how others view them and how they measure up in the larger order of any community of which they happen to be a part. This leads many of them to easily play the comparison game, and many times feel like they’re coming out on the losing end. ENFJs also have a strong need for connection and community. If they feel isolated in their writing pursuits, or like no one understands them or “gets” what they’re attempting to do with their writing, they can quickly shut down and then begin isolating themselves even further. ENFJs must feel emotionally supported by a group of peers they love and respect. This is when they will do their best work. Tips For ENFP Writers ENFPs are similar to INFPs in that they suffer from the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many ideas, but with ENFPs this includes an outer world component that can contribute to even more overwhelm. Simply put, ENFPs are unabashed extroverts. They love people and they love getting out and having adventures with people. A healthy ENFP might work two jobs, have a family, and still take up demanding hobbies such as snowboarding or Spanish classes in their spare time. This kind of schedule usually leaves little time for writing. The number one problem most ENFPs struggle with is finishing things. They begin novels, plays, and short stories full of enthusiasm for the project, but then a sparkly, too-interesting-to-resist person or cause comes along and immediately distracts them. The best method for ENFPs is to devote one day a week to a certain piece of work (maybe the novel they’ve always dreamed of writing) and keep firm boundaries in place around that day so that the project gets a guaranteed slice of their creative energy on a regular basis. Never feel boxed in, though. Find your best writing habits. Always do what works for you. Learn about Lauren’s journey and read more at her site. Learn more about all different MBTI types and writing styles – and check out more free writing advice on us.
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Vivid Verbs – The Easy Way to Spice up Your Writing ׀ Jericho Writers

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.
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6 tips for writing really bad villains

By C M Taylor Ever wondered what goes in to writing a nasty villain? Guest author C M Taylor has put together 6 top tips for writing really bad villains, plus everything else you need to build a well-rounded bad guy. Featured In This Article Thematically develop your villain– a crucial stepCreate a compelling backstory– the richer the betterBuild emotional logic– and learn why this mattersShow physical and mental scarsAdd in super human giftsMake your villain unbeatableWriting well-rounded bad guys and villainsDoes every story need a villain?How to create a likeable villainWhat if your protagonist is a villain?11 examples of evil villains and bad guys The term ‘villain’ defines a character who personifies the forces which thwart the progress of the main character. Now, while it is feasible that the villain is the main character – and we will come on to that less usual and more nuanced situation later on – in the vast majority of cases, the villain is villainous in relation to opposing the needs and desires of the main character. This structural role of antagonising the main character is the reason the villain is often described as the antagonist. They are a character who stands in negative relation to the spiritual, emotional, moral or financial progress of the main character, a character who is often described as the protagonist. Thematically Develop Your Villain A writer can usefully begin their creation of a villain via an understanding of theme. Are you writing about loyalty, for example? In which case, your protagonist has issues with loyalty which they must overcome, via the obstacles of the plot, to achieve a healthy, positive attitude to loyalty. Hence the role of the villain is to embody and prosecute a version of loyalty which is negative but tempting, which is corrupt but seductive, which might derail the heroic character’s attempt to achieve a healthy version of the theme. It is the villain’s job to oppose the progress of the hero, and so, knowing the specific thematic nature of the progress which the hero must make, that necessarily takes you some way to defining the nature of your villain. Your villain must be suitable and specifically adept at preventing the thematic success of your hero, hence must embody a negative version of that theme. Create A Compelling Backstory So, once you have understood your theme and decided which negative version of the theme is embodied by your villain, you next ask yourself why they are like this. For an example, let’s stick with the theme of loyalty. Your villain might espouse a version of loyalty which states you must have only loyalty to yourself, or loyalty to chaos, or loyalty to crime, or loyalty to the dead. Any unhealthy version of the theme will do. Let’s pick they have loyalty to chaos and want to bring disorder and anarchy to the whole world. Why are they like this? Their parents were unbelievably controlling and up-tight and rational and crushed the villain with their excessive punctiliousness maybe. Or the villain and their brother were in some youth cadet force which was all about order and discipline and the brother died in an accident born of excessive following of the rules. You see, one you have your thematic relation, you move to explain it via the backstory. Build Emotional Logic Our thematically-driven excavation and development of the villain’s backstory allows us to take an emotionally logical approach and explain why the villain is like they are. Continuing with our theme of loyalty, our rule-following cadet was eager and good to start with, tragic events having turned them on to a negative chaotic version of loyalty. Or our young child started off good but was hounded by neurotically rule-bound parents to crave the release of chaos. If you show the reader that it is emotionally logical for the villain to have passed from a state of health to their current corrupted self as a consequence of events, you humanise the villain. You make the reader think that they themselves might plausibly have reacted the same way in the same circumstances. You give the villain an emotional plausibility and a gravitas. And a decent villain needs gravitas, needs the emotional plausibility and heft to pull the villain into their version of the theme, into their version of reality. A good villain is like a moral centrifuge. What they pull towards them and put in peril is the hero’s self, their morality, the hero’s version of the theme. Showing it was entirely reasonable for the villain to arrive at the moral place they are in shows that the hero might arrive their too, and so puts a huge amount of jeopardy in play for the hero. Show Physical And Mental Scars The clichéd villain is often physically disfigured, right? There being a suggestion of a relationship between moral and physical disfigurement. I would however caution against this simple equation, quite apart from it perpetuating discrimination against people who are unfortunate enough to be physically disfigured, it has been done to death. Why not mix it up? The hero is trying to overcome prejudice against their physical disfigurement while the gorgeous villain is prone to the ravages of narcissism. Add In Super Human Gifts Your protagonist has to be special. In some genres like fantasy or science fiction they can be ‘the one’ level of special. In genres such as crime or thriller they can ‘exceptional human being’ levels of special. In genres such as romance or realism, they can ‘normal person pushed to the edge behaves heroically’ levels of special. And if your protagonist is special well, given that it is the job of the villain to oppose the protagonist, then in order to seem anything like able to compete with the hero, the villain needs to be special too. Make Your Villain Unbeatable Every villain needs to seem unbeatable to start with. The obstacles they place in the way of the protagonist must seem insurmountable. If the hero can beat the villain at the beginning, then there are no struggles needed. It is the insurmountable villain that causes the hero to develop and grow. It may be that your story is a tragic and the hero fails to beat the villain in the end. However it ends, in the beginning there must be no way that the hero – in their current state – can compete. Writing Well-rounded Bad Guys And Villains Why do villains matter to fiction?  Answering this involves taking this question right back to ask ourselves: what is a story? The crux of a story is concerned with how the main character changes, or fails to change, over time, in contact with internal, external and relationship pressures. A story is a map of this change over time, or this failure to change over time. The change is both an internal, emotional journey and an external, physical journey. Now if the journey comes easily, then there will be no drama, because drama requires struggle. The journey which the protagonist goes on needs to be ripe with struggle – with obstacles, tests, high stakes. The most common and identifiable way to manifest struggle is to have it between people. Between the antagonist (or villain) and the protagonist (or heroic character). It is the antagonist who provides the obstacles standing in the way of the protagonist’s need to consummate their change. It is the test of wills between the antagonist and the protagonist that generates the struggle. On a very simple level, in terms of the mechanics of plot, it is the villain who sets the test and the heroic character who sits the test. It is the villain whose actions provoke the need for the hero to act. Batman without The Joker would have no need to act. The villain is a dark twin to the hero. The villain embodies the shadow qualities of the hero. The villain is what the hero might have been, what the hero might be, should they make the wrong choices, which is what gives rise to the clichéd piece of film dialogue, ‘We are not so different you and I, Mr Bond.’ If the heroic character struggles to embody the positive possibilities in a work of fiction, the villain convincingly embodies the negative aspects. The villain personifies the specific forces of antagonism which aim to prevent the protagonist from completing their internal and external journey. Does Every Story Need A Villain? The short answer to this question is no – in terms of the villain being a physical personification of antagonism, not every story has or needs this. A story needs antagonism, yes, and most usually this antagonism takes the form of a human being standing in opposition to the progress of the heroic character, but it is not necessary to do this. Antagonism can be generated in other variations than the single, embodied villain. The antagonism might be within the heroic character themselves. It might be a mistaken belief about life which leads them astray or into repeated unhealthy actions; or it might be an addiction. Note that choosing to centre the antagonistic force internal to the main character influences what type of story you are telling. It would be hard to make this choice and write an action story, for example. The choice to situate the main antagonistic force internally, as an aspect of the heroic character, is more associated with character-led stories – literary or dramatic works, or sometimes the psychological thriller. Whereas the more traditional human villain personification of antagonistic force is more usual within crime or fantasy or action stories. There are other forms of antagonism too. It might be centred around a group of people. It might be the family that a young person needs to escape to ‘become’ whole. Or it might be the pain still felt when a parent abandoned a child. Or it might be a best friend who continually leads the main character into activities which are against their best interests. Basically, antagonistic forces can be anything as long as they are the main obstacle in the way of the protagonist achieving what they most need. Traditionally this force has been embodied via the personification of a villain, but the villainous function can be performed within a story by other forces. How To Create A Likeable Villain As I write above, the villain stands or falls on the plausibility of their world view – the villain is the hero in their own eyes. If you can show why the villain has ventured from the path of moral health to become the creature they are today then you have created the route by which the reader can empathise with the villain. And if they can empathise then – in the current parlance – they can possess relatability. All the best characters are layered, multidimensional and above all, unique. So, if your bad guy can have some redeeming qualities, or a journey that the reader can connect with, then that could definitely make for an interesting read. What If Your Protagonist Is A Villain? Your protagonist can be both hero and villain – look at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Or your protagonist can be a criminal – look at The Godfather, at Breaking Bad, at The Sopranos, at Crime and Punishment. Or your protagonist can be an anti-hero – look at Mr Robot.  They can be any of those things. As long as they are subject to thematically congruent antagonistic forces, the rules are the same. As long as we know why they are like they are – In The Godfather, Michael Corleone gets pulled back into the family business of murder and extortion through love of his threatened father. Walter White sells meth – initially at least – to protect his ill family in Breaking Bad. Elliot from Mr Robot illegally hacks computers to out greater criminals. This is a common strategy – outflanking your villains with even greater villains to make your villain comparatively empathetic. Look at Dexter. Yes, he is a serial killer, but he only kills people who are themselves worse than him. He performs bad acts for a comprehensible and relatable reason. 11 Examples Of Evil Villains And Bad Guys Tricking Othello into murdering his own wife makes Iago a pretty good start to our collection.Another trickster, in Treasure Island, Long John Silver tricks Jim Hawkins, disguising his own role as leader of the mutiny.Why do we care for and want the sociopathic murder Tom Ripley to escape throughout Patricia Highsmith’s Mr Ripley novels? Because he feels love and we feel his vulnerability and inadequacy.And why do we admire Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ novels? Because he is brilliant and stylish and logical.Only somebody as prodigiously gifted as Moriarty could aspire to being a villain worthy of Sherlock Holmes special powers.Anne Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery turns out to the fan no writer wants.Xan may seem like the villain in P D James’ The Children of Men but isn’t the broader antagonistic force that of infertility itself.No mistaking that it’s a shark who is the villain of Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws.Isn’t narcissism the antagonistic force in play in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey?Are dinosaurs the antagonistic force of Jurassic Park? Rather I would say it was the human vanity and over-reaching that lead to the recreation of dinosaurs in the first place. Same with Dr Frankenstein – it’s the Dr not the monster who sets the test.Isn’t the entire Republic of Gilead the antagonist force in The Handmaid’s Tale? Have Your Say So, there we have it, a foolproof method to build your very own villainous bad guy. Have we missed anything? Anything else you’d like to add? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know what you think. About The Articles Author C M Taylor has been nominated for the British Science Fiction book of the year and published a number of novels, including Staying On, (Duckworth 2018), Premiership Psycho (Corsair 2011) and the Amazon best-selling Group of Death (Corsair 2012). Craig has also co-written a thriller movie script, Writers Retreat, which was filmed in 2014 and premiered at the Sitges International Film Festival, and he continues to be commissioned to write scripts for TV and film. C M Taylor is also a sought-after editor, working with a well-known publisher as well as working with Jericho Writers as a book editor.
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Points of View in Fiction Writing (with Plenty of Examples)

What is first person writing in fiction? What’s third person narrative? What’s all this about limited vs omniscient…? How you narrate a story – or what points of view you choose when writing fiction – can make all the difference to its appeal. What’s more, the choices you make now will affect every page (indeed, pretty much every sentence) of your novel. So you’d better get things right, huh? No worries. This post will tell you everything you need to know. We’ll start with some definitions and some examples, then assess the pros and cons of each possibility. Oh, and buckle up. This stuff can sound quite technical and scary, but (a) it’s simpler than it sounds, and (b) the choice you want to make instinctively is probably the right one. It’s really possible to overthink these things! First up: some definitions. All You Need To Know About Points Of View Point of view (POV) is the narrator’s position in relation to the story: First person – the narrator and protagonist are the sameSecond person point of view– very rare and hard to pull offThird person – an ‘off-page’ narrator relates a story about your charactersMixed – combines first-and third-person passages Point Of View: Definitions The Point of View (or “POV”) is the narrator’s position in relation to the story. There are a few basic possibilities here, one of which is exceptionally rare. They are: First person narrationIn this instance the narrator speaks in the first person, (“I did this, I said that, I thought the other.”) The narrator and the novel’s protagonist are essentially one and the same.Second person narrationHere the narrator speaks in the third person (“You did this”, and so on.) It’s exceptionally rare as a technique and is definitely not advisable for beginners.Third person narrationIn this instance, the narrator speaks in the third person, (“She did this, he did that, they did the other.”) The narrator is basically an invisible storyteller, telling the reader what happens to the novel’s protagonists. Third person narration comes in two basic flavours: limited third person and the extremely grand-sounding omniscient third person. We’ll get more into the detail of those two in a moment, but the basic difference is that a limited 3rd person narrator stays very close to the character whose viewpoint is being used. An omniscient one is more inclined to wander free from the character and give a broader view of things. (Not sure you’ve got the distinction? No worries. We’ll get to more details in a moment.)Mixed narrationIf a novel combines passages told from the first person point of view with passages told from the third person point of view, it has mixed narration – or mixed first and third person point of view, if you really want to spell it out. Point Of View: Examples Examples of first person narration are legion. For example: The Sherlock Holmes stories (narrated by Dr Watson, in the first person)Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe stories (narrated by Philip Marlowe, of course)Bridget Jones’s Diary, narrated by … well, you’ve already guessed, right?Moby Dick, narrated by … well, put it this way, the famous first line is “Call me Ishmael.”Hunger Games, narrated by Katniss EverdeenTwilight, narrated by Bella SwanThe Kay Scarpetta novels of Patricia CornwellSome of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books (but not all) Here’s an example of first person point of view in practice: “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation.”—Moby Dick, by Herman Melville Examples of second person perspective are extremely rare. Famous recent examples include: Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City opens with the line, “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time in the morning” and then it continues from there, with the protagonist always described as “you”.Italo Calvino did much the same thing in If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller.There are a few other examples too, but you’ve got to be a really smart and skilled writer to do this. In short, for 99.99% of writers out there, just fuhgeddabahtit. This technique isn’t one for you. Examples of third person narration are also commonplace. For example: Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which is about Lisbeth Salander, but not narrated by herThe Da Vinci Code, about Robert Langton, but not narrated by himJane Austen’s Pride & PrejudiceJohn Grisham’s The FirmStephen King’s MiserySome of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, but not all And here’s an example of third person narration in practice: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”—Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen Got that? OK. We’ll skip on to the limited / omniscient distinction, then start figuring out how to apply point of view to your novel. Third Person Pov: Limited Vs Omniscient OK, the thing that probably most confuses newer writers is the distinction between third person limited and third person omniscient. Quite honestly, though, this isn’t something to trouble with too much. If you want to write in third person, just do what’s right for your characters and your story, and you should do just fine. If you want to know more, however, what you need to know is this: Third Person Limited: Definition & Example When you use a limited form of third person narration, you stay very close to your character. So the narrator isn’t telling the reader anything that the character in question wouldn’t themselves know / see / hear / sense. Here’s a beautiful example from Anne Tyler (in Breathing Lessons): “They planned to wake up at seven, but Maggie [the point of view character in this passage] must have set the alarm wrong and so they overslept. They had to dress in a hurry and rush through breakfast, making do with faucet coffee and cold cereal. Then Ira headed off for the store on foot to leave a note for his customers, and Maggie walked to the body shop. She was wearing her best dress – blue-and-white sprigged with cape sleeves – and crisp black pumps, on account of the funeral. The pumps were only medium-heeled, but slowed her down some anyway.” You’ll notice that nothing at all in that passage is something that Maggie doesn’t know about. So even when the passage talks about Ira heading off to the store, that’s done from Maggie’s perspective. We know that he goes and what his purpose is there, but we know nothing at all about his walk itself – whereas we know exactly what Maggie’s wearing, and why, and why her shoes slowed her down. This is third person limited (because it’s so closely limited to Maggie’s perspective) and as you can see it delivers a kind of intimacy – even a homeliness. Third Person Omniscient: Definition And Example The omniscient version of third person is, as you’d expect, able to tell the reader things that aren’t directly knowable by any of the characters in the tale. The most famous example of this narrative voice in literature is surely this passage from Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope,it was the winter of despair, …” As you can see, this isn’t told from any character’s viewpoint. It’s almost as though a lordly, all-seeing Charles Dickens is hovering over London (or England? or the world?) and giving his kingly overview of the situation. This type of writing has become rather less common in fiction, so you’ll tend to stick with broadly limited narration, interspersed (perhaps) by something a little more omniscient in flavour. Point Of View: Which One Should You Write In? First Person Point Of View First-person narration shares action as seen through the eyes of your narrator. A narrator can therefore only narrate scenes in which he or she is present. Coming-of-age novels – Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower – work exceptionally well in first-person narration. A lot of YA books are written in first person, because their intimate, emotional narration chimes with their teenaged readership. Romances (with their emotional focus) are also often first person. So are ghost stories with a sense of claustrophobia like Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. In particular, however, it’s worth thinking about Jonathan Franzen’s dictum that, “Write in third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.” In other words: (A) do you feel you have to write in that first person voice, and (B) does that first person voice really sound and feel distinctive, personal and indvidual. I’ve mostly written third person, but my recent detective novels are first person – essentially for the reasons Franzen hints at. Here’s an example from my book, The Deepest Grave. (I’ve made some short edits for length, but mostly this is as it appears in the finished book.) The narrator is Fiona Griffiths, my detective protagonist. I’m a little earlier than I said, but it’s not long before I hear the sound of approaching feet.Katie appears. Sees me up here on my bank. I raise a hand and smile welcome.She approaches.Impressively torn black jeans. Black cowboy boots, well-used. Dark vest-top worn under an almost military kahki shirt. A chunky necklace. One of those broad-brimmed Aussie-style hats with a leather band. […]The look has attitude and personality and toughness, without quite dipping into angry hippy counterculture.Also: she walks with a ski-stick, a mobility aid not a fashion statement.She comes up the bank towards me. Sits beside me.I say, ‘You hurt your ankle?’ You’ll notice that it’s not just that the observations are made by Fiona. (eg: “not long before I hear the sound of approaching feet”). It’s also that the character of those observations is shaped 100% by Fiona herself. So yes, the list of clothes that Katie is wearing is a fairly neutral list (though the very short sentences and lack of any verbs – that’s all Fiona). But that summary comment about the overall effect (“the look has attitude  . . .without quite dipping into angry hippy counterculture”) is what Fiona thinks about Katie’s look. I can’t comment myself, because this is Fiona’s narration. She’s in charge. For the same reason, if there were, let’s say, a lion in the undergrowth about to spring out on Fiona, the book couldn’t say anything about the lion, until Fiona herself had seen / heard / smelled / witnessed it in some way. Does that sound claustrophobic? Needlessly restrictive? Well, maybe. But I’m now halfway into writing novel #7 in that series, and when that book’s complete I’ll be close to 1,000,000 words published in the series. And every single one of those words, without exception, comes from Fiona’s voice. There is no other perspective anywhere in the series. In other words, the restriction of first person is real, but you can still write at length, and successfully in that style. First Person Point Of View, Pros And Cons This is quite easy, really! The pro is the opposite of the con and vice versa. Pro: First person narration gives you intense, personal familiarity with the narrator. The reader can’t – short of putting the book down – separate from the narrator’s voice, their thoughts, their commentary, their feelings etc. Con: You lose flexibility. If there’s a lion in the undergrowth, you can’t say so, until your narrator has seen the damn thing. If a key thing happens in your plot without your narrator in the room, then tough. He or she can only talk about it when they encounter the consequences down the road. My comment:I’ve written books both ways. There’s no right or wrong here. I love both. One good tip is to use first person narration mostly when you have a distinctive narrator with a strong voice. Most thrillers are written third person (so they can flip between different points of view (eg: investigator / victim / perpetrator), but there’s no absolute rule. I write mine first person. Likewise, a lot of romance stories are written first person . . . but you can go either way there too. Third Person Point Of View Third person narration uses “he” or “she”, where a first person narrator would say, “I”. Here’s an example taken from (and this is a blast from the past for me!) my first novel, The Money Makers: They spoke of other things until it was late. They damped down the fire, cleared away the dishes, and walked upstairs. Fiona went right on into the one usable bedroom. Matthew stopped at the door, where his bag lay.‘Fiona,’ he said. ‘You remember you said you would never ever lie for me again?’‘Yes.’‘Any chance of your lying for me right now?’ He looked at the inviting double bed, heaped high with clean linen and feather quilts.She smiled. Once again, ambiguity flickered in frightened eyes, but her answer was clear. She walked right up to Matthew and stopped a few inches from him. Her long dark hair fell around her shoulders, and her face was only inches from his. This scene (and the whole chapter) is written from Matthew’s perspective. So, yes, much of the factual data here (“they spoke of other things until it was late”) was available to both Fiona and Matthew in this scene. At the same time, when they step up close and get intimate, it’s Matthew we’re with, not Fiona. (How do we know this? Because when we get to “ambiguity flickered in frightened eyes”, it’s Matthew that sees this, not Fiona. If that little bit had been written from Fiona’s perspective, it would have had to say, “she felt ambivalent and frightened”, or something like that. Limited Vs Omniscient My advice to newer writers is mostly to forget about this distinction. As a rule, you should stick close to your character – and that means adopting a generally limited point of view. How come? Well, quite simply, readers want to experience story through the eyes and ears of its characters, and that means time away from the limited perspective is time spent away from that precious character-experience. That said, if now and again, you want to dive into something a little more godlike (or omniscient), you absolutely can. Just: Make sure that your godlike voice offers something grand, the way Charles Dickens’s does in Tale of Two Cities. (The opening passage of White Teeth by Zadie Smith offers a rather more contemporary example.)Use that omniscient voice only in small doses. You want to zoom, pretty damn fast, from the omniscient view to the up-close-and-personal one. The golden rule to remember here is that readers want character – and they only get that experience from the limited perspective. Third Person Point Of View: Pros And Cons The main limitation we found with the first person narrative approach was its restrictiveness. My and my Fiona Griffiths books, with every one of those 1,000,000 words locked into one voice, one point of view. So most writers adopting the third person approach will use multiple perspectives. George Eliot’s Middlemarch is one famous example. The same goes for much of nineteenth century fiction, especially of the more epic variety: Dickens, War and Peace, Vanity Fair, Henry James, you name it. What you get from those many perspectives is the ability to see into many hearts, many minds, many souls. That multi-viewpoint narration gives your novel: Richness – all those multiple perspectivesFlexibility – you can set your movie camera up wherever the action is happening. You avoid the restrictions of narrow first person narration.Potentially something epic in scale – because all those characters and voices lend a depth and scale to your story. Also notice this: There are types of suspense you just can’t deliver in a first person novel. So Hitchcock famously distinguished between surprise and suspense. If two people are sitting in a cafe, when a bomb detonates – that’s a surprise. But let’s restructure that same episode with multiple viewpoints, and you get something completely different. So we might see (Point of View #1) a terrorist planting a bomb in the cafe, then switch perspectives to (Point of View #2) the innocent couple drinking coffee right by the ticking bomb. In that case, the simple scene of two people drinking coffee becomes laden with suspense. The reader knows the bomb is there. The couple don’t. What’s going to happen . . .? That’s a type of suspense that we first-personeers (or single perspective third personeers) just can’t deliver. Consequently, third person / multiple viewpoint novels are particularly common with: thrillers and suspense novelsanything epic in scale. We’ve mentioned some nineteenth century fiction already, but George RR Martin and his Game of Thrones series is a perfect example of modern and big. Ditto any door-stopper by Tom Clancy. Third Person Point Of View: Summary Most third person novels are written with multiple perspectives, even if (as in Harry Potter) the point of view stays mostly with a single central character. Advantages and disadvantages? Well, essentially you get the opposite of the first person pros and cons. So third person / multi-viewpoint narration: Is flexible. You can pop the camera anywhere you want. You can deliver suspense as well as surprise.Enlarges your book. It can move you from a narrow-focus/small book to a wide-focus/epic one.Loses intimacy. In particular, if your camera gets too promiscuous – if you just use too many viewpoints – you risk breaking the reader’s bond with your central character(s). If that happens, your book dies! Third Person Narration: The Golden Rules We said above that the main risk of multiple viewpoints is that you break the reader’s bond with your main character and as a result you end up losing the reader completely. Bad outcome, right? A book killer. Multiple Points Of View: Three Golden Rules Fiction is about inner worlds and inner journeys, and you need to respect that. So here are the rules: GOLDEN RULE #1Limit your number of primary characters I’d suggest that, for almost any new novelist, you should not go above three. My first book was a story about three sons, although the sister too had a significant secondary viewpoint. I’d say that count of three-and-a-half viewpoints represents the upper limit for any first novel by all but the most gifted novelists. You can go higher than that. I think of books that run to dozens of viewpoints. But as a place to start? Nope, that kind of thing is too dangerous for 99.9% of you. (And the 0.1% are talented enough, that I don’t really know why they’re reading this!) Your next rule follows from the first: GOLDEN RULE #2Never go more than 3-4 pages before returning to your primary characters. We’ve all watched movies where the leading couple is so incredibly strong that the movie starts to die as soon as one of them is off-screen. Or take that great first series of Homeland, where Carrie (Claire Danes) and Nicholas Brody (Damian Green) had a mesmeric quality together. You could have scenes with both of them in (great!). Or scenes with just one of them in (very good!). But scenes with neither? They flagged very quickly. And sure: you need some filler scenes just to make sense of the story. But if you stay away from your main characters for too long, the book dies. And just because I said “3-4 pages” in the rule above doesn’t mean that you have that much space every time you take a break. You don’t. You need to keep those non-protagonist scenes as short and tight as possible. Three pages is better than four. Two pages is better than three. And our next rule follows from the first two – and from absolutely everything we know about why stories work as they do. GOLDEN RULE #3Every main character (every protagonist) needs their own fully developed story arc. If you use any Point of view repeatedly, the character needs a fully developed inner life, a fully developed arc, a full set of challenges, encounters and personal change – and relevance, too. Is this person relevant to your collective story material? So take my first book, The Money Makers, with its three (and a bit) protagonists. Every single one of those three needed: A motivationA challengeA set of external obstacles (ie: things in the world)A set of internal obstacles (ie: things in their character that blocked them from accomplishing their goals)A crisis, linked to all the things in the list so farA resolution In effect, to write a three-handed story, you have to write three stories, each perfectly structured in their own right. Phew! That sounds like a scary undertaking, and yes, I guess it is. But because a book can be only so long, if you write from three points of view, each one of the stories you are telling can afford to be quite simple – the kind of thing that would seem a bit flat if told on its own. (If you’re a bit worried about fitting it all in then you’ll probably find this blog on chapter lengths and this one on wordcount really useful.) As it happens, I love third person / multiple viewpoint narration almost as much as I love first person. There isn’t a right or a wrong in the choice; it’s only a question of how you want to write and how your story wants to be written. 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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Character and characterisation in novels: techniques, examples and exercises

How to write great characters in your novel.How to make them lifelike.How to make them dazzle. What makes a reader glued to a book? What makes that person come back to it again and again? As a rough guide, people turn the pages because of plot, but they remember a book because of character. Don’t believe us? Then answer this. Can you recall, in detail, the plots of: To Kill a Mockingbird?The Hound of the Baskervilles?The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? We’re going to bet not. But do you remember Scout and Atticus? Holmes and Watson? And the badass Lisbeth Salander? Of course you do. And that’s the aim of this post: helping you achieve the same level of vibrating life that these characters achieved. In effect, we’re going to tell you how to develop a character that can be used for both the protagonist (hero) and the antagonist (bad guy). How to write the kind of characters that will elevate your novel to a whole different plane. And it’s not magic. It’s just the logical application of tried-and-trusted writing techniques. But let’s start by figuring out what character development is, and how it works for you. Don’t want to wait for the blah?Just download our 200+ question Character Bio Template. It’s freeGet the Ultimate Character Profile Template What Is Character Development? Character development is two things: Character development is the the process by which an author develops a detailed character profile. This activity is usually done in conjunction with plot development and takes place as part of the planning process, before the writer actually starts to write.Character development also refers to the way a character changes through the course of the novel, generally in response to the experiences and events gathered through the course of the story itself. This is known as the Character Arc. (Need more? Get plot structure advice here.) Those twin definitions are immediately helpful. Yes: you have to develop a character profile before starting to write, but you also have to knit your character so closely to the story you’re going to tell that the two things seemed joined at the hip. Ideally, the reader won’t be able to imagine any other character occupying your story – just like you couldn’t imagine Girl with a Dragon Tattoo without the inflammatory, exciting presence of Lisbeth Salander. So: the first question is, how do we choose the right character for the story we’re about to tell? That’s up next. Plan Your Character Arcs The two basic character types in fiction – and how to choose the one who’s right for your novel. There are two basic types of main character (or protagonist) in fiction: The first type is an ordinary character plunged into the extraordinary. And, by this process, they become a little more extraordinary themselves.The second character type start out extraordinary – they could make things happen in an empty room. You need to be careful about identifying which character is which. You might think that Harry Potter can’t be ordinary, because he’s a wizard. But think about it. He seemed like quite an ordinary boy. And when he gets to wizard school he seems quite ordinary there too (daunted by the school, a bit scared of Hermione, and so on.) He’s an ordinary wizard who finds his inner extraordinary self over the course of seven books. Lisbeth Salander, however, never strikes the reader as ordinary. She’s a rule-breaking, computer genius with anti-social traits and a scary capacity for violence. You just know she’s going to cause waves, no matter where she goes. Here’s a quick way to figure out what kind of character yours is: Ordinary Characters Will typically refuse adventure, or accept it only reluctantlyWill typically have something of the boy next door / girl next door quality to them. That doesn’t mean they have to be boring (we’re all different after all), but it does mean that they can act as a kind of placeholder for the reader. “That person could be me. That adventure could have been mine.“Will typically find something heroic or extraordinary in themselves as a result of the adventure. Something that was buried becomes visible.The adventure has to echo or vibrate with whatever is distinctive about the character. So at the very start of the Harry Potter series, Harry seems like an ordinary boy, except that he’s an orphan. No wonder then that the entire series revolves around Harry completing the battles of his lost parents. Extraordinary Characters Will often leap into adventure. May even create it.Will typically seem nothing whatsoever like the nice kid next doorWill have something astonishing in them all the time. Something that probably makes them look awkwardly ill-at-ease in the ordinary world.But, as with ordinary characters, the adventure will resonate with who they are. Sherlock Holmes is a detective – so let him solve crimes! Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a CIA guy, so drop him into a thriller, not a schmalzy love story! What A Character Arc Looks Like You can already see how these three things need to intertwine: Your character’s profile at the start of the bookThe story your character plunges intoThe way your character develops through the course of that story So for one hyper-simple example, you might have: Harry Potter starts out as an ordinary boy, albeit one with natural wizarding abilityHe is plunged into a life or death battle against VoldemortHe discovers previously unseen reserves of courage and resourcefulness – he finds his inner extraordinary. Here’s another example of the same thing, this time from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy Bennet is an ordinary young woman, but somewhat prone to impulsive and immature judgementsShe is plunged into a tumultuous love story, and …Discovers new wisdom and maturity. These things are beautifully simple when you see them – but needless to say, designing something beautifully simple ain’t so easy. (Just ask Steve Jobs!) Build Your Character Development Arc Your first task? Simple. Just do the same thing as we’ve just done for Harry Potter and Lizzy Bennet. Take a sheet of paper and write out – in a few words only – the following: Your character’s broad start positionThe nature of the storyThe way your character develops as a result of the story you are telling. Do that exercise. Make sure you’re happy with it. And when you are – congratulations. You’ve just taken your first big step in developing your character. Try Our Ultimate Character Profile Template Also called a “Character Bio Template” Figuring out who you want to lead your story is the first essential of success. But the next part – the fun one – is every bit as important. And the rule here is simple: You have to know your main character better than you know your best friend. That’s it. The simple fact is that strong characterisation is based on knowledge. The only way to write a really convincing, lifelike, vibrant protagonist is to know them inside out. If you have this knowledge, you will find yourself using it. If you don’t have it, you can’t. So the problem of writing character comes down to this: you have to know protagonist. And we’ve got a brilliant technique to help with just that. If you haven’t yet started your book, then work on the character creator exercise below before you start. It makes developing a character so much easier. Or cheat! It’s fasterWhy not download our 200+ question Character Bio Template? It’s freeGet the Ultimate Character Profile Template If you have started, but think that maybe you started prematurely, then back up. Do the exercise and then read back through your work, looking for places where your characters seem a little blank. So. Let’s start. Use A Character Profile / Bio To Develop Stunning Characters Begin with a blank sheet (or screen). And begin to write down everything you know about your central character. Don’t be too concerned to edit yourself at this stage. Just let rip: this will be your character profile. It helps to group your comments a bit under certain themes, but if that inhibits your flow then just write. Group your notes up later. You should cover all kinds of topics, including: Backstory Where did your protagonist come from?What was their childhood like? Happy or sad?What were relations like with their parents? Or brothers or sisters?If their father was (say) extravagant, what impact did this have? If their mother was (say) easily tearful, how did this affect them?And what about now, where relations with others are concerned?Were there key incidents in childhood that shaped this person in a way relevant to your book’s story?What about more recent backstory? Their move to Arkansas, joining the army, their first girl/boyfriend? Sketch those things out too. Write how your protagonist’s backstory has shaped their drives, their character arc, and will shape your plot. It helps if examples are concrete, showing your protagonist via actions and choices in specific situations. (And yes: showing matters. If you need a show vs tell refresher, we’ve got it for you.) Looks And Physical Attributes Get to know how your character looks, how they inhabit their body and how they interact with the world: Is your character tall or short? What hair colour, face & body shape, what eye colour?Are they physically graceful? Or clumsy? Or what?What animal do they most remind you of?If you had to choose one image to represent this person, what would it be? [Hint: the best answers to that question often float between the physical and something a bit more spiritual. There’s often something mobile in the image, not just static. examples: “She was like a deer grazing in snow.” or “He was like an iron sword of the old type. Unbending. Strong. Prone to a sudden, flashing anger.”]How does your character sleep?How do they fiddle?Are they impatient?How do they eat? What foods do they love and hate?What do they look like from a distance? Or close up, when seen by a stranger?What is their voice like? Or their laugh? Think of an actor or actress who could play your character. If you need a visual image to work from, then look through magazines until you’ve got something you can use. Pin it up close to where you work, and work from that. Or create an inspiration board, either a real one or using a site like Pinterest, to pin images of your characters, of story aesthetic, etc Your Character’s Personality Is your character sunny and carefree, like Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice?Or hardened, unforgiving, like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?What impression would they make on a casual observer?Are they screwed up in any way?Are they conflict-avoiders or conflict-seekers?Are they sensitive or selfish lovers?How emotionally involved would they get?How does all of this feed into their character arc (ie: the way they develop through the story)?If you answered a Myers-Briggs personality test in character, what would your character’s results be? Relationships Why has your character chosen this partner?Is he or she like the partners your character normally goes for?Do they go in for cutesy baby-talk? Or hard-edged flippancy? Or reflectiveness?What are their pet names for each other?Do they encourage maturity in the other or bring out the less mature side?What are their disagreements about? Do they row, and if so, how? How do they mend rows?What does one love most about the other? What do they most dislike?What is your predicted future for the relationship beyond the end of the novel? Goals, Fears, Ambitions Be sure, most essentially, you know your characters’ deeper goals and motivations. What’s their deepest wish?What are they most afraid of?What would failure mean for them? What voices would they have in their head commenting on that failure? (eg: a critical parent, or a disappointed friend.)What’s the goal, the thing they most desire?Does it change? And why?What’s their motivation for wanting it. What does it say about their nature? The Ultimate Character Profile Template The very best way to get to know your characters is to do this: Write a list of 200+ questions about your characterThen answer them Do that, and before too long, you’ll know your character with utter intimacy. You’ll move beyond some mechanical character development exercise into deep, fluent, easy knowledge. Do note that you have to write the questions before you start answering them, otherwise you end up just asking questions that you already know answers to. Oh, and it’s incredibly hard to come up with a really long list of questions that really probe everything about your character – so we’ve done it for you. We’ve created the Ultimate Character Builder, and it’s yours for free. Get the Ultimate Character Bio Template. Give yourself an hour or two on that exercise and, quite honestly, your development of character journey is mostly complete. Nice to know, right? Build Empathy With Your Characters When you are writing a character, their motivation matters so much. You know that thing that literary agents do? “While we liked your book a lot, we didn’t quite love it. We didn’t quite feel empathy with your main character, but wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.” Makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? And the issue is NOT that your character isn’t nice enough. It’s not that she needs to do more home-baking, or go to more church meetings, or smile more sweetly. The equation is simply this: Empathy = Character’s motivations + reader understanding. That’s it. The whole deal. If a character really wants something, and the reader really gets why that thing matters so much to that character, then the reader is committed. They’ll feel intensely involved. They will, if they’re a literary agent, want to represent your novel. In terms of your character development challenge, that means you need to: Understand your character’s motivations deeplyMake sure your character really cares (because if they don’t, the reader won’t.)Make sure your character’s motivations come through in your writing. And that’s it. Simple, right? Dialogue: Characters In Relationship While we’re on the topic of building empathy, it’s also worth remembering that your character doesn’t exist in isolation – they’re at the centre of a particular web of relationships that will be tugging at them with complex and often contradictory forces. That’s quite likely tough for the character – but great for the reader. And dialogue is where you’ll feel those emotional pulls and pushes most forcefully and in their most alive possible way. Making sure that your dialogue is sinuous and mobile will give a real kick to your character – and add whole new layers to the process of acquiring and retaining the reader’s empathy. More dialogue help right here. That’s It: Character Development – Done! If you’ve done the work on developing your character arc, and you’ve explored your character in detail via our Ultimate Character Development Sheet, then you know what? You’ve completed your character development work. Yay! Truthfully, you’ll be ahead of at least 95% of the other writers out there. Well done you. If your plot is roughly in shape, then you’re good to start writing, and your first draft (though it won’t be perfect) should be a pretty damn good platform for your final, finished book. That said, once you have written (say) 10,000 words of your first draft – STOP. Just stop writing and review what you’ve written so far. Does your character feel like a fully rounded human? Or a cliche? Do you make plenty of reference (where appropriate) to your character’s thoughts, memories, feelings and physical sensations? Does the character feel fresh or stale? Individual, or just a standard character type? If your answers are yes, this character feels fresh and individual, then your work has paid off. You’ve created a great character – and your novel is well on its way to being a damn good one. 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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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. 
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Ideas for Writing a Book (and How to Develop Them)

We once got a strange email. It was three lines long, from someone telling us he wanted to write a book. OK. That’s great. The email wasn’t written very well. The spelling wasn’t great. The punctuation – uh – had all fallen off. But none of that was the issue on his mind. His email was simply entitled “Book Ideas“, and he was writing to ask for help. In a word, he wanted us to develop his ideas for writing a book. And here was the thing. He was sure he was a good writer, which is great, but he hadn’t actually written anything. Worse still, he said he didn’t have a single idea for a story, so could we maybe give him one? Right. Yes. I’m sure that’s how Herman Melville got started too. But the fact is, all of us know what it feels like to feel uninspired and stuck in a rut when ideas just won’t come. And this post is all about solving that problem. Where do ideas for a book come from? How do you know if they’re any good? And how can you take your existing ideas and make them better? Big questions, but let’s see what we can do to help. What follows is a simple way to generate good quality ideas that work for you. We know they’re going to work for you, because the ideas come from you. In fact, you already have them in your head right now. All we’re going to do is help you find them. Let’s start. Book Ideas: How To Get Them And What To Do Next Note down your ideas – your daydreams, interests, favourite booksLearn the market by reading your genreStart developing your ideas, jotting down what you know about your future bookGive your ideas time to develop – don’t rush it!Work on your writing skills and technique How To Have Ideas: The Good News Consider this. It’s not a question of forming the idea, but of recognising one (or ones) you already have, so let’s do that. Make lists of: Things you daydream about;Your special interests (medieval churches, IT security, tattoos);Your areas of expertise;Your current passions (things that get you off on a rant or long-winded explanations);Things you loved as a child (amazing how often the child seems to predict the adult, so look back, see what you loved in the past);Books you loved as a child;Books you love now. Write actual lists of these things. Not in one single half hour session, but bit by bit, over time. Let things stew, bubble up. Almost certainly, you’ll find something nagging at you. Something that stays with you after you leave your lists. That there is your idea. Good, huh? But stick with us. We’ve only just got started. How To Handle Ideas For Books (What To Expect) The trouble with inspiration is it never arrives fully formed. Writing is messy. Few novels arrive complete. Most have had to be hacked out of rock. It’s okay, though, if you decide development is easy and fun, and remember ideas take time. You don’t get from nowhere to perfect in one leap. It’s not a generator. It’s an incubator. You don’t find your idea. You grow it. We’ll talk a little more about that shortly but first, ask yourself. Is your book idea any good? Be sure your idea is strong enough to carry you to publication before you start writing. There are techniques for (a) figuring out if your idea is strong enough and (b) adding sparkle to it if it isn’t, fortunately. Learn The Market Read the area, niche, genre in which you are going to write. Read widely. Stay current. Know new names, not just old ones. It’s a massive mistake not to do this, and many new writers don’t. You should, because these are the books your ideal readership is reading. Start Developing Get a sheet of paper and write down what you know about your future book, or interests you’d like your story to make room for, to explore. That might be very little at first. It might be no more than: Antarctic settingSeismologySecret weapons testing That has no characters, no plot arc, no meaningful line of development, but it’s a start. Not just that, but it’s an exciting one. There’s a frisson of interest there already. A stew that might bubble up into something wonderful. So keep going. Whatever comes to mind. Jot down words and sentences. Note down anything that comes to mind around plot events, themes, settings, ideas for your protagonist. Keep listing, see what comes to you. An Example: First Attempt Try out things. So you might find yourself writing things like this: Ex-SAS man turned seismologist is there.Baggage from the past (a mission gone wrong?).Meets Olga, glamorous Russian geologist. How do you feel about those? Take a moment to see what your actual reactions are. Me personally, I think the ex-Special Forces seismologist could be a decent character, but the glamorous Russian Olga feels like a bit of a cliche. I feel I’ve seen her too often before. And the ‘baggage from the past / mission gone wrong’ element feels dangerously on the edge of cliche. That’s fine. Remember that this whole process is a development exercise. So you can try things out, see how they feel, and discard them as much as you like. Discarding stuff is good – that shows that you’re pruning the bad stuff and keeping only the good stuff. Just add explosions … An Example: Second Attempt So maybe we try again. We might start sketching something like this. Leila – who is ex-Special Forces – is a British seismologist.She loves extreme adventure, including climbing, sky-diving.She’s sampling ice cores to track past earth disturbances.She finds weird, inexplicable traces – too recent.A multinational team – many scientists there.Russian scientist, aloof, unnerving (will turn out a ‘good guy’). … … And so on. Maybe we haven’t yet nailed much with this list, but it’s the forward-back process of development that brings rewards, helping you make subsequent connections (e.g. perhaps you decide Leila’s the only woman on that team, perhaps she needs to prove she’s as strong as any of them, etc., etc.). The only test of whether a list like this works is whether you have a deep-ending tickle of excitement about your jottings. If that fades, you’ve gone wrong somewhere, so find out which element isn’t working, delete, and try again, following your intuition. Remember that the process of story development is one of constant experiment. You sketch something out. You see how it feels. It feels good? OK, great. You continue to add depth to your sketch. (Add a character, a possible plot point, some more about settings, some more about the challenge to be faced, etc.) It feels wrong? OK. So scratch out the thing that felt wrong. Try something else in its place. Or if you can’t find (say) the right antagonist for the moment, then leave that issue for the moment and turn to an area where you do have some good ideas. You’ll find that as you build up one area of the story (say, settings), you’ll find that other parts (say, your antagonist) suddenly flash into view. Each part of the story illuminates and supports the others. How To Give Your Story The “X-factor” And as you’re doing this, remember that readers always want something new, something unexpected. So give it to them! The way to do this is to make sure that your list of story ingredients always includes a rogue element – something that you don’t expect to be there. That rogue element will always have the effect of lifting the story and giving the reader a little thrill of excitement. What’s more the rule basically applies to ALL huge-selling novels of recent years. For example: BORING STORY: a normal American teen falls in love with a normal American boy.GREAT STORY: a normal American teen falls in love with a vampire. Two versions of the same thing. One is too dull to cross a room for. The other one (Twilight) was one of the biggest YA sensations of all time. Or how about this: BORING STORY: a journalist investigates a murder in Sweden.GREAT STORY: a journalist plus a bisexual, Aspergers, rape-surviving, computer genius combine forces to investigate a murder in Sweden. The “rogue element” of Lisbeth Salander’s kick-ass character basically gave the Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy the fire it needed to conquer the world. And so on. You can look at any huge selling hit of recent years and find that unexpected ingredient that blasted the book to international success. And you can repeat that trick for yourself. If you find your story is just too expected, then throw in something to freshen it up. So, let’s go with this Arctic idea, and let’s say that your draft story looks something a bit like this. FIRST DRAFT STORY:Leila, ex-Special Forces British seismologist is sampling ice cores in the Antarctic.She finds evidence of recent blast activity – human-made.She suspects of team of Russian scientists are really testing a new type of nuclear device.She investigates.The situation escalates.It resolves itself in a dramatic shoot-out. And what are your feelings there? I’m going to guess that you thought, roughly, “Yeah, that’s OK, but it doesn’t really set my pulse racing.” And the issue is that everything is exactly what you’d expect. It’s as though we read this story plan, and already feel like we’ve read that book or something very similar. So now let’s apply our rogue element strategy and see how the story might run. STORY WITH ROGUE ELEMENTLeila, ex-Special Forces British seismologist is sampling ice cores in the Antarctic.She finds evidence of recent disturbances that make no sense.And there are thefts from the camp – unexplained>At first the Russian team is suspected, but – caught out with a Russian captain, Arkady, in a snowstorm – it looks like Leila and Arkady will both perish. But they’re saved – mysteriously – as fresh kerosene is added to their supplies.Leila and Arkady come to believe they are dealing with the ghosts of Scott’s tragic expedition to the Antarctic.They realise the souls of Scott and his men are trapped in the ice and are only seeking escape. Leila & Arkady use their knowhow and technical resources to liberate the ghosts. How’s that? Personally, I’m not yet sure about it – I literally just this minute came up with the idea – but I will say this: You were not expecting that story to emerge. You’ve never read anything like it before. Already, it has a grip over your imagination that the first version never did. In fact, if we took the bones of that story and really did some work with it, I’d say we’d have the chance to create something really extraordinary. A story that no one had ever read before, or would ever forget. The short moral of this example is obvious: Yes, the process of story development is intuitive, trial-and-error, and has plenty of dead ends. But it’s not random. Good stories follow a formula, which can be put roughly as follows: Your passions + a rogue element = a great story If you want to structure that process some more – and you should – then do use our idea generator, available on this page. It’s great, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to work. Remember To Give Yourself Time Give yourself time to muse over your book. If all this takes a week, it’s taken you too little time. Three months would be good, but if it takes six months, that’s fine, too. Jack Kerouac, famed for writing his draft for On the Road in twenty-one days, pondered his ideas for years. My most successful novel (Harry Bingham writing) was two years in development, then written within two months – so development matters. Real inspiration takes time, care, effort, and thought. Technique Matters, Too Often, new writers can give up on a project by starting in a rush, noticing things aren’t quite working. They don’t quite know how to analyse what isn’t working, though, so give up – probably convinced that they don’t have the talent. And that’s not just untrue, but a shame. Writing books takes time and needs patience. It is also tough, and some new writers spend no time learning how to do it. The best solution? Simple: Get expert helpHang out with supportive writer-friendsImprove your technique And you know what? Jericho Writers is a club for writers like you and was set up to help writers like you. Here are a few blog posts that’ll help you on your way: how to write seven basic plots, beating writer’s block, and top tips for debut writers. While you’re there you should also check out our range of creative writing courses and the editorial services we offer – both of which are designed to support you and the writing process. We’ve helped loads of people write books, get agents, and get published (or, very successfully, self-published), and that includes loads of people who started out without having tons of education / knowing people in the industry / being a super-genius / spending 20 years on retreat in the Canadian wilderness, or anything else. You can find out what Jericho Writers can offer its members right here. We’d absolutely love it if you joined us, and look forward to welcoming you. About the author Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. (More about Harry, more about his books). As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.)
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How To Start Writing A Novel: 10 Things To Do Right Away

A super-simple step-by-step guide for new writers Are you writing a book? Maybe you’re starting out for the first time? Twenty years ago, I was in your exact position. My wife was seriously unwell. I’d quit work to look after her. And yes, a lot of my time was spent caring for her... but that still left a whole lot of hours in the day. I didn’t want to do nothing with that time. And I’d always wanted to write a book. (I’ve still got a little home-movie film clip of me, age 9, being asked what I wanted to me when I was grown up. I answered, “I want to be an author.”) So, sitting at home, and often quite literally at my wife’s bedside, I opened my laptop and started to write. That book grew into a 190,000 word monster. I slaved at that damn thing too. Worked really hard. Was a perfectionist about every detail. I got an agent and I got a six-figure book deal with HarperColins, one of the world’s largest publishers. And the book went on to become a bestseller that sold in a load of foreign territories too. And best of all? I got a career I loved. I’ve been in print continuously ever since, bringing out about a book a year in that time, and I’ve basically loved every second of it. (Oh, and my wife? Yeah, she’s got a long term condition that will never leave her, but she’s about a million times better than she was back in those days. It’s been an up-down ride, but we’ve been a lot more lucky than not.) But you’re not reading this because you want to know about me. You want to know how to start book writing. You’ve got a big empty screen to deal with. A headful of ideas, a desire to write... but no structure for putting those ideas into practice. You want to know: what next? Well, that’s a good question. (One I didn’t think about too hard when I started out, but then again I did end up deleting a 60,000 word chunk of my first draft because it was just no damn good.) So what do you need to do next?  Well, you do this: If you want to start writing a book, take the following steps, in the following order... Write A Book In 10 Steps Take one fabulous ideaBuild a blistering plotAdd unforgettable charactersGive your characters inner lifeAdd drama by showing it unfolding on the pageWrite with clarity, economy and precisionWriting for children? Same rules apply!Be disciplinedRevise your draftGet feedback 1. Take One Fabulous Idea If you want to know how to write a novel, there is only one sensible place to start, and that’s not with the first line as you might think, but with the very idea of your book – the thing you want to write about. Concept matters massively. It’s almost impossible to overstate its importance. Stephenie Meyer writes competent prose, but it’s her concept that turned Twilight into a cultural phenomenon. Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson, Stephen King are similar. They’re decent writers blessed with stunning ideas. Agents know this, and – no matter what your genre – a strong premise is essential to selling a book. Given any two broadly similar manuscripts, agents will almost always pick the one with the strongest central concept. How, then, do you get your amazing book ideas? The answer is that you probably already have them. Your killer idea may be germinating in your head right now. It may arise from a passion of yours; it may come out of a book you love. It’s not about the seed of the idea. It’s how you develop it that counts. The key here is: (A) picking material that excites you, (B) picking enough material (so you want several ideas for possible settings, several ideas for possible heroes, several ideas for basic challenge/premise, etc. You want to be able to make choices from a place of abundance.) (C) – and this is the genius bit – you need to start combining those ingredients in a way that ensures you have at least one rogue ingredient, one unexpected flavour in your concoction. So let’s say that you just wanted to write a 1940s, film-noir style, private-eye detective story – an homage to Raymond Chandler and that great generation of writers. If you just replicated all those ingredients, you’d have an unsaleable book. Why? Because they’re too familiar. If people want those things, they’d just buy Chandler’s own work, or others of that era. So throw in – a ghost. A German secret agent. Or set the story in a black community in Alabama. Or... whatever. Just make sure there’s one discordant ingredient to make readers sit up and take notice. Need more help? Then go watch this 10 minute video I put together that walks you through the exact process. Expert tip:It also helps to know really early on what kind of word count you should be looking at. The gold-standard way to figure this out is to get hold of five or six recently published novels in your exact area. Then count the words on a typical page and multiply up to get an approximate total. If that sounds like too much work, then just use our handy guide. The gold-standard approach is better though! 2. Build A Blistering Plot The next essential for any novelist is a story that simply forces the reader to keep turning pages. Fortunately, there are definite rules about how to achieve this. Here are the rules you need to know: Work with a very small number of protagonists (ie: main characters in your story. These are the ones who propel the action and whose stories the readers invest in.) You probably only have one protagonist, and that’s fine. If you have two or three, that’s fine too. More than that? Not for a first book, please! They’ll make your job too hard.Start your story by unsettling the status quo very early on – first page possibly, but certainly within the first chapter. The incident that gets the story rolling is called the Inciting Incident, and it’s the catalyst for everything that follows. Read more about how to make your Inciting Incident work really well here.Give your protagonist a major life challenge very early in the book and don’t resolve things till the very end. The reader basically read the book to see whether your protagonist gets the thing they’re seeking. Does the gal get the guy? Does James Bond save the world?Over the course of the book, make sure that jeopardy increases. That doesn’t have to be an even progression, by any means. But by the final quarter or third of your novel, your protagonist needs to feel that everything hinges on the outcome of what follows.End your book with a crisis and resolution. So the crisis part is when everything seems lost. But then your hero or heroine summons up one last effort and saves the day in the end. In general, in most novels, the crisis wants to seem really bad, and the resolution wants to seem really triumphant. It’s achieving the swing from maximum light to maximum dark that will really give the reader a sense of a satisfying book. (More on plot structure here.)And finally, one more crucial tip: if a chapter doesn’t advance the story in a specific way, you must delete that chapter. How come? Because all the reader really wants is to know whether your protagonist achieves the thing they’re seeking. If that basic balance between protagonist and goal doesn’t alter in the course of a chapter, you’ve given your reader no reason to read it. So axe unnecessary backstory. Ignore minor characters. Care about your protagonist with a passion. Sounds simple? Well, the principles aren’t that hard to understand, although executing the advice can a wee bit trickier. Expert tip:Use the “snowflake method” to build your structure. The heart of this concept is the idea that you should start with an incredibly bare-bones summary of your narrative – one sentence is fine. Then you add something about character. Then you build that sentence out into a paragraph. And so on. It’s a great way of allowing your plot to emerge somewhat naturally. More help on that technique here – but don’t ask my why it’s called the snowflake method. It’s nothing like a snowflake. 3. Add Unforgettable Characters Long after a reader has forgotten details of a plot, the chances are they’ll remember the character who impelled it. The two things you absolutely must bear in mind when constructing your characters are: Make sure that the character and the story bounce off one another in interesting ways. If, to take a stupid example, your character has a fear of spiders, the chances are that your story needs to force your character to confront those fears. You must bring your character into their zone of greatest discomfort.Make sure you really, really know your character. It’s so often little things, subtleties that make characters seem human (e.g. Amy has a passion for Manhattan in winter; she collects a shell from every beach she’s ever visited.) If you want to check if you know your character well enough, we suggest you use our ultimate character builder. Oh yes, and one great tip (albeit one that won’t work for every novel) is this: if in doubt, add juice to your character. Here’s an example of what I mean: Stieg Larsson could have just written a book about a genius computer hacker. But he didn’t. He could have written a book about a genius computer hacker with Aspergers. But he didn’t. He could have written a book about a genius computer hacker with Aspergers and a hostile attitude towards society. But he didn’t. He could have written a book about a genius computer hacker with Aspergers, a hostile attitude towards society, and who was also a rape victim. But he didn’t. He also tossed in a complex parental background, bisexuality, a motorbike, years spent in the Swedish care system, and an aptitude for violence. It was the intoxicating brew of all those elements combined that created one of the world’s most successful recent fictional creations. Short moral: if in doubt, do more. Expert tip:Our character development page has got a free downloadable character profile questionnaire that asks you 200+ questions about your character. Those questions basically challenge you to know your character better than you know your best friend. It’ll only take you an hour or two to complete the worksheet – and your character knowledge will be propelled to a whole new dimension of awesome. Honestly? It might be the single most useful hour you can spend right now. Uh, unless you are on a burning ship in a storm. In which case, reading this paragraph is not a good use of your time. 4. Give Your Characters Inner Life One of the commonest problems we see is when a character does and says all the right stuff, but the reader never really knows what they think or feel. If you don’t create that insight into the character’s inner world, the book will fail to engage your reader, because that insight is the reason why people read. After all, if you just want to watch explosions, you’ll go to a Bond or Bourne movie. If you want to feel what it’s like to be James Bond or Jason Bourne, you have no alternative but to read Ian Fleming’s or Robert Ludlum’s original novels. This character insight is one of the simplest things for a novelist to do. You just need to remember that your protagonist has a rich inner world, and then you need to tell us about it. So we want to know about: What the character thinksWhat their emotions areWhat they rememberWhat their physical sensations areAnd so on It’s OK to use fairly bland language at times (“she was hungry”, “she felt tired”), but you’ll only start to get real depth into your characters if you get individual and specific too. See for example how much richer this passage feels, and how full of its character it seems to be: seeing the meat, she felt a sudden revulsion. The last time she’d seen mutton roasting like this on an open fire, it had been when [blah, blah – something to do with the character’s past]. As the memories came back, her throat tightened and her stomach was clenched as though ready to vomit. Because the character has thoughts, feeling, memories and physical sensations all combining here, the moment is richly endowed with personality. A simple “She felt revolted” wouldn’t have had anything like the same impact. Expert tip:Once you’ve written 20-30,000 words or so, it’s worth pausing to check that your characters seem alive on the page. So just print off four or five random pages from your manuscript and circle any statements that indicate your character’s inner life (physical sensations, memories, thoughts, feelings, and so on.)If you find nothing at all, you have written a book about a robot and you may need to rethink. If you do find indicators of inner life, but they’re all bland and unengaging (“I was hungry”, “I remembered a barn like that when I was a kid.”), you may want to juice up your character. If you find a rich inner life, then you’re doing great. Just keep at it. 5. Add Drama Your job as a novelist is to show action unfolding on the page. Readers don’t just want a third-hand report of what has just happened. That means you need to tell things moment-by-moment, as if you were witnessing the event. Consider the difference between this: Ulfor saw the descending sword in a blur of silver. He twisted to escape, but the swordsman above, a swarthy troll with yellow teeth, was too fast, and swung hard. (This form of narration is “showing”.) And this: Ulfor was badly injured in a swordfight. (This form of narration is known as “telling”.) The first snippet sounds like an actual story. The second sounds like a news report. Obviously, you will need to use the second mode of storytelling from time to time. Telling can be a simple way to convey facts and speed things up, but for the most part, your tale needs to consist of scenes of dramatic action, glued together with bits of sparse narration. If in doubt, look up our free tips on the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. Expert tip:One of the real drivers of drama on the page – and one of the real pleasures of fiction – is intense, alive, surprising dialogue. Writing dialogue competently is pretty easy – you can probably do it already.But writing really great dialogue (think Elmore Leonard, for example) is not so simple. That said there are rules you can follow which just make your writing better. For more advice on all this, just check out our page on dialogue. 6. Write Well It sounds obvious, but it’s no good having a glowing idea and a fabulous plot if you can’t write. Your book is made up of sentences, after all, and if those sentences don’t convey your meaning succinctly and clearly, your book just won’t work. Almost everyone has the capacity to write well. You just need to focus on the challenge. So think about the three building blocks of good writing: Clarity. You need to express your meaning clearly. Of course YOU know what you’re meaning to say, but would a reader understand as clearly? One good way to check yourself here is to read your own work aloud. If you stumble when reading, that’s a big clue that readers will stumble too.Economy. Never use ten words when eight would do. That means checking every sentence to see if a word or two could be lost. It means checking every paragraph for sentences that you don’t need. Every page for surplus paragraphs. If that sounds pedantic, just think about this. If you tried to sell a 100,000 book that had 20,000 surplus words in it, you shouldn’t be surprised if agents rejected it, because it was just too boring and too baggy. But that’s the exact same difference as a 10 word sentence and an 8 word one. In a word: pedantry matters. It’s your friend!Precision. Be as precise as possible. This normally means you need to see the scene in your head before you can describe it clearly to a reader. So it’s easy to write “a bird flew around the tree”, but that’s dull and imprecise. Just think how much better this is: “A pair of swallows flew, chirrupping, around the old apple tree.” The difference in the two sentences is basically one of precise seeing, precise description. Need more help? Then you’ll find this article really useful! If you can manage those three things – and you can; it’s just a question of making the effort – then you can write well enough to write a novel. That’s nice to know, huh? Expert tip:Descriptive writing sounds like it ought to be boring, right? Everyone knows what a coffee shop looks like, so isn’t it just wasting words to tell the reader?Except that’s not how it works. The reason why writing descriptions matters so much is that the reader has to feel utterly present in your fictional world. It has to feel more real than the world of boring old reality. That’s where great descriptive writing comes into its own. If you can – economically, vividly – set a scene, then all your character interactions and plot twists will come into their own. They’ll feel more dramatic, more alive. And again: there are simple repeatable techniques for strong descriptive writing. Read more about them right here. 7. What If I’m Writing For Children? Same rules apply, no matter the age or genre you’re writing for, but we’ve put together a collection of our best tips for children’s authors, including help on how to get a literary agent who’s right for you and your work. Whatever else, write clearly and economically. If your style isn’t immediate and precise, children won’t have the patience to keep up with you. If a chapter doesn’t drive the story forwards, you’ll lose them. If in doubt, keep it simple. Write vivid characters to an inventive plot. Write with humour and a bit of mischief. But really: if you’re writing for kids, then follow ALL the rules in this blog post, but do the whole thing on a smaller scale. The only really crucial issue that distinguishes children’s fiction from adult work is word count. You just have to know the right kind of length for the specific market you are writing for. That means: Figure out what age range you are aiming atFigure out what kind of books you are writing (books about unicorns for 6-7 year olds? Adventure stories for young teens? Contemporary issue-driven books for mid-teens?)Get hold of some books in the right nicheTake a typical page in those booksCount the wordsMultiply number of words by number of pages. Done! Oh, and don’t rely on internet searches to give you the right answer. Because there is so much age-dependent variability in kids fiction, criss-crossed by a good bit of format and genre variability, the only safe route to follow is the one we’ve just given. Expert tip:The commonest mistake made by aspiring children’s authors has to do with writing down to children. And that’s wrong. Children don’t want to be lectured or patronised. They want their world to be taken as seriously by you as they take it themselves. One of the reasons Roald Dahl was so successful was that he wrote about stuff that adults (in the real world, outside fiction) would have disapproved of. A giant who spoke funny? Adult twits who behaved badly? A lethally dangerous chocolate factory? Dahl’s willingness to be subversive put him clearly on the side of kids, not adults. Authors such as Susanne Collins, Veronica Roth, JK Rowling, and Stephenie Meyer all use the same basic trick. Copy them! 8. Set Up Some Good Writing Disciplines First rule of writing is this: Good writers write. They don’t want to write. They don’t think about writing. They don’t blog about writing. They write. Sure you can do those other things too, but they’re not what counts. What counts is bum-on-seat hours and that document wordcount ticking ever upwards. Now the truth is that different writers approach their work differently. There’s no one set of rules that works for everyone. But here are some rules that may work for you. If they do, great. If they don’t, adapt them as you need. Either way, if the rules help you write, great. If they don’t, discard them. So. The rules: Set up your writing space so it appeals. Lose the distractions. Make sure you have a computer, pens, and notebooks that you like using. Get a comfortable chair.Eliminate distractions. Got a TV in your writing room? Then lose the TV. Or change rooms. Get rid of the distractions that most bother you.Determine when and how often you will write. If you have a busy life, it’s OK if that’s a bit ramshackle (“Tuesday morning, alternate Wednesdays, and Saturday if I get a chance.”) But the minimum here is that you set a weekly allowance of hours, and stick to it come hell or high water. Pair that up with:A weekly target wordcount. Hit that target every week, no excuses.Make some kind of outcome commitment. For example: When I have finished this book, I will get an external professional editor to give me comments. Or: I will share this with my book group. You just need to have in mind that this book will be read. That knowledge keeps you honest!Commit to a deadline. Don’t make that too tough on yourself, but do make it real. Almost anyone should be able to manage 2,000 words a week, even with a busy life. And most adult novels are 70-100,000 words long, so in less than a year, you have yourself a book, my friend. With practice, you’ll get faster.Work to an outline. I said you needed to sketch your plot, right? (You can get that plotting worksheet by navigating to the top of the sidebar on this page.) Use that outline as your story-compass. If you need to tweak it as you go, that’s fine – but no radical changes, please!Always prioritise the reader’s perspective. Don’t write to please yourself. Write to please the reader. If you need to imagine an actual Ideal Reader, then do so. Write for them.Don’t worry if your first draft is lousy. It’s meant to be! That’s what first drafts are for. Jane Smiley said, “All first drafts are perfect, because all they have to do is exist.” Same goes for you, buddy.Take breaks. If you’re a fidgety writer (as I am), you’ll want to take a lot of breaks. If you concentrate fiercely for twenty minutes and take a break for five or ten, that’s fine. Just keep going that way.Warm up each day. I always edit my work of the day before as a way to warm myself up for the chapter I’m about to begin. If you like to warm up differently, then go for it. Just remember you may not be able to just start writing fresh text at 9.01 am precisely. Most of us need to warm the engine a little first. And that’s it. Do those things, and you should be fine. 9. Revise Your First Draft Nearly all first drafts will have problems, some of them profound. That’s okay. A first draft is just your opportunity to get stuck in on the real business: which is refining and perfecting the story you’ve just told yourself. That means checking your story, checking your characters, checking your writing style. Then doing all those things again. You’ll find new issues, new niggles every time you go back to your work (at least to start with), and every time you fix those things, your book will get better. It’s a repetitive process, but one you should come to enjoy. Don’t get alarmed by the repetitions: think of this rewriting task as climbing a spiral staircase. Yes, you are going round in circles, but you are rising higher all the time. We’ve seen hundreds of new manuscripts every year, and we’re pretty good at recognising common problems. We’ve even got a checklist of recurring issues we find. Most are fixable, so you don’t need to worry too much if some of those apply to you. The thing is simply to figure out what the issue is, then sit down to address it. Remember that all successful novelists started the same way as you did: with a lousy manuscript. Expert tip:Editing your own work can be a challenging and somewhat mysterious process. So we’ve removed the mystery. We’ve put some actual edits to an actual book (by me, as it happens) up on the blog, so you can see how the self-editing process works for an experienced pro author. You can find more about all that over here. While you’re at it, you may want to take a look at the various different types of editing that are available. But don’t jump into paid editing until a very late stage. For now, self-editing will improve your manuscript and build your skills. 10. Make Friends, Get Feedback Writing a book is hard work. It’s lonely. Those around you are seldom equipped to offer expert feedback and advice – and, of course, this is a difficult road. Most first novels do not get published. So please don’t try to go it alone. Here are some things you can and probably should do: Join a writing group or online writing community. See our expert tip below.Go public with some of your writing goals / achievements. That could just mean updating your Facebook page, or talking with your friends at the office. The main thing is to avoid your book feeling like a dark secret you’re not able to share.Get friendly peer feedback when you think you’re ready. When your book is finished and roughly edited, it can be useful to seek supportive feedback, of the “Wow, you can really do this!” variety. You’ll need to get tougher in due course, but that early support can work wonders.Build your skills. That could mean doing an online creative writing class, or taking a course, or working with a mentor, or attending an event. Whatever you choose to do, you will improve as a writer and writing & editing your next book will come easier than it did this first time round.Get professional feedback once you’ve done as much self-editing as you can manage. There is absolutely no better way to improve a manuscript than to get a rigorous set of comments from an experienced third-party editor. Watch this video for tips on how to process and make best use of that feedback. Remember, you don’t have to do all of this at once. This is a marathon, not a sprint. So go easy with yourself when setting out your goals. Under-commit and over-deliver, right? Expert tip:Meet friends in a free and knowledgeable community of writers. I blog there every week and thousands of writers like you meet to share peer-to-peer critiques, gossip, advice and support. And also – friendship. Passion makes friends like nothing else and our community is all about passion. Sign up is totally free. And fast. And easy. Just go here and do what you gotta do. Bonus Tip: Get A Literary Agent Literary agents only take about one book in a thousand, so before you take this final step, we do suggest that you’ve completed numbers 1 to 9 properly. You should also take a look at our advice on manuscript presentation to make sure you’re really prepared for the next stage. That said, if your novel is good enough, you will find it easy enough to secure representation. Just follow these steps. A) Select your target agents. We have a complete list of literary agents and you can filter all data by genre, agent experience and more. It’s the most complete source of its kind. B) Choose about 8-12 names. You’re looking for agents keen to take on new writers. If they happen to represent authors you love, so much the better. (More advice on how to start your agent search.) C) Write a fabulous covering letter, using this advice and sample letter. D) Write a good, clear synopsis. A process that terrifies most writers, but this is easier than you might think. Just follow these tips. E) Get your stuff out there. And there you have it: 10 steps to get you started writing that novel. Happy writing, good luck. And keep going! 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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How to Plot a Novel (Using our Easy Plot Template Technique)

All stories share a simple common structure, right? So the simplest way to outline your novel (or write any type of story plotline) is to use that universal template by way of scaffolding. And you do need to use some kind of novel outline before you start writing. Plotting a story from scratch? Imagining the whole thing in your head before you start without writing down a plot? That’s hard. Or, scratch that, it’s pretty much impossible. So don’t do it. Cheat. Use a simple, dependable template to build an outline for a story, then slowly fill out the detail. Yes, filling in the detail can be a slow and tricky process. But you don’t care. Because if your basic story outline template is strong (and the idea that lies behind it is strong), you can’t really go wrong. And figuring out that template and how best to use it to create the best story possible for your readers is exactly what we’re going to do in this post. (Or – full disclosure – it’s what you’re going to do. We’ll just help a little on the way...) Novel Outline Template In A Nutshell You just need to figure out: Main character (who leads the story)Status Quo (situation at the start)Motivation (what your character wants)Initiating incident (what disturbs the status quo - conflict)Developments (what happens next)Crisis (how things come to a head)Resolution (how things resolve) What A Story Template Looks Like Use a simple plot outline to get your ideas straight. Let’s start simple. And that means, yep, that YOU need to start simple. Get a sheet of paper or notebook and have it by you as you work your way through this post. Ready? Pencil sharp and ready to go? So do this: Write down the following headings: Main characters Status Quo Motivation Initiating Incident Developments Crisis Resolution Simple right? And now sketch in your answers in as few words as possible. That means a maximum of 1-2 sentence for each heading there. If that seems a little harsh, then I’ll allow you 3 sentences for the “Developments” section: that’s where the bulk of your book is going to lie. But that’s all. At this stage, we don’t want complex. Complex is our enemy. We’ll get there soon enough, but for now just think, Structure-structure-structure. Too much complexity – all that intricate plot detail – just gets in the way of finding the actual bones of your novel with which you are going to draw in the reader. (Oh, and I don’t want to digress too much, but that same basic template works if you want to build a scene, or write a synopsis, or structure a key piece of dialogue. In fact, it’s just like this universal unlocking device for pretty much any structural challenge in fiction. Good to know, huh?) The Novel Template: An Example You probably want an example of what your outline should look like, right? OK. So let’s say your name was Jane Austen and you had a great idea for a story about a prideful guy and a charming but somewhat prejudiced girl. Your story outline might look something like this: CharacterElizabeth (Lizzy) Bennet, one of five daughters in Regency England. Status QuoLizzy and her sisters will be plunged into poverty if her father dies, so they need to marry (and marry well). MotivationLizzy wants to marry for love. Initiating IncidentTwo wealthy gentlemen, Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy, arrive. DevelopmentsLizzy meets proud Mr Darcy and dashing stranger Mr Wickham. She despises Mr Darcy and likes Mr Wickham. She discovers Darcy loves her and that Wickham isn’t all he seems. CrisisLizzy’s sister elopes, threatening the social ruin of her family. It now looks like Lizzy can’t marry anyone. ResolutionMr Darcy helps Lizzy’s sister. Lizzy agrees to marry him, deciding now that she loves him, after all. Now that’s easy, right? That’s the whole of Pride and Prejudice in a nutshell, and it was easy. You just need to do the same with your book or your idea, and keep it really simple. In fact, if you struggle to know everything that goes in the ‘developments’ section, you can even drop in some placeholder type comments. If you were Jane Austen you might, for example, start out by saying something like “Lizzy breaks with Wickham, because it turns out he’s a bad guy. He killed someone? Stole money? Something else? Something to think about.” And that’s fine. Don’t worry about any blanks. It’s like you’re building a tower and you’re missing one of the girders. But by getting everything else in place and putting a “girder needs to go here” sign up, the structure is still brilliantly clear. That’s all you need (for now.) Oh, and don’t bother separating those down into chapters just yet, you can worry about that later – but when you do, read this, it’s really useful! Finally, don’t complicate things if you don’t want to, but if you find it helpful to add a “character development” heading, then you should do that as well. Effectively, you’re extending your novel outline template to cover not just plot movements, but character development too – a brilliant all-in-one tool. Developing Your Story Outline Taking your template on to the next level Now, OK, you might feel that our template so far is just a little too basic. Which it is. So let’s develop the structure another notch, and what we’re going to do now is to add in anything we know about subplots – or basically any story action that you DO know about, which doesn’t fit neatly into the above plot structure. So if you were Jane Austen, and had a good handle on your story, you might put together something like this. (Oh, and we’ve called them sub-plots, but you can call them story strands, or story elements, or anything that feels right to you.) Subplot 1Jane Bennet (Lizzy’s caring sister) and Mr Bingley fall in love, but Bingley moves away, then comes back. Jane and Bingley marry. Subplot 2Lydia Bennet (Lizzy’s reckless sister) elopes with Wickham. She is later found and helped by Darcy. Subplot 3Odious Mr Collins proposes marriage to Lizzy. She says no. Her more pragmatic friend, Charlotte Lucas, says yes. Notice that we’re not yet trying to mesh those things together. In fact, the way we’ve done it here, Subplot 3 (which happens in the middle of the book) comes after Subplot 2 (which comes at the end). But again: don’t worry. Sketch your additional story material down as swiftly as neatly as Miss Austen has just done it. The meshing together – the whole business of getting things in the right order, getting the character motivations perfectly aligned and all that – that’ll do your brain in. Yes, you have to get to it at some stage. But not now. Keep it simple, and build up. And that actually brings us to another point. How To Use Subplots If you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice, you’ll know perfectly well that our outline so far still misses out masses of stuff. There’s nothing on where the novel is set. Or why or how events unfurl. It doesn’t say a thing about character relations, why each feels as they do. There’s nothing to say on character development, conflict, subtleties, supporting cast, and so on. And that’s fine to start with. It’s actually good. What does matter, however is your character’s motivation. Taking one subplot above as example, Charlotte wants security through marriage to Mr Collins. Lizzy, however, rejects her friend’s rationale. Charlotte’s marriage reaffirms Lizzy’s romantic values and, crucially, also throws her in Mr Darcy’s way again later in the book. Now that’s interesting stuff, but if a subplot doesn’t bear on a protagonist’s ability to achieve their goal or goals, that subplot must be deleted or revised. Luckily, though, our story structure template helps you avoid that pitfall in the first place. In fact, here are two rules that you should obey religiously: If you’re outlining a plot for the first time. Pin down your basics, then build up subplots, conflicts, and so on.If you have already started your manuscript and you think you’re uncertain of your plot structure, stop – and follow the exercises in this post, exactly as you would if you hadn’t yet written a word. And do actually do this. As in pen-and-paper do it, not just “think about it for a minute or two then go on Twitter.” The act of writing things out will be helpful just in itself. The act of writing always is. Plotting Your Novel: The Template Remember as well that every subplot (or story strand, or whatever you want to call them) has its own little journey. Maybe a very simple one, but it’ll have its own beginning, middle and end. Its own structure of Initiating Incident / Developments / Crisis / Resolution. So you may as well drop everything you have into the grid below. (If you want to adapt that grid a little, then do, but don’t mess around with it too much. The basic idea there is golden.) MAIN PLOTSUBPLOT 1SUBPLOT 2SUBPLOT 3INITIATING INCIDENTMAIN PLOTCRISISRESOLUTION If you’ve got more complexity to accommodate than this allows, take care. No matter how sprawling an epic you’re writing, you need to be able to identify the essence or heart of the story you’re writing, so try paring your novel down – you can always add more details and columns after. What would your story look like, if you did this? How To Further Develop Your Plot Outline Advanced techniques for writing ninjas. What happens if your plot doesn’t fit into that grid? If you give that exercise your very best go and just draw a blank? Well, no worries. The basic problems here are twofold: You don’t yet understand your plot well enough, orYou just don’t have enough plot to sustain a full-length novel. Two different problems. Two different solutions. If you don’t yet understand your own plot in enough detail, you want to use … Plot-building Tool: The Snowflake Method Seeing your own plot in detail, before you write the book, is really hard, because it’s like you’re standing on the seashore trying to jump onto Mount Everest. In one bound. Not gonna work. So get there in stages, Base Camp. Camp 1, and so on up. What that means for you, is that you use our basic template in sketch form to start with – a sentence or two per section. Then you go at it again, and give each section its own paragraph. Then you go at it again, expanding to 2-3 paragraphs, or whole pages if you want to. The same basic exercise, but getting into deeper levels of detail each time. OK. But what if your plot outline just feels a little bit thin once you sketch it out? Answer: you fix it – and you fix it NOW before you start hurtling into the task of actually writing. Here are the techniques you’ll need to do just that: Method 1: Mirroring This doesn’t mean tack on needless bits and pieces – characters shouting at each other for effect, etc. – but add depth and subplots, developing the complexity of your protagonist’s story. (Remember: if it’s not contributing to your protagonist’s journey, it doesn’t matter and you need to delete it.) To take another novel – supposing your name is Harper Lee, and your story is the tale of a girl named Scout – let’s say Scout’s spooked by an odd but harmless man living on her street. It’s fine, though there’s not yet enough complexity yet to carry a novel, so complicate it. One thought is giving her a father figure, say a lawyer, named Atticus. (Harper Lee herself was daughter of a small-town lawyer.) He’s fighting to defend a man accused of something he obviously didn’t do. Targeted for who he is, rather than anything he’s done. A black guy accused for looking different? An odd-but-harmless guy who spooks Scout? It’s straightforward, tragic mirroring. Atticus’ fight is lost, the stories interweave, and Scout learns compassion in To Kill A Mockingbird. Introducing that second, reverberating plot strand meant that Harper Lee’s novel had the heft to become a classic of world literature. Method 2: Ram Your Genre Into Something Different Another way to complicate your plot is to throw action into a different genre – such as sci-fi, fantasy or crime. So take The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. Looked at one way, that’s a pretty much standard issue romantic story, which, yes, could have sold, but could never have made the huge sales it actually racked up. But then ram that into a story of time-travel, and you have something shimmeringly new and exciting. What you had was still a romantic story at its heart – it certainly wouldn’t appeal to hardcore fans of SF/fantasy – but the novel element gave it a totally new birth. Or take Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters. A picaresque Victorian historical novel . . . that kind of thing always had its audience – but that audience had never encountered a frankly told lesbian coming-of-age story in that context, and the result of that shock collision was to produce a literary sensation. Method 3: Take Your Character And Max Them Out Why was it that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo went on to get such gigantic sales across the globe? It wasn’t the quality of Stieg Larsson’s writing, which was never more than competent and which was quite baggy, to say the least. And the actual plot? Well, on the face of it, he delivered a fairly standard issue crime story. Nothing so unusual there in terms of actual narrative. But Stieg Larsson rammed that basic story with an exotic character: Lisbeth Salander. That woman had Aspergers, she was a bisexual computer hacker and rape survivor . . .and boom – vast worldwide sales resulted. Method 4: Add Edge – A Glint Of Steel A few years back, I was struggling with one of my books, This Thing of Darkness. The basic plot was strong. The mystery element was good. There was at least one quite unusual element. The climax was rip-roaring (set on a trawler at sea in a force 10 gale.) But... The book wasn’t quite working. It was long. And it was just a long, long way from the set-up phase of the book to the denouement. My solution? A glint of steel. I took an incident from the middle of the book – a break-in, and a theft, but no violence, no real time action – and I turned that into a long sequence involving the abduction of my protagonist. That addition made a long book even longer . . . but it made the book. It’s not just that the sequence itself was exciting, it’s that its shadow extended over everything else too. Whereas before the book had felt a bit like, “yep, gotta solve the mystery, because that’s what these books have to do.” Now it was: “We HAVE TO solve that mystery, because these bastards abducted our protagonist.” Steel. Edge. Sex or violence. Those things work in crime novels, but they work in totally literary works too. Can you imagine Ian McEwan’s Atonement without that glint of sex? Would The Great Gatsby have worked if no one had died? How To Write A Plot From Multiple Perspectives If you’re eager to write about multiple protagonists, you need a plot outline, along the lines of the template above, for each one. George R.R. Martin took this to new levels in A Song of Ice and Fire, each protagonist having his or her own richly developed plot and character arc. John Fowles’ The Collector, for example, is narrated by a kidnapper and the girl he’s kidnapped. Sullen, menacing Fred justifies all he does. Miranda chronicles her fear and pity. The result is taut, terrifying. We’re engrossed in their shared experience to the end. Multiple protagonists can work in romance novels, too, even ones told in third-person narration, such as The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett, or Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. This said, managing multiple points of view, even from minor characters, can work well for thrillers, often driven by the drip-drip-drip of information release (though these things depend on story, as much as genre). The key thing to bear in mind here is that you need a mini version of your novel outline template for each of your main characters. Each one of those guys needs a complete little story of their own – and those little stories need to interweave to create one great and compelling one. 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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Write your Novel with the Snowflake Method (Simple Example)

When I wrote my first novel, I had no idea the project was hard. I didn’t write a plot outline. I didn’t sit down to plan my story. I didn’t actually do anything by of preparation at all. I just sat down, and wrote a book. As it happened, that book worked out well. It sold for plenty of money and went on to become a bestseller. I thought, “Yep, I can do this. I’m a great writer. Of course I don’t need to plan my next novel. I’ll just figure it out as I go.” Mistake. My second book was so bad that my editor basically called me in and told me that it was completely unpublishable in its current form. My editor was right. I knew he was. So I went home, opened up the file on my computer. Hit Ctrl-A for “select all”. And hit delete. My second novel – gone. I rewrote that novel and this time it did fine. It got entered into one of the UK’s biggest summer book promotions. It aroused some film interest. (We got an offer actually, and accepted it, but the company went down in flames before I got any cash.) And I date my writing career – my real writing career – from there. Not from my first novel, which did fine, but which just landed in my head and on the page thanks to some benevolent higher power. But from my second novel, which I had to wrestle into existence. Which I had to figure out and plan from scratch. You’re reading this post because you’re smarter than I was back then. You’ve figured out not just that you want to start writing a novel, but that you want to plan it too. You’ve realised that: If you have an outline of your novel – a structure in fact –you’re much less likely to go wrong as you write it. Yes, I know that’s obvious. I was just dumb. So this post is going to tell you how NOT to write a novel the way I tried to do it that second time. We’re going to plan out an entire structure for a novel – a complete story outline, in fact – and we’re going to do it easily. And well. We don’t want an easy way to write a bad story. We want an easy way to write a good one. Are you with me? You are? Then let’s go. How To Plot A Novel Using The Snowflake Method: Write your story in one sentenceDecide on your protagonistWrite a paragraph on settingsAdd a beginning, middle and end to your story descriptionWrite short character summariesExpand your story description to 2 pagesKeep adding details until you’re ready to write What’s The Snowflake Method, And Why Use It? So this post is going to tell you how to build up a novel outline, piece by piece. (For a reminder of plot basics, go here.) The idea of the “Snowflake” method is that it’s circular and incremental. So you don’t build your outline like this: Chapter 1: X happens, then Y happensChapter 2: Something else happensChapter 3: and then something elseetc That way is really hard to pull off. I’ve written a lot of books and I’ve never once succeeded by attempting this technique. What you’re likely to find is a mess of a first draft. Yes, you can fix it, but it’s much easier to do things right in the first place. The way the Snowflake Method works is much cleverer. It’s a much simpler way to structure your story . . . and will give you a much better story as well. (The idea, by the way, was first developed by Randy Ingermanson – so, thanks, Randy.) Here’s the basic idea. You build your outline like this: What’s the idea of your novel? Write it down in one sentence.Who’s the protagonist (hero or heroine) of your story. Write that down in one sentence.What’s the setting of your story? One sentence there, pleaseThen you go back to the idea of your story. This time you tease it out into five segments with 1 sentence (or so) for each one.And  so on The reason this method works is that it works the way the human brain works. It doesn’t ask for a ton of detail upfront before it’s settled in your mind. It uses the actual process of working to generate more thoughts and more detail . . . so you only ever need to make incremental changes to what you did before. How To Plan Out Your Novel: Approach And Mindset We’re writing creatively, right? That means two things: It’s going to be slow and jumpy.It’s not like writing a report at work, where you just need to put in enough hours and the job will get done. Sure, you need to put some hours in front of a keyboard . . . but maybe you also need to go walk the dogs, listen to some music, have a swim. It’s often enough when you’re musing but not actually working that you get the breakthroughs you need. So sure, sit at a keyboard: that part is essential. But give yourself the space to do other things too. Make space for those breakthroughs.You’ll make mistakes.And that’s good! Mistakes are good! The imagination has to be able to try stuff out. When you go clothes shopping, you see something you like,then try it on. When you look at yourself in the mirror, more often than not, you’ll think, “Nope, not  quite right.” But if you don’t try stuff on, you won’t find what is right. So let yourself try out ideas. That’s what a first draft novel outline is for. Give those ideas space and time to show you what they’re made of. And don’t get upset if you throw things away. You’ll only get to the great stuff by sifting plenty of just-not-good-enough ideas first Use The Snowflake Method: Getting Started Before you start writing your novel, make sure you have something worth writing about! The idea of the Snowflake Method is that you pen first the heart or core of your novel, so the rest can expand from here. From here, you flesh out, building out to key milestones in plot, profiling how each main character views the story, and so on, and so on – until you’re ready to start. Take a piece of paper or fire up a new document. This is how it’s done. 1 Write A One-sentence Description For Your Novel An easy starting point. This is the sum of your story, your protagonist’s journey. Where will they go, what will they achieve, how will they grow? See if you can condense all that succinctly in a single sentence or two. That sentence is the whole point of the Snowflake Method. So let’s say, you want to write a private eye type story set in 1940s Los Angeles. You love writers like Raymond Chandler, but you want to offer something new as well. So maybe you throw in one unexpected ingredient – you want to do something that Chandler himself would never have done. So, in this example, you’ve chosen to add a ghost story element to your novel. Sure, that’s just an example, but we’ll work with that idea as we develop the way the Snowflake Method actually works. Example: 1 sentence story description A private eye (Bernie Brandon) is trying to track down the killer of beautiful murder victim Amy Adderley . . . but Amy’s ghost is stalking Bernie. Does that work for you? It works for me, I think. I’d like to know more about that story. 2 Who’s The Protagonist (Hero Or Heroine) Of Your Novel? Now write down something – a sentence or two – about your protagonist. Don’t push yourself to write more here than you want, and remember that anything you do write can be scrubbed out and changed later. Changing your mind isn’t bad, remember. It shows that you’re approaching this task in a flexible and imaginative way. But, OK, for now, let’s try something like this: Example: Protagonist description in 1 sentence Bernie Brandon is an ex-cop. Lives alone. Is a problem drinker. Has a soft spot for any beautiful woman, but can’t manage long term relationships. Somewhat lonely. Is an excellent cello player, and plays the cello when he’s feeling blue. Did I say one sentence? I did. Was that one sentence? It was not. But if it comes, it comes. Don’t hold yourself back. The purpose of the Snowflake Method is to build incrementally from a simple starting point. It’s meant to remove the mental block of being asked to build too much scaffolding before you’re ready. But if you’re ready, then let yourself rip. We need to build up your main characters at some point anyway. Oh, and I originally thought that my protagonist was just going to be Bernie Brandon, only I realise I have an impulse to bring the victim / ghost more into the story as well. Maybe this story is going to be a two-hander, where Bernie and Amy both take turns to narrate? I don’t yet know the answer to that, but if you want to write something additional down about your characters here, then do. Example: 1 sentence about another major character Amy Adderley is a rich girl, dead before the start of the story. She is (or was) a singer. I didn’t find myself having more to say about Amy, so we’ll leave her there for now. 3 Write A Paragraph Or So About Your Major Setting Or Settings OK, we know what we’re doing here, right? We’re working with a 1940s Los Angeles noir. We want to evoke all that Bogart / Bacall smart-talking, hard-drinking era. So: Example: Paragraph about settings Los Angeles in the 1940s. The place is seedy, post-Prohibition, and most of the big money is dirty money. We’re thinking about big oceanfront homes, with  glossy sedan cars outside. We’re thinking about squalid little diners up in the hills where lonely souls, like Brandon, can get meals after midnight and avoid going home. This is an LA where the girls are pretty, but fallen, and the cops can be bought. And you know what? As I wrote that paragraph Click! Something clicked for me about Amy Adderley. I wasn’t looking for that to happen, but that’s how this outlining method works. You go round the various different elements of your novel (Story, Protagonists, Settings), step by step, adding detail as you go. And pop! Working one one thing, you get an insight into another thing. Those insights are what this outline process is all about. They’re why we use this method in the first place. So I’m going to jump back to my description of Amy Adderley and add this: Example: 1 sentence about another main character Amy Adderley is a rich girl, dead before the start of the story. She is (or was) a singer – but classical. She loves Schubert lieder and opera. her father, however, is a brute. A nightclub guy who made his money dirtily during Prohibition. The father’s type of singing is strictly nightclub fare – and a lot of his girls will do more than just sing for the customers . . . if the customers pay enough. Boom! You like it? We have to have a reason for why Amy is killed, and her father’s background already provides more than half an answer. And also, we gave Bernie the cello to play, just because he’s a lonely but talented guy and we had to give him something to do in his hours at home. But now Amy is a singer, a classical one. So there’s this lovely link between them. Almost like they could be lovers, right? Except that she’s dead already . . . but that feels just right for the mood of this novel. Notice that we haven’t yet said anything much about our actual story yet, but now that we have an outline of our major ingredients, we’re going to hurtle back with interest to the story itself. So, round we go again. We’re hitting the same basic targets – story, character, settings – but this time we already know more about our ingredients, so we can add layers of detail that weren’t available to us before. Using The Snowflake To Build Your Story Outline We’ve got the ingredients for our novel now. So now we need to add layers of detail. OK, so here we go again. And we’ll start by jumping back to the story that we started to create before. 4 Flesh Out Your Story Description, So It Contains A Beginning, Middle And End Our first draft story idea didn’t say a whole lot more than, “Let’s write a Raymond Chandler style novel . . . but include a ghost.” As we started to build the other elements of our novel outline, though, the story itself jumped into view a little more. (We got data on Amy’s father, and possible reasons why his daughter might have got herself killed.) So now we’re going to try to write a version of the story – still maybe only a single paragraph – but this time we’re going to give that story its basic structure: a beginning, middle and end. Already you can feel that first draft idea starting to wriggle into life. Exciting, right? So we might go with something like this. Example: Very short story outline, with beginning, middle and end Beginning: Amy’s father (Dorcan Adderley) sends a henchman to hire Bernie Brandon to investigate the death of his daughter. Bernie rejects the henchman, but meets one to one with Dorcan, and agrees to take the job.Middle: Bernie investigates. Keeps encountering / being pursued by Amy’s ghost. Bernie discovers that Amy had a fling with the son of some big wheel in the LA underworld. [Let’s call the son, Patrick Prettyboy – probably not a name that will end up in the final novel!] Bernie realises he’s meant to think Prettyboy killed Amy. He almost goes to the police with the news.End. Amy’s actual killer was her father. The whole private investigation thing was just a way to throw the blame elsewhere (and win a turf war at the same time.) Bernie doesn’t have enough evidence to take Dorcan before a court, but he confronts him and there is a struggle, which results in Dorcan’s death. Amy & Bernie, by now ‘lovers’ across the ghostly divide, play music into the small hours. How’s that? It’s not a finished story outline, by any means – but doesn’t this already feel like something that could have legs? And I’ll tell you the truth: when I began this blog post, I had no idea what story example I was going to choose. I just made it up as I went along. And presto: we already have the bones of a decent story here! That’s how easy the Snowflake Method can be. So now we cycle back to our characters again. 5 Write A Short Summary Sheet For Your Main Characters OK, I think we now have three or four characters to play with: Bernie Brandon, our PIAmy Adderley, our ghostDorcan Adderley, our bad guyMaybe Paul Prettyboy, though he’s certainly lesser than these other three. So now we’d give them each a whole sheet of paper. We’d start to ask questions about them, and start to sketch out our answers. This is a trial and error process. So maybe we start off by giving Paul Prettyboy his own nightclub to run, a gift from daddy. Except maybe that makes the whole story a little bit too nightclubby in tone. So how about we jump to the other end of things? Maybe Paul Prettyboy runs an upmarket art gallery, somewhere nice in Pasadena. He looks sauve, and sounds suave, but under it all, he’s still just a thug. A mini-me of his father. If you want to get an idea of what questions to ask about your character, you can get a great starting list here. Because we’re beginning to get more detailed – and because this is only a blog post! – I’m not going to give examples of everything from here on. *** A Word Of Warning *** We’ll go on to develop the Snowflake Method as a tool for templating out your story or novel, but first let me make one thing clear. I’m just writing a blog post, and I don’t want that post to splurge to some ridiculous length. But you are writing a book, not a blog post, so you can’t mess around. In fact, for the avoidance of doubt: You have to do this exercise in full. So, you’re going to write one page on each of your major characters, plus notes on whatever other ones pop into your brain. And here’s one more guideline that you just have to follow as you go through this novel outline process. This rule is not optional and it takes precedence over all the others: If you get an idea, write it down. Until you have actually written it (handwritten or on screen, whichever),you haven’t captured it. And you have to capture it:that’s what releases your brain to go on to the next stage. That, in a nutshell, is why most of the people who want to write a novel, don’t write a novel. They think that dreaming around with characters and stories and scenes will produce a novel. It won’t. It doesn’t. What produces a novel is: work. You write stuff down. You start thinking of the next thing. You write that down. You move on. Yes, sure, at times you’ll go back and undo some of the stuff you did before. (So first we had Paul Prettyboy as a nightclub owner. Then we realised we weren’t satisfied with that and changed it to art dealer. But we had to specify ‘nightclub owner’ in order to get to the insight that produced ‘art gallery owner’. Even mistakes are rich in insight.) Right. Lecture over. Back to the Story Outline process. 6 Expand Your Story To About Two Pages Stick with those Beginning / Middle / End sections. They’re a helpful tool for organising your novel structure. But now you want to get more detailed. So in our early attempt at sketching the story, we wrote: Beginning: Amy’s father (Dorcan Adderley) sends a henchman to hire Bernie Brandon to investigate the death of his daughter. Bernie rejects the henchman, but meets one to one with Dorcan, and agrees to take the job. And that was fine, for back then, but now we want to know more. So that little beginning description might expand to something like this. Example: Story beginning in more detail Beginning: Bernie Brandon is in his office. No work, nothing to do. There is whisky in his desk drawer and he is trying not to drink it.A big scary guy – suit, colourful – comes to hire him. Plonks down a roll of dollar bills. Too much money  for the job. There’s some wise-cracking interchange. Brandon refuses the job. Big scary guy leaves. Brandon gets the guys registration plate, phones it through to the cops – his former colleagues – and gets an ID.Brandon finds the henchman’s car that evening, tails it to a nightclub. Realises henchman guy is working for Dorcan Adderley – with whom he, Brandon, has some history. Brandon barges his way into Adderley’s office and says, in effect, “I don’t work for the staff. If I work for anyone, I work for the boss.”Adderley laughs and gets him a drink. [and so on.] Oh, and you know I said that thing about writing stuff down? That just thinking about it isn’t good enough? Well, I’m right, and here’s the proof. As I was writing that little section above, I thought, “Hey, where’s Amy ghost in this? She needs to make an early entry.” So I almost edited the example above to make room for her, but then realised that this post is meant to give you an example of the  Snowflake Method in action, and that means that I need to show you the bits I missed, the new insertions, the second thoughts . . . all the changes of direction that the Snowflake Method is there to permit. So for that reason, here’s my second shot at that beginning section: Beginning: Bernie Brandon is in his office – blah, blah, blah – all the same as before, right down to Brandon getting an ID for the henchperson.Brandon finds the henchman’s car that evening, and waits outside. As he’s waiting, he hears music – classical singing. Schubert Lieder. Strangely, the (female) singer is singing the exact song that Brandon had been playing on the piano shortly before coming out. He tries to find the source of the music, but it proves elusive. He has a constant sense of being watched.When Henchperson leaves the for the evening, Brandon tails him to a nightclub. [Then all as previously, except I think that ghostly presence has to vanish, almost petulantly, as she/Brandon get close to Dorcan Adderley.] Yeah. That’s better, right? We’ve got a lovely double note coming into the start of that book. A contemporary reader would think, “Yep, this feels a little like Raymond Chandler, but with a subtle , strange different element that I can’t yet place. I like it.” 7 Keep Going Until You’re Ready To Stop Planning, And Starting Writing Your Novel The guy who popularised the Snowflake Method, Randy Ingermanson, has a pretty fixed bunch of guidelines on how you’re meant to do this. So you’re meant to go from a one paragraph description of the story, to a one page / four paragraph description of the story / then onto a full four page description of the story. Something similar applies to the other elements of your novel. If that works for you, then go for it! But really there are no fixed rules here, and no set end-goal. Or rather the only two fixed rules are: You have to write stuff down You have to circle round between story / characters / themes / settings,adding detail on every go round. And the only end-goal that matters is this: When you feel super-ready to start writing your novel –and not just ready, but actually impatient –then you can start writing your book. Personally, I’m not much of a planner, so I tend to jump into my books sooner rather than later (and, I’ll admit, sometimes regret my decision.) The mere fact that you’re reading this post suggests to me that you’ve got a good bit of planner in you (or you’re just procrastinating quite badly), in which case I think a reasonable stopping point would be as follows. You will have: Several pages of notes / ideas about your major charactersAt least a page on your most important secondary charactersSeveral pages talking about settings, locations, themes, time of year, etc. All the background stuff that will make your novel live and breathe.3-4 pages of notes on your story, and those pages will include . . .A full page (or more) on the beginning / set-up phase of your book. That’ll include the Initiating Incident (in our example, that’s the henchman/Brandon meeting but, even more so, the Brandon/Dorcan Adderley one), but you’ll probably also find yourself describing the immediate consequences of that incident. The Set-Up Phase will probably account for about 25% of your actual final finished novel.You will probably also have a page or so on the Climax and Resolution of your novel. In our example, it would involve the the denouement of the mystery (“Who killed Amy Adderley?”), the physical showdown between Dorcan Adderley and Brandon, and the romantic climax too (the ghost and the PI playing sad classical music into the small hours.) This Climax & Resolution Material will cover the final 25% of the novelThen you’ll also have something on that awkward middle section – the middle 50% – that we just label ‘Developments’. You want to know the truth here? Most authors – including pro authors with multiple books, and even perhaps multiple bestsellers under their belts – will tend to struggle with that ‘Developments’ section. When writers complain about their work (and we mostly love it), the mos tly love it), the most frequent reason is that they’re encountering the rocks and white water that mark the transition from Set-up to Developments. So, my own personal guidance (which you should tailor to suit your own personality and your own experience with your particular story) would be to make a decent shot at guessing what your developments section would look like. So I certainly wouldn’t advise that you just ignore it completely. But when you start writing your novel, be aware that you may need to pause once the book is about 25% written, so you can come back to a version of this exercise and redo it. Why redo it? Because you’ll be returning to your story outline process with much greater feel for your characters, your settings, all the richness of that set-up material, and so on. That richness will give you a ton of insight into how to navigate the rocks that lie ahead. If you’re a planner, then you may want to synopsise the entire novel at that point. You might even find that you can do it chapter by chapter. I can’t do it that way – never have, never will – but I do still take a moment at the 25% mark to rethink where I’m going. (Oh, and when I say “take a moment”, what I actually mean is “Spend two weeks grumbling around the house and looking for excuses to do anything else other than sit in front of my laptop and work.” I LOVE writing, and I love being a writer. But that part of the planning process? I do not love.) Ready To Start Writing Your Novel? Get help. It may make the difference between success or failure. When I wrote my first novel, I didn’t write much of an outline. I didn’t plan anything very much. I just sat and wrote. And yes, that novel got published and did well. But yes, I also ended up doing a ton more work than I would have done if I’d planned properly from the start. And my second novel? Well, it was just a total car crash, because I thought I knew how to write novels, when I really, really didn’t. We’ve talked through a lot of the technique you’re going to bring to bear in your own writing journey, and – believe me – that technique is going to reward you a million times over. But wouldn’t you like more help than that? Of course you would! Writing is a pretty lonely business, and wouldn’t it be great if you could: Get comments and feedback on your work from like-minded writers?Get the benefit of a massive super-premium video course on How To Write?Watch filmed masterclasses from top tutors teaching specific examples of writing technique?Meet literary agents and editors online, so you can get a feel for the industry you want to be a part of?Get an entire video course on Getting Published from a bunch of people who have helped hundreds of people like you get published?Watch films & videos especially created for writers like you and focusing on the questions and issues that writers like you are interested in?Have a kind of “Agony Aunt” for writers service, where you could just bring your questions and have them answered with tact and expertise? That sounds good, doesn’t it . . . but surely not for real? Surely nothing like that actually exists? Well, yes, it does. And you’re right here on the site that can make all that happen. Jericho Writers is a club for writers like you and we welcome new members. Once you take out a membership, everything that we can provide digitally comes to you for free. Every course, every video, the entire community, everything. Membership is cheap and you can cancel any time. There are no restrictions at all on how much of our content you can access during the course of your membership. The Snowflake Method is a truly great way to develop and plan your novel outline. But Jericho Writers can help with absolutely everything: writing, publishing, self-publishing, everything. You can learn more about us here, or just join us today. We look forward to welcoming you!
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A Question of Timing: When to Release Information in Your Plot

Haydn Middleton edited books for Oxford University Press before becoming a full-time writer. (Haydn’s Goodreads page shows a selection of his titles.) He has published seven novels for adults and an eighth is forthcoming in October 2018. This piece of writing is going to be about 1,200 words in length, and around the 900-word mark I’m going to tell you something that will blow your head off. Getting The Reader ‘in The Vehicle’ That’s a fairly crude way to open a blog post.If you’re a reader of refined sensibilities, it may well have put you off. (Another kind of reader again will go straight to the 900-word mark and check out whatever may be in store !) On the other hand, it may just have tickled your curiosity and made you think, ‘Whatever this showman has up his sleeve, it could be worth me hanging around until the 900-word mark, just in case his reveal is as big as he says.’ And that works for books, too. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events warns children away, but only makes them curious to read on . It’s a fine art, withholding information. So you will see at once that what I’m talking about here is – well – not talking about things. Or rather, making it clear to the reader that in due course you, the writer, will be delivering something rather tasty, but not quite yet. Because it’s not just about what twists your book can deliver – it’s how you, the author, will get us there.It’s the fine old writerly art of withholding information, and it can be classified within the box of technique tricks of known as ‘Getting the Reader in the Vehicle’. Jump In And Snap On Your Seatbelt I took that phrase about the Vehicle from the brilliant contemporary novelist and short-story writer, Haruki Murakami. He once wrote: “For me, a story is a vehicle that takes a reader somewhere. Whatever information you may try to convey, whatever you may try to open the reader’s emotions to, the first thing you have to do is get that reader into the vehicle.” It’s a sad but true fact that if you don’t fairly soon get that reader comfortably seated and belted in, then she probably isn’t going to go on the journey with you. And offering the “bait” of some juicy information that will be delivered a little further down the line can be a good way to encourage your reader to suspend her disbelief. But there are hazards in this approach, too. You can’t share too much, too soon, yet you need to share enough at once to engage interest. In writing your story, you might not choose to address your reader as directly as I did at the start of this piece.You might instead kick off with a scenario which is intriguing but inexplicable (an envelope which arrives in the post one morning, say, containing a human thumb and a pine cone). The implication is that by the end of the tale, the reader will at least have a clearer idea of what’s going on.If the recipient of that envelope himself doesn’t initially understand why he has been sent those things, that can be useful. Because while he tries to get to the bottom of the mystery, so too will the reader. Matters get more complicated if the recipient does know why he’s been sent the package and this is made clear to the reader (e.g. the recipient shows no shock, placing the envelope in a drawer with fifteen others of exactly the same shape and size). Then it is up to the narrator – first-person or third-person – whether he explains at once to the reader what is going on, or else he withholds the information till a later stage. Deftly handled, either approach might work. But ideally, the reader will want to feel that there is a damned good reason why she is not yet being let in on the secret. And what might such a reason be? I guess the main one is that the reader will have happily made a tacit agreement with the author that what he is presenting to her is a glorified joke, and no one wants to be told the punchline half way through a joke, or indeed at its very beginning. That can make for a rattling good read, especially in the case of works like the better short stories which Roald Dahl wrote for adult readers. There’sBut other kinds of fiction set out to pull off something a little more complicated, to present life in all its unmanageable and distinctly non-punchline-type glory. And it’s with regard to these other genres – which many Jericho Writers clients describe as broadly ‘more literary’ in submitting their scripts – that I’d like to talk from here on in. Smelling Rats And Driving Off Cliffs In telling a serious story about a serious subject (which, as The Catcher in the Rye triumphantly demonstrates, doesn’t mean there can’t also be plenty of humour along the way), it’s inadvisable to hold back key information about a character or situation merely in order to keep the reader reading. She will almost certainly smell a rat, lose faith in you as her driver (you’re taking her on a journey, remember), and jump out at the next set of traffic lights. I’d say this particularly holds true with third-person narratives. If a first-person narrator fails to mention that he is actually married with three children until just before the end of a memoir in which he has been describing his recent courtship of a foreign princess, he can at least claim to have been in denial.‘Unreliable narrators’, such individuals are called.* Amnesiac protagonists, like Christine in Before I Go To Sleep. Or protagonists who rationalise horror, like Fred Clegg in The Collector. Which leads me to the knotty issue of using multiple perspectives in a story, and by that I mean any number of points of view greater than one. I’ve lost count of the number of otherwise promising scripts I’ve read where things start to wobble, fatally, when an author forgets that Character A hasn’t yet found out what Character B has always known about Character C, who in turn has some dirt on Character A. In such cases, the author is not just having to withhold information from the reader, but also from the respective characters. Too much withholding, already! In my world, especially for new writers, there must be an irresistibly good reason ever to use more than a single narrative perspective, not least because then the author can often save himself the bother of writing about the same event twice over – which outside of courtroom dramas seldom makes for the most riveting read. But finally, don’t go away from this post imagining that you should declare absolutely everything about a character or a situation right up front. That can be just as much of a turn-off as keeping stuff concealed. How To Release Plot Information (Without Driving Off Cliffs) As in all things, there’s a happy medium to be found. Share with your readers just enough to keep them intrigued and reasonably informed, but not so much that they’ll be bored. Remembering this helps you time and control release of information for any plot. It might be an idea to think of this reader as an actual friend or acquaintance – use this as a litmus test as to how much you say at any given moment about the passing scenery. If you know that the road after the next bend will lead you straight over a cliff, you really ought to tell. If you feel compelled to share with them every fact you know about every tree you leave in your slipstream, ask yourself whether they would really want to have her ear bent about it. Now with all that advice under your bonnet, off you go. And happy motoring! *That was around the 900-word mark. You don’t have to believe everything you’re told in an opening paragraph. ‘Unreliable narrators’, we’re called. Haydn Middleton is a published author and editor at Jericho Writers. His next novel is to be published by Propolis Books in Autumn 2018. Find out more about Haydn over on our website or on his personal website.
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