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Writing Flash Fiction: A Complete Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest author and blogger Jane Struthers is the author of over twenty non-fiction books on a range of subjects, including Red Sky at Night: The Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom and Beside the Seaside: A Celebration of the Place We Like To Be. She lives in a rural corner of East Sussex. You know how it is. You’ve spent ages thinking about what you’re going to write, anticipating it, feeling frustrated because other things are getting in the way of it. Finally, you clear a couple of hours from your busy schedule, switch on your computer or get out your pen and paper and … nothing. The words won’t come, or they seem laughably trite or clichéd or flaccid. You’re gripped by the urgent need to wash the kitchen floor, track down a sock that’s been missing for the past five years or surf a favourite website. Hey, maybe you could call that research. Or maybe you could call it procrastination. Or writer’s block. It’s an insidious business because the more you allow it to happen, the more often it will happen. So how do you stop it? Here are some of my favorite tips. 9 Tips To Conquer Writers’ Block 1) Sit Down and Show Up As Mark Twain so famously said (and as other writers have echoed since), writing is all about application: the application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Don’t give in to those internal urgings to tidy up, sow some lettuce seeds or do anything else that will curtail the agony of sitting there and not writing. You’ll never make any progress if you don’t get those words down. Sit it out! 2) Cut Out the Internet If you find that you’ve spent two hours at your desk but most of that time has involved writing emails or surfing the web, then the only answer is to switch off your Internet connection at its source before you start work. If you don’t, you’ll be drawn to the icon of your chosen browser sooner or later. Don’t give yourself that temptation. 3) Write Something Else Instead If the words really won’t come, write something else instead. Write about how you’re feeling. Write a letter to your dog. It doesn’t really matter what you write, as long as you write something. (But don’t write anything self-defeating, such as telling yourself how pathetic you are. That won’t help.) Write for ten minutes and stop. Switch to your current project and start writing that. Don’t think about it. Just do it. (Julia Cameron created a whole creative practice built on this called \"Morning Pages\" and it can work really well even beyond breaking writers\' block.) 4) Embrace the Mess Writing is an untidy business, but published books rarely reflect that. If they’ve been edited and produced in a professional manner, the prose is seamless. It flows in a way that may make you tear your hair on a bad day. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by this. The raw manuscript of your favourite novel was probably just as messy as yours is right now. That’s OK. No one is going to see it. You aren’t completing an exam paper. 5) It Doesn\'t Have to Be Perfect If you want every sentence to be perfect as soon as you’ve written it, or you fret that your grasp of apostrophes isn’t all it could be, you will probably agonize over every word so much that the flow will soon dry up. Right now, you need to get the words down. The editing stage can come later. And if there really is room for improvement, maybe you could start teaching yourself grammar, spelling and syntax in your spare time. 6) Take Notes for Later If you aren’t happy about a word or a sentence when you write it, and you keep coming back to it instead of moving ahead, highlight it so you can come back to it later and keep the flow going in the meantime. If you use Microsoft Word, get into the habit of using Track Changes. This allows you to insert a comment into your text at the relevant point, so you can flag whatever is necessary. Track Changes also remembers your editing in case you have second thoughts about it and want to revert to your original text. 7) Set an Achievable Goal If you’ve only got half an hour of writing time, there’s no point in telling yourself you’re going to write 1000 words. It’s unlikely to happen, which will be discouraging. If you are really struggling, aim to write a single paragraph. Then, if you’ve got time, write the next one. 8) Give Yourself a Stopping Point Some writers like to stop work when they reach the end of a chapter. Others always stop mid-chapter or even mid-sentence, so they can plunge straight back into what they were writing because they’re excited about what happens next. Figure out where it feels good to stop, when you know that you\'ll have something exciting to come back to -- because you\'ll be setting yourself up for success tomorrow. 9) Write at the Same Time Ideally, try to write at the same time each day. This makes it part of your daily routine, so it becomes a habit. If you show up every day for the muse, the muse is more likely to show up for you.
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Creative Writing Degrees: Waste or Wonderful Career Opportunity?

I posted a set of concerns about MA creative writing courses a while ago. I argued that they had far too little connection with the publishing market as it is today. Marketability in the Conventional Sense? After writing that, I looked at some course prospectuses. Here, for example, was the blurb in 2011 from UEA. “The MA does not function through exercises but by considering fiction as a form of aesthetic, psychological and cultural enquiry. Neither the poetry nor prose fiction strand is primarily commercial in direction and neither teaches conventional genre forms or, in the conventional sense, marketability.” Marketability in the conventional sense? If you want to be a writer – the sort who writes books that are sold in bookshops – then considering marketability in a conventional sense seems like a good idea. Here was the blurb from Goldsmiths: “The inter-relationship between theory, scholarship and the creative process is key to the Goldsmiths MPhil/PhD in Creative Writing. … Doctoral students for the PhD in Creative Writing are expected to combine their own creative writing with research into the genre or area of literature in which they are working, to gain insight into its history, development and contemporary practices. … They are also expected to engage with relevant contemporary debates about theory and practice.” I Doubt Publishers Care. They\'re Probably Just Happy Publishing Good Books. Here, really, is the point of this post. I’ve realised that the best courses do indeed do a stunning job for a proportion of their students. UEA can boast of the following alumni: Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Anne Enright, Tracy Chevalier, and plenty of others. Bath Spa says, ‘Two [of our recent students] were long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, three for the Orange Prize, one for the Costa Prize and one for the Guardian First Book Award.’ Those are strikingly good achievements. On the other hand, I’m still sceptical. A minority of talented writers may bloom to a wonderful degree and go on to have long writing careers. A large majority will, I think, end up being rejected by the industry, having quite possibly not been properly equipped with the skills that would have allowed them to thrive. What Jobs Can You Get From a Creative Writing Degree? So the conclusion remains the same. Don’t assume these courses will launch you as a writer. Research them carefully. Know what you want to write and what they want to teach. Check out your tutors. Check out what these tutors like to read, and their biases, for instance, if you’re a writer of children’s or genre fiction. Check out teaching methods. Talk to past students (and not only those who ended with a book deal.) And if you go for it – then have a wonderful time. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.
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Diversity in genre fiction

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

Fantasy fiction is a difficult area – and many fantasy first-time writers can neglect the basics. For more, see Geraldine Pinch’s words of wisdom below. How To Write Fantasy: Author Geraldine Pinch Shares Tips Writing fantasy is not an easy option or a quick way to make money, but if you have the imagination to see wonders and the skill to describe them, if you have things to say that can only be said with dragons, then fantasy may be your genre. The best preparation for writing fantasy is to read myths and legends from lots of different cultures. Many fantasy classics are longer than the average novel, but you don’t have to write a multi-volume epic to break into the fantasy market. Anything from 90,000 to 200,000 words is an acceptable length. Ideally, your novel should be satisfying as a standalone work, but perhaps have the potential to be the first of a series. Literary agents see hundreds of manuscripts set in vaguely medieval worlds, in which magic works. There will need to be something distinctive and compelling about your manuscript to make it truly stand out. Don’t base your book on a role-playing game. Don’t feel that you must use the standard cast list of warriors, wizards, dragons, elves, etc. Only write about elves if you are passionately inspired by elves, if you have something new to say about them. Creating new worlds is one of the most enjoyable challenges in fiction. Readers (and that includes literary agents!) should feel that you know everything about your invented world and its history. Getting to that stage may take years of thought, planning and research. Then, be ruthlessly selective. Most of your beloved background material should stay in your notes. Genre novels are expected to be fast-moving, so don’t start with pages of scene-setting and explanation. Plunge into the story as quickly as possible and only tell your readers what they need to know when they need to know it. Your basic plot doesn’t have to be completely original. You might choose to tell an old story with a new twist or from an unusual viewpoint. There will always be a market for classic quest stories and battles between good and evil, but if you don’t genuinely care about how and why the ‘good guys’ win, neither will your readers. If you give your heroes unlimited magical powers, it will be hard to get enough tension and conflict into your plot. Try to restrict the number of ‘voices’ you use to tell your story. If your main viewpoint character is an outsider of some kind, this will make it easier for your readers to identify with her or him. Your characters don’t have to speak in pseudo-archaic language, but they shouldn’t all sound like American teenagers, either. Finally, remember that what works in a fantasy film or comic won’t necessarily work in a novel. Blow-by-blow accounts of sword fights can be boring to read and huge battle scenes just confusing. In a novel, action scenes need to be personalized. Show what an individual warrior is thinking and feeling as he fights, and take your readers right inside the world of your imagination. Then get your manuscript to a literary agent … and best of luck!
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Second Novel Syndrome (the Disease, the Symptoms, the Cure)

Sarah Ann Juckes is part of Jericho Writers’ marketing team . . . but like a few of us at JW, she’s also an author. Her debut novel, The Proof of the Outside, is published with Penguin Random House in 2019. And that’s great news – she’s being published! Yay! – and also terrible news. Because it means she’s in the middle of second novel purgatory. Here’s her take on all of that . . . I know what you’re thinking. Why do I need to read a blog post about Second Novel Syndrome, when I haven’t even finished the first? Well, publishing is a funny thing. In January 2017, I wondered if I’d ever get a novel published. By March that same year, I had an agent and my book was in the London Book Fair catalogue. When it happens, it can happen fast. [Ed’s Note: It kinda helps if you come to one of Jericho Writers’ events. That’s where the magic happened for our Sarah.] What Is Second Novel Syndrome? Second novel syndrome (SNS) isn’t talked about a lot. I spent twelve years writing books and trying to get an agent, and I didn’t think much about what would happen after that. Getting an agent felt like an impossible end goal. It wasn’t. Second books are actually notoriously difficult to write. I know – I didn’t think they would be, either. I wrote three ‘practice’ books before I made it with my debut. What’s the big deal about writing one more? SNS Symptom #1 – You Have Way Less Time I started my debut novel in July 2014. In 2015, I completely trashed the draft and started again. In 2016, I wrote my next draft as part of a writing course, and then completely changed it again in the summer of that year, thanks to some feedback from an agent. All in all, the novel took me two and a half years to write – and then another year editing it with my agent and editors after that. When I casually asked my agent when publishers expect an author’s second book, she said ‘usually a year after delivery of the first’. Yep – a year. Somewhere in that year, I had to come up with an astounding concept that was as good as the first. I had to research, plan and write a terrible first draft (that I could bin and re-write entirely, before no doubt re-writing again). All of this whilst trying to hold down a full-time job and all those other things that go with being a human being. The cure: make more time Certainly not an easy feat. For me, I’ve had to cut my working week to four days, so I have at least one day to donate entirely to writing. I work from home as much as I can, so I have more energy to write in the evenings. This won’t be doable for everyone. Find the pockets of time you can squeeze out of your day, no matter how big or small, knuckle down and make that happen. SNS Symptom #2 – You Now Have Multiple Projects On Your Hands I’m a bit of a loyal writer. When I have my head in a book, it consumes me. Over the last year, I’ve learnt that it’s not really possible to write a second book and have it consume you. I’ve had to split my time between writing my new book and editing my old one – occasionally dropping the new project completely to make a deadline. Some writers are already brilliant at project juggling. For me – it’s been a big learning curve. The cure: learn how to juggle projects As your writing career progresses, you’re going to have more and more projects to juggle. When you’re writing your fifth book, you might still be doing events on your debut. No one talks about it, but it is one of those skills you have to learn if you want to be a professional writer. I’m still in the process of learning it, but so far, I’ve found that sectioning my working week can help differentiate between projects. In the morning, I could be working on debut edits from home. Then in the afternoon, I take my laptop to a café and I throw some words down for book two. SNS Symptom #3 – You Can’t Shake Off Your Last Book My debut was written in first person present, from the point of view of a girl with a distinctive voice and a weird way of seeing the world. I’ve spent three and a half years with her, and I’m still with her now. She’s difficult to shake off. I’ve written over a hundred first pages of my new novel, and they’re still not quite right. I need a new, equally distinctive, but completely different voice – but everything I write still seems to be about her. The cure: get out of your comfort zone If, like me, you’re struggling to find a new voice, try writing your story in a completely different way to your first. For example, I’ve found writing in verse to be a helpful way in. Writing poetry means I can get to know my new character in a place my previous protagonist doesn’t belong. Yes – I’ll probably scrap every word. But with first drafts, everything and anything you can write will help you reach the finish line. SNS Symptom #4 – Your Next Book Needs To Be As Good As Your First Nothing I can say here will sum this up better than this tweet by @AdamSilvera:https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=936292116594032640&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fjerichowriters.com%2Fhub%2Fhow-to-write%2Fsecond-novel-syndrome%2F&siteScreenName=jerichowriters&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px As a writer, I feel the need to impress. My agent is amazing – she fights in my corner and believes wholeheartedly in my writing. I want to hand her a new novel that is even more amazing than she thought my first one was. Unfortunately, what I’m actually writing is terrible. I mean – of course it is. She saw my debut after two rewrites and a year of edits. All she’s going to see now is that first draft I’m going to throw away. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier. And, of course, when we’re writing something we don’t think is as good as it could be, it can be difficult to keep going. It becomes easier to stop for a bit, maybe have a tidy up, or obsessively scour Pinterest for home décor ideas… (Not that I do that.) The cure: forget about other people This one I definitely find the hardest, as I have a (somewhat ridiculous) need to please people. The truth is though – other people don’t matter when it comes to first drafts. Anyone who writes, or who knows writing, will know that first drafts are for the writer to work out what it is they want to write. First drafts of book two do not need to be as good as your finished debut. And – all because you have an agent now, doesn’t mean you are suddenly a know-it-all, master writer. All writers need to keep learning and – importantly – keep making mistakes. The important thing is that we keep writing. That’s the only way horrible first drafts get turned into published novels. Second Novel Syndrome: A Cure There is no complete cure for Second Novel Syndrome other than just doing it. But do remember this: Jericho Writers is a club for writers like you. Like us, in fact. It’s low cost. It’s got an easy cancel-any-time structure, which means your upfront risk is minimal. And the basic idea is, we furnish you with all the tools and resources you could possibly want to develop your skills as a writer and as an author. If that sounds even half interesting to you, then pop over here to learn more about our Club. It was built for people like you. We’d love it if you joined us. More On How To Write A Book Link to: How to Write a Book (10 Doable Steps for New Writers) How To Write A step-by-step guide
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How to write historical fiction

Writing historical fiction gives writers a fantastically rich background against which to write. But the old verities of fiction – character, story and prose – remain as important as ever. Here a few practitioners offer their words of wisdom on how to write historical fiction which will feel brilliantly alive – and wonderfully saleable. Tips From Emma Darwin Emma Darwin is author of acclaimed literary historical novel The Mathematics of Love It goes without saying that you’ve researched your historical facts. That includes manners and morals as well as stage-coaches and corsetry: how people behave in matters of sex or smoking must be as accurate and convincing as how they cook or bet or fight. You’ve kept a sharp eye out for things you didn’t know you had to check: don’t make your medieval peasants eat potatoes, or your Regency heroine tell her fiancé to ‘step on the gas’, and don’t forget that everyone always wears a hat outdoors. You’ve read writing of the period and found a voice for your novel that’s neither incomprehensible, nor twee pastiche, nor crashingly modern. And then you must leave it all behind, because you’re not writing history, you’re writing fiction, and fiction is all about what you can make the reader believe you know: not what you’ve learnt in a library, but what you know as naturally as you know your own house. The worst writing you’ll ever do is what you write when you’ve got a history book in the other hand. The best is when your characters and their points of view are so alive to you that of course you write what they see and how they see it, their voices filling that panelled room or smoky alehouse. And all of that must happen without you once letting the reins drop. Your readers want to live and breathe history, but they won’t keep reading if the narrative grinds to a halt on a hill of historical detail. Find it all out, get it right, and then, in a sense, forget what you’ve found and write. You’re telling stories, not histories. Susan Opie Susan has been senior editor at HarperCollins and publisher of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, among many other works of historical fiction. Before you embark upon your historical novel, ask yourself: who are you writing for? Not only must you have a clear idea of your potential readership (male, female, crossover, and how literary), but also you should bear in mind the state of the market in this area as well. The publishing industry changes, and it has certainly done so in this field within recent memory. The market demands good fiction, but also looks for a strong sense of authenticity. That’s as applicable to commercial historical novels as it is to the more literary kind. Remember, readers want to come away from the novel feeling that they have been entertained and that they’ve learnt something, as well. They might then go away and discuss the book in reading groups, so it’ll have to stand up to such scrutiny (and the scrutiny of literary agents, of course!) The biggest successes in the area have tended to evoke a period we think we know something about, and have then gone on to shine a new light on it, bringing it to life in a fresh way. It might be told through the eyes of a character not directly in the line of historical action, allowing the narrator much more freedom to move and to comment. Generally, readers are drawn in by familiar elements (if not the period, then a famous character or setting), but not so familiar that they’ve heard it all before. Keep an eye on what’s come out over the past year or two, also on what’s about to come out. If a particular character, setting or period has featured several times already, why would a literary agent or publisher take on another book of the same kind? If you receive an offer of publication, the harsh reality of the industry will mean that your publisher will ask you to produce books in quick succession. That can be hard in this genre; research takes time, and the novels themselves tend not to be short, so you’d better love the period you’ve picked. It’s much easier to write regularly in a period you know well rather than try to change eras with every new book. If all that hasn’t put you off – good luck! Harry Bingham Harry is site founder and author of historical novels Glory Boys and The Lieutenant’s Lover. First, authors of historical fiction need to write good fiction, meaning a strong plot driven by strong characters and prose, but the historical genre does make a difference to the writer, all the same. In my experience, settings drawn from history give a rich backdrop for novels. Make sure you relish the opportunities you get to use an evocative vocabulary. Pay attention to nouns. Get specific and reach for details that illuminate the period. Keep dialogue modern, with the occasional dip into the vocabulary or grammatical structures of the past. Use of the occasional, now obsolete, slang or idiom can help. One other point, for commercial novelists especially, is that you do need to be careful about the attitudes of your characters. An English gentleman born in the nineteenth century would (almost certainly) have been racist, homophobic by modern standards. You’ll still need the empathy of contemporary readers, so you will need to finesse these issues. On the whole, unless you are portraying villains, you should have old-fashioned attitudes tempered by more liberal concerns, even if these never quite wind up winning. Finally, enjoy writing. It ought to be pure joy. It certainly has been for me. Good luck!
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How to have ideas for worldbuilding in fiction

Novelists of science-fiction or fantasy know worldbuilding is a huge part of the fun of writing, from magical medieval worlds to apocalyptic dystopias. There’s something wonderful about writing brave new worlds. As George R.R. Martin has written: We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La. They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth. What’s described here just comes down to worldbuilding. Whatever genre you’re in love with – historical fantasy, urban fantasy, hard or soft science-fiction, or something else – here are some general guidelines from us and an overview to consider. Worldbuilding: Two Methods To Choose M. John Harrison has defined worldbuilding as an ‘attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there’. There are two established methods for science-fiction and fantasy, defined in The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. These are outside-in (otherwise called top-down) or inside-out (bottom-up) – so we’ll work with these definitions to help you sense which broad approach you prefer. If you’re for outside-in, you’ll go with worldbuilding before just about anything else (i.e. plot, character) in your sci-fi or fantasy writing. You’ll want that intricately-crafted world there in your mind, detailed in notes, ready for readers to explore as much as you yourself would wish to. Maybe you’ll need it complete with histories, languages and more – because you feel fantastical worlds need a sense and structure first for a story to operate in. Perhaps you’ll want to know every nook and cranny, creating mythologies, histories, etymologies surrounding your characters, like J.K. Rowling, or as J.R.R. Tolkien did when he created Middle Earth. Tolkien, though, built The Hobbit around Bilbo Baggins – and then there came the history of Middle Earth and more. This makes Tolkien an inside-out world-builder. Bilbo, his character, came first and Middle Earth is built around Bilbo – all he must achieve, how he must grow – before Bilbo’s young cousin, Frodo, is forced to pick up Bilbo’s legacy in The Lord of the Rings and continue the journey. Similarly, the centre of J.K. Rowling’s series was always Harry himself. With an inside-out approach, you’ll build worlds around characters, exploring as you go. This way is (arguably) most useful to you, helping you not get bogged down in the fun of worldbuilding. You mustn’t ever neglect your story. Mapping A New World It’s not just a lot fun to create a world map. It’s worth doing even as a draft sketch for yourself, because the key rule to never break in worldbuilding is that your world must have an internal, underpinning logic to it. This helps convince us that no matter how fantastical your book material, it is authentic enough to feel plausible – enough for readers to buy into it all. Think as you map mountains, savannahs, deserts – what do terrains mean for the societies you’ll create? In fantasy epics, much of plot – including backstories, world histories and more – is tied up in mapping. The Iron Islands of A Song of Ice and Fire, as an example, are known for ironborn ships. Surrounded by seas, Iron Islanders depend upon their Iron Fleet. This doesn’t just sound imposing and impressive as a plot device from George R.R. Martin. It makes a certain logical sense that Iron Islanders would be dedicated to seafaring for their prosperity and survival. There must be underpinning, internal rules to your world to create a due sense of realism, and this can feed into your plot arc, character journeys and all the rest. As Jeff Vandermeer has written in Wonderbook: Approaches to setting and character should be multidirectional: organic and three-dimension, with layers and depths. Throwaway settings are like throwaway characters: a missed opportunity. These geographical elements are interconnected and worth exploring, researching carefully as a conscientious writer. Mapping A Universe If you’re building a planet for your science-fiction novel, or mapping star systems – all sorts of scientific questions begin to surface. That’s enough for a separate tome entirely. Still, a quick note here to ‘hard sci-fi’ writers on its importance. Let’s say you were creating an alien planet with rings like Jupiter or Saturn. In terms of detail, some geological knowledge and understanding could help you in your descriptive writing. Writer Stephen L. Gillett has written in his book World-Building how this planet would look: Rings would make for spectacular skies … during the day, a vast white arch, probably visibly subdivided into concentric arcs, would stretch high across the southern sky, pallid but plainly visible. … As the sun set, the arch would blaze … like a lacework with its multiple interior arcs. Shepherd moons would appear like bright pearls. … As nightfall encroached … no stars at all would appear in the black band … [then] high in the east a brilliant arc would appear where the rings first caught the sunlight, and the brilliance would spread westward until the whole arch would glow just before dawn. If you’re an enthusiast for science-fiction, learn to love the sciences, and read up on them. They could just offer new mines of inspiration. It’ll all take time, yes – and is it necessary? It just depends. Know how deep you wish to go. Know if your story (or you) may need it. It can’t hurt to consider, though. Writing World Histories Readers love exploring the histories of Westeros in A Song of Ice and Fire – the complex, horrific politics of King’s Landing. Readers become immersed in the stories of George R.R. Martin’s great families, forging uneasy alliances to retain positions of power. The books wouldn’t allure us if it weren’t for such details. On the other hand, part of the suspense and unease of a novel like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale stems from Offred’s patchy knowledge of her dystopia, its ambiguity. A fairy-tale retelling like Uprooted by Naomi Novik strikes a middle ground. Some history is sketched for us but there’s no extensive mapping, no comprehensive history of intrigue. There’s still much mystery surrounding the Dragon, the ‘reaping’ faced by Agnieszka and Kasia, which can work to advantage in Uprooted. A little mystery is no bad thing. However, to truly know your world, a world history or survey detailing just as much as you need to write would probably be useful. It’ll be useful material for you, yourself – no matter how much you share of it in your book. So that’s the most valid reason to create a world history – if you’ll enjoy making it, love writing it. Create notes, etchings for yourself. You needn’t create these with the intension to publish, either. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Silmarillion, reams on the histories of Middle Earth, but never meant this book or others to be published. J.K. Rowling also kept detailed notes and sketches of Harry Potter’s world for years. All of it was meant for her reference and only after Harry’s success did she go on to reveal these on the website Pottermore, from supporting characters’ back stories to the intricacies and origins of wandlore, and more. Wherever stories catch on, a desire for more can often follow as George R.R. Martin also discovered before finishing his series. He published The World of Ice and Fire, an informative history ‘textbook’ for his world, detailing all that led up to events of A Game of Thrones. Still, your world history is really your backdrop for readers. In one sense, you must ‘always leave them hungry’ because a world history is not the same thing as your story – and it’s the stories themselves that grip us. Better leave readers hungry then inundate too much and risk boring anyone. This said, a world history would still bear heavily upon your plot and any world history should feel organic, not tacked on. Your world history, at least as far as readers are concerned, needs to be fleshed out just enough as far as is relevant for the here and now of your plot and characters. Writing Alternate Histories Building alternate histories (i.e. reworking the histories of this world, recreating this world with intricately changed aspects), though, is another matter. A separate branch of worldbuilding, this is trickier, because you’ll need to research extensively before you rework. If certain events didn’t happen, how would this bear on your written worlds or societies? Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is an example of how to write an alternative history well. Set in Regency England with magicians thrown in, the myth of the Raven King casts a shadow over all as magic ‘returns’ to England, as London society is dazzled by spells and ladies raised from the dead. The entire novel is punctuated with long (optional) footnotes and backstories, making for a deftly and thoroughly researched world of alternative history. In this sense, you can take inspiration from real-life histories – in A Song of Ice and Fire, civil war ensues following the beheading of key protagonist Eddard Stark – but anyone who’s read The Accursed Kings by Maurice Druon (on the collapse of the French Capetian Dynasty) will see some parallels in A Song of Ice and Fire. Don’t be afraid of tapping into history, however extensively, to inform your own worldbuilding. Creating Magical Societies If you’re writing a fantastical society with some magic (as so often will be the case), what are your magic’s rules and limitations? Harry Potter’s magical universe is held together by rules. A curse can be met with a counter-curse. Servile creatures like house-elves have secret powers that Voldemort, who wants to be invincible, spurns to his cost. Are there cults (religious or not), guilds or secret societies, like the Order of the Phoenix created to battle Voldemort? Also, how will it affect your protagonist if he or she isn’t using magic in a magical world? Are they afraid of it? In children’s series The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce, Alanna and Thom are twins sent away from home. Protagonist Alanna is to go north and learn magic (as ladies do in her world). Thom is to become a knight, and neither wants their fate. In secret, Thom travels north – both boys and girls can learn magic – but Alanna becomes ‘Alan’ and disguises herself a boy, learns to fight. Alanna isn’t drawn to magic (synonymous with power in these stories), as her brother is. She finds she must still use her magic to help defend Tortall as she grows older. If you’re creating religions, too, will these be monotheistic or polytheistic? In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, different gods are worshipped – with consequences. Arya Stark joins a cult worshipping the ‘Many-faced God’ or ‘God of Death’ to become an assassin. Melisandre is a prophetess carrying religion to catastrophic extremes. In The Song of the Lioness, however, it is a Goddess worshipped. She’s able to appear to protagonist Alanna as a tangible being, appealing to Alanna’s inner life and journey at a deeply personal level. So how will your story’s religion affect things, if you’re writing one? This can’t be a throwaway topic, just as there can’t be throwaway settings or people. Everything, no matter how much you create, how big or small the details, should remain significant. Creating Dystopias Certain societies on trend in writing just now (arguably) are dystopias. Dystopia has long been established a ‘soft’ sci-fi subgenre. It also goes for fantasy novels. Writing dystopian societies whilst keeping details rich, and characters human despite their loathsomeness, can be tricky. In The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, ‘criminals’ targeted are hanged in public to control, to crush subversion. Handmaids like Offred lose their names in Gilead, so Gilead also makes the spread of information impossible. Margaret Atwood’s setup is clever and it makes revolution seem a distant dream – it’s impossible to rebel if you can’t pull together accurate enough information. As an example, Offred meets her companion, Ofglen, one day, only to find a different Ofglen waiting. Her Ofglen has been replaced. In the novel, Offred is left to believe Ofglen hanged herself before a van could arrive and take her away. Names, identities, information, are lost as another tool of this repressive society. Even in Gilead, though, nothing is black and white. Offred’s Commander helps uphold a sick regime. Yet even he is nostalgic for the past – offering Offred a secret night out, bribing her with Scrabble game matches, old magazines – outlawed under Gilead. So keep your storytelling, characters and worldbuilding complex, even (or especially) where it’s tempting to paint the world in black and world. Releasing Information If you inundate readers too much on ‘world material’, it could risk being a ‘turn-off’. So often a novel works because of a delicate control of information, i.e. you reveal more as you write, more as we read. Authors like J.R.R. Tolkien still knew this. He released information to his readers and to Frodo over time, just as J.K. Rowling does for Harry, etc., etc. Meanwhile, Samantha Shannon, author of fantastical dystopia The Bone Season, has written on building heroine Paige Mahoney’s world of clairvoyants and the Rephaim, as well as writing about releases of information. How do you reveal a complex world without launching into fully-fledged history? Samantha’s blog post reads: After several attempts at an opening, I finally decided that it was worth setting aside a few pages in the early chapters to explain some key aspects of the world – spirit combat, the London gangs, Edward VII, dreamwalking and so on – before the story got going. In the long run, I knew this would save me time and stop me having to drop in this information in later chapters. It would also, critically, allow a reader to grasp the bare bones of the world before I started fleshing it out – at the risk of making them feel like they were being ‘talked at’. It was a fairly big risk and I know it won’t work for everyone, but I’d rather a reader knew too much than too little. So just remember to bear in mind ‘story view’, as a narrator – how much do your readers need to know at this moment? Will it serve the plot? Think where and how you’ll connect the dots over your novel. An End Is Just A Beginning These are the pointers, the foundations of all you need to think about. Sketch and map out the details of your world, and if you need, create a collage (or a Pinterest board) of ideas and images to spark inspiration. Most importantly – have fun, and happy writing!
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How crime writers can research police procedure

Guest author, blogger and former police officer, Clare Mackintosh, shares how to research police procedure. Clare is an author, feature writer and columnist. She is the founder of Chipping Norton Literary Festival and spent twelve years in the police force, working on CID, in custody and as a public order commander. Claire’s novel I Let You Go is published by Sphere.Whether you’re a published crime writer or an aspiring one, you’ll need to know how to research police procedure, and the prospect can be a daunting one. Perhaps you have police officers in the family, or within your circle of friends, or maybe – just maybe – you’ve been arrested enough times to add a ring of authenticity to your writing… If, like most crime writers, your only brush with the law has been a speeding ticket, this post on how to research police procedure is for you. Watch Television It might seem counterintuitive for an author to suggest you watch television, yet there is a wealth of police procedural information on the small screen right now, most of it meticulously researched. It’s five years since The Bill slammed its cell doors for the final time, but dramas such as The Missing and The Fall give a great insight into forensic possibilities, and can be a good starting point for researching police procedure. Television shouldn’t be your only source of information, but that’s true of any research medium. Read Fiction In my experience, police-based novels tend to be less reliably accurate than television, and I’d advise a hefty pinch of salt when using these to research police procedure. I’m assuming that, as an aspiring crime author, you already read widely within the genre (and outside it), so use what you learn to inspire, rather than inform your own writing. Authors like Peter James and Val McDermid are known for their accuracy with regard to procedure, and with more than fifty books between them, they should keep you busy for a while. Read Non-fiction Michael O’Byrne’s updated 2015 The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure, for the serious crime writer, might be worth the investment. The cramming tools of the serving police officer are the Blackstones Police Manuals. As these are updated every year (making failing one’s Sergeant’s exams an expensive process), you can often pick up previous years’ editions on eBay for not much money. Use The Web There’s no excuse for inaccuracies when referring to legislation and criminal offences: it’s all right there on the web for you. The Crown Prosecution Service Legal Guidance pages list every piece of legislation – from Abuse of Process to Youth Offenders and everything in between. Bookmark it now, and use it as a checklist to make sure your case is watertight. Consulting Cops also offer a range of helpful resources too, you can find their website here – it’s definitely worth a read. Phone A Friend So you don’t have a police officer you can phone and ask questions? Are you sure? They say you’re never more than seven feet from a rat, and with more than 100,000 cops in the UK, the same is probably true of the Old Bill. Ask everyone you know. Put out a call on Facebook, speak to the neighbours, hassle Aunt Maud, and the chances are someone you know knows a police officer. For a crime writer, nothing beats having your own tame police officer to call on. Ask The Police If you really can’t find someone, it’s time to be brave. Go into your local station – or visit the force where your books are set, if this is different – and ask if someone can spare the time to speak to an author. If you’re not yet published, don’t feel you need to apologise for that: everyone starts somewhere, and most police officers are keen to encourage an accurate representation of their work. If you get a knock-back, don’t be deterred: maybe they’re just having a bad day. Try a different officer, a different station. If no one has time to sit down and chat over a cuppa – they’re busy people, after all – apply for a ride-along, where you get to shadow an officer for a few hours. It’s an amazing experience, and the best way of absorbing police culture as well as picking up investigative tips. Follow The Police Not literally. At least, not unless you want to see the inside of a custody block, which might be taking ‘method writing’ a little too far. There are hundreds of cops on Twitter nowadays, almost as many blogging (both legitimately and anonymously). This increase in transparency from Britain’s police force is a gift to crime writers. Spend some time browsing social media (yes, this is your invitation to procrastinate), bookmarking the ones you like the look of. Dip in regularly to stay up to date with how today’s cops are feeling, the cases they’re working on, and the pressures they encounter. Hire A Professional Advising writers of crime books and television dramas is a lucrative side-line for many retired police officers, but most authors don’t have a BBC-sized budget, and I’d be wary of leaping into a cash relationship with someone. In my experience, most police officers are happy to lend their expertise for free, but if you feel you’re going to need more help than just the occasional chat, make sure you do your research (yes, you need to research the police officer helping you research police procedure). That grizzled ex detective superintendent with 30 years’ experience of Major Crime will undoubtedly know his stuff, but he’s been retired for 20 years: is he likely to be up to date? And the traffic sergeant charging by the minute for his expertise may know dangerous driving from undue care, but how is he on witness protection issues? Ask for credentials, testimonials from authors he or she has helped, before getting out your cheque book. Done all that? Congratulations: you’re a master in how to research police procedure, and your crime novel should now be ringing with authenticity. As with all types of research, moderation is the key. Not everything you discover should find its way into your book, otherwise you may as well write a police manual, but your findings will add realism to your characters and settings, as well as ensuring no one can pick holes in your plot. Although this post is about how to research police procedure, I firmly believe that story should come first, accuracy afterwards. Many a good yarn would be spoiled by the intrusion of too much real life, but consider carefully which elements can be stretched. Ask your helpful police advisor not does it happen this way, but could it happen. Like grammar, you need to understand the rules before you can decide which ones to break.
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7 Tips For Writing A Thriller Novel

With numerous successful novels to her name, guest author and blogger Eve Seymour has cemented herself as a master of the thriller genre. In this post, Eve shares her secrets for writing a thriller you just can’t put down. 1: Focus On Characterisation Whatever the genre, strong, memorable main protagonists are important.  In thriller writing, they are absolutely vital and can make or break a story.  Irrespective of gender, if your main player lacks the tenacity and determination to crack the code or conspiracy, locate the kidnap victim or hunt a murderer, he is pretty much sunk before that opening chapter is penned.  So if your main player would rather file his/her nails, watch sport on TV, or stay in bed, think again. In a similar vein, boredom and cynicism are no defence for inactivity and ‘seeing how things pan out.’  The main protagonist needs to at least make a stab at being in control of events, rather than behind the curve, even if he fails due to the many obstacles thrown in his path. Notwithstanding all of the above, there’s no need for your central character to be an angel.  Crime fiction and thrillers are littered with flawed individuals.  Drink and relationship problems, sometimes inextricably linked, and failure to commit are popular attributes.  It’s easier for readers to empathise with characters who have identifiable weaknesses and failures and who, at times, seem just like us.  Recently, there’s been a trend towards characters that are morally ambiguous.  This can be a thorny path to tread for the new writer and requires the utmost skill to pull off.   Probably best not discussed here. It may be stating the obvious, but an octogenarian with a limp isn’t going to cut it with the bad guys.  The obvious simple fix is to ensure that your main man (or woman) is young enough or fit enough to run like hell – even if in the opposite direction.  More importantly, they must be smart.  This does not mean they are members of MENSA, but they do need to be bright and have a measure of psychological insight, (which means that writers need to too).  Street cunning and being able to think outside the proverbial box also goes a long way to defeat enemies of whatever persuasion. Which brings me to those pesky ‘bad guys.’ It’s not enough to refer to shadowy dark forces doing dastardly things in dungeons.  Give your foe a face.  Let the reader hear an antagonist’s voice, see how he behaves, take a trip inside his mind and let’s hope it terrifies because a main protagonist is only as ever good as the main villain.  This is where a writer can really pull out all the stops.  Seems easy, doesn’t it?  And yet, to avoid stereotype and caricature, coming up with convincing antagonists is harder than it sounds.   The best way to avoid obvious pitfalls is to ensure that your bad guy or femme fatale ticks with his or her own internal logic, even if he/she seems nuts to the rest of us.  How to do this?  Look at motivation and backstory, and ensure both are watertight and credible. 2: Create Plausible Characters Still on the subject of characterisation, there’s a school of thought that writers somehow have to choose between characterisation, or plot.  In truth, the two are indivisible because, although a story can unfold in a variety of ways, these are self-limiting due to the particular attributes of character. To take a facile example: say your main guy is an estate agent.  He’s unlikely to grab an MP5, eliminate the opposition, board a helicopter, grab the controls (and the girl) and fly off into the great blue yonder even if this is to suit the purposes of plot. While coincidence occurs in real life, it’s harder to pull off in fiction and yet often writers will write characters that just happen to be on the right street at the right time, enabling them to randomly carry out an action critical to the story.  Sounds vague?  That’s because it is. While coincidences can occur at the beginning of a story – a killer claps eyes on his victim  – random events fare less well if dumped into the plot mid-way.   The obvious faux pas is when a random event occurs to get the writer out of a hole, a classic case of Deus Ex Machina.  When applied to an ending, the result can be excruciating. 3: Ensure Every Scene Contains A Plot Twist When creating a scene, ensure that you give enough away to compel the reader to keep turning those pages, or clicking the side of a Kindle.  While you might be able to confine this to a minimum number in other genres, in thrillers there’s a requirement for numerous ‘turning points’ or revelations to sustain the narrative and guarantee exceptional pace and tension.  If a scene doesn’t ‘turn’, then, as brutal as it is, it has to go. After all, plot twists are an essential part of the thriller genre, and they are particularly crucial in psychological thrillers. It’s known as ‘murdering your little darlings’, and nobody likes blood on their hands.  It can be dispiriting to chop lovingly written material, containing tons of detail and exposition, but, sadly, no ‘turning points’. However, information alone won’t cut it. Everything must be relevant to the main thrust of the story.  If your main man is en route to question a potential suspect, he’s not going to drop into Costa for a coffee and baguette en route, or spend time discussing Christmas plans or his next salsa class with his best mate first.  It’s really tough to excise a perfectly decent or beautifully written scene but if it doesn’t drive the story forward, your best option is to hit the delete button. A good tip when creating a scene is to think about the situation in which the main protagonist finds himself.  Simplistically, if things are going roughly his way, then mix things up and throw in a few obstacles so that, as the plot develops and he makes more discoveries (relevant to the main plot line), his situation turns from not too bad to not too good.  The reverse also works (to a point).  With more and more (hopefully grim) revelations, and pressure put on your main protagonist, clearly the ‘bad days’ will outnumber the ‘good days’, as he finds himself boxed more and more into a corner.  If you do this, before you know it, tension will be as taut as cheese wire. 4. Avoid Superfluous Exposition (An Instant Pace-slower) This is really the incestuous cousin of the above.  Some writers are natural scene-setters.  They love the build up.  They love description – and they are very good at it.  That’s grand and most definitely has its place but it cannot be a substitute for telling the story, or a delaying tactic for ‘getting on with it’. ‘Cut to the chase’ is one of my most overused pleas.  The trick is to understand what’s important and what isn’t.   Nine times out of ten, less is more.  This particularly applies to the writer who ‘overwrites’ or ‘covers old ground’. More often than not, this will occur around the halfway mark and it usually signifies that the plot is in trouble and the author has run out of steam.  As a basic rule, if the reader is made aware, for example, that great aunt Ida is a bit of a cow, there is no need to remind the reader at any and every opportunity.  We get it. Aside from resisting the urge to bash the reader over the head with something already well established in the text, there is a very good reason for heeding this advice.  Superfluous exposition has a deadly effect on pace, suspense, and tension.  Before you know it, the reader will be thinking about what’s for dinner and whether there’s time to nip to the gym.  A good way to avoid the story running into ‘snooze time’ is to read it aloud.  If you start to flag after a chapter or two, the reader stands no chance. 5: Avoid Dreams, Memories, Recollections And Flashbacks Unless applied with exceptional skill to ‘turn’ a scene, in which case they can be used for dramatic effect, these are instant pace-slowers. For some reason writers can be quite taken with dream sequences and recollections. Perhaps it’s the freedom to go ‘off piste.’ Scenic detours, like these, may well work in other genres, but in thrillers, when focus is a key issue, they can overshoot their intended destination. Not only do they interfere with strong narrative drive in what must be a fast moving plot line, they puncture tension. As mentioned, there is an exception to the ‘rule’. A flashback or recollection might emerge during the last third of a novel when a character suddenly remembers something that has a bearing on current events. If used within the climactic scene, they can be used to stunning effect because they throw an original and illuminating light on the denouement. It’s a cliché but, for example, if good guy comes face to face with bad guy, and is about to kill him in self-defence, the good guy might recollect to playing with his (missing) brother as a kid, and recognise the birthmark on his arm. The effect on the reader should be an emotional one, i.e., ‘Blimey, didn’t see that one coming.’ 6: Collect Two Types Of Research: ‘Nuts And Bolts’ And Emotional Both are essential for authenticity and quite distinct from each other.  ‘Nuts and bolts’ might be research into police procedure, forensics or ballistics, and all the permutations in between.  Imagination will only carry you so far. Basically, you can’t take the procedure out of the police procedural, or the military out of the action adventure.   Today’s crime readers are so sophisticated that they can sniff out lack of authenticity at fifty paces.  Many will give the average crime or thriller writer a run for his or her money when it comes to knowledge.  Unless you’re an ex-con, intelligence officer, police officer, in the military, with inside knowledge at your fingertips, you’ll need to get out and about and research. Google is a good starting point, but if we all write according to the Gospel according to St. Google, then our stories will wind up with same or similar shout-lines.  I’m a fan of multiple sources.  If you have a library, use it to check out your chosen subject.  But, and it’s a big one, nothing beats approaching people ‘in the know.’  Most folk respond to a friendly and polite approach, especially if the ‘help’ word is applied.  While I wouldn’t suggest rocking up at your local police station to bend ears, there are other avenues to pursue, via police press officers. If you’re really stumped, there are now plenty of recently retired police officers that, for a fee, will walk you through an investigation.  Similarly, pathologists, ballistics experts and crime scene examiners are normally happy to talk about their favourite subject. If you can ferret out a tame source, you’ll get a feel for how things roll.  In the interests of research, I’ve flown in helicopters, spent a memorable evening with firearms officers in a laser-simulated training suite, flown to Berlin and Barcelona, both for location hunts, and talked to people working at the United Nations and those connected to various charities involved with refugees and victims of war. All this comes with a warning:  if you’ve spent your hard-earned money on obtaining information or oceans of time fact finding, there is a temptation to slay the reader with your newly acquired fund of knowledge.   This is where I refer you back to point number 4.  A few books ago, an editor once told me:  ‘This is really interesting, Eve, but it doesn’t add anything to your story.  Cut.’ I did.  Lesson learned. ‘Write what you know’ is a well-used, and occasionally misunderstood, phrase. While we may all believe that our existences are thrilling, not many of us lead the kind of lives that will translate easily into great page-turning thrillers.  So what does ‘write what you know’ really mean?  It means you draw on personal emotional experience.  Just saying someone is sad or angry won’t cut it. This is where emotional research comes in. All writers are amateur psychologists.  We need to know how people tick and how they respond.  While you might not experience what it’s like to be shot at, you will know what fear feels like, just like you’ll know how it feels to have loved and lost, loved and found the woman or man of your dreams, got the job you always wanted, failed to get the job you always wanted, passed your driving test, or failed it for the millionth time and, dare I say, obtain agent representation after slogging away for years, or feel the cutting pain associated with your umpteenth rejection. In essence, we all know what it’s like to feel lonely and unhappy, elated and sad, frustrated and angry and everything in between. These are the emotions you draw on for your characters so that, when you describe them, they are a true representation. ‘Okay,’ you might say, ‘I can do all of the above, but how do I write about something well outside my sphere of experience, for example, the trauma associated with violent crime, either as perpetrator or victim?’ Simply put, it’s hard to avoid cliché, stereotype, and melodrama when tapping into trauma, if you have no direct experience of it.  Again, crime readers are bloodhounds at spotting false notes.  Best advice is to, firstly, ensure that the stakes are raised high in your story so that characters are forced to grapple with powerful, life-on-the-line events.  Be bold in this regard.  Think of the worst that can happen to your character then make sure it does.  This way, you’ll ensure that your characters are properly motivated to respond truthfully. Sneak right under their skins and imagine the extremes of human behaviour and what it does to people.  But, before you do this, climb under your own skin and dig deep.  You may well be surprised, maybe even shocked, at what you find loitering beneath.  Whatever you unearth, this is what you use as a foundation for your character’s response. If this doesn’t work, you could always try a more ‘nuts and bolts’ approach, and talk to a psychologist or someone trained to help people who have encountered tragedy in their lives. 7: Take A Big Breath And Read Aloud You’re a writer.  You love stories.  You’re interested in words and their correct spelling.  You go all tingly when your sentences flow and convey your magical  (or should I say your diabolical) world.  So ensure you take the time to read the entire manuscript aloud to pick up on pesky typos, clumsy sentences, repeat words in consecutive sentences, verbal ‘tics’, punctuation and grammatical errors, and mysterious verb tense changes.  Avert your eyes now if you are of a sensitive nature. In three words:  ‘This.  Stuff.  Matters.’ And it’s no good thinking that you can wing it. If you don’t know the difference between ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re,’ or ‘where’ and ‘were’, do yourself a favour and learn.  On occasion I’ve been told that ‘Agent Bloggs will be so knocked out by the story, it won’t matter …’, and ‘The copy-editor will fix it …’, as if he or she has a handy magic wand with which to transform your less than perfectly polished prose. Agents receive so many submissions they can afford to be picky.  If your lovingly crafted story is set aside due to a multiplicity of errors on the first page, it stands no chance of reaching the fairy copy-editor.  Your hard work would be wasted. And that would be a shame. Very 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. 
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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. 
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How to Create a Great Inciting Incident

Got a great plot-twist in mind, but not quite sure how to get there? C M Taylor’s blog post will help you piece together your ideas and show you how to implement that all important inciting incident. The catalyst. The plot-twist. Or, as we’re calling it here, the inciting incident is the pivotal moment when your protagonist is forced to change course. This blog post will give you all the tools you’ll need to create your own page-turning incident. What Is An Inciting Incident? Put as simply as possible, the inciting incident is an event that occurs, in relation to your protagonist, near to the beginning of your story, which sets that story moving in a different direction. The word ‘inciting’ is used because the event which occurs incites your protagonist towards a new course of action. But note, it causes them to react. It does not necessarily cause them to act at this point, that may come later. The inciting incident as we are calling it here has many names. Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero’s Journey calls it ‘The call to adventure’. Blake Snyder in his book Save The Cat refers to it as ‘the catalyst’.  Scott Myers, host of the esteemed Go Into The Story blog and resource calls it simply ‘the hook’. You can call it what you like, but in terms of how you tell your story, it has the same effect. It provokes the hero, it incites them, it creates a before and an after. The inciting incident is the gateway to the action. And like all gateways, it leads from something and it leads to something. The inciting incident leads from the before to the after. It leads from the world that was to the world that will be. Before the inciting incident, the world is as it was. The hero was about their normal business. They were doing what they normally do at work, at rest and at play. This is what Chris Vogler in his book The Writer’s Journey calls ‘the ordinary world’. It is what Dara Marks in her book Inside Story refers to the as ‘the known world’. It is what Blake Snyder calls the set-up. Snyder says that, ‘in the set-up you have told us what the world is like and in the catalyst you knock that wall down.’ The known world is suddenly not the only world there is. There is the glimmer, the allure of the new world on the horizon, tugging away at the hero. Perhaps not yet compelling the hero to act but certainly disturbing them with the strong sense that their everyday world is fragile and temporary... How to Write An Inciting Incident: Make sure the inciting incident is suitable for the genre you\'re writingAn inciting incident is normally (not always) done to not done by the protagonistThe event should upset the status quoIt should create questions for the reader and engage the reader\'s attentionAnd, generate a sense of urgency by setting the story in motion How Soon Should An Inciting Incident Take Place In My Novel? While there are strong tendencies and traditions, there is no programmatic answer to this question. It’s always a good idea to consider how you’re going to move your story on in the planning stages. Remember, most stories have an inciting incident that takes place very early on in the story, within the first 10-15% of elapsed story time, certainly within the first quarter of the story. But that does not have to be, because your story – its genre and tone – will dictate the nature of your inciting incident. I’ll explain… Five Tips to Write A Great Inciting Incident The Inciting Incident Is Commensurate With Your Genre And Theme In The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, the inciting incident does not take place until a quarter of the way through the book. This is when the narrator of the novel meets the titular character for the first time and the relationship, which will define the plot’s course, commences. Now, even though this is an unusually long wait for an inciting incident, it is perfectly appropriate for the subject of the book. The Great Gatsby is a work of apostolic fiction – where one person tells the story of an impressive other. The book is about being dazzled by money, is about money separating the rich from others and from consequence, and it’s about the mysterious nature of the titular Gatsby. Dazzle, mystery, separation. What better subjects could justify holding off the meeting that incites the action than those? Holding off increases the allure, the anticipation, the yearning that are the subjects of the book. The subject and genre of the book has dictated the timing and nature of the inciting incident. Conversely, in the screenplay Juno by Diablo Cody, the inciting incident has already happened when the film begins. The titular Juno, a 16-year-old school student is already pregnant after a one-off dalliance with her best friend, Bleeker. How can you have an inciting incident happen before the story starts? Well, remember that the inciting incident is a departure from the known world. Now in many stories, the inciting incident obliges the hero to leave their physical world in quest and so the backstory of the character – the known world – needs to be sketched to show what is being departed from. But in Juno, Juno stays at home throughout the film. The film takes place in the backstory. There is no physical separation. It is an existential departure. The problem of the film for the main character Juno is how to integrate the unknown of the pregnancy into the known world. We see her friends, school, parents, home throughout the film. The contrast between the new world of the pregnancy integrating with the known world of the mundane high schooler is the subject. If you are writing an adventure story, the inciting incident might be a physical summons in some nature, a push or a pull into a new physical world. If you are writing a crime story the inciting incident is very often a crime, or villain, that is brought to the attention of the detective. The Inciting Incident Usually But Not Always Is done to Rather Than Done by the Protagonist The letter arrives. The stranger arrives. The murder is committed. The friend betrays. The partner leaves. The bank forecloses. The job ends. The aliens descend. The microfilm is stolen. But this is not always the case. Take the film Her for example. The protagonist of that film conjures the inciting incident themselves by buying the software with which they are going to fall in love. Whenever It Happens, and Whoever Authors It, the Inciting Incident Seems Designed to Upset the Status Quo As Robert Mckee says in his book Story, ‘The inciting incident radically upsets the balances of forces in your protagonist’s life.’ But that is not all. A great inciting incident, as Dara Marks says, ‘Prays on the inner conflict of the character established in The Known World.’ Harry Potter is already established as victimised and desperate to leave his known world before the letter from Hogwarts arrives. Luke Skywalker is already frustrated and bored on the farm before the message from Leia is transmitted from R2-D2. The protagonist is already susceptible to the summons of the inciting incident before it arrives and the incident maps on to and accelerates the disintegration of the status quo. Create Questions for the Reader The inciting incident introduces the central problem of the story. How will Juno handle the pregnancy? What will the narrator learn of the mysterious Gatsby now he has made his acquaintance? The protagonist is the avatar for the reader in the story and the summons for the unknown world creates mystery and urgency. Generate Some Sense of Urgency The ticking clock of Juno’s pregnancy means the action is concertinaed by necessity. The jeopardy voiced by Princess Leia communicates to Luke that he needs to get his skates on. The inciting incident sets off the ticking clock – the known world is disintegrating and the unknown is beckoning. And yet the inciting incident is just the call to adventure, it is not the adventure itself. It is the signal that the departure must be made, it is not the departure itself. The protagonist reacts to the incident - they do not yet act on it. In Joseph Campbell’s description of the underlying structures of narrative, what is followed by the call to adventure (our inciting incident) is the refusal of the call. At first, the new world which has beckoned the heroic character feels too onerous, too difficult, the cosy allure of the status quo, however dissatisfying, is stronger in the beginning than the summons. As Dara Marks explains in Inside Story, humans only ever act to make radical changes when the risk of staying the same is greater than the risk of changing. When the inciting incident arrives, the risk of staying the same is still not great enough in many examples to justify definitive action. The inciting incident is the beginning of the story arc. The inciting incident introduces the problem to be solved, it is not the protagonist acting to solve the problem. Cinderella receiving the invitation to the ball is not the same as her attending. Inciting Incidents: 8 Great Examples In the anonymous 14th century chivalric romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the gigantic Green Knight interrupts King Arthur’s New Year’s feast at Camelot to issue the gathered nobles with a challenge.In The 2015 Ridley Scott film The Martian, during a violent storm on the planet mars, botanist-astronaut Mark Watney is separated from his team. Believing him to be dead they take the difficult decision to evacuate without him, marooning Watney on the red planet.In the 1992 film by David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross, based on the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 play of the same name, the inciting incident occurs when the salesman Blake is sent from head office to motivate a team of dysfunctional salesman. Insulting and subjecting them to profane abuse, Blake challenges the team to sell or be sacked.In Homer’s 8th century BC epic The Odyssey, after the opening exposition, the hero Odysseus having being marooned in the known world of Ogygia for seven years, is visited by the Goddess Hermes who urges him to build a ship.In the 1942 Michael Curtiz film Casablanca, small time crook Ugarte shows Rik the letters of transit which will allow two people to leave the occupied city. Ugarte is arrested, leaving Rik with the letters.In Jane Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy’s negative assessment of Elizabeth and his refusal to dance with her set in train the suppressed and combative emotions that will eventually see the two fall for each other. Just to really demonstrate this sense of how malleable the call to adventure can be, it is often said that in the romantic comedy genre it is the meeting of the lovers that is the call to adventure or the inciting incident (a moment that aficionados of the form refer to as the ‘meet cute’), but it really does not have to be so. To take a couple of examples… In the 1984 rom-com, Romancing The Stone, written by Diane Thomas, it is the arrival of a treasure map pointing to the possible whereabouts of her kidnapped sister Elaine which incites lonely romantic novelist Joan towards action.While in the 1993 Nora Ephron directed and co-written romantic comedy masterpiece Sleepless in Seattle, the lovers do not meet until the final sequence of the film, and it is the Meg Ryan character Annie hearing the Tom Hanks character Sam talk on the radio about his deceased wife that incites the lovers to cross paths. So, there we have it, a foolproof method to create an inciting incident. What do you think? Have we missed anything? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.
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How 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 Is A Chapter? 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. 
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How To Write A Great Scene (And Nail It Every Time)

Enrich your novel, by writing great, vivid and memorable scenes. Writing a great scene – or just as importantly, knowing if a scene you have already written stands up – can be approached as a process of inquisition. If you\'re asking yourself how to write a great scene, then you should ask yourself a number of questions to find out if the scene holds up. One successful writer of my acquaintance has a list of sixty questions which he asks himself about every scene he writes, and while we’re not going to reach that number, below I have gathered 10 key areas to ask questions about when writing scenes, thinking about scene structure, or assessing the scenes you\'ve already written. If you score ten out of ten, your scene should be good to go. If your score is a lot lower than that, you’ve still got some editing work to do. Let\'s have a look at these 10 key areas... What Is The Unique Purpose Of The Scene? This is worth asking first of all, because if you get the wrong answer here, you save yourself the bother of asking all the other questions as you can just use our friend the delete key to solve the problem. Does this scene earn its keep? Is it doing something that is simply not being done anywhere else in the work? And if the unique thing that it does was omitted from the story, would the story have a hole? Does the scene belong in the story being told? Should you kill it? What happens? How does it uniquely advance the plot? Or uniquely establish mood? Or uniquely deliver character comprehension, or feeling? Does it advance the work in a way that might be done more effectively in any other scene? If you pass that test, move on to the next question. Is The Scene Thematically Congruent? If the theme of your work, say, is unrequited love, does your scene angle in to that theme? Does it demonstrate a circumstance or a feeling which is associated with unrequited love? Or does it demonstrate a circumstance or a feeling about requited love, so as to throw into relief the experience that one of your characters will have about unrequited love? Is your scene about what your book is about? And if it not but you still need it in because – as above – it’s the vehicle for a unique and irremovable aspect of your story, then how are you going to rewrite the scene so that it amplifies, however distantly, the theme of your story? How Does The Scene Turn? What do I mean by ‘turn’? Well, first let’s back up… People say that without conflict there is no drama. Now, I’m not so sure about that, I think a broader and more accurate assessment would be not without conflict but without change. Without change there is no drama, and what people mean by conflict is resistance to change. You could write a scene about a woman digging a tree stump out of the ground that was full of drama, as she struggled and the tree stump resisted, and she changed from being in an optimistic state to an exhausted, pessimistic state. But would that scene be full of conflict? You might say she was in conflict with the tree stump, but that to me would be stretching it. Instead it is a scene where a character tries to change the world and that change is resisted. Or, you could write a scene where somebody realised they had totally misremembered a very important incident from their past and that life in facts was different to how they imagined it. The drama would be in the correction of the memory. It would not be a conflict, instead it would be a swift and significant change. So, when I ask, ‘How does the scene turn?’, what I mean is, ‘What change does it effect?’ If all of the characters in the scene are in the same state at the end of the scene as they were at the beginning of the scene, then no change has been affected and so no drama has occurred. What is the central change of the scene? What is it that turns from one state to another state? Is it one character who turns? Many characters? A situation? Is the turn for the negative or the positive? Is the character further way from what they want, or closer? What are the obstacles facing the character from turning the scene the way they want to turn the scene? If the character does not get what they want, change and drama are still demonstrated as they have failed and so their emotional state and desperation have increased.  No change externally does not mean no change internally. Change is of course linked to motivation and goals and desire. Make sure that the change which the scene turns on directly affects what your character is trying to achieve. Make sure their goal and motivation are clear. Are they closer to their clear goal, or are they further away? How your scene turns will be bound up with your cast list. Does the scene change when a new character enters? Who is present at the beginning of the scene and who is present at the end? If a new character enters, is their entrance memorable and is it their arrival that turns the scene? If not, why not? In that case you have introduced a new character without that introduction having a big impact. Is that what you want? Does it suit your plot and their character for them to sidle in? Maybe it does. If you want more information on how to create that scene turning event, then check out our inciting incidents blog post too. Are You Clear On Your Point Of View? The person to whom the largest change is happening is often, but not always, the person from whose point of view we will be seeing the scene. ‘Often, but not always’, because in fiction, unlike in film, point of view is not an utterly promiscuous tool, it needs to settle on, usually, one or just a handful of characters. So, whose point of view are you telling the scene from? If it is possible, best do it, but it may not always be possible to tell it from the point of view of the person to whom the greatest change is happening. If you think about how to write a death scene as an example. The largest change is happening to the person who is dying, but it is often not right to write the scene form their perspective as once they’re gone, they’re gone. In fact, some of the most famous deaths happen off screen. Take Cordelia in King Lear, or Ophelia in Hamlet as examples. Both of these deaths are moving, but both happen off stage – out of point of view. But take Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich which as the title suggests is clearly focussed on the biggest change of all for Ivan and whose death is described as ‘that black sack into which an invisible, invincible force was pushing him’. So, don’t go chasing the point of view of the person to whom the biggest change is happening if it mutilates your novel’s point of view schema. But if you can describe death from the point of view, then make it as appropriate to the unique sensibility of the character as possible. Similarly, when thinking how to write a sex scene, or if you are thinking about describing a kiss, point of view is everything. The unique attributes of the person to whom the sensation is happening govern how the sensation is described. How does it map on to their personal history? What are they not saying? How would their particular imagination describe what was happening? Basically, are you in the point of view of the person having the strongest sensation of change? If you can’t be in that point of view, make sure the change being experienced elsewhere emotionally impinges on the sensations of your point of view character and effects their motivations and desires. Does Your Scene Make Good Use Of Location? Where does the scene take place? At what time of day or night? Could another time or location serve to heighten the impact? Where were the characters before the scene started? Where are they going after it ends? How do they move physically across the space? Are you creating a sense of place? Some scenes require the claustrophobia of a locked room. Other require a huge canvas. Location is particularly important when thinking how to write a battle scene. For example, the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan is nothing without the water and the sand, while the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back would lose so much without the ice world. In those instances, the type of battle you can have is heavily defined by the location. The combatants’ experience of the battle will be similarly defined. And of course if you filter the character’s experience of battle through that physical reality (sand in the eyes, struggling to keep the rifle’s magazine out of the salt water …), you will end up with a much more vivid and intense scene than you’d have without that level of detail. Is Your Scene Commensurate With Your Genre? Let’s say for example that you are thinking about how to write a fight scene. If you are writing a work of historical fiction, say set amongst the samurai of feudal Japan, then you will make the fight scene a different scale and tone and pace to if you were writing a work of science fiction. And again, for example, the tone of a sword fight set in feudal Japan, which might be bound up with honour and stoic, wordless masculinity, would be very different to say the sword fight scene we get in the fantasy comedy The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya is given humorous dialogue as sharp as his rapier to utter as he fights. Any scene must be attuned to the feeling tone of the genre in which it is placed. How Do You Make Use Of Dialogue? Does the dialogue reflect character? Is it natural? Forced? Can you cover up the name of the person who is speaking and know who they are just from the sound and pattern of their words? Do they have unique speech patterns? Or if they all have the same accent, is it your conscious and correct decision to make them all sound the same? How is your dialect rendered? And then feed those thoughts back into the ones about location, and genre, and theme. These things all feed off themselves, of course. So your dialogue may naturally include observations about the location. (“Damn sand!” or “Hell, my rifle’s soaked.”) Those genre / thematic issues will smuggle their way into the dialogue too. And that infiltration is an entirely good thing, of course. It’s part of making your work feel integrated and alive. Is Your Scene Static Or Mobile? Do your characters have something to do? Is there something going on? An activity they are engaged in? If two characters are talking about their love lives what would they be doing as they spoke? In screenwriting they call this ‘interference’ – an action that characters take part in which can mirror how the scene is developing emotionally. Are they playing tennis? Putting up an Ikea shelf? Let’s say it’s tennis, their game can improve as they talk confidently about their love life, or degenerate as they talk neurotically about their love life. If they are putting up a shelf, they can drill through a pipe just as they are told bad news. Give your characters props to enact their feelings. Of course, some scenes are physically static and internal. No problem. Make the energy internal. Don’t let their emotions be static. Let the reactions rather than the actions carry the kinetic power of the scene. How Does Your Scene Deal With Time? Narrative art is intrinsically about the passage of time. Change can’t happen without it. Be absolutely sure where the scene stands in the work’s overall chronology. How much time has elapsed since the last scene? Is it clear to the reader how much time has elapsed? If we are moving into the future or the past, had you better make that very clear to the reader or are they okay to surf the time waves? Think about continuity. Is your characters hair long one week after it has been short? If your scene takes place in a very different time are their physical characteristics about the character you can employ to imply this passage of time and give a sense of time passing? And Finally – Is Your Scene Any Damn Good? Be honest. You can probably find a way to start your scene later, to get out of it earlier, to push up more on the felt drama of your point of view character, and to clarify and affect your turn more dramatically. Don’t just go through all these points once, go through them again. Scenes are not brought to their sharpest point in one pass. If you found this helpful, then you’ll definitely find this article on spicing up your writing and this one on chapter lengths useful – especially when you come to writing that great scene. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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How To Write A Great Opening Sentence For Your Novel

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

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

When I (Harry Bingham) wrote my first novel, I started to worry that I was off the mark regarding how many words I had to offer. I was scared that agents would reject my book simply because I had got the length wrong. How many words are there in an average novel, how many pages in a book, how many words per page? I didn’t know. I went to a bookstore, gathered some (big, hefty) novels in a genre like mine, and sat there on the shop floor and counted the average words per page to come up with a number. It turned out that, yes, in terms of book length, I was at the very long end of things, but not impossibly long. I sold that book for a good six-figure sum, and have never looked back since. At least you don’t need to run down to your nearest bookstore, since this guide will tell you quickly the ideal word counts for every category of novel. Average Word Count For A Novel The average word count for adult fiction is between 70,000 to 120,000 words. For children’s fiction, the general rule is the younger the audience the shorter the book, and for YA novels the average is 50,000-70,000 words. Non-fiction word counts sit between 70,000-120,000 words. Word counts also vary by genre, as detailed. How Long is a Book of Adult Fiction? Novel word counts vary by type of book So: how many words in a novel? Broad Guidelines We’re going to talk some specific genres in just a moment, but it’s worth setting the landscape a little first, just because you may as well know the territory here, and because a lot of fiction simply doesn’t fit in tidy boxes. So, the average wordcount for a typical novel is anywhere from 70,000 to 120,000 words. I’d guess that the actual average number of words in a novel was somewhere close to 90,000 words. (How come? Because novels mostly cluster at the shorter end of that 70-120K spectrum. There are plenty of prolific authors who might never break the 100,000 word barrier.) These guidelines assume that your book is broadly commercial (rather than highly literary, let’s say) and that you are writing for adults. If you are within that broad zone, then as far as length goes, you’re doing fine. But then again, sometimes fiction is long. If your story justifies the length, you needn’t worry if you get up to 150,000 words, or even 180,000. But that is on the very long side. 180,000 words print about 650 paperback pages. You only get away with novels of that scale if the story has an epic quality and storytelling is remorselessly excellent. (Also, don’t trust any source on the internet which tells you that such stories are unsaleable. They’re just not. My own first novel was 190,000 words long and was sold to HarperCollins for a lot of money.) Genre Romance If you are writing true genre romance – the kind of thing Harlequin Mills & Boon is known for – then books are typically short. Your target is probably 50-60,000 words. That said, longer books that still tell a proper romantic story, can do well. These books generally run from 75,000 to 100,000 words, or in rare cases a little more. Examples When we Believed in Mermaids – Barbara O’Neal – 100,000 wordsAnd Then You Loved Me – Inglath Cooper – 90,000 wordsThat Boy – Jillian Dodd – 80,000 wordsRescuing Lord Inglewood – Sally Britton – 55-60,000 words Women’s Fiction A lot of fiction written for women will have an element of romance, but is far more complicated and interesting than classic Mills & Boon fare. Such books will have a minimum length of 75,000 words but seldom exceed 110,000. See our comments about saga though! Examples Me Before You – Jojo Moyes – 140,000 words — very unusual length for women’s fiction this one, but it was a very unusual book!The Storyteller’s Secret – Sejal Bedani – 110,000 wordsWhere the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens – 105,000 wordsThe World That We Knew – Alice Hoffman – 95,000 wordsThe Dressmaker’s Gift – Fiona Valpy – 80,000 wordsBridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding – 75,000 words Family Saga Saga, by definition, has an epic feel, and you’re not really in saga territory at less than 150,000 words. But some of those books are very long. I have a friend who writes saga and her publisher actually wants books of 250,000 words. That’s about three ordinary novels squashed into one. Wow! (And, uh, you don’t get paid three times as much, so unless you really want to write saga, I’m going to suggest you review your choices!) Examples The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough – 195,000 words Crime And Thriller Genres Crime novels often run a little longer than women’s fiction. So 75,000 words is fine as a lower limit, but anything up to 120,000 words is unproblematic. Truth is, as long as you make sure every single word counts, you can go up to 135,000 words without troubling anyone. Examples I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes – 195,000 words (epic feel to this book, hence the length)Talking to the Dead – Harry Bingham (that’s me by the way!) – 115,000 wordsI let you go – Clare Mackintosh – 95,000 wordsThe Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – 95,000 wordsThe Crossing (Harry Bosch) – Michael Connelly – 80,000 words Historical Fiction Historical fiction is a slippery category, because it’s not really a category. A literary-type love story set in Renaissance Venice is very different from massive war story about the Mongol hordes. Reader expectations are utterly different in both cases. So for “normal” historical fiction – typically, a somewhat literary category – I’d suggest that 75,000 to 100,000 words is about right. But as soon as you introduce the sense of something epic – in time, space, and magnitude of events – you can get up to word counts of 150,000 to 180,000 words, or even more. Examples What the Wind Knows – Amy Harmon – 100,000 wordsBeneath a Scarlet Sky – Mark Sullivan – 150,000 wordsWolf Hall – Hilary Mantel – 200,000 words Fantasy And Sci-fi Genres Fantasy novels can be long. They can be up to 180,000 words, or even over 200,000, but the novel must be wonderful and must fully justify its word count. In other words, you must be scrupulous about editing every sentence for length. With SF, you really just need to explore your niche, as it can be quite variable. Epic space opera can easily run to over 150,000 words, whereas a short, hard space disaster book might run to just 60,000 words. If you’re not sure of your genre, just find the most appropriate bestseller list on Amazon and take a look. You’ll soon get a sense for where your book needs to fit. Examples Lord of the Rings / The Fellowship of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien – 190,000 wordsThe Atlantis Gene – AG Riddle – 135,000 words1984 – George Orwell – 90,000 wordsHarley Merlin and the Secret Coven – Bella Forrest – 110,000 words Literary Genre - Novel vs Novella If you’re writing for a more literary audience, then the rules above apply on upper limits. In other words, anything up to 120,000 words, no problem. And lower limits are quite a lot lower. A good, short literary novel might be 60,000 words. A very good, very short novella might be as little as 45 or 50,000. The shorter it gets, the better it needs to be. Examples Wolf Hall (by Hilary Mantel) is over 200,000 words On Chesil Beach (by Ian McEwan) is just 40,000 words long A Note About Our Word Count Estimations In some cases, word counts are published and in those cases, we’ve used those published sources. In other cases, we’ve used online tools such as Reading Length to estimate the length of a work. We would expect the actual length to be within +/- 10% of our stated length and usually closer. We have rounded to the nearest 5,000 words in all cases. How Long is a Non-Fiction Book? Memoir And Biography Most memoirs need to be in the 70,000 to 100,000-word range. Only if you’re a major celebrity can you blow right through that word count and just keep going. Examples Becoming – Michelle Obama – 165,000 words. I’d say she’s a major celebrity, though, so …Educated – Tara Westover – 100,000 wordsThe Salt Path – Raynor Winn – 90,000 words Popular Non-Fiction For the kind of book that normally sits on the front tables at Waterstones or Barnes & Noble, you’ll find that 70,000 to 120,000 words is about typical. If the topic really justifies length (and especially if your credentials are highly impressive) you can go longer, but check that you remain interesting, even at length. Examples Really hard to give examples, because this is a very broad category indeed. But for what it’s worth … Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahnemann – 150,000 wordsFear: Trump in the White House – Bob Woodward – 135,000 wordsHillbilly Elegy – JD Vance – 75,000 wordsA Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking – 50,000 words Niche Non-Fiction For anything really niche – e.g. How to Get Started in Internet Fraud – there are no real limits. Just write a good book on the topic and let length look after itself. How Long is a Children’s Novel? Young Adult Fiction YA fiction usually needs to be 50,000 to 70,000 words. You can go up to 100,000 if your material is phenomenal and justifiable, but no longer than that … Or at least that’s what I used to say, except that Stephenie Meyer really rewrote the rules. So yeah, you can go over 100,000 words if you are about to reinvent an entire category of fiction. Examples Twilight – Stephenie Meyer – 120,000 wordsHunger Games – Susan Collins – 100,000 wordsThe Fault in Our Stars – John Green – 90,000 wordsOutside – Sarah Ann Juckes (our head of membership content) – 70,000 words Middle Grade Fiction Children’s fiction is so varied in terms of length, type, illustration. Your best bet is to go to a good children’s bookstore and look at books like your own in terms of target audience. Multiply up by the number of pages and get to a rough word count. The younger the child, the shorter the word count. Examples It’s not really safe to offer examples. Your best bet is to figure out what books yours is comparable to, then sit down and count the words on 2-3 typical pages. Get a rough average. Multiply by the number of pages in the book. And that gives you your rough word count. Self-Published Work And Ebooks: Word Count Guidelines In the world of print and physical bookstores, length kind of mattered. There’s just a minimum cost of printing a book, trucking it to a store, marketing it, and everything else. Since a 50 page book for $7.99 just feels like bad value most of the time, books like that were never commissioned by publishers. They just didn’t happen. Because traditional publishers still tend to think of print first and digital formats second, the same thing still mostly holds true. For them. But if you’re self-publishing, it just doesn’t need to hold true for you. What if you wanted to write: Beach read romances – 30,000 words each – in a series of 8 or so books. Well, heck, you can do it. Readers love that kind of thing. Short, subject-led books on internet marketing, or cat nutrition, or meditation technique. Well, heck you can do it. Readers can get real value from that kind of thing. There’s no right or wrong here. The only golden rule is: You communicate the type of book accurately to the reader, andYour pricing reflects the length / value you are offering. I know that’s technically two golden rules, but the second one is kind of a repeat of the first. As a rough guide, I’d say that a 30,000 word book shouldn’t sell for much more than $2.99 / $3.99. If your book is very short – 15-20,000 words – it probably wants to be $0.99 or free. Do You Need to Edit Your Novel? Take a good look at the average word counts you need for a novel or non-fiction. If your book is too long and you need to cut it, don’t fret. It’s often possible to take a good 30,000 words out of a book without really affecting the content, just by being rigorous about what works – what words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters truly earn their place. The secret to effective self-editing is always just a relentless search for material that isn’t really contributing to the story . . . and searching at every scale. So you need to ask, “Is this chapter or scene really needed? Could I cut it or simply delete it?” But you also need to ask, “Does this sentence contain more words than it needs? Could I do the same job more effectively with less?” Bear in mind that cutting a 12-word sentence down to 9 words might feel like nothing to you . . . but that’s the same proportionate reduction as cutting a 120,000 word novel down to 90,000 words. And you only achieve that kind of reduction by being picky about every single word. 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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9 Tips for Writing Perfect Prose

How to Write Prose -- The Best Way When you send your work off to an agent, the agent’s first look will be fast, smart and brutal. They’ll ask, “Do I even like the concept for this book?” And they’ll ask, “Can this person write? Does this feel like the prose style of a serious, professional author?” If the answer to either of those questions is in the negative, you’re on the path to rejection, no matter how hard you’ve worked on all the rest of your manuscript. Well, we’re not going to address the issue of ideas in this post (though you could check out our comments on elevator pitch, if you’re worried, or see what we have to say about checking and developing your ideas.) We’re going to deal with the second of the things that an agent (or their assistant) has uppermost in their mind when they consider your submission. Quite simply, they’re thinking: Can this person write? Agents see hundreds of manuscripts and you’ll need yours to say, from that very first page and paragraph, “Yes, this is good prose. You are in the hands of a confident, capable writer. You will not be wasting your time with what follows.” What are you aiming for? You are aiming for prose that is: cleareconomicalprecise If you can check those three boxes, you’re doing fine. John Grisham isn’t some kind of prose writing superstar. Nor is Suzanne Collins. Nor is Stephen King. Their genius all lies elsewhere. 9 Ways To Perfect Your Prose Style: Avoid clichésBe accurateKeep it shortTrust your readerCull your adjectivesMix your rhythmsDitch the modifiers, let the verbs do the workUse unexpected words to shock readers into understandingAsk for help. If you can write clear, economical and precise prose – and it isn’t hard to do – you’re basically forcing the agent to read on. To judge your novel on its merits. To give your story a chance. Here’s what you need to do. Not sure what prose writing is? It’s basically the opposite of poetry. Any novel is written in prose. So is the text in any newspaper. So is the letter you write to your bank or your doctor or your secret lover. When novelists talk about prose style, they really just mean the way you write. Does your writing sound good or bad? Does it do the job you want it to do? Or does the way you express things always let you down? Wikipedia has more on what prose is, if you want to know that. Kill Clichés Cliché is the enemy of every author. And you recognise it when you see it, right? We’re talking about things like this: His eyes were blue enough to swim in.She felt a sharp pain, as though cut by a knife.The breeze whispered softly through gently waving trees. It’s like watching a movie we’ve all seen before. It’s language that’s stale, old, past its sell-by date. But cliche creeps in all over the place. The flame-haired passionate redhead? She’s an old, overused stereotype. The midnight hostage exchange in a deserted warehouse? Seen it, read it. The rose-covered cottage with a smiling old lady and lots of home-made cakes. Yep, nothing new there. The simple fact is that wherever you grab for pre-made stereotypes – scenes, people and settings that we’ve seen a million times before – you bore your reader that tiny bit. You distance them from the text, when what you want is to hug them close. So, look for cliches everywhere. Then kill them. Need more help? We have a brilliant video tutorial on Cliches – it’s part of our How To Write course and is available free to members of Jericho Writers. If you’re serious about writing, you probably want to consider joining us. You get tons of free learning materials, live online classes, an active and supportive community, and so much more besides. Learn more or join us. Be Accurate Let’s start with an example. Consider this sentence: She lay in the early morning light listening to the roar of traffic softly rising like mist in the streets. What do you think of that? Good? Bad? Half and half? I hope you said that it’s an awful sentence, because it is. If I were an agent and I encountered this sentence on page 1 of a submission, I would read no further. Why? Because the writer isn’t in control of their language and that proves to me that they aren’t yet ready to go pro. So let’s see what’s wrong. “She lay in the early morning light” – that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. “listening to the roar of traffic” – yep, OK. (Although why is there a roar of traffic in the early morning? Unless there’s a very specific setting which answers that question, I worry that we’re not really dealing with early morning here, in which case why say so?) “softly rising like mist in the streets” – OK, that’s where this sentence collapses completely. If traffic roars, it can’t softly rise. You could have a murmur of traffic doing something softly. Or a roar of traffic doing something loudly or violently. But roar + soft just doesn’t work. The two ideas are fighting each other. And that’s not all of it. Mist doesn’t rise, it just hangs. It’s a stationary image, not a moving one. So that’s another fail. And why say ‘In the streets‘? Obviously cars are in streets (so why bother to remind us?) And if you want to talk about a slow-rising mist, then isn’t that more naturally a rural metaphor? In which case the word streets again introduces an awkwardness. In short, the writer of that sentence failed the Accuracy test, because they weren’t sure enough what they wanted to say and ended up just serving up a mess. Oh, and if you think I’m being picky here, then I admit it: YES! I’m picky. So should you be. Prose style matters – and it’s good that it matters! Books are made out of sentences and sentences are made out of words. If you re not very picky indeed about your word choices and sentence constructions, you will never be (or deserve to be) a real professional author. So be picky. It’s the first ingredient of success. Keep It Short When you write, treat your manuscript as though you had to pay 10p a word for the privilege of writing. Look at this paragraph, for example: He walked slowly away, trying not to make any kind of sound. His feelings were in a turmoil, roiling and boiling, a tumult of emotion. He couldn’t help reiterating to himself again and again that he had done the right thing; that he had done everything he could. He insisted to himself that she, too, would surely see this one day. Ugh. Let’s try that again. Here’s the same example, tightened up. He crept away, his feelings in turmoil. He had done the right thing, he told himself. One day, she would see this, too. Almost a third of the length. And everything about it is better. It doesn’t just say it faster, it says it better. In the first version, all that verbiage just got in the way. And again: you just can’t be too picky here. Let’s say you had a sentence in your book that was 12 words long, when it could say the same thing in just 9-10 words. Would you make the change? Or would you just think, nah, who cares? I certainly hope that you said you’d make the change, because look at it like this. What if you write a 120,000 word book that could be reduced to 90 or 100,000 words without losing any material content? That book would be 20-30,000 words overweight . . . and would be way too baggy for any top-end literary agent to get involved with. But you will only cut that 20-30,000 word surplus by finding the 2-3 unnecessary words in that 12 word sentence and cutting them out. That’s what that part of the editing process is all about. There are no shortcuts. In short: good writers work at their writing. Getting your prose style right is all about acute attention to detail. If a bad sentence bothers you, you just need to keep going until you get it right. You have to care about your sentences –because your entire novel is made of them! If you’re not open to cutting your work in service of your novel, making it the best you can, we’re in trouble. Trust Your Reader Another amateurish trait is that of not trusting the reader. We get many clients who write something rather like the following: He rolled in agony. Fire shot through every limb. He felt like screaming out in pain. His entire face was distorted with the grotesque effort of not shouting out. That uses many very forceful words (agony, fire, screaming, distorted, grotesque). You don’t need that many words to do the job. It’s as though the writer of this snippet doesn’t trust the reader to get the point, so he/she keeps making the same point again and again like some classic pub bore. Readers will ‘get it’, as long as you write in clear, forceful, non-repetitive language. Here’s another example. What do you think of the following little dialogue / micro-scene? “Yes?” I nudged.“Yes, only . . .” she hesitated, then stopped completely. Waved her hands at me to signal she was done, or that I should look away. Some gesture like that.“So, yes, we should invite him?”“Of course. Fine. Whatever you want. It’s not like I care.” We don’t know what’s going on here of course – presumably, if we read this in a book, we’d have more background to make sense of it all. But it’s pretty clear, isn’t it, that the woman here has some set of quite strong, deep emotions about the guy they might or might not invite to something – and she’s not that keen to talk about what she feels.# And you got all that, without the writer having to spell anything out at all. The writer just dropped stuff on the page and let you figure it out. So now take a look at this way of doing things: “Yes?” I nudged her, anxious to know what she would think.“Yes, only . . .” she hesitated, then stopped completely. She waved her hands at me to signal something. I guess she was quite conflicted about me inviting him. Maybe she was a little bit angry, plus a little embarrassed. Her body language was more than consistent with these two emotions, so I decided that I should try to clarify the situation in order to identify her opinions more precisely.“So, yes, we should invite him?” I said, hoping that this time I would get a more detailed answer.“Of course. Fine. Whatever you want. It’s not like I care.”But although she said she didn’t care, it was evident to me that she did. As a matter of fact, when she spoke the words “whatever you want”, it struck me that maybe she was being passive-aggressive, that although she said “whatever you want”, maybe what she actually means was, “No, I’d prefer not to see him.” That’s terrible, right? And it’s terrible, partly, because this version of the dialogue massively breaks the “keep it tight” rule. But it’s also terrible because it just lectures the reader in this horrible heavy-handed way on stuff that the reader can perfectly well figure out for themselves. It’s even worse than that, actually, because in the first example, all the nuances of the situation were left open to the reader to figure out. In the second example, all that clunky explanation just crushes the nuances underfoot. The moral of this story? Trust your reader. They’re smart like that. (And get more dialogue help, if you want it.) Cull Those Adjectives To stick with this theme, and especially when it comes to descriptive writing, double adjectives are almost always a no-no. The second adjective almost always weakens the first. You want an example? OK, so take a look at this: He leaned over the black iron railings, the coarse grey cloth of his sleeve catching on the sharp, treacherous spike. Deleting any superfluous adjective improves this description straightaway: He leaned over the iron railings, the coarse cloth of his sleeve catching on the sharp spike. That’s better, right? But I hope you notice that we can go one step better again. Every sentence needs nouns and verbs, while adjectives are definitely optional. And in many cases, a sentence just doesn’t need any adjectives at all. So in fact, the best way to write that sentence would be simply: As he leaned over the railings, his sleeve caught on the spike. Good writers use adjectives sparingly. And if you\'re in doubt, write the sentence without the adjectives and see if it works better. If it’s actually missing something then reinsert the adjective. Your prose will instantly tighten and feel more alive, more taut. Want more help on descriptive writing? Then get it here and here. Mix Your Rhythms Short sentences are strong. So use them. But too many? All short sentences? They’ll irritate the reader. You’ll annoy them. A lot. Aren’t you annoyed already? I bet you are. Equally, if you work with only longer sentences, you risk losing the reader, who’ll miss that bit of grit, of sharpness, that shorter sentences bring. The same thing applies across the board. Description is great, but too much of it? Every small thing described? You’ll lose the reader.Abstract nouns are great – but big blocks of them? You’ll lose the reader.Emotional language is great. It’s a big part of why we read. But constant examination of every small emotion? Yep, you know what I’m going to say: you’ll lose the reader. The secret, always, is variety – and flexing your language according to the mood and moment of your story. So if your hero gets brutally dumped by his long time partner? Then look in detail at his emotions! But if you’re in the middle of a tense action scene? Now’s probably not the time for all that. Of course, it sounds obvious if you put it like that, but it’s not always so obvious as you write your text. One great trick, used by plenty of pro authors,is to read your work aloud. If it starts to grate with you, or if the rhythms seem awkward to say, then stop and rewrite! It’ll be worth your time, guaranteed! Work Those Nouns, Work Those Verbs! Look at these examples, and figure out what’s wrong with them: he said loudly, raising his voice so she could hear it across the field.she jumped high in the airhe said as quietly as he could In most cases, of course, you’ll do better to simply cut out the adverbs (the things that describe the action – like loudly, high, and quietly). English is rich in vocabulary so in most cases, there are neater ways to say what you’re after. For example: He called to her (adding, across the field if you want)She leapedHe whispered I’m not saying those replacements are always better – you have to use your judgement given the particular place you are in your story. But as a rule of thumb? Ditch the modifiers and let the verbs do the work. There’s a similar trick to see whether your nouns (words for objects) are working hard enough for you. Compare these two examples: He passed her some food, on an old white plateHe gave her lamb tagine. Big scoops of it, mounded on a plate of old porcelain, with a faded floral rim. The first sentence is very bland, partly because all of the components words are very bland. If you listed all the commonest words in the English language, them pass, food, old, white, and plate would surely be amongst their number. The second sentence has some much less common words, lamb, tagine, scoops, mounded, porcelain, faded, floral, rim. Because those words are less common, they feel tangier to the reader. They burn brighter in the reader’s imagination. Again, I’m not saying you can use this trick all the time – your judgement has to come first; sometimes simple is good – but it’s worth bearing in mind. If you read over your prose and find it a little bland or lacking in energy, then giving (especially) your nouns and verbs a big more zing will make a huge difference. Do you find this helpful? We have some brilliant video tutorials on prose writing – they’re part of our How To Write course and the whole thing available free to members of Jericho Writers. If you’re serious about writing, you probably want to consider joining us. You get tons of free learning materials, live online classes, an active and supportive community, and so much more besides. Learn more or join us. We’d love it if you did! Add Some Little Flashes Of Genius You’ll occasionally find a phrase that perfectly captures something: an unexpected word use that shocks a reader into understanding. Here are some dazzling examples of what we mean: “A quick succession of busy nothings.”“One moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”“I shall be dumped where the weed decays, and the rest is rust and stardust.” These are snippets from writers of genius – Jane Austen, Graham Greene, and Vladimir Nabokov. Never try forcing this on your every paragraph or page (they didn’t). Only a scatter of diamonds here and there has effect, so go for it, if you can. And if that seems a bit daunting to begin with, then start small. The main trick in writing well is simple:You just have to care enough. We mean that pretty literally. Let’s say, there’s something you want to convey. Something, let’s say, about those moments of transition in childhood, when new possibilities suddenly open up. You’re talking about a semi-magical moment, so it would be great if you could find a description that had a little magic to it. But how to do it? The answer is, you write something and see how you feel about it. Maybe this, for example: It was one of those moments in childhood, that suddenly seemed rich in possibility. That’s OK, right, but not exactly magical. So just let your imagination find what you are trying to say? What is it that for you conveys that idea of ‘rich in possibility’? As soon as you ask that question, you might start finding some answers. For example: It was one of those moments in childhood, where the future suddenly bloomed, like a field full of poppies.A moment in childhood, where a window swung open, letting in the sunshine, letting in the future. Or of course, you might end up with something like Greene’s own version: “One moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” Bear in mind, he probably didn’t write that sentence cleanly at the first time of asking. He probably wrote something, felt it wasn’t quite right, then fiddled with the sentence until he was happy. That’s how writers write. Dissatisfaction + more work = the route to better writing! Get Writing Help I hope you know by now that Jericho Writers is a club for writers just like you. We have a ton of helpful advice to offer. There are free courses. Free films. Free webinars where you can ask agents and authors real questions about your work. There’s a community full of writers like you exchanging questions and comments on each other’s work. And once you take out your (low cost, cancel-any-time) membership, everything within the club is absolutely free to members. It’s like you get access to the world’s best resource bank for writers, and pay just a fraction of what it would cost to buy those things outright. Does that sound good? We really hope so. We built the club for writers like you, and we’ve already helped 100s of writers to achieve their dreams of publication. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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10 Great Examples Of How To Begin A Short Story

In this article, author Dan Brotzel shares 10 examples of how to create a perfect opening for your short story. In a short story, where a whole world or emotional journey can be summoned up and dramatised in the space of a few pages, every line and word has to count – and that’s especially true of the way you begin. Here, for inspiration, are a range of starting strategies from some great exponents of the form… 1. The Telling Detail “One Dollar And Eighty-seven Cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheek burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.” From ‘The Gift of the Magi’, by O Henry Sometimes known as the American Maupassant, O Henry’s stories are tightly plotted narratives of ordinary lives with lots of humour that usually end with a classic sting in the tale that, while surprising, flows with unerring logic from the story’s premise. In this classic tale, we know the whole set-up within a few lines. It is Christmas and Della has no money to buy a present for her beloved husband James. In their whole house they possess only two things that they really value: his gold watch and her golden hair. In a formula that has been much copied since, we watch Della sell her golden locks to raise money to buy a fancy fob for James’s watch, while unbeknownst to her he has pawned his watch to buy her a set of ivory combs that she has long coveted for her (now departed) hair! It is a tale that sounds tragic, but is actually heartening, because in the end the couple are confirmed in their real gift: the love they bear each other. (Plus, of course, Della’s hair will grow back!) But it all stems from a single telling detail: that opening cinematic detail of a tiny sum of money, piled up in pennies and scrimped from tense negotiations with tradespeople, that is all Della thinks she has to show James how much she loves him. 2. The Paradox “In the beginning, Sanford Carter was ashamed of becoming an Army cook. This was not from snobbery, at least not from snobbery of the most direct sort. During the two and a half years Carter had been in the Army he had come to hate cooks more and more. They existed for him as a symbol of all that was corrupt, overbearing, stupid, and privileged in Army life…” From ‘The Language of Men,’ by Normal Mailer Published in 1953, ‘The Language of Men’ tells the story of an over-sensitive, frustrated serviceman who, after years of being passed up for promotion and never finding his niche in the army, ends up as a cook – the thing he hates most about the army. Immediately we are curious: What will happen to a man who becomes the thing he most despises? Carter feels that he never manages to understand other men, to feel either equal to them or able to lead them. ‘Whenever responsibility had been handed to him, he had discharged it miserably, tensely, over conscientiously. He had always asked too many questions, he had worried the task too severely, he had conveyed his nervousness to the men he was supposed to lead.’ Even after starting to enjoy his work as a cook, the story builds to an incident where the men come to him and ask for a tin of oil for a fish fry-up they are organising – a party to which he is not invited. Carter stands his ground, and earns some grudging respect, but then undercuts it all again after the event with his ‘unmanliness’ – the true source of his self-disgust. The whole drama of a man failing to fit in with and gain respect among other men is foreshadowed in the paradox that’s set in motion in the story’s opening lines. 3. The Historical Backdrop “Paris was blockaded, starved, in its death agony. Sparrows were becoming scarcer and scarcer on the rooftops and the sewers were being depopulated. One ate whatever one could get.As he was strolling sadly along the outer boulevard one bright January morning, his hands in his trousers pockets and his stomach empty, M. Morissot, watchmaker by trade but local militiaman for the time being, stopped short before a fellow militiaman whom he recognized as a friend. It was M Sauvage, a riverside acquaintance.”From ‘Two Friends,’ by Guy de Maupassant A protege of Flaubert and the author of the novel Bel-Ami, Maupassant wrote over 300 short stories, many of them – like this one – set during the Franco-Prussian war, and showing how innocent lives are swept up and crushed by futile, brutal conflict. This story starts with a brief paragraph of context and another telling detail: the absence of sparrows. At this point in the conflict, the Prussian army has established a blockade around Paris and is seeking to starve out its citizens. The two friends of the title were passionate fishermen in peacetime, and after a chance encounter they convince each other to go off and fish once again. As well as the hunger they feel, they are motivated by a hankering for a return to the innocent pleasures of their pre-war lives. They slip out past the French lines, to an area where they think they will be safe, but after a brief interval of bliss the Prussians detect them, with tragic consequences… The opening line describes the war situation in vivid, journalistic terms, after which we are plunged into the tale of these two innocents. In a few telling phrases, it provides context and general background for the very particular tragedy which is about to ensue. 4. The Anecdotal Approach “Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night toward the end of her fall semester. She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown when he came in and bought a large popcorn and a box of Red Vines.“That’s an… unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”From ‘Cat Person,’ by Kristen Roupenian ‘Cat Person,’ reportedly the first short story ever to go viral, tells a simple tale of a doomed romantic encounter. Margot, a student, meets an older guy, Robert, and they begin a flirtation that turns into a date that turns into a rather unsatisfactory (for her) sexual encounter. Robert starts off as rather funny and charming, but over time we see that he is needy, insensitive, possessive, and utterly unaware of what Margot is thinking or feeling. Margot regrets the whole thing but doesn’t know how to tell him; Robert, when he is let down, turns all-too-predictably toxic. In short order he goes from mooning after her to demanding who she’s slept with to calling her a ‘whore.’ This sequence of events struck a chord with many, many people because it is clearly so familiar. The story emphasises the banality of the whole progression by narrating events in a straightforwardly chronological, anecdotal style, right from the opening paragraph. This approach serves to underline the depressing banality of Robert’s misogyny while implicitly asking the question: Why should women have to accept this as normal? 5. In Media Res “And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for a party if they had ordered it. Windless, warm, the sky without a cloud. Only the blue was veiled with a haze of light gold, as it is sometimes in early summer. The gardener had been up since dawn, mowing the lawns and sweeping them, until the grass and the dark flat rosettes where the daisy plants had been seemed to shine. As for the roses, you could not help feeling they understood that roses are the only flowers that -parties; the only flowers that everybody is certain of knowing. Hundreds, yes, literally hundreds, had come out in a single night; the green bushes bowed down as though they had been visited by archangels.”From ‘The Garden Party,’ by Katherine Mansfield Literally ‘in the middle of things’, an in media res beginning is where the story drops us into the middle of the action of the narrative, so that we are instantly caught up in events. In this case, we are plunged into the excited bustle of a well-to-do family preparing a sumptuous garden party, and the story does a fantastic job of building up the anticipation and painting a picture of the affluence of the hosts. There is a marquee to put up, a band on its way, an enormous delivery of fancy flowers, fifteen kinds of sandwich, and a retinue of servants to ensure everything is ready. Beginning with ‘and’ adds to this effect, giving us to understand that garden-party fever has been going on already for days, and seeming to hark back to earlier worries about what the weather would be like on the day. But against all this blithely affluent gaiety comes the story’s turning point: news that a poor workingman living in a cottage nearby has died in a sudden accident. Laura, a daughter of the house, wonders if it appropriate to continue with the party, especially as all the noise and music and bustle will carry to the grieving widow (who also has six children, we later discover). But just as happens to the reader with the introduction, she is swept along by the occasion, and only really reconsiders the incident at the end of a successful party, when her mother suggest she take a basket of sandwiches from the party down to the widow. Laura’s reaction to this difficult task is initially ambiguous, but ultimately it seems as if again she finds a way to paint the tragedy in complacently optimistic colours, choosing to find a serenity and beauty on the dead man’s face and so blind herself to the grim reality of the tragedy and the agony of the grieving wife. 6. The Refrain “The thing about being the murdered extra is you set the plot in motion.You were a girl good at walking past cameras, background girl, corner-of-the-frame girl. Never-held-a-script girl, went-where-the-director-said girl.You’ll be found in an alley, it’s always an alley for girls like you, didn’t-quite-make-it girls, living-four-to-a-one-bedroom-apartment girls. You’ll be found in an alley, you’ll be mistaken for a broken mannequin at first, you’ll be given a nickname. Blue Violet, White Rose, something reminiscent of Elizabeth Short, that first girl like you, that most famous one. The kind of dead girl who never really dies.”From ‘Being the Murdered Extra,’ by Cathy Ulrich Cathy Ulrich’s extraordinary ‘Murdered Ladies’ flash fictions present a series of stories – there are 40 of them in her collection, Ghosts of You – which always begin with the same line: The thing about being the murdered extra/girlfriend/moll/classmate/witch/dancer [etc] is you set the plot in motion. It’s a thought-provoking line, which grows in power with every repetition. On the face of it seems strange to see these women as setting the plot in motion, when they are all victims of male violence. But we start to see that what they set in motion is actually the story that the people who survive them will appropriate from their lost lives, and blithely relate in their absence. Each woman may set her plot in motion, but in each case she is not alive to explain how everyone gets her wrong, or projects their own version of events to absolve themselves too easily. We see that this theft of each woman’s own story is another violence that is done to them, something the stories seek in some small way to redeem. As Ulrich says: ‘Every story is looking for the lost girl from the title […] I am looking for the lost in these stories. I don’t know if I will ever find them.’ 7. Setting The Rules “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. Afterwards, both the man and the metal must be purified. These are the rules and the laws; they are well made. It is forbidden to cross the great river and look upon the place that was the Place of the Gods—this is most strictly forbidden. We do not even say its name though we know its name. It is there that spirits live, and demons—it is there that there are the ashes of the Great Burning. These things are forbidden—they have been forbidden since the beginning of time.”From ‘By the Waters of Babylon,’ by Stephen Vincent Benét In any story that seeks to build a world that is not ours, there is some work to be done in establishing the reality of that world – its customs, its landscape, its people, its rules. World-building stories can sometimes fall down when they indulge in too much of an expository info dump, as the accumulation of background detail can quickly dent narrative momentum. What’s so clever about the start of this story is that the rules are themselves the engine of the plot. We pan cinematically across the edges of the story’s territory, and understand the legends and forbidden areas of this world. But the quest of the narrator – who is indeed the son of a priest – will take him east, into the forbidden Place of the Gods (about which, of course, we are already very curious). At the outset of the story we do not the time in which the story is set, what kind of being he is, or where he lives. But all these things will be revealed as the narrator’s journey through a post-apocalyptic, post-technological world takes him to places that gradually start to seem very familiar… 8. Beginning With The Inciting Incident “The day my son Laurie started kindergarten he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs and began wearing blue jeans with a belt; I watched him go off the first morning with the older girl next door, seeing clearly that an era of my life was ended, my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a longtrousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye to me.”From ‘Charles,’ by Shirley Jackson Screenwriting guru Robert Mckee describes the inciting incident as a moment that ‘radically upsets the balance of forces in your protagonist’s life’. It’s the moment when our main character is plunged out of their normal routine and a challenge or quest appears which will shape their journey, and with it the rest of the story. It’s common to locate this point near the start of the story after some introductory ‘normality,’ so that we can understand how the main character’s life is to be disrupted.But here the inciting incident is placed by mystery and horror writer Shirley Jackson – best known for The Haunting of Hill House – at the very start of the story. Everything that happens flows from Laurie starting kindergarten. Laurie gets cheekier and less innocent with each passing day, as he brings home increasingly hair-raising tales of an even naughtier boy called Charles. The whole story deals with the comic escalation of Charles’ behaviour, as reader and narrator alike become ever more curious to meet the errant child and speculate on what his parents are like. I won’t spoil the ending, except to say that there is perhaps a clue in the mother’s lament in the opening paragraph about the end of an era of innocence… 9. The Thought Experiment “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.”From ‘The Rememberer,’ by Aimee Bender Aimee Bender’s story begins by asking the reader to imagine something extraordinarily counterfactual: that her lover is regressing through millennia, going through the evolutionary process so fast – a million years a day, in reverse – that we can actually track his progress by the day. One day he is a baboon, another a salamander; eventually he is no longer even visible to the naked eye. As with so many of Bendee’s stories the result is mournful, strange, poetic and profound. She takes a surreal thought like this and turns into a powerful meditation on memory, the difference between evolution and maturity, speciesism and loss. And it all begins with that challenging idea which confronts us in the very first sentence. 10. THE CONUNDRUM “1-0. Who would expect the Embassy of Cambodia? Nobody. Nobody could have expected it, or be expecting it. It’s a surprise, to us all. The Embassy of Cambodia!Next door to the embassy is a health center. On the other side, a row of private residences, most of them belonging to wealthy Arabs (or so we, the people of Willesden, contend). They have Corinthian pillars on either side of their front doors, and—it’s widely believed—swimming pools out back. The embassy, by contrast, is not very grand. It is only a four- or five-bedroom North London suburban villa, built at some point in the thirties, surrounded by a red brick wall, about eight feet high. And back and forth, cresting this wall horizontally, flies a shuttlecock. They are playing badminton in the Embassy of Cambodia. Pock, smash. Pock, smash.”From ‘The Embassy of Cambodia,’ by Zadie Smith This subtle and absorbing story from Zadie Smith opens with a mystery: an embassy, set in a leafy north London suburb rather than a grand central district of the city, and a wall, behind which a mysterious game of badminton is being played. The rest of the story picks at this mystery and uses the imagined score in the ongoing game-playing as a backdrop to the unfolding tale of Fatou, a domestic servant to the affluent Derawals, who has escaped servitude and dodged abuse in Africa only to face privations and hardships in London. Each mini-chapter of the story is headed with a score from the badminton match – from 1-0 up to 21-0. This mechanism provides a rhythmic framework to the tale. We may never learn who actually holds the rackets, but we see that the back-and-forth motion behind the wall of an embassy – an institution with the power to grant deny or people access to whole a country – is a fitting counterpoint to the enforced travels of impoverished migrants, and to the desperate movements of Fatou’s hopes and fears in a world where she has little agency or resources, and only one friend. Now you’ve seen how these authors have done it, it’s time to get stuck into actually putting pen to paper – or fingertips to keyboard – and start writing your short story. For more from Dan, check out his top 10 steps for writing short stories (with even more examples!). 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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