Sunday, 15 October 2017

Sequence of Writing - In Order or Not?

This is a common question that most writers ask. Does it really matter what order you write your novel? What works and what doesn’t work?
The answer is simple – there is no right or wrong. There’s no rule that says we have to write a story in order. Both approaches work. It depends on the kind of writer you are. It’s down to the writer how they want to write their novel, but it’s also down to the writer to bring it all together to make it work effectively so the reader will enjoy the story.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each one. It’s up to the writer to work with the method that works for them.
Linear Writing
Writing the story in sequence is known as linear writing. In other words, it’s written chronologically, in order as the reader reads it, chapter by chapter, from first chapter to last. This tends to be how plotters and planners like to write. They plan each chapter, they do chapter outlines and story arcs and they follow the story as they write. This keeps them focused and avoids confusion over sequencing/or sequence of events.
The advantage of this approach means that story threads and subplots occur logically (rather than an afterthought because it occurred to the writer while writing out of sequence). Plot points are addressed in order. Characters develop because the story is written in order and so they grow, act and react to each situation as it happens. The POV in linear writing is also consistent and more fluid. Also, the continuity of the story is maintained by this method.
Also, with sequential writing, it’s easy to see plot flaws. It also highlights errors within the narrative or description, or with tone, mood, tension or atmosphere.
Sequential writing can be restrictive to some writers who love the freedom of writing in any order that comes to them. And there is nothing wrong with this. But for most writers, this kind of writing is a much easier process to manage.
Non-Linear Writing
Writing out of sequence is known as non-linear writing. In other words, writers write scenes that are not in any logical order.  They write in any order they want.
For many writers, this is a better way of writing their novel. They feel more comfortable writing the scenes that they’re most excited about, the ones that they want to write about. It’s about writing any scene in whatever order, which can be more productive for some writers who are naturally ‘scene writers’. This works because many writers usually have fully formed scenes in their heads as soon as they get an idea for a story, and they focus on writing those scenes.
There’s more creative freedom with writing scenes, or snippets of scenes and dialogue, that are out of sequence. They don’t feel restricted by the rigidness of the need to write everything in order.
This type of approach can work even if the writer has done a brief outline or plan. That’s because scenes are still relevant to the story, whatever sequence they were written, since the writer has already ‘mapped’ out what might happen in the outline. That means you can write a scene that can be slipped into any chapter.
There are disadvantages of course – story threads and subplots are not written in logical sequence and are often added afterward, which could lead to some elements being less cohesive. Plot points are not always addressed in order because the writer is jumping back and forth from sections in the middle, at the beginning or at the end.
It’s also hard for characters to develop organically because scenes and chapters have been written out of sequence and therefore the jumping between parts of the story doesn’t allow the characters to develop as well as they would in linear writing. Careful attention to POVs is needed in order to keep them consistent, otherwise they might appear scattered in the finished story.
The most important thing to consider, however, is that non-linear writing could cause problems with the continuity of the overall story arc. It’s important that ‘scene’ writers keep focused on the plot and don’t lose sight of the story.
The other downside is that, in addition to editing, the writer has to stitch all the out of sequence scenes together, and do so effectively that makes the entire story arc linear.
Every writer is different, so how you write is less important than the finished product at the end of the process. You can write your novel in any order you want – just keep an eye on all the elements that make the whole story.

Next week: Narrative or dialogue - which is the most dynamic?

Sunday, 8 October 2017

When Do You Know It’s The Right Time To Edit?

What seems a straightforward question doesn’t always mean there’s a straightforward answer.
Even when a writer has completed a story, it’s not always clear when he or she should edit. That’s because a lot of writers will simply go back and tinker with various chapters, which means the writing process carries on without any definitive break or proper editing. This is common with new writers. They write, then go back a few chapters and change things, then carry on writing, and then they go back and change things again and so on, in a perpetual cycle, so nothing constructive gets done.
Other writers reach the end, but then immediately start thinking about the unresolved issue in chapter 14. Or there’s a subplot that they forgot to address. Or they should have added something in that all important action scene between the hero and the villain.  Immediately they go back to add and change things. And because they change things in the proceeding chapters, they then find they have to change things in latter chapters in order for the story to fit.
But that isn’t editing. It’s toying with the story and it doesn’t help. These behaviours mean that the writer doesn’t understand when it’s the right time to edit.
The right time is when you’ve finished the story and written the last chapter. But the last chapter doesn’t mean the last chapter where we write ‘The End.’ That’s how it is for the majority of writers who write their novels chronologically, or linear, so the last chapter really means the last one. There are exceptions to this, because some writers write out of sequence, known as non-linear writing. They sometimes know how the story ends (sort of) and write the last chapter first, or they write the middle sections first.
Some writers are scene writers. In other words, they write lots of difference scenes, not all in sequence, and then weave these into the main story to make a full novel. But they still have to write all the other chapters, so when they’re all written, regardless of the sequence, and they write whatever the last chapter might be, then it’s time to edit. They’ve reached the end. That’s it.
That means instead of immediately going back to tinker with things, writers need to leave it, completely, otherwise they won’t be able to separate themselves from the story well enough to form an objective perspective during editing, which is vital to the overall process.
The urge to fix that issue in chapter 14 or the hero needs to kiss the girl on page 40 might be there, but writers have to ignore it. Once the last chapter is written, it means that will be the right time to properly edit, where those issues and flaws and things to add can be completed at the editing stage.
Some writers just can’t distinguish when to stop writing and start editing, even after they’ve finished the last chapter. They have to learn not to go back and don’t tinker with things.
Instead, writers should put the novel aside and leave it for several weeks at least.  Some writers leave it for a month or two, even longer. But at some point they have to step away from it completely. This is just as important as the actual writing process – it’s necessary to allow the mind to refocus and not think about the story, so that when they do return to it, their minds will be refreshed, focused and able to see the story objectively.
After several weeks break from the story, they should do a read through. This is a good exercise because it shows how the story actually reads from a reader’s perspective. It will become apparent just how good the story is – does it make sense or does it jump all over the place and go off at a tangent? Do the characters leap from the page; are they believable? Do the subplots make sense? Are there any? Are there gaping plot holes? Is it just a pile of jumbled rubbish?
Writers don’t notice these things when they’re writing the story. They’re too close to the work, too involved and too absorbed to pay attention. And this is why it’s important to leave the work and come back to it after a long break.
The second read through is where writers make notes and look for flaws, inconsistencies, plot points, errors, characterisation, the correct mix of dialogue, narrative and descriptions and the usual grammar problems etc. This formulates the first edit and redrafting stage, then the second and third and so on.
The right time to edit is when you finish the last chapter (whatever sequence that may be), regardless how incomplete it might feel, or how bad you think it is. The first draft is always incomplete, inconsistent, full of flaws, errors and rubbish scenes etc.  That’s why we edit until it is complete.
The more you write and become experienced, the more you will understand when it’s the right time to edit. Remember that going back and tampering with the story isn’t editing, nor is it finishing your story. There’s a simple process involved:
Write the story>> Complete the end>>Leave It>>Read Through No. 1>>Read Through No. 2  = EDIT.

Next week: Does the sequence of how you write matter?


Sunday, 1 October 2017

Repetition – When to Use It and When to Avoid It

This is a subject that provides contradictory advice for writers, with the general consensus that writers should avoid repetition, but it doesn’t always say what kind of repetition to avoid, since it can actually be used effectively in narrative and can make a difference to the tone of the writing.
Generally speaking, the kind of repetition writers should avoid is the non-rhetorical kind, one that often makes the sentence structures awkward and shows that the writer isn’t focused on the words they’re using. The repetition could be certain words, phrases or even ideas. This is the kind of negative repetition that writers use without actually realising.
Positive repetition, on the other hand, is a rhetorical tool used for effective narrative delivery, emphasis, emotional or dramatic effect, narrative depth or for amplification.
Negative Repetition
Every writer does it. That’s how common it is. While in the throes of writing, we don’t often realise we’ve repeated certain words or even phrases, but it’s not a major thing and can easily be rectified at editing stage.
This kind of repetition is the stuff editors don’t like to see – recurrence of words that just make the narrative ineffective and clunky. That’s because there is no emphasis or dramatic effect and no added depth, for example:
She stood at the door and sighed heavily and watched for his reaction, but he seemed to resist the bait and kept a stoic, heavy expression which belied his thoughts. She knew that look and knew she wouldn’t win.
You can see that the words heavy/heavily are used. It doesn’t matter if the repeated words are a mix of adjectives, nouns, adverbs or verbs, they still convey the same meaning and so the sentences don’t quite work. In addition, ‘knew’ is repeated twice, and not deliberately, so again it doesn’t work within the context of the entire paragraph.
With some tweaks, the same paragraph can be improved by eliminating the repetition, for example:
She stood at the door and sighed and watched for his reaction, but he seemed to resist the bait and kept a stoic, heavy expression which belied his thoughts. She knew that look; she wouldn’t win.
Words we tend to overuse are the kind of words we most often repeat. That’s because our mind thinks faster than we type when we’re writing, and so we simply type what’s going through our head without realising we’ve used the same words in the same sentence or paragraph. That’s why a lot of descriptive words are often repeated – they’re the ‘go to’ words we like using the most or are most comfortable using.
Pronouns are also a major repetitive hurdle because writers don’t realise they’ve written a character’s name countless times, for instance: John went to the car to deliver the package. But then John realised he’d left the keys inside the house and went back. John saw them on the counter...etc.
This is very common and can be rectified at editing stage. So instead of repetition, the above example is much better like this:
John went to the car to deliver the package. But then he realised he’d left the keys inside the house and went back. The keys had been left on the counter...
Negative repetition is only a problem if it’s not spotted. But that’s why, as writers, we should go through several edits to eliminate these minor problems. As with everything in life, the more you do something, the more efficient you become, so therefore, the more you write, the better you become at spotting these common errors. You’ll start to vary sentence structures and your eyes will notice certain words that stand out – ones you’ve used before, time and again.
Positive Repetition
Unlike negative repetition, the positive type is just that – it lends to the narrative and is a deliberate ploy by the writer to emphasise or underscore the story. It’s this deliberate use that the reader will understand, and that’s because the structure of repetition is different, for example:
Mike quickly stopped when he saw Joe in the middle of a large room, surrounded by smaller tiled rooms and blackened by mould.
Joe looked up. ‘You hear that?’
In this example, the sound – tap, tap, tap – is repeated for emphasis three times. This is a very common way to stress certain sounds and words. Here’s another example of the three-word accent:
His cold way, his cold eyes; as cold as the dead landscape before him....
The repetition here works because ‘cold’ is a descriptive word and each time it’s used it adds to the atmosphere and overtones being conveyed. This style creates a rhythmic flow of a particular key word and creates an impression of emotion and mood.
This can also be used in dialogue, where certain words are repeated to accentuate or reinforce the meaning and tone, for example:
‘You see that? You see what happens when you don’t listen? That’s the result. Because you don’t want to see the truth of it...’
There are lots of different literary devices to employ effective repetition, which writers don’t, or rarely, use, such as alliteration, assonance, consonance, anaphora, antistasis and epiphora etc. There are so many ways to repeat words to give a deeper meaning, to evoke mood, rhythm and tone.
If you choose to use repetition, think about what you want to convey. Think about how you want to construct it. If you use it correctly it will add depth to your narrative and should be so subtle that your reader will hardly notice.
Next week: When do you know it’s the right time to edit?

Sunday, 24 September 2017

How to Move the Story Forward

One of the universal principles of good fiction writing is the need to move the story forward. If you don’t move the story forward, then the story can’t evolve. A story that doesn’t go anywhere or do anything isn’t a story.
Every story depends on the development of the main plot and the characters, as well as themes and subplots. A good story can’t exist without these elements.
There are numerous ways to move things along, for instance, dialogue, characterisation, description, exposition, plenty of conflict and transitional scenes.
Dialogue is present tense and active, so it’s a good way to move the story forward. It works because it’s selective. In other words, it should only divulge information that is necessary. That means characters interact with each other and impart necessary information that relates to the plot and what might happen. You can also use dialogue to exchange clues and hints and to foreshadow events.
Writers don’t always think of description as something that can move the story along. But it does, because it imparts necessary information for the reader and keeps the momentum going. Writers do this by describing certain details – they may use direct information or they may use hints for things that are yet to take place later in the story. Giving out this information to the reader helps the story move forward, and with action scenes or fast paced scenes, this momentum is increased.
Narrative or direct exposition – unlike the indirect exposition known as ‘Show don’t tell’ – is used by writers to quickly move things along without overpowering the rest of the story. Simple narrative helps to give certain snippets of information that doesn’t need huge blocks of description, for example:
‘The group disbanded in 1944, though Peter knew pockets of partisans still existed’.
This imparts enough information for the reader and doesn’t need large chunks of backstory or explanation. It’s exposition that moves things along within a scene. This is how effective narrative works – interspersed with description and dialogue and in small amounts.
Transitional Scenes
Transitional scenes allow forward movement of time like the wave of a magic wand. Without them, the story would stutter, become bogged down and may deviate from the main plot. These kinds of scenes allow the writer to forgo the boring stuff that characters might otherwise undertake, and instead it gets to the next scene as quickly as possible. This allows time to move forward from one point to another and therefore so does the story.
Character motivations are often revealed through dialogue. People let slip what they really think and feel when they are talking – the ‘real’ person behind the persona comes through. What your characters really want and how they’re going to get it provides a catalyst and so moves the story forward. Character motivations drive the action, which in turn drives the story.
Conflict is known as the backbone of any story, but it also drives the story because the types of conflict you create act like fuel in an engine – it provides power and thrust. Readers need to see the hero fight his way out of all sorts of trouble. Often this leads to action scenes, which always propel things forward. Your readers need to see how such conflicts are resolved. And of course, they’ll be desperate to know if the good guy wins over the bad guy by the end of the story.
Other Added Elements
There are other elements you can use to help with pushing your story toward to its conclusion, ones that writers don’t generally think of, but are still worth a look at.
Plot twists are something that the reader will not expect – so a turning point or major revelation should leave the reader wondering what will happen next. You should reveal information in your scenes to keep the reader engaged – elements of the plot, pieces of a jigsaw that your reader will be mentally trying to solve. These types of information revelation push the story forward.
Pacing is another useful tool. Vary the action and drama scenes with slower, reflective scenes where the characters, through their thoughts and actions and dialogue, can once again impart necessary information and move things along for the reader. Of course, the more active scenes move things along more quickly.
Each scene you write must advance story in some way. The use of dialogue, description, narrative, character motivation, transitional scenes, conflicts, building and solving problems within the plot, revealing characters and above all, revealing necessary information, all work together to move the story forward.
All these elements must have momentum. If they don’t then the whole story may stagnate and not actually go anywhere and the story won’t reach its conclusion. This is why we talk about the importance of ‘moving things forward’.

Next week: Repetition – When to use and it and when to avoid it

Sunday, 17 September 2017

What Makes a Story Dark?

If you’re a horror writer or you love to write dark, psychological stories and thrillers, or moralistic tales, this is the one question that needs an answer. Wanting a dark story and writing one are two different things, so how do you actually make a story dark?
To answer that you first have to understand what is meant by ‘dark’. We usually define ‘dark’ as quantifiable elements that we know and are familiar with, but it’s more than that. Dark doesn’t necessarily mean scary or gory with a crazy psychopath going around chopping people into bits. Instead we have to think of ‘dark ‘as anything outside our accepted rose-tinted reality. Dark is the underbelly of our society; it’s the handling of ideas, themes, social issues and behaviours that would be seen as morally unacceptable.
It’s less about fictional monsters but more about the real monsters that lurk in the shadows, something that is underscored by our fears and anxieties. It’s the unknown, because the things we don’t know or cannot comprehend generally scare us.
A story is considered dark if it tackles the stuff that would make most people uncomfortable, and that, of course, could be anything, from the horror of war, drugs, people trafficking, child abuse, genocide, terrible crimes, terrorism, gritty or grim urban tales or good old fashioned blood and guts horror.
Dark stories force us to confront the kind of subjects we don't want to, sometimes taboo subjects. It makes the reader confront subjects they probably wouldn’t normally want to know about, but that’s what a dark story does – it makes the reader confront all those fears and unknowns and attempts to quantify them.
Human nature intrigues us and we, as writers, are always trying to find answers, and the best place to find darkness for any story can be found with human nature. Dark is the side of humanity we almost always fear. And that’s the key word here – fear. The things we fear most are what make any story dark. Fears and insecurities can take on any form – a fear the outside world, irrational fears that take over, fear of losing loved ones, a lack of hope, death, depression, illness...anything. Mix fears with the element of the unknown and you have a potent mix.
Dark stories also tend to be intense with emotions because of the subject matter and themes. With fears and anxieties pushed to the fore, emotions become magnified; they get in the reader’s face. There may not always be a happy ending in dark stories, either.
Different situations evoke different reactions, but if you want your dark story to be effective, then any underlying darkness within the story must have meaning. There needs to be a reason for it, just as there has to be a reason for your characters to do and act the way they do to get what they want, and they have to journey through to their goal. So, for instance, a story that deals with terrorism will have darker underlying themes. A story focused on child abuse will have some dark and uncomfortable themes and images. But they will have some meaning to the story.
Don’t inject blood and gore just for the sake of it, especially if it is entirely unrelated to the plot. This just confuses the story.
The other thing is that dark stories generally have very complex characters. Antagonists tend to be far more multifaceted because their personalities, dark secrets, traits and behaviours reflect the fact they are antagonists and they tend to act negatively throughout the story in comparison to the moral approach to the protagonist.
Elements that make a story dark:
  • Human nature
  • Uncomfortable subjects
  • Characterisation, especially deep, complex characters
  • Fears and insecurities and anxieties
  • Any underlying darkness must have meaning
  • Intense emotions
  • Dark themes
  • The real world - it isn't as pleasant as we think.
Dark stories tend to form from reality simply because reality is dark; what happens in our world is a source of darkness for any story. The real world is dark, even if we don’t like to admit it or face it.

Next week: What moves a story forward?

Sunday, 10 September 2017

How Do You Improve Your Writing If You Don't Know What Your Weaknesses Are?

It’s a conundrum that all unpublished writers face – how do you know how to improve your writing when you don’t know how good or bad you are, or what your strengths and weakness are?
It’s difficult to know just how well you’re writing if there is no benchmark or yardstick to measure it, especially when you’ve spent so many months working on something. For new writers in particular, it’s hard to detach from the work and remain 100% objective and, to a degree, self-critical, so it’s always important to gain some kind of feedback on their writing.
But how do you know how well your story reads? Does it make sense? Is the story strong enough? Does it have the right pace? Is the characterisation good enough?  Is the writing good or bad? What are your strong points, and more importantly, are there any weak areas?
Weak areas of writing aren’t and shouldn’t be seen as negative – it just means you haven’t perfected certain areas of your writing just yet. Every writer has weak areas, until those areas are recognised and improved. So how do you recognise those areas if you’re not entirely sure that what you’re doing is right?
The obvious choice for writers is to hire an editor, but this is the one option that will cost money.  A good editor will show you how to improve weak areas of your writing and strengthen the areas that are good. A good editor will not only tell you where you’re going wrong, but will show you how you improve. Of course, not all writers can afford to do this, so there are a number of ways available, which won’t cost an editor’s fee.
The most practical thing any writer can do is learn all they can about writing from the outset. The more information and advice you have about writing, especially the technical side, the better your understanding of writing will become. You’ll soon learn what works and what doesn’t and why there is general advice about some aspects – for instance, ‘show, don’t tell’ or ‘avoid adverbs and adjectives’. These exist for a very good reason. They are universally recognised as ways to improve and strengthen writing.
The other vital thing is to read – the more books you read by different authors, the more you glean from their style, voice and the way they structure their stories. Don’t just read your favourite authors, but instead read all different genres and styles. Reading others helps foster creativity and helps to inspire. Seeing how others do it helps to formulate your own approach to writing.
If you find a novel you particularly enjoy and admire, then analyse why you enjoyed it. Was it the beautiful descriptions? Was it the rawness of its approach? Was it the thrilling pace? Did it immerse you in a different world? Did it make you keep turning the page? 
All the elements that help you enjoy a particular novel are the elements you should employ in your own writing.
Writer’s groups or workshops are another way to help improve writing. They’re not for everybody, however, but they are a source of valuable feedback and support, because they will have members who will have more experience with writing and may already be published (traditionally), and they will therefore understand the process.
Another way is to use beta readers. By using a range of people to gain reaction and comments, you’ll soon see where the problem areas are in your writing. They’re not afraid to critique honestly and they can be very forthright about what works and what doesn’t.  The only downside is that every beta reader will have a different opinion. One will say it works, another will say it doesn’t. One will love the story; another won’t, so with beta readers it’s a case of employing common sense when confronted with contradictory opinions.
For optimum feedback, use only a handful of beta readers. Too many people will just complicate things and muddy the process. Don’t use friends or family, they won’t be objective. If you can, pick fellow writers or people who’ve had experience with writing in some way.
Of course, the bravest option of all would be to submit your work to a publisher – whether that’s an online publisher, indie publisher or a large publisher or agent.  This takes some courage, because they will either accept or reject on the strength of your work, however, whatever the outcome, they often give valuable feedback on your writing. This is why rejection – far from being negative – is a valuable and useful way for writers to see the areas they need to work on and to improve their writing and their approach.
Lastly, and by no means least, there’s good old fashioned practice. Write and keep writing. The more you write, the better you become. You become attuned to your writing, you gain an instinct with it, so you start to become aware what works and what doesn’t, you’ll spot those weak areas before they become a problem, and you’ll slowly learn how to strengthen your writing.


  • The time to learn about fiction writing
  • Read all genres and styles
  • Look at different novels and why they work
  • Join a writer’s group to gain feedback
  • Make use of beta readers
  • And the bravest move – take the plunge and submit work to publishers. Most will give you feedback/advice for improvement.
  • Hire an editor
No writer is perfect, so there will always be areas for improvement, even for experienced writers. We’ve all started at the bottom, unsure of how to start a novel, how to lay it out, how dialogue works, what show and tell means etc…but then we learn, we grow and develop and ultimately, we improve.

Next week: How do you make your story dark?

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Should Main Characters be Flawless?

One of the most common mistakes among new writers is that they often make their protagonists perfect. They say the right things, they act impeccably and seem unruffled by anything and no matter what is thrown at them, they seem to be able to cope magnificently. And of course, they always win the day.
But of course, the reality is that none of us is perfect. We all have flaws and imperfections and very often we make mistakes. This is real life, so your protagonist also needs to reflect this, to a degree. Realism has to play a part in fiction.
Characters are so much different and realistic when they’re flawed. It’s what makes them so interesting and endearing. We see in them as reflections of ourselves. We might love the fact that the hero is shy. We might empathise if your main character is a weak leader or perhaps is vulnerable and frail. These are recognisable traits.
Characters don’t especially have to be nice, either. They have off days, just like real people. They’re human, after all. That means they can show incredible weakness sometimes. They can make huge mistakes, ones that may have devastating effects for others. Characters can sometimes be immature. Some characters can be abrasive or blunt and at first they might not appear likable, yet as the story develops they redeem themselves.
Main characters often lie, cheat, pass the blame and will do anything to get what they want, and because of this, they end up hurting others. But we can empathise with this kind of weakness; we’ve all hurt people we love one way or another.
The best characters are those who are flawed. And that’s why we remember them. They stand out, they’re different, they make us sit up and pay attention. There are no rules that say we have to like them all the time. That doesn’t mean you have to make your protagonists really horrid, but rather they should have faults and blemishes, and that’s why we remember them. Don’t go too far with the imperfections that you accidentally make your main character a stereotype.Nice characters don’t lie or cheat or hurt others or say the wrong thing. Nice characters don’t have any flaws. They’re perfect in every way. Does that sound like your protagonist? If it does, then it’s just not real.
Readers want good characters, not necessarily nice ones. That’s the difference. ‘Good’ has different meanings here – a good character means one that is well rounded, has foibles, makes mistakes, but possesses some morals and does, ultimately, want to do the right thing.
The other thing that is noticeable with some main characters is that writers often make them indestructible – because they’re so damn perfect. That might work for Hollywood, but not for fiction. In movies, the hero gets shot, run over, set on fire and falls from a ten story building and gets up without a scratch and saves the day. This is stereotypical rubbish. It doesn’t represent reality.
Your main characters will get hurt; they will feel pain and will get their arse kicked at some point during the story. Because no one is that perfect.
So, why can’t you have perfect characters?
If characters are nice, flawless and the epitome of perfection, then not only will they be unrealistic, they won’t cause any conflict with other characters, and every story needs all manner of conflicts.  This means they will appear flat and uninspiring and the reader won’t be interested in them, they won’t be able to relate to them, certainly not enough to provoke any emotion or empathy.
If your character is so perfect, how will he or she grow and develop throughout the story? That’s why there is always a character arc – it shows how the character changes and develops throughout the story. If your character is perfect already, then a character arc is impossible.
‘Perfect’ characters simply don’t create conflict, tension or drama, which is what every story needs. There’s no point in a protagonist if they’re flawless.
There is no such thing as nice, flawless characters in fiction. Everyone has flaws. Everyone has made mistakes. Every one of us is different and imperfect. That’s what gives us character and dimension.
Characters should be:
  • Real
  • Flawed or have negative qualities – Perhaps vulnerable, shy, immature, or maybe aggressive, impatient or ignorant. Everyone is different.
  • Weak in some areas and strong in others.
  • Interesting and colourful.
  • Not necessarily perfectly beautiful or handsome.
  • Moralistic
  • Mortal – they feel pain, they hurt, they can break bones, they bleed and ultimately they can die.
Should your main characters be flawless?  Absolutely not. You’re not, so why should they?
Next week: How can you improve your writing if you don't know what your weaknesses are?

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Getting to Grips with the Ending - Part 2

Part 1 looked at why endings are important and why writers often struggle with them. In this concluding part we’ll look at the different types writers can use.
Endings are as unique as every story; however, there are some formulaic endings that writers like to use. There’s nothing wrong with this – writers stick with things that work and these types of endings work effectively. Not only that, but it really depends on the kind of story and plot you have that determines what ending you choose, whether that’s a natural conclusion, a twist ending or a completely crazy ending.
The main thing is that, whatever ending you do have, it must make sense.
The Twist Ending
This is a common ending among writers, but possibly the hardest to achieve, and that’s because it has to be executed correctly. If not, it will fail. The surprise or twist is that the reader won’t anticipate what happens – the ending will be a complete shock. 
To get this type of ending right, you have to ensure that the story contains clues and hints and that you make use of foreshadowing. Most of all, you have to wrong-foot the reader by making them believe they might know how the story ends, but through clever misdirection and a few red-herrings, they’ll be in for a surprise.
The surprise works because it’s completely unexpected. It’s not the easiest to achieve because if the reader is smart enough to follow the clues and hints, and overstep the red-herrings, they may guess the twist at the end, therefore that element of surprise will fail.
This type of ending needs a lot of planning and thought for it to work.
Mainstream Ending
A mainstream ending is what most writers choose. In other words, the hero saves the day, defeats the villain and gets the girl, or something very similar. In other words, by the end, all is well with the world and the characters, the antagonist is no more and everything will be fine. This is the nearest thing to the ‘happy ever after’ ending, but real life isn’t actually like that. If you choose this type of ending, it’s worth bearing in mind the following:
  • Protagonists are not superheroes. They will get hurt.
  • Villains don’t always lose.
  • The hero doesn’t always get the girl/boy. She/he might dump the hero at the end.
  • Protagonists don’t always get what they want.
  • Mainstream endings aim to make the reader happy because it’s what they usually want. But Utopian endings are for fairy tales and romances. Don’t be afraid to be slightly different with your mainstream ending. Being different is what writing is about.
Open to Interpretation Ending
Endings can sometimes be ambiguous or deliberately inconclusive. They’re constructed that way so that the reader can draw their own conclusions about what happens or is likely to happen beyond the words ‘The End’. But they still need to be satisfactory to the reader, even if you don’t give them all the answers. These open-ended conclusions generally raise more questions, but in doing so the reader will think about the story and come up their own answers.
These types of ending usually indicate there are sequels, trilogies or they are part of a series of books, and that the story will continue until they are finally concluded.
Does ‘The End’ mean the end?  Not necessarily. After an ending, there tends to be the resolution. The job of the resolution is to show what has happened to the characters since the climax. It also helps to smooth out the plot and wrap up everything so that the reader can close the book feeling content that the ending is A) the right one B) logical and C) plausible and satisfactory.
Do you have to include a resolution? Not if you don’t want to. Plenty of writers choose not to. When the climax is done, the story is done and there is no need to go any further. Again, it depends on the story and the characters. That decision is entirely up to the author.
Endings - What Not to Do
There are some things to keep in mind with endings so that they work rather than fail. The following are common errors found with endings:
Don't introduce deus ex machina. In other words, don’t have an unexpected power or event or unknown person swoop in and save the day and everything is rosy. This is a sham and the reader will not thank you for it.
Don’t milk your resolution. After an exciting climax, don’t then spend three or four pages of boring exposition explaining everything to the reader. The end should mean The End.
Don’t overcomplicate it. Writers go overboard sometimes as they try to wrap up all the multiple sub plots and threads, and it becomes a jumbled mess that makes no sense. Keep the ending simple.
A great ending for any novel should make sure it makes sense, is plausible to the reader and is, above all, is the most satisfactory ending for the story. Not every story is a happy ending. But whatever it is, it needs to be right.

Next week: Should your characters be flawless?

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Getting to Grips with the Ending – Part 1

There is plenty of advice about how novels should open and lure readers, but what about endings? How important are they?
The simple answer is that they’re extremely important. The ending is the biggest advertisement for the reader to buy your next book. A satisfactory ending to a great story will very likely mean the reader will want to read more of your work. If the ending isn’t well executed or it’s contrived, the reader won’t be so forgiving and may not think your next book is worth reading.
Endings are as important as your opening. They need a lot of thought and consideration, which is why writers often struggle with endings. They want everything within the story to conclude, but at the same time they don’t want it to be schmaltzy or make it feel like a fairytale ‘happy ever after’ and most of all, they don’t want the ending to appear forced. This is why endings are the most rewritten part of any novel. Writers sometimes write dozens of endings before the settle on the right one.
The biggest reason writers have a problem with the ending, however, is because they haven’t planned their novel. How can you plan your ending if you don’t know where your story is heading? You have to have at least some idea of how it will conclude, even if you don’t have all the fine details worked out. This is why it’s so important to outline chapters and put a brief plan together so that as the climax approaches, you know exactly how you want to end the story.
Everything that happens in the story – subplots and actions etc. – relates to the conclusion, and this is where writers get stuck. If you’re a panster, and you don’t do much planning, or none at all, then you may find yourself in this situation. Even if you’ve got your ending in mind, you have to link it with the whole story, which may prove troublesome if you’ve generally made the story up as you’ve gone along.
So how do you get the ending ‘just right’?
The success any novel relies on a great opener, solid storytelling in the middle and a satisfactory ending. So, to get the ending right, the events that lead up to the end-game – the denouement – must conclude in an acceptable and reasonable way. Everything that takes place within the story must logically link to the ending. The actions of the main characters will form the basis of the ending (actions have consequences. remember), but must be believable.
In other words, all the questions must be answered, all plot threads should have been dealt with and the climax should be a logical conclusion to the plot. But writers often forget to tie up loose ends. You don’t want your reader wondering what happened to Joe Bloggs, last seen wandering off into the night on page 45, never to be heard from again. Every thread needs to be neatly tied up before the end, otherwise you could create confusion. If you don’t spot these things, your reader certainly will.
The idea behind any ending is that the reader won’t know how it ends until they read it. And when they do read it, they’ll be amazed.
Next week we’ll look at the different types of endings that work well for writers and what pitfalls to avoid in order to make the ending successful.
Next week: Getting to Grips with the Ending – Part 2

Sunday, 30 July 2017

How Do You Start and End Chapters?

This is something that all writers struggle with as they figure out how to grab the reader’s attention and maintain that interest. But there is reason why chapters should start and end a certain way – they are constructed to grab the reader’s interest, maintain it and keep it sustained throughout the novel.
The opening chapter of your book is always going to be the most important one, because it initially must hook the reader, then the rest of the story needs to be strong enough to captivate them. The end of that first chapter should then end in a way that entices the reader, it makes them pay attention or it teases them enough to turn the page and keep reading, because they simply have to know what happens next. 
The hard part is to repeat this formula for almost every chapter.
That may seem a lot, but there’s a simple reason behind it. Writers do it because they must tease and tantalise the reader at every opportunity. The more they can provoke and evoke, the more interest they garner from the reader.
Generally speaking, each chapter is usually chronological – they chart events in order and so each time a new chapter starts, the writer has to lure the reader somehow.  This is done my making the opening lines of the next chapter really interesting. How do they do that?
It depends on how the preceding chapter ended. Was there a revelation; did some big secret come out? Was the main character in mortal danger from a seemingly inescapable situation? Did something terrible happen?
Whatever it is, the next chapter is the natural continuation and so writers either get straight to the heart of the action and open moments after the last chapter. They use dialogue or description to catch the attention of the reader. But whatever the next chapter, it must be interesting enough for the reader to carry on reading.
The ending of a chapter plays more of an integral role. It’s an invite for the reader to read on. This can be anything, but it needs to lure, it needs to be interesting enough for them to continue.  Think of it as a mini cliffhanger. These work well because almost always something unexpected happens to the main character.
The cliffhanger can be anything - it could take the shape of a huge revelation, which throws the main character into an emotional state. It might be that a truth is uncovered; the main character learns something which changes the dynamic of everything. Or it might be the main character makes a decision – perhaps a terrible one...or it could also be that the he or she is thrown into a terrible situation with no apparent means of escape. The stakes are high, the danger is imminent…
And that means the reader has to find out what happens next.
The next chapter should never cheat the reader. Don’t give them a cliffhanger where the main character runs from some kind of danger and she hears a noise and screams, thinking she’s about to be killed…and the next chapter shows that it’s a fox making the sound, which scurries off into the night. This stuff doesn’t stick and the reader won’t thank you for it. Don’t contrive; it does nothing for the story’s integrity.
The subsequent chapter to a cliffhanger should always follow. In other words, it follows the events. So if your main character runs from some kind of danger and hears a noise and screams, thinking she’s about to be killed, then the next chapter could start by showing how she evades the danger by thinking on her feet, or perhaps opens with her standing over a figure…
It’s a simple concept: Tease and reveal. Tease and reveal.
This is the case as the story moves towards its climax, where things become progressively more difficult for the protagonist, and writers often throw in one more big surprise twist at the end to ramp up every last ounce of tension and excitement and suspense. And it’s that magical ingredient suspense that really makes a story put readers on the edge of their seats. It’s all about uncertainty.
Will the hero survive the perilous fire? Will the revelation change everything? Will the story change dramatically after what has happened? What happens next?
The reader will just have to turn that page and find out…

AllWrite will be taking a summer break and will return 19th August.