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Writing Under a Pen Name – Pros and Cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

To access this post, you must purchase Ultimate Novel Writing Course Single Instalment 2020, Ultimate Novel Writing Course Monthly Instalments (UK), Ultimate Novel Writing Course Monthly Instalments (US), Ultimate Novel Writing Course (UK) or Ultimate Novel Writing Course (US).
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NaNoWriMo: How To Write A Novel In 30 Days

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

Your first job as a storyteller is a simple one, and a crucial one. You have to get your passengers into your train – your readers into your story. Only then can you hope to transport them. And that crucial first step doesn’t have much to do with characters or story or anything else. What matters first is this: your fictional world has to seem real. It has to grip the reader as intensely as real life – more intensely, even. Writing descriptions that seem vivid, with the use of evocative language, is therefore essential. The buildings, cities, places, rooms, trees, weather of your fictional world have to be convincing there. They have to have an emphatic, solid, believable presence. A big ask, right? But it gets harder than that. Because at the same time, people don’t want huge wodges of descriptive writing. They want to engage with characters and story, because that’s the reason they picked up your book in the first place. So your challenge becomes convincing readers that your world is real . . . but using only the lightest of touches to achieve that goal. Not so easy, huh? Start Early Set the scene early on – then nudge. It may sound obvious but plenty of writers launch out into a scene without giving us any descriptive material to place and anchor the action. Sure, a page or so into the scene, they may start to add details to it – but by that point it’s too late. They’ve already lost the reader. If the scene feels placeless at the start – like actors speaking in some blank, white room – you won’t be able to wrestle that sense of place back later. So start early. That means telling the reader where they are in a paragraph (or so), close to the start of any new scene. That early paragraph needs to have enough detail that if you are creating a coffee shop, for example, it doesn’t just feel like A Generic Coffee Shop. It should feel like its own thing. One you could actually walk into. Something with its own mood and colour. One vivid descriptive detail will do more work for you than three worthy but colourless sentences. And once, early in your scene, you’ve created your location, don’t forget about it. Just nudge a little as you proceed. So you could have your characters talking – then they’re interrupted by a waitress. Then they talk (or argue, or fight, or kiss) some more, and then you drop in some other detail which reminds the reader, “Yep, here we still are, in this coffee shop.” That’s a simple technique, bit it works every time. One paragraph early on, then nudge, nudge, nudge. As the roughest of rough guides, those nudges need to happen at least once a page – so about every 300 words. If it’s natural to do so more often, that’s totally fine. Be Specific Details matter! They build a sense of place like nothing else. Gabriel García Márquez, opening One Hundred Years of Solitude, introduces his village like this: Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. Boom! We’re there. In his world. In his village. Already excited to see what lies ahead. And yes, he’s started early (Chapter 1, Page 1, Line 1). But it’s more than that, isn’t it? He could have written something like this: Macondo was a village of about twenty houses, built on a riverbank. I hope it’s obvious that that sentence hardly transports us anywhere. It’s too bland. Too unfocused. Too generic. There are literally thousands of villages in the world which would fit that description. In short, what makes Marquez’s description so vivid is its use of telling detail. They’re not just houses, they’re adobe houses. The river doesn’t just flow over stones, its flows over polished stones that are white and enormous, like (wow!) prehistoric eggs. The sentence works so well because Marquez has: Created something totally non-genericVia the use of highly specific detail, andUses surprising / exotic language to make those details blaze in our imagination. That basic template is one you can use again and again. It never stales. It lies at the heart of all good descriptive writing. So here, for example, is a more ‘boring’ space . . . but still one redolent with vividness and atmosphere thanks to the powerful use of atmospheric specificity. In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred introduces her room with details that not only grab us but hint at something dark: A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath and in the centre of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There must have been a chandelier once. They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to. Those clipped words transport us straight to Offred’s enclosed, and terrifying, space. We’re also told just enough to give us an image of that place, enough to heighten tension, enough to tease curiosity. This is just a description of a room – but we already feel powerfully impelled to read on. Be Selective With Your Descriptive Details Be selective – don’t overwhelm. It might be tempting to share every detail with us on surroundings. Don’t. Even with a setting like Hogwarts – a place readers really do want to know all the hidden details of – J.K. Rowling doesn’t share how many revolving staircases it has, how many treasures in the Room of Requirement, how many trees in the Forbidden Forest. That’s not the point. (And it would write off a little of Hogwarts’ magic and mystery.) If you’re describing a bar, don’t write: The bar was approximately twenty-eight feet long, by perhaps half of that wide. A long mahogany bar took up about one quarter of the floor space, while eight tables each with 4 wooden chairs occupied the remaining area. There were a number of tall bar stools arranged to accommodate any drinker who didn’t want to be seated at one of the tables. The ceiling height was pleasantly commodious. That’s accurate, yes. It’s informative, yes. But it’s bland as heck. The reader doesn’t want information. They want atmosphere. They want vivid language. They want mood. Here’s an alternative way to describe a bar – the Korova Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange. This description delivers a sense of intimacy and darkness in a few words: The mesto [place] was near empty … it looked strange, too, having been painted with all red mooing cows … I took the large moloko plus to one of the little cubies that were all round … there being like curtains to shut them off from the main mesto, and there I sat down in the plushy chair and sipped and sipped We’re told what we need to know, thrown into that murky Korova atmosphere and Burgess moves the action on. All we really have in terms of detail are those mooing red cows, some cubies (curtain booths?), and a plushy chair. There’s lots more author Anthony Burgess could tell us about that place. But he doesn’t. He gives us the right details, not all the details. And if that’s not enough for you, then try reading this. Write For All The Senses You have a nose? So use it. Visuals are important, but don’t neglect the other senses. Offering a full range of sensory information will enhance your descriptive writing. Herman Melville, say, describes to us the chowder for the ship’s crew in Moby Dick: ‘small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes.’ Such descriptions are deft, specific, and brilliantly atmospheric. Where else but on board a nineteenth century American whaler would you get such a meal? By picking out those details, Melville makes his setting feel vibrantly alive. Here’s another example. Joanne Harris’ opening of Chocolat plays to readers’ senses, as we’re immersed straightaway in the world of her book through scent, sound and sight: We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausage and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hotplate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters. These non-visual references matter so much because sight alone can feel a little distant, a little empty. By forcing the reader’s taste buds to image Melville’s clams or Harris’s pancakes – or making the reader feel that warm February wind, the confetti ‘sleeting’ down collars – it’s almost as though the writers are hauling the readers’ entire body into their scenes. That’s good stuff: do likewise. (And one easy test: take one of your scenes and highlight anything that references a non-visual sense. If you find some good references, then great: you’re doing fine. If not, your highlighter pen remains unused, you probably want to edit that scene!) Get Place And Action Working Together That’s where the magic happens! Use the atmospheric properties of a place to add to other properties of the scene. That doesn’t mean you should always play things the obvious way: no need for cliché;. You can have declarations of love happen in idyllic meadows, as in Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, but why not at a bus stop in the rain? Shouted over the barriers at a train station? Your character also brings one kind of mood to the scene, and the action that unfolds will bring other sensations. Lynda La Plante’s crime novel Above Suspicion makes a home setting frightening after it becomes obvious a stranger has been in protagonist DS Anna Travis’ flat, and she’s just been assigned to help solve her first murder case. So the place is influenced by action, once Anna notices: Reaching for the bedside lamp, she stopped and withdrew her hand. The photograph of her father had been turned out to face the room. She touched it every night before she went to sleep. It was always facing towards her, towards the bed, not away from it. … In the darkness, what had felt safe before now felt frightening: the way the dressing-table mirror reflected the street-light through the curtains and the sight of the wardrobe door left slightly ajar. Here a comfy, nondescript flat becomes a frightening place, just because of what else is going on. Go for unfamiliar angles that add drama and excitement to your work. Descriptions As Active Characters You know the way that a place can turn on you? So (for example) a place that seems safe can suddenly reveal some other side, seem menacing, then almost try to harm the character. That’s an incredibly powerful way to build descriptive writing into your text – because it feels mobile, alive and with a flicker of risk. You can use plotting techniques to help structure the way a reader interacts with a place: starting with a sense of the status quo, then some inciting incident that shifts that early stability, and so on. The inciting incident can be tiny – discovering that a photo frame has been moved, for example. Having your characters voice their perceptions of a place in dialogue also adds to its dramatic impact, because now the reader sees place both through the eyes of a narrator and through the eyes of the characters themselves. Good, huh? Do you need more help?Did you know we have an entire video course on How To Write? That course has had awesome client reviews, but it’s kinda expensive to buy . . . so don’t buy it! We’ve made that course available, in full, to members of Jericho Writers. Our members don’t just get that course, they also get: An incredible course on Getting PublishedA brilliant course on Self-PublishingA ton of filmed masterclassesAccess to AgentMatch, the world’s best literary agent search toolA brilliant and supportive writers communityChances to pitch your work in front of literary agents, live online every monthAnd more We’ve made the offer as rich as we know how to – and made it incredibly affordable too. You can find out more about our club here. Remember: we were founded by writers for writers – and we created this club for you. Do find out more . . . and we’d absolutely love it if you chose to join us. Use Unfamiliar Locations And smart research ALWAYS helps. Using unfamiliar settings adds real mood and atmosphere. Stephenie Meyer, when writing Twilight, decided she needed a rainy place near a forest to fit key plot elements. Like protagonist Bella, she was raised in Arizona, but explained the process of setting Twilight in an unfamiliar setting on her blog: For my setting, I knew I needed someplace ridiculously rainy. I turned to Google, as I do for all my research needs, and looked for the place with the most rainfall in the U.S. This turned out to be the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest. … In researching Forks, I discovered the La Push Reservation, home to the Quileute Tribe. The Quileute story is fascinating, and a few fictional members of the tribe quickly became intrinsic to my story. As her success has shown, it’s possible to write successfully about a place you don’t know, but you must make it your business to know as much as you can about it. (Or if you’re writing a fantasy or sci-fi novel, plan your world down to its most intricate details.) And to be clear: you’re doing the research, not because you want that research to limit you. (Oh, I can’t write that, because Wikipedia tells me that the river isn’t as long / the forest isn’t as thick / or whatever else.) On the contrary: You are doing the research, because that research may inspire and stimulate a set of ideas you might not have ecountered otherwise. The key thing is to do your research to nail specifics, especially if they are unfamiliar, foreign, exotic. Just read how Tokyo is described in Ryu Murakami’s thriller In the Miso Soup: It was still early in the evening when we emerged onto a street in Tsukiji, near the fish market. … Wooden bait-and-tackle shops with disintegrating roofs and broken signs stood next to shiny new convenience stores, and futuristic highrise apartment complexes rose skyward on either side of narrow, retro streets lined with wholesalers of dried fish. There’s authenticity, grit to this description of Tokyo, as opposed to using ‘stock’ descriptions that could apply to many modern cities. Note this same thing with foods: in Japan, your protagonist could well be eating miso soup, as per Ryu Murakami. Or say if your story was set in Hong Kong, you might write in a dai pai dong (a sort of Chinese street kitchen), something very specific to that city if you’re describing a street there. Alternatively, if you are setting something in the past, get your sense of place right by doing your research right, too. In historical novel Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, set in Holland in 1664, maid Griet narrates how artist Johannes Vermeer prepares her for her secret portrait, musing, to her horror, that ‘virtuous women did not open their mouths in paintings’. That last is just a tiny detail, but Griet’s tears show us how mortified she is. Modern readers won’t (necessarily) think about seventeenth-century connotations like this, so if you’re writing a scene set in a very different era or culture to what you know, research so you’re creating a true sense of place. Use Place To Create Foreshadowing A brilliant technique – we love it! Descriptions of place are never neutral. Good writers will, in overt or gently subtle ways, introduce a place-as-character. If that character is dangerous, for example, then simply describing a place adds a layer of foreboding, foreshadowing, to the entire book. Just read how J.R.R. Tolkien describes the Morannon in The Two Towers: ‘high mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained … like an obscene graveyard.’ It’s obvious from this description trouble lies ahead for Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee. But even if you’re not writing this sort of fantasy, character psychology and plot (as we saw above) can also render seemingly harmless places suspect, too. A boring apartment in Above Suspicion becomes scary when it seems someone’s been inside. In the same sense, we thrill to the sense of a place with excitement and promise, too, like when Harry makes his first trip to Diagon Alley (in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) to shop for Hogwarts equipment with Hagrid. There were shops selling robes, shops selling telescopes and strange silver instruments Harry had never seen before, windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon. … They bought Harry’s school books in a shop called Flourish and Blotts where the shelves were stacked to the ceiling with books as large as paving stones bound in leather; books the size of postage stamps in covers of silk. Just weave place and action together like this to create atmosphere, excitement, tension, foreboding. Think About Your Words – Nouns And Adjectives Specific is good. Unexpected is great! One final thought. When you’ve written a piece, go back and check nouns. A bad description will typically use boring nouns (or things) in settings, i.e. a table, chair, window, floor, bar, stool, etc. If you try to fluff up that by throwing in adjectives (i.e. a grimy table, gleaming window, wooden floor), the chances are you’ll either have (i) made the description even more boring, or (ii) made it odd. Of course, this works for that first passage we looked over from Margaret Atwood. We sense Offred counting the few things she has in the little room she calls hers, the window and chair, etc., in terse phrasing. We sense her tension, her dissociation, and we feel trapped with her. All the same, play with nouns, with taking your readers to new surroundings. Give them a Moloko. Play with surroundings, how you can make them different, how you can render the ordinary extraordinary. With the right nouns in place, you’ll need fewer adjectives to jazz things up – and when you do use them, they’ll feel right, not over the top. And if you want more on writing techniques, then check out this article on verbs – it’s a must read. Happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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How To Start Writing A Novel: 10 Things To Do Right Away

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

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

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

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

If characters form the heart of a novel, the plot its musculoskeletal system, then the theme is a book’s soul. These might be personal or social issues, like emotional heartbreak or betrayal, or racial hatred or injustice, which sound all the way through the novel. What Is A Theme? These themes are not likely to be prominent. Lectures are to be avoided: these are no good. But if a book reverberates in the memory long after it’s been put down, rather like the way a trumpet note sustains itself after the instrument has left the lips, then that’s because of the book’s theme. A book with a theme is a book with soul. Write A Memorable Book It’s that easy. Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? The appalling shock of racial prejudice in the old American South, the burning sense of justice, the desire to put things right. That’s why the book sold. That’s why readers still remember it today, even if it was a decade or three since they read it. Perhaps you’ve read Pride & Prejudice. Its plot and lead characters, Lizzy and Darcy, are vivid, memorable, but what about the title? Does that just possibly suggest to you that Jane Austen had a certain theme in mind when she wrote it? (Its first working title, also, was First Impressions.) You can write a bestseller without having a theme, but you can’t write a good book without one. You certainly can’t write a book that lasts. How To Find The Theme Of Your Book You can’t just plug a theme into a book. Other things can be planned, crafted and worked at. But if you approach your theme front ways on, it’ll sound crass and didactic, so what do you do? Well, the most important thing is to write well. If your stories, characters and prose are superbly knitted together, you’ll start to see themes forming like a mist rising from a field at dusk. It just happens. (That may sound rather fluid, we know, though it’s true for all that.) Secondly, it’s fine to have some ideas in mind as you write. They should stay towards the back of your mind, though. Stories must be told through character and action, and it’s these things which should occupy your conscious attention. But if those things are at the back of your mind, then they’ll wriggle their way into your work. Trust us on this, too, that you’ll often enough be surprised by themes. Things will pop up in your work that you never intended to put there. Welcome all such strangers. Great authors always do. Last, as you revise your text, you can shape, nudge, tweak things, so that those themes become a little more prominent. Subtlety is the hallmark. And they don’t have to know that they’re reading a book with soul, intelligence, etc. You needn’t lecture or tell anyone anything. If the soul is there, the reader will find it, whether they know it or not.
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How to write a short story in 10 steps – with examples

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

By Allie Spencer Hi! I’m Allie Spencer and will be teaching at this year’s Festival of Writing along with many other fantastic writers, agents and publishers. As tutors, our aim is not just to get you thinking about your writing but thinking differently. Sometimes it’s that extra piece of information or a fresh approach that can make all the difference. This year, one of the things I will be talking about is story and discourse and how you can harness it to see your work in a completely new way. One of the concepts often mentioned in creative writing tutorials is that of ‘showing not telling’. For those of you who have yet to encounter it, ‘show not tell’ means that instead of an author passing information on directly to the reader (‘John felt angry’), that information is instead conveyed indirectly (‘John could not speak; the blood pounded in his head and he felt his fists clench’). This does not mean that one should never ‘tell’ – there are times when that is essential – but it moves the emphasis from what happens in a text, to how the reader can best experience and engage with what is happening. Thinking in terms of story and discourse takes this one step further. It allows an author to separate out action from meaning and therefore focus on creating multi-layered narratives rich in interest and nuance. To begin with, we need to be clear about the terminology. ‘Story’ is the stuff that happens: it is the pure events, the actions, the ‘she got off her chair and walked to the other side of the room’ part. To look back at our show/tell example: ‘he shouted’ is story; ‘he was angry’ is not. However, the story often forms only a small part of the text. The rest is made up of ‘discourses’: the unspoken conversations we as authors have with our readers in order to create atmosphere, implicitly pass on information or suggest ideas that add to the understanding of the ‘story’. Sometimes the ‘story’ and the ‘discourse’ will be one and the same (for example, when an action or event has symbolic or ironic overtones) but, for the most part, they exist independently of one another. So, why should we as writers be particularly interested in discourse?  Isn’t it the same as creating atmosphere or description? Well, not exactly. One of the reasons why we need to be aware of it is because, as authors, our job is to create believable imaginary worlds. Now, our lived experience of the world is not purely a series of consciously-perceived events but instead a mishmash of thoughts, perceptions, emotions, connections, ideas and half-realisations. Sometimes these are entirely subconscious. For example, researchers at the University of Colorado have found that people holding a hot drink, even for a few seconds, judge others around them to have ‘warmer’ personalities than when the same person holds a cup containing an iced liquid. These half-conscious or subconscious thoughts are the real-life equivalents of discourses. By being aware of the power of discourses and how they operate within our writing, we can help make our imagined worlds, and our characters’ reactions to them, as real as possible for our readers. To explore this further, I’d like you to watch the following clip on YouTube. Even though this is a screenplay rather than a piece of prose, the basic divide between story and discourse remains the same. It’s the closing scenes from the pilot episode of ‘Endeavour’, the series about the young Morse set in the1960s: Watch Clip Here A little background for those who do not know either the ‘Endeavour’ series or the older ‘Inspector Morse’ programme: the young detective in this clip (Endeavour Morse) does not leave Oxford or resume his degree, as the dialogue suggests. Instead, he stays in the city and progresses up the police ranks until he becomes an inspector. Watch the clip through a couple of times, just to get an idea of what is happening. Then play it again and try to separate out the ‘story’ (action; factual information given to the viewer through dialogue; physical setting etc.) from ‘discourse’ (atmosphere; allusions; emotion; suggestions). Remember that sometimes the ‘story’ will also be ‘discourse’ – be aware of this and try to spot it when it happens. What did you notice? One thing which quickly becomes apparent is the lack of actual ‘story’: a young man walks down some stairs carrying two suitcases and exits a house; he is met by another man (DI Fred Thursday, although this is not mentioned in the clip) standing next to a black Jaguar car, who asks him what time his train is. The older man then tells the younger not to worry about a mistake he has made. The younger man asks if he can drive and they make their way through city streets in the car. They have a conversation about the young man’s future and the older man offers to mentor him. The younger man looks in the rear-view mirror and the face of a third, much older, man appears there. Some music plays. The younger man continues to look in the mirror while the traffic lights change to green. To get his attention, the older man says his surname (‘Morse’), followed by his first name (‘Endeavour’). They drive away and the screen fades to black. It is left to the discourses to transform this sequence of events into a powerful and evocative piece of drama. Right at the start of the clip we are made aware of the emptiness of the house as Endeavour leaves: the fact that no one is there to say farewell indicates the loneliness of the young man’s situation. The ticking clock emphasises the silence in the house and also suggests the theme of passing time which will be key to our understanding of the next few scenes. The subsequent interactions between the two men are laden with symbolism: Endeavour asking to drive and receiving the keys from Thursday suggests he is taking control of his own destiny, for example. Also apparent is the indication that DI Thursday is, in many respects, the man young Endeavour will eventually become: he will reach the same rank in the police force and drive the same make and model of car. The most powerful example of discourse, though, happens at the end, when the face of Morse as a much older man appears in the rear-view mirror: Endeavour is, quite literally, looking at his future. In fact, he appears to see it too because he continues to stare at the mirror and doesn’t pull away when the lights change – the camera shot used to show the green light is from Thursday’s viewpoint, not Endeavour’s. The use of the iconic ‘Inspector Morse’ theme tune at this moment further underlines the connection that has been made between Endeavour’s present and his future: we, the audience, know which road he will take and we have already seen his destination. Of course, there are many other discourses at work in this clip and you are welcome to try and find as many as possible; it is a great example of how writers can use suggestion, prefiguring, metaphor and irony to enrich and add layers of meaning to a narrative. Good writing (whether prose, screenplay or poetry) should always work on more than one level. Being aware of story, discourse and the difference between them will help you to look objectively at your own writing and, if you need to, add in that little bit extra. Your readers will love you for it! Allie has a jam-packed weekend at the Festival of Writing 2018. You can catch her on Friday where she will be hosting a mini-course on How to Write a novel in 3 Hours, her Session 2 workshop on Four Act Structure or her Sunday workshop ‘Telling Tales – What Makes a Story Come Alive’ in session 6. We know you won’t want to miss her amazing tips and tricks for writing bestselling novels! Get your tickets to the Festival of Writing 2018 here. We’ll see you there! <img src="https://images.jerichowriters.com/JUvjrMo-1kUGKzNl/w:auto/h:auto/q:75/
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How to fix your plot problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing the key plot archetypes can help you get going, so we’re looking at the prospective seven basic plots that underpin all fiction. Whilst your story mightn’t conform consciously to a plot structure, such structures do exist, and knowing them could help keep you inspired and on track. What Are The Seven Basic Plots? According to Christopher Booker, there are seven main plotlines, as written in The Seven Basic Plots. If you’re still planning things, why not choose one to place your ideas in so far? (If you’re at a very early stage in planning, read up on how to have story ideas. Remember, you can mess around a little, too. No story will ever fit only one plotline, there may just be one obvious one. Take subplots, plots within plots, to layer your story and give it complexity and meaning.) Here are the seven basic plots and how to make each one work for you. Overcoming The Monster Your protagonist must battle a monster (or a monstrous force) that threatens, probably, more than just your protagonist’s survival in scope and scale. Christopher Booker offers the classic examples of The Epic of Gilgamesh or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stephen King’s It falls under this plotline, too, but of course monsters needn’t always be literal. They can be human. They can be ideological. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is (foremost) about the Pevensie children needing to overthrow the White Witch and bring peace to Narnia with Aslan’s help. The Help by Kathryn Stockett is about Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny battling racial prejudice (embodied in housewife Hilly Holbrook) in Mississippi during the 1960s. To make your ‘monster’ work, you’ll need this threat to chill us. You need a genuinely existential battle of survival to make things work. You’ll also want the monster to represent something beyond just claws and fangs. It needs to be vengeance, or racial intolerance, or something else that really matters. Voyage And Return Born with Odysseus and The Odyssey (battling monstrosities like Circe, Scylla and Charybdis to journey safe home to wife Penelope) in Greek myth, your protagonist here must journey from home, returning with new strength and experience from challenges faced. Think of Bilbo Baggins’ journey out of the Shire in The Hobbit. First come trolls, and after (not before) comes the dragon. The key is in your rising action, the threats getting worse as Bilbo carries on, growing in courage. Your voyage should be getting more dangerous all the time, before your protagonist can safely make a ‘turnabout’ and return (not without transfiguration, since Bilbo comes home braver, stronger). The fact that Bilbo never turns back before the essential point and challenge of the quest is faced is also important. Giving your protagonist chances to turn back reflects growth and heroism when they soldier on, anyway. To make this plot work, your protagonist is going to be leaving one world, encountering another, ending up transfigured – so raise the stakes. Give plenty of options to turn back (which they won’t take, because something other than themselves is at risk, too). Rags To Riches The word ‘Cinderella’ sums up this plotline, but the ‘riches’ in this phrasing is relative, and needn’t be literal. The point is that your protagonist should grow in character, strength and understanding, helping them achieve their desire, or better, and be empowered. Your protagonist should ascend, with newfound strength, from a low point to new heights, sometimes involving romance, and sometimes not. A good example of ‘not’ would be Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah, where a happy ending simply means being able to attend college. Other examples include Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, or Aladdin and His Enchanted Lamp from The Thousand and One Nights. You’ll make this plot work by empowering your protagonist in various ways. Cinderella, in her fairy tale, makes it out of rags to riches but we can assume she won’t still be scrubbing floors at the palace. She’s valued for herself in her new home and free to live on her own terms, so she’s become empowered (inside and out). This is your key to unlocking plot material. The Quest In this narrative, your protagonist sets out to find someone, or to find an object, a proverbial ‘buried treasure’. Famous examples include the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, or (broadly) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Philip Pullman’s protagonist Lyra in Northern Lights (or, in the US, The Golden Compass) for instance, faces bears, witches and kidnappers to reach her father, before she carries on into another world. Lyra faces worse as the challenges mount up, so she matures and changes with learning and strength. Ultimately, Lyra makes her costliest sacrifice at the close of her (multiple) quests in His Dark Materials, and so she becomes heroic. We are given final proof of her courage and selflessness as her adventuring concludes in The Amber Spyglass. You’ll also need to raise stakes, making things harder and harder, before a final ‘good’ deed from your protagonist grants them victory. Comedy In comic narrative, the gist is to create a whirl of misunderstandings for your protagonist that becomes more fraught with time. All will ‘miraculously transformed’ near the end, as your action moves happily from dark to light. Classic examples include any of Jane Austen’s novels, The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse, Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding, or Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Make your comic plot work by continuing to muddle events, feelings and perceptions as we go, right up to the finish line. Bridget Jones remains confused about Mark Darcy in most of the novel (firstly misjudging Mark, then Daniel, then misjudging how both feel about her) before all is happily resolved. Tragedy This is the inverse of ‘Comedy’, moving from light to dark. Your protagonist here has an irredeemable flaw or makes an irredeemable mistake, causing their undoing and ‘fall’. Your protagonist could be reprehensible, like Humbert Humbert from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, or like the example Christopher Booker gives us, Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Shakespearean tragedies give a rich choice of protagonists whose flaws lead them to doom, such as Othello and his jealousy, or Lear and his arrogance. Other tragic protagonists may be more questionable, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. An example of an innocent protagonist falling to tragedy would be Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Anna’s ‘mistake’ being to fall in love and leave her husband for a man who’ll betray her. You’ll make a tragic plot work by thinking deeply about all the ‘if onlys’ of your protagonist’s situation. Think how we mull over our own mistakes, wishing we’d seen things coming. If only Othello had trusted Desdemona, or if only Gatsby hadn’t fallen for Daisy. How could all have been avoided? How differently could things have worked out? Give your poor protagonist routes out (which they’ll not take, e.g. Jay Gatsby fails to accept Nick’s warning that the past can’t be repeated, since Gatsby can’t let Daisy go), then seal off exit options to amplify emotion in your tragic plot. Rebirth ‘Rebirth’ is poised to be like ‘Tragedy’ but with a hopeful outcome. Your protagonist needs a redemptive arc to their journey. This is sometimes combined with a hero romantically redeemed by a heroine, or vice versa. Classics examples of this trope are fairy tales like Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast or Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and retellings based on these tales, such as Beauty by Robin McKinley or Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Other examples are The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Emma by Jane Austen (also a ‘Comedy’ tale), or The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Make a plot like this work by making a happy outcome dependent on nothing but the ‘Rebirth’ component alone. Identify what this is, because your protagonist’s success and happy ending will hinge on it. In a tale like Beauty and the Beast, for instance, love can’t be mutual until Bête lets Belle go free. Emma Woodhouse needs to reflect and change before she can marry someone as good as Mr Knightley. Amir risks his life returning to Kabul, but can’t be free of his past guilt in The Kite Runner until he tries to help his best friend’s son. The question, after all this, is which general plotline feels authentic for where you’d most like to take your story? Choose More Than One Plot And Add Subplots So, we\'ve discussed the seven basic plot examples, but sometimes more than one plot outline will fit your story material. In A Game of Thrones, there is a tragic narrative for one protagonist, Eddard or Ned Stark, and the ‘fault’ that kills Ned is his integrity in a dark world. However, A Game of Thrones uses various plot archetypes to tell multiple protagonists’ stories over a sprawling scale. It isn’t only a tragic plot. J.K. Rowling’s stories don’t fit neatly into a single plot idea, either, since Harry Potter’s overarching tale checks several of these boxes. Harry’s story could be defined as a ‘Rags to riches’ tale, because he goes from an abusive boyhood living under his aunt’s staircase to freedom, to a successful career and happiness with his wife and children at the series’ close. There’s also a ‘Voyage and return’ element to each book, as Harry attends Hogwarts every year, only to return to his aunt and uncle every summer (though in the seventh, Harry leaves Privet Drive for the last time). It’s also an ‘Overcoming the monster’ story, because the spectre of Voldemort haunts Harry throughout the series, as do other monstrous beings like the Basilisk or Dementors, or monstrous characters like Voldemort’s supporters (led by Bellatrix Lestrange), Professor Umbridge, and others. It’s also a ‘Quest’ because Harry’s ‘hunts’ through the series culminate, in the seventh book, with his seeking Horcruxes and Hallows. The existential question of which is right to seek becomes a determinant of Harry’s success, and overall character development. There are strong comic elements, strong tragic elements, and there are strong elements of ‘Rebirth’, too. In sum, stories often can’t be boxed and they shouldn’t be. These plotlines are threadbare for a reason, since they’re foremost guides, and exist to help you build upon them. 3 Next Steps To Penning Your Plot Too little plot can be as tedious as no structure at all, so plan with care and remember plotting can be your aide. Plot should serve as a creative constraint, existing to help you produce your best work. A few steps on what you can do from here with the seven basic plots: Gather your story material. Review characters, the things you want to happen, and pick a plot for your novel.Map your key plot events. Adapt them to whichever plot you chose. If it’s a quest, map out testing moments where your protagonist can or should turn back – or, if it’s tragic, map out moments your tragic protagonist could have avoided what they’re heading for, and so on.Link these moments together and create your resolution to the action. All this will create a core meaning in your narrative (before you add subplots for complexity). After this, you’ll be needing a plot mountain, too, for adding the fun bits. Story structures are always there to help, not hinder you. Happy writing!
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15 Common Novel Writing Mistakes (Beginner Writers Beware!)

If you’re a beginner writer, then you have to read this. We tell you what the most common mistakes are – how bad they are – and how to fix ’em! We see a lot of novels here, many hundreds each year. And our writers are an admirable, successful bunch. We’ve had years of experiences, lots of time spent understanding what agents wants and what they really, really don’t. It all adds up to a pretty good idea of the most common novel writing mistakes made by newer writers as they set out to write their first novel. Oh, and we’re going to talk a lot about mistakes in this post – but please don’t think we have anything other than total respect for new writers. I’m Harry Bingham, and I am now a successful author with a ton of novels and other books behind me. I’ve been commercially successful and the mistakes that we’re going to talk about here? Well, luckily for me, I don’t make them any more. But I did. My first novel? Not too bad, actually, by first novel standards. But I still deleted the first 60,000 words of the first draft, because those words just weren’t good enough. My second novel? A total, utter, ocean-going, gold-plated, forty-eight carat disaster of a book. That one made most of the mistakes we’re going to talk about here . . . and was so bad, I deleted it. So my second published novel is really the third novel that I actually sat down and wrote. No exaggeration. It was that bad. Anyhow. That’s my confession out of the way. And, like I say, we take our hats off and say, ‘Nice writing, ma’am. Good on you, sir.’ to anyone at all who has the guts to write and complete a novel. But you want to know which mistakes our editorial team sees most frequently? They’re the ones we gonna talk about right now. What follows is a checklist of which mistakes are most often made and, more importantly, what to do about them. To make it more interesting, we’ve taken a stab at guesstimating how many manuscripts commit these errors, giving them a howler rating according to how hard they are to fix. So draw a deep breath, and take courage.As Neil Gaiman said, ‘if you’re making mistakes,it means you’re out there doing something’. We like that. 1. A Terrible Concept Some concepts just don’t work. An ‘educational’ novel for Young Adults with reams of explanation about climate science stuffed into a creaky plot. A book for adults that features the life history of the author’s parrot. A sad story about a woman’s not-very-terrible mid-life crisis that ends with her deciding to work part-time and take up baking. None of these books stand a chance of interesting an agent. (Well, okay, if they were handled by an out-and-out genius, perhaps, but almost no one is.) The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 1-3% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): ***** Comment:You can’t fix this error. You must start again. Get help on your elevator pitch, or just firkle out some new and better ideas. 2. A Book That Doesn’t Ramp It Up Enough Surprisingly, this is something we see a lot. Thrillers that don’t quite thrill. Comedies that don’t really make you laugh. Romances that aren’t all that poignant or stimulating. Literary fiction which doesn’t really dazzle. And you can’t be so-so about these things. If agents and editors are faced with a choice, and yours isn’t the more thrilling thriller, which do you think they’ll pick? Short message: Ramp it up. THE STATS OF DOOM How many manuscripts make this mistake? 5-20% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): **** Comment:You can fix it in theory, and with a lot of work, but sometimes it’s better just to pick a better idea – say if your story isn’t exciting you enough to make it exciting for others. 3. A Manuscript That’s Written For A Different Era Agatha Christie, Mark Billingham, Stuart MacBride, Peter Robinson … these are big selling authors, so if you write like them, you’ll get sales like them, right? Well, no. Those guys wrote for the market as it was when they got started. They dominate that market – both subject-wise and era-wise. Unless you know your era very well, as well as do something distinctively new, there is no reason why agents, editors or readers should favour your book. It’s the same with books trying to reprise the 1980s comedies of Tom Sharpe. Or YA authors rewriting Stephenie Meyer, not noticing there’s been quite a lot of vampire-lit since Twilight. Just don’t do it. Unless you’re writing historical fiction, it’s as well to write for the world as it is now. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 3-5% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): **** Comment:This error is all but unfixable in truth, unless you’ve written exceptionally well. Sorry! 4. A Manuscript With No Discernible Usp Your USP. Your ‘Unique Selling Point’. Sometimes, a manuscript only ticks the boxes. It’s a love story with genuine warmth. It feels contemporary. The writing is fine, and perhaps it’ll be top of an agent’s slushpile – but you need to be in the top nought-point-something-percent of that pile to get taken on, and what that’ll tip the balance in your favour is usually an angle, a concept, a pitch that’s immediately captivating. A tale, for instance, about a time-traveller’s wife? I want to read more. I’d pick up The Time-Traveller’s Wife. Or a fostered child in Nazi Germany, stealing censored books and visited by death? The Book Thief is an original take in children’s fiction, on a troubling, much-visited subject. If your book doesn’t an original concept, it’ll hamper the search for an agent – but we’ve clues on building a strong elevator pitch you can read for that. The Stats of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 20-30% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): **** Comment:It’s a lot of work, but you can fix this. Usually, you need to take some already-extant aspect of the novel, and simply push it further than you’ve so far dared to go. Or you can take some totally new element and ram it in. (So Stephenie Meyer took ordinary teenage angsty-romance lit and rammed into it with a vampire story. Wow! Brilliant collision. The results were . . . well, you know damn well what they were. A global multimedia phenomenon.) In short: you have to think big and bold to solve this issue. It will be a lot of work though. Tinkering-type solutions will not be the fix. Get better ideas. 5. Lousy Presentation Manuscripts written in purple ink? With awful spelling or weird fonts? And punctuation that forgot to turn up for work? This is less common than folklore would have you believe, partly because computers and spellcheckers eliminate egregious faults. Nevertheless, tell-tale clues can often be enough. Let’s suppose I were an agent, and I received a manuscript, and that manuscript had loads of run-on sentences, which is where you have independent sentences separated by commas rather than full stops, and if I was quite busy, maybe I would think I had better things to do than read any further. If you were the author, you might be quite upset that I never got past the first page – so give yourself the best chance of ensuring this doesn’t happen. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 5-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): *** Comment:On the one hand, punctuation is simple to fix. A problem is that poor punctuation is often allied to sloppy prose, which takes a lot more work. Both things matter. If you are sure that your prose and story are fine, but know you need input on presentational matters, you could think about copy-editing, but be careful. Most manuscripts don’t need copy-editing, just better writing. Manuscript presentation help here. 6. Lack Of Clarity In Prose The first job of your prose is easy. It needs to convey meaning, clearly and succinctly. Your meaning must always be clear. When you use pronouns (‘it’, ‘she’, ‘he’, etc), it must be clear who or what is being referred to. Don’t use ‘dangling modifiers’. Your reader needs to know where they are and when, and what’s happening (unless, of course, you are being deliberately mysterious). This is simple and so basic, but not all manuscripts achieve success. Simple message here: you are seeking to make a living as a professional writer, so the basic quality of your writing has to be good enough. There are no shortcuts here. The Stats of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 5-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): ** to **** Comment:Sometimes, a rigorous line edit is all that’s needed, but sometimes sloppy prose equals sloppy thinking, harder to address. In truth, I think it’s very rare that a novel with genuinely poor writing will ever be lifted to a place where it can be effectively published. (And that’s true even if you’re aiming at self-publishing. The standards of both routes are much the same these days, as in the end the readers call the shots.) Learn how to write better prose. 7. Writing Is Not Economical Most writers don’t think enough about making every sentence as economical as it can reasonably be. Very few books can bear too much verbiage, so prune, then prune again. Be ruthless. If you haven’t cut at least 10,000 words from your manuscript by the time it comes to editing, you haven’t really tried. We’ve had many beginner novelists offer us manuscripts that needed to lose 30,000 words or more. What we always try to communicate is that they can probably lose that level of word count without actually losing any content. Like if you have a 12 word sentence that could be written just as well as in only 9 words, you’re not losing content, you’re just removing surplus. Likewise, we’ve seen descriptions of (say) a North African street market which were kinda great, but involved 6 descriptive sentences. Those 6 would probably work more powerfully, if you just picked the 3 best images/sentences and went with those. The reader would actually end up with more sense of the place, not less. And so on. The short message: be more brutal with your work than you currently think possible. Your work will love you back and give you a great big kiss once you’re done. Learn how to edit a book. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 30-50% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): * to **** Comment:Again, sometimes a good edit is all that’s needed, as long as sloppy prose doesn’t equal sloppy thinking. 8. Writing Is Over-The-Top Before I started editing manuscripts, I just didn’t know this was an issue, but it really is. We get so many manuscripts that are just loaded with extremities – scream, agony, torture, yelling, misery, overwhelm, fury, all on the first page – sometimes even all in the first paragraph. Of course, strong language is vital, as is emotion resonance, but you need to be careful, to moderate its use. A surprising number of first-time novels just cram too much all in on page one, then carry on cramming. Nuance is key. Short message: gently does it. Lead with the character and the story situation. Oblique is better than direct. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 1-3% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): *** Comment:It’s easy to fix in theory, so long as these issues aren’t deeper than just poor word choice. Again, the root cause is quite often that a first-time writer isn’t properly in contact with his characters and that can be a harder issue to fix. (Oh, and did you pick up on my non-gender neutral ‘he’ just then? Yep, well, most of our editorial clients are women, but the people who most often make this mistake are men. And by “most often” I mean “90% or more”. Sorry, lads, but it’s true!) Strangely, a good way to write a book with good emotional texture is to really work at your dialogue – the two things often go together. You just can’t write strong dialogue, unless you have a tight handle on what your characters are feeling moment to moment. Our dialogue tips here. 9. Clichés Abound Full-on clichés are (thank goodness) relatively rare in manuscripts we read. We don’t read many ‘wet blankets’, or ‘sick as a dog’ instances, but cliché is so often more insidious than just those howlers. You can have passionate, flame-haired girl. Or scenes of domestic bliss that involve log fires. Or villains who are steely-eyed. A cliché is anything which makes us feel we’ve read this before … and, sorry to say, in that broader sense, we see a lot of these in manuscripts. Short message: any kind of cliche starts to kill the reader’s absorption in your story. Very soon you will lose that reader completely. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 20-50% Howler rating (5 stars is worst):** to **** Comment:Once you’ve identified a phrase, character or plot device, it’s simple (if time-consuming) to fix. It’s finding the things that’s pesky. 10. Points Of View Are Mishandled We read a lot of work where one character is thinking and feeling something … then, suddenly, we’re in the head of some completely different character, sharing their thoughts and emotions. And obviously, it is okay to move about between characters, but this transition must be properly handled (normally by moving properly out of one head, before moving into the next). Our colleague, Emma Darwin, has some good advice to follow, but when those transitions aren’t correctly handled, you cause giddiness, confusion in the reader, and are at risk of causing rejection letters to come a-fluttering to your doormat. Short message: keep control over your points of view. One simple rule to follow is: one point of view per chapter. More sophisticated writers can mess about with that rule but if you’re unsure – just follow it! If you want the real ins-and-outs of point of view, you can get a very detailed guide here. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 3-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): *** Comment:Very fixable, but normally a slew of changes will flow from any initial set of corrections. 11. Descriptions Absent Or Bland We’ve read novels where all action seems to take place in a white and featureless void, where any description is bland or muted. Readers want to be transported to a different world. So transport them. Descriptive writing is actually essential to this goal. We’ve got some great advice on how write descriptively right here. The techniques involved are suprisingly easy . . . and they can deliver an amazing lift to the novel. More than you think. Sometimes, however, if a novel lacks emotional punch, it’s not to do with the descriptions – but an absence of drama on the page. In such cases, the issue is nearly always to do with the author telling the reader about the action, rather than just showing us the action as it happens. Too much telling will kill a novel stone dead, and you can’t let that happen to yours. Here’s all you need on show vs tell, in case you need a refresher. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 3-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): ** Comment:Easily fixed, just make sure weak descriptions aren’t masking a broader problem with prose style. Intermission: Do You Need Help? New writers make these mistakes because writing novels is HARD. But we can help – and save you huge amounts of wasted time. Writing a novel is hard. Writing a novel for the first time is harder. Writing a novel for the first time and making sure that your novel is strong enough to be published – well, that’s one heck of a goal to set yourself. It’s OK to find this tough.It’s OK – actually sensible – to get help So, take that sense of place issue, for example. Are you sure you’ve got that right? We’ve got a brilliant video on that exact topic (that also gives you a genius technique for adding a whole layer of richness to your novel.) Or ask yourself: are you really sure that the basic idea for your novel is strong enough? We’ve got a video on that too. Or prose writing and cliche? How confident are you there? Well, we don’t have one video on those topics – we’ve got three and they’re crazy good. You can see some of our sample testimonials here (scroll about 2/3 of the way down), but they say things like: “Hugely inspiring” “A breath of fresh air” “Extremely useful” “Almost entirely focused on practical application . . .it encourages and inspires the user to make extremely constructive improvements to their work.” But there’s going to be a catch, right? Well, sort of. There is and there isn’t. This (super-premium, 17 video) course is pretty expensive to buy outright. So don’t buy it. Simple. Save your money. Because as a member of Jericho Writers, you get full, free, unrestricted access to that course. Oh, yes, and all our other video courses. And our filmed masterclasses. And our Cinema. And our Townhouse community. And so much else as well. And membership of Jericho Writers: Is low costIs cancel-any-time.You can literally sign up, and cancel in the same day, and still enjoy the single month’s membership you paid for. We hope you don’t do that, but if you just want to spend one intensive month using our materials, that’s fine with us. Whatever works for you.Is absolutely stuffed with benefits, and we’re adding more all the timeWas developed for writers exactly like you.We’ve had over ten years serving writers like you and we’ve got hundreds of them published. We’d love to help you too. We’re sure we can do it. That’s a crazy-good deal, right? I certainly hope so, at least, because when we developed the whole membership concept, the basic brief to ourselves was, “Let’s just build the writing club of our dreams. Let’s make that thing happen, then charge as little as we possibly can.” So that’s what we did. Id love it if you chose to learn more about membership, or just say what the heck, I wanna sign up. But if that’s not right for you now, sit tight, and we’ll review the last common mistakes that writers make when they write their #1 novel. 12. Unliterary Literary Writing We get plenty of ‘literary’ novels. Literary fiction still relies on a wonderful plot or a stunning premise to hook its audience, and if you want your novel to sell as a ‘literary’ one, it has to be flawlessly written. Basic competence is not enough: you must demonstrate something more. If you don’t read a lot of literary fiction (Pulitzer / Booker Prize type work), then you are probably not writing it either. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 10-30% (of literary novels) Howler rating (5 stars is worst): *** Comment:You need to pay careful attention to prose style, but this exercise is usually manageable. You just need to care, a lot, and make sure that you take care with every sentence you write. 13. What Happened To The Plot? Strange, but true. Some writers complete an entire novel without really knowing what their story is. And stories don’t create themselves. We’ve got some great (free) advice on plotting here – with further help on plotting and making use of the snowflake method to plan things out – but needless to say our video writing course has got three beefy and important videos on that exact topic. This is an issue you just have to get write, irrespective of what genre you choose to write in. If you do have a plot, but the book still seems saggy, then revisit the above on economy in writing. Cutting is the answer to many a writing ill. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 3-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): **** Comment:A strong story matters in all genres, and for debut novelist especially. Jane Austen, Shakespeare et al. aren’t above plots, so you’re not either. 14. Unbelievable Or Bland Characters Sometimes, everything seems to be moving along all right in technical terms. Story, check; descriptions, check; prose style, check. Still, somehow, a manuscript is failing to connect with its readers. It’s often because the central character(s) aren’t really showing up for work, and that in turn is usually because you, the author, don’t yet know them sufficiently – almost as though you don’t trust your imagination to feel out the limits of the people you’re writing about. We’ve got some simple free advice right here, but our best stuff is in our writing course. Three fat videos on this one crucial topic. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 3-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): *** Comment:Poor characterisation is easy enough to fix, albeit there’s some work involved. Often the issue is just that a writer was so busy constructing the novel’s plot / settings / research underpinnings etc that they couldn’t handle the additional act of characterisation too. If that’s the issue, then the advice is just, “Time for Draft #2” 15. You Haven’t Really Finished Your Novel Yes, we know – you’ve reached the final full stop – but when you reach that milestone, you are perhaps, if you’re lucky, halfway done. Many novels – even ones accepted by an agent – need to be reworked, re-edited and reworked again. That’s how they get better and why all professional authors work closely with a professional editor, supplied via their publisher. You mightn’t yet have that vital support and advice from publishers, but you can get editorial feedback from consultancies like ours. We’ll check your manuscript for any structural weaknesses. We also run a unbelievably good self-editing course so that you can develop your own editorial skills. Astonishingly, about 1 in 6 of our graduates from that course have gone on to be published. And there are more popping through the pipeline every month. It’s an extraordinary course. It always sells out. And you should grab it when you can. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? Hard to say! Comment:Agents reject 999 in 1,000 manuscripts, so arguably 999 people are sending work out too soon. Explore what editorial feedback may offer or – an easy, low cost, do-it-now option – just sign up for membership of Jericho Writers. We’ll genuinely be delighted to welcome you on board. In the meantime – everyone – happy writing, and good luck!
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Show, Don’t Tell

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

Starting out simple and layering up Good novels start with decent plots. So start with a simple sketch outline, then make it progressively more detailed. We show you exactly how to do it.  The simplest way to write a terrible book is to start out having no idea what your story is, or where it’s going to lead. The easiest way to avoid that outcome is to prepare a simple outline of your plot before you even write the first sentence.  The downside of this approach: you actually have to do some thinking before you can start writing.  The upside: you won’t end up writing a terrible book. Which is a plus point, no?  7 Steps To Writing A Plot Outline For Your Novel: Understand the purpose of your outlineStart with a barebones outlineAdd a midpointHave a firm sense of purposeIntegrate your charactersComplete your outlineWork in circles Understand The Purpose Of Your Outline At its simplest, a plot outline can be defined as a very simple, barebones summary of your story. It could be as short as a single page outline. Or it might run to as many as ten or twenty pages.  Either way, it’s important to realise that you’re not telling the story, you’re summarising it. So if your outline feels flat and unengaging, that’s fine. Your story itself can’t be either of those things, but your outline just needs to be functional, clear – and brief. The outline is for you, and for you only. It’s not for a reader either now or in the future.  The approach we’re going to recommend in this post is to start really simple, then start to build as you get more insight into detail. Here goes.  Start With A Barebones Outline It’s commonly said that there are only seven plots in the world. We’re not totally sure about that, in fact, but it’s certainly true that pretty much every novel will adopt the same rough shape. That shape, at its simplest, is as follows: Status quo: This is the situation at the start of the book. So, for example, if we were dealing with a Lee Child / Jack Reacher novel, the status quo might be “Jack Reacher is travelling through rural Montana, wanting to heal after a particularly bruising recent adventure.” At this point, nothing has happened. The situation is stable.Inciting incident: The inciting incident is whatever happens to disturb that status quo. It could be an apparently small thing, or an obviously big one. So in Twilight, for example, the inciting incident is simply that Bella Swan’s attention is caught by an attractive – but odd – boy at school. In our Reacher story, it could be that an unseen sniper kills the bus driver dead and seems intent on killing everyone else on the bus too. Either way, the important issue is that the status quo has been disrupted. The reader already feels that a story has been set in motion.Developments: This is the big middle chunk of your book. This is the part that probably occupies you from (say) 15,000 words into your book right up to 10 or 15,000 words before the end. It’s the scariest part of your outline, whether you’re a new novelist, or a seasoned scriptwriter, or anything in between. We’ll talk more about this element of your plot later in the post, but for now just bear in mind that your character will encounter obstacles, victories and reversals – but the victories won’t be permanent and the reversals won’t be lethal. Everything is still in play … but the stakes will gradually rise.Climax: We said that the stakes gradually rise and, by the end of the book, the stakes feel like life and death. In a romance story, your protagonist will feel that she has to get this guy, because he is going to be her forever one. In a thriller, it’s not just that your protagonist’s life is in danger, it’s that some vast other risks are in play as well (a bomb in New York, a high school massacre, or whatever.) It’s not too much to say that the success of your book really stands and falls by how profound and engaging this climax moment feels.Resolution: Then your story needs to resolve. It could be a triumphant resolution: Jack Reacher wrestles the bad guy on the lip of a gigantic dam and ends up hurling him over the edge to his destruction. Or it could be a bitter failure: The guy your romantic protagonist really, really wanted rejects her, or dies, or otherwise becomes unavailable. Or you could have some bittersweet ending. So in The Fault In Our Stars, the two romantic protagonists are truly in love (yay!), but their sickness takes its inevitable and tragic course.  I strongly recommend that, for the first draft of your plot outline, you simply use those five headings. Quite likely, you have a pretty clear idea in your head of the first two of those stages, and a fairly clear idea of the last two as well. So just write down whatever you know under those headings. If you don’t have a clear idea, just leave a blank or a write question to yourself. (For example: “Jack Reacher has to find a way to escape the prison. But how?”)  Most likely, the area where you’ll struggle most is the Developments section – but don’t worry. Just write what you know. We’re about to move to the next stage. Before that though, let me offer one more heading, which is kind of optional … and kind of doesn’t fit into a post on plot outline … except that it really, really does as well. So especially if you are writing a book with an interesting or complicated character, I suggest you make notes on: Main character(s). A paragraph or two of notes on each of the main characters in your novel will help inform the work you do on plot – and vice versa. Your plotting insights will also enrich your main character. And because you want to think of character as fluid rather than static, you should also consider making some short notes on …Character arc or character development. You want to sketch – in broad, simple terms only – how your main character changes or develops through the course of the book. More help on that here. Got that? Good. OK: Onwards. Add A Midpoint We just said that the developments section is the one you’re going to struggle with the most – and that’s fine. That’s just part of the joy of writing. But we can make your job a bit easier.  The single hardest thing about that developments part of your book is that it feels very long and unstructured. So the simplest way to navigate it is to give yourself a solid anchor in the middle.  That anchor is typically a piece of major drama in a particular scene (read more about how to perfect that dramatic scene, here). Sometimes it’ll look as though the protagonist has ‘won’. Sometimes it’ll look like he/she has ‘lost’. But either way, because we’re not yet at the true climax of the book the defeat or victory will be a false or temporary one.  The actual type of drama involved will depend on your book. In a crime thriller (like the ones I write, for example) there will typically be an episode of action/adventure that also does something to change the complexion of the case being investigated. So I’ve had my protagonist get involved in hostage situations. I’ve had her be abducted. I’ve had her investigate a major unexplored cave system. And so on. They’re the sort of extended, memorable sequences that should echo long after the reader has finished the book.  A romantic story needs the same kind of major twists. So it could be that your happy couple go away on what should be the holiday of their dreams, only for things to go terribly wrong. Or an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend comes along to mess things up. Or something else.  If you can determine what your midpoint is, you’ll find your whole plot feels more manageable. Imagine your plot as a bridge. In the first ‘barebones’ version of your plot outline, we just had a major support at the Initiating Incident point and then again at the Climax/Resolution one. The rest of your plot was just a long stretch over the void.  By introducing a midpoint, you give yourself another major support element. So it’s like you only have to manage the span from the Initiating Incident to the Midpoint , then from the Midpoint to the Climax. By breaking that developments section into two, you’ll find it much, much easier to navigate.  Have A Firm Sense Of Purpose It probably goes without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway …  No plot will cohere or feel compelling unless your protagonist has a really clear sense of purpose. That purpose can morph a little through the book, but it can’t change its essential nature.  So a Jack Reacher novel, for example, might start with Reacher trying to protect the bus passengers from the sniper … but as the narrative evolves, he might end battling a plot to – I don’t know – swamp Great Falls in drugs, or plant a bomb under the state Capitol, or whatever it is. But there has to be a solid continuity in what drives him throughout the book. He can’t start off chasing bad guys in Montana, then zoom off somewhere else and start some totally different story.  The way to be sure that your outline is staying on track is to define, upfront, what your character’s motivation is. You may also want to state explicitly what his/her antagonist is and what the obstacles in the way of success are. (That approach works better for some books than others, so if it doesn’t quite make sense to you, you can just ignore it. What’s the antagonist in Twilight, for example? There isn’t really a great answer to that question.)  Integrate Your Characters So far, we’ve spoken of a plot outline as something almost mechanical – like a piece of clockwork you just have to wind up and set in motion.  But of course your plot is propelled by its characters and the best stories aren’t character-led or plot-led, but led equally and powerfully by both. You can read more about plotting here. To take an example, think of John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. The twisty, double-crossing plot needed a suspicious and experienced spy at its heart. And if that sounds cold, then the spy, Alec Leamas, also had a desperate desire to find love, to be able to trust again after his years of secret service. That character – cynical, but with that hopeless dab of longing – turned an efficient spy story into a twentieth century masterpiece.  The best way to bring your characters and plot into perfect synchrony is to develop them both together. So you probably want to work on your character worksheets (more here) at the same time as you’re developing your story outline.  So you might fill out your developments section with a new idea you had for a scene there. That might trigger an insight into your character, so you’d go and add something to your character worksheet. Then back again.  You’ll find you don’t even need to work too hard on the integration. If you develop your story and your characters alongside each other, each element will bleed into and influence the next. The process will happen automatically and in a beautifully seamless way.  Complete Your Outline How far you take your outline is very much up to you. Some writers like to plan very intensively. Some like to use the Snowflake method. I know writers who will write a detailed 30 page synopsis of their novel before they proceed. I know others (like me!) who do the absolute bare minimum. Who just trust their instincts to be able to create on the run, if you like.  So I’m not going to tell you how far you need to take your outline. What I will say is that if you want a detailed plot outline template to follow, then you may well want to use Blake Snyder’s famous beat sheet from his ‘Save the Cat’ book. That book was written for screenwriters and doesn’t have universal applicability to novelists, but a lot of people find it helpful all the same. So if you are Mr or Ms Detailed and you want a roadmap, then here it is:  Opening image. This is like a touchstone for where your protagonist is at the very opening of the book. Theme stated. All decent books (or films) should have some underlying theme or debate. You want some statement of that theme – possibly playful; you don’t have to be too heavy – in the opening couple of chapters of the book. Set-up. This corresponds roughly to our Status Quo section Catalyst. This corresponds roughly to our Initiating Incident section. Debate. Is the hero going to rise to the challenge posed by the Initiating Incident? Quite often there’s a refusal or reluctance, before something tips the hero into changing their mind. Break into two. That’s the moment that launches the story from the opening set-up into the excitement of the Developments section. It’s where your character decides to accept the adventure being offered and launches off into the guts of your story itself. B story. A really good tip this. Very often, there’ll be some secondary story to accompany your main one. So if you are writing a broadly action-themed novel, the secondary story might be a romantic one. Introducing that that secondary tale right after the opening section is done and dusted feels just about right in terms of timing. Fun and Games. This is Snyder-speak for the opening round of action, where your premise really starts to make itself felt. So if you were writing (let’s say) an ‘action’ film set in an old folks home, this is where you’d really start to have fun with the premise. Yes, things are at stake here, but this is still the lower stakes portion of the book. Things seem to matter, but they’re not that consequential compared with what follows. Midpoint. As discussed above. The quivering dagger at the dead centre of your book. Bad guys close in. After the midpoint, things feel more consequential. Yes, your character may notch up some ‘wins’, but the mood, broadly, will be one of increasing seriousness as you move towards the climax of your story. All is Lost. It looks like everything is lost. Bond is captured and the villain is going to detonate his bomb. Or Lizzy’s Bennett’s silly sister has gone and destroyed her hopes of happiness with Darcy. Dark Night of the Soul. This is the interior / emotional counterpart of the ‘all is lost’ moment. It’s how the character reflects to themselves after the disaster that’s just happened. Break into three. This is the moment where the character bursts out of their despair. Where they come up with one last desperate stratagem, or some last effort of will. Finale. This is the climax and resolution elements we’ve already spoken of. Closing image. This is the image that shows where we are now – and is often a mirror image, in some way, of where we were.  As I say, there’ll be elements of that template that may seem very helpful, and others that may not especially speak to you. So grab what you want. Discard what you don’t.  And when you come to thinking about adding in more details, read this article on chapter lengths – it’s really helpful! Work In Circles In most things we do, we want to work in a logical, disciplined way. Start at the beginning. Follow a plan. Complete the task. Done.  Outlining a novel is not like that. It’s the opposite.  I’ve already mentioned that you’ll probably be developing plot as you develop character. So you’ll dive from one thing to another and back again.  Good. That’s not indiscipline at work. That’s creativity.  But also –   You’ll make mistakes. You’ll screw up. You’ll have ideas, you’ll write them down – then you’ll figure out they’re bad and you’ll delete them again.  Good. That’s not incompetence at work, it’s creativity.  A cyclical, repetitive, trial-and-error type process is exactly what you’re after. That also means you’re not going to be able to sit down and develop a decent plot in a weekend. That’s not how it works (or almost never anyway.)  So give yourself time. Forgive yourself errors. And have fun.  Happy plotting. Happy outlining. 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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Outline your novel fast, easily and well with this simple story template

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