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In Medias Res: Definition, Tips, And Examples

Want to start your novel off with a bang? Use in medias res to create a dynamic opening that grabs your reader and sets the table for exciting scenes in later chapters.  In this guide, we’ll define in medias res, look at some example openings that employ it, and discuss how you can use in medias res in your own writing.  Let’s get right into it!  What Is In Medias Res? In medias res is a Latin phrase meaning “in the middle of things”. In the context of writing and literature, it refers to a story that begins partway through its plot, with the missing events filled in later through dialogue, flashbacks, or other techniques. The opposite term is ab ovo or ab initio, which mean “from the egg” or “from the beginning”. A story that begins at the natural beginning of its plot—shortly before the inciting incident—is beginning ab initio.  In other words, in medias res is a decision you make about the order of telling your story; specifically, whether to start at the beginning or to start elsewhere.  (Like all literary terms, there’s a certain grey area here. The roots of almost every story reach back further than the opening chapter, to encompass the backstories of the characters involved. But generally, starting in medias res means that the inciting incident happens before your opening scene.)  It’s important not to confuse in medias res with the idea of excitement or action. Remember that the term refers to where you start telling the story, not how. (For example, imagine a mystery novel that opens with two rank-and-file police officers acidly criticising a murder investigation that has gone off the rails two weeks in, where the murder itself is the inciting incident of the plot. This would be in medias res.)  To expand our understanding of in medias res, let’s look at a few examples.  Examples Of In Medias Res Each of these openings uses in medias res to achieve different goals and to begin at a different point in the plot.  The Tell-Tale Heart By Edgar Allan Poe (Note: This is quite a short story. If you’re not already familiar with it, consider reading it before you continue, so you can appreciate the full impact of the in medias res opening.)  The Tell-Tale Heart opens with a dialogue between an anonymous narrator and another unnamed character. The narrator begins by insisting that they are sane, then immediately reveals that they have committed a murder for no clear reason:  It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe The narrator goes on to tell the story of how they murdered the old man, concealed his body, and ultimately gave themselves up to the police. In other words, the entire plot has occurred before the opening of the story.  By beginning in medias res, Poe structures the story for the maximum dramatic impact.  Opening with the conversation between the narrator and the unknown listener creates the opportunity for the narrator to emphatically state that they are sane. This, followed immediately by a confession to a meaningless murder, sets us on edge.  Next, because the murder is a past event witnessed only by the narrator, we are forced to receive the story directly from them, which exposes us to their disturbed thought processes. Finally, this structure allows the story to end with the confession. This is the true dramatic climax of the story, and the moment which throws into question the extent of the narrator’s sanity.  Had the story been told in linear form, Poe could still have forced us to receive it from the narrator, and could still have concluded with the dramatic climax of the confession. But would the impact of the story be the same if it hadn’t opened with the narrator’s insistent claim to sanity? It’s that opening paragraph that creates the feelings of revulsion and anticipation that give the rest of the story its impact.  Rosewater By Tade Thompson I’m at the Integrity Bank job for forty minutes before the anxieties kick in. It’s how I usually start my day. This time it’s because of a wedding and a final exam, though not my wedding and not my exam. In my seat by the window I can see, but not hear, the city. This high above Rosewater everything seems orderly. Blocks, roads, streets, traffic curving sluggishly around the dome. Rosewater by Tade Thompson Rosewater opens with the narrator, Kaaro, at what could initially be mistaken for a normal job. In the paragraphs that follow, we learn that Kaaro’s anxiety over somebody else’s wedding is due to his abilities as a telepath. (Kaaro is employed by the bank as a security measure against “wild” telepaths who try to steal the personal data of customers.)  As we read further, we learn that the biodome, an alien structure that emerged in the centre of the city years prior, is the source of the telepathic powers possessed by some residents. Kaaro is one of only a few people who have entered the biodome; this history is central to Kaaro’s character arc and to the book’s plot.  By beginning in medias res, long after the dome’s arrival, Thompson creates a sense of mystery around the biodome, its arrival years beforehand, and Kaaro’s relationship to it. Had the story been told in a linear fashion, the dome, which has been accepted as a fact of life by the city’s residents, would feel equally mundane to the reader. Inverting the order of events allows the eventual revelations about the dome to have a dramatic impact.  Killing Floor By Lee Child I was arrested in Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town. ...I saw the police cruisers pull into the gravel lot. They were moving fast and crunched to a stop. Light bars flashing and popping. Red and blue light in the raindrops on my window. Doors burst open, policemen jumped out. Two from each car, weapons ready. Two revolvers, two shotguns. This was heavy stuff. One revolver and one shotgun ran to the back. One of each rushed the door. Killing Floor by Lee Child Killing Floor opens with protagonist Jack Reacher being arrested at gunpoint in a small-town diner. Accepting the arrest with a strange calm, while also refusing to speak, Reacher is taken to the police station and interrogated. There, the reader learns that a murder has been committed and a suspect matching Reacher’s description was seen leaving the scene. The reader also learns (assuming that Reacher is a reliable narrator) that Reacher is definitely not the murderer.  By beginning in medias res, Lee Child accomplishes several things:  The arrest scene would be terrifying for a normal civilian, so Reacher’s calm reaction immediately establishes that he is trained in some way, without any explicit backstory whatsoever. The seriousness of the arrest immediately makes us curious about what has happened to upend this small town, and why Reacher is being treated as the prime suspect. Starting with the arrest allows Child to introduce his protagonist first. Given that the arrest is Reacher’s first contact with the events that have occurred, starting with any other scene would have meant introducing the victim, police, or other characters prior to Reacher.  Altogether, Child’s decision to begin in medias res is a strong one that serves both character and plot. It’s interesting to note that, despite the opening scene involving police, weapons, and an arrest, it still isn’t an action scene in the strict sense—no shots are fired, nobody fights, nobody chases anyone. This makes it an excellent example of the fact that increasing impact or excitement is not the same thing as simply adding physical peril. It’s the layering of the implications attached to the arrest that makes it compelling for the reader.  How To Use In Medias Res Now that you know what in medias res is, let\'s go through the many ways in which you can use it in your writing. When To Use In Medias Res When should you use in medias res in your stories?  Remember that in medias res means telling your story out of linear order—beginning anywhere other than the beginning. Here are some reasons you might want to do that:  To create a specific mood or mindset in the reader. (The Tell-Tale Heart does this by beginning with the narrator’s monologue about their sanity.) To begin with an exciting scene. (Many stories begin with the protagonist in peril, then reveal the events that led them there.) To create a sense of fate or anticipation for a future event. (For example, showing the reader how the protagonist will ultimately die, or showing the reader the outcome of some future event.) To create dramatic irony by giving the reader information from a future event, then returning to the chronological start with the protagonist or other characters unaware of what the reader knows. To create a sense of chaos or confusion by leaving out recent events that would otherwise be known to the reader. (Often used to strong effect in war and disaster stories, where the reader’s feelings are a substitute for the chaos or confusion the protagonist might feel in that moment.) To create a sense of mystery by withholding an explanation of an important event or situation. (Rosewater does this with Kaaro’s experience in the dome.) To remove an uninteresting section of the story’s timeline, by starting after that stretch, conveying prior events as a flashback, and omitting the period between. (Rosewater does this as well, with certain years of Kaaro’s life between his dome experience and the first chapter of the book.) To emphasise a particular character, theme, or question that you want foremost in the reader’s mind. (Killing Floor does this by centring Jack Reacher in its opening.)  By adjusting the order of re-telling, you can manipulate mood, information, focus, pacing, and other attributes of your story. However, in medias res isn’t a magic wand. You must use it purposefully if you want to achieve these effects.  Tips For Using In Medias Res How can you use in medias res purposefully?  First, make sure you’ve plotted your novel (or if you don’t plot, make sure you have most of a first draft written), so you have a good understanding of your story’s structure. (See how to chart your plot mountain or plot diagram, what is freytag’s pyramid, and write your novel with the snowflake method for additional help with plotting.)  Now take some time to think about whether you’re (A) solving a specific problem that would exist if you told the story in linear order, or (B) creating a specific effect by choosing to re-tell the story in a different order. If neither of those things apply, you don’t have a specific reason to use in medias res and will struggle to execute it effectively.  Finally, think about what other changes you might make to your story to support the effect you’re aiming for. What needs to be different about your other chapters to maximise the payoff from your in medias res opening? For example:  In The Tell-Tale Heart, Poe continues to build on the question of sanity that’s introduced in the opening paragraph, showing the reader additional examples of disturbed thinking by the narrator, continuing to build until the climax of the story. In Rosewater, Tade Thompson withholds the full knowledge of Kaaro’s dome experience until much later in the book, but tantalises the reader with hints and bits of information along the way, ensuring that curiosity about the dome never leaves the reader’s mind. In Killing Floor, Lee Child follows the arrest scene with an interrogation that amplifies the effects of the opening by further expanding our curiosity about the small town and showing us more of Jack Reacher’s calm intensity.  Resist the urge to flood the reader with exposition or backstory immediately after your opening scene, as if you’re trying to apologise or compensate for having dropped them into the middle of things. Commit to your decision to use in medias res and follow through purposefully in the chapters that follow, building on the effect you’ve created and delivering exposition and backstory gracefully. Alternate Techniques Sometimes, in medias res isn’t the right solution for the effect you want. Other related techniques you can try include:  Start with an action scene in a prologue—something which is exciting on its own, but will also have relevance to the later story. (For example, the action may set up a character to pursue revenge during the main story.) Omit certain information by having the protagonist unable to witness events because they’re unconscious, in the wrong location, distracted, blinded, or so on. You can then reveal that information later through dialogue with others who were present, recordings, forensic evidence, and other indirect techniques. Omit certain information by having a narrator who’s reluctant or unable to share it. Use a framing story to put the events of your main story in another person’s mouth, allowing them to re-tell it in their own style (but still in chronological order). Revise your existing opening to improve its pacing and excitement. If you believe you’re starting with the right scene, but it feels limp, try re-writing from a different viewpoint or with a different emphasis. Revise other parts of your plot to strengthen longer-term effects you’re trying to achieve. Remember, when concepting the opening of your novel, it never hurts to write several openings and compare their strengths, or to revise your opening multiple times. Using In Medias Res In this guide, we’ve seen a definition and examples of in medias res and talked about when and how to use it effectively. Hopefully, this has got you thinking about interesting ways to open your story. A great way to keep up that momentum is by bouncing your ideas off other authors.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Start A Story

How do you start a story? For many authors, writing the opening to any story brings on a special kind of anxiety. Like a first date, the pressure to make a good impression can be nerve-wracking – after all, it’s the first couple of chapters that have to hook a prospective agent, editor or reader.   But it doesn’t have to be that scary —with a simple process, you can generate multiple opening ideas and be confident you’ve written one that’s solid.  In this guide, you’ll learn the process of starting a story and discover some strategies for getting into the right mindset. We’ll also review 30+ opening ideas and a list of do’s and don’ts to help guide your writing.   Let’s get started!  To Start Your Story Well, Know Your Story Well Imagine you’re at a party and you’re asked to introduce two people. Normally, you’d do that by sharing something about each of them that might spark a conversation.  But what if you barely know them? At best, you could recite their names and hope they take it from there. Awkward!  Story openings are like this. They need to spark interest and open a doorway to what comes next. To write a good opening, consider your story:  What’s it about? Do you have a good sense of who your protagonist is, the key challenge they face, the events that will unfold, and the themes woven throughout?  What will your reader’s experience be? What will your reader be feeling during the beginning, middle, and end of your story? Which aspects of your story will they welcome, and which will challenge them? How will they look back on your story, and what will stick in their mind?  It’s likely that you’ve already answered these questions for other purposes, such as writing your blurb or plotting your novel. Let’s talk about a specific process you can use to turn those answers into an outline for your opening scene.  How To Begin A Story Here’s a process you can use to generate an outline for your opening scene. (We’ll run through an example below.)  Confidently and clearly answer the questions “what is my story about?” (protagonist, conflict, plot, themes) and “what will my reader experience?” (feelings, resistances, lasting impressions).  Pick one element of your story’s content or experience that you feel is compelling.  Ask yourself how you might open a doorway onto that element for your reader. Think about two things: getting them thinking about the right things (focus) and making them eager to experience what’s to come (desire).  With focus and desire in mind, build a great scene outline. Here’s an example of the process in action:  Let’s say our story is a heist novel. Our protagonist is a reformed thief whose lover died tragically during his last heist. Realising the danger of his lifestyle to the people around him, he got out of the game, and hasn’t let himself get close to anyone since. But now an old mob debt has caught up to him, and his only chance to pay it off is to come out of retirement for one last score. He takes on a new apprentice, and as they prepare, he finds himself falling in love with her. The reader’s experience will revolve around the thrill of the big heist, the May-September romance, and the protagonist’s memorable final decision.  For this opening, let’s choose the romance as our focal element.  For our doorway (focus + desire), we want to get the reader thinking about relationships, and rooting for the protagonist to find love and happiness.  We decide that our opening will show the protagonist eating alone at a restaurant he used to frequent with his old lover. We’ll have him reminisce about their relationship and contemplate the pain of his loneliness. We’ll also convey his desire to live a decent life and never hurt anyone again. However, we’ll soon discover that our protagonist hasn’t chosen this location out of nostalgia. A mobster who demanded a meeting here shows up, intentionally late, and delivers an ultimatum: come out of retirement to pay your debts or face the consequences.  Not a bad starting point, right? Once we’d chosen romance as our focal element, the ideas came easily, because we’d taken the time to outline our story’s content and experiences.  The key is to work from the perspective of opening doors. If we’d been worrying about forcefully “grabbing” the reader, or focusing on a catchy opening sentence, there would be no process leading us to the restaurant scene.  Writing Multiple Openings Using this process, you can create outlines for multiple opening scenes in two ways.  First, you can pick the same element and create a different opening. For example, instead of sitting in a restaurant, we could have had our protagonist walking in a park, watching a young couple in love. The meeting with the mobster could have taken place on a park bench. Most of the protagonist’s thoughts could be the same, and the differences are primarily aesthetic—day versus night, outdoors versus indoors, and so on.  Or, you can pick a different element. For example, let’s say we’d picked the thrill of the heist as our key element. In that case, perhaps we might open with the protagonist sitting in his poorly-kept bachelor apartment, watching a TV documentary about a new casino being built. He notices a subtle flaw in its security design and realises this is his chance for one last big score. His mind immediately begins working and the reader is pulled into his planning.  Or, finally, you could start the story right in the thick of the action (often referred to as in median res) or even include a prologue.  When you know what your story is about, and when you think in terms of opening doors, writing multiple openings becomes easy.   I suggest you try creating concepts for two or three openings before you commit to one of them—you may be surprised how many good ideas shake themselves free from the tree.   How To Begin A Story: 30+ Story Opening Ideas Here are thirty-odd ways you can open doors to different elements of your story.  If you want to open a doorway to appreciate… You might focus your opening on… Novelty and new ideas A complication the reader wasn’t expecting; Your original setting or a unique character; A strange situation the reader wouldn’t have seen before. Immersive experiences A vivid environment with rich sensory cues (but remember to put a character in that environment); A single, strikingly-described image (choose one that has significance to your story, or that you can revisit or invert later) Action An in medias res action sequence (make sure it has stakes, but make sure it doesn’t sprawl or overshadow later action sequences); A briefing (formal or informal) that describes a potentially explosive situation. A compelling protagonist (If first-person) The protagonist’s distinctive voice—let them experience or relive something they can narrate in a way that’s distinctly “them”; A situation that showcases the protagonist’s talents, principles, or quirks; A situation that forces the protagonist to make a decision; A situation that lets your protagonist expound on something or share their insights and opinions. (Note: Your opening scene is not a “first date”. Let your protagonist’s flaws show as well or they won’t seem compelling.) Curiosity or mystery Letting the reader notice a contradiction without explaining it immediately; Leaving something crucial unsaid: pick one of the five W’s that your reader is most likely to ask, then don’t answer it, but play around the edges of answering; An event which has consequences or a conclusion that you hold back for now; Raising a question and giving the reader only part of the answer. Emotion Making the reader identify with a character who’s going through an emotional event; A situation that arouses your reader’s sympathies; Implicit questions centred on the reader, such as “what would you do?” or “can you blame her?”; An idea or concept presented with intensity or burning emotion; Narration that uses emotion and relationship vocabulary (this isn’t a substitute for making the reader feel an emotion, but can help to signal the focus of the story’s viewpoint). Big Ideas A mundane event with deeper causes or meaning that is then questioned; A character posing an intellectual or philosophical question. Romance A flirtation; A fantasy; An intriguing new interest entering the protagonist’s sphere; A complication coming up in a relationship; A previous relationship crashing and burning (leaving the protagonist available). An epic or sweeping story Anything other than focusing tightly on a single character and their immediate concerns; A setting or image that implies a much broader setting (for example, a monument commemorating a war or unification); A prologue that broadens the scope of your story; Showing how a location has changed over time. Masterful writing A place (or time, or worldview) for which you can display a deep understanding or appreciation to the reader; Making the reader laugh; A scene that showcases excellent pacing, tone, and atmosphere; Artful (but not purple) use of words and phrasing.  If in doubt, constrain yourself with these two rules:  Introduce your protagonist first; Start your story immediately before or immediately after the inciting incident (in most cases it helps to show the characters before the inciting incident so you have a better character arc at the end and the reader can see how far they have come).  It’s often okay to break these two rules, but it’s rarely wrong to follow them!  Writing Strategies For Starting Your Story Writing a good opening is about more than just the outline—it’s also about putting yourself in a position to write well. Here are some strategies you can use:  Putting Yourself In The Right Mindset Remember to define your opening in terms of how it opens doorways to the content and experience of your story. Don’t write your opening first or last. If you write it first, you won’t be warmed up to your characters and story; if you write it last you’ll put too much pressure on yourself. Write a rough beginning, but be prepared to go back and tighten it once you know your story and characters better. Many authors struggle with too much scene-setting in their openings. To combat this, pretend your opening is actually your second chapter. Write an extra chapter that comes before your opening, then write your opening. When both are done, throw away the extra chapter and pass your opening to a beta-reader. Ask them if anything confuses them, and only make additions to correct any confusion. (Using this method will help you see that much of your scene-setting is “insurance”, and not really necessary.) Here’s another trick: outline your first chapter, but don’t write it. Instead, challenge yourself to modify your second chapter to make it work as your opening. This isn’t always possible (especially if the two chapters have separate viewpoints), but by trying, you become aware of which parts of your opening chapter are truly essential. When reviewing your opening, try reading your back-cover blurb first, just like most of your readers will do. Does your opening feel redundant in that context? Are you re-using language from the blurb in a way that saps it of impact?  Controlling Detail And Sprawl All of the writing advice that applies to your other scenes applies to your opening as well—show don’t tell, write with a distinctive voice, avoid clichés, and so on. However, pacing, focus, and controlling the level of detail are especially important in your opening.   Keep the following advice in mind:  Use exposition carefully—keep it diffused. Don’t allow yourself detours in your opening. Know what the scene is about and execute it in a compact fashion. Detours are for middle chapters! Trust your reader to make common-sense assumptions. Don’t overload your opening with too many responsibilities. Focus on introducing one key element of your book in an interesting way, and let your subsequent chapters build from there. Action—things happening—doesn’t automatically hook a reader or make your opening strong. What matters is meaning; action is just a tool for creating meaning. In your opening, include action that builds meaning; cut action that doesn’t. Voice is key. Ensure the reader gets a taste of the main character(s), the tone of the book and the genre within the first three chapters.  Revising Your Opening If you believe your opening is important, it should receive its proper share of revision. Here are some revising tips:  Like any scene, the most important first step is simply to write something. Don’t put it off! Even a terrible opening is something you can analyse, improve, and compare against alternatives.  It’s never wrong to test a new opening. Challenge yourself to write at least two different openings and ask yourself what works well about each of them. Spend some time polishing your opening sentence.At the same time, don’t hyper-focus on your opening sentence or opening page. An intriguing first line is great, but no reader will put your book down just because the first paragraph is simple. Although do aim to make your entire first chapter one of your strongest, including its closing sentence, and link to your second chapter.  How Not To Begin A Story Here are a few common mistakes authors make when they begin a story:  Writing in a different voice, or with a different sensibility, than the rest of your novel. Trying to please everyone. Never be afraid of turning off readers who wouldn’t enjoy the rest of your story anyway. People-pleasing leads to bland openings and shows the reader you aren’t committed to your story concept. Giving away too much detail too soon. Spending time setting the stage in ways that aren’t yet meaningful to your reader. (Imagine your characters and locations are friends whose careers you’re trying to help—let them shine by introducing them at the moment when they can be most compelling!)  (For some more don’ts, read our guide to 7 novel-opening mistakes that make literary agents groan.) Starting Your Story Well In this guide, we’ve discussed the concept of opening doors for your reader, a process for generating scene outlines, ideas for starting your story, writing strategies, and some don’ts to avoid.  So what are you waiting for? Now that you know how, it’s time to start that book of yours!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write In Third Person Limited Point Of View

One of the very first things we must ask ourselves as we sit down to write is, \'who is telling the story? Who is the reader listening to?\' You may have an ingenious plot and a cast of wonderful characters, but you must also be able to tell the story in a way that will resonate with your reader. This is why establishing point of view is so important. In this article you will learn how to write in third person limited point of view, what that means, and how to make it work for your story. Choosing What Tense To Write In The two most common points of view (or POV) are first person and third person. In the first person, the character is the narrator, they talk about themselves using ‘I’. In the third person, the narrator is separate to the character, talking about them using their name or third-person pronouns such as she/he/they.   But how do you choose between first and third person? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. With first person POV, you are right inside the character’s head and constantly listening to their thoughts and opinions which can be hugely effective. However, with third person you can put space between the character and the narrator; useful for adding flavour and depth, and for withholding some elements to increase suspense.   You can also choose to mix it up! If you are writing a novel, perhaps have one character in first person, and others in the third. This may also help you to create a more distinct ‘voice’ for them.  Now, let’s assume you have chosen to use the third person. This article will explore in greater depth how you can use the third person point of view, offering tips and tricks to be more effective, and some key examples to help illustrate.   So read on for help on how to use third person POV to really make your stories stand out.  What Is Third Person Limited Point Of View? Having decided on the third person POV, there is one more choice to make: how much does your narrator know? Are they an omniscient narrator, knowing all things about everyone? Or are they limited to only one character (or a handful if you are using multiple POVs – which we’ll talk more about in a moment)?  The third person limited point of view is where the narrator tells the story from the perspective of a single protagonist, referring to them by name or using a third person pronoun such as they/she/he. The narrator can only see inside the mind of the protagonist. They are sitting on their shoulder, watching as the action unfolds around them. By definition, the limited nature of this POV comes from the fact the narrator cannot tell what other characters are thinking or feeling.  How is third person limited different from writing in the first person? At first glance it may seem that the two are similar, you could just use ‘I’ instead of ‘he/she/they’. However, third person limited allows you to zoom in and out from the character, so you can choose to be right in their head at one moment (also known as close third person), and then further away from them at another, adjusting the lens for optimal impact. For more on this, read our article on narrative distance. Some third person limited examples from books include Stephen King’s Misery, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and Jane Austen’s Emma.  Choosing what tense to write your novel in is very important! Writing In Third Person Limited Point Of View Writing in third person point of view limited can offer a plethora of opportunities, allowing you ample flexibility to tell your story, while still creating characters who are vibrant and seem to leap off the page as the action unfolds through their perspective.  Five top tips for writing in third person limited POV are:  Choose your POV character carefully Consider multiple POVs (if appropriate) Be consistent Show the world as your character sees it Allow your POV characters to be fallible  1. Choose Your POV Character Carefully The third person limited narrator is most likely the protagonist, the primary person around whom the plot is centred. Can they see enough of the action to make the plot satisfying for the reader?  If not, consider using a second POV character. Can they carry the story? Will the reader enjoy being with them? They do not have to be ‘liked’ per se (and their flaws will add flavour) but they must be engaging. Do they have a sufficiently interesting perspective to ensure readers continue to turn the page?  In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig tells the story of Nora who, following a suicide attempt, is given the opportunity to experience some of the other lives she could have lived. Haig uses a limited point of view to show us these lives from Nora’s perspective, whilst being able to add narrative flavour through the third person style. The result draws you into the story and helps to suspend your disbelief at the semi-speculative nature of the plot in a more powerful way than if it was written in the first person. It also helps to create suspense as the novel progresses, because the third person POV avoids answering the question of the potential ending of such a book (where first person may have hinted at a conclusion).  2. Use Multiple POVs You can use the limited third person whilst utilising more than one point of view character. There are many successful novels that employ this mechanism, including the Games of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin wherein events unfold across a huge number of characters to great effect.  Multiple POVs can help provide the reader with information, filling in gaps with things that the protagonist doesn’t know, as there’s only so much that one character could feasibly experience. With just one POV character you may find yourself inventing increasingly ridiculous or clichéd ways of finding out key information; rather than have them spend their whole time eavesdropping, why not introduce a new POV character?   You can use multiple POVs to show contrasting experiences, including how the same events may be seen completely differently by two different individuals. Think about how you could play with showing the same scene through the lens of one character, and then replay it from another character’s perspective. Those contrasts can help to provide further information to the reader about the plot but might also provide the opportunity to deepen the character development based on the things they each observe and how they react.  In The Power, Naomi Alderman uses four major POV characters (Roxy, Tunde, Margot, and Allie) to tell the story from a much wider perspective than if she had used a smaller cast. The effect of this is significant; showing that, although different cultures may react differently to the development of ‘the power’, there are stark similarities with how that power is used and eventually corrupted. The novel would be significantly less powerful (excuse the pun) with only one or two POV characters.   For your own project, why not think about how you could broaden the story by adding another POV? I often use this as an exercise to work through a writer’s block; if I’m struggling, I flip the scene to look at it from another perspective. This often helps the words to flow again and has even thrown up some very interesting plot twists!  3. Be Consistent When writing in the third person limited, consistency is key. Watch out for times when you might be inadvertently breaking the rules, for example by ‘head-hopping’. This is where you accidently switch into the perspective of a different character; it can be extremely jarring to the reader, pulling them out of the world you have so carefully crafted.   In the example below, Gary is the current POV character:  Gary looked at Ella and grinned. ‘We could go for pizza?’ Not that he was hungry, but it wasn’t actually about eating, he just wanted to spend more time with her. But Ella was ravenous and to her it was all about the potential to eat. ‘I’d love to.’ Buoyed by the promise of a date, Gary sent a quick text to his mum to say he’d be late home.    Notice how the narrator tells the reader that Ella is ravenous? If Gary is the POV character, how would the narrator know this? The reader may now be sitting confused, wondering if perhaps Ella is the POV character for this scene, which will drag their focus away from the action you had intended.   One of the ways to avoid ‘head-hopping’ is to be very clear with the demarcation for any switch in POV. For example, you may choose to only shift at the end of a scene, or chapter. Then, during the editing process, make sure you scrutinise each sentence, asking yourself if that POV character could know that. In the example above, Gary wouldn’t know Ella was ravenous, but she could infer this through her body language, tone, or speech.   4. Show The World As Your Character Sees It The use of the third person limited POV is an absolute gift for character development. When a character walks into a room, what do they see? A book-ish character may be immediately drawn to the towering bookshelves, while a character who embraces order may recoil at the piles of laundry strewn across the space. As well as providing a description of the setting, these observations reveal subtle clues about the observers themselves.   Take Edward St Aubyn’s Mother’s Milk. The novel opens from the third person limited perspective of Robert. A bold choice perhaps, given that Robert is a newborn baby. St Aubyn gives the narrator an advanced adult vocabulary, but the observations (including the angles of sight etc.) are decidedly infantile.  Another author using third person limited to great effect is Stephen King in Misery. Told from the perspective of Paul Sheldon as he lies with two broken legs in the home of his ‘rescuer’, you soon realise she is not the kindly nurse Paul would have hoped for! Limiting the perspective to the things he can see and hear from his bed creates a wonderful tension and heightens the suspense of the novel.  When writing in the limited third person, try to put yourself on the shoulder of your character, stepping where they step, seeing what they see. Colour your writing with the things that only they would observe, and the things that would be meaningful to them.   5. Allow Your POV Characters To Be Fallible It may be tempting to make your POV character perfect. The kind of person who would remember every conversation, who would take the time to listen carefully or read all the small print. But that is not reality!  We all mishear things, or misconstrue the meaning of things, or jump to conclusions without having all the facts. We’re only human after all. Your characters are the same and trying to make them perfect will only make them seem false to the reader. You may find any misunderstandings are minor, merely adding further flavour to the scenes in the story. Alternatively, you may use them as a helpful plot devise. This is often used in romance novels to push the couple apart before they are reunited at the final moment or to provide a red herring in a thriller to keep the tension high.   You can also use third person to reveal negative traits about your protagonist that they may not reveal in a first person POV. After all, we don’t necessarily think of the things we do with an air of negativity, but the third person narrator can reveal those elements. This may be especially effective for villains in your story.  The fallibility of the POV character may also allow you to explore the use of an unreliable narrator (one who is not telling the reader the whole truth). Often unreliable narrators will be written in the first person, as it is often easier to obfuscate this way. However, it is possible to write a third person unreliable narrator; using their fallibility for effect may allow you to do so without destroying the reader’s trust in you by feeding them an obvious lie.   There are many examples of third person unreliable narrators. Jane Austen’s Emma is one such example, as the whole novel is told from Emma’s perspective, significantly influenced by her own biases. Other examples include The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Atonement by Ian McEwan. Try exploring fallibility in your own project. What happens if your character thinks they are meeting their friend an hour earlier than they are? Who might they meet as they wait? What might they witness? If you are working on a project with two POV characters, try writing a scene where one remembers an event from long ago. Then flip it around and write the memory from the other character’s POV. What are the key differences in how they remember the event? How have their own experiences in the intervening years coloured and twisted the memory?   Third Person Limited The limited third person point of view is a gift for writers. It allows you to showcase the world from your character’s perspective, whilst giving you the ability to pull away from them at times. The overall effect can be immersive and compelling to the reader, giving your writing that added magic.  Just remember as you sit down to write to always ask ‘who is telling this story?’. Let go of your own biases and pre-conceptions and write with your storyteller in mind: sit on their shoulder and see what they have to say for themselves!  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. 

Writing Tenses: Tips For Past, Present, And Future Tense 

Knowing which tense to write in can be one of the earliest stumbling blocks that a writer can face. Getting the tense right is key to ensuring that your text flows smoothly and that your reader can engage with your writing. Although it seems like such a simple decision, it can be so easy to get in a muddle with tenses and confuse both yourself and the reader. I guess it’s fair to say that tense in writing can make the most experienced writer tense! Therefore, its vital that we understand the benefits of each tense and try to use them to our best advantage.  In this guide we will dig deeper into the main tenses and explore past, present and even future tense to discover how these they can be used to the greatest effect. We will also explore the advantages and disadvantages of writing in each tense and consider some writing examples that demonstrate their use well.  Hopefully, by the end of this guide you will have a clearer idea about how to write in each tense and will have a better idea of which would work best for you.  So, sit back, untense yourself and read on!  First, let’s consider what the main tenses are.  What Are The Main Tenses?  In short, there are three main tenses.  Past tense Present tense Future tense  I will take each one in turn, beginning with the one most commonly used in writing; past tense.  Writing In Past Tense Past tense is the most traditional and familiar form of writing and is a form of tense that we can recognise in many of the books that we read. It is popular in many contemporary novels and traditionally has been seen a lot in the historical and fantasy genre. It harps back to the old and comforting ‘once upon a time’, that makes us want to settle down and listen to the story unfold in its ‘told’ form. In short, the narrator is looking back to the past, commenting on events that have already taken place. This can often help the writer and reader feel more in control as the events taking place are already resolved.  A great example of past tense is in Reservoir 13, by Jon McGregor, which opens with:  They gathered at the car park in the hour before dawn and waited to be told what to do. It was cold and there was little conversation. There were questions that weren’t being asked. The missing girl’s name was Rebecca Shaw.Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor As readers, we are that the narrator knows lots of information about past events that they will be feeding to us throughout the book. There is often a sense of familiarity and reassurance in knowing that the events have already happened, and the outcome has been decided, which is part of the reason why past tense is popular with readers.  If we were to change the above section to present tense it will read like this:  They gather at the car park in the hour before dawn and wait to be told what to do. It’s cold and there is little conversation. There are questions that aren’t being asked. The missing girl’s name is Rebecca Shaw. Immediately you can see that, in present tense, the dynamic of this piece has changed. It is now feels far more immediate and urgent. The reader has been dropped directly into the action at the moment it is occurring. The narrator is speaking in the ‘now’ and therefore has no knowledge of how the future will play out.   Another advantage of writing in past tense is that it’s much easier to play with the order in which things happen. In many ways you have more flexibility and freedom. Backstory, flashbacks and hindsight are much easier to manage.  The acclaimed author Stephen King is very keen on writing in past tense and this works well for him, as his stories often include the use of hindsight, memory and flashback. An example of this can be seen in his book, The Talisman written in collaboration with Peter Straub: He closed his eyes, squeezing his legs together. His mother looked uncertain, lost and confused and the men forced her into the car as easily as they would a weary collie dog. But this was not really happening, he knew: it was a memory – part of it must have been one of the Daydreams – and it happened not to his mother but to him.The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub This memory recollection doesn’t feel forced and doesn’t disrupt the flow of writing in any way, which shows that such a device works particularly well when used in conjunction with past tense writing. That’s not to say that when you are writing in present tense you cannot use these devices, it’s just that they can appear a little clumsier or forced if not used carefully.   Writing In Present Tense  Writing in present tense has always been a common form of writing in the YA and children’s fiction genres but is now becoming increasingly popular in thrillers and psychological books too. This is probably because writing in present tense feels much more immediate and places the reader right in the ‘now’. Emotions and drama can also be instantly intensified. In many ways, writing in the present tense can be likened to watching a film or TV programme, where the reader is watching the events unfold right in front of them. There is often a sense that anything can happen because the future is unknown, much as it is in reality.  A great example of present tense writing is used in the book White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock which opens with the lines:  Mum finds me in the larder. I crouch in the corner, flinching from the sudden light in the doorway. My mouth is full of blood and shards of porcelain.White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock This is an excellent example of the reader being immediately thrust into the action and straight into the characters’ thought processes. There is a sense of urgency and suspense that is created because the narrator and reader are on this journey towards an uncertain future together– which is a powerful tool to use.  Changing this example to past tense, we can see that there is a shift in energy:  Mum found me in the larder. I was crouched in the corner, flinching from the sudden light in the doorway. My mouth was full of blood and shards of porcelain. Although it is still an effective piece of writing, there is less urgency about it. Also, some of the intrigue has been removed as we can assume that the narrator has survived the experience, as they are now recounting it.  Writing in present tense can also feel quite personal and is a great opportunity to develop voice as you are experiencing the story in real time alongside the characters. A lovely example of this is in This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell, which feels conversational and natural.  There is a man. He’s standing on the back step rolling a cigarette. The day is typically unstable, the garden is lush and shining. The branches weighty with still-falling rain. There is a man, and the man is me.This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell Here you can see O’Farrell is deep in thought and taking the reader on that journey with her – it feels intimate and immediate which is very powerful.   Writing In Future Tense  It’s rare to see future tense used in an entire book – as it places the narrator constantly in the future (for example – “I will be going to town, and I shall be buying some clothes and then I will be meeting my friends”) which would be limiting to the narrator and possibly repetitive and jarring to the reader.   However, writing in future tense can be effective in sections of writing or in shorter books. It is also useful for describing spontaneous actions or predictions, and authors often use it as a tool when their characters are trying to decide what decision or path to take next.   There aren’t many examples of future tense being used effectively continuously in novels, but in the Spanish editions of the novella Aura Carlos Fuentes uses future tense to good effect.  It is certainly quite a unique style of writing and can stand out from the rest, but this is a tense that needs to be treated delicately and with consideration if used at length.  Let’s now explore how the main tenses are used and how you can decide which one to choose for your writing.  Writing Tenses  Deciding which tense to write in can be one of the most challenging writing decisions, however there are some things that can help you make your choice. Consider the books that you enjoy reading yourself. Ask yourself if there is a tense that you particularly engage with, as often the tenses we best connect with are the ones we can write well. What type of book are you looking to write? Is it a thriller or a YA mystery? Do you want your character/narrator to ‘know’ the outcome of the story? Are you likely to play around with timelines or introduce devices such as flashbacks? All these points can help you decide which tense might suit you best.  Also, knowing the main pros and cons of each tense can help you decide:  Past Tense Pros A familiar and traditional form of writing. Readers will know what to expect. Non-linear timelines are easier to manage and control.Suspense is easier to convey as the narrator (usually) knows how events will play out.  Cons The reader knows that the narrator is alive and safe, and the story has already happened – this can take away some of the intrigue and pace.  It can be easier to slip into ‘telling’ the story (rather than \'showing\' it) and the writer must be mindful of this. There’s a risk that the voice can become passive, and readers will struggle to connect.  Present Tense  Pros Writing in present tense feels much more immediate and places the reader right in the ‘now’.  There is a sense of urgency and intrigue that is created because the future is unknown to both the narrator and the reader. You have an opportunity to showcase voice as the reader can see into the characters immediate thought process.  Cons It can be inflexible and possibly restrict your ability to manipulate time or play with chronological order. The future is blank and therefore the narrator is unable to build or manipulate suspense because they can’t know what is about to happen. It can be easy to fixate on smaller, mundane details and risk boring your reader.  Future Tense  Pros As this is such a rare form of writing in novels, your book is much more likely to get noticed.  Your writing can be more fluid and unique. Your narrator is rooted in the future which gives you greater scope to have fun and experiment.  Cons Readers may find it hard to connect with the writing and find the tense jarring.  As the events haven’t happened yet it may be much harder for the reader to connect with the characters.  It is very difficult to maintain for long periods.  Past, Present, And Future Tense  Using tenses well will develop your own writing and bring your work to life, but a lot of it comes from practice, trial and error and having a bit of fun. Some writers find that they like to combine tenses in their work to have the best impact, others will stick to one tense throughout and will find that far less muddling and easier to edit. The key is to find what works best for you and then run with it.  Five Tips For Using Tenses Well  Try using a combination of tenses in your work. Explore, have fun and play with a range to see what suits you.  Read! Remember the books that you connect best with and see if you are drawn to any particular tense. Often the tenses we personally connect with are the ones we write best.  Take time to rewrite paragraphs in different tenses to see which one works best for you.  Read passages out loud to yourself. Does the tense sound right? If not, change it.  Don’t limit yourself. If you’ve always written in past tense, try writing a new piece in present tense to see how it changes your writing. Enjoy experimenting!   Tense In Writing When it comes to writing tenses, the truth is there is no right or wrong answer. The most important thing is to take time to explore the different tenses and try not to be wary of trying each one out and experimenting a little. What suits one writer might not suit another, and what works well for one piece of writing, might not deliver for another.  Consider the type of narrative you are using and how you want the action to unfold. Perhaps you can use a combination of past and present narratives to best deliver the story and showcase your characters.  Personally, I love writing in present tense because I prefer being in the immediate moment. I also feel that by writing in the present tense I have more insight, and can reach into my characters current thoughts. However, this is a personal preference, and I can also see and appreciate the benefits that other tenses bring.  The most important thing to remember is that each of the tenses bring something to the table (or page!) and when used correctly can have an outstanding effect on your work.   So, my advice is - pick up your pen and stop being tense about tenses!   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. 

Writing In First Person Point Of View: Our Top Tips  

Writing in first person point of view has become more popular in recent years, and is, along with third person point of view, one of the most common ways of narrating a story. In my part-time day job, I lecture on the Creative Writing MA at Edinburgh Napier University, and in the past, I’ve taught a 13-week module on Writing First Person. I also love to write in the first person myself: four out of eleven of my novels are written in first person pov. First person narratives offer a lot of extra options that many authors don’t fully consider. So let me give you some tips and suggestions to embracing the power of “me, myself, and I.”   What Is First Person Point Of View?  Let’s start with the obvious, basic definition: first person point of view means writing from the internal perspective of a character and using “I” pronouns throughout. Hello, I am writing this in the first person, right now. In first person, your main character (or someone observing a key player in the story) is also your narrator writing down events, usually after the fact.   With a third person narrative, the camera is metaphorically outside of the character. We’re either riding on their shoulder (close or limited third) or looking at them from an outside angle (objective or omniscient third). With first person, we’re looking out directly from their eyes (something you don’t see often in cinema because we like to see the actor’s faces). One of the effects of this is that it feels confessional in a way that third person doesn’t. You’re getting invited into their innermost thoughts and feelings. It can sometimes feel almost voyeuristic. It can also make it easier to empathise and connect with a character because we are stepping inside their skin (mmm, creepy).   Yet there are plenty of other benefits you can have in first person that are harder to re-create in third.   The Benefits Of Writing In First Person  Writing in first person provides you with a point of view that allows plenty of room for exploration. Here are some of the benefits of using a first person pov. The Gap Between The Events Of The Story And The Recording Of Them  By having the main character be your narrator, first and foremost, you have the chance to obliquely tell two stories at once: the events of the story, and the act of writing them down. The gap between those allows for some interesting opportunities to drop some foreshadowing. For instance, if the character says, “If I’d known then what I know now, I would never have taken the case when that dame strode into my office.” You can imagine them swigging some whisky and maybe tilting their fedora. With that admission, we know that something happened that the character regrets. This generates suspense and makes us want to keep reading. If you do that too often, it’s annoying and risks jerking the reader out of the story, so you have to know when it’s best to tease it out.   This gap can also affect your narration’s tone: has it been one day since the events of the story took place, or twenty years? Emotions might be stronger if it has just happened, as opposed to the character confessing to a long-held secret meaning their emotions might be more distant as a coping mechanism.  Now, that gap collapses if you’re writing in first person present tense. That can add immediacy, but it can also turn off some readers because we have to believe that we’re somehow reading the character’s mind as events happen. It’s common enough that we’re used to it and many readers just go with it (see: many psychological thrillers, and it’s relatively common in young adult fiction, too) but it doesn’t allow for the telling of two stories, which is sometimes a shame.   Multiple Methods Of Narration  The way the narration is delivered can also offer interesting opportunities. Many devices are in first person: text messages, social media posts, witness statements, diaries, letters, and so on. You can weave those together and have interesting juxtapositions in attitudes to events. If we want to use the more academic phrases, it’s “heteroglossia” (many tongues) or “polyphony” (many tones). It can also sometimes help establish worldbuilding or important context easily without having to set up or explain things to the reader. This is great if you have word count constraints in a short story, for example.   Strong Sense Of Voice  Next, you can really get the flavour of that character’s particular way of speaking if they are writing it down themselves. See Todd in The Knife of Never Letting Go from the first sentence:    The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don\'t got nothing much to say. About anything.The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness In the narration, Todd also explains he hasn’t had much education and he misspells things occasionally and speaks in a vaguely Southern American dialect (despite this being in the future on an alien planet). Yet we know exactly who he is and what he’s about. His voice is clear from the start.  Unreliable Narrators  Another big benefit to writing in first person is unreliability. Plenty of psychological thrillers rely on the unreliable narrator: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is an obvious one (and popular enough that I don’t have to worry about spoilers as much), and a masterclass of setting up a lying character in the first half and pulling out the rug from under us in the second. Even characters who think they are telling the truth might not be, based on what’s happening around them or within the story. Interesting, flawed characters are also very good at lying to themselves, which lends a lot of opportunity for narrative drive or conflict or emotional angst.   How To Write In First Person  When writing in first person, you have to think carefully about who your character is and what their voice is like. A character from my secondary world fantasies would have to speak fairly differently to a character in my near-future thrillers set on Earth. Here are some of the questions I ask myself as I develop my character and my first person narration:   1. How Would My Character Speak?   What sort of words or vocabulary would they have? What about class markers? Where did they grow up? What slang would they know? Are they short and sharp in their responses, or do they love a long, fluid, verbose sentence? What is their default mode? Sarcastic, pompous, timid? What happens when they are stressed or pushed beyond their comfort levels?  2. The Gap  How long after events is this character writing down the story and under what circumstances? Has anything in particular prompted them to write it? Are they going to use a specific device? I cite Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb constantly, as she sets up FitzChivalry Farseer’s reasons for telling the story right from the beginning. We know he’s somewhere isolated, writing down his memoirs instead of writing a history of the Six Duchies, the fantasy land where he was raised. So, the story itself starts out when he’s six, but it’s from the viewpoint of an adult looking back and is retrospective in its tone.   3. Considering Theme And Structure  Are there any thematic or structural advantages to writing in first person versus third? In the Micah Grey trilogy, which starts with Pantomime, I chose first person narration because the character is genderfluid and begins the book presenting female but then runs away and joins the circus as a male. But their internal understanding of their gender didn’t change. Keeping it in first helped erase me as the author/narrator imposing a gender at the sentence level. It was easier for you to just read Micah as Micah.   What was interesting was that in reviews, people wrote about Micah using different pronouns (she, he, they, etc). I found it interesting that they were bringing their own assumptions and viewpoints to that character, even though they were all reading the same text. Murderbot by Martha Wells does this too, though her protagonist is a sexless robot.   4. Presenting Multiple First Person Narrators  If you have more than one first-person narrator, think about how you are going to present them. In my book False Hearts, which is about formerly conjoined twins in a near-future San Francisco, one twin, Taema, writes in first person present tense, to give her thriller plot a sense of urgency. But Tila, the other twin who is in prison accused of murder, is meant to be writing down her last will and testament but instead decides to tell the story of her and Taema’s childhood, so those flashbacks are in first person past tense. Because they were identical twins who were quite literally conjoined for the first sixteen years of their lives, they had a similar vocabulary, though a different attitude to events. Changing tenses was also a way to help differentiate their registers.   Further Tips For Writing In First Person   Don’t overuse filters. We’re already in the main character’s head. Overusing filters like “I saw,” “I felt,” “I noticed,” “I heard” can create a distancing effect and hold us at arm’s length. A lot of the time they can simply be snipped out unless you want to actually draw attention to the action for another purpose. You also don’t need to add “I thought,” after direct thoughts either, in my opinion (though your mileage may vary). I tend to just set them in italics in present tense and let the reader infer that’s what’s happening.   Know that your protagonist can’t know everything. It can be hard to let the reader know all the information if the main character isn’t privy to it. Beware of having your main character conveniently eavesdrop on important conversations too often, which can sometimes be a bit of a cheat.  Find a good balance of interiority versus external description. Describe what that particular character would notice or mark out as different and unusual. Likewise, consider when a character would describe a memory in detail and when they might do a quick summary to get us to the next important scene that’s worth expanding.   Distinguish between first person pov characters. If you have more than one first person point of view character, make sure it’s easy for the reader to tell them apart within a paragraph, even if there are no names stated. I also personally don’t like doing more than two first person narrative strands, though this is again a personal choice. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik manages to balance five first person point of views, which is the only time I’ve seen that many in one book.   Writing In First Person Writing in first person offers a lot of interesting narrative and crafting opportunities. If you have always been a third person writer, perhaps try branching out to see what it offers you. Or if you always write in first person, I hope this helped you consider things in a different way. This is obviously only a small portion of the things you can explore, but it details the main concepts and is a good place to start. 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. 

Using Exposition The Right Way

You’ve probably come across the word exposition in reviews and in writing advice. You might have seen it referred to in negative terms, and maybe you’re nervous about getting it wrong, especially if you’re writing a book for the first time. What is exposition, and how can you use it effectively to make your story flow well and have depth? This guide will help you understand exposition and how to use it. Let’s begin.  What Is Exposition? First let’s clear something up: we’re talking about “exposition”, not “the exposition”.  What’s the difference?  The Exposition In some models of dramatic structure, the exposition of a story is the opening scene. It introduces us to the protagonist and explains some of the circumstances of their life, so that when the “inciting incident” happens, we understand why it matters. Not all stories include the exposition, but many do.  (We won’t be discussing dramatic structure in this article, but if you want to learn more, you could read our article about Freytag’s Pyramid.) Exposition Exposition, sometimes called narrative exposition, is something different. It’s a writing technique used to convey certain information to the reader. Think of it as:  Text that gives your reader information which comes from outside of the current viewpoint.  For example, say your viewpoint character needs to learn about an event that was part of another character’s childhood. They can’t experience that event directly, because it happened long ago, to another person. So how can they (and the reader) become aware of it? This is where we use exposition.  Here’s an example of exposition from Operation Syndrome by Frank Herbert:  \"On the bayside walk, Eric and Colleen matched steps. \'You never did tell me what a musikron is.\'Her laughter caused a passing couple to turn and stare. \'Okay. But I still don’t understand. We’ve been on TV for a month.\'He thought, She thinks I’m a fuddy; probably am! He said, \'I don’t subscribe to the entertainment circuits. I’m just on the science and news networks.\'She shrugged. \'Well, the musikron is something like a recording and playback machine; only the operator mixes in any new sounds he wants. He wears a little metal bowl on his head and just thinks about the sounds—the musikron plays them.” She stole a quick glance at him, looked ahead. “Everyone says it’s a fake; it really isn’t.\'\" In the example above, there are several pieces of exposition woven together. We learn how a musikron works, we learn that people doubt it’s real, and we also learn some small facts from Eric and Colleen’s past experiences. The musikron isn’t in our viewpoint, neither are its doubters; the information about them is coming to us through exposition instead of us experiencing it first-hand.  Exposition often takes the form of dialogue, as it does in this example. But it can also be conveyed through narration, through written material in the character’s surroundings, and in many other possible forms. The common idea is that it brings information from outside the current viewpoint into the reader’s awareness.  Sometimes, you’ll hear people talk about exposition as if it’s always a bad thing, but this isn’t true. Excessive or unwarranted exposition (known as an “info dump”) feels unnatural and boring. But exposition itself is just a tool, and every story makes use of it in some way. The key is to use it well.  Examples Of Exposition To understand exposition better, let’s take a look at a few examples of exposition from specific genres. Pay attention to how each of these examples brings important information from outside the reader’s viewpoint into their awareness.  Exposition In Police Procedurals A police procedural is a type of mystery or crime story that’s focused on a police force, typically with a lead investigator as the viewpoint character. The story follows the steps they take to solve a mystery, prevent a crime, or apprehend a criminal.  If you read or watch police procedurals, you’ve probably come across the following sorts of scenes plenty of times:  A lab tech intercepts the protagonist in the hallway to give them the results of a blood test. They speak only briefly before one of them has to move on to other pressing matters. The protagonist is called out to a crime scene, where another officer shows them some broken pieces of coloured glass they found outside. The protagonist immediately makes a connection that hadn’t occurred to anyone else. A car mechanic calls the police because of some strange damage they notice on a car that was brought in. The protagonist arrives and the mechanic, who has plenty of years under their belt, explains that the damage could only have been caused by tampering.  Did you spot the common purpose of these scenes? They all offload boring tasks to other characters, leaving the protagonist to experience the interesting parts first-hand.  As readers, we don’t want to watch the protagonist using a centrifuge, poking around in a pile of leaves, or changing somebody’s oil. We only care about the test result, the bits of glass, and the tampering. But from a standpoint of believability, those mundane tasks have to be completed by someone so the information can be uncovered.  In these examples, exposition has allowed us to separate the boring work from the interesting outcome.  Exposition In Immersive Sci-Fi These stories involve plenty of world-building, and part of the enjoyment for readers is being immersed in a believable, coherent world that’s different from our own.  See if you recognise either of these scenes:  Our protagonist needs to locate an arms dealer in a space port. They go to the market area, where they’re immersed in a sea of bright signs, food smells, snips of conversations and arguments, strange alien bodies, and loud-voiced merchants with exotic wares on display. The protagonist fumbles their inquiries, angering the locals, and is about to be attacked when a helpful character pulls them aside. The good Samaritan explains the local custom they’ve violated and points the protagonist in the right direction. Our protagonist has been brought to a meeting of the ruling council of the galactic empire. While scavenging in deep space, they received a strange transmission that they’ve been asked to share with the council. As they enter, the council is engaged in a lively debate about clashes with a rival empire, how those might be affected by the disintegration of the trader’s guild, and whether a new warp drive invented by a reclusive genius can give them an edge.  What’s the common thread this time? We want to give our reader an immersive experience of the history, politics, culture, and technology of this world, but our protagonist is just one person, and can’t experience everything first-hand. In these examples, exposition allows the market and the council chamber to become conduits to the wider universe, exposing our protagonist to a variety of experiences in a single place and time.  Exposition In Disaster And Survival Stories These stories centre around a protagonist who’s thrown into a physically threatening situation and has to figure out how to get through it alive. Whether it’s making a difficult sacrifice, overcoming a deep fear, or learning to trust another character, the reader’s enjoyment comes from watching the protagonist grow in a way that allows them to survive.  See if you recognise any of these scenes:  The protagonist is riding in a helicopter to a remote island. The pilot explains that the island has no radio communications, and the waters aren’t safe for boats to approach, so the helicopter travels to and from the mainland once each week. A tour bus is hijacked by masked men and taken to a location outside the city. The protagonist overhears one of the masked men on their phone, demanding a ransom and explaining that one hostage will be shot every hour until the ransom is delivered, starting one hour from now. The zombie apocalypse is here, and society is falling apart. The protagonist rescues a man who tells a harrowing story of watching his wife become a zombie after she tried to protect him and was bitten.  Here the exposition is doing the job of explaining the rules of the game. “There’s no way off the island”, or “you have one hour until a hostage is shot”, or “if you’re bitten by a zombie, you’ll become one”.  If we want the protagonist’s struggles and setbacks to feel dramatic, the reader needs to know these rules. Which choices are available to the protagonist? What’s dangerous and what isn’t? What are the chances something will work?  These rules are created by the author, but they need to be explained from inside the story. Exposition lets us do this.  How To Use Exposition In Your Writing The examples above have shown us three different uses for exposition: offloading boring tasks, creating a conduit to a broader world, and explaining the rules of the game.  How can you use exposition effectively in your stories? How do you get across crucial information without boring or annoying the reader?  Writing good exposition is mostly about the decisions you make ahead of time. If your exposition is being delivered by the wrong character or at the wrong time, you can’t fix that by tweaking the wording. If you spend time setting up your exposition, it’s much easier to make it feel natural.  Try using this step-by-step formula as a guide:  Determine the facts that are crucial to your story. Make a list of important information you need to convey to the reader, along with when they need to know it. (This could be a mental list or an actual document—whatever works for you.) Avoid including information in your story just for the sake of including it; think actively about what you include.  Understand the limitations of your story’s viewpoint. If you have a first-person viewpoint, you can only narrate what the character knows and sees, but you can imbue the text with their feelings and opinions. If you have an omniscient narrator, they can see everything, but a character’s feelings will often be conveyed more indirectly. Diffuse as much as you can. Diffusing your exposition means breaking it down into smaller chunks by spreading it over time or pushing some of it out into the environment. The more you can do this, the less intrusive the exposition feels (ie no ‘info dumps’), and the easier the next step tends to be.  Pick a good framing. For information you need to deliver directly, figure out a framing that makes sense. Who can deliver this information? When would it make sense for them to do it? Use your framing to help you write a great scene to deliver the exposition. Prime the reader. Set your reader up ahead of time by creating anticipation, curiosity, or anxiety about the information you’re going to deliver. How can you make the reader want to hear about this subject?  Many writers don’t think about exposition this consciously. They just write, and if the exposition feels awkward, they try to smooth it out. But given how often readers and reviewers mention bad exposition, it might not hurt to approach it systematically.  You don’t have to use this framework before writing. If you prefer to write “in the flow”, start by getting your first draft onto the page, then use this framework to guide your revisions.  Top Tips For Exposition Writing Now that we’ve looked at the step-by-step formula, what are some specific tips and tricks you can use when writing exposition?  Determining The Key Facts Try starting from a blank slate. Pretend you aren’t going to use any exposition at all. What problems would this cause? Which information would be missing? Go through your story and, for each scene, ask yourself “What should the reader know (or not know) by the time this scene happens for it to feel as dramatic as possible?” Look at your world-building and ask yourself, “Which ideas or experiences would the reader be sad to miss out on? Which ones will stick with them long after reading?” If your plot hinges on any sort of specialist of technical knowledge, take some time to understand what the average person knows and doesn’t know on that subject. For example, if you’re writing a historical novel, what does the average person know about that time period? What misunderstandings or misinformation are common?  Diffusing Try using architecture to convey history and past events. Which buildings were built strongly, opulently, or shoddily? Which have been cared for and which have fallen into disrepair? Plaques and dedications can also convey information from the past. Try using media to convey the present: news broadcasts, posters, advertising, music, TV and videos can all convey current events in your story, as well as a social, cultural, or political context. Try using reactions and body language to convey existing relationships. Two people who know each other will react in some way, positively or negatively, overtly or in subtle ways, when they see one another. Parsing these reactions, instead of being told directly about an existing relationship, can be a more enjoyable way for the reader to learn this part of a character’s backstory. If a character absolutely needs to read a long passage of text, try having them read it over several sittings. This also allows you to quote short excerpts each time, omitting boring parts that might have come in between. If a character needs to learn about a complicated sequence of events, try having them learn about one step at a time. This gives the reader time in between to absorb the meaning of each step. Remember the mantra “show, don’t tell”—if you can have the protagonist gain the information through an experience instead of a dialogue, that’s preferable. Picking A Good Framing An argument provides a great excuse to bring up facts that two characters already know, since the point of an argument isn’t to relay new information, but to clash over interpretations or values. This is also a great opportunity to convey a character’s personality. A confession offers an emotional framework for talking about past events. (Confessions can segue into a flashback if desired.)An expert speaking to a non-expert can deliver technical or specialist information. The common setup is for the non-expert to seek out and interrogate the expert. Try subverting this somehow—perhaps the expert initiates the conversation, or perhaps they’re brought together in a different way. A planning meeting can help review a complicated situation for the reader’s benefit. Set it up so that the meeting has an objective—a decision to be made or a problem to solved—and the people present have different motivations and values. You can offload boring tasks to an assistant, ally, or bystander and have them report only the essentials to your viewpoint character. When you only have a single fact to deliver, you can either find a framing that is naturally brief (a rushed conversation, a post-it note left on a desk), or you can embed it within another interaction. If the information is key to the story, consider delivering it through a memorable set piece. When the assailant tells his captive he has six hours to live, does he write it on an 8.5”x11” piece of lined paper, or embed an audio recording in a remotely-triggered jack-in-the-box? If you’re stuck finding a framing, start by asking yourself, who has the information? How might they deliver it directly or indirectly, voluntarily or involuntarily?  Priming The Reader Make the protagonist suffer (a little or a lot) for not having the information. Maybe our detective needs to link a suspect to a crime before he can get a warrant, and in the meantime a second crime has been committed. Or maybe a character commits a faux pas because they don’t know local etiquette. Have a character engage in some unexplained behaviours. Perhaps they display an emotion that doesn’t fit the situation, or they’re seen talking to someone you wouldn’t expect  them to know. This can raise the reader’s interest about their motivations or backstory. Have someone give a half-answer and withhold the rest. Perhaps our lab tech calls and cryptically says, “turns out that bullet we analysed wasn’t really a bullet… I’ll need to explain this one in person”. Make the reader wonder how something incredible was accomplished, by having the protagonist experience it first-hand before anybody explains it to them. Once you’ve made the reader want the information, it’s often good to make them wait for it a little. Give them enough time to enjoy forming their own theories.  Writing Exposition We hope this guide has helped you understand what exposition is and how to use it in your story. Writing exposition well can be tough; but getting it right can make all the difference between a story full of info gaps and info dumps…and a well-rounded, exciting story that keeps your readers gripped!   Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write Realistic Fight Scenes

While most of my books usually end up having fight scenes, action-heavy set pieces are often a challenge for me. When reading books with extended fight scenes or battles, sometimes it can be easy for the reader to lose interest and start skimming. But even if you love reading action scenes, when it comes to actually putting them down on the page for your story, it’s easy to feel intimidated, especially if you yourself have never gotten into a good old-fashioned brawl or swung a broadsword over your head. In this article I will be sharing advice on how to write fight scenes - even if you’re a lover, not a fighter - along with some fight scene writing examples. Fight Scene Writing “A Conversation with Fists (or whatever weapon)”Wesley Chu SFF author Wesley Chu is a former MMA fighter who writes action-heavy books like The Lives of Tao and the upcoming War Arts Saga. He says writing a fight scene is like having a conversation, but with added fists. What is being communicated? What is being revealed? What happens when words fail your characters and only violence will do?   I won’t be the first or last person to point out that writing a fight scene is not that different to a sex scene, which many authors also struggle to write well. If either are gratuitous, they can be a turn off to readers. But if they are well written, they can be immensely satisfying. A good fight scene or a good sex scene reveals something about the characters or moves the plot forward. The main focus should be on that, rather than on what bit goes where.   Re-framing the similarities between sex scenes and fight scenes may help you. You can think about things like attacking versus retreating, or the balance and shift of power. While of course in many of your fight scenes, the parties involved might not want to sleep together, there should be some sort of unresolved tension and the fight scene is the flashpoint that is sparking that into direct conflict. If this has been building up for a while, it will feel just as inevitable as when two characters finally kiss.  Examples Of Fight Scenes – Choose Your Weapon  Obviously, fight scenes can take many forms. I’ll give a few examples and offer suggestions on how to approach fight scenes ranging from using only words to grand, epic battles.   Verbal Sparring: Fighting with Words  This is when the conversation stops just short of using fists, but you can tell they’d probably really like to use them. Jade City by Fonda Lee has lots of excellent verbal sparring. Another good example is Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir; the titular Gideon has oodles of attitude and is very talented at irritating other people on a regular basis. Kaz in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows is another character who often uses his words with devastating effects. A mark of a good fight scene with words is the volley back and forth in the dialogue, the increasing emotion, and landing the blow that hits the other person right in the weak spot and hurts as much or more than using a fist. (It\'s worth noting that these books have plenty of physical fight scenes as well.) You may see an obvious parallel with flirting, where the volley is designed to get the other person hot and bothered in a different way.   Close And Personal: Hand-To-Hand Combat  With these, you can consider if your characters will be using fists, open hands, wrestling, or throwing the other person up against the wall. It could be martial arts or a messy brawl outside a bar. One of my favourite fight scenes in my book Seven Devils is one my co-writer Elizabeth May took the lead on: Eris, one of the main characters, needs to convince a mercenary to join their extremely dangerous mission. Nyx wants absolutely nothing to do with it. So Eris convinces her in the language they both understand: violence. Nyx dodged another hit and lunged. She got a good hold on Eris and shoved her against the wall, dragging her up until her feet dangled six inches off the ground. “Enough games,” Nyx growled. “Yield.” Eris shook her head. She was breathing hard, but goddamn it, she didn’t even look like she was in pain. Who the seven devils was she? “Yield!” Eris’s eyes narrowed and she smiled.  What— She threw her head back, then slammed her forehead into Nyx’s nose. Cartilage cracked and blood wet Nyx’s lips.  After the adrenaline rush of the fight passes, Nyx is calm enough to have a conversation, and Eris is able to use her words to finish convincing the mercenary that the mission is worth taking. But the fight revealed Nyx’s attitude towards violence, duty, and honour, plus had the added benefit of building some intrigue around Eris and why she’s so good at what she does. In many hand-to-hand fights, the characters are close enough to kiss, even if that is nowhere near their goal. There’s a physicality that can work really well for moving the story along and stress-testing your characters. It’s visceral.   Fighting With Weapons  Choosing a specific type of weapon can offer lots of opportunities for fight scenes. In One for All by Lillie Lainoff, which has just been released, there is a fair amount of sword fighting as it’s a YA gender-swapped retelling of The Three Musketeers with a disabled main character:   I lunged. Steel met steel. He barely recovered from his surprise, blocking my sword at the very last second. Returned my attack with a thrust so quick I had to jump out of the way. His blade whizzed across the space where my stomach was less than a second ago.  Our blades met again and again.  My opponent slashed at my uncovered arm. A rent in the fabric. The sting of blood rushing against skin. I didn’t look at the wound; my concentration had already cost me once. Instead I took a difficult parry, channeling all my strength into the action. He tried to recover, but it was too late. It was just like what Papa told me. Yes, I was dizzy; yes, his body swayed before me like the rocking of a ship; yes, my legs felt as if they’d collapse at any moment. But I knew the rhythm of this bout. It was in my bones, in the throb of my wounded arm, in the beat of my heart.  The rhythm in this scene excerpt works particularly well. It’s telling us what’s happening in the fight, but also how the main character Tania interprets this and how she is feeling. There is a mixture of short and longer sentences to punctuate the scene.   Another fantasy book with fight scenes I enjoyed was The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. Another approach can be found in the fight scenes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. These fights are usually short and brutal, and almost clinical as Reacher is focused more on taking out the opponent than his feelings around it. This is in line with who he is as a character.   Balancing Larger Casts: The Big Battles   A big battle scene is another challenge. A well-known example is, of course, Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings. Often, the way to approach these scenes is to have a glimpse of that big epic scope but then zoom in on smaller fights and moments to bring in that personal character element and create an awareness of what’s at stake. This was the approach we took at the end of Seven Mercies, the sequel to Seven Devils, which follows seven points of view at different stages of a big battle against the Tholosian empire. One character was fighting the battle up in the sky, to show the large number of ships, but the others were down on the surface fighting antagonists that challenged and confronted their individual arcs.   Tips For Writing Fight Scenes Rhythm And Pacing  I touched on rhythm in an example above, but quite often, you’ll most likely want short, sharp sentences in high action scenes. In certain instances, though, a longer, almost breathless sentence might also work well. Think about what best fits how your character would describe or notice this fight. Short sentences will often keep the pacing moving at a steady clip. Too much interiority in terms of the character’s thoughts and emotions will also slow down the pacing, so sprinkling them throughout will help balance both action and the internal reaction. A very effective fight scene might only be one or two pages, maybe even a few paragraphs, but will give your narrative propulsion to the next part of your plot.   Sharing The Right Details   This follows right on from pacing. Even if it’s non-stop frenetic action, if you are overwhelming the reader with too many set directions and going into too much granular detail about the fight, they won’t know what is important enough to take in. The result is that, often, they tune out and start skimming.   The way to fix this is to filter those five sensory details through that particular character. What would they notice about this fight, and why? What about their background or worldview will feed into this scene? Are they a professional fighter, or is this their first confrontation with violence? What flashes of imagery will really stick in the reader’s mind? Let us feel their muscles shaking, their lungs burning, the sweat running down their temples.   Research I often research tips and tricks for fighting with the specific weapon I’ve chosen. For example, in my latest work in progress, I currently have a fight between someone using a trident and a glaive. It was easy to go on Youtube and see people sparring with these weapons. I took some notes on how their bodies moved, when they seemed to struggle, the sounds they made and expressions on their faces, and thought about how that would translate to my characters.   Choreography I also do a very loose choreograph of the fight scene, even if I know I will not necessarily give the reader a detailed blow by blow, it’s helpful for me to know how big of a space I need, how long the fight might be, and crucially, where the exchanges of power are going to happen. When will it seem like one person is going to win, and when will it switch? What sort of injuries will result? I have been known to act it out in my living room a few times, too. This stops there from accidentally being two left hands or an extra arm cropping up in the scene.   Still Stuck? Try Mixing Things Up  If a fight scene really isn’t clicking, try changing the setting or location. Change the weapon. Change the time of day or the weather. Change the point of view. Make the person who wins lose instead, or vice versa. Make the person worse at fighting, or change it so that they’ve been injured and thus can’t use one of their hands.  Don’t Forget: Fighting As Flirting   Lastly, there’s always the option to combine a fight scene and a sex scene if it fits your story. Who doesn’t love that moment when one character has the point of a knife against the throat of the enemy you’re pretty sure is going to become a lover? Or teaching someone to fight as an excuse to fluster them?  I hope these examples and tips have given you the confidence to tackle your fight scenes in your fiction, whether you’re a lover, a fighter, or both.   Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write A Romance Novel

Romance novel sales are booming. In these dark and uncertain times, readers are turning to books for reasurrance and solace. When it comes to comfort reading, you can always rely on romance to deliver.  So how do you write a romance novel? Is there a formula? Is it easy? Read on to find out.  What Is Romance Fiction? Romance fiction is a term refering to novels which have a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and uplifting ending. Someone meets someone else, after a few ups and downs, they get together.   As a genre, romance contains a huge variety, but the expectation of what’s in the book changes slightly by market. In the US, the novel is focused tightly on the romantic storyline, with other aspects of the characters’ lives (work, family, friends etc) playing a much smaller role. If you’re in the UK, a romance novel could be anything with a strong romantic thread. UK-style romantic novels tend to embrace family drama or friendships or life changes alongside the development of the love story. In the US, such books are called ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘chicklit’.   Writing Romance Novels  The term ‘romance’ covers anything from light hearted and angst-free to deeply emotional, but the one thing they all have in common is the happy ending. Genre labels promise the reader a certain type of experience - a crime novel will end with the baddie being caught, a horror novel will be scary and the monster will be defeated (at least for now) … and the promise of romance is that everything will be okay in the end. This can take the form of an HEA (Happy Ever After) or an HFN (Happy For Now).   You can write love stories that end in tragedy - these can often be intensely romantic - but these are tragedies, rather than romances. Romantic stories that end without the main characters getting together could be classed as women’s fiction. A romance novel must have a happy ending. Seriously, this point is non-negotiable.   The majority of romance that you see is about cis, straight, white people, but your book doesn’t have to be. There are readers who love, indeed crave, books with different types (and combinations) of protagonists. Write the book you want to write - there is a readership for it out there, you just have to find where they hang out. In this article I talk about a heroine and hero out of convenience, but please substitute any combination of genders (and/or feature gender non-conforming people ) as you prefer.   Romance Writing Examples Romance is a genre that is known for being a ‘comfort read’. A lot of this comfort factor comes from the knowledge that there will be a happy ending. Sometimes, this gives rise to the suggestion that they are ‘predictable’ and constraining to write. This is not the case. Yes, we know that everything will be okay by the end, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put your characters through the wringer before they get there (mwahahaha).  As I mentioned before, romance is a wide genre. When it comes to backgrounds, settings and story types, you can have just about anything. This means that there are a great many subgenres of romance. Below is a small selection:   Contemporary Romance These romances are set in the present (or recent past). The setting can be just about anywhere. I’ve written books set in offices, microbiology labs and even one set in a hospice.  Some contemporary romance examples are People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry and Love And Other Words by Christina Lauren. Historical Romance Historical romances are set in the past. Technically, anything set more than five decades ago is classed as historical, but most people consider it to be pre-1960. The regency period is particularly popular. Of late, there’s been a boom of romances set during World War 2 as well. The Duke And I By Julia Quinn and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon are popular examples of historical romance. Saga Romance This is a specific type of historical romance. The heroines are usually working class women who overcome great adversity. The stories can span a whole lifetime, or even several generations and the secondary plots can carry as much weight as the romance plot. Examples are The Rockwood Chronicles by Dilly Court, and the Dilly’s Story books by Rosie Goodwin.  Paranormal Romance These romances feature vampires, ghosts, shapeshifters, dragons and other paranormal characters who fall in love with humans or with each other. The All Souls series by Deborah Harkness, or the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning are popular examples of this subgenre.  Sci-Fi Romance This subgenre features romances set in a science fiction world, with sci-fi settings and sub plots. Think Cinder by Marissa Meyer or The Host by Stephenie Meyer.  Urban Fantasy Romance This involves characters who live in an alternate world that is very like our own, but with magical or fantastical elements in it. The setting is often a city, but, despite the name, it doesn’t have to be. Examples include House Of Earth And Blood by Sarah J. Maas or Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews.  Western Romance These are romances set in the wild west, and often have their own subgenres too (such as western cowboy romance and western Christian romance). The Texan’s Wager by Jodi Thomas and High Country Bride by Linda Lael Miller are examples of this subgenre.  Young Adult Romance This subgenre of romance features teenaged protagonists. YA books usually have no sex scenes, but can have just about any type of subplot. Think To All The Boys I\'ve Loved Before by Jenny Han and The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon. Interracial/Multicultural Romance These are novels where at least one of the protagonists is a person of colour. Note that you can have interracial romances where there is no white main character when the characters are from two different non-white races. Examples from this subgenre are Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert and If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane.  Romantic Suspense This is where romance and crime meet. The main story is a romance, but the crime/suspense storyline carries almost equal weight. Verity by Colleen Hoover and The Witness by Nora Roberts are examples from this subgenre.  Erotic Romance These are romances with a lot of sex scenes. The sex scenes are integral to the plot. Think The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang or Follow Me Darkly by Helen Hardt.  Inspirational Romance these books are often chaste and have no profanity in them. The characters often find redemption through their faith (most commonly Christianity). Two examples are Against The Tide by Elizabeth Camden and Undeniably Yours by Becky Wade.  ‘Clean And Wholesome’ Romance These are also chaste books with no profanity, but differ from inspirational romance because these isn’t a faith element. Think Sanibel Dreams by Hope Holloway and The Seat Filler by Sariah Wilson.  Mills And Boon Romances Mills and Boon, which is probably the most famous romance publisher in the world, is in a special category of its own. Harlequin/Mills and Boon novels are sometimes called ‘category romances’ and there are different imprints which have different requirements. Medical romances are set in and around the medical profession, historical romance has (you guessed it) a historical setting, contemporary romances have modern, glamorous settings etc. They have a particular style about them that you can only capture if you read a lot of them (do your homework!). If you are wanting to write for Harlequin or Mills and Boon, check out their latest guidelines and send your submission to the most relevant imprint. How To Write A Romance Novel Step By Step Let’s take a moment to talk about tropes. All genres have tropes - characters, settings or situations that crop up frequently in that genre. With romance, readers often adore these tropes. If you spend any time on romance Twitter (#romancelandia, if you want to check it out), you’ll see people asking for book recommendations that feature their favourite tropes. Again, writing a trope doesn’t have to mean making things predictable. Take a trope and see how you can do something unexpected. Don’t forget that you can mix and match tropes. ‘Friends to lovers’ could pair easily with ‘fake relationship’, for example. (These are two of my favourite tropes to read).   No discussion of romance would be complete without discussing sex. Once again, there’s room for all heat levels. If you like writing sex scenes, then write them. If you’d rather not, then don’t. The choice is up to you. Every heat level has readers who love it. I write ‘closed door’ or ‘fade to black’ romance - the characters do sleep together, but it’s not on the page. My reading preference tends to lean towards ‘fade to black’ too.    So, where do you start?   Read Romances  I’m going to assume that if you’re going to write a romance novel,  you’ve read widely in the genre. If not, please go and read some. If you try to write a romance novel (or indeed, a novel of any genre) without reading the genre, it will be obvious to the reader that you haven’t done your homework. Please do your homework. This will also help you find your niche, which is often a small way in which you subvert the conventions of the genre in order to engage and intrigue your reader. If you\'re wondering how to start a romance novel and need an initial spark of inspiration, try using one of our romance writing prompts. Create Your Characters  As with all novels, start with character. Ask yourself some questions:  Who is your protagonist? Most romance novels centre the heroine. She needs to be relatable - the reader has to care about them. Having a protagonist who\'s nice or funny helps with this.  What is their external goal? It could be anything from ‘I want that promotion’ to ‘my aunt died and mysteriously left me this teashop and I need to make a go of it’. Of course, ‘I want to find love’ is also a perfectly valid goal when it comes to romance.   What is their internal conflict? All good stories are about change. What does your protagonist need (even if they don’t realise it yet)? It could be a limiting belief like ‘I’m not good at art’ or ‘I can’t trust people’. Work out where they are now and where they need to be at the end of the book.  Now do the same for your hero (or other heroine). They should both change and be changed by each other. Ideally, their external goals should conflict. Which leads on nicely to the next section…  Create Your Conflict  What is keeping your main characters apart? Romance novels need conflict. The bigger the conflict, the higher the tension and the more satisfying it feels when they finally get together.  What is the inciting incident? This could be the first time the would-be lovers meet. This plot point sets the tone for the romantic trope - for example, it’ll tell you whether they will be ‘enemies to lovers’ or ‘friends to lovers’ or even a ‘marriage in trouble that’s revived’. It also gives the characters a reason to keep running into each other. In romcoms, this scene is usually called the ‘meet cute’.  What is the crisis point? The ‘black moment’ or ‘all is lost moment’, if you like. At this point it should feel like the thing that is keeping them apart is insurmountable. All is lost. But wait! The protagonist has changed. By embracing that change, she is able to think of a way over the problem, so that she can be with her loved one. It used to be fashionable for the hero to swoop in and rescue the heroine. Nowadays, heroines tend to rescue themselves, perhaps with a little help.  Develop Your Secondary Characters  Secondary characters in romance are often key to the story. Chief among them is the best friend. They give us a foil whereby the readers can see other sides to the heroine. They also give the heroine someone to talk to, so that you don’t have to write reams of internal monologue. If you’re looking for series potential, the best friend is right there - just waiting to be the heroine of the next book.  Other secondary characters, like family or the wider circle of friends, help bring the heroine’s social circle alive and show her as a fully rounded person. Family - whether biological family or ‘found’ family plays a huge part in making up the background world of the main characters in romance.  Explore Your Settings  Setting often plays a key part, too. Small town romances allow you to have a whole village where the characters can interact. Even if your book is set in a city, you’ll probably have an office or a café where they meet. Romance books are often written as series, which can be linked by having them all take place in the same ‘world’.   Start Writing  Once you’ve worked out all those things, you should have a decent outline for your romance. Now write it, as you would any other novel. Use your external goal to create situations where the characters are in conflict with each other. I usually come up with three potential obstacles to the external goal and three potential ways that the heroine’s internal flaw or false belief is challenged and how each changes her. This will give you at least three key scenes that can lead up to the crisis point.   Romances can be written from the point of view of the heroine, the hero, or both. And the choice of first person or third person narrative depends entirely on your preference.  Romance That Resonates  Once you’ve figured out your protagonists, created a conflict, and explored your setting, don’t forget about the main themes and overall message behind your romance. The main driver for romance books is emotion. All the other elements of your book should tie together to work towards crafting a story which resonates.   Romance often deals with realistic situations and issues that affect people (mostly women) in the home - things like illness, bereavement or the sudden loss of a career. Good romance writers are masters at pulling the heartstrings. This is probably most important at the end of the book. You’re aiming to leave the reader with a sense of warm and fuzzy contentment. Hopefully, they can take that feeling with them when they resurface from your book into real life. Even better, they’ll want to recapture that feeling by reading your next romance.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Incorporate Motifs In Your Writing

Have you ever read a novel that evokes very specific imagery, or even a colour scheme, the whole way through?   Not quite sure what I mean?   Well, here’s an example.   Have you ever read Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere? Even if you haven’t you can probably guess that one of the principal motifs in this novel is fire. Throughout the narrative Ng cleverly uses this imagery in many different ways, from showing the power and strength of physical fire and its ability to cleanse and purify, to the sparks flying between two people, and the smothering of a character’s creative fire inside of her.   In this article, I’m going to answer the question \'what are motifs?\', explore how a motif can be developed throughout a story, teach you how to write a motif, and provide some more examples of motifs in well-known novels.  What Are Motifs?   A motif is a literary device that occurs as a recurring element in a novel and often has symbolic significance. The key aspect of a motif is repetition, which helps illuminate dominant themes and ideas in a story. Sometimes it can be a recurring image, as we explored above with the use of fire in Little Fires Everywhere. But other times, it can be a repeated word, phrase or topic, and can even be a recurring situation, sound, smell, temperature, or colour scheme.   Think of literary motifs as little breadcrumbs or clues that an author will leave for their reader in order to reinforce or deepen a certain theme or perspective in their novel. They are often used to set the tone, change the atmosphere or conjure a particular mood. Think of how a darkening sky or a flock of noisy birds can suddenly instil apprehension, or how a soft, glowing candle or a sunset can build warmth and romance.   It’s important to note, however, that the use of motifs depends on the type of novel. Some novels are enhanced by one or more motifs, whilst in others, motifs serve no purpose at all.   Let\'s look at why that is... Motifs, Symbols and Themes - Key Differences  Motifs, symbols and themes are often grouped together and sometimes used interchangeably, but to get the most out of them in your work, you should see them as overlapping but standalone literary devices.   Let’s refresh ourselves by looking at their distinct definitions.   Themes are the main ideas in a story. They are the backdrop or foundation on which the series of events and plot points of a narrative are then laid. Themes are abstract and conceptual.   Symbols are objects that represent something else. A white dove might represent innocence or peace and a snake might represent poison or fertility. They can appear in just a single point in a story.   Motifs are often symbols, but can also be repeated phrases and words, smells and colours. They are tangible and concrete and must be repeated throughout a story to bring the theme to life.   Now let’s look how each literary device might overlap and work together in a story.   A symbol in a story can be a wilting flower or shrivelled up leaves that symbolise death. If these images are repeated several times through the story, they will become a recurring literary motif, which is used to point to the theme of the story: grief and loss.   Examples Of Motifs In Literature  As we’ve explored above, you can find motifs throughout literature, in many of your favourite novels. Let’s look at this in more depth.   The Picture Of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde  Wilde uses a number of motifs in this novel but the most standout motif is the colour white which is used to chart Dorian’s trajectory from a figure of innocence to a figure of degradation. In the beginning, it is used to portray his innocence in boyhood, with his \"white purity\" being the key reason Lord Henry is enthralled by him. But later, when we learn that Dorian has sacrificed his innocence, there is a quote from the Book of Isaiah: \"though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them white as snow\" which outlines his longing to return to innocence.   Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro  The motif in Ishiguro’s bestselling novel is undoubtedly copies, which begins with the students themselves who are essentially clones of people in the outside world. This is how Kathy finds out that their world is but a copied one, as she sees students copy the gestures and mannerisms of the people they watch on television.   There is also a rebellion against this motif of copying throughout the novel, for example, with Kathy observing Tommy’s drawings to be intricate and original creations.   Romeo And Juliet – William Shakespeare  Shakespeare uses light and dark throughout the play. For example, the lovers are described as \"stars\" that light the dark sky. Romeo often refers to Juliet as a powerful light source and Juliet, too, says that Romeo lights her. Who can forget the famous balcony scene when Romeo says, \"But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.\" But ultimately the dichotomy of light and dark is there to convey Romeo and Juliet’s doomed future. No matter how much light exists between them, the dark cannot exist alongside it, so one will ultimately prevail.   How To Use Motifs In Your Writing  Now, onto the crucial information that I know you’ve been waiting patiently for – how you can use motifs in your own writing!  Well, the first thing to note is that motifs aren’t for every story. If it isn’t obvious then don’t beat yourself up trying to find something that works. There is nothing worse than an ineffective motif! Yes, they may enhance a story and evoke different moods, but there are many other ways of doing so – from setting the tone and focusing on your sub-plot to working on your rising action and using descriptive adjectives.   The second crucial thing to note is that motifs may already appear in your story without you even realising it – your brain works in marvellous ways! Have a read of your work and see if you can spot them. They may be included with a light touch to begin with, but you can always deepen their connection to the underlying theme of your novel in subsequent drafts.   But if you do feel like giving it go, here are some tips to help you get started.   As we’ve discussed above, motifs are a way of pinpointing the central theme or themes of your novel so that must always be your starting point. Spend some time thinking (preferably on a nice long dog walk) about the underlying message or purpose of your novel.   Once you’ve spent some time reflecting, write down any themes that come to mind. Bullet point form is best so they can be reeled off in short, clear phrases.   Then, once you’ve written down the key themes of your novel, brainstorm any imagery, words, memories or events that come to mind for each. These will serve as the breadcrumbs of your motifs, which you can hone with every new draft.   Finally, take some time to review what you’ve noted down and focus on a handful of motifs that best represent the underlying themes of your novel. Remember that you need to make sure that they’re not out of place in your narrative or amongst the characters you have developed. For example, using sunshine as a motif in a novel that is based in the Arctic Circle in the depths of winter is probably not the best fit.   Writing Motifs Now that we\'ve answered the question \'what are motifs?\', and provided some great examples for you to use, you\'ll be able to effectively explore the use of motifs in your writing. Motifs are effective literary devices that can be used to set the mood of your novel and ultimately draw attention to its underlying themes. They are, however, by no means essential and should only be used if they can be integrated naturally within the narrative without distorting the plot or characterisation.    Take your time when adding motifs to your novel. Play around with different imagery and colours. Or if you’re feeling brave, get in the writing zone, and see what creativity flows out of your subconscious!   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. 

Are You Writing Clichés Without Realising?

How many times have you read a book and thought: ‘Now, where have I read this before?’ That is one of the first indications that you’ve entered into cliché territory. The word ‘cliché’ can be pretty vague with people often wondering what exactly it could mean. What are clichés in writing and why are they considered so harmful? This article will not only explore what they are, but also how to avoid using them in your writing.   In layman’s terms, clichés are phrases and expressions that have been so grossly overused with time that they’ve become largely meaningless. How many times have you read ‘in a nutshell’ and thought: not this again! That’s exactly what a cliché does. It tends to annoy the reader to the point that they simply overlook or ignore the clichés in the writing, or worse, put down the book altogether.   Examples Of Clichés In Writing  There are many examples of clichés, such as ‘one bird in hand is better than the two in the bush’, ‘a chip off the old block’, or ‘laughter is the best medicine’. They might have been in vogue many years ago, but due to overuse, they’ve become tedious. However, clichés can also be found in descriptions and overall themes.   The Delicate Heroine And The Strong-Jawed Hero  These descriptions are found in so many books that they’ve effectively become clichés. The ‘delicate as a daisy’ heroine who falls in love with the dark, handsome and athletic hero. While this may have once been very popular, and still has a lot of fans, most readers want to steer clear of this storyline. They’re more interested in three dimensional characters. Even when using this specific storyline, you can easily turn this cliché into an original concept and explore why the heroine is delicate and good-natured. What happened in her life that made her like that? How do the trials and tribulations of life awaken a darker side to her character? Now, we have something the reader would be more interested in reading. Similarly, the dark and handsome man could have a back story which allows us to envision him as a three-dimensional character.   Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is an excellent example of a story that defies all sort of clichés. It is a bold and original idea which is why it took off so well upon publication. Readers simply couldn’t get enough of Amy and Nick Dunne precisely because they were so unexpected.   Using Dreams Or The Weather To Start A Book Starting off a book with a dream may sound like a brilliant idea, but it is not the most inventive. It has been used many times in the past to the point that readers quite simply skim through this to get to the actual content. Similarly, using the weather as a prop is also an example of a cliché. If the weather is somehow pushing the plot forward, then that is acceptable, but using it just for the sake of it is unoriginal and meaningless. Similarly, if the dream sequence is doing something to help the story along, then it makes sense, but including it just to increase the word count would not be a wise idea.   Using Well-Worn Plot Lines That Readers Have Become Well Versed To  How much do you look forward to reading about a love triangle? Not much, right? It is such an overused trope that most readers simply sigh when they encounter two people who’ve fallen in love with the same person. In the past, this storyline has worked really well, but precisely because of that, it has become a bit of a cliché now. People want to read something different, something that takes them out of their comfort zone. If you add the demands of technology and social media with people not having enough time, it is more important than ever for stories to be fresh and fast-paced. If there’s a twist to the old love triangle, then that may be worth exploring, but it is quite obvious that we’ve outgrown the traditional love triangle.  How To Avoid Clichés In Writing It may not be possible to completely avoid all the types of cliché in your writing, but you can definitely weed out most of them if you try. First of all, it is very important to edit and proofread your work. That in itself helps in highlighting any clichés that you may have used. The key is to put some time between writing and editing. Once you’re done writing your book or story, put it in a drawer and forget about it for a few weeks or a month. Afterwards, when you look at it with a fresh set of eyes, the clichés will jump right at you. It will be much easier to catch them.   While editing your work, pay close attention to sentences or passages that bore you or sound rehearsed. Chances are that those are clichés. For example, if you have used the weather to initiate conversation between two characters, try making the weather an important factor in the plot, or maybe change the thread of the conversation entirely. Changing the overall tone of the sentence or completely rephrasing it can also help in eliminating clichés.   Another way to avoid clichés is to think outside the box. Even if you’re writing a stereotypical plot that veers into cliché territory like a love triangle, adding original ideas can help make it stand out. The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer might feature a traditional love triangle, but the reason it became such a huge hit is that Meyer added the vampire and werewolf element to help the plot stand out. In addition to that, there were other more complex plot strings that helped the series rise above the competition.   Why Should We Avoid Clichés?  The reason for avoiding is simple: readers don’t want to read them. Not only do they make the writing seem clunky and boring, but they can also transform a perfectly fresh idea into a stale mess. Often our brains simply skim this kind of writing as it sounds repetitive or rehashed.  Also, clichés are not good for a writer’s reputation. Using too many of these phrases and descriptions can cause you to be accused of being lazy or sloppy. Even if the novel is exploring a fresh idea that hasn’t been attempted in the past, the use of clichés can ruin its overall effect which is the last thing a writer could want.   Another reason to avoid clichés is that they can make the writing look shallow especially where it shouldn’t. Imagine for a moment that you’re writing a very tense scene between the two protagonists in your novel which will serve as a climax of sorts, and at the opportune moment, one of the characters ends up saying, ‘what goes around comes around.’  Not only would this deflate the entire scene, but it might actually make the reader abandon the book altogether because of course they’d expect something deeper from the character considering it’s the climax.   Are Clichés Necessarily A Bad Thing? I think the general consensus will remain that clichés in writing should be avoided. They make the writing seem dull, sloppy and uninspiring. They squeeze the life out of an interesting plot. However, in some cases, it may not be a bad thing to include a cliché or two especially when it looks like readers might be looking for something familiar.   Think of it like when editors ask writers to use fewer adjectives and adverbs, or to use them when it is absolutely necessary. The same could apply for clichés. Sometimes, it could be imperative to use a familiar phrase, or indeed, to repeat something for greater impact. Readers might enjoy the familiarity and that could help them immerse themselves in the book more.   Avoiding Clichés Looking at the above points, it is pretty obvious that clichés can dampen or completely ruin the impact of good writing. They include phrases, similes, metaphors or descriptions that have lost their meaning over time and are just easily overlooked and ignored by readers. Using too many clichés in writing can make writers look lazy and unoriginal.   It is important to avoid clichés by thoroughly editing and proofreading any work you produce and being more aware of what you are writing. Obviously, nobody plans on writing clichés… they have a knack for finding their way into a piece of writing. The key is to keep an eye out. The more clichés that are eliminated, the better and less clunky the writing will be.   While in some cases it may be pertinent to include a cliché or two for familiarity or effect, for the most part, clichés should be avoided to make your writing stand out. Readers today are looking for fresh, authentic voices with plots that shock and enthral them in equal measure. There is no room for clichés anymore.    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. 

Tone In Writing; The How, Why, And When

The use of the right type of tone in writing can be transformational for a reader.  It can mean the difference between them connecting with a novel and wanting to read until the very last page or giving up and starting something else, which is undoubtedly every author’s worst nightmare!  To avoid the latter, try to write with the end-user in mind – your readers. Think about the different tones in writing and what type of tone is suitable for your novel. Think about how you want a reader to feel when they are turning the pages of your novel.   In this guide, I’m going to explain the meaning of tone in literary terms and its importance, give you examples of how tone has been used successfully in literature and provide some pointers to help you develop the type of tone that is right for your novel.   What Is Tone In Writing?  First, let’s consider tone during in-person communication, and how we use verbal, audial and visual cues to convey how we feel about what we are saying. Our words are only part of our communication. We can change our facial expressions and pitch, and we can use hand gestures and body language to give the people we are speaking to more information about our attitude towards our conversation.   Well, if you think about it, how we use tone in writing is not really that different to how we use tone in speech. Yes, we may not have the same tools at our disposal but there are other ways that an author can achieve similar goals of implying an attitude/mood and evoking an emotion.   Tone in fiction novels is essentially the attitude which the author/narrator (or POV character) has towards story events and other characters. A writer has the power to manipulate the tone of the novel by choosing what a narrator/character focuses on throughout a specific scene, detailing the character’s changing reactions/responses and the choice of words used in dialogue, and including their internal thoughts and actions. The ways in which a character acts towards the reader when a first-person POV is used also sets the tone.  Tone can be set in a combination of ways: word choice (diction), sentence construction, imagery, word order and what viewpoint the character focuses on (i.e. their attitude towards the issues in the story, the events, and the other characters in the story). It is often confused with an author’s voice but is in fact very different. The voice is an author’s unique voice that ideally shouldn’t change from novel to novel, whereas the tone will be different depending on your story and your main characters.   The are many different types of tones – way too many to list them all!   But here are some common types of tone that you are likely to see in fiction and non-fiction:   Formal. Informal. Friendly.  Humorous.  Optimistic.  Assertive.  Concerned. Encouraging.  Surprised.  Co-operative.   Now let’s move to exploring types of tone in more detail.   Types Of Tone In Writing  As mentioned above, tone in writing is used by the author to convey both a character’s attitude/mood and evoke a feeling in the reader.   There are many ways that this can be achieved.   Let’s explore some of the more common different types of tone below!   Light-hearted or cheerful. Using a light-hearted or cheerful tone immediately puts the reader at ease that they are sailing calmer waters in your novel and that there are unlikely to be any unexpected obstacles or challenges on the horizon.   Hopeful. A hopeful tone of voice can be used in different ways, depending on what genre you are writing in. For example, in a romantic comedy, it can be used to show an un-lucky in love protagonist being charmed by a dashing stranger. Whereas in a crime or thriller novel, it can used in a dark point of a protagonist’s journey to show that their bad fortune might finally be changing.   Uneasy or fearful. Using an uneasy or fearful tone of voice is the literary equivalent of the doom music in a horror movie. It will show the reader that they are creeping towards a potentially devastating or terrifying moment in the protagonist’s journey.   Nostalgic. Conveying a nostalgic tone can be used to evoke in the reader warm fuzzy memories of their childhood. It can often involve home and family but also a longing for long-gone moments.   There are many, many other descriptions of tone that you can play with, depending on what genre you are writing in and what is happening in your story.   While the type of tone used can vary with every character and scene, the overall tone of your story must remain consistent to keep from confusing your reader and hindering your message. A reader has certain expectations from a novel, depending on its genre, the synopsis and how it is marketed. Therefore, writers must try not to deviate from this consistent message in the tone of their novels. For example, a novel about tragedy should rarely break into a light-hearted or cheerful tone, whereas a romantic comedy should stay clear of fearful or serious tones.   Vocabulary is key in setting tone, so you need to ensure that you select the right words for a specific scene or setting in your novel, or even the overall theme. For example, a scene about falling in love would convey an entirely different emotion if written using words like ‘dark shadow of death’ and ‘veins popping out of his neck’!  Examples Of Tone In Literature  Pick up any book on your bookshelf. Turn to any page. And start reading. Straight way, you should be able to pick up on the overall tone of the novel and in that specific scene.   Here are some examples in well-known literature that demonstrate some of the common types of tone.   Open Water By Caleb Azumah Nelson ‘’The barbershop was strangely quiet. Only the dull buzz of clippers shearing soft scalps. That was before the barber caught you watching her reflection in the mirror as he cut her hair, and saw something in her eyes too. He paused and turned towards you, his dreads like thick beautiful roots dancing with excitement as he spoke.’’  It is clear that Nelson has chosen his vocabularly with purpose - ‘’dancing’’, ‘’shearing soft scalps’’, ‘thick beautiful roots’’ to convey the underlying romantic tone of his novel.   A Little Life By Hanya Yanagihara   ‘’But as much as he fears sex, he also wants to be touched, he wants to feel someone else’s hands on him, although the thought of that too terrifies him. Sometimes he looks at his arms and is filled with a self-hatred so fiery that he can barely breathe…’’  Even in such a short extract of a 700-page novel, we as the reader can gauge the tragic, pessimistic and fearful tone that Yanagihara has conveyed through her beautiful prose.   The Stranding By Kate Sawyer  ‘’They have a hut. A place to sleep. It is waterproof and windproof but the elements are still around them: they can hear the sea from their bed, see the light of the moon and the sun shining through the tarpaulin, little though it is through the constant cloud. It is not warm unless they are under their piles of blankets, but is somewhere they can rest after the toil of the day’’  In this short extract of Sawyer’s captivating novel, you can immediately get a feel of the narrator’s worried and anxious tone, and the strong current of hope within it.   How To Develop Your Writing Tone  Now, let’s look at the key ways that you can set the tone of your novel.   1. Keep Your Tone Consistent Throughout   Think of the tone of your novel as the soul of a person. Yes, you can dress your body differently, depending on your mood and preference, just like you can layer tones for different characters and scenes. But the underlying tone of your novel must never change, from beginning to end.   Read through your manuscript and look for places where the tone fades or shifts. Focus your attention there.  2. Write With Your Reader/Target Audience In Mind Most readers are loyal to genres and want to know that they are in safe hands every time they pick up a book. For example, a reader seeking escapism from dire world conflict will be fully thrown by a romantic comedy novel if it suddenly creeps into suspense and fear.   3. Play With Detail And Description  Think about the characters and plot of your novel, and weave in appropriate detail and descriptions to set the tone. For instance, a depressed or lonely character may notice cracks forming on wall and mouldy tiles, whereas a love-struck, hopeful character will see vibrant wallpaper and intricate covings.   Make every word you use earn its place in your novel. Choose wisely and don’t be afraid to cut words if they are not serving their purpose.   Hone Your Use Of Tone I hope you’ve found this article useful and that you can see how significant tone is in determining how a reader will perceive your novel.   Now all that’s left for you to do is switch on your laptop, open up your Word document and let your creative juices flow!   Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Is A Rhetorical Device? (And How To Use Them)

Rhetorical device. It’s not really a phrase that rolls off the tongue, is it?   That said, it’s an important linguistic tool that\'s used by pretty much everyone, from business people to politicians – and of course authors. You may not have heard of rhetorical devices by name but whether you’ve realised it or not, you’ve probably come across at least some of these devices before, and maybe even used them yourself!   In this guide, I’m going to be delving into the ins and outs of a rhetorical device, including what a rhetorical device is (in common use and in literature), the different types of rhetorical devices, and the purpose of a rhetorical device in a novel.   What Are Rhetorical Devices?  A rhetorical device (otherwise known as a stylistic device, a persuasive device or more simply, rhetoric) is a technique or type of language that is used by a speaker or an author for the purpose of evoking a particular reaction from the listener or reader or persuading them to think in a certain way.   As mentioned above, rhetoric can be used by pretty much anyone in day-to-day communication. For example, any time you try to inform, persuade or debate with someone, you’ll be engaging in rhetoric. Or if you’ve ever found yourself being moved emotionally by someone’s speech or changed your mind about a certain topic, you’ve experienced the power of rhetoric in practice. Rhetorical devices in speech can be used in many different ways: your tone of voice, emphasis on certain words, sentence structure and repetition, or even asking questions for emphasis rather than for the answer.   In literature, you will have seen rhetoric devices used abundantly in the form of similes, alliteration and metaphors which are woven beautifully into prose. But rhetoric can be written into dialogue as well, although this is somewhat trickier as you will need to find a way of integrating it naturally so as not to disturb the authenticity of speech.   Now, let’s move on to consider the different types of rhetorical devices.   Types Of Rhetorical Devices  Rhetorical devices are sometimes confused with literary devices. And no wonder because there is plenty of overlap between the two, and they both seek to serve the same ultimate purpose: to elevate one’s writing from good to magnificent. And what writer wouldn’t want that as their goal?   There is, however, one significant difference between the two. While literary devices express ideas artistically, rhetoric devices are confined to the following four specific ways.   Logos. A rhetorical device that falls within this category will seek to convince and persuade via logic, and will usually make use of statistics, facts or statements in support of their position.   Ethos. Ethical rhetorical devices will try and convince the reader/listener that they are a credible source, and that their words should be trusted because they have the experience and judgment necessary to make that decision/statement.   Pathos. This type of rhetorical device is grounded in emotion. For example, this could involve the writer/speaker invoking sympathy or pity, angering their audience or inspiring them to change their perspective.   Kairos. The final type of rhetoric device is quite a difficult concept to grasp, but the English translation of ‘opportune moment’ might be able to shed some light. Essentially, Kairos asks you to consider the context and atmosphere of the argument you are making to ensure that you are delivering it at the right time. As Aristotle famously said, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody\'s power and is not easy.”  List Of Common Rhetorical Devices  Now that we’ve considered the four types of rhetorical device, let’s look at some common rhetorical devices so we can understand how they can be used in practice.   Be prepared for some complicated and hard-to-pronounce words!   Alliteration. Let’s start with one that you will be familiar with. This is a sonic device, involving the repetition of the initial sound of each word (e.g. Maya melted marzipan in the microwave).   Anacoluthon. A mouthful of a word, which involves the unexpected shift or change in the syntax or structure of a sentence. This can be used to grab the reader’s attention and shift it in another direction.   Apophasis. This device creates irony. The narrator will attempt to deny something while still saying that exact thing. For example, a phrase that begins with “it goes without saying’’ and is followed by the exact thing that the narrator says they are not going to say is an apophasis.   Litotes. This is an ironic understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary. “He’s no fool” is a great example of a litotes in action.   Meiosis. Now a word that is less commonplace. It is a type of euphemism that is used intentionally to undermine the size or importance of its subject and is the opposite of hyperbole or exaggeration. An example of this is if someone who was badly injured (with a broken leg or deep wound etc) proclaimed “it’s just a scratch”.  Oxymoron. A word that might take you back to English class at school, this is a device that is used where two things are placed in direct comparison to one another, even though they are complete opposites. This is a powerful figure of speech that can emphasise a specific point in your writing. A classic example is “the silence was deafening”. Hands up if you’ve used that one!   Syllepsis. The use of a word in the same grammatical relation to two adjacent words in the same context with one literal and the other metaphorical in sense. “He blew his nose and then he blew my mind.”  Zeugma. This is the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words, usually in such a manner that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one. For example, “she opened the door to him and to her soul”.  Examples Of Rhetorical Devices  Can you think of any examples where rhetorical devices have been used in literature?   Here are a few that come to my mind.   Logos- Othello By William Shakespeare “On, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on… Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger,  But, oh, what damned minutes tell he o’er Who dotes, yet doubts – suspects, yet soundly loves… She did deceive her father, marrying you… She loved them most… I humbly beseech you of your pardon For too much loving you…’’  In this excerpt, Lago convinces Othello with logic and reasoning to make him doubtful of the secret relationship between Desdemona and Cassio.  Pathos- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings By Maya Angelou  “If growing up is painful for the South Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.’’  Angelou’s memoir focuses on the emotional events of her life from early childhood through to adolescence. She uses pathos throughout to appeal to the reader’s emotions and to evoke sympathy for her experiences, especially of trauma, abuse and racism.   Ethos- East of Eden By John Steinbeck “And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.’’  In this extract, the author is trying to create a sense of familiarity with the audience, who he hopes will agree with his opinions on freedom. By suggesting similarities of opinion, Steinbeck builds credibility as a narrator.  Kairos- Animal Farm By George Orwell “Comrades, you have heard already about the strange dream that I had last night. But I will come to the dream later. I have something else to say first. I do not think, comrades, that I shall be with you for many months longer, and before I die, I feel it my duty to pass on to you such wisdom as I have acquired. I have had a long life, I have had much time for thought as I lay alone in my stall, and I think I may say that I understand the nature of life on this earth as well as any animal now living. It is about this that I wish to speak to you.’’  This is Old Major\'s speech where he addresses the animals, calling them his comrades, saying that he has a dream and that the moment has arrived that he should relate this dream to them. The timing of his speech is important as he stresses that he may not live long, so now is the right time to pass on his wisdom. This is the best use of Kairos in a practical way.  How To Use Rhetorical Devices In Your Writing  So now that we’ve seen how famous authors have used rhetorical devices in their writing, how can we mere mortals do the same?   I’m going to share my top three tips for doing so.   1. Adding Emphasis Rhetorical devices can be used to create emphasis in your story. There are a number of different ways you can do this, from analogies, such as similes and metaphors, to repeating words or phrases within a sentence while adding more detail (amplification) and repeating an idea using different words (commoratio). An example of the latter is, “She was done. Finished. Dead.’’  2. Creating Rhythm   We can strengthen a character’s voice by paying attention to the rhythm of our writing. Rhythmic prose can be more lyrical, smooth, or driving depending on how we decide to use rhetorical devices. We can repeat a word or phrase at the beginning of two or more phrases (anaphora), or at the end of the phrase (epistrophe). For example, “She would die. He would die. They’d all die.”  3. Adding Humour We can use rhetorical devices to add touches of humour to our prose, even if we’re not writing a romantic comedy. Use pleonasm (using more words than necessary), tmesis (splitting a word and adding a word in the middle), antonomasia (using a description as a proper name) or zeugma (using an out-of-sync phrase for the last item of a list). For example, “before meeting up with her boss, she grabbed her diary, her laptop and her big-girl panties”.  Next Steps So, there we have it, your crash course in rhetorical devices!  I hope that this article answers any questions you may have on rhetorical devices and has inspired you to play with them to strengthen your writing. If it’s good enough for the greats, then it’s good enough for the rest of us!   If you’re looking for more advice and guidance on your novel and how to break it into this highly opaque industry, then I’d encourage you to have a look at Jericho Writer’s leading online writers club.  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. 

The Power Of The Subplot

Have you ever read a book and thought, ‘’Wow, that was such an interesting backstory’’ or ‘’I love how that explained why the protagonist did x?’  Well, the shrewd amongst you may recognise this interweaving of information and expansion of a backstory as the subplot of a novel.   Let’s dig deeper and delve into what a subplot means, the different types of sub-plot and how you can write a compelling sub-plot (or two) within your own narrative. What Is A Subplot?  A subplot is otherwise known as a minor story or a secondary plot which often runs parallel to the main plot. It can be about your main character(s) or about another character whose narrative interacts or impacts their narrative. If, like me, you like to personify writing concepts, think of your subplot as your main plots’ loyal and supportive (but less glamorous) companion. It’s there in the background, being relied upon to move the narrative forward and help the main plot reach its full potential.   The story subplot is a highly underrated writing device. In fact, many new writers concentrate so hard on perfecting their main plot that their sub-plots are often neglected, which can make their whole story fall flat. Therefore, it’s important to recognise from the outset (i.e., when plotting your novel), that the possibilities of a well-crafted sub-plot are endless. Not only do they make the story more interesting and complex through the weaving in of multiple themes, but they can also allow you to develop characters further, cement a character’s motivation, create a plausible and rich backstory and/or increase tension and suspense within the story by creating obstacles and hurdles for your main character to overcome.   In short, a subplot is a story within a story.   Types Of Subplots  As mentioned previously, a subplot can be used in many ways with many different objectives. In a compelling, tightly woven novel, you may not even recognise the sub-plot as it will be expertly integrated into the main plot. And often, a sub-plot may have more than one purpose.   Let’s explore some of the different ways to use a subplot.   Mirror Subplot  A mirror subplot occurs when a secondary conflict mirrors the main conflict but doesn’t match it. Your main character will usually learn a valuable lesson from a mirror subplot, which will help them resolve their own issue. For example, in a rom-com, a mirror subplot could be the main character’s best friend also falling in love at the same time, but her love interest turns out to be a two-timing so-and-so. This may help your main character lookout for all the signs of infidelity in her own potential conquest. Romantic/Declaration Of Love Subplot    This is by far the most popular type of subplot across all different genres because it shows a more sensitive, relatable side to the main character and will inevitably help the reader empathise with or understand the character’s actions better. The important thing to note is that it doesn’t have to be a romantic interest, instead, it could be the relationship between a character and their family member, or the blossoming of a new friendship. For example, in a crime or thriller book, this subplot could be a serial killer’s relationship with their mother (in the past or present), which may help a detective anticipate their next move.  Parallel Subplot  Parallel subplots are often referred to as B-plots, C-plots and so on. In fact, some writers argue that whilst they are related to subplots, they are in fact not subplots at all as they function independently of the main plot. Parallel plots often involve interactions between secondary or tertiary characters, but they still relate to the underlying theme of the novel. For example, if your novel is about a woman’s journey of grieving the loss of her partner - a parallel plot could be about another person going through a similar loss, who at some point in the narrative guides your protagonist to find joy and hope in life again.   If you are creating a parallel plot, it’s important to ensure that it doesn’t stray too far from the main plot as there is a risk of it no longer supporting/enhancing the main story.   Conflict Subplot  Conflict subplots seek to do what they say on the tin – add conflict and tension in your novel. They’re also a brilliant vehicle for in-depth characterisation as they allow you to show how a character overcomes certain conflicts. Be cautious about how, and where, in the story conflict subplots interact with the main plot because they have the potential to slow the main plot down.   Expository Subplot  Expository subplots are a great way of adding in backstories – such as a character’s past or childhood, which explains the main plot. Do be careful with this one though. Don’t throw in everything about your character (i.e., what he or she ate for breakfast in 1975 or the name of their childhood best friend’s dog), only the information that your reader needs to know and what is significant in driving the main plot forward.   Complicating Subplot  Subplots that complicate the situation for your protagonist are great ‘in action’ plot points to keep the reader turning the pages. For example, say your protagonist has arranged to meet their love interest at Grand Central Station when the clock strikes midnight, a complicating subplot could be their demanding job that causes them to work late, adding tension and higher stakes regarding reaching the station on time.   Foil Subplot  A foil character in a novel is used by writers to contrast or reflect another character – often your protagonist – by highlighting their traits, appearance, personality or morals. In literature, a foil can take the form of an antagonist, but that isn’t always the case. The uniting theme is that the foil character and their journey shine a spotlight on your main character and their journey.   Foil subplots work in similar ways by literally foiling the plans of your main character. So, for example, your novel could show two different characters tackle the same problem in completely different ways, which at its core helps the reader identify the key personality traits of your protagonist and their narrative.   Bookend Subplot  A bookended subplot essentially frames the main narrative – it’s introduced at the outset and then pretty much left alone until near the end when it’s resolved as part of the main plot.   A real, ‘oh yeah’ satisfying moment!  Narrative Subplot  This subplot design will often take the form of an otherwise throwaway incident or scene that then spirals out of control. Either the character is involved in the scene, or the impact of the scene is so significant that it becomes its own subplot, which then infiltrates the main plot.   Subplot Examples In Literature  Let’s move on to look at some examples of subplots in literature.   Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn  The main plot of the story is the relationship between Amy and Nick after Amy goes missing. But in true testament to Flynn’s skill as a writer, there are multiple sub-plots tightly woven into the fabric of this novel, many of which you may not even recognise. For example, the relationship between Amy and her high-school boyfriend, Desi, which acts as both a complicating and a conflict subplot.   Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie   This award-winning novel tells the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who immigrates to the United States to attend university. The underlying themes of the novel are identity, race and belonging but there’s a romantic subplot seamlessly woven into the story regarding her relationship with Obinze, highlighting the importance of love and belonging. The Woman In The Window – A J Finn The main plot of the story begins when Dr Anna Fox witnesses a murder from her bedroom window. But a large part of the novel delves into Anna’s backstory as to how she came to be agoraphobic and what happened to her husband and daughter, which works well as an expository subplot.   How To Write Subplots Now we’ve discussed what a subplot is and the different types, here are my five top tips for weaving a subplot into your narrative.   Ensure that your subplot(s) plays second fiddle to the main plot (and continues to do so throughout the novel).  Remember that your subplot is there to compliment and enhance the main plot, not to overpower it. If, while writing, you find your subplot taking over, maybe have a think about reworking the narrative and making your subplot your main plot.    Experiment with your subplot to make your narrative more interesting.  For example, if your main plot is in third person present POV, consider writing the subplot in first person past POV.    Don’t leave a subplot hanging.  There’s nothing that infuriates a reader more than a subplot that’s not wrapped up and not tied to the main plot by the end of your novel. To avoid this happening, make sure you give your subplots a narrative arc (i.e. a beginning, a middle and an end).   Use subplots to avoid a flat middle.  If you find that your main plot starts to drag by the middle of your novel, consider using a subplot to add drama, suspense and action.    Don’t leave your subplot until the last minute.  Subplots that are written as a second thought or in a mad rush are easy to spot. Consider how you can maintain that depth and authenticity of character throughout the narrative arc. What Subplot Suits Your Story Best?  I hope by now that you see the value of subplots in driving a story forward and are brimming with inspiration as to how you might add some exciting subplots to your novel. Before choosing what type of subplot your book needs, consider the topic, the genre, and (of course) the plot itself.  Often, working on your characters first and getting as deep with them as you can, can lead to all sorts of subplot ideas regarding their motivation, their past or any secrets they may be hiding.  And my final piece of advice – don’t get carried away.   Take a step back and take a look at your story structure first, considering where your subplot can seamlessly be woven in without jeopardising your main plot. You may want to do this by writing out Post It notes with each chapter and plot point written on it and moving things about, writing your story arc on a whiteboard, or using a plot-building function on Scrivener or other similar writing programs.  And if you get stuck, simply pick up your favourite book and see how the author has woven their stories together. After all, reading is one of the most invaluable ways of learning how to write well – so if your favourite author can make it look easy, then you can do the same too!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Use Dialogue Tags

Every writer aims to create pieces of sparkling, seamless dialogue, that captivates the reader, moves the story forward and rings with authenticity.  In this article, I will be illustrating how dialogue tags can be varied in writing to avoid repetition, improve the flow and pace of the story and shine a new light on characters.  I will also suggest techniques to improve conversation writing and show how easy it is to find better words for ‘said.’ What Is A Dialogue Tag?  Dialogue tags are phrases that are used to break up, precede or follow written dialogue to convey which character is speaking, making it easier for the reader to follow the conversation. The most common dialogue tag is the word ‘said.’  The use of dialogue tags makes it clear who is talking and what is being said and they also convey how a character is feeling. However, the constant use of the simple “he said/she said” dialogue tag can very soon become monotonous and bland.  So how can authors use alternative dialogue tags, so that repetitive dialogue can be avoided? And what alternative words are there to ‘said\'?  To Adverb Or Not To Adverb?  There’s a lot of debate in the publishing and writing world on whether adverb speech tags, such as “he said quietly” or “she moaned gently”, should be used by writers. There’s a general school of thought that drawing attention to dialogue tags by using adverbs is defeating the purpose of what they should be there for.  For example, instead of writing:   “ ‘My goodness,’ Sally said with horror.” Most writers would prefer to show, not tell. Instead, they may write: “Sally’s eyes widened, and her hand flew to her mouth. ‘My goodness,’ she cried.” We then know that the way she says ‘my goodness’ is very clearly with horror because of the actions she’s making. Less Is More With Dialogue Tags Speech tags should not be the main focus of writing, but simply a mechanical part of linking a story together by way of dialogue between characters.  Having said that, using well-thought-out dialogue tags to compliment characters, story and pace, can improve the overall rhythm of a story and give it that extra polish.  So where do dialogue tags play their part in dialogue? Well, they feature at the start of a piece of dialogue, in the middle of dialogue and at the end of the dialogue.  Here is an example for each:  Dialogue Tags At The Start Of Dialogue   A much more interesting way to use dialogue tags is at the start of a piece of dialogue. Instead of \"Rose said, \'I’m tired,\'\" it could be:   “Rose sighed. ‘I’m tired.’”    This takes away the need to use the word ‘said’ and shows how the character is feeling without having to use an adverb. Dialogue Tags In The Middle Of Dialogue  Dialogue tags can also be inserted in the middle or at the end of a piece of dialogue too.   For example, in the middle of a sentence a dialogue tag could be, \"\'Look at the weather,\' said Clive’s mother. \'Awful!\'\"  “Said Clive’s mother” is an effective dialogue tag placed in the middle of a sentence. It is sandwiched between what Clive’s mother is saying and adds variety to the dialogue. However, this can be improved upon, by changing the word “said” to “groaned”, to convey her annoyance and disappointment at the weather.  Dialogue Tags At The End Of Dialogue  A dialogue tag incorporated at the end of a sentence is another option: “I’m really tired,” he said. “He said” is the dialogue tag at the end of this sentence. Alternatively, the writer could add a little more flavour, by changing the dialogue tag to read, “\'I’m really tired,\' he whispered\", which conveys much more clearly how tired this particular character actually feels and is a much more emotive speech tag.  Using the tried and tested dialogue tag of “said” too often can become annoying and take over. There should be a fine balance between using dialogue tags and not. Sometimes they are not required at all if the conversation is conveyed in the correct way.  It helps to study the writing of brilliant authors and note how they use a mix of tags in different places to vary the rhythm of the writing.  Action Instead Of Dialogue Tags  To avoid over usage of dialogue tags, the author can implement action prior to a certain character speaking, so that the reader knows who is talking and recognises the tone in which they are speaking.  An example of this is:  “John slammed his hand down on the table. ‘Shut up!’”  Immediately, the reader recognises the frustration and anger in John and knows he is the character who has just ordered someone to shut up. The word “said” has not been used here as a speech tag, but the action of John slamming down his hand illustrates how angry he is and that it is he who is speaking.  Furthermore, by describing the voice in which an individual character is speaking (growled, snapped etc) the author can clarify who is saying what and how they are delivering the words, without having to resort to overuse of dialogue tags.  The clever and intuitive use of speech tags can also provide valuable and teasing clues for the reader, as to what this character who is speaking is really like under the veneer of bluster or smarminess.  This is where the show, don’t tell adage comes into play again. By fleshing out characters and their traits, a writer can make a character or characters express themselves through their actions, rather than the author having to literally spell it all out for the reader.  Discover more about writing dialogue in this Jericho Writers article, and this one on points of view.  Dialogue Tag Alternatives To ‘Said’  As mentioned before, the dialogue tag “said” to show a character is talking, is not the only dialogue tag option available to writers.  There are many other words for \'said\' that authors can use in their work, which are better words than ‘said’ and which convey the tone, emotion and even physicality of a character. But do use them sparingly. In most cases ‘said’ or nothing at all reads a lot smoother.  Here are a few alternatives to ‘said’:  Inquired  Moaned  Sighed  Replied  Whispered  Grumbled  Screamed  Muttered  Asked  Enquired  Mumbled  Growled  Snapped  Hissed  Cried  Shouted  Hollered  These are just some of the very many dialogue tag options out there, which are far more expressive than the word ‘said.’  Of course, authors are not at liberty (nor should they feel pressurised) into constantly using the likes of “moaned”’ and “sighed”, as this too would become annoying to write and to read, but for the sake of variety, it’s good to mix things up a little when writing conversation.  Recognising A Character Via Their Speech Patterns  Sometimes you don’t even need to say who is speaking in your dialogue because the way they speak is evident enough.  An author may have a character who has a predilection for swearing or who has an annoying habit of throwing Latin phrases into their sentences. For a character like this, their way of speaking is so unique the reader will know it’s them speaking without the need for as many speech tags.  Adding Rhythm And Action Beats  Speech tags also provide a natural pause to the conversation – which is reflective of the natural, melodic speech patterns we use in real life that a writer should want to create in their work.  It’s also important to consider what a character is doing during dialogue. Using more descriptive dialogue tags, such as yelled, hollered, bawled etc, allows a peek into their motivation, nature and traits. This is where action beats come in (what a character is doing as they speak).   Here’s an example of an action beat:  “The man strode up to the bar and banged down his pint glass. ‘It’s empty. Fill it.’”  The striding up to the bar and the banging down of the pint glass are what the character is doing as he speaks. The striding and the banging indicate his fiery mood, as well as the short, rude delivery of demanding to have his glass refilled.  Such description can certainly play a part in strengthening a piece of dialogue or scene and is a lot more effective than writing “It’s empty. Fill it,” he said. Or even “It’s empty. Fill it,” he said, angrily. This is why most authors prefer action beats over adverbs.  My Top Tip For Writing Authentic Dialogue  The key to using successful dialogue tags is to endeavour to create a natural-sounding conversation between characters, which could be overheard anywhere, in any pub, home or street. There should be a lyrical fluency to it, with speech tags used to enhance the scenes, and not inhibit them. Therefore it’s important to experiment with a variety of speech tags so that the writing flows and doesn’t become two dimensional or stilted.  The best way to ensure your dialogue sounds natural is to read it aloud and listen out for any awkward or clumsy dialogue tags. Sometimes it even helps to act out what you are saying so you know where to add actions or certain expressions. So Many Different Ways To Say ‘Said’  By channelling characters, their mannerisms and the way they deliver their words, and by using a variety of dialogue tags, you will be able to not only convey who is speaking but how, why and when. It cannot be underestimated that the benefits of using effective, imaginative and alternative dialogue tags in the right context, can bring drama, colour and clarification to dialogue writing.  And, if you’re not sure what to write, remember there’s nothing wrong with a nice and simple ‘said’.   As the very successful author, Diana Gabaldon, famously said: “Don’t go overboard in avoiding the word ‘said.’ Basically, ‘said’ is the default for dialogue, and a good thing, too; it’s an invisible word that doesn’t draw attention to itself.”  And that’s all that has to be said (explained, outlined, expressed, noted) about writing dialogue tags. I hope this article has helped make your dialogue more interesting, authentic and natural, and that you are now a lot more confident about how, when and what your characters are saying!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Describe Sounds In Your Writing

Creating an atmosphere and effective world building are both paramount when engaging your readers. And being able to describe the effect of sounds is important when writing a book.  From bands such as Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy, to artists and writers like William Wordsworth, Eminem and James Joyce, the use of sound writing to trigger emotion has been used ever since creatives began putting pen to paper.  In this article, I will demonstrate how we can channel the effect of sounds in writing, and how it can be used to chime (sorry for the pun!) with the reader\'s imagination.  Sounds In Writing Writing is about showing, not telling, so being able to use all five senses in a piece of writing is a surefire way to draw your readers into the story. And that includes sound.    There are an infinite amount of words at our disposal to describe sounds in our work, whether it’s the sound something makes or the way someone says something. Everything from \'mumbled\', \'spat\' and \'whispered\' to demonstrate how a person is speaking, to \'shattered\', \'splintered\' and \'cracked\' to add a visual to a sound, helps to add emotion, character and/or tension to dialogue and prose.  Good writers strive to create a picture in their reader’s mind so that the reader is able to see, hear, feel and imagine the same sounds the character is hearing - including tone, volume and intent. Through the use of effective sound writing techniques, readers should feel like they themselves have dropped that China cup onto a wooden floor, or that they’re in the same quiet room when the branch of a tree crashes through the window and sends glass flying in all directions.  So how can a writer describe sounds in an effective way?  Different Types Of Sounds  The different types of sounds that can be incorporated into writing range from pleasing and melodic sounds, to mellow, brassy, banging or a jarringly insistent cacophony of noise.  Writers can use these types of words and descriptions to create different moods (calm, suspense, tension, fear, overwhelm), pulling the reader into the story and heightening the atmosphere.  Five of the most effective methods of using words and language to improve and enhance your sounds in writing are Onomatopoeia, Alliteration, Metaphors/Similes, Hyperbole and Assonance.  So what do these five methods mean and how can they be used effectively to describe sounds in writing?  Onomatopoeia Onomatopoeia is the use of a word to imitate natural sounds. These words sound like the sound they are describing. Using onomatopoeia in your writing is a very effective way to add drama and punch to your sentence, and is used especially frequently when writing for children.  For example:  “I trod on the leaves and they crunched and crackled under my feet.”  By using “crunched” and “crackled”, we are pulling our reader into the sensation of the dry and brittle leaves making such noises under the character’s feet. We are giving the reader the opportunity to recall how it feels to walk on dry leaves.  “The wind howled and rattled at the window pane.”  Again, the use of the words “howled” and “rattled”, personifies the wind, adding a more menacing touch to the sound of the wind outside. There is also an animalistic element to the word “howled” which, used in this context, helps the reader hear the loud, imposing noise of the wind as though it were a wild animal in pain. Again, this heightens tension and atmosphere and makes the reader feel as though they are standing in the shoes of the character.   “The bird let out a screech, before flapping away.”  The words “screech” and “flapping” in this sentence, capture the ear-piercing sound of the bird before it flaps its wings and takes flight. Again, like in the previous sentence, the use of the word “screech” carries frightening, almost monstrous overtones, as we imagine the shrill sound of the bird before flying away. The word “flapping” (instead of simply “flying”) conjures up the sound of the bird’s wings beating together.  Alliteration Alliteration is, put simply, when words start with the same letter and/or sound. An example of this would be “leaping lizards”, “fabulous flamingo” and  “wonderful whale watching.”  Alliteration is about the repitition of sound. It creates a rythym and gives your writing an almost musical element. Poets very often use alliteration in their work, to enhance the sing-song sound as the work is read aloud.   It is also a fun way of writing for children, especially with picture books that are often read out loud.  The book Primrose, by Alex T Smith, uses alliteration really well. In this picture book we meet Primrose, a “princess who lives in a pretty pink palace and has a pretty pink tiara, two prancing pink ponies and a plump little pug named Percy.”  Metaphors, Similes And Hyperbole When describing sounds, sometimes it helps to compare them to something else using a simile or metaphor. Or, you may want to make an exaggerated comparison, using hyperbole to really drive home the tone of the scene.  For instance, instead of simply saying, “She dropped the book on the floor with a bang”, you could say, “She dropped the book on the floor with a thundering bang loud enough to wake her dead mother next door.”  It\'s dramatic, but if this is the first sentence of your novel your readers would instantly want to know what was happening. That loud sound would make them sit up! Assonance Assonance is the repetition of the same or similar rhyming vowel sounds within a group of words.  Here are three examples of assonance:  “He was too cool for the new school as a rule.”  It is the “oo” sound incorporated into this sentence,which matters, not the concoction of different letters. It makes the description soft and rhythmical.  “He creeps and sleeps, like an old man in a deep trance.”  In this example, it is the “ee” sound being used, that gives the sentence a certain resonance and elongates its delivery. It carries an almost easy, sleepy quality when said aloud, which fits in with the description of the old man being slow and sleepy.  “His spitting lips and jutting hips”.  It is the repeated use of the “i” in this description, which gives the idea of the man an almost whispering and soft sound. It is as if the spitting can be heard and the idea of “jutting” hips, is carried along by the extending sound of the “ju.”    Assonance can give a piece of writing musicality, and emphasises particular words or vowel sounds that resonate with the ideas and themes in a piece of work or book.  It is a sound writing technique which is constantly used by song writers, to enscapulate beauty, mood and atmosphere in their music. It also tends to feature heavily in poetry, where rhythm and sound are key.  An Example Of Different Sounds In Writing And how about a paragraph mixing them all up? You don’t want to do this too often, no one likes purple prose, but it can add drama and tension if used sparingly:  So instead of saying, “His feet thud along the pavement as he ran past her” you could say, “He ran past her - a man with a plan. With each step he took the pavement shook as if it were a herd of buffalo running past, so loud the birds in the trees cried out in protest, the frantic flurry of their feathered wings beating a rhythm in time with his.”  OK, this isn’t a great piece of writing, but you get the idea! Why Is Sound Important In Writing?  The most important thing to ask yourself when considering sound in your writing is - what are you trying to achive? What mood or atmosphere are you hoping to create? What do you want your readers to hear and feel?   Selecting the right sound word for writing, can make the difference between making a scene jar or joyful to read.   For example, describing the sound of a wolf as having a “haunting howl,” is using alliteration to create an effective image and conjure up a sound which is both atmospheric and memorable.  Describing a wolf’s cry as a “loud cackle” doesn’t make sense and fails to capture the real essence of what a wolf’s howl actually sounds like. This description, unlike the previous one, is neither chilling nor recognisable to anyone who has happened to hear an actual wolf howl. Using such a description in this way, would make the reader pause and possibly lose interest in the scene – unless your intention is to make the reader stop, re-read the sentence, and wonder whether the wolf is perhaps an evil witch in disguise! This is because a “loud cackle” is an effective piece of sound writing to describe the sound a witch would make. The word “cackle” has a raspy, edgy element to it. It’s similar to “crackle” and “shackle” – all words that are sharp, menacing and quite negative (don’t underestimate the power of the subconcious when using words that sound like others).  Used effectively, sound writing and descriptions can paint pictures, trigger empathy and help the reader to get inside the mind of the book’s characters. By using effective sound writing in books, short stories or poetry, the writer is creating an immersive world for their readers.  How Can Writers Add To Their Sound List?  As writers it’s very easy to find ourselves using the same words to describe the same sounds. So how can we add texture to our work, and describe sounds in our stories in new and exciting ways?  1. Take a stroll through different areas of your neighbourhood and note the cacophony of sounds that can be heard.   Other than birds in the park, what else can you hear? Perhaps you can hear the distant sound of children playing, the scurry of small creatures in the undergrowth, the chattering of people, the squeaky wheel of a pushchair, the leaves rustling in the trees.  What are you reminded of? How would you decribe each sound effectively or originally? Are the cries of the children in the playground shrill and piercing? Or are they distant and happy?   What if you’re in a more urban area? What do you hear?   The sound of car horns blaring, people shouting, the hiss of a teenager spraying a wall with graffitti, the clip clop of heels as a business woman marches by shouting into her phone. But these are all negative city sounds. If you want your reader to associate the same setting with something positive, perhaps you would describe the city having its own beat that the character is walking to, neighbours hanging over their balconies calling out greetings to one another, people laughing into their phones as they waltz by, the soft hum of traffic and the mix of music from different stores.  2. Pay attention to the way authors implement their own sound writing.   How are they able to capture the ringing tone of a bell so succinctly? What writing sound methods do they use? Perhaps they use similes and metaphors to compare the sound to other things (‘the bell chimed one singular time like Big Ben on the first hour of the day’). Or onomatepeia (‘the bell ding-donged once’). Or even alliteration (‘the brass bell binged and bonged’).   How does their description impact on what a character might have heard? Why might an author have opted for that particular method of sound writing? Who is their audience and what genre are they writing?  3. Let your imagination run wild.  Listen out for how you can improve your sound writing. Play around with different techniques, mix them up, break the rules, surprise your readers – but never ever forget to immerse them fully into the story.  Get Writing! Have fun with writing sounds in your work. And remember, by absorbing and paying attention to everyday sounds around you, you will not only benefit your writing but also your readers’ enjoyment, bringing an extra, sharper dimsension to the work. And that’s something every writer wants to hear!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Is The Rising Action Of A Story?

Do you want to know the secret to masterful, climatic storytelling that keeps readers turning the pages until the very last sentence?   In this guide, I’m going to show you that a carefully structured and robust plot is really all you need to make the most of your narrative arc.   What Is Rising Action?  The rising action is the second of six essential plot elements, which comes right after the opening of a story, otherwise known as the exposition. It is usually made up of a series of events that lay down breadcrumbs, ask questions, and set roadblocks and conflicts that must be overcome. It also creates tension and suspense, which leads right up to the third essential element, the dramatic climax. For example, in a suspense or crime novel, the rising action could be the protagonist going on a journey to solve a mystery or crime. But in a romance novel, the rising action could be the characters’ journey to falling in love.   Some writers believe that the success of a story hinges on the effectiveness of the climax, but I vehemently disagree. Without a strong rising action (essentially, the fuel that powers your narrative, keeps it moving and prevents it from stalling) the climax will inevitably fall short or seem unbelievable.   In fact, I would go as far as saying that the rising action is your story.   Let’s delve further into the components of the rising action and how it fits into a traditional story structure.   How Rising Action Ties Into Your Story Structure  The rising action is one of six, essential plot ingredients that make up the basic story structure.  Let’s remind ourselves what they are.   Exposition. This is the beginning of the story (the opening chapters). It sets the scene and introduces the main character(s) and their dilemma. You will also get a feel of the underlying themes of the story here. For example, in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games you are introduced to Panem, a North American country consisting of the wealthy Capitol and 13 districts in varying states of poverty. You also find out that every year, children from these districts are selected via a lottery to participate in a televised death match called The Hunger Games.   Inciting Incident. An inciting incident is an event that launches the main premise of the story. It typically occurs within the first one-third of a book. For example, in The Hunger Games, the inciting incident is the main character, Katniss Everdeen, volunteering as tribute and taking her younger sister Prim’s place.   Rising Action. As mentioned above, the rising action is the ‘meat’ of the story. It’s where most of the action occurs. To continue with our example, the rising action in The Hunger Games kicks off immediately after Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute. The reader is taken on Katniss’ journey in the games, the challenges she faces, the alliances she makes and her inner and external conflicts that she must overcome to survive.   Dilemma/Crisis. The dilemma/crisis is often confused with the climax of the story, particularly as they come hand in hand (or one after the other). Essentially, the dilemma is the do-or-die moment of the story. A final, life-changing decision for the protagonist. The Hunger Games presents Katniss Everdeen with a continuous moral dilemma, which is tested to the max when her competitor Peeta announces a \"fake\" story of his burgeoning love for her. But as the two grow closer, this moral dilemma is weighted with emotion as Katniss learns that the rules are changed so that there can only be one winner. Will she sacrifice herself to let Peeta live, or will she kill the person she cares for to be able to return home to her sister?  Climax. This is when the building tension reaches a breaking point, and the conflict is resolved once and for all. For example, in The Hunger Games, this is where Katniss and Peeta threaten suicide rather than fight one another to the bitter end.   Denouement. This is otherwise known as the resolution, and pretty much does what it says on the tin. It ties up loose ends, answers unanswered questions and shows the main character in their new normal, inevitably changed by the events of the story.   Freytag\'s Pyramid Another way of plotting your story is by following Freytag\'s Pyramid, which is the brainchild of nineteenth century playwright and novelist, Gustav Freytag who realised that all his favourite playwrights (including non-other than Shakespeare himself) followed the same distinct, five act arc, which could be plotted into a pyramid structure.   This structure is by no means perfect and is in some ways at odds with how modern-day writers plan their stories. But if you are a visual person, it’s a great starting point on which to build and develop your story because it enables you to see, at a glance, the value of rising action in driving your protagonist towards the top of the pyramid (aka the climax). Its structure differs slightly from the one I described above, but it touches on the same points. Examples Of Rising Action Now that we have grasped what the rising action is and how it fits into a narrative, let’s take a look at some well-known novels to see the different ways rising action has been used.  Example One: External And Internal Conflicts   Conflict is one of the most crucial ingredients of rising action. It is what will make your story unputdownable.   No matter what genre your story sits in – be it crime, romance, science fiction, literary or fantasy  – I guarantee you that your protagonist(s) will encounter some kind of conflict. Because let’s face it, no one wants to read eighty to one hundred thousand words about a main character leading a dull, monotonous life. Heading to the office. Doing their housework. Dropping the kids off at school. Readers want to witness the main character going through real-life trials and tribulations that they can relate to. Getting stood up on a date. Witnessing a murder. Facing the death of a loved one.   And this thirst can only be quenched by internal and/or external conflict.   No Honour by Awais Khan is a stunning novel about sixteen-year-old Abida who falls pregnant and is forced to leave her rural Pakistani village for the dangerous streets of Lahore. And Jamil, her father, who risks his own life to find her.    From this brief synopsis, we can immediately identify the inciting incident as Abida’s pregnancy and escape from the village. The key rising actions – being Abida and Jamil’s intertwining external and internal conflicts- stem directly from this event and drive the dual narratives forward. Abida faces the external conflicts of an abusive husband and keeping her newborn baby safe, while internally being plagued by her youthful innocence. Jamil is weighed down by guilt and fear for his daughter, while navigating the inevitable obstacles of finding her in a city with over eleven million people.   Now, consider your own story and write down what external and internal conflicts your protagonists might face on their journey.   Example Two: Roadblocks  Roadblocks are concrete crises or obstacles that prevent the protagonist(s) from reaching their goal. Obvious examples can be found in the crime/thriller genre with main characters being injured or kidnapped. But you can find roadblocks in other genres too.   For example, in Beth O’Leary’s uplit debut The Flatshare the protagonists, Tiffy Moore and Leon Tworney, save on rent by sharing the same bed in the same flat but never meet due to their working shifts and routines.   As they learn how to communicate via notes left for one another, they soon realise they are falling for one another. The more they try to meet, the more obstacles stand in their way, until the reader is on the edge of their seat hoping the unlucky couple will get their happily ever after.  Now look at your own novel. What roadblocks might your characters face as they strive towards their end goal/purpose?   Example Three: Tension And Suspense  I can think of no better author to demonstrate the use of rising action to create tension and suspense than Agatha Christie, and her world best-selling mystery novel, And Then There Were None.  And Then They Were None follows ten strangers who are lured to a remote British island under false pretences. The inciting incident of the novel occurs at the outset as the guests realise that their host is not there to greet them. Then when they sit down to dinner, a mysterious recording is played to the guests on a gramophone accusing each of them of murder. This dramatic incident triggers a series of rising actions, as one by one each guest is killed, and the remaining guests must find the murderer before death catches up with them too. Rising actions are utilised to perfection in this novel to create an intense, claustrophobic environment with a \'ticking time bomb\' narrative.   But remember, you don’t have to keep killing people off to create tension and intrigue. For example, rising actions can be the revelation of secrets and lies on a family holiday or children trying to sabotage their recently widowed mother’s new relationship.   Can you think of other ways you might use rising action events to keep suspense and tension alive?   To create a strong rising action for your story arc, think carefully about where your main character is now (both physically and psychologically) and where you want them to end up. Reflect on who they are as people (their inner conflicts), the actions they are likely to take, and any challenges (external conflicts) they are likely to face along the way.   Some Final Thoughts On Rising Action I hope I’ve managed to convince you that there is no magic involved in compelling and climatic storytelling, but rather that it is all lies in a well-developed plot.   Once you have the concept for a story, instead of diving right in, take a step back and flesh out how the events might play out, bearing in mind that you need a lot of plot points to keep your reader engaged for the full length of a novel.   Think of your rising actions as the building blocks of the story, a chance for you to develop and refine your plot, flesh out your characters and really get under their skin to establish their strengths and weaknesses. Raise the stakes with dramatic turning points. Add subplots to throw the reader off the scent. And create tension and intrigue that propels your narrative towards the climax.   Remember, this is your story and these are your characters. This is your chance to push them to their limits.   And most importantly, have fun with it. Because when an author enjoys putting their characters through hell, the readers will enjoy cheering them on and watching them win!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Is A Fictional Flashback?

Flashbacks can be extremely effective tools when it comes to telling your story.  You may have read advice to avoid them if possible - yet good flashbacks can reveal backstory, and they can surprise and delight readers, while giving authors the freedom to tell story events out of chronological order. So why are some people lukewarm about them?   It’s all about technique. As with so many elements of writing, flashbacks can work brilliantly if used well, but can ruin your story when used incorrectly.   If you’re considering whether your book will benefit from one or many flashbacks, this guide will help you understand their uses and teach you how to use flashbacks effectively in your writing.  Purpose Of A Flashback Authors don’t always want to show the reader the scenes in the order they happened. There can be many reasons we want to play with time:  We don’t want to bombard a reader with detailed information too early – we want the reader to get hooked by the characters or situation first. We are holding back a key plot point for a twist, or the ‘shock factor’. We want to draw comparison between the past and the present – to show irony, or character growth.  There may be character backstory that only becomes relevant partway through the story – if shared too early, the reader won’t understand the relevance.  We generally use flashbacks in literature, not to dwell on what happened in the past, but to provide insight into a character and their decision-making in the present.   For instance, a flashback helps a reader learn it’s because a character was bullied in high school that they are oversensitive to a throwaway comment now. Or that a character is reluctant to believe what her father is saying in the present, because we see from the past he has a history of lying to her.   Flashbacks are a way of illustrating this link between past and present, but the best flashbacks do more than this. They work on multiple levels, enhancing knowledge of plot and character.  Flashback Examples In Fiction Many novels flip between past and present timelines, such as The House at Riverton by Kate Morton or The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell in contemporary literature, or The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad in classic fiction.  See how Conrad uses this line of dialogue to trigger a reminiscence in Heart of Darkness:   “We looked on, waiting patiently—there was nothing else to do till the end of the flood; but it was only after a long silence, when he said, in a hesitating voice, “I suppose you fellows remember I did once turn fresh-water sailor for a bit,” that we knew we were fated, before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of Marlow’s inconclusive experiences.”   In My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite we see flashback being used in a seamless way:   “According to family lore, the first time I laid eyes on Ayoola I thought she was a doll.”   The description that follows, of Ayoola as an innocent baby, adds a layer of irony to Ayoola’s willingness to murder in the present.  How To Write A Flashback In Fiction The key to managing a flashback technically well is to ensure the reader always knows ‘where’ and ‘when’ they are in a story, by giving the reader timing prompts, to clearly differentiate past and present.  There are several ways you can do this, and they can be used alone, or in conjunction with each other:  1. Using Headers There are many novels which tell stories over two timelines, often in alternating chapters headed something like ‘Then’ and ‘Now’, to orientate the reader. These ‘Then’ chapters operate as a series of flashbacks. Novels which flashback to more than one timeline can use different headers like ‘2008’ or ‘Earlier That Day’.  This is the most straightforward way of writing flashbacks – it’s neat and tidy, and the headings make it clear for the reader where they are.  This can be used in conjunction with: 2. Changing Tense Many novels use the technique of changing tenses – with ‘Now’ sections told in the present tense and ‘Then’ sections told in past tense.   In Mhairi McFarlane’s Don’t you Forget About Me, one chapter’s ‘Now’ section ends with:   “It’s also the first time I’d been near a funeral since my dad’s, twelve years ago.”   There is then a line space before:   “When I was fifteen or so, my mum pinned the order of service for her cousin Janet, a physiotherapist in Swansea, to the corkboard in the kitchen.”   In the final line of the previous section “it’s” is in the present tense. There’s a line space, then “pinned” is past tense.   This is a simple technique for stories told in the present tense – but changing tenses can also be used for stories told in the past tense. Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny uses ‘had\'s – past present tense – to show the story is moving into flashback:  “Jane’s memory of the night of the accident was patchy. She remembered Luke driving her to the hospital in Petoskey to see her mother in the ER. The sight of her mother sitting on a gurney with her left arm in a sling, her large leonine face looking so slack and old, had caused Jane to burst into tears. Her mother had turned to her and held out her good hand. “Don’t cry, dearheart,’ she said. “I’m okay.””  One tip many writers who write in past tense use for flashbacks is to place a past present tense description – he had jumped, he had eaten – in the first and last lines of a flashback, to indicate the section starting and finishing. They then write the rest of the section in plain past tense, the same as the rest of the novel. This technique is invisible to a general reader – but it works!  3. Framing Techniques Your character could see a photograph or hear specific line of dialogue to prompt reminiscing, and then the reader is taken to a flashback scene. A timely doorbell or someone entering the room can break the spell and trigger your narrator back to the present.   In the example from Mhairi McFarlane’s, Don’t Forget About Me, McFarlane ends this flashback section with “I return to these memories reluctantly. Then I push them away again. It’s like forcing too many things into a cupboard and using the door to keep them jammed in.”   This is a framing technique, showing the character has ended their reminiscence. Why Have I Read Advice Saying Authors Shouldn’t Use Flashbacks? There is a lot of writing advice out there, and you can find people arguing for and against pretty much anything! And flashbacks, in particular, get a bad rap.   As with most elements of writing, there is no absolute right or wrong – just personal preferences, and ways of doing things effectively, or ineffectively.   The main reason some people dissuade new authors from using flashbacks is that a flashback is always backstory. If not earned and relevant, it can slow story pace – so we need to use caution. We want our readers to be desperate to turn the page to find out what happens next – yet we are delaying their gratification by moving out of the present to a completely different scene. No reader likes to be pushed away from the action. This is why it’s so important to ensure your flashback is done well and has earned its place in the text.   Questions To Ask Yourself When Deciding Whether To Use A Flashback Is your flashback relevant and directly related to the main plot? Does the reader need to see this scene? Can the scene be cut without the story losing coherence?  Could you share this information easily another way – in a line of dialogue, for example?  Is this the right place for a flashback? Are your readers invested in your story enough at this point to be willing to take a change of pace? Have you earned the reader’s interest enough to start playing around with chronology? Is your flashback clear to follow? Is your reader able to clearly intuit where they are in the timeline of the story? Do you have too many flashbacks? Are you risking irritating the reader by repeatedly interrupting them, and not giving them enough forward momentum in the present? Is the flashback scene exciting in its own right? Does it contain internal or external conflict, as well as providing backstory?  Does your scene work on multiple levels? Does it advance character and plot and read well?   After All That, Are Flashbacks For You? They may be, and they may not. A lot of it comes down to the story you are trying to tell, and your preferences.   Some authors write for their whole careers without using a single flashback but, for those of us who want to bend story time for narrative purposes, they are a crucial tool. Flashbacks are powerful story elements, and sparingly and effectively used, they can really benefit your writing.   Good luck!  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Include Backstory In Your Novel

Backstory is a brilliant tool when creating well-rounded characters. Read any writing guide and it will tell you the importance of creating three-dimensional characters, because readers want to know what makes a character tick.   The problem is, in our excitement to share our character’s backstory, we are often tempted to spill all of this out in our first chapter. It’s a common mistake, but too much backstory, too soon, will slow down your pace and draw the reader away from your plot. It’s like presenting your reader with a mouth-watering cake, but before you give them the fork, you explain the entire baking process when all they want to do is get stuck in.   So let’s take a closer look at the meaning of backstory and how by doing it right, your reader will be able to have their cake and eat it too. What Is A Backstory? In a nutshell, the backstory is everything that has happened to your character before the novel begins. This can be revealed by:  Exposition – simply telling the reader about the past Flashbacks – where the reader is thrown back in time into the mind of the protagonist when the event occurred Reflection – where the character ‘thinks’ about the past while doing something else  Dialogue – when a conversation explains past events  Sometimes, your protagonist doesn’t always know all of their backstory beforehand; some of the best novels reveal parts of a character’s backstory to the character, not just the reader.  Backstory impacts everything in your novel; who your character is, where they come from, why they react the way they do and ultimately your plot. Think about your own backstory, and the events that shape the person you are. All of your own backstory will impact the decisions you make, your view of the world and your reactions to certain events.  Knowing your characters as well as you know yourself, and transferring this quality, is what makes a good story. Give your characters authenticity and make their decisions realistic. The reader doesn’t need to know everything about them though, just as your friends and family don’t need to know everything about you.  Steven King said: ‘The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.’  How To Create A Character Backstory Now we understand what a backstory is, let’s look at how to create a good backstory. There are many examples through literature that do this well, from The Great Gatsby to A Christmas Carol.   Something to also consider is how for actors, knowledge of backstory is imperative in order to represent the characters they are playing better, which is why it’s just as important for you as a writer to know your character’s motivation. After all, aren’t we all acting out our character in our heads?   A good example is the hugely successful Star Wars.  In Star Wars we have Luke Skywalker. Mark Hamill portrays the character at the beginning as humble and bored with his life. He does this by portraying his impatience and by revealing his ambitious nature (just like his father, but he doesn’t know that yet!). It’s also a great way of seeing how effective it is to keep some backstory hidden from the characters as well as the viewers.   George Lucas would have known from inception that Luke was fathered by Anakin Skywalker who we then discover is the big baddie, Darth Vader. Imagine if this had all been blurted out in the first few scenes … there would have been a lot less excited kids in the cinema, that’s for sure!    With Luke’s discovery of this and his journey to becoming a Jedi, we see his character evolving as we discover more of his backstory. This is a really good way of seeing how effective a slow backstory reveal can be. In fact, a whole other series of films was built on Anakin’s backstory and the events that led up to the original film.   So, how can you create a compelling backstory for your characters?  Tips To Write Compelling Character Backstories The best way to write a compelling backstory is to really dig deep into your character’s experiences and, most importantly, make them interesting (take a look at our guide on creating character bios). Nobody wants to read a lot of backstory about a protagonist hanging out the washing on a day it rained, unless fetching it in meant they were late for picking up their child who was then abducted!  There are many ways to write compelling backstories, but here are a few ideas to help you:  Create a timeline for your character focusing on important life events. Sketch out small snapshots of their life around the time of these events – such as a diary. Writing a diary page can really help you step into your character’s shoes. Fill it with small details of your character’s likes and dislikes, friends, their favourite foods, books, films, songs, sayings, pieces of nostalgia around the time of the events. Your character’s likes and dislikes may change throughout their life. They may have loved a certain song around the time of a happy or sad event but now can’t stand it. This could trigger a reveal for this part of your backstory if it was heard on the radio at a key point in your story. Identify formative events which are relevant to your work. A near-death experience or an embarrassing moment, which dented your character’s confidence, could then be the crux that holds your character back later in life. Use real-life experiences. If you lost your parents in a busy shopping centre at Christmas when you were a small child, use this! It may have put you off large crowds or busy shopping centres. Maybe you forgot your lines in a school play once and it’s left you terrified of public speaking as an adult. There are so many experiences in our lives that impact our actions. So take some time to examine what it is that makes you, you. A reader will often feel a greater connection when a writer has used genuine experiences, because the chances are you will use something that others have experienced themselves.  Do all of this with the knowledge that you will not need all of it in your novel. Much like a marinade, all these ingredients won’t go in the dish…you are just adding nuance and enhancing the flavour!  How To Include Backstory In Your Novel   The most important element to consider when including backstory is deciding when and where to reveal your information. Ask yourself what the backstory achieves, if it is necessary and why it needs to be revealed at that stage in your novel. Use backstory to your advantage, to reveal snippets to gain empathy from a reader, to explain a reaction to a situation, or to add a reveal or twist to your plot. Know When To Reveal Your Backstory Going back to drawing good writing from personal experiences, let’s say you almost drowned as a child and your friend invites you to an all-expenses-paid cruise. The idea horrifies you, your fear of water is something you never talk about, but in the circumstances, you may decide to reveal this past experience to explain your reaction to the invitation.   It’s exactly the same when revealing backstory for your characters. Let’s say you are at a cocktail party; the atmosphere is lively, and a funny anecdote is being told by a peer. Would you suddenly jump in with this long and detailed story of how you almost drowned as a child? Of course, you wouldn’t, it would feel inappropriate.   Revealing backstory in a novel should be the same as in life, it should be prompted by real-time events, songs, smells, or something that evokes that memory.  Don’t Overload The Reader With Backstory Early On One of the most common mistakes I find, when reading first drafts, is opening chapters overloaded with backstory. We are living during a time where there is an abundance of published books hitting the shelves and with the surge in digital versions at low prices, it’s more important than ever to grab your reader’s attention from the first few pages.   It’s fine to add a small amount of backstory within these chapters, but keep them short. If you overload the reader with unnecessary information about a character they don’t yet know and love, your pace will fall flat very early on, and you may lose your reader before you’ve shown them the real beauty of your novel.   Focus on the best places to reveal your backstory in small digestible pieces to avoid your reader becoming overwhelmed with information.  Action Verses Backstory Once you’ve written your first draft, go through your chapters and highlight the ‘action’ happening in real-time in yellow, then the ‘backstory’ – whether it is reflection or a flashback – in green. If you can see a large amount in green, you will be able to see just how much you are pulling your reader away from the contemporary plot and pace of your story.   Go through this section carefully, be hard on yourself and ask if it is all needed, especially if this is early on in your novel. One rule of thumb is to remember this saying: ‘If in doubt, leave it out.’   Show Don’t Tell When you have identified essential backstory, try not to ‘tell’ it all to the reader. Although there are times where exposition works, it must be written incredibly well to keep the reader engaged.   Show don\'t tell is one of those phrases that we use a lot in writing, and this is one of those instances that it really applies. Show and tell is all about balance, both are needed, but when backstory is involved, the more you show rather than tell, the better, because it keeps the reader in the ‘now’. You can do this either through dialogue, or by your character’s actions, or both!   For example, you could show the reader a character wearing an expensive suit, stepping up to a podium in front of a hundred people, beginning their speech with an unwavering smile: ‘When I was five, I wore hand-me-downs and had a stutter…’ Yes, I’m ‘telling’ in the literal sense, but here, I’ve shown my character’s backstory. You now know a) that my character is confident and doing well financially (or so it would seem!) b) they have overcome adversity and c) they used to have a stutter and were poor; all of this information is passed on quickly through an active scene. If I told this backstory, the ‘action’ would be paused, my reader would be pulled away, while leaving my ‘present’ character inanimately hovering at the edge of the stage.   Is Your Backstory Actually Plot? If you’re reading this and have realised that you have a huge amount of interesting and relevant backstory to add to your novel, without which your story wouldn’t work, consider if this is actually a good plotline in its own right. If it is, set these scenes in the past and punctuate them throughout your story. That way, you can still reveal backstory in active scenes, rather than as flashbacks or reflection. As long as it really is relevant and interesting, it should continue to push your plot forward rather than dragging the pace behind. Wrap Up So there we have it. I hope by reading this, you can see how important writing a compelling backstory is, and how revealing your important and exciting information at the right time will help make your novel as exciting as you know it can be. Congratulations on finishing your book! Keen to improve the first draft and polish your manuscript, but not sure where to start? Get help from an experienced professional editor with our Manuscript Assessment Service. Members get 10% off! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Is Chekhov’s Gun?

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

How To Become A Better Writer

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

Driving The Story: Internal Vs. External Conflict

You can’t have a story without conflict. But what types of conflict should your characters be dealing with? Will it be the bad guys that get between them and their end goal – or will they be the ones standing in their own way?  This internal vs. external conflict debate may sound unnecessary, and some writers simply choose to ignore it, however injecting various types of conflict in your story can be incredibly useful and makes for a deeper (and more tension-filled) story.   There’s a general misconception that a literary fiction novel can’t have external conflict and a fast-paced thriller can’t have internal conflict – that commercial work is all about action, and ‘deeper’ books are more character-driven. That is simply not true.   Before we delve into this discussion, let’s establish what constitutes internal and external conflict - or indeed, conflict itself.  What Is Conflict? Conflict is the stuff of drama. It’s the main reason people read books. Nobody is interested in a protagonist that’s like a cork bobbing aimlessly in the water. No. Readers want to root for a protagonist that has some sort of aim in life, stakes that are high and difficult to achieve. To be more specific, a book character needs motivation and the drive to achieve something. The obstacles that arise to prevent that from happening are conflict and they only make us root for the protagonist harder.   There’s a reason why plot-driven series like The Hunger Games and Divergent are so popular. They provide us with solid main characters who are thrust into an inhospitable environment and are asked to survive through them. With plenty of obstacles thrown in their way (be it people trying to kill them, or trauma from their past preventing them from moving on), it makes for popcorn-worthy entertainment. For the same reason, film franchises like Jurassic World, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings have enduring appeal.   Conflict is what makes a story world compelling and a book ‘unputdownable’. If a conflict is weak then so is the story. The more complex and hard to resolve the issue is, the better the story. The best conflicts are an amalgamation of internal and external conflicts.  So what’s the difference between internal and external conflict?   Internal Conflict In simple terms, internal conflict pertains to a character’s fight with the self. This internal struggle tells us a great deal about the kind of person they are. In the film The Woman in the Window, the main character, Anna Fox, suffers from agoraphobia which makes it near impossible for her to venture out of her house. That is internal conflict. It’s this which drives the story forward. Everything that happens in the film basically revolves around Anna’s agoraphobia.  It’s incorrect to say internal conflict only exists in literary fiction. Sure, it can help in exploring the various nuances of a character, but it can also be vital in pushing the story forward. The Woman in the Window is a psychological thriller that thrives on the main character’s internal conflict. Similarly, in Anna Karenina, we have an example of internal conflict in yet another character called Anna. Unhappy in her marriage, she falls in love with a man she can’t have. Her internal struggle is part of the novel’s enduring appeal. External Conflict External conflicts arise when things happen that are out of the character’s control and how they affect their life and prevent them from achieving whatever they want.  External conflict is plot-driven and thus is used to great effect in thrillers and action novels. However, that isn’t to say that external conflict has no use in character-driven novels. In Anna Karenina, her society is one of the reasons Anna can’t be with the man she loves. This is a great external conflict example that appears to be a lot more internal. In the Jurassic World franchise, the conflict doesn’t only arise between the main characters, but mostly due to rampaging dinosaurs being an integral part of the plot. The franchise shows us how, despite every precaution being taken, life itself is difficult to control.  Turning to YA literature, The Hunger Games offers an excellent example of external conflict. Survival is in jeopardy when Katniss Everdeen takes her sister’s place for the games that are held on the order of the Capital. Whatever action she takes against the external forces she’s forced to deal with determine her survival. The Difference Between Internal And External Conflict Internal vs external conflicts can be more nuanced than this, but here’s a handy reference to distinguish between the two…  Internal: Psychological, emotional, and the past: fears, mental health, trauma, social conditioning and self-doubt.  External: People/animals/monsters who are out to get your character, an inhospitable landscape, and events out of their control.  Adding Conflict To Your Writing There’s no better way to move a story forward than to create conflict between characters, their environment, or their internal angst. Without anything to overcome there’s no hero.  Conflict can take many forms, but it can mostly be categorised into two camps: internal and external. A novel that possesses both forms of literary conflict affords readers a well-rounded view of not only the characters but also of the story world and overall theme.   There are plenty of examples of novels that have both. Some that come to mind are: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, The Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and The Corset by Laura Purcell.   Remember, conflict isn’t only about fistfights and weapons causing widespread destruction. Conflict can be as simple as a person applying for a job and the insecurity they might feel from the other participants.   Let’s take a look at how we can add conflict to our work in more subtle ways.  Dialogue Arguments between characters, not to mention those powerful one-liners, are what drive conflict. Dialogue is often considered one of the best devices for introducing immediate conflict. By applying the old adage ‘Show Don’t Tell’, instead of telling us a character is mean, it’s better to show them being unkind through mannerisms, action and dialogue.   This leads us on to…  Creating Characters With Opposing Views Novels are generally categorised as follows:  Action-based (external conflict) Reflective (internal conflict)  The action-based novel is driven by events happening in the plot and how the characters respond to them in order to move forward and fulfil whatever purpose they may have. The reflective novel, on the other hand, takes a more languid pace with plenty of characterization. Both of these can be enhanced by introducing characters with opposing views.  Pride and Prejudice, for instance, is an excellent example of a reflective novel where Elizabeth Bennett is torn about her feelings for Mr Darcy throughout the novel. She seems to love and hate him, but ultimately love trumps all. The same goes for North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell where the main characters engage in a dance of love and hate. That is an example of internal conflict and opposing characters.   Subplots In addition to dialogue and characterisation, subplots are also a great way of adding conflict. Subplots allow minor characters to have storylines of their own, and since a subplot always complements the main plot and never competes with it, we get to understand a bit more about the main characters. Think of ways a subplot and the main plot meet, and how they can create conflict for one another.  Flashbacks Flashbacks are also a useful device and are useful in establishing the character as three-dimensional, illustrating why the character is struggling with internal conflict. For instance, if a character has faced trauma in the past, the flashback may explain their behaviour in certain situations in the present.   Conclusion As we’ve demonstrated, conflict in storytelling is a complex subject, but not something that should overwhelm us. On the contrary, conflict is our friend as it can help us write fast-paced scenes and it may be the answer to our plot holes or writing slumps.   Writing conflict doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, whenever the pace of the novel is lagging, conflict is the one thing that will come to your rescue and elevate your novel back to the pace it had in the first place.    So have fun building your worlds and creating characters your readers will root for – then put them through hell! 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. 

Short Story Structure: The Art of Writing A Great Short Story

A short story is a piece of fiction between 1,000-4,000 words (although it can go as high as 15,000 words). Simply put, it’s a story you can read in one sitting.   Sounds easy to write, right?  Wrong.  Short stories are notoriously difficult to write, and that’s often because the writer hasn’t understood the basics of good story structure. So, if after finishing writing your short story you’re left thinking, This is so boring! Where have I gone wrong? Is there a short story plot or structure I can follow? – then you’ve come to the right place. Because chances are you may need to rework your short story structure.   In this article I will be talking about what make a great short story and looking at the various structures you can use to keep readers gripped. But you can\'t start writing short stories until you have an idea. So let us begin there... Getting Started: The Big Idea Where can you get your short story idea from? Some people have a great idea but struggle to turn it into a story (in which case you can skip to the next part). But for those of you confident about how to write a short story but need some inspiration to get you going, here are a few Jericho Writers articles to kick-start your creativity. How To Find InspirationIn this article, award-winning author Patrice Lawrence will guide you through the myriad ways you can find inspiration - from reading poetry and other books, to observing real life around you.Ideas For WritingIn this article, Jericho Writers founder and author Harry Bingham, explains how to go from a seed on an idea to a novel (or short story)How to build a fictional worldAnd finally, in this article, Harry is back explaining world building in fiction and how to create setting that will help your story come alive. Great. So now you have your amazing idea, it\'s time to structure it and turn it into short fiction, Learn How To Write A Great Short Story Firstly, let\'s look at the various types of structure used when writing short stories structures and how to analyse them.  It may seem formulaic or predictable in the beginning but trust the process and you’ll soon see results. Then, we’ll have some fun practising how to apply the generic story structure template to your work.   By the end of this exercise, you’ll have gained the confidence to create short stories that both make you happy and showcase your talent.   What Is Story Structure?  The structure for a short story is not dissimilar to that of a full-length novel – your readers still expect the same rise and fall. The most basic story structure is called the ‘narrative structure’ and is defined as ‘the order in which elements of a narrative are presented to the reader or audience.’   Essentially, there are two parts to it which are: PlotThe elements of a story Author of Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell, provides a further explanation:   ‘Simply put, structure is what assembles the parts of a story in a way that makes them accessible to readers. It is the orderly arrangement of a story material for the benefit of the audience. Plot is about elements, those things that go into the mix of making a good story even better. Structure is about timing – where in the mix those elements go.’  Let’s take a closer look at what all this actually means.    Structural Features Of A Short Story As stated, there are two parts within any short story structure. The first is the plot which is ‘what happens’ or the chain of events that occur in your short story. The other is ‘story elements’ which is the ‘underlying factors that drive the narrative action: protagonists, conflicts, setting, etc.’  Still confused?   A helpful analogy for how to create a traditional short story structure is when you weave a piece of fabric. Naturally, a finished product has to have a harmonious look and feel when it’s draped across your body. Similarly, when you properly weave together things that happen with things that matter in your short story, you make that vital connection with your readers. The reader should not only understand what is happening in your short story, but what it all means.    There are five main structural features of a short story:   Exposition Rising Action Climax Falling Action Resolution (or Denouement)  To show you how to analyse a short story with plot structure, I will be referencing the Bengali story of Devdas by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, which was adapted into a very successful Bollywood movie by the same name. 1. Exposition This is the part of the story where the characters and setting are introduced to the reader. There are generally four types of characters:  The Protagonist who is the main character whose journey we follow in the story.  The Antagonist whose goals are often the opposite of the protagonist’s.  The Dynamic Character who changes as a result of the events in the story.  The Static Character who does not change at all.   In the opening scene of Devdas, you meet our protagonist by the same name. He returns home to the love of his life, Parvati (Paro). She is the dynamic character who changes upon her marriage to another. The antagonists are Devdas’s father and family, who oppose the union. The static character is Chandramukhi, the woman to whom Devdas eventually turns to.   2. Rising Action Here, the protagonist faces challenges and crises. It’s the catalyst which sets the story in motion, forcing the protagonist out of his comfort zone. In the story, Devdas and Paro admit to having fallen for each other, gradually becoming aware of his family’s opposition to this union.   3. Climax Often the most exciting part of the story, the protagonist is tested at this stage. In Devdas, our protagonist makes a catastrophic decision to reject Paro and watches her marry another.   4. Falling Action This refers to the events that follow the climax, often where the protagonist believes he’s failed. Devdas begins to drink with a vengeance and goes to live with the seemingly unsuitable courtesan named Chandramukhi.   5. Resolution Or Denouement The conflict has been resolved and the character has changed. There can be three different outcomes: the protagonist gets what he wants; the protagonist doesn’t get what he wants; or, the protagonist doesn’t get what he wants, but realises that he has something more important.   In Devdas, it’s a mix because the protagonist does get his wish to go to Paro to die. However, he also acknowledges and reciprocates something important – Chandramukhi’s eternal love.   Types Of Short Story Structures Now that you have an overview of a good short story structure, let’s delve a little deeper and look at some actual structures of stories beginning with the ‘Hero’s Journey’.   The Hero’s Journey One of the best-known story structures, ‘The Hero’s Journey’ is a pattern that exists in many world mythologies. For the mainstream storyteller of today, Christopher Vogler created a simplified version and framework of it which can be applied to almost any genre of fiction:  The Ordinary World, which sets out the protagonist’s everyday life.  The Call of Adventure, where the protagonist is incited into taking action.  Refusal of the Call, where the protagonist is reluctant to take action.  Meeting the Mentor, where the protagonist meets a mentor (parent, teacher, spiritual master, etc.) who encourages him to take action.  Crossing the First Threshold, where the protagonist steps out of his comfort zone and takes action.  Tests, Allies, Enemies, where the protagonist faces challenges.  Approach to the Inmost Cave, where the protagonist gets close to his goal.  The Ordeal, where the protagonist meets his greatest challenge. Reward, where the protagonist acquires what he was looking for and victory is in sight.  The Road Back, where the protagonist getting what he wanted may have made things worse.  Resurrection, where the protagonist faces a challenge that hinges on everything he’s learnt.  Return with the Elixir, where the protagonist returns home, triumphant.   Three Act Structure One of the most notable forms of the basic short story structure is the ‘Three Act Structure’. In some instances, the three acts are described as the Beginning, the Middle and the End. Place them within the context of the previously listed structural features of a short story, and they can be described as Setup, Confrontation and Resolution.   In Act 1 (Setup), include the element of Exposition where the protagonist’s ‘ordinary world’ is set up. Additionally, you’ll also have an Inciting Incident where an event will set the story in motion, and Plot Point One, where the protagonist crosses the threshold. The story truly moves into gear.  In Act 2 (Confrontation), increase the stakes for our protagonist by using the element of Rising Action. Next, move to the Midpoint where there’s an event that upends the protagonist’s mission. Act 2 ends with Plot Point Two where he is tested and fails. His ability to succeed is now in doubt.   Act 3 (Resolution) begins with the Pre-Climax which can best be described as the ‘the night is the darkest before dawn’. Our protagonist must muster all his courage and choose success over failure. Next comes the Climax where the reader must wonder if the protagonist will fail or succeed. Finally, there’s Denouement where, against all odds, the protagonist has succeeded. This part ends with the consequences (both good and bad) of such success.   Seven-Point Story Structure Developed by Dan Wells, this structure encourages you to start at the end with the Resolution, and work your way back to the starting point. The elements of the Seven-Point Story Structure will include the following:   The Hook, which states the protagonist’s current situation.  Plot Point 1, where the protagonist is called to action.  Pinch Point 1, where the protagonist faces his first blow.  Turning Point, where the protagonist becomes active and decides to meet any conflict head-on. Pinch Point 2, where the protagonist faces his second blow. Plot Point 2, where the protagonist sees that he has had the solution to the problem all along. Resolution, where the story’s primary problem is resolved. A Few More Story Structure Examples Although they’re uncommon, there are four more short story structures you can use.  Freytag\'s Pyramid The first is Freytag’s Pyramid, which is described as a ‘five-point dramatic structure that’s based on the classical Greek tragedies,’ and used in more depressing contemporary tales.   Story Circle Dan Harmon’s ‘Story Circle’ is heavily inspired by the ‘Hero’s Journey’. It is focused on the protagonist’s character and his wants and needs.   Save The Cat A variation of the ‘Three-Act Structure’ is the ‘Save the Cat Beat Sheet’, created by a Hollywood screenwriter called Blake Snyder. A very precise structure, everything in the story happens exactly where and when it should.  By working with key story \'beats\', the screenplay or novel is broken down into the following sections within each act: Act 1 (setting, inciting incident, and decision)Act 2 (start of the journey, the fun and games where all the action and obstacles happen)Act 3 (bad guys close in, all is lost, hero works it out, resolution) Fichtean Curve The ‘Fichtean Curve’ effectively starts with the Rising Action and does away with Exposition because the characters and setting will reveal themselves from this point on.   How To Write A Short Story Structure Let’s look at these ideas and structure suggestions in action. Here is a breakdown of one of my own short stories, The Flame, long-listed for the Exeter Literary Festival.  Ordinary world: Nina receives a wedding invitation and encounters a familiar dilemma – “What should I wear?”  Something shocking happens to break the status quo and the protagonist receives a call to action: The dress code is surprising – ‘Ethnic Best’. The protagonist vacillates, but ultimately answers the call to action: After contemplating other options, Nina decides to wear a sari.  Although the protagonist makes a sincere attempt to attain her goal/meet her need, she fails and feels defeated: Nina chooses a georgette-chiffon sari the family calls ‘The Flame’. Nina’s mother cautions her about wearing this sari. This is the mid-point where the protagonist tries to defeat the thing preventing her from getting what she needs. If she succeeds, a bigger challenge faces her. If she fails, she has to face up to her weakness (usually internal). More often than not, she’s made the problem worse: Nina’s mother reminds her that it’s ‘a rule’ that women wear silk garments at Hindu wedding ceremonies. Nina stages a protest.  This is the time for self-reflection, a mentor’s pep-talk, or, the protagonist hits rock bottom: Nina does some research into this ‘rule’.  The protagonist accepts her fate and begins to make a concerted effort to overcome her weakness: Rejecting the ‘rule’ Nina insists on wearing ‘The Flame’.  At this ¾ mark, all seems lost. The protagonist figures out that there’s a chance at success, but it’s a long shot: ‘The Flame’ is nowhere to be found. The final push where everything that is improbable yet plausible happens. Yet, the protagonist succeeds because she’s overcome all her weaknesses: Nina turns the house upside down looking for ‘The Flame’.  This is the wrap up where the protagonist returns to the status quo a transformed person: Nina finds ‘The Flame’ and is the only guest who’s comfortable at the wedding.   Frequently Asked Questions Do you still have questions about writing a short story? Take a look at these questions short story writers have been asking us lately: What Are The 5 Parts Of A Short Story Structure? Exposition Give us a glimpse of what the main character\'s life looks like before the big thing happens. Who are they? What\'s the setting? What does their life look like? How do they interact with others?Rising Action This is the big where the big thing happens - without this inciting incident there would be no story (In Romeo and Juliet it\'s the part where they meet, in A Christmas Carol it\'s the part where the ghosts visit Scrooge).Climax Bang! It\'s all coming to a head, there\'s been a big twist in the middle, and now the bad guys are closing in. This is the part where people should be on the edge of their seats (or at least flipping the pages faster).Falling Action Things are going from bad to worse but the main character is nearly there.Resolution (or Denouement) And phew, they made it. Whether they got the girl, won the fight, or learned a lesson about themselves, the story is all wrapped up and the reader is (hopefully) happy. Do Short Stories Have Structure? Yes, they must, otherwise you are simply writing a snippet of prose (which is lovely, but you\'re not telling the reader anything). Like any story, regardless of its length, a short story must have a clear beginning, middle, and end. What Is Plot And Structure In Short Stories? The plot and structure of a short story (otherwise known as a story arc) is the logical order in which events happen in the story. It\'s important to set the scene, introduce the inciting incident and obstacles, then show the resolution. But, as you have fewer words to play with its vital that you keep your theme simple, your storyline linear (no complicated subplots) and don\'t overcomplicate your characters (of which you don\'t need as many). Try It Yourself! I hope you have found this short story structure guide useful and are now eager to get writing. It\'s easy... Once you have your story idea, take a look at our various types of short structures, analyse them, and decide which one will work best for your short story – then see what you create!  Writing a great short story takes time, but once you apply the skills you’ve learnt you’ll soon find yourself in the company of outstanding writers.  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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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: Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.   

What Is 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. 

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.

Points of View in Fiction Writing

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. 

How To Write A Book In 10 Steps

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 just 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 be 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 was engrossed by the 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 HarperCollins, 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.) A Super-Simple Step-By-Step Guide For New Writers But you’re not reading this because you want to know about me. You want to know how to start writing a book. 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 about 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? The book writing process can be incredibly daunting, so we\'ve made it simpler for you. 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. This is one part of the writing process which you can\'t avoid. Which is great, as for lots of people it\'s the most fun part. 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, and 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 this exact part of the writing 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  These are the main characters in your story. 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. Unsettle The Status Quo Very Early On You could possibly do this from the first page, 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  Do this very early on 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? Increase Jeopardy Though it\'s important to do this over the course of the book, it 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.) Delete Unessential Chapters 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 be 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, and 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: A. 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. B. 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! C. 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, and 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 the number of words by the 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, crisscrossed 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 most common 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 Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, JK Rowling, and Stephenie Meyer all use the same basic trick. Copy them! 8. Set Up Some Good Writing Disciplines The first rule of writing is this: Good writers write. They don’t want to write. They don’t think about writing. They don’t write a blog post 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 word count 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. You\'re going to be in your dedicated writing space a lot, so it\'s important to find somewhere you can relax. (Just don\'t get so relaxed that you end up spending hours of the time that you allocated to your writing sessions surfing the internet or cuddling your cat.) 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 for your writing sessions, and stick to it come hell or high water. Pair your writing schedule with: Set A Weekly Target Word Count Hit your word count target every week, no excuses. In terms of specifics, it doesn\'t matter how many words you write. Whether you reach a word count of 2,000 each day or 300, what\'s key is being consistent. Once you\'ve started writing and have tangible evidence of your hard work, it\'s likely that carving out some writing time and reaching your target will get easier. 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. This is your writing time, and it\'s important that you set it out in a way which works for you. 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. Even if all you do for the first ten minutes is get settled into your dedicated writing space and re-read yesterday\'s work, that\'s a great start. 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 It\'s really helpful to be able to interact with people who are on a similar path to you, and understand what writing is like. There are many communities to choose from. Like ours! 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 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, getting some professional feedback is the ideal next step. 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 This can be a little daunting. But once you\'re familiar with the process, it will feel less overwhelming. Try using this advice and sample letter. D) Write A Good, Clear Synopsis Synopsis writing is 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 help you start writing that novel. This may seem like a long, daunting process, but you want to write a book, and now you know where to start. So let\'s celebrate that for now! 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.

How To Plot A Novel (Using Our Easy Plot Template Technique)

All stories share a simple common structure - so the simplest way to outline your novel is to use that universal template by way of scaffolding. Figuring out that template and how best to use it to create the best story possible for your readers is exactly what I\'m going to do in this post. (Or – full disclosure – it’s what you’re going to do. I’ll just help a little on the way…) In this step by step guide to plotting a novel I will be teaching you everything you need to know about novel plotting - from my favourite mind mapping method, to understanding character arcs and how to tie up loose ends. Are you ready to learn the most important part of the writing process? Here we go... The Best Way To Plot A Novel Very few writers can have a load of story ideas and start writing without any clear direction as to where they are heading and what is going to happen. The novel plotting template I will be demonstrating in this article is more of an outlining process. A simple but detailed plot outline for your book that will serve as a skeleton from which to hang the meat of your story (sorry for that rather macabre visual representation). As you go further into your writing journey you can make this into a pretty bullet journal or a colour coded Excel spreadsheet if you want, but for now you just need a pen and a piece of paper. Ready? Good. Let\'s outline your novel together. What A Story Template Looks Like A story template is just a simple method for getting all those brilliant pictures out of your head and on to the page in a way that will help your story ideas make sense to your readers. To begin with we need to look at the key components of any story. Write down the following headings: 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) And now sketch in your answers in as few words as possible - aim for 1-3 sentences. It\'s important to keep it simple at this stage as complex is our enemy. Fixating on intricate plot detail at drafting stage will only get in the way of finding the actual bones of your novel. And it\'s those bones that will hook an agent/editor/reader. The Novel Template: An Example You probably want an example of what your outline should look like, right? OK. 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. If your were plotting Pride And Prejudice, the 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! Developing Your Story Outline 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. What we’re going to do now is add 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. 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 filling in any plot holes – 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. 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. How To Plot A Novel: The Template Remember that every subplot has its own little journey. Maybe a very simple one, but it will have its own beginning, middle and end, its own structure of Initiating Incident / Developments / Crisis / Resolution. Go ahead and drop everything you have into the grid below for every subplot as well as the main plot. 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. How To Further Develop Your Plot Outline 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? You may have a great story idea, but that\'s all it is - a basic idea. So how do you go from there to the plot points? This is particularly hard when drafting your first novel. You may love the vibe of your story, have developed some cool characters, you may even know your rising action or character arcs, but that doesn\'t mean you know how to plot a novel. 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. Let\'s look at building a story from an initial idea... The Snowflake Method The snowflake method allows you to expand on an idea and flesh it out bit by bit. This doesn’t mean tack on needless bits and pieces, like unnecessary drama just for the sake of it. It means adding depth and subplots, and developing the complexity of your protagonist’s story. Here are four ways to grow your story idea into a full plot. Method 1: Mirroring Imagine 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. 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. Without the time travel element it would be a standard issue romantic story, but by adding a fantasy element you have something shimmeringly new and exciting. Or take Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters. Evocative Victorian historical novels are nothing new, but by adding a lesbian coming-of-age story in that context the result is 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? Stieg Larsson took a basic story and made its complex character, Lisbeth Salander, the star. Lisbeth is an autistic bisexual computer hacker and rape survivor - this made the story unique and intriguing. 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, main characters and final climax were strong, it wasn\'t working. 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. The need to rescue the main character made the book! 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 Plot A Novel: The Next Step Now you have your plot, the next stage is to work on character development. I won\'t delve any deeper on that as info on character building is an entire collection of articles, which you can find here. But it\'s important to remember that plotting is merely the first stage of your writing process, because even with a strong plot a book without memorable main characters is nothing. Here\'s a quick summary of what we\'ve learned... Frequently Asked Questions What Are The 5 Parts To A Plot In A Story? Introduce characters and settingInciting incidentMain story premiseCrisis/RealisationResolution How Do You Plot A Novel In One Day? If you know roughly what your story is about, you can plot your novel in a matter of hours (in the most simplest of ways). Ask yourself what your character wants most in the world, and think about the incident that has turned their life upside down. Decide whether they achieve what they want by the end (or get what they NEED) and then show their journey. Start with this simple list: 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) From here you can add all the details that will make your story shine. What Makes A Good Novel Plot? As a writer all you should care about is keeping your readers hooked. So make sure you understand your characters and their motivation, add lots of obstacles in their path to success, make them (and your readers) think all is lost, then show your character arc as they grow at the end (and if they don\'t succeed, at least offer some hope). Having completed this exercise you should have lots of notes on your plot and a very strong foundation from which to build your story. Which means now you can have the real fun and add all the details. Enjoy! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer’s community. 

How to Plot A Book Using The Snowflake Method

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 means of any 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 along.” Big 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 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. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

A 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’s 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. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write Themes In Novels

If characters form the heart of a novel, the plot its musculoskeletal system, then the theme is a book’s soul. These might be personal or social issues, like emotional heartbreak or betrayal, or racial hatred or injustice, which sound all the way through the novel. What Is A Theme? These themes are not likely to be prominent. Lectures are to be avoided: these are no good. But if a book reverberates in the memory long after it’s been put down, rather like the way a trumpet note sustains itself after the instrument has left the lips, then that’s because of the book’s theme. A book with a theme is a book with soul. Write A Memorable Book It’s that easy. Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? The appalling shock of racial prejudice in the old American South, the burning sense of justice, the desire to put things right. That’s why the book sold. That’s why readers still remember it today, even if it was a decade or three since they read it. Perhaps you’ve read Pride & Prejudice. Its plot and lead characters, Lizzy and Darcy, are vivid, memorable, but what about the title? Does that just possibly suggest to you that Jane Austen had a certain theme in mind when she wrote it? (Its first working title, also, was First Impressions.) You can write a bestseller without having a theme, but you can’t write a good book without one. You certainly can’t write a book that lasts. How To Find The Theme Of Your Book You can’t just plug a theme into a book. Other things can be planned, crafted and worked at. But if you approach your theme front ways on, it’ll sound crass and didactic, so what do you do? Well, the most important thing is to write well. If your stories, characters and prose are superbly knitted together, you’ll start to see themes forming like a mist rising from a field at dusk. It just happens. (That may sound rather fluid, we know, though it’s true for all that.) Secondly, it’s fine to have some ideas in mind as you write. They should stay towards the back of your mind, though. Stories must be told through character and action, and it’s these things which should occupy your conscious attention. But if those things are at the back of your mind, then they’ll wriggle their way into your work. Trust us on this, too, that you’ll often enough be surprised by themes. Things will pop up in your work that you never intended to put there. Welcome all such strangers. Great authors always do. Last, as you revise your text, you can shape, nudge, tweak things, so that those themes become a little more prominent. Subtlety is the hallmark. And they don’t have to know that they’re reading a book with soul, intelligence, etc. You needn’t lecture or tell anyone anything. If the soul is there, the reader will find it, whether they know it or not. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write A Short Story

How to Write a Short Story in 10 Steps - With Examples In this article, Dan Brotzel shares 10 simple steps and practical pointers to help you write shorter fiction, including how to start off and how to end a short story! For about 30 years, I slogged away trying to write a novel. But I just never had the plotting smarts or the emotional stamina, and I became like a madman running again and again at a brick wall, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Then, one day, and only a couple of decades overdue, I had a rather marvellous thought. You’re used to writing short things – articles, web pages and the like. You’re a sprinter, not a marathon runner. Why don’t you have a go at short fiction?  As a journalist and content writer in my day job, I like a deadline. Deadlines concentrate the mind, deadlines force you to finish things. So I googled ‘short story competitions’ and found that, surprise surprise, there were actually quite a few out there, and all with a deadline. One of my very first attempts won a modest prize (£40, I think) in a competition run by a small press. This was encouraging. I didn’t get anywhere with a story for over a year after that, but that small crumb of validation was enough to tide me over. I started writing more and more stories, and I’ve never really stopped since. I must have written over 100 by now. In 2019, a couple were nominated for the Pushcart Prize anthology in the US. And best of all, in 2020 I published my debut collection of short stories, Hotel du Jack. I love writing short fiction, and I always have several stories on the go. But I’m still interested in getting novels published too, and my first, Work in Progress, a co-authored farcical novel-in-emails about an eccentric writers group, comes out from Unbound in 2021. I’m also putting the finishing touches to another full-length MS, working title The Wolf in the Woods. You may have noticed that I went from failing to finish novels to writing short stories… to finishing novels. And that, I believe, is no accident. Starting on short stories is a great way to build up your writing muscles. You get the satisfaction of structuring, shaping and, above all, completing things. At first, you may find you can’t write anything over 200 or 500 words. But after a while, you suddenly realise that your stories are getting longer and more complex, as you start to experiment with ideas and forms and voices. A short story is often not so different in length and shape from a scene in a novel, or even several scenes strung together. And one day when pondering what to write a short story about, you may find you have a different, chunkier sort of idea, one that requires more than a few thousand words to really do it justice. And maybe that day is the day you start on a novel – which you’ll now have a much better chance of finishing, with all the craft and experience that you’ve developed by completing a slew of shorter pieces. So: in a matter of months, I went from being able to finish nothing fictional to writing scores of stories and regularly getting them featured in competitions and magazines. If you’re looking to get your short-story writing off the ground, I hope these tips and ideas of mine will help you too… How To Write A Short Story In 10 Easy Steps Read widelyGet a great ideaExperiment with techniquesTake inspiration from everyday lifeStart writingAdd more levels to your writingEdit, rework, revise, repeatFocus on your beginning……and your endingRecruit beta readers Short Story: What Is It And Why Is It Special? I’ve always loved short stories. I remember my dad reading me the stories of O’Henry when I was little, studying Maupassant’s contes of the Franco-Prussian war for A level, discovering the (now deeply unfashionable) tales of Updike, marvelling at ‘The Language of Men’ by Norman Mailer and Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party.’ ‘Cat Woman,’ Chekhov, the ‘murdered lady’ series of Cathy Ulrich (now collected as Ghosts of You), Aimee Bender, Salinger, Nadine Gordimer, Denis Jonson, Zadie Smith, David Vann… Oh, I could go on. Sometimes I think short fiction is closer to poetry than it is to the novel. The best short stories are little universes of compressed perfection, where every paragraph, every word, every punctuation mark has to earn its place. Short stories can be intricately plotted or they can relate little more than the movements of a mind in conversation with itself on a small domestic topic. They can be all showing or – whisper it – all telling. They can range over years or take place in a lunchtime, relating the end of a friendship or the decline of a civilisation (though the former, if we are honest, is more common). They seem, for some reason, to talk a great deal about death. Short stories can take one tool from the fictional toolkit – voice, character, dialogue, structure, point of view, idea – and major on that, almost to the exclusion of all others. They can talk of boring or obvious topics in fresh ways, or they can deliver great weirdnesses and wild thought experiments. In short, they can do whatever they like. They just have to be true to themselves, and make us believe in them, and not go on for too long. For length, mind, we will need our piece of string. Short stories can be 30 pages long, or they can just be a few paragraphs. If we include flash fiction here – and why wouldn’t we, though it’s almost a whole separate article – we are looking at stories that can be as short as 100 words (technically known as drabbles). There are those who look down on flash fiction, but this I’m afraid is mere ignorance (I can say this with confidence, as I languished in this sort of ignorance myself till not so long ago). Not convinced? Try reading this or this or this or this or some of these. Flash is a distinctive sub-genre of short fiction. It is much harder than it looks, very much not just the offcuts of longer stuff, and the best exponents are very fine writers indeed. How Do You Structure A Short Story? There are many ways to structure a short story. You could have a beginning, a middle and an end. You could have a mini-version of the classic novel structure or one of the seven basic plots. You could have a classic sting in the tale – think of the stories of Roald Dahl or O’Henry or Saki. Or the best way to start a short story might be to just start writing – and see what shape starts to emerge. Often voice or idea is far more important than structure in a short story, and you can often retro-fix the shape once you’ve nailed those essential components first. Because short stories are, well, short, you can sometimes even plan and draft them at the same time. Some stories read almost like anecdotes or well-crafted jokes; others appear to have no obvious plot in a novelistic sense, but are more like tableaux vivants which, like an interesting painting, reveal more meaning and information with every look. In some, like Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants,’ nothing really appears to happen; there is talk of ‘an operation’ in a tense conversation between a couple, but the reader has to look between the lines to intuit what’s happening. All this, again, points to the wonderful fluidity and flexibility of the form. One classic way to tell a story is what I call the Pivot structure, where you set one non-human element against another, usually human, event or relationship. Over the course of the story, the non-human element starts to tick away like a metaphor engine for the human element of the story, resonating with different meanings as the narrative develops. For example, I’ve just read ‘Little Tiger’ by JR McMenemie, a beautiful story told from the point of view of two children who have just lost their gran. Their Mum is upset at having lost her Mum, and Dad is trying to comfort her. The kids have never been to a funeral before, and returning to their house in the aftermath is clearly a very unsettling experience for all. Mum engages in some aggressive tidying up, while Dad – who is struggling to juggle the competing claims of his children and his wife – starts laying a little heavily into the booze. Then, all of a sudden, the kids find a butterfly, sitting on top of a picture of a beach where they all spent many holidays with gran. This is odd, as in the story it’s February, in northern England. The children feed the butterfly some banana, and are keen to make a pet of it. All of a sudden, Mum announces that the butterfly is her Mum, come back to say goodbye. In the morning, however, the kids wake to discover that the butterfly is gone; Dad explains that they couldn’t really keep it. Do you really think the butterfly was Nan? they ask. The story ends with Dad’s reply: ‘I don’t know, son. It could have been. Your mum says some funny things sometimes. All I’m saying is that your grandma didn’t like bananas.’ This crude, simplified summary doesn’t begin to do justice to the patient, emotionally intelligent storytelling of the piece, but you can see that the butterfly acts as a pivot on which the whole story can keep turning. It is, by turns, a distraction, a projection of grief, potential proof of an afterlife, an emblem of marital devotion and, in its release, a key to the processing of loss and the attainment of a certain understated resilience. Do we live on after we die? Dad is doubtful, but he loves his wife and sees no value in challenging her theory. And she, in her turn, aching with love for her absent mum, can be forgiven a little magical thinking. If, indeed, it is magical: who, after all, can be certain that she is wrong? 10 Steps To Writing A Short Story, With Examples 1. Forage The World For Story Starters One of the attractive things about writing short stories, as opposed to longer stuff, is that you don’t need to work out a fully-fleshed outline, snowflake-style or otherwise, in order to get started. Nor do you need oodles of background words about characters, stakes, setting, timeframe and so on. You just need an idea. And that idea doesn’t even need to be an idea in the grand sense either; it can just be a prompt. It might just be a chance remark you overheard on a bus, a funny ornament in a front garden you pass every day, an odd-looking chap you spot on a holiday beach, a sudden childhood memory. It might be a smell or a view or a colour; it might be a thought triggered by a film or a radio programme or a children’s book. Of course, it might also be a break-up you’ve never got over, a terrible act of cruelty you once witnessed, or a historical event that has always had a special resonance for you. When you start, you won’t necessarily know what’s a story-worthy idea and what isn’t. So the first thing to do is to cultivate the habit of looking and listening, both to the outside world and to the things that bubble up in your mind. Now this might sound easy, but often it defeats people because they can’t believe it will ever get them to a finished story. We sometimes envision creativity as this wonderfully crazed, instinctive outpouring, whereas this note-taking business feels like something rather dull and premeditated. But your notebook, whatever form it takes, is where all the raw data of your stories will start to emerge. No data: no stories. So you have to get into the habit of jotting things down, and trusting that this is a worthwhile thing to do, and just repeatedly doing it even if you don’t really believe that yet, even when your first efforts are just dreadful callow things like So here I am writing in this book or Milk, wipes, olive oil. Post office! As with a half-used tube of toothpaste, you sometimes have to squeeze the crud out to get to the good stuff. For inspiration, try Morning Pages – as popularised by Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron and others. Basically, you sit down at the start of your writing session – it doesn’t even have to be morning! – and you just write down whatever comes into your head for 10 minutes. Don’t censor what pops up – just record your thoughts. You might be amazed what occurs – shopping lists, dreams, the fag-end of a row with your partner, a glimpse of a first crush, childhood memories, strange bits of wordplay, spiritual reflections, a person in your life you haven’t thought about for ages… It’s all good, and it could all get used somewhere in your fiction. Just as the stand-up sees the world as a bunch of set-ups waiting for a punchline, so the short-fiction writer sees the world as a bunch of prompts waiting for a good story. 2. Go With The Idea That Tingles My Dad always said that he could tell a really good piece of cheese because it gave him a funny tingly feeling behind the ears. I spent much of my childhood trying (and failing) to experience this elusive dairy-led sensation. But I do at least get the tingle when it comes to stories. Over time, you’ll start to look at the bits of mental flotsam in your notebook, and you may find there’s a phrase or an anecdote or an image that you keep coming back to. When that happens, you may well have the first tinglings of a story on your hands. From time to time I go back through my notebooks and highlight bits of scribble that I think I might be able to use. Sometimes it’s a setting. My story ‘The Beach Shop’ in Hotel du Jack, for example, about a heartbroken man stalking his ex-wife on her holiday, was inspired by my early-morning stops at a cafe on a French campsite. I loved the locale, and just started writing about it till a story came. Sometimes – often in my case – it’s a bit of anecdotal autobiography. My story ‘Plane-spotting‘ was inspired by reading a story to my young son about an airport where all the planes are animals. I thought it would be funny if the Dad was a real aviation nerd, increasingly infuriated by the inaccuracy of the drawings, and it just went from there. With the flash ‘Eau de l’avenir,’ the inspiration was a smell – or rather, a scent. To give one more example of how ideas turn into stories, George Saunders says his flash fiction ‘Sticks’ came from something he saw from his car every day. ‘For two years I’d been driving past a house like the one in the story, imagining the owner as a man more joyful and self-possessed and less self-conscious than myself. Then one day I got sick of him and invented his opposite, and there was the story.’ When you note down stuff, you don’t know if you’ll ever use it, or if you’ll end up using it several times. You may use it in a way that’s a complete betrayal of the original memory. You may dredge it up again, years later, and forget you ever jotted it down in the first place. It doesn’t matter: you’ve got it down now, and it’s adding to your imaginative store. It’s all good. 3. Try A Thought Experiment Another way to approach a story is to ask yourself: What if…? What if supermarket shelf-fillers and nurses were the most celebrated and best-paid members of society, and celebrities and lawyers were considered the lowest of the low? What if an epidemic of kindness broke out in the world – Agapia-117, let’s call it – and threatened the stranglehold of capitalism, with its built-in systemic reliance on rabid self-interest? (Just riffing here, obvs.) These kinds of story offer you a rich counterfactual challenge. Depending on the challenge, you might offer the reader the pleasure of watching an unexpected idea play out, or you might challenge yourself to pull off a narrative feat that the reader doesn’t know about until the end: What if (to cite a notorious example) you could tell me a whole story that turns out in the end to have been narrated by a cat? What if you wrote an alien contact story, only for us to realise at the end that the narrator lives on another planet, and the ‘aliens’ are actually humans from earth? The idea for my story, ‘Nothing So Blue,’ came to me when I asked my son for ideas of what I could write about. ‘Write about becoming invisible,’ he said. Now sci-fi isn’t really my thing, but then I thought: ‘What if you were granted a superpower, and it turned out to be a bit rubbish?’ Now that, I thought, was very much more my thing. A great example of the thought-experiment approach is ‘The Rememberer’, by Aimee Bender: ‘My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month, and now he’s a sea turtle.’ 4. Borrow A Form From Everyday Life Structure doesn’t come naturally to us all (guilty), but an easy way to get round that is to give yourself a nice constrained timeframe, such as the hours of a day or the seven days of a week. I use this structure in a few of my stories, notably the title track of Hotel du Jack, because it offers a natural scale of narrative progression. On Monday, we meet the cast of the story and get a sense of what’s at stake. On Tuesday the first signs of conflict emerge. Wednesday sees problems escalate, Thursday brings a false dawn, and on Friday things really kick off. Saturday is the day the crisis resolves and the loose ends are tied up, and Sunday has that nice sort of epilogue feel to it. It is the day, as Craig David tells it, on which one chills; the day one rests after creating a world. You might choose a lunch-hour, or a night, as Helen Simpson does with her insomniac narrator in ‘Erewhon’ (collected in Constitutional), a man in a roles-reversed world who stays up worrying about kids and money and sexism while his high-powered wife lies snoring indifferently next to him. It could be a date or a work meeting or a conversation between dads at the side of a junior football match, where the competitive nature of the chat echoes the changing fortunes of their kids’ respective teams and the climax of the story coincides with the final whistle. Taking this idea a step further, hermit-crab fictions – also known as borrowed forms – are stories that are made out of everyday verbal templates. The more banal the form, the better – think product reviews, missing-person reports, recipes, maths problems, listicles, top tips, user instructions… The trick is to try to stick quite closely to the structure you’re stealing, so that the story you tell will seem even wilder or more heartbreaking by contrast with its dull container. As you go through your day, you’ll come across thousands of these dead bits of copy – from insurance letters to FAQs to parish newsletters. Choose one, and make it your own. I’ve written hermit-crab stories in the form of a shopping list, board game rules, FAQs and even a penalty charge notice. In Hotel du Jack, you’ll also find a ghost story told as a neighbourhood forum thread, a reflection on #metoo in the form of board meeting minutes, a meditation on grief in the form of a dishwasher glossary, and a product recall notification. Another story, ‘Active and passive voice’, dissects a flawed relationship through the structure of a grammar lesson. Meanwhile ‘My Mummy is…‘ was written – out of a sense of profound inadequacy – just after I’d read a book with my 5-year-old son at school entitled My Daddy is a Firefighter. One of my favourites pieces of flash fiction, LIFECOLOR INDOOR LATEX PAINTS® – WHITES AND REDS by Kristen Ploetz, manages to condense an entire life into a trio of paint palettes. George Saunders has a lot of fun with this response to a customer complaint. Here’s a story of long-term love that’s also a 5-star blender review. And this story is just receipts. If you’d like to read more hermit-crab narratives, here’s a couple of great anthologies to inspire you: Fakes by David Shields and Matthew Vollmer, and The Shell Game, edited by Kim Adrian. 5. Start Writing If you’ve got a prompt that feels rich and interesting – whether it’s a vague memory or a thought experiment or a borrowed form – the next thing to do is not worry about how to write a good beginning of a story, and just get something down. My process at this point is crude: just bang a first draft out. If you have an idea that feels like a start, get it down and start playing around with what happens next. If you have an idea that feels like an ending, get it down and think about how your story might get you there. But do the thinking by actual writing. This is not a drill! And this is not a novel. Just write. As you go along, the idea will start to build and coalesce, especially as, remember, you chose something that’s already glowing and tingling for you. As the juices start flowing, you will start to see possibilities open out for you – structural bridges, snippets of dialogue, observations that you sense suddenly belong somewhere within the fabric of your story’s world. You can start to put in little headers too, little pegs to mark out future sections. Jot all these extra thoughts at the bottom of your doc, keep typing, and fold them in as you go. Sometimes, as the story starts to flow, you may get stuck on one bit but can start to see how a later section would work. Go with the flow, and start filling in that later section instead – just leave yourself some meta-notes for the bits you need to come back to later e.g. insert scene where elephant appears for first time or add in funeral-home bit here to explain why Moira’s always hated lilies. The same process also works at a micro-level, too. Often your ideas for the story run ahead of how quickly you can phrase things. Thinking about the broad contours of your story and fine-tuning phraseology are different creative tasks, and it’s not always easy or efficient to flit between the two. Don’t waste time waiting for the mot juste to arrive – just put in a bit placeholder copy or add some “xxxxxxxxxxxs,” and move on. Just get the broad brushstrokes down, and then you can go back and finesse the detail later. I guess the approach I’m advocating here is a bit like ‘writing by the lights,’ a phrase that inevitably takes us back to a line from EL Doctorow: ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ Sometimes the idea you have is a perfect little synopsis, and all (!) you have to do now to flesh it out in a way that does justice to the conception. Sometimes you just have an opening scene, or an image, or a character to work with, and you have to build the rest of the world around them. But the remedy is the same in every case: get that first draft down. The more stories you write, the more you get a sense of the optimum length for a particular piece. Some short stories are almost like extended gags; they go out and back in a simple anecdotal arc that culminates in a snappy zinger. Others require patience and stamina to deliver their potential. Their form might be much more complex: a spiral, a mosaic, a musical symphony of contrasting and resolving themes. But the best way to build up to writing complex stories is to start by completing simpler ones. And the best way to complete a story is get a first draft down fast. Then the real work can begin. 6. Work In Another Level A satisfying story can usually be read on more than one level. There is the surface level, and then there is a sense of an underlying meaning. If your story is to feel like more than a mere skit or vignette, we want to have a sense that there is another perspective, a subtext, a theme that’s whirring away in the background as we read. I’m not suggesting that you start with a grand theme and try and mould a story to it; that will usually lead you somewhere strained and leaden. I just mean that when you write your story, you want to have an eye on how others will find it interesting or meaningful. You don’t have to have a pat answer to this question, quite the opposite in fact. Where novels often build up to an accumulated truth, the best stories often have an inconclusive, open-ended quality. Often in life, when you think about it, we are working through familiar challenges and conflicts in a variety of different guises and permutations: freedom versus commitment, future hopes versus mortality, child versus parent, addiction versus abstention, ego versus altruism – the list is endless. What short stories often do is replay one of these central conflicts for us in a way that is both very specific – involving particular individuals in detailed interactions – but also has a timeless, universalising feel to it. Life is ambiguity, and things rarely get resolved. So, as your story takes shape, ask yourself: which pattern am I enacting here? This might sound a bit complex, but really it’s very simple, because every story we tell inevitably has the potential to speak beyond its own obvious remit; the trick is just to polish your words in the light of their wider applicability. As you start to get your story down, have an eye on the meanings and themes that emerge with it, and shape your material accordingly. You don’t have to be able to say what the story is really about; you just need to leave enough space and enough interesting glimmers for the reader to want to fill in the blanks. Take, for example, Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer.‘ This rich and subtle tale is full of nautical detail and has the feel of being based on a true incident, lightly fictionalised. But Conrad is careful throughout to dial up the elements we can all relate to: the fear of not being good enough, the loneliness of command, the terror of being brave, and so on. Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Fly’ – as well as being a pair of beautifully observed little scenes – speaks to us about bereavement, and the agony of a loss which can no longer even find expression. And in retrospect, we see that JD Salinger’s ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ – for all its enjoyable elements of comedy and social satire – speaks also to the corrosive effects of trauma and the inadequacy of our responses to it. 7. Edit. Revise. Rework. Repeat. Writing, as so many have said, is re-writing. Now that you have a rough draft down, the real work can begin, as you hone and polish and finesse your story into the best story it can be, and remove in the process all avoidable friction from the reading process. A few pointers: Look hard at the movement and logic of the story. Read the story out loud to yourself, and see if it makes good narrative sense. Is the middle soggy? Are there any tedious info dumps? Is there too much telling at the expense of showing? Is there a good balance between different sections and viewpoints (if you have more than one)? Is the story long enough, or do you rush to the conclusion and throw the ending away?Look out for redundancies. Strip away phrases, sentences and even sections that don’t add anything to the mood or voice or development of the story. Murder your darlings – all those bits (phrases, plot points, devices etc) that you’re really fond of but don’t really fit into the texture of the story you have developed.Add in clarifications and bridges. Editing isn’t just taking things away. Sometimes it’s about adding things too. If a transition between two sections isn’t clear, or your intro throws up a commonsensical question that you don’t ever answer, the reader will be too busy scratching their head to fully appreciate your story. Sometimes just a clarifying phrase here or a subtle time or place reference there can be all it takes.Look for words and phrases that you know you over-use. I’m a sucker for ‘suddenly,’ ‘seemed,’ ‘now’ and ‘screenwash’. I have certain pet thoughts and jokes that, if left to my own devices, I will happily try and shoehorn into everything I write. Watch out for ‘had’ too – if half your story is in the form of a past-perfect flashback, that’s probably going to be a problem. See more tips on self-editing here. 8. Look Extra Hard at Your Start… The start of your story needs to work hard to lure us into the world of your narrative. It must intrigue us from the off. We want to feel instantly that we are in an interesting place, where interesting things may happen, and that we can trust and enjoy the person who is telling us about them. Ambiguity, cliche, long-windedness, unnecessary cleverness – these can all spell death to a good intro. You might start with an intriguing hook (‘In the beginning, Sanford Carter was ashamed of becoming an Army cook’ – ‘The Language of Men’, by Norman Mailer.) You might set the scene with a sweep of historical backdrop (‘Paris was blockaded, starved, in its death agony’ – ‘Deux Amis’, by Maupassant.) Or you might start by setting the rules of the world, as in ‘By the Waters of Babylon’ by Stephen Vincent Benét, in a way that has the reader wondering from the very start what will happen if one is broken: ‘The north and the west and the south are good hunting ground, but it is forbidden to go east. It is forbidden to go to any of the Dead Places except to search for metal and then he who touches the metal must be a priest or the son of a priest.’ Naturally I am instantly curious about what happens if I head east. And the Dead Places? These are things I need to know about. For more on this topic, see my 10 examples of how to start a short story. 9. …And Look Extra Hard at Your Ending You need to bring your story to a conclusion in a satisfying way that is of a piece with the style and mood of the narrative that you have created. If you have written a taut, sting-in-the-tale mystery, the ending should close things off with a satisfying snap that tells us the case is closed and justice – consistent in some way or other with the internal logic of your piece – has been served. A story that is more reflective and interior in tone, on the other hand, will ideally finish with a line that adds a new perspective or dimension to our understanding of the whole, and keeps rippling and resonating in the reader’s mind long after they have finished reading. The ending can be a shock to the system that makes sense of everything that’s gone before; ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ is an obvious and powerful example of this. Or it can zoom away from the action, just as a camera takes leave of its subject. Or it can inject a twist that calls into doubt everything you’ve read so far. It can sometimes be read two different ways, leaving the reader to work out their own ending. And it can of course just show that the world keeps on turning. My ‘Ella G in a Country Churchyard’, for example, brings a story of an uncomfortable parent-child conversation about mortality to a close with the Dad asking: ‘Ready for some sausages?’ This could be seen as an evasion, but then again there are no adequate answers to the girl’s impossible questions about what happens when we die. Life goes on, and it is almost teatime. 10. Get Another View Don’t send out the story to any magazine or competition until someone else has read it and fed back to you. And not just anyone, but someone whose judgement you respect, and who can give a candid take on what’s working and what isn’t. You may have a trusted beta reader – perhaps your partner, or a relative or friend – who always reads your stuff, or you may get feedback from a Facebook group. And of course there’s the Townhouse. These are great resources, but in my experience nothing beats being part of a real-life writers’ group. In a writers’ group, you’ll have the experience of reading your words to others – itself often very instructive, as you can often sense where the story is working and where it’s dragging just from the quality of attention in the room. And you’ll get constructive, practical feedback from people who are dealing with the same challenges, albeit from different perspectives and genres. Short stories lend themselves particularly well to group critique, because they are often just the right length to read in full. No doubt there will be feedback – from yourself as well as from others – and you will need to decide which bits you want to act on and which, not: learning the difference is a lifetime’s work. Inevitably you will find yourself returning to step 7, and perhaps steps 8 and 9 too, but that’s no bad thing. Writing is re-writing, remember. How Do You Write A Short Story in One Day? Can you Write A Short Story in One Day? Yes! It’s perfectly possible to write a story in a day, or less. Sometimes, when you get a great idea, the piece – especially it’s a flash or shorter fiction – may emerge fully formed. That’s not to say you’ve only been working on it that day – in my case, a story might get drafted in a couple of hours that I’ve been turning over in the back of my mind for a couple of years. And that’s not to say it’ll be the final version either. While you might be able to complete the draft in a day, it’s always wise to sleep on it and come back to it next day, to review and revise, and to get some other people’s feedback too. Publishing Your Short Story So, you’ve written your short story, but what next? There are loads of litmags and competitions out there. Many of the editors and organisers are aspiring writers themselves, and can be wonderfully supportive with feedback even when they’re not able to accept your story. You can find useful lists here, here and here. Sometimes there’s a prompt or a theme, which can be a great help when you’re stuck for an idea. With magazines, take some time to read a few stories and get a feel for what they like, and whether you’d be a good fit. Simultaneous submissions are generally acceptable, especially as it can take months to get a response (just make sure you let them know if you get accepted elsewhere). Before you enter, always read the requirements carefully, and get the formatting and labelling right. Have lots of stories on the go, so you move on when you get stuck. ‘At any given moment, I have a half-dozen story ideas shelved in my mind,’ says Benjamin Percy, author of the collections The Language of Elk and Refresh, Refresh. ‘I always choose to write the one that glows brightest.’ Above all, don’t be afraid to keep submitting. For most of us, rejection is the norm and an acceptance is the exception. The more you submit, the luckier you’ll get, and the less those rejections will sting. You can do this! 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. 

Can You Write A Book In 6 Weeks? (Yes!)

Guest author, journalist and blogger Sam Jordison shares how he wrote Enemies of the People in six weeks. One of the biggest challenges any writers must face is, you know, actually writing. The sitting down in front of a computer and typing side of things. The finding the time. The ploughing on: despite blocks and distractions. The getting out of the words even though you might have a headache. The thinking and the doing and the typing. Did I mention the typing? No books are ever published without typing. And put like that, it sounds too obvious to even mention, yet the physical act of writing is one of the most fascinating and difficult parts of the process. At literary festivals, writers are invariably asked questions about how they carve out the space to sit down and write, and how you keep going when the going gets tough. Some of the best interviews on the craft of writing in the world are those published by the Paris Review and the first thing they always ask is a variation on the question of pen, pencil, typewriter or word processor? When I teach my Creative Non-Fiction Course, meanwhile, I always like to try to address the question of how you physically get the words down. The advice I offer is generally to try to be flexible, because not only is every person different, every writing day is different. One of the worst things you can do is beat yourself up and obsess over the fact that you haven’t hit an arbitrary word count. Equally, another of the worst things you can also do is to fail to get any words down on a regular basis. Most often I try to suggest that people get into a sensible routine that fits them, not to worry too much if progress is slow, but to always try to make progress. I like to hope that this is good advice. I’ve followed it myself in the past – and managed to produce a dozen books and plenty of journalism by doing so. But more recently, I have discovered two things that can work even better: a fierce deadline and a burning sense of injustice. If you have a burning desire to write a memoir, a piece of journalism, or a biography then use that energy to propel your writing. In early spring of 2017, I was asked to write a book about the people that brought us Trump and Brexit and the general sense that the world is spinning off its axis. I was also asked if I could write it in about six weeks. And make it reasonably long. My first thought was: oh, hell yeah! The rage I was feeling at the collapse of our democracies and the rise of a dangerous and malevolent right-wing would perhaps start to feel a bit less impotent. If I could channel my anger into a book that would tell the truth about post-truth and provide real facts instead of alternative-facts, I might have a small hope of influencing things for the better. My second thought was: oh, hell. I’d have to do an awful lot of writing and research in a very short time. And I’d have to – as already discussed – actually sit down and do it. But that’s when the two weapons of clock pressure and anger really kicked in. I didn’t spend any more time wondering about how I was going to write the book. I didn’t have time for that. All I could do was get going. If I wanted to nail the people who had done so much to make things so bad, I just had to get going. I’m not going to lie and say it was easy. It was stressful and tiring and my head was whirring for six solid weeks. But lots of the things that usually get in the way of writing just weren’t around. There was no putting it off until tomorrow, because tomorrow was too late. There was no wondering if I was doing things the right way – because I was arguing with people who seemed so obviously wrong. And it worked. At the risk of sounding like a Nike advert, the thing I realised that sometimes the best approach to writing is to just do it. I got the words down. And as I type this article, I’m waiting for the first copy of the resultant book to come through the post. It’s called Enemies Of The People and even though it probably has a few rough edges, and a few clumsy sentences that I might have improved if I had more time, I also hope that the way it was written has given it rawness and energy and a burning sense of indignation. It feels important. And I’m very glad I sat down and wrote it. Sam Jordison’s Enemies Of The People was published in the UK on 1 June 2017. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Achieve Clarity In Writing

This article contains four key tips and some examples of clarity in writing. Clarity is key in getting our point across as writers. When our writing is clear, our meaning is clear. When our writing is unclear, our meaning is muddled. And when our meaning is muddled, our readers can’t properly engage with our work. Fortunately, you can improve the clarity of your writing by brushing up on a few key fundamentals.  How To Improve The Clarity Of Your Writing Clarity starts at the sentence level. Think about your sentences as mini movies that your readers play in their heads. They need to know the actors and the actions of these mini movies to correctly picture what’s going on. If your writing is unclear at the sentence level, your readers won’t understand what’s happening in your work. Worse yet, they may disengage from your writing because they can’t understand it. We start by thinking about clarity at the sentence level because if your sentences aren’t clear, your paragraphs won’t be clear. If your paragraphs aren’t clear, the rest of your work won’t be clear.  Unsure about how to ensure your sentences are clear and easy to read? Not to worry. Let’s take a look at four easy ways to improve sentence level clarity. 1. Reduce Sticky Sentences There are two types of words in sentences: working words, which convey meaning to the reader and are essential to the purpose of the sentence, and glue words, which are the extra words that hold sentences together.  Glue words aren’t essential to the meaning of your sentence. They’re not the actors or the actions. If you remove or rewrite your sentence to eliminate these glue words, the sentence will have the same meaning. It may even be more clear for your readers to understand.  Sticky sentences are sentences that contain too many glue words. They should be rewritten to improve clarity for your readers. While glue words are important to make your sentence coherent, when you have too many in a sentence, it becomes hard to read. By removing unnecessary glue words, your sentence becomes clearer. Consider the following:  It doesn’t matter what kind of coffee I buy, where it’s from, or if it’s organic or not—I need to have cream because I really don’t like how the bitterness makes me feel.I add cream to my coffee because the bitter taste makes me feel unwell. Each sentence has the same main idea: that the narrator can’t drink coffee because it makes him or her feel sick. However, the second sentence is clearer and easier to read than the first because it has fewer glue words. The meaning isn’t obscured by extra words. You should aim for an average of less than 40% glue words in your sentences. That doesn’t mean that all of your sentences have less than 40% glue words. Some may have 50%, some may have 30%. As long as your document averages at 40% glue words, your work will be clear. This is also important to consider when writing a great opening sentence for your novel. 2. Avoid Clichés Clichés are phrases like actions speak louder than words, love is blind, and the grass is always greener on the other side. Many writers use clichés when they’re trying to sound relatable or to make their writing more accessible. Unfortunately, clichés often do the opposite: alienate readers that aren’t familiar with the phrase or do not understand it. Even though these expressions are older than dirt (see what I did there?), when isolated, their meaning isn’t clear. This reduces the chance that your audience will engage with your work, especially if your audience is made up of non-native speakers.  When editing, aim to remove phrases that aren’t universal or don’t translate well into a different language. That way, your work is accessible to everyone. 3. Make Your Subjects And Verbs Shine With Active Voice When your sentence is in the active voice, your subjects and verbs are clear. When it’s in passive voice, your subject is unclear. Here’s an example of passive voice: The sample was selected. Who is selecting the sample? We’re not sure, because the sentence doesn’t say so. Passive voice leaves your sentence open for interpretation by the reader, especially when it’s uncertain who or what is performing the action in the sentence. Consider the same sentence in active voice: Researchers selected the sample. Now, the subject is clear. Readers won’t need to think very hard to understand this sentence. There are a few types of writing where passive voice has its place, but typically, active voice is better. While passive voice isn’t technically wrong, it can make your writing harder to understand, which, in turn, makes it less engaging.  4. Use Precise Words Adverbs are words that add colour or style to your adjectives and verbs. Like passive voice, adverbs aren’t grammatically incorrect, but they can reduce clarity because they prop up boring, imprecise verbs. For instance:  Scarlett ran really fast.Scarlett sprinted. In the first example, the word “really” is an adverb that modifies “fast,” which is itself an adverb that modifies the verb “ran.” The word choice in the second sentence, “sprinted,” is more precise. Replacing adverb + verb constructions with a precise strong verb will paint a clear picture for your reader. Common adverbs that are guilty of propping up weak word choices include: reallyjustveryactuallyin order todefinitelyabsolutely If you see these words in your writing, you can likely improve your clarity by cutting them and choosing a more specific verb or adjective in your sentence. Do You Want Help From Prowritingaid? Wondering how you can easily improve the clarity of your writing? An editing tool can help. ProWritingAid’s 20 reports identify clarity issues in your writing and make suggestions for fixing them. Here’s just a taste of what ProWritingAid can do: The Writing Style Report at ProWritingAid can help you find and fix instances of passive voice in your writing. The Writing Style Report at ProWritingAid can help you identify unwanted adverbs and use precise verbs in their place. The Clichés and Redundancies Report at ProWritingAid highlights these phrases so you can brainstorm new and better ways to say the same thing. The Sticky Sentences Report at ProWritingAid highlights sticky sentences and identifies the glue words so you know what to change or remove to improve your sentences. Clarity In Writing: Final Thoughts You can have the best idea in the world, but if your writing isn’t clear, readers won’t know it.  To make your writing clearer, you have to start with your sentences: the fundamental building blocks of your writing. By eliminating adverbs, making passive verbs active, forgoing clichés, and removing extra words in your sentences, you’ll ensure your writing effectively communicates your ideas.

The Power Of Story And Discourse

By Allie Spencer Hi! I’m Allie Spencer and will be teaching at this year’s Festival of Writing along with many other fantastic writers, agents and publishers. As tutors, our aim is not just to get you thinking about your writing but thinking differently. Sometimes it’s that extra piece of information or a fresh approach that can make all the difference. This year, one of the things I will be talking about is story and discourse and how you can harness it to see your work in a completely new way. One of the concepts often mentioned in creative writing tutorials is that of ‘showing not telling’. For those of you who have yet to encounter it, ‘show not tell’ means that instead of an author passing information on directly to the reader (‘John felt angry’), that information is instead conveyed indirectly (‘John could not speak; the blood pounded in his head and he felt his fists clench’). This does not mean that one should never ‘tell’ – there are times when that is essential – but it moves the emphasis from what happens in a text, to how the reader can best experience and engage with what is happening. Thinking in terms of story and discourse takes this one step further. It allows an author to separate out action from meaning and therefore focus on creating multi-layered narratives rich in interest and nuance. To begin with, we need to be clear about the terminology. ‘Story’ is the stuff that happens: it is the pure events, the actions, the ‘she got off her chair and walked to the other side of the room’ part. To look back at our show/tell example: ‘he shouted’ is story; ‘he was angry’ is not. However, the story often forms only a small part of the text. The rest is made up of ‘discourses’: the unspoken conversations we as authors have with our readers in order to create atmosphere, implicitly pass on information or suggest ideas that add to the understanding of the ‘story’. Sometimes the ‘story’ and the ‘discourse’ will be one and the same (for example, when an action or event has symbolic or ironic overtones) but, for the most part, they exist independently of one another. So, why should we as writers be particularly interested in discourse?  Isn’t it the same as creating atmosphere or description? Well, not exactly. One of the reasons why we need to be aware of it is because, as authors, our job is to create believable imaginary worlds. Now, our lived experience of the world is not purely a series of consciously-perceived events but instead a mishmash of thoughts, perceptions, emotions, connections, ideas and half-realisations. Sometimes these are entirely subconscious. For example, researchers at the University of Colorado have found that people holding a hot drink, even for a few seconds, judge others around them to have ‘warmer’ personalities than when the same person holds a cup containing an iced liquid. These half-conscious or subconscious thoughts are the real-life equivalents of discourses. By being aware of the power of discourses and how they operate within our writing, we can help make our imagined worlds, and our characters’ reactions to them, as real as possible for our readers. To explore this further, I’d like you to watch the following clip on YouTube. Even though this is a screenplay rather than a piece of prose, the basic divide between story and discourse remains the same. It’s the closing scenes from the pilot episode of ‘Endeavour’, the series about the young Morse set in the1960s: Watch Clip Here A little background for those who do not know either the Endeavour series or the older Inspector Morse programme: the young detective in this clip (Endeavour Morse) does not leave Oxford or resume his degree, as the dialogue suggests. Instead, he stays in the city and progresses up the police ranks until he becomes an inspector. Watch the clip through a couple of times, just to get an idea of what is happening. Then play it again and try to separate out the ‘story’ (action; factual information given to the viewer through dialogue; physical setting etc.) from ‘discourse’ (atmosphere; allusions; emotion; suggestions). Remember that sometimes the ‘story’ will also be ‘discourse’ – be aware of this and try to spot it when it happens. What did you notice? One thing which quickly becomes apparent is the lack of actual ‘story’: a young man walks down some stairs carrying two suitcases and exits a house; he is met by another man (DI Fred Thursday, although this is not mentioned in the clip) standing next to a black Jaguar car, who asks him what time his train is. The older man then tells the younger not to worry about a mistake he has made. The younger man asks if he can drive and they make their way through city streets in the car. They have a conversation about the young man’s future and the older man offers to mentor him. The younger man looks in the rear-view mirror and the face of a third, much older, man appears there. Some music plays. The younger man continues to look in the mirror while the traffic lights change to green. To get his attention, the older man says his surname (‘Morse’), followed by his first name (‘Endeavour’). They drive away and the screen fades to black. It is left to the discourses to transform this sequence of events into a powerful and evocative piece of drama. Right at the start of the clip we are made aware of the emptiness of the house as Endeavour leaves: the fact that no one is there to say farewell indicates the loneliness of the young man’s situation. The ticking clock emphasises the silence in the house and also suggests the theme of passing time which will be key to our understanding of the next few scenes. The subsequent interactions between the two men are laden with symbolism: Endeavour asking to drive and receiving the keys from Thursday suggests he is taking control of his own destiny, for example. Also apparent is the indication that DI Thursday is, in many respects, the man young Endeavour will eventually become: he will reach the same rank in the police force and drive the same make and model of car. The most powerful example of discourse, though, happens at the end, when the face of Morse as a much older man appears in the rear-view mirror: Endeavour is, quite literally, looking at his future. In fact, he appears to see it too because he continues to stare at the mirror and doesn’t pull away when the lights change – the camera shot used to show the green light is from Thursday’s viewpoint, not Endeavour’s. The use of the iconic ‘Inspector Morse’ theme tune at this moment further underlines the connection that has been made between Endeavour’s present and his future: we, the audience, know which road he will take and we have already seen his destination. Of course, there are many other discourses at work in this clip and you are welcome to try and find as many as possible; it is a great example of how writers can use suggestion, prefiguring, metaphor and irony to enrich and add layers of meaning to a narrative. Good writing (whether prose, screenplay or poetry) should always work on more than one level. Being aware of story, discourse and the difference between them will help you to look objectively at your own writing and, if you need to, add in that little bit extra. Your readers will love you for it! Allie had a jam-packed weekend at the Festival of Writing 2018. She hosted a mini-course on How to Write a novel in 3 Hours, a Session 2 workshop on Four Act Structure and her Sunday workshop, ‘Telling Tales – What Makes a Story Come Alive’. Get your tickets to the Festival of Writing 2022 here. We’ll see you there! 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. 

Using Internal And External Conflict In Genre Writing

What is it that makes a truly exceptional genre novel? What can an author of a horror, science-fiction, fantasy or any kind of genre novel bring to their work that elevates it in some way, so that when reviewers write it up they describe it as ‘transcending its genre’? That’s a phrase that used to annoy the hell out of me until I realised the essential distinction between ‘literary’ and ‘commercial’ fiction. All fiction deals in conflict of one kind or another. It can be a moral conflict, perhaps the threat of war or the consequences of unreasoning prejudice. It might equally be the need to survive an invasion, or a plague, or the unintended consequences of an earth-shattering new technology. My concern in this article has to do with the source of that conflict. Broadly speaking, the distinction between literary and commercial fiction is this: literary fiction deals in internalised conflict. That could be fear, jealousy, greed, desire for power or revenge, thwarted love and so on. It’s these internal conflicts, after all, that are the cause of so many of the great tragedies that characterise humanity. Wars of religion, of power, of survival. In Greek myth, the entire Trojan War took place because Paris fell in love with Helen of Troy and stole her away from her husband. A ten-year-long conflict is thereby triggered entirely by one person’s desire for another, regardless of the consequences. Commercial fiction, on the other hand – and remember, we’re speaking broadly here – deals in externalised conflicts. It creates dramatic stories out of direct conflict with something ‘other’, other races, other religions, other cultures, classes or political orders, and so on. Fantasy at its most basic, generic level deals with the threat of a ‘dark power’ of some kind – with magic turned to evil purposes. A good deal of science fiction deals with the consequences, intended or otherwise, of sudden technological change or scientific discovery. Those consequences are external – created in a lab, or built in a workshop, rather than formed in a human mind. Once I realised this distinction between internalised and externalised conflict, the defining quality of the very best sci-fi and fantasy became clear to me. It synthesises both approaches – and most often it does so by externalising what is otherwise an internal conflict. Some of the best examples are in film as much as in literature. In Star Wars, our internal conflict between what we know is right, and our own, darker capacity for evil, is externalised in ‘the Force’. The Force can be channelled for good, but it has a seductive side – one that can ultimately lead one to commit terrible acts of genocide or injustice, should one fall prey to darker emotions. The Force, then, is our own internal dialogue between what is morally right and wrong, objectified as a physical part of the universe into which we tap. So why does this work? Because where that internal dialogue between good and bad is in the real world entirely subjective, Lucas, in his screenplay, makes it into a distinct, objective thing that can be tapped into and that can influence us. Externalising what is otherwise an entirely internal dialogue allows the reader – or in this case, the viewer – to see that internal conflict in an entirely different light. Similarly, the plot of The Lord of the Rings revolves around a journey to carry a ring of enormous power back to the mountain where it was forged, in order to destroy it. The ring is our desire for power, objectified and made external, rather than internal. It’s this externalised internal conflict that in part makes this such a strong and overwhelmingly popular story. It’s very often the case that budding fantasy writers will make the mistake of entirely externalising the conflict in their novels; the source of evil in this case is always a Rising Dark Power of some kind. The hero is always pure and true. And it’s boring. The best way to write such fiction is instead to introduce internalised conflict, to balance the external. Frodo in The Lord of the Rings struggles with his own internal desires, and the seductive power of the ring – all he must do is slip it onto his finger, to achieve power he can only dream of – and he struggles with this internal conflict (made flesh by the ring) all the way to Mount Doom. Gollum is a stand-in for the terrible price that the ring can exact on those too weak for its seductive power, and he also represents what can happen to us if we allow the worst parts of ourselves to override our conscience. This internal conflict on Frodo’s part, then, balances the external conflict with Mordor’s armies, on the march to retrieve that very ring. It also elevates the story above one of simple good and evil by reminding us these conflicts exist within us, as well as outside us. In Frank Herbert’s Dune, we at first appear to have a simple tale of a messianic figure, born to lead the Fremen to victory against an imperial occupying force. But Herbert quickly elevates the story by focusing the narrative around Paul of Atreides’ struggle with the path his life appears to be predestined to follow. By imbibing the spice of the worm, he can see the future, and his role in it; but as in the best Greek tragedies, it’s a path he rejects utterly, even while his attempts to resist fate cause the very events he foresees to take place with grim inevitability. The external conflict – between the dastardly Harkonnens and the Fremen led by Paul – is balanced by Paul’s own, equally gripping internal conflict. In Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, a policeman is working undercover, living with people whose lives revolve around a drug called Substance D. He’s so deep cover, even his bosses don’t actually know his identity; he wears a futuristic ‘scramble suit’ when he meets with his superiors, so they cannot find out who he is, thereby assuring him absolute anonymity as he searches for the source of the drug. One day, he is given a new assignment; to investigate one of the people living in the same house as him. He has, in fact, been asked to investigate himself. This creates a wonderful internal conflict that balances the external – the search for the source of the drug. Increasingly schizophrenic from his own use of Substance D, Dick’s character finds himself struggling with his own identity, as to whether he is a policeman, or the addict he is investigating. If your book isn’t coming together – if your characters feel lifeless, or lack motivation, or feel wooden and two-dimensional – provide them with an internal conflict to balance the external. It’s that conflict that, when handled properly, keeps readers glued to the pages. To sum up: the best sci-fi and fantasy fiction takes internal conflicts, and re-represents them as external conflicts in a way that creates a kind of ‘useful distance’, allowing readers a degree of objectivity on their own fears and desires they might not otherwise have. But even then, that conflict must be mirrored through your protagonists’ own thoughts and actions, and their own internalised moral dialogue. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Fix Your Plot Problems

You’ve been there. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there: the one-third slump, when a manuscript runs out of steam maybe thirty-thousand words in. Something about the story simply isn’t working. So what’s gone wrong? When I first started out as a writer, I read up on the different approaches used by novelists I admired. I found that many of them, particularly Stephen King, didn’t like to plan things out. They were seat-of-the-pants writers, who liked to come up with a situation, then watch where their characters took them. For such writers, part of the pleasure of writing was the sheer unpredictability involved. All well and good, but it took me a long time to work out that this wasn’t the right approach for me. Over the next several years, I started and failed to finish a ridiculous number of stories and novels. I knew the characters, the basic story, and the conflicts. What I didn’t have was a clear enough idea where the story went after a certain point. This continued to be a concern even when I got my first book contract. Although my first two novels, Angel Stations and Against Gravity, were well-received, I was never quite satisfied with the plot in either. I became highly stressed while trying to find the direction of the story in each. And so, when it came to writing my third novel, I took a radically different approach. Whenever I pitch a book to my publishers, I’m required to provide a rough outline of the story. This time, I determined to write a much more detailed synopsis than before, but for my benefit rather than that of my publishers. I wanted to be absolutely sure not only how the book started, but exactly how it would end. I broke the story down on a chapter-by-chapter basis until I had approximately six thousand words of text. Then I started writing what later became my third novel, Stealing Light. I hit a one-third slump anyway, despite all my planning. I found what had sounded good in the synopsis wasn’t necessarily panning out in the actual manuscript. I suspect this happens even for those of you who do plan your novels. So I stopped writing and, for the next four or five weeks, did nothing but revise that synopsis. I made a point of not worrying about my deadline. By the time I finished those revisions, the synopsis had ballooned to a little over twenty-four thousand words — one quarter the length of an average novel. I had every little detail absolutely nailed down, as well as having made major revisions to some of the principal characters. It occurred to me during this that all those seats-of-the-pants writers were being a touch disingenuous about their writing process. Either they did plan out their stories, but kept it all in their head, or their offices were filled with a vast number of unfinished stories and manuscripts. Both, I think, are true. When I write editorial reports on writers’ manuscripts, time and again I find that a novel hasn’t been planned in sufficient depth, and I sometimes wonder if it’s because the author read the same interviews I did when I was young — interviews with writers like Stephen King, who can produce hundreds of thousands of words of text every year, without fail, even if much of that effort winds up in the bin. Writers like King are the exception, I believe, rather than the rule. The rest of us, in order to write a saleable story, must instead plan everything out in as much detail as possible before we start writing a novel. Think of it as building a roadmap; without the map, you become lost in the woods, but with the map, you can see not only where you came from, but where you’re going. Without the map, you might be able to find your way out of the woods eventually, but it might take you far, far longer, and the journey might be considerably more frustrating and much less fun. And what about if, like me, you find even with that map — that outline — your story still isn’t coming together in those early stages? Do what I did: stop writing the book, and rework the synopsis instead. Treat those first thirty-thousand words as a kind of testbed for your ideas. Use it to figure out what does work, and what doesn’t. Give yourself permission to play around, to develop alternate paths for the story to develop. Treat the synopsis as an end in itself, and take satisfaction in developing its twists and turns. Allow yourself as much time as necessary to do this, and don’t even think about starting work on a book unless you know how it ends. Don’t believe writers who tell you doing this can ‘kill’ the story for you: just because it’s true for them doesn’t mean it is for you, and you could save yourself weeks or months of frustration. That third novel of mine, Stealing Light, was an enormous success, and my ‘breakout’ novel. It was also my first book to be issued in hardback, and was soon followed by two sequels. I attribute this almost entirely to the care and attention I took in plotting every twist and turn. Ever since then I still stop at roughly the one-third mark in a manuscript to revise and alter the synopsis, based on what is and isn’t working. Instead of an object of frustration, let that one-third slump become an opportunity for inspiration. 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. 

Tips For Writing Crime Fiction And Thrillers

Short and sweet, here are my top ten tips for writing crime fiction and thrillers that will please the reader and make publishers reach for their chequebooks. 1. Know The Market Read very widely. As many authors as possible, not as many books. If you’ve read one book by Patricia Cornwell or Linwood Barclay, then move on. You know their prose, their style. Find what else is out there. That means also reading the classics, knowing genre history, and reading plenty of fiction in translation, too. It also means reading relevant non-fiction. If you’re writing political espionage thrillers, for example, you need to know the political, military and security background. If you don’t, your readers will, and you’ll be caught out. 2. Understand Where The Leading Edge Lies The biggest names (think Coben, Rankin, Reichs) are not the most current. They built their reputations years back. Try to locate the sexiest (i.e. bestselling, most praised, most innovative, prize-winning) debut novels. That’s what editors are buying today. That’s the market you’re competing in. 3. Don’t Just Trot Out Old Clichés You’ve got a serial killer, have you? A terrorist bomb plot? Be tough with yourself. These tropes are tired. They can work if you handle them in a new or dazzling way, but the old ways are no longer enough. 4. Be Complex Your plot needs intricacy and a surprising number of well-planned, well-executed twists. Modern crime authors have become great at developing complex but plausible plots, and because modern thriller writers have become so adept at delivering endless chains of impossible-to-see-it-coming twists, you can’t afford to be less than devilishly clever yourself. With rare exceptions, simple no longer sells. 5. Stay With The Darkness Your book must be dark and tough. That’s your entry ticket to the genre. What you do there can be very varied, but cute, cosy crime is a very limited market now. 6. Don’t Forget Jeopardy Crime novels now are also thrillers. It’s not fine for the detective to solve the mystery and explain it all to a hushed and respectful audience. On the contrary, he or she must live in fear of his or her life. It’s got to be thrilling, as well as intellectually satisfying. 7. Concentrate On Character Crime and thriller plots are easily forgettable, and often feel very samey anyway. Characters like Elvis Cole, Hannibal Lecter, on the other hand, never leave us. If you find a strong character, and do everything else reasonably competently, then you quite likely have fiction that’ll sell. 8. Write Well Bad writing will almost certainly kill your chances. You don’t have to be flowery. You do have to be competent. 9. Be Economical Thrillers need to be taut. Check your book for needless chapters, your chapters for needless paragraphs, your paragraphs for needless sentences, and your sentences for needless words. Then do it all over again. Twice. 10. Be Perfectionist Very good isn’t good enough. Dazzling is the target. Being tough with yourself is the essential first ingredient. Getting someone else to be tough with you is quite possibly the second. I said ten tips, didn’t I? Here’s an eleventh: 11. Don’t Give Up Be persistent. You learn by doing, and the more you write, the better you’ll be. Think about building your skills, engaging with the industry, or getting editorial advice. All those things will enhance your writing, too. As ever, best of luck! 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. 

The Omniscient Narrator: All You Need To Know

In this article, guest author, Philip Womack, discusses the omniscient narrator, and answers the question \'what does omniscient mean?\'. When you sit down to write, with that all-important, all-consuming story bursting to get out of your mind and onto the page, you’re facing a multitude of decisions to do with technique and style. One of the very first things you’ll need to consider, and one of the most important, is which narrative voice to use. Do you want to be intimate, and employ the first person? J D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is a fine example of this at its most gripping and involving, as is Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. Or do you want to adopt something that’s more universal, such as a third person omniscient point of view? Most contemporary novelists write in the third person limited, which means that the narrative is limited to what the protagonist knows, and everything is filtered through the protagonist’s viewpoint. Point of view is important and allows the writer to play with perspective.  With the rise of post-modernism and other theories that questioned accepted fictional structures, the omniscient narrator fell out of fashion. Novelists began to play games with perception, and the unreliable narrator came to the fore. This can be delivered in the first person or the third person. Ian McEwan’s third person Atonement presents itself as a straightforward novel, but actually has a sting in the tail, which causes the reader to question all that has gone before; you can contrast this with Kazuo Ishiguro’s first person The Remains of the Day, where the narrator isn’t quite telling us the truth.  The omniscient narrator has been used for centuries. Homer’s Iliad, which stands at the very beginning of Western literature, is a fine example of a narrator who knows everything: the gods, the heroes, even the details of individual battles.  When you sit down to tell your story, you may find your writing naturally falls into it. It’s what we’ve been brought up on: Once upon a time, there was a little princess… Of course, the narrator / narrative voice isn’t actually omniscient (he/she isn’t God). The effect of it suggests there is a separate entity from the other characters in the book, able to see all of them and even know what’s happening in their hearts and minds. It’s a powerful tool, and if used properly, it can lend an authoritative sheen to your work. Omniscient Narrator: Definition An omniscient narrator is the all-knowing voice in a story. The narrator has greater insight into the narrative events; context; and the characters\' motives, unspoken thoughts, and experiences, than any individual character does. It is also known as an intrusive narrator and is (usually) in the third person singular:  “When Sebastian walked through the heavy committee room door, a group of people were already there, seated and rustling papers. The light was dim, electricity guttering, their faces obscure. The commander was tapping his fingers on the table-top. Outside, buses clattered down the road, bursting with commuters on their way to work, checking their newspapers, feeling for loose change in their pockets, staring at pigeons, little knowing that what was happening in this tiny room off Whitehall would affect each and every one of them today…”  The narrative switches from Sebastian to the people on the buses; but the voice, being omniscient, is able to convince the reader it knows what’s going on. It also allows the narrator to paint a wider picture and create suspense.  The omniscient narrative voice is totally in charge of the story: like a director, pointing you towards images and people as it sees fit, acting in the same way as a camera. The omniscient narrator feeds us information about characters and plot in a structured, orderly way to maximise atmosphere, tension and suspense.  What Is The Omniscient Point Of View And How Can You Use It To Your Advantage? The advantage of an omniscient point of view is that you can write about any aspect of the story you like. Ursula Le Guin, in A Wizard of Earthsea, uses it to great effect: she begins with a description of the island of Gont, rising up above the waves, and then focuses in on the island itself, and a boy, Ged, who is to be the hero of the story. The world that she creates has the texture of myth and truth, in part because of this narrative choice. The narrative voice sounds confident and traditional: it urges the reader to listen.  There are problems with the third person omniscient. When you have too many characters in a room together, a writer can start “head-hopping”: that is, switching from one character to another.  “John was angry, and said so. Sarah was sad because she wanted to go out. Henry, on the other hand, was pleased.”  Too much of this can be fragmented and unconvincing. It can be done well: D H Lawrence is always doing it, for example; and there are many passages in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast which gain their power from head-hopping; but most debut authors are advised to avoid it as much as possible.  You can still use third person omniscient and gain better effects: “John was angry, and said so. Sarah, turning away, continued to apply her lipstick in defiance. Henry threw his car keys onto the table, and sat down.”  The main advantage of a third person omniscient narrator is scope. The disadvantage is that you’ve got to make sure that you know everything about the story – you have to be able to understand it and its world inside out, otherwise it can come across as unconvincing.  What Is An Example Of An Omniscient Narrator? Charles Dickens’ 19th century novel, A Tale of Two Cities, is a classic example of the technique. It famously begins:  “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 …”  These kind of general, sweeping statements are probably best avoided in your novel (unless you really know your onions). 19th century novelists also have a tendency to step in to comment on the action: George Eliot, in Middlemarch, moves seamlessly between commenting on action and going into people’s thoughts and feelings.  The following, from Celeste Ng, in her debut Everything I Never Told You (2014), deploys the omniscient narrator in a more modern fashion:  “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia’s physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia’s father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio’s Best News Source, vexed by the crackles of static. On the stairs, Lydia’s brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia’s sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes, sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It’s she who says, at last, “Lydia’s taking a long time today.”  Right from the start, the narrative voice tells you things that the characters are unaware of. The effect of this is to heighten suspense. She switches from character to character, painting a picture of a family going about its business: the father in the car, the brother on the stairs, the sister eating cornflakes. It’s a haunting effect, and it’s something that a third person limited narration couldn’t achieve.  The omniscient narrator, then, can offer up plenty of exciting avenues for your writing. But you have to plan especially carefully. Avoid the portentous and the heavy, and aim for clarity, and watch your writing take off.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write Beginnings, Middles And Ends

This meditation on story structure in the novel comes from William Kowalski, author of \'Eddie’s Bastard\', \'The Hundred Hearts\' and other novels. The excerpt is taken from his ebook/PDF, \'Writing for First Time Novelists\'. The full text of that ebook can be downloaded for free here. If you’ve ever taken a class on literary theory, or read any amount of literary criticism, likely you will have heard the term “narrative arc”. It’s also likely you will have heard a large number of other literary terms as well, but you will find that I don’t concern myself with them in this book, because they are of absolutely no interest to me whatsoever. If I felt it would make me a better writer, I would do nothing but talk about literary theory all day long. But I have always felt that literary theory makes me a worse writer, in the sense that it makes me more self-conscious and worried about whether my work stands up to a set of academic standards. I think fiction began to die the day it became the property of academia, and I hope it will wriggle free one day and escape into the wild again. Until then, I just keep typing. Literary theory may describe literature, but mastering it will not make you a better writer, any more than studying Newton’s laws of motion will make you a better baseball player. I write by instinct, not by a set of rules. There are some aspects of basic literary theory that are important for any writer to know, but they needn’t be obfuscated by the sorts of complicated terms people typically use to make themselves sound more important. You really only need to know a handful of concepts. Of these, narrative arc is probably the most important, from a story-telling point of view. So what does it mean? All it means is this: Your story needs a clear beginning, middle, and ending, and each part needs to measure up to a different set of standards in order to be considered successful. In addition, there is the symbiosis that takes place when all parts are working together perfectly to create something that is far greater than their sum. This is when we say that a book comes alive in your hands. You can feel it happening, both as a reader and a writer. It’s quite miraculous, and it can’t always be planned. In fact, it is rarely accomplished on purpose. Beginnings The beginning of a book should immerse us in your world right away. Don’t be coy about it, and don’t be disingenuous, either. Tell us what we need to know to make sense of things. Use plenty of detail. We want to get a nice feel for the setting, and we want to be as impressed by your characters as we are by meeting people in real life. When I say impressed, I don’t mean we should think they are great. I mean they should literally impress themselves upon us, through all the senses (except, perhaps, taste). Your beginning should also give us the sense that we are on a journey. We don’t need to know where just yet, although we should know before page 50 or so… say, about three chapters in. This is usually the amount of pages an agent or editor will ask to read when they are trying to make up their mind about a book. The reason for this is simple: if your beginning hasn’t hooked them, it probably won’t hook other readers either, and they will put the book down and move on. Many people will tell you that you need to be even more immediate with your grasp, and that your very first paragraph needs to be arresting, amazing, startling, and unlike anything anyone has ever read before. That’s a pretty tall order. While I am all in favor of strong writing, I have to say that this particular approach to fiction strikes me as something that has evolved in order to compete with film and television. Books were never meant to do this. Novels are for people who are in it for both the journey and the destination, and they’re in no hurry; it’s not necessary to begin your tale with dramatic action in order to hook us. Hook us, certainly. But there is nothing wrong with a book that unfolds gradually, as opposed to one that begins with an explosion, and leaves us to watch the fallout for the next three or four hundred pages. Middles If the first 50 pages can be said to be the beginning of a book, then from page 51 up until about maybe thirty pages from the end can be called the middle. The middle is the longest part of any book, just like a chess game’s longest part is the mid-game. This is where all the stuff happens. Nearly everything that is memorable about a book will take place here. The worst thing that can be said about the middle of a book is that it sags or falls flat. Have you ever seen the St. Louis Arch? This is the image that always comes to my mind whenever I hear anyone talk about story arc. What if it was to sag? What would it look like then? It would fail at its most basic task, which was simply to arc. If your story sags in the middle, it means that things are not moving along at the same pace they were at the beginning. Readers are growing bored. Something went wrong somewhere. One simple rule I follow is this: something must happen on every page. Something – no matter how small or seemingly insignificant – must happen always be happening. When things stop happening, that’s when your story runs into trouble. A story is not as symmetrical as the arch in the picture, of course. The apex of the arc, which we usually call the climax, is actually much closer to the end than the beginning. The whole middle builds up to that climax. Endings And then, of course, comes the last important piece: the ending. I’ve always secretly resented it that a story has to contain anything, just like it’s always annoyed me that an 80’s-era rock song has to contain a guitar solo. It feels formulaic to me, and when I was younger I really despised anything that smacked of formula. But over time, I’ve learned that stories tend to follow a certain pattern for the same reason that every other aspect of literature exists: because that is what people respond to. This is rooted not in fascism or in the desire of one group to control another group, as my hyper-sensitive teenaged self believed, but in simple human psychology, which in turn has its roots in biology. Storytelling is one of the most important things people do. To explore this, let’s take what is probably the oldest story of all: the story of a hunt. Want more? Go get William’s free, full ebook Writing for First Time Novelists, by going here. If you want more on plotting etc from this site, try our info on Plot, and More about Plot. 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. 

Voice In The Novel (Or Finding Yours)

Countless agents will talk about voice, or something similar, above all other assets that an author might bring. One agent we know of, for example, offered representation for a book having read just one sentence of it. So what is a ‘voice’ in writing, and how do you get one? What Is Voice In Writing? What Authorial Voice Is – And Why You Want One Voice is to writing as personality is to humans. Voice is the stylistic imprint of the individual author – their unique, signature style, if you like. The idea is that authors with real “voice” are inimitable. That they sound like themselves and no one else. So here’s Cormac McCarthy, for example: Here’s Raymond Chandler: He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. [The Road] I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room. Here’s Gillian Flynn: Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. [Gone Girl] In each of these cases, those authors have an instantly recognisable quality. One that just drips with personality and mature stylistic confidence. What Is ‘Voice’ In Writing? ‘Voice’ refers to the author’s writing style, or authorial voice. It is the stylistic imprint, or signature style, that authors leave on the page. An authorial voice should have an instantly recognisable quality, or personality, and remain present throughout the novel. It’s what will captivate your readers and hook an agent. Why Do Literary Agents Care So Much About Voice? Just imagine you were an agent looking through your slushpile – maybe 2,000 manuscripts through the course of a year. Many of those manuscripts will be perfectly fine. Competent thrillers. Decent rom-coms. Accessible literary fiction with interesting themes. But their ‘perfectly OK-ness’ is the problem. Why would an agent prefer Competent Thriller A to Competent Thriller B? What would force an editor to buy one over the other? In many cases, the answer is ‘nothing much.’ And that’s where voice comes in. If you, as a debut author, can stride into the agent’s consciousness sounding like nothing else in his/her slushpile – sounding like yourself and no one else – you force the agent to pay you attention. And in the course the editor. And in due course the reader. And that’s why voice matters. That’s why voice is golden. Achieving Voice: Aspire To Authenticity Voice is often left until later in writing courses. That’s emphatically not because the concept doesn’t matter, but because you only get to deal with matters of finding your voice once the basics have all been properly dealt with. That certainly means that your prose style will read competently. But it goes beyond that. It would be exceptionally rare for a writer to have a wonderful voice without also having a certain minimum level of competence at matters such as plotting, handling points of view, and all those other things that go to make up a technically proficient novel. In short, if you’re uncertain whether you are yet entirely competent as a writer, you probably still need to worry at your technique as your priority. (Oh, and I should be clear that I’m not using ‘competent’ here in a dismissive sense. Rather the opposite. A professionally competent carpenter is a wonderful and skilful thing. Being able to lift a hammer or a cut a piece of wood doesn’t make you a carpenter. Likewise, many first-time novelists may struggle with aspects of technique, which is fair enough if you haven’t done this before.) Don’t Fake A Voice That’s Not Yours A lot of thriller writers, for example, knowing that Raymond Chandler is famous for his prose style and flashy images will seek to do likewise, and jam their prose full of over-the-top imagery and wild similes. This could work, yes, in principle – but by golly it seldom does. And the trouble is partly a misreading of Chandler (who was carefully selective about when to pick an over-the-top image out of his toolkit), but mostly a lack of authenticity. The typical sign is a prose style that judders from the bland to the excessive and back again. Character, Character, Character, And Story To achieve authenticity, you need to not start off by worrying about voice. If you do that, you will end up imposing some excessively designed voice over the head of your character. Really, it has to work the other way round. You find the style that suits your character and work with that. I’ve put a chunk of my own first-person prose down below (so you can look at it and laugh at me), but character can influence voice even when it’s not first person. For a remarkable exercise in third-person character determining voice, try Brooklyn by the wonderful Colm Toibin. What you notice in that book is how little the author appears to do. How much is not said. But that’s because the protagonist is herself from a limited background without much range of personal expression. The intensity of the novel arises from what Toibin called – only a little pretentiously – a system of silences. Character determining voice. And if character is mostly paramount, then story matters, too. The voice that Toibin used for Brooklyn would not work well at all for (say) my own Fiona Griffiths detective stories, and vice versa. If you start with character and story, then write as well as you can, you’re most of the way to doing what you need. Remember Imagery, Yes, But Also Everything Else When it comes to ‘fine writing’, a lot of people have a strange idea that it’s all to do with imagery or sentence structure. And sure, if you have those in your armoury, then why not? But other elements of voice abound. For example: RhythmLength of sentences and parasVocabulary (broad or narrow, both can work)Vocabulary as a palette (for example, a book might cleave very tightly to agricultural and natural images, colours and allusions)Lyricism versus stony realismHumourWarmthIronyDoes the book stick close to one or more characters, or does the narratorial voice sometimes protrude?Descriptive or terse?Minute dissection of moments, emotions, thoughts? Or very sweeping? Intimate or wide-angle?Does the writer tease the reader? Are mysteries left to linger unsolved?Present tense or past? And how are those tenses deployed?Preference for Anglo-Saxon vocabulary or Latinate, French?Smoothness or unexpectedness? Does the voice remain very consistent in tone, or does it move around to surprise the reader? I daresay if you think a few moments, you’ll be able to extend that list a good way yourself. All these things can go to make up voice. You need to pick the bits that matter to you. Remember It’s Not A Competition In Technique And, also, you don’t get points for some show-off technique like, for example, writing a novel in the first-person plural. (The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides is a good example.) You get points for writing well. That can be by doing the basic things very well indeed. Don’t seek to flaunt some exotic piece of technique unless the book really demands it. And for a last hint, I think that as you start to understand your own style, it can be worth doing the same thing, but just a little more. Taking your existing ingredients and cutting out anything that doesn’t quite mesh and emphasising your signature notes a little more. It would be exceptionally easy to overdo this, of course, but it never hurts to nudge the reader, just a little, with what to look out for. My Voice (Or The One I Share With Fiona Griffiths) And there’s no use in talking about voice without showing it on the page. This is me, talking as my detective character Fiona Griffiths. Fiona is working undercover, is currently in prison, and is hoping to uncover some secrets from a fellow inmate, Anna Quintrell. Quintrell is brought to the cell when the light is dying. She looks rough. Not injured and knocked about, like me, but exhausted. Defeated. She’s still in her cutsie little summer dress, but someone has given her a grey fleece to wear over the top. We stare at each other. She sits on her bed. There are four blankets in the room and I’ve got them all. ‘What happened to you?’ ‘Resisting arrest,’ I say. ‘Except some of it happened after arrest.’ She draws her legs up on the bed. ‘Can I have my blankets?’ I give her one. ‘And another?’ I tell her to fuck off. Say I’m cold. ‘So am I.’ I shrug. Not interested. There’s a pause. A pause sealed off by steel doors and concrete walls. ‘They bugged my house. My phone. They’ve got everything.’ I shrug. Light dies in the ceiling. She tries to make herself comfortable. Twitches the fleece and blanket, trying to get warm. A losing game. There’s a call button by the door which allows prisoners to ask for help from staff. She presses it, asks for more bedclothes. Someone laughs at her and tells her to go to sleep. She stands by my bed and says plaintively. ‘You’ve got my blanket.’ I tell her again to fuck off. She’s bigger than me, but I’m scarier. She goes back to her bed. The light fades some more. I try to sleep. The aspirin has worn off and my head hurts. Quintrell starts crying. Quiet sobs, that tumble into the blanket and are smothered. Down the corridor, we can hear more suspects being brought in and processed. Doors slam through the night: church bells calling the hour. I sleep. I won’t comment much on that, except to note that my style is unusual in its attempt at combining two things. First, its clipped quality (very short sentences and paras, lots of sentence fragments or verbs missing their subject), not uncommon in thrillers, but then I try for an almost lyrical quality, also (“A pause sealed off by steel doors”, “Light dies in the ceiling”), though this is unobtrusive, even sparse, because those interjections can’t detract from the action. The combination of the two – plus that intense, up-close present tense – go to create a lot of what we experience as Fiona’s voice. She’s also an odd combination of highly intelligent (hinted at here only) and very, erm, blue-collar in her speech. It’s those dissonant ingredients that go to make our Fi. If you’re struggling for that elusive ‘voice’ in your novel, and you’re writing in the first-person, why not set aside your story for a moment, and scribble a conversation with your protagonist or a page from their diary. What does it sound like? 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. 

Writing A Book For The First Time – Tips

If you’re writing a book for the first time, it’s good to have the tips and writing steps you need in one place. Here are our advice pages on all aspects of novel-writing and the many different ways to write a good book. How To Have Ideas And Inspiration Nothing is harder to come by than inspiration, and it’s not enough to be inspired, you need a concept a publisher is also likely to get excited by. Coming up with ideasHow to write your elevator pitch9 tips to conquer writers’ blockHow to find inspiration for your writingHow to become a better writer Story, Plot And Pacing Your book’s heart is its story. Get it wrong and your book will not be saleable. Our advice: How to plan a novel: a plot structure templateHow to chart your plot mountain or plot diagram for momentumHow to write seven basic plotsFreytag’s pyramid: understanding dramatic structure and applying it to your own narrativeWriting a three act structureHow to write a compelling plot twist Character Any good story needs strong, convincing characters to populate it. Even if you’re writing a true story (a memoir, for example), you need to bring your characters to life on the page. Here’s how to do it: Characterisation and character developmentHow to develop characters and inner worlds in fictionHow to write characters (not clichés)How to write different points of viewHow to show, don’t tell, in writingWhat is a foil character?How to create a character bio templateWhat are secondary characters?How mannerisms can create memorable charactersThe 12 character archetypesAnti-hero vs villain: a complete guideProtagonist vs antagonistRound vs flat characters Prose Style And Editing Your Work Sentences need to matter as much to you as paint does to a painter. And remember that good writing is usually good re-writing, so be prepared to put in the hours. Our guides: Your writing style checklist The omniscient narrator: all you need to knowHow to self-edit your draftHow to write dialogue in fictionThe hero\'s journeyHow to write setting and spaceWhat is purple prose?How to eliminate passive voice from your writingHow to present your manuscriptWhat is copyediting? Next Steps Have we remembered to mention that writing a book for the first time is quite hard? Help is at hand, if you need it from us. Get editorial feedback on your work. We work with partial manuscripts, as well as complete ones.Try a writing course. Our courses are online, so you’ll be able to work around commitments.Come to our events like the Festival of Writing to meet literary agents in person and pitch your manuscript. Signing up to our mailing lists you’ll be first to hear announcements. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Chart Your Plot Mountain Or Plot Diagram

Plot structure is one of the trickiest and most vital things to get right in a story, but using the idea of a plot mountain can be a great way to solve your plot problems – and deliver a great experience for the reader. Plot is loosely defined as a chain of events in a story – i.e. this happened, so that happened. Notice that little word “so” – it means that Y happened, because X happened. That everything in your story is linked together, literally like links in a chain. A linear, logical chain of events, though, isn’t all that exciting. You need a story arc – a plot mountain – to engage readers, to build tension and excitement. Here’s what you need to know. Use A Plot Diagram For Story Momentum A plot diagram (or plot mountain or story arc) will deliberately look like a triangle, with action and drama building to excite us before subsiding. It mightn’t sound inspired. To most readers, a story is a living thing and you’re alive in those writers’ very dreamscapes. Often, though, rules can help keep a writer on track. (And once understood, they can be bent and broken a little.) Consider a plot mountain your roadmap for sustaining emotional momentum through the story – and let’s cover some points. Plotting Your Foundations (Your Characters) Any foundation for a good story is character. It may veer on a cliché, but think of it as inverse pot-of-gold at the start of a rainbow. The more you bury early on, the more you can mine and dig up later over your plot mountain. Character is only the start of good plotting, but it is no less than that. The best stories are essentially character journeys. Your protagonist will need to be human and compelling. Your protagonist will also be in need for a story arc to take place, so they must lack something. This is your foundation for a good story. Start here and think of both your character’s goal or goals, as well as your character’s motive(s). This distinction between goal and motive is important. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter needs love and acceptance (motive), having grown up uncared for under his uncle and aunt’s roof. Then Hagrid appears and Harry ‘needs’ to escape to Hogwarts (goal). Harry’s goals change through the books (going to the Quidditch World Cup, winning the Triwizard Tournament). But his motivation is to fight throughout for peace and tolerance – and his overarching goal has evolved by the last book to be the death of Voldemort and peace for the wizarding community. So map goal to motive as you plan for your character’s growth, their story arc and your plot structure – and take a look at our character building page for help, ditto how authentic characterisation is essential to help drive a plot forward. Character needs may evolve as your hero or heroine grows, but goals and motive can’t be ‘illogical’ and cancel out the other (e.g. you write in a goal not in keeping with your character’s nature). And remember any story is born out of your protagonist desiring something, rooted in overcoming weakness to get to a stronger new equilibrium. (We’ll get to this soon.) Plotting Your Initiating Incident Having mapped out your foundation and novel beginnings, you can tie in your initiating incident. A good example might be Harry Potter receiving his Hogwarts letter. Out of the Cupboard under the Stairs, onto Hogwarts. And any initiating incident or call-to-action, no matter how over- or understated, must actually throw the character into a worse-off situation than the start in order to set your novel off on the right trajectory. Story charts are called ‘story mountains’ in schools, after all, because stakes get higher and things need to get emotionally a lot tougher before they can wind down to a happy ending. So the initiating incident you just kindled should spark drama. It should lead your protagonist into what we’ll (loosely) call a fraught setup where drama will unfold. It looks as if Jon Snow’s going to the Night Watch will result in a quieter life than the trauma unfolding for his family in King’s Landing. Jon’s choice leads him to danger instead. And it looks as if Harry Potter will be safe at Hogwarts under Dumbledore’s watch. And it looks as if Jane Eyre will be settled and happy at Thornfield. A good plot subverts such hope. Your drama builds from this. The protagonist is placed, somehow, in some jeopardy that rivets us and pushes us to read more, so bear in mind your initiating incident carefully. You’ll later need to subvert our sense of safety as you ‘bridge’ your way to your next plot points and remember your initiating incident should map back to earlier foundations (your character’s nature). Will they take up their call and be right for your plot structure and story arc? Make sure it marries up to motive, with the person they are at heart. You need a protagonist to actively take this call-to-action up. This is true even for reluctant heroes, i.e. Arthur Golden’s Chiyo in Memoirs of a Geisha or Suzanne Collins’ Katniss in The Hunger Games. Chiyo tries to run away at first, fails, but she finds other reasons to train as a Kyoto geisha and remain in her okiya. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games in her sister Prim’s place, with no choice but to fight to save her sister. Once she’s committed, she’ll fight to survive. Some protagonists are more proactive and will create their own ‘call’, rather than fairy-godmother-summons. Jon Snow, for instance, opts to leave home and ‘take the black’ in A Game of Thrones. Jane Eyre is at first sent to school, then creates her ‘call’ because, bored years later, she advertises herself as a governess. Whether your protagonist knows an initiating incident could lead them to danger (as Katniss does), they still can’t help taking up the mantle. They’ll always choose to take up the call, and so it always maps back to intrinsic needs. In The Hunger Games, Katniss needs to save her sister because she couldn’t live with herself if anything happened to her. And the rest of your plot is about mounting drama and the protagonist reaching their end goal. Creating Plot Development Plot development’s where you get to wreak havoc and brew drama, the clouds and storms gathering up the plot mountain. So play with scenarios and ideas. Be sure everything is done right when you edit your plot, keeping all that happens to your protagonist relevant and necessary, and don’t meander, but do get your ideas down. Plotting should be fun and, like a first draft, you can edit and hone as you go. As Edgar Allan Poe wrote, ‘no [plot] part can be displaced without ruin to the whole.’ You also need here to accordingly sketch your antagonist (if not fleshed out yet), and they’ll compete for the same thing as your protagonist. Yes, really. According to storyteller John Truby in The Anatomy of Story, a good protagonist and antagonist compete for ‘which version of reality everyone will believe’. Think of everyone in A Song of Ice and Fire vying for the Iron Throne. This is a story of many people believing they should rule – and George R.R. Martin’s multiple protagonists work as one another’s antagonists. Each has a version of reality they want to assert. And we’ve invested emotionally in all these characters and rivals, which is why A Song of Ice and Fire is so gripping. Your story arc (or the bulk of it) is in fact about which reality will be established if your protagonist fails and the conflict resulting from this threat is the rising action. This is where your story tension, drama, poignancy and urgency will be born. And there’s just no point in mismatching protagonist and antagonist, any more than you’d mismatch your love interest in a romance novel, if you want drama ensuing. Create your character’s very antithesis, then. Who’d be the worst antagonist for your protagonist to be faced with? Bring them to life. Which gifts would be the ultimate worst-case scenario for your protagonist to deal with? Give them those gifts. Make it personal and keep it human. This isn’t just about plot mechanics, either: a protagonist-antithesis means your character’s journey will end in real growth and change, that stakes will be heightened. And a face often grips us more than a secret network, machine or monster. There are exceptions, i.e. Frankenstein’s Monster, or White Walkers, but there’s still a ‘humanness’ in really monstrous beings that makes them more sinister. Cersei Lannister is more ominous than Daenerys’ dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire. Cold Aunt Reed and petulant Blanche Ingram aren’t larger-than-life murderesses à la Cersei, but they’re larger-than-life threats to Jane Eyre and Jane’s hopes for happiness. Bar a gripping (powerful, threatening) antagonist, there aren’t set rules for rising action, but a good story checklist of things to include could be: Create your antagonist with care and add psychological ‘meat’ when setting up an opponent or supporting opponents, something for us to discover (their views, value set, etc.), and write in how something about them hinders your protagonist growing, flourishing, getting where they need to be;Create ‘surprise reveal’ moments with care in your plot structure, sharing new information for characters, and with the result of ennobling or refining protagonist attitudes and goals;Create a protagonist’s goal or plan and your antagonist’s counter-goal or plan, giving equal care to both, no matter your genre (e.g. Katniss Everdeen plans to survive the Hunger Games whilst the Capitol tries to crush her in various ways);Create plot setbacks and comebacks, e.g. Jane Eyre’s seemingly found freedom and happiness on her engagement, before being thrust back (by discovering Rochester’s wife);Create pieces of foreshadowing for readers to pick up on;And create plot events and actions consistent with your protagonist drive, remembering your original character motivation as you weave it through your drama to keep its heart. You’ll want to throw in allies, true and false, betrayals or misunderstandings, perhaps red herring threats and veiled or surprise threats. And any subplot characters should be dealing with the same issue or issues as your protagonist, or there’s no point to them (at least in your story terms). If nothing else – be sure you’re building up your character’s desire for their goals. The stakes should be getting tougher. The choices should be getting harder. These things should be building throughout, so the goal becomes more urgent as plot jeopardy mounts in your story arc. Remember that everything you map here needs to map back to character revelations, to shifting goals. This too maps up to story climax and to your protagonist’s emotional catharsis (when you’re mapping out ‘falling actions’ later). Pinpointing Your Character Revelations Character revelations are key to great plotting, as otherwise it all grows rather mechanical – and plotting and characterisation are such infused, melded, twisted-together processes, after all. There isn’t one without the other. It’s been said we often do the best we can with the information we have. As such, your protagonist needs ‘surprise reveal’ moments where some new information is shared for their character growth and for plot development to happen. So, as mentioned, rising plot tensions should accommodate ennobled motives and, sometimes, slightly altered goals for a compelling story arc. Again, Harry Potter has several important revelations over his series and these change his goals and the nature of them. Growing up in Hogwarts, Harry gradually grasps his power to make a difference. He starts teaching Hogwarts students defensive magic. Trying to save Sirius, Harry learns even his best efforts ‘playing the hero’ can lead to tragedy. Harry then works with Dumbledore to become less a moving target than an active fighter, as he learns more about Voldemort’s origins, how to anticipate him as Voldemort anticipated Harry’s efforts to save Sirius. Such revelations should marry up with key plot points (or plot events). There aren’t set rules, per se, as to when character revelations should appear, how often and which ones. It’ll all depend on story and your characters. But it’s important to punctuate your plot chart with revelatory moments, building in importance for growing urgency. Revelations are a story’s heartbeat, meat and blood. Plotting Your Story Climax Or Crisis Plot events can be climactic, but there’ll typically be one major climax or crisis. (There are exceptions.) Choose it, build to it, plot it carefully. It’s Clarice Starling’s showdown with Buffalo Bill, Jane Eyre’s ghostly summons across the moors back to blinded Rochester. In the simplest terms, Robert McKee defines any story climax, in Story, as ‘absolute and irreversible change’. And in John Bell’s Plot and Structure, story crises are transition points called ‘doorways of no return.’ So a story climax is (structurally) also something that’ll set up for a resolution, for falling action and a new order of things. Bear this in mind, especially if you’re feeling confident enough to create multiple major crises (more of a plot mountain range). And whilst your protagonist may have gone through many other big challenges and changes, this should be irreversible, and there should be some self-revelation tied up here. Clarice Starling’s self-revelation is one of self-belief. She’s not ready to take on Buffalo Bill, but she does. She beats him. And she learns she could beat him. This question of her aptitude hung on Clarice’s many conversations with Hannibal. The story’s been leading us to this point. A crisis (as above) is the peak of your story arc, and pinnacle of a protagonist’s self-revelation. And the rest is about winding down, dealing with the emotional aftermath. Plotting Your Resolution Or New Equilibrium Your protagonist’s world is, very simply, either better or worse now the story climax is over. From this, you’ll plot your resolution as your story arc falls. Your protagonist has either achieved their goals after their battles and evolution and self-discovery – or not – and so there also needs an emotional catharsis. Your story mustn’t lose heart simply because we’re winding down. Your falling action plays a vital cathartic role for both your characters and your readers. Clarice Starling, for instance, defeats Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, and then becomes an FBI agent. She saves Catherine Martin, the first victim she rescues; or ‘lamb’, after the lambs’ cries that have haunted her sleep before now (because Clarice couldn’t help or save them). Think again of Robert McKee’s ‘absolute and irreversible change’, John Bell’s ‘doorways of no return’. Clarice’s door, if you will, has opened onto a new life and Clarice can’t go back to the lesser life experience she had. This is the new equilibrium. You’ll create the same for your characters as you wind down. In this instance, Clarice is an agent, and Buffalo Bill is gone. But Hannibal is at large. There is still danger in paradise, and scope for Thomas Harris’ sequel, Hannibal. In A Game of Thrones, the climax is Eddard Stark’s beheading. And with the demise also of King Robert, the new equilibrium is set for dystopia under King Joffrey Baratheon, with Sansa Stark his hostage, and Arya Stark on the run, as Robb Stark rallies in the north. A Game of Thrones sets the stage for its sequel, A Clash of Kings. In romantic Jane Eyre, Jane is happily united with Rochester. The new equilibrium is a happy ending, but after the novel’s crisis (her refusal to marry Rivers, hearing Rochester calling on the moors), the build-up to Jane’s new equilibrium, her happy reunion with Rochester, is cathartic because it is written as such. The same is true in Memoirs of a Geisha. Chiyo (now called Sayuri) writes readers a dreamy fairy tale end after her final talk with the Chairman, her emigration to America. So, when you’re ending your tale, think of the new equilibrium you’re establishing and don’t deprive readers of a cathartic end just because you’re in a hurry now to finish plotting. We know how hard writing is, but we’re rooting for you. Keep going, and never give up. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write According To The Myers Briggs Personality Type

We all have different writing styles, but have you ever wondered whether your technique is influenced by your personality type? It’s often empowering to understand what helps you as a writer, which is why we\'re going to be looking at whether the Myers-Briggs types - whether you\'re an ENTP, ESTJ, ESFJ, INTJ, INTP, and so on - can influence how you write. Firstly, take a look at the MBTI system on the Myers & Briggs Foundation website and discover your personality type. This is just a bit of fun, but it may give you an insight into what blocks you and what inspires you. If you’re struggling to make headway on a writing project, think how you work best, how maybe a “weakness” could be a strength, and what’ll help you finish most – will it be a deadline? Or a designated day of the week to write? Which personality type is the best writer? There isn\'t one. Every writer is an artist, every artist an individual, so experiment with many different methods of writing to find what works best for you. But now you know your Myers Briggs personality type, let\'s see if you can understand yourself a little better... 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 with most often, 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 realise 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, and adjust their INFJ writing style accordingly. 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 being even more overwhelmed. 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. 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. 

Narrative Distance Definition (With Examples For Fiction Writers)

What is narrative distance or psychic distance in fiction? Find out what it is and why it counts. Are you ever boggled by how many decisions you have to make, and keep making, as you write your story? When you’re imagining a scene, which aspects of it do you put on the page? And how much of them? What about showing and telling? What about point-of-view – and how do you move into a different one? What about the stuff about “close third” versus “omniscient” narrators? And what if you’re in first person anyway? And then there’s voice, the thing which all editors and agents say they look for – but what does that mean for how you write this sentence? It’s all very confusing. Which is why, when I first came across the concept of Narrative Distance or Psychic Distance in John Gardner’s classic The Art of Fiction, I whooped with joy. Not only does it integrate all those different questions into one simple one, it gives you a sure way to make sure that readers feel involved with your characters, while you also keep the story cracking on. So these days it’s a key part of my teaching. Not least on the course Self-Editing Your Novel I developed and co-teach with Debi Alper at Jericho Writers. What Is Narrative Distance Or Psychic Distance? The basic idea is this. As well as evoking external events, a novel’s narrative takes the reader inside one or more characters, to evoke thoughts, feelings, perceptions and moment-by-moment physical experience. Crucially, this isn’t a binary inside/outside decision, it’s a spectrum, with the writer controlling how deep we feel we are inside that subjective, individual, close-up of a character’s consciousness. And the writer also controls how far out the narrative takes us, towards an objective, wide angle telling of those events that is beyond any one character’s experience. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.Henry hated snowstorms.God how he hated these damn snowstorms.Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul. These are just points on a spectrum, of course, but look at they changes the reader’s experience of this moment in the scene: Level 1: Remote and objective. The narrator – the storyteller – conveys lots of information about what’s happening (Telling, if you like) but no evocation of that man’s direct experience. It’s a camera long-shot, which is also wideangle.Level 2: We get a bit closer, because we’re given individual information about him. His name and his emotions. But it is information, conveyed by the storyteller in the storyteller’s voice.Level 3: Henry is starting to feel like someone we know, while “hated” evokes his emotion a bit, rather than just informing us of it.Level 4: Shifts into free indirect style. The narrator’s voice being coloured by Henry’s own voice, so we feel much closer inside Henry’s personality. But because we’re still in the narrative’s past tense and third person, we haven’t broken with the flow of it. There’s lots of showing, but not much information; it’s like a close-up of Henry’s face.Level 5: Henry’s direct experience has taken over. The writer is evoking a brain-download – a stream of his consciousness in this – and the storyteller has faded out. This access deep inside a character is unique to fiction, a place that a movie camera can’t go. Notice how what aspects of the scene get evoked depends on which character’s viewpoint we’re in. Maybe Henry’s wife Jane likes snowstorms. Her Level 4 might be Oh, how she loved feeling snowflakes on her nose, her Level 5 a download of happy snowballing-memories. On the other hand, the storyteller’s “Jane S. Warburton had always enjoyed snowstorms” is no different in voice or perspective from Henry’s equivalent. How To Know The Levels Of Narrative Distance At Any Moment If you’re writing in first person, your narrator or storyteller happens to be narrating events that they were part of, so to get your head round this, keep thinking of them as two different entities. Here, Old Hal is telling a story about his childhood: In the far-off days of Uther Pendragon, witches stalked the earth.Every village had its witch, and we feared or consulted her according to how desperate we were.When I was a child Mistress Margit frightened me, and when she walked down the street the big ones would shout “Here comes Old Margit!”, while I hid and crossed myself.And here came Old Margit, with her ragged clothes and her big black cat, and I shivered and prayed because St Mary would save me, wouldn’t she?Margit’s coming and her cloak like little demons dancing and what’ll I do – mustn’t catch her eye – hide in the ditch cold and wet but Black Peter will see me – Mother Mary save me, he’ll look at you and then Margit can see into your mind and plant demons in there and… Of course, in real writing, the narrative will not stick at one level for very long at all. It will move dynamically to and fro, according to what’s right for the storytelling and characters at that moment. More evocation, showing, subjectivity, character’s-voicey-ness? Or more information, telling, objectivity, storyteller-in-charge? All you have to do is ask yourself, “How close-in or far-out should I be at this moment?” and all those other questions are answered. Most mainstream fiction will spend much of its time round about the 3-4 areas of the spectrum. Just don’t forget that the far-out distances are brilliant for scene-setting and conveying the big information that we need to know before we close in. And the deepest-in, stream-of-consciousnessy close narrative distances are great when the viewpoint character does lose touch with ordinary life – extreme grief or joy, sex, violence, drugs or drink. And, finally, on changing point of view, have you noticed how the far-out levels don’t inhabit any character’s individual voice or point-of-view? The storyteller is in charge. So, to move from Henry’s voice-and-point-of-view into Jane’s, just move outwards from hers, by stages – 4, 3, 2 – into that neutral, storyteller’s space, then go inwards, by stages – 2, 3, 4 – into Jane’s. And there you have narrative or psychic distance in fiction writing. (If you’d like to explore this in more detail, click through to more resources on my blog, too!) Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Plan A Novel

A step-by-step guide You have an idea. You want to write a novel. You know that’s a big undertaking – a huge one, in fact. But what next? Do you just pull your boots on and start marching? (A terrible idea in almost every case.) Or do you start to plan your journey? And if so, how? This can seem like a journey without maps, where most routes can easily lead to disaster. Well, worry ye not, these questions have solutions. Understanding how to plan a novel is both the most important question you face right now … and a completely achievable goal. In this post, we’re going to give you, not a template exactly, but a set of tools and a clear understanding of the way forward. It’ll probably take you several weeks to plan your novel out (and – a warning – those weeks feel like damn hard work, even though you’re not racking up the word count and throwing chapter after chapter down onto the page.) Planning A Novel: The Need-To-Knows The single most important job you have now is to understand what you need to know about your novel. Sure, then you have to start filling in the blanks, but the first task is simply to generate your headings. And here’s what you need to know about the book you’re going to write: What Genre Is It? Who Are Your Readers? What Kind Of Books / Authors Are You Most Like? You don’t have to answer those questions in complete detail. You won’t in fact know the answers until you’ve written your book. But you need some rough idea. If your book doesn’t sit at some natural point where readers gather, then either you are a genre-busting genius (unlikely), or you have a commercial disaster on your hands. What Are The Genre Expectations Of Your Novel? What Kind Of Length Does It Need To Be? If you know your genre well, you probably have the genre-expectations wired into your bones – which is good. But it’s still worth being a bit explicit about it. There’s no point writing a light chick-lit type novel of 180,000 words – those things are normally half that length, if that. Likewise, if you are writing a tense techno-thriller with a ton of slapstick moments, you may just have an unsaleable mess on your hands. Read up on average chapter lengths and overall word counts so you know what you’re aiming for. How Do You Plan To Publish The Book: As An Indie Author Or Via A Traditional Publishing Route? Maybe that question is a tiny bit premature, but the rules for self-publishing and trad publishing are a bit different. It probably helps to have a rough sense of your likely endpoint. And yes, you can change your mind during the writing process – but remember planning a book is different from writing a book. You can make a plan, then change your mind halfway through – but you’ll still be a mile better off for having made the plan in the first place. What Is Your Story? You need a rough sense of the overall shape of your story. We’ll talk about this more in a bit, but you need a sense of the status quo at the start of your book.what happens to disrupt that status quo. This is the initiating incident.some very very rough ideas of what happens next. This is the hard-to-define Middle Act of your book, or just a general section of Developments. (You’ll hear both terms used by people talking about this stuff.)You may also have a clear sense of some big middle-of-book crisis or action sequence or other tipping point. If so, great, this is your midpoint. If you don’t have this clearly visualised yet, don’t worry about it: that can come later.Then you want a reasonable idea of your end-of-book crisis andan idea of your resolution – how everything ties up at the end. That right there, that fivefold structure, is how you are going to develop your story. Remember that at this stage, you don’t need complete answers to these questions. All we’re doing for now is laying out what you need to know (roughly) before you start writing. We’ll talk more about how to develop that knowledge in a minute. Who Are Your Characters? Again, you need a rough sense of your characters. That means your protagonist, for sure. (Protagonist = hero or heroine of your book. You’ll also see the term MC, which stands for Main Character.) But you also need to identify and have a sense of who your other major characters are. What Are Your Settings? Settings are left out of a lot of novel-planning lists, because often enough those settings seem kind of obvious. So let’s say that your novel is set in New York, a part of you thinks that New York is New York is New York. What more is to be said? Except that’s not true! There are a million New Yorks. Let’s say your story was a coming-of-age tale in 1960s Italian-American, Mafia-world. That New York is radically different from a contemporary tale about (say) a tech-startup world. By understanding your particular settings in detail, you’ll find yourself illuminating the whole story you’re about to tell. Again, we’ll talk more about this shortly. What Are Your Themes? Finally, what themes are you going to be tackling? Perhaps that’s the least important question on this list, and some writers will want to ignore it completely … but, well, I think that question will nag at a lot of you anyway. And while you don’t want to overdo it, I think it helps to have some early sense of what the Big Questions underlying your novel are. That’s just as true of genre writers (crime, SF, romance, whatever) as of proper literary writers. I write crime fiction, but there are still big issues underlying my work and my writing would be poorer if they weren’t there at all. Filling In The Blanks How to sit down and plan your novel without going crazy. OK, so we have our headings: Genre & genre expectationsProbable publishing routeStoryCharactersSettingsThemes Your job now is to start putting some flesh on those bones. Planners Vs Pantsers There’s a dreary old distinction between writers who prefer to plan things out upfront and people who prefer to fly ‘by the seat of their pants’ and just wing it as they write. The fact that you’re reading this post in the first place indicates that you’re intending to plan things. And so, frankly, you should. At Jericho Writers we run a lot of courses for new writers, and we do a lot of editorial work on finished manuscripts. And here’s the simple truth: People who plan their novels, at least a bit, before they start are miles more likely to finish them. What’s more, the basic quality of those manuscripts is much higher too. Planning works. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t. (And yes, talented and experienced authors who work with quite ‘freeform’ stories are an exception to that rule. But you’re not in that category. So keep reading!) How The Planning Process Works The way you are going to plan your novel is like this: You are going to give yourself the headings above.You are actually going to do that In Real Life. It’s probably better if you do it with pen and paper, but I’m OK with you doing it on screen, so long as you actually do it. This is a process where thinking-about-the-process is totally different from actually doing it. You need to actually do it.You are going to write notes under each heading.Yes, those notes will be scanty to start with. That’s OK! You don’t need to know everything yet. But write what you know under each heading.Then start to elaborate.Perhaps your early story idea is pretty damn basic … but then you write a little bit more about your characters and your settings … and you get an idea for an incident in your story, so then you pop down your idea for that incident, and your story-understanding has just grown.Keep going, take time.It’s important to realise that this process is a process. You can’t just allocate Monday and Tuesday to the job, then start writing on Wednesday. You are seeking to create a complex, elaborate and imaginative structure. Finding the right answers – and the right questions – will take time. I’d say that, for most writers, you are looking at several weeks, not several days.Try ideas out, delete the ones you hate.Let’s say you are making notes on character, you get an idea for a story incident, and you write it down. That’s what I just told you to do, right? Well, good. Yes, I did say that. But maybe the idea sucks. On reflection, it just doesn’t fit into the story you want to write. So delete it. You don’t know if an idea works until you try it out – noting it down in written form alongside everything else. But deletion is as much part of the process as creating. You might need to try four different routes, before you find the one that works for you. So those failed avenues aren’t failures at all. They’re what led you to the solution that finally worked.Work in a circular, iterative fashion.If it’s not already clear by now, this process is a circular one. You don’t write a complete set of notes on story, then move onto character, then move onto settings and you’re done. On the contrary, you do a bit here, then a bit there, and gradually, little by little, the whole picture fills out. Iteration, and building from sketchy to more detailed is the way this game is going to work for you. So those are your headings and that’s the basic process. Just a few more comments before I leave you to it. The Snowflake Method Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method is just one, rather rigidly structured, approach to planning your novel. And it’s limited – it works more for genre novels, and even then only some genre novels, than for Fiction In General. The heart of it, however, is simply the realisation that you can’t just sit down and write a four-page plot synopsis of your book upfront. That exercise would either fuse all your brain cells into a single steaming lump … or it would produce a really dire synopsis. So you start with a simple one-sentence story outline, then write a bit about characters, and then circle back to the story and so on. The basic process is precisely the one we’re talking about in this post. But I don’t like the precise format involved because it doesn’t really drive you to think more broadly about the book (settings, themes, market), it’s over-prescriptive about what you have to write when, and the “three disasters plus an ending” seems like a pretty damn crude summary of a book. So yes, by all means, go take a look at the Snowflake Method approach to planning … but I think you’ll prefer a more relaxed approach, such as the one we set out here. Understanding The Market The first two headings – the ones that relate more to the market than to your story in particular – you can just fill in and tidy away in an hour. You need to make notes on length, genre expectations, comparable authors and the rest. Those notes are really just to remind you of your basic compass bearing. If you actually write them down, you are much less likely to go wrong than if you don’t. And, truthfully, this part of the exercise shouldn’t be hard to do. Give yourself an hour or two, and you’re probably done. That said, you might well find that writing some notes on these topics suddenly makes you aware of some gaps in your knowledge. Yikes! What is the right length for a steampunk Victorian fantasy? Gosh! I want to publish traditionally, but do I actually have a sense of what debut novels are making a splash in my genre right now? Those questions may drive you to do some research – they might drive you to an actual bookshop. If so, no question, you’ll be a better author after doing that research than you were before. The market you want to write for matters. You have to know it inside and out. We at Jericho Writers have seen some horrible car-crash type manuscripts written by perfectly good writers. How come? Because those writers didn’t understand the market for their work before they put pen to paper. And if there’s no market for your basic idea, then no amount of editing work is going to save it. Sorry. When Do You Start Writing? So. You’ve written your headings. You’ve researched your market. You’ve started to make notes on plot, on character, on setting, and on everything else. But when do you actually start to write the actual book? When do you shift from planning to doing? And the truthful answer is: It depends. It depends on you, your story, your character, your life cuircumstances. I’d suggest that you need at least: A good idea of the shape of your story. (That means status quo, initiating incident, crisis and resolution, plus at least some vague idea of the direction of travel in the middle half of your book.)A good idea about your characters.A decent feel for settings and all those other things.A strong sense of the market for your book. If you end up accumulating more planning info than that, but don’t go crazy. Yes, JK Rowling famously plotted out her Harry Potter books, but she’s rare. Stephen King and Lee Child do 50% of Naff All. If you have a few pages on story, character, settings & market, and if you feel happy with those things, you may well be good to go. In particular, I think the right time to start a book is about 3-7 days after you’re desperate to start your book. Let that head of steam build up. You’ll know when you’re ready to write. Then start writing. Start enjoying yourself. And happy writing! Need more? We have an incredibly useful Idea Generator tool. Just grab it from the pop-up or the blue banner below this post. It doesn’t just help you structure your ideas … it gives you an incredible insight into how to plan a novel that has the potential to be a genuine bestseller … Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How Long Should A Chapter Be?

You’ve started your book. You’re brimming with ideas. You start hammering away at your text. And then – you hit a pause.  So now what?  Do you create a page break and start a new chapter? Or do you just do the three little asterisk thing? Or just crash straight on?  And what if your chapters are too short? Or too long? Will your readers laugh at you? Will you cause literary agents to spill their lattes with laughter?  Well, no.  Honest truth? Chapter lengths don’t really matter too much. No manuscript has ever been rejected by an agent or neglected by a reader just because a chapter was too short or too long.  That said, chapter breaks are one of the key rhythmical features of a novel. Your story’s most obvious beats. So, it makes sense to use those beats to enhance everything else you’re doing. Getting that right is what this post is all about.  Chapter Length, In A Nutshell Too short: 1000 words or underVery short: 1000-1500 wordsShort: 1500-2000 wordsStandard: 2000 to 4000 wordsLong: 4000 to 5000 wordsVery long: over 5000 Those are the rules for adult novels. Kids’ books will have chapter lengths that vary by age range. And there’s no wrong here. Ducks, Newburyport has no chapters and it’s 400,000 words long. It’s still amazing. What Is A Chapter? And Why Use Chapters? OK. You know what a chapter is. A chapter is generally the major (and often the only) sub-division to be found in a book or novel. It’s marked, almost always, by a page break. The new chapter may be numbered or titled or even both. In terms of scale, some books will also be divided into parts. (Part 1 might include 10 chapters, and so on.) Individual chapters may have minor separation breaks indicated by an asterisk, or similar.  But you knew all that. More important is why is a chapter? Why have them? Why do books need or want them, even after the concept of an actual printed book has become a bit blurred out by e-books and audio books?  And the answer is that any story has beats in it. Punctuation marks, in effect. Moments when the story – and the reader – want a moment’s pause. So the question of how many words there ought to be in a chapter is really a question of: how much text should a reader be asked to read before you give them a break?  To answer that question, we need to figure out when a reader is likely to demand a pause.  What Is The Purpose Of A Chapter? The purpose of a chapter is to allow the reader to pause, and those pauses are most essential when:  There is a change of point-of-view characterThere is a major change of scene There is a major jump in time A major sequence of action has just been completed  Put like that, it’s kind of obvious why you need a pause. You need a pause to avoid confusion. If you simply continued from one paragraph to the next while implementing a major switch of character / time / place / action, the reader would be perplexed. They’d need to read the section two or three times to figure it out, and that would (paradoxically) cause a weird slowdown in momentum.  The chapter break, in effect, tells the reader, “OK, you need to hit the reset button and prepare for something a bit different. The story is continuing, but that last scene has now ended.”  That convention means that as soon as the reader has flipped the page, they know to wipe the slate clean and prepare for some new scene to get going.  And that’s also why you need to be a little bit careful here. You can’t just say, “Oh, that scene was in a café, this one is in a street, that one is in a park, so we need a total of three chapters to handle all that.” You need to use your judgement too. If the same pair of individuals simply wandered through a city, having a conversation about the same thing, it doesn’t matter at all that the locations they pass through vary. The reader, correctly, regards that as a single unit of action.  If on the other hand, it’s not just the scenery that changes, it’s also the participants, their concerns and the type of action, you need to chop that sequence up into chapters accordingly.  What Is The Right Word Count For A Chapter? With all that in mind, we can start to figure out how long our chapters ought to be. (Clue: it’s your story that is going to govern this in the end. Your story, and your readers.)  But here, for example, are some famous novels, along with word counts and chapter lengths:  A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth, 592,000 words, 19 chapter, average chapter length a totally insane 31,000 words. A Game of Thrones, by George RR Martin, 298,000 words, 60 chapters, average chapter length 4,970 words Twlight, by Stephenie Meyer, 118,000 words, 25 chapters, average chapter length 4,720.1984, by George Orwell, 89,000 words, 24 chapters, average chapter length 3,700. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, 216,000 words. 75 chapters, average chapter length 2,880 words. (Book is also divided into 7 parts.) The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, 65,750 words, 25 chapters, average chapter length 2,630.Talking to the Dead, by me – Harry Bingham – 113,000 words, 49 chapters, average chapter length 2,300 words. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, 96,400 words, 46 chapters, average chapter length 2,100. Along Came A Spider, by James Patterson, 106,000 words, 97 chapters, average chapter length 1,100.  You can pretty much forget the first of those examples – the Vikram Seth one. His book was almost boastfully extravagant in terms of length. That was its selling point, in a way, and it is such an outlier, you can discard it.  Martin’s Game of Thrones is epic fantasy fiction and its 5,000 word chapter length pretty much benchmarks the very top end of normal.  Likewise, Patterson, with his famously rapid-fire fiction, pretty much benchmarks the bottom end of normal. Most books (including, I discover, my own) lie in the 2,000 to 4,000 word range.  How To Figure Out What Chapter Length Is Right For You In truth, you won’t really choose your chapter lengths. You’ll write your story, and your story will insert its own natural breaks, as you change scene, viewpoint or whatever. But as you can begin to guess from the data in the previous section, the story you tell is likely to impose a varying set of chapter lengths on you. So, from smallest to biggest, here’s what different stories are likely to need.  Very Short Chapters, Under 2,000 Words Fiction with very short chapters has a kind of jump-cut, fast-edited quality to it. It will work for action fiction, but even then, it’ll work for the very fastest – and least reflective – action writing.  James Patterson is the huge benchmark of this type of fiction. You can’t really get shorter, faster, snappier writing than his … and notice that his chapter length doesn’t dip below 1,000 words (or not really. I expect that somewhere in his massive canon you’ll find an exception.)  That means if your average chapter length falls below 1,000 words, you are probably trying to cut too often – or that you haven’t yet given enough weight and depth to the scenes you are telling. Remember that even action fiction needs space to make an impression.  Normal Chapters, 2,000 To 4,000 Words Just take a look at the list above. You’ll notice an impressive range of fiction in this ‘normal’ range.  There’s young adult fiction (Fault in Our Stars). There’s my own crime fiction. There are a couple of absolute literary classics (1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale).  In other words, whether you’re writing genre fiction, or literary, whether you’re writing for adults or teenagers, chapter lengths in this broad range will strike the reader as normal, expected, nothing to be alarmed about.  Very Long Chapters, 4,000 To 5,000 Words If you’re writing chapters that regularly exceed the 4,000 word mark, you are, in effect, announcing to your reader that your story has a more than normal amount of heft and swagger. So George Martin’s Game of Thrones announces its genuinely epic aspirations in part by those epically sized chapters.  For authors of epic fantasy, long chapters will certainly work. The same probably goes for authors of some kings-n-queens type historical fiction. But this will be the exception. To most readers, most of the time, very long chapters will just feel … very long.  Chapter Rhythms: Mixing It Up So far we’ve spoken of average chapter lengths, which is all well and good. But you can have long ones and short ones, as well as plenty of middling ones.  The shorter ones, especially, will mix up the rhythms of the rest and jolt the reader, in a useful way.  At the longer end, I still wouldn’t generally advise going over 5,000 words all that often. It’s just a plot of text, and readers need to be able to put the book down now and again.  At the shorter end, short can be very short. I’ve quite often written chapters that are 500 words or so. (That’s a page and a half or so of an ordinary paperback.) If you want to go to 300 words or even less, you can. All I’d say is that the hyper-short chapter is a little bit of an attention-seeking device. You risk having the reader think about you the author, rather than the story you have placed in front of them.  And the story, of course, should always come first.  You can find out more about standard word counts, here.  How To End A Chapter Chapters end at natural breaks in your story. OK. We know that much. But you don’t just want to stop abruptly. You want to give your reader a satisfying ending for the chunk they’ve just read. Here are four great ways to end a chapter. They’re not mutually exclusive, so you might use more than one technique in a single place. Symbolic Reversal A scene or chapter is there to tell its own mini-story, with its own beginning, middle and end. And because stories are about change, scenes are about change too. So, a scene is typically based around some kind of story question, which is then resolved or changed by the end of the scene. One good way to end a chapter is to find a way to highlight or encapsulate the change that has just happened. So let’s just say we have a proposal scene. Mark Manly has just gone down on one knee to propose marriage to Winona Winsome. He offers her a single red rose.  She says no. She rejects him.  There’s an argument. In the course of the argument, the rose is damaged. Winona marches out of the room.  The scene ends with Mark clutching a bare-rose, no petals. A sign of his failure.  I’m not sure that’s a super-brilliant way to handle a non-proposal scene, but you see the point I’m making. The rose comes to symbolise the hope at the start of the scene and the failure at the end. That’s one nice way to handle things. Looking Back Alternatively, however, let’s say that Winona says yes.  And let’s say that Mark has secretly loved Winona since he was an 11-year-old boy, seeing her arrive in (um, I don’t know) a skiff, a carriage, a hot air balloon outside his castle.  The triumph with which our current scene ends – she said yes! she said yes! – could be a reason to look back to the past, to that 11-year-old boy, and the long trials and tribulations of his love.  Again, a closing paragraph that looks back to the past could be a nice way to end the chapter.  Looking Forward Let’s twist the lens again.  Winona wants to marry Mark, yes, but the Dark Lord of Boundercad Hall has sworn to enslave her. He is coming for Winona that evening accompanied by (oh, I don’t know) twenty mounted troops and a very scary parrot.  So now, terrific, the intrepid couple see the prospect of infinite wedded bliss – but only if they can figure out a way to escape the clutches of the Dark Lord. So this chapter would naturally end with a look to the future. A glance up to the brooding presence of Boundercad Hall. Or a mention of the sound of horses being saddled, or a scary parrot squawking.  That hint of the future isn’t a cliffhanger, exactly, but it reminds the reader that big things are on the point of being decided.  Looking Sideways If you have a dual-protagonist drama, then scenes (and chapters) will naturally switch from Person A to Person B and back again.  So let’s say, instead of a proposal scene, Mark and Winona are planning to elope. We’ve just had a chapter with Winona buckling on a sword, preparing her horse, saying farewell to her beloved three-legged cat. And now – the chapter ends. She’s ready for her night of adventure, but what about Mark?  You don’t have to make that question over–explicit in a chapter ending. (In fact, too explicit, and it’ll sound weak.) All you need to do is prompt the idea in the reader, as subtly as you like. So your chapter might end. “She was ready. All that mattered now was that Mark would be on that ferry.”  Again, that’s not really a cliffhanger, but it switches the story question from Winona to Mark. The reader will now think, “Jeepers. Yes! What about Mark?” and they’ll be all prepped for a scene where we see Mark facing some obstacle to getting on the ferry in time.  The Classic Cliffhanger You might think it’s odd that I’ve left the classic cliffhanger scene to last … and that’s because such things are quite rare and usually quite crass.  The very first example – where the term came from, in fact – was Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes, and it’s terrible. (See here for more.) It’s terrible, because the chapter ends with a man hanging (thoughtfully, calmly) by his fingertips from a cliff … and the next chapter starts with the exact same person hanging (still calmly) by his fingertips in the exact same spot and the exact same situation.  In fact, the badness of the Hardy scene reminds us that chapter breaks belong where stories have their natural breaks. There probably are good examples of the classic cliffhanger, but really, not many. For the most part, techniques 1-4 or some variant thereon will do you better.  That’s it from me. Have fun with your chapters – and, as ever, 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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