Fiction, Flash Fiction, Writing Process

How to start a flash fiction story?

Writing flash fiction is not an easy feat. But picking the right opening (especially the opening line) is amongst my favourite things when it comes to crafting brief but poignant stories.

I write a new flash fiction story every week and publish it on this blog every Friday. The main challenge is fitting a middle, beginning and end into 300-500 words…which is how short my flash fiction stories are. It started out with 300 words as the limit but the muse is a fickle mistress and, when I am inspired, even 500 words don’t feel like much room to play with!

Before I start writing, I always make sure that I have decided three essential things:

A. The point of view to tell my story from.
B. The main (and only) characters…I try to stick to two max!
C. The conflict between my two characters (otherwise it’s just waffle).

Once I have all of this straight, I write a brief outline – that’s the only way I can write on demand. Feel free to skip this step if you’re a pantser (I hear ‘discovery writer‘ is a more polite term for this in the writing community nowadays).

Armed with my outline and notes, I go straight to the opening line. Yes, that’s right. I don’t give my story a title until the very end. The reason for this is that even with my outline, there is no guarantee that I will actually stick to it. I use it to ‘cheapen’ the blank page and get me typing.

The most important part in choosing an opening line is to find a hook…your first sentence should be a statement that leaves the reader with one or more questions at the end of the first sentence. This is to signal that this story is worth reading. You are making a promise to your reader. For example:

She sat on her throne; unmoved for centuries.

‘Mythless’ by Josie Cole (@josiecolewrites)
License: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Would you read the rest of this story? I hope so. The questions that most readers will probably be asking themselves after this opening line are 1. Who is ‘she’? and 2. Why has she been unmoved for centuries? See how I did that? By using this opening line, I am promising the reader that I will reveal more information about this character if he/she/they keep reading.

Now, it’s your turn! Stop reading this post and go write a flash fiction with a killer opening line.

See ya next time 😉

If this post inspires a story, let me know in the comments below. And please remember to post a link to your work, too. I would love to read it.

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Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How do you choose the best point of view for your own narratives?

One of many questions I have about writing fiction! And while I am sure that there is no perfect answer, I also believe that there might be some different answers, depending on who you are and what you write and who your audience is.

I recently touched on this when I wrote about breaking some writing rules

The main reason why this interests me has to do with productivity. I don’t know about you, but I have very limited time to write in my busy life. So, optimising my time and getting my fiction drafts as far as possible every time I sit down to write is absolutely essential. Otherwise, how can I make my dreams come true?!

One major stumbling block on the journey to becoming a successful novelist is having to rewrite your entire draft just because you picked the wrong point of view to tell your story from in the beginning. Once you write yourself into a corner it can be pretty tough to get out of it – especially if you’re writing in first person.

First person narrators are a popular choice in YA Fantasy and SciFi but many novels in these genres suffer from dissatisfying ‘miraculous’ solutions to problems that the protagonist can’t solve because their is no way he/she/they could have had access to the information, place, or powers needed to get out of their latest pickle.

I try not to work miracles in my stories. NOT EVER! And it’s very hard. But I also found that the better I plan (I’m a plotter, remember?) the easier it is to actually finish my stories. And isn’t that the ultimate goal for us novelists – to one day finish our novels so we can hit ‘publish’ …eventually…and without our readers feeling cheated?

The choice of which point of view you use to tell your stories is NOT arbitrary. Choose wisely. Think about what kind of story you are writing, how likely your protagonist will be able to convey all the information your audience needs so you can solve your problems in a clever, yet plausible way that doesn’t require miracles.

And don’t forget: if your are using magic to solve any problems in your story, you better not break any of your self-imposed limits and rules. Just inventing a new rule that the audience didn’t know about up to that point is cheating. Your readers won’t appreciate it.

How do I know this? Because I am a reader and I hate feeling cheated. And every time an author cheats me, I make a note of their name and never buy their books again.

See ya next time 😉

If you have experienced the pain of having to switch point of view in the middle (or close to the end) of your narrative, share your experience in the comments below. I would also love to know if you know of any clever tools (or at least aides) to help choose the right point of view from the beginning. I always love to learn new techniques.

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Author Business, Fiction, Writing Process

Eight rules for writing fiction that you should definitely break!

Yes, yes…you’re right. There are definitely more than eight rules when it comes to writing fiction; especially in the realm of the fantasy genres (and sub-genres). But I found this article in The New Yorker (from 2013) and it strikes me that the eight rules they picked for their article are eight that I definitely break often…without breaking my stories!

In the wild west of indie publishing it might be tempting for new authors to launch into their projects thinking one of two things:

A. That you have to follow ALL the rules known to fiction authors.
OR
B. That you have to follow NONE of the rules known to fiction authors.

Neither approach has my recommendation. If you follow each and every rule you have ever heard about fiction writing, you are most likely going to end up with a stale piece of prose that will be so rigid and structured (and flat) that nobody will want to read it…unless they are a special kind of individual who likes to torment themselves!

On the other hand, if you follow none of the rules you have ever heard about fiction writing, you are most likely going to end up with a wild, unstructured beast of a story that will fail to provide any useful reference points to your readers. Your fiction will evade all tropes and genre conventions and be of use to nobody. Some rules are good! But I don’t think those are the eight rules hailed by The New Yorker…

Here are my recommendations about the eight rules mentioned in their article…which is published in the humour and cartoons section of their website (although this is not necessarily clear if you come in via google results as it’s categorised as ‘daily shouts’ rather than ‘satire’):

Show, don’t tell.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Yes we heard it many times. Show don’t tell is where it’s at. Don’t write your story like a manual for household appliances (seriously, please don’t do that)! But you can’t show everything without messing up your pacing, narrative voice, style, and general appeal. So here’s my version of this rule for the modern fiction writer of 2021: show when you can and tell when you can’t. Choose wisely.

Create three-dimensional characters.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

This one tickled me the most! The article literally advises fiction writers to avoid cliché character descriptions by telling your reader how long, wide, and girthy some hard-charging banker character is…as he drives around in his flashy sports car… oh my! You want to avoid cliché character descriptions? Write down the clichés you know of and then find innovative ways of describing the character traits to move you away from the overused descriptions.

I am not saying YOUR version of the hard-charging banker has to be a slim, unicorn riding, sugarplum fairy with delicate wings…but how about not describing the character as ‘hard-charging’ to start with? And what if your banker character was secretly uncomfortable with driving a sports car but too afraid to show it? Wouldn’t that be a lot more interesting than learning about his measurements in 3 dimensions?

Choose a point of view.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Sounds like good advice – doesn’t it? After all you don’t want to end up head hopping and confusing your readers…? Sure, but there is a problem with this rule which is why I often break it. The point of view from which your story needs to be told is not arbitrary. Depending on what information you need to convey to your readers/ characters to conclude your story, every writer who has ever written themselves into a corner without escape (I have done this many times), will have experienced what happens when you choose the wrong point of view.

First person narrators are a popular choice in YA Fantasy and SciFi fiction but this only really works well if your protagonist has the freedom or opportunity to access every place, character, and knowledge that is essential for moving your plot past all of the crucial landmarks in your story.

Otherwise you might end up having to invent ‘magical’ phenomena, additional characters, work miracles (not very satisfying for your readers), or constantly rework your plot to get out of those pesky corners. You’re not really choosing a point of view…you are matchmaking your point of view with the story you want to tell. Work out what your story needs and learn to use the relevant point of view to your advantage…instead of to your detriment.

Give your characters motivations.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Now this is among the most problematic pieces of advice in the fiction world. You are led to believe that if you can work out what your characters(s) want(s) you can come up with a great, engaging plot for your story that will have the readers turn the pages to the very end. But have you read any of those stories that are primarily driven by characters’ wants? I have! And they bored me to tears.

One wants cupcakes. Another wants to be with somebody else’s spouse. The next wants power. It’s just what they want. But there is no reason why! I firmly believe that it’s not enough for a character to want something. Whatever it is the character strives for, he/ she/ they must need it.

Think about Frodo from Lord of the Rings. Do you think he just wants the ring? Does he just want to own it? Does he just want its power? If you need to remind yourself, go ahead, I think you’ll find that what Frodo feels in relation to the ring runs much deeper than want. Frodo needs it. The ring calls to him. He is drawn in and becomes increasingly obsessed (or possessed – you choose) by it. Giving it up is painful. Unthinkable.

Figure out what your characters need! And don’t forget that your antagonist must need something that conflicts with what your protagonist needs – otherwise they’re on the same side.

Write what you know. 

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Oh dear. Another overrated piece of fiction writing advice. Please don’t write what you know. It gets boring pretty quickly. I spent years trying to write a novel about what I know and it has resulted in some of the worst stories I have ever written! Everything you know is already so close to you that you will have difficulty writing about it in a fresh and interesting way. Instead, write what you love to read! In my case that’s YA Fantasy (mainly high fantasy).

Find what rocks your socks as a reader…and then write a story within that genre. Write a story you would love to read that is full of the type of characters, plots twists, and conventions that make you love your favourite genre. Chances are it will be well received by readers who like what you like. Be your own ideal reader. It works! Everything else can be researched.

No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader. 

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Problems getting emotional when you are writing? Me too. Does this mean that our readers can’t be moved by our writing? I hardly think so. Comments on my work suggest otherwise. I think this point was thrown into the original article to allow for some comic relief but I really don’t believe this to be valid at all – humorous intention or not.

No need to go slice onions…just have your writing read back to you to check the reader experience. A lot of the emotional response from readers comes from an element of surprise, coupled with effective foreshadowing. As a writer, make sure your works sounds right and that you have the correct setup for the emotion you wish to incite in your readers. The rest is just gimmicks!

Revize, revize, revize.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

I know this might seem like I am being contentious on purpose. But hear me out. Revising your work is a good thing! Every writer’s output needs an edit (or two, or three). What your work definitely doesn’t need, though, is a perfectionist maniac author who is so worked up over the possibility of releasing anything into the world that might feature the tiniest flaw that they never release anything at all.

All stories have flaws. A determined critic can poke holes into just about anything (just look at me picking apart The New Yorker article over here). Here’s the rule you need: write, edit, revise, proofread, then publish. Get your story into the hands of readers (at least beta ones), collect feedback and make your next story better. Write, write, write and ship!

Trust yourself.

The New Yorker, Eight Rules for Writing Fiction, by Teddy Wayne, 6 June 2013

Yes and no. If you are writing what you love to read and your story is shaping up to be the kind of book YOU would buy, chances are good that you are on the right track! But please don’t forget that the question is: does this work of fiction read like the books I love to read? Rather than: do I think the story ideas are similar to other books I have read in this genre? Trust yourself as a reader but beware of your writer-self.

You have to be honest with yourself. Is the quality of our writing comparable to the books you love to read? If the answer is no (or if you’re unsure) listen to your beta readers…by which I mean other people who love to read what you love to read. Be unemotional (I know this is hard) but don’t assume people will love your story just because it’s the right type of story. It also has to look, feel, and read like other stories in the genre and that takes a whole lot of skill. Keep learning.

See ya next time 😉

If you have enjoyed this post and are curious what a story that breaks all these fiction writing rules might look like, have a look at my one-shot YA Fantasy story ‘Shadow Play’ (for free). As always, comments, feedback and further thoughts on this post are welcome. Please share in the comments.

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Author Business, Self-Publishing

Can free text-to-speech software save your self-publishing budget?

I am slightly biased when it comes to anything technology (my day-job involves horizon scanning for technological solutions in a large organisation) and it never fails to amaze me how many of the most boring and menial tasks can now be done faster and easier with the help of advanced tools. So, I recently had a brainwave when it comes to improving my writing and my proofreading – for free! – and I thought that you might be interested in trying this, too.

If you are thinking about self-publishing, or if you have already got some experience with this, you might have discovered that self-publishing can be expensive. Especially if you want to put out quality products (i.e. books). No, I am NOT suggesting that you use free text-to-speech software to help turn your books into audio books. But I AM suggesting that this type of software can be make you a better writer. And it will cost you nothing at all.

How is this possible, you ask? It’s all down to one little fact that we writers already know: it’s impossible to proofread yourself. Everyone who has tried it will undoubtedly have come across the problem of missing words (‘be’, ‘a’, ‘the’, are common problems), duplication (‘the the’ and ‘a a’ are my personal faves), and a general issue with spelling and grammar (don’t get me started on this one).

If I am telling you that the culprit of such problems is the human brain, your eyes will probably roll right into the back of your head. But this is exactly why technology is an excellent solution. Software is dumb! It doesn’t have thoughts, it doesn’t assume, doesn’t understand words that are misspelled, doesn’t block out duplicate words, and it most certainly doesn’t fill in words that are not actually there.

So, dropping a paragraph of your text into a free text-to-speech online tool (Natural Readers is my tool of choice), helps you beat your overly helpful brain! It lets you hear your writing as it will come across to your reader and you will hear if your sentences are overly long, and whether your narrative flows…or not. You will hear every misspelled word (because the software won’t be able to pronounce it) and you will be alerted to all missing and duplicate words.

I recently used this to edit a one-shot YA Fantasy story and the feedback I had on this from readers was so much better than I could ever have anticipated.
My favourite comment on this story claims:
This is one the most well written stories that I’ve read on here [Wattpad]! So much passion in so few words! I commend you! : )

See ya next time 😉

If you give this approach to self-editing and proofreading a try, share your experience in the comments below. Links to your stories on the web are also welcome! Have a great week.

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Plot, Story, Story Arc, Structure, Writing Process

How to know when your book is finished?

Even though this will drive you all crazy, I will have to say it anyway: a story should only be as long as it needs to be. That’s it. The end, see you next time…ah but wait! Didn’t I say this post was about how you know when a story is finished? Well, I suppose, every writer sooner or later comes to a point in their story where they have to ask themselves: to end or not to end?…THAT is the question!

And it’s not always obvious…even to the most seasoned of writers! For one, anybody here ever read The Green Mile by Stephen King? No? Then you better get on it! It’s a great book…apart from the lengthy waffle at the end of the book that goes well past where I felt it should have ended. No obligation for anybody here to agree with me, but if you have read it, I would be curious if you came away with the same feeling…that the book could have come to a close much sooner than it did.

So, every time I write a story, I try to start with the end in mind…even if I only have a vague idea. Because at least it will help me not to overshoot my goal. Easy to say if you’re a plotter (which I am). Although, I think that even for the pantsers among us at least a grain of an idea as to where the story should end could be of benefit.

My flash fiction writing (although I only started this recently) is already paying off in this arena. First of all, I am getting to finish a lot more stories which means that I am getting some practice recognising the natural finish point. And secondly, I am learning to fit my story into a specific word count (I try to keep my flash fiction around 300 words). So when I write longer, I can better gauge how many words I need to write to finish the story.

If I reach the word count for my story and my planned ending hasn’t happened yet, I know I have too much waffle and too little action in my story. If my planned ending happens far from the planned word count, I have a good indicator that my story lacks detail and might be too jumpy or sudden and I can go back and insert more scenes to give the reader more information about the characters and the world.

My writing style is very action driven and I sometimes lack the patience to describe much of the world, places, and characters in my story. Writing long is a real challenge for me but getting to a pacey first draft and then revising to make sure I have enough material for the story I want to write is a good strategy for me.

See ya next time 😉

If you recognise any of your own issues in this post, have trouble finishing a story in time for your planned ending, have a good reason not to want to plan the ending of your stories, or are so good at ending your stories perfectly that your books are a shining beacon of hope to the rest of us, please share your views in the comments below.

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Flash Fiction

FLASH FICTION: Tea for Eternity

The future envisioned them. All six. Young girls; short and stocky. Unremarkable to say the least. Lost in the world, they were too ordinary to fit in. Too ordinary to stand out. They were invisible creatures, even to themselves. Hardly alive, hardly dead. Only the future knew their destiny. To the present, these girls were bone dry. The past hadn’t seen much of them, yet, but she would in good time.

“More tea?”

The present rolled her eyes, setting her empty china cup down on its saucer.

“Your skill to anticipate is exhausting. I don’t know why you even bother to ask. Don’t you know the answer?”

“I do.” replied the future, whilst filling the cup half full. “I even know exactly how many sips you will be taking from this half empty cup before you change your mind.”

The present let out a heavy sigh. Her gaze wandered over to her older sister now. No point arguing with the younger.

“I don’t know how you can bear it! Tea for eternity at this very table.”

“Oh I am not paying attention to that. All I need to know is right here in my memories.” She briefly tapped her left temple before taking up her needlework again.

“Ugh! Neither of you are even here! Your minds are elsewhere. It’s only me stuck drinking this mud!”

“Earl Grey.” the future chimed. “Would you like another blend for the next pot?”

“You haven’t complained about the tea before.” the past added unhelpfully, exacerbating the present’s dark mood.

“Enough! The both of you! I am sick of your tea. And what is your obsession with these boring girls?”

The future smiled. “You leave the future to me. All in good time.”

“One day you’ll see.” the past agreed.

In a wild rage, the present grabbed her cup with the intention to smash it against the wall but the future was already ahead of her.

“Release my arm!”

“In a few minutes when you are calm again.”

And so the hours passed. Each one worth a year in the human world. The present raged twice every hour but the future always anticipated and the past always remembered. Together the past and the future watched the girls grow up and, one day, they were all gone from view.

“What happened to the girls?” the present remarked one day in a calm moment.

“I don’t remember.” admitted the future. Her eyes were gazing at a young soldier. His future was sad.

“They died.” determined the past.

“And what happened before they died? Did they lead remarkable lives? Did they change?”

The past looked up from her needlework. Over the rim of her glasses, she shot a dark glance at her younger sister.

“You could have seen for yourself if you were patient enough.”

The future nodded. “More tea?”

A note for creators:
This flash fiction work is subject to the following license: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Attribution — You must give appropriatecredit, to ‘Josie Cole (@josiecolewrites)’, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses your use.

See ya next time 😉

If you have enjoyed this flash fiction piece, I would love to hear about it in the comments below. If you adapt this for your own creative project, feel free to post a link to your project or website.

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Fiction, Flash Fiction

Does flash fiction improve your novel writing?

This might seem like a silly question. But hang on, don’t click away just yet. Even though it might be difficult to see a direct relationship between short-form and long-form fiction, the key skills required to be successful in both worlds may be more similar than you thought.

No matter how long or short a story is, at the end of the day, it needs to be well thought out and have an appropriate amount if content. Of course a piece of flash fiction (or micro fiction) will require much less content than a novel. What matters is your ability to come up with the correct amount of content (by which I mean story events or plot) on a reliable basis. That’s the first important skill you need to have to succeed as fiction writer irrespective of word count.

The second skill you need is the ability to create a story arc to guide your reader through the narrative. No matter how long or short your story is, it will need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end…and depending on the type of story you write, it might require a twist (I definitely like a good twist). Flash fiction is an excellent practice ground for learning how to create clear and interesting story arcs. This skill is easily transferable to long-form fiction.

The third key skill you can hone as a flash fiction writer and later use to further your novel writing career is learning how to create a narrative voice. Given the extreme brevity of flash fiction, there is often little scope to introduce, nor describe, your character(s). Learning how to write in a character’s voice helps work around those limitations. Your reader can gain a lot from how a character expresses him/her/them -selves and as much as this helps save words in the realm of flash fiction, once you cross over into the realm of long-form fiction, you are likely to find this useful in avoiding overly descriptive (i.e. boring) narrative sections and info dumps that nobody wants to read.

So, there you have it. Three good reasons to start writing flash fiction immediately. I, for one, have committed to writing one piece of flash fiction per week to hone my own skills whilst I am continuing to work on my debut novel which I am hoping to self-publish at the end of 2021. I will publish my flash fiction on this blog once a week so if you’re interested in following my progress as I attempt to upskill and try some new things, keep an eye out for Friday posts.

See ya next time 😉

If you found this post helpful, are poised to try out some flash fiction, have no idea what I’m talking about, or absolutely can’t see the point of flash fiction, share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Story, World-building

Are your origin stories a waste of time?

Whoever said outlining has to be boring? Not me! As all my regular readers know, outlining is an important part of my writing process…and definitely essential for characters, and plot. On world-building, I am considering myself still an apprentice to the masters (Brandon Sanderson, I will eternally appreciate all the video lectures you put out on YouTube. I would have long given up on writing fantasy without these!) but I know for sure that I won’t get very far if I don’t develop a decent process for my world-building, too.

One of the many things I am curious about at the moment is the value of origin stories. As much as I appreciate that these can be written after the publication of a major fantasy book or series, what about writing these as part of the world-building process? You might think this is crazy-talk but I have started experimenting with this on Wattpad (as @JosieColeWrites) and the first few responses to ‘Original Magic’ are quite positive…rankings for it aren’t too shabby either.

Cover design by Josie Cole; royalty free stock image from pixabay.com

But whatever the rankings and feedback might be, at the end of the day the origin short story I am writing is not getting me any closer to finishing my actual novel – or is it?

As I see it, every piece of my story world that is revealed in my origin story naturally emerges from the needs to the origin storyline and saves me having to sit in my home office and sweat over artificial details that may never need to be mentioned in the corresponding novel. Instead, I can make sure that I come up with the important details without which my story world cannot make sense.

Brandon Sanderson has a terms for this concept of only building just enough details to make your reader believe in your story world: the hollow iceberg. Imagine the top of an iceberg being the amount of world-building that you need to put into your novel to describe to the reader where the story takes place. All the massive part of the iceberg that remains under water represents the backstory and world-building writers create to be able to work out the bits that make up the top. BUT the iceberg is hollow…because unless you have the next 20 years to get your 1st novel written, you have to learn to fake it.

So, you see? It’s through my origin story writing that I am working on becoming an excellent story-world-faker (I mean fantasy author).

See ya next time 😉

If you have any experience with ‘faking’ your world-building, feel strong objection to the concept outlined in this post, or have a better idea about what to do with origin stories (no rude suggestions please), let me know in the comments below.

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Story, Structure, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

Can you ‘doodle’ your story in 4 simple steps?

We have already discussed the pros and cons of having an outline (or map) to help with closing plot holes, ensuring you have the right number of characters for your story, and that there are enough scenes to tell a satisfying story.

What we haven’t talked about is how to start the outline. I know how intimidating a blank page can be when your story is nothing but a vague series of snippets in your head.

To help overcome this initial anxiety, some people like morning pages. Others keep a notebook and write down bit over time until there is enough material to pull it all together. Unfortunately, neither of these methods has ever been of much help to me.

If you have had similar experiences, you might want to try the doodle method. And it goes like this:

1. Start with a blank sheet of paper (I did mine with the doodle feature in Evernote but you don’t have to be fancy). Take any pen and write ‘story doodle’ at the top of the paper.

2. That’s a good way to cheapen it up a little and reduce anxiety of ruining the page. Expect it to look terrible. Don’t pressure yourself to make this pretty! That’s very important.

3. The put the working title (if you have one) of your novel onto the centre of your paper and draw a bubble around it. Then identify the main themes of your story and write them spaced out around the centre bubble. Draw bubbles around each of these too and connect them to the centre bubble. I like to include a bubble for ‘characters’ but this can be done separately if you prefer.

4. Now start filling in information around each bubble and connect your notes with relevant bubbles (connect notes to several bubbles if applicable.

When you finish you should have something like this:

Story Doodle for the fantasy novel ‘Fearful Magic’ by Josie Cole (@WimpyWriter)

Tadaa! Your first draft outline is complete. This one took about 20 minutes, so perfect if you don’t have much time for your writing. I use my story doodle as a point of reference to help with populating my story grid and character profiles…and when I’m stuck.

See you next time 😉

If you try a story doodle or have a similar (or maybe even better) method to get a story outline started, please share your experience in the comments section below this post. I would love to hear from you.

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Flash Fiction

FLASH FICTION: Witch’s Brew

The rat tail fell into the cauldron unnoticed. It sank to the bottom like lead. There it slowly began to dissolve, never changing the color, nor consistency of the muddy liquid. And the witch? The witch never knew while the cauldron bubbled and spat. 

The witch’s hands, were busy grinding bones. Her fingers were crinkly and dry like twigs. Translucent skin was stretched across her knuckles. But not for long, she thought. The potion would revive her flesh. Her hair would grow thick and be with colour again. Her figure would be straight, and soft, and round, like peaches. At last, she would be beautiful for eternity.  

Carefully, she slipped the bone dust into the bubbling brew. The final ingredient. A puff of rancid smoke escaped over the rim of the cauldron. The witch spoke an incantation, letting her ancient fingers dance over the cauldron. Sparks flew, then a sudden gust of wind blew out the fire and the bubbles began to subside. Slowly, the potion cooled until the surface of the liquid lay flat. From  a misshapen ladle, the witch sipped the potion eagerly until there was barely a puddle left at the bottom of the cauldron. 

By the time the witch recognized the taste of rat tail, it was too late; the potion  had taken effect. There was a coughing and a scratching. Then there was only a desperate tapping as all moisture escaped the witch’s body until her breathing stopped and her body became a heap of sand. After it had been quiet for a long time, the cauldron squeaked with what sounded like delight. Then it was still again. And on the bottom of the cauldron, in scraggly handwriting, was scratched a note; unseen. At last, all servitude must end. 

A note for creators:
This flash fiction work is subject to the following license: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, to ‘Josie Cole (@WimpyWriter)’, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses your use.

See ya next time 😉

If you have enjoyed this flash fiction piece, I would love to hear about it in the comments below. If you adapt this for your own creative project, feel free to post a link to your project or website.

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World-building, Writing Process

How to invent a magic system?

No character can be almighty. Even the strongest and meanest villain has to have some level of weakness…otherwise, why would we be reading? That’s my number one reminder to myself when I am coming up with magic systems for my stories. As much as magic is an amazing story tool and so interesting to write, without limitations it all falls apart.

Now this isn’t to say that this limits a writer’s imagination. It certainly doesn’t limit mine. Think of all the wonderful ways in which magic can be limited. Maybe it only works under certain conditions, in certain places, in the presence of specific artifacts, or away from certain materials…yes we all heard about kryptonite…

So where to start with your magic system? You could try starting with the cool stuff if you find the limitations boring. If the idea of limitations excites you, try spinning the whole concept on its head and start by working out what magic can’t do in your story or when it won’t work (at least not reliably).

Sometimes the best magic systems can come out of a process of elimination. If your character can’t do x and y with magic…how else would they do these things and what other magical abilities do they have to solve their problems (or at least try)?

You can also use limitations in your magic system to mould your characters and ensure there is growth throughout the character arc. If they can’t solve a problem by using magic, is there a non-magical way they can solve it?

Maybe they have to learn a new skill or make an alliance…or perhaps there is something the character has been avoiding that is now the only way forward for them, seeing that magic is not available?

See ya next time 😉

Would love to hear about all the quirky magic systems that you can possibly imagine…and the appropriate limitations, of course. Mine still needs more work but, don’t worry, you will hear more about it as I get closer to working it out. If you are planning on writing this weekend, I hope it goes well for you!

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World-building, Writing Process

Are your world-building ideas overrated?

The idea that sparks a world is only a grain of sand at first. Slowly, it morphs and grows until a whole universe starts to breathe from within your notes and maps. And you need a lot of them to build enough before you write. It makes me want to throw up every time I think about just how many ideas it takes to bring a world to life.

As established in my latest post, I have a lot of homework yet to do to bring my story world into existence. All I have so far is a few kernels of understanding. A bag of seeds that are yet to be planted.

Every writer wants to come up with a cool world for their story – that’s a given. But not every aspect of your world can be cool. Your world needs all the boring things too…like plumbing (or some form of waste management – I need to stop thinking about magical loos!). Some aspects of your world will be a logical follow on from some decisions you make in the process of crafting your epic masterpiece and it might not feel all too exciting to be tied into certain causal links between the various elements.

I feel your pain. But here’s the upside to all of this: if you find a few cool ideas for the key elements of your story world, you can snowball them and be off the hook for a great deal of the other parts. Certainly takes the pressure of the good old idea engine.

See ya next time 😉

Are you a world-building veteran? If so, what was the coolest world-building idea you ever came up with? Tell me in the comments below…oh and feel free to let me have a link to your novel or story if you published it. If you feel brave, what were your worst ideas?...I hope mine were magical loos!

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Backstory, Writing Process

History: what your novel shouldn’t ‘tell’…

Any world – real or imagined – is a product of past events. The characters who walked the earth long before your story even begins, planted the seeds for pretty much every political, biological, and technological reality your characters have to deal with. The history of the (story) world is an essential part of your story, and yet, it’s exactly the part that a writer should never ‘tell’…unless bad feedback about info dumping doesn’t bother you.

Yes, you guessed it, the current state of my world building is poor and one of the reasons for this is that my story world history is vague. I literally didn’t bother fleshing it out to any significant degree, which I am now working to rectify, before addressing any gaps in my character profiling for secondary characters. The reason for this being that that the story world history might change them and I don’t want to have to do it twice.

All I initially jotted down about my story world history were these notes:

  • The story plays at the end of a great war between humans and mages.
  • Mages lost and are now in the minority and severely persecuted.
  • There is a few people who specialise in tracking mages who are in hiding and don’t dare to gather – the best one at this is our antagonist (John).
  • The Forest also known as the ‘home of mages’ has existed longer than any human or mage can remember.
  • The Forest existed long before the first priestess bore magic (from of a sacred well) and erected the temple at its heart where spirits of all deceased mages dwell eternally to protect the sacred site.
  • The opposing force to magic is a religion that loosely resembles Christianity and that has been gaining support steadily over a series of decades.
  • Religious leaders have been spreading vicious lies about magic and the mage-born, fostering fear and separation and go back to the time before the birth of magic.

I know, right? Whatever made me think I was getting away with this? No detail about the war or what made it significant in the grand scheme of things. No notes about how this war has changed people (I’ll be starting a new research file on exactly this change in people, including soldiers and civilians and how war affected them potentially differently depending on their level of involvement).

Crucially, I didn’t work out how the people managed to win the war and defeat magic (I presume with the help of their god). Doing my homework will change my story, affect the magic system I imagined, and hopefully will make the end product much better. I have already re-written the first scene in light of some new information and feel positive about turning things upside down.

Whilst I am not planning to turn into a watered-down version of J.R.R Tolkien (the man invented whole cultures and languages, each with their own diverse mythology and belief systems, for goodness sakes), I do think that I need a little more than a few notes on the subject of story world history.

So, why never ‘tell’? Because if you do your job and work it all out first there should be no need to spell it all out for your reader. Your characters’ actions, beliefs, thoughts, and words – alongside descriptions of the story world in the present – should suffice to deliver a strong sense of legacy.

After all, one of the big criticisms of Tolkien’s work is that there is just too much explaining going on, and whilst I can’t always agree (the detailed descriptions of life in the Shire at the beginning of Lord of the Rings, helps to understand how much Frodo has to change to survive in much more hostile environments), I can see why readers moan about it.

See ya next time 😉

If you are also struggling to work out your story world’s history, or if you have the opposite problem and are consumed by coming up with more and more detail about what happened before your story began, share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Plot, Story Beats, Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

What to do when outlining isn’t enough?

Calling all plotters! Let’s imagine the following: you have established your writing process, worked out your basic structure, completed a description of every scene…but when it gets down to writing, you struggle to come up with the all important details. The narrative doesn’t flow and you inevitably find yourself asking the question what else should I add into this scene?

If this scenario is foreign to you, consider yourself lucky! It’s the number one reason why I have faltered at completing a novel so many times! Following my renewed commitment to actually finishing my first novel during last autumn, I also sparked an obsession on how to force my brain to work it out. I thought NaNoWriMo was going to fix everything. If needs must, your brain can do it!, I thought…I was WRONG!

I had all the same problems but now I was also under unnecessary pressure to hit daily word limits. The more I wanted to win, the more I lost – sleep, productivity, and even the basic joy in writing evaded me. It was horrible.

Halfway through the challenge, I stopped caring about writing my first draft. I just started jotting down some story details that I knew and started elaborating on the things that I noted in my story grid whilst asking: how would it happen? Additionally I added snippets of dialogue that came to mind in relation to the events that were finally starting to flow.

The result: things shifted completely and I started typing furiously into my word processor every day (a shame I only came to this realisation on day 25 of the 30 day challenge).

The good news is that the concept of what I discovered is not new. Sterling and Stone (an incredibly productive fiction writing trio) have termed this ‘story beats’. A detailed outline of their whole story in long prose. Whilst I haven’t studied their method in much detail and can’t say how similar or dissimilar my version of this is from what they are doing, I can attest to the fact that the rough longform outlining of story really works very well.

Here’s a list of my key findings after writing a good chunk of my rough story beats (I didn’t make it all the way to end yet but I am working on it).

  1. Some extra scenes need to be added for the story to flow (even though scenes seemed to follow on fine from each other from the story grid).
  2. Supporting characters weren’t fleshed out enough in the grid outline and it was difficult to imagine how they would react in certain situations.
  3. Not enough worldbuilding had been done – this will be addressed as a priority this year as it might change some aspect of the characters.

I can’t wait to post about how I will be addressing the issues I have identified and share any resources that help me on my journey.

See ya next time 😉

If you are stuck with your own writing, share your issues in the comments below, maybe I can suggest something that helps (I know all about being stuck, after all). And if you have experience with story beats, I would love to hear how it’s worked for you (or not).

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset, Writing Process

How to bounce back from ‘research’ overload?

Even though my planned Christmas holiday from writing dragged on way longer than recommended, I am glad to be back to my normal posting schedule. I hope you haven’t missed my antics all too much and are looking forward to new posts? I’m sorry if you found my silence irritating…the words ran dry and I needed a rest!

The main reason for my extended break from writing was ‘research’…by which I mean ferocious reading of material mostly tangentially relevant to the story I am crafting…by which I mean…I was reading other authors’ works of fantasy and adventure fiction whilst not working on my own.

If you want tips on how to procrastinate, I fear I might be a masterful adviser. Just ask in the comments section below.

There, I admitted it. Relieved to have come to the end of a difficult year, I plunged into a blissful winter break from EVERYTHING. I ate cake (and other sweet treats in abundance), explored amazing story worlds, watched Netflix, felt jealous (and like a bad writer) a lot, and battled self-doubt.

I’m sharing this with you because I promised to share every part of my journey to my first self-published novel and what happened between this post and my last is something that writers sometimes go through. I am fessing up about the most recent time when I felt like giving up – but didn’t.

Think about everything you heard any successful author ever say about rejection. The advice is always the same: keep writing. Start over. Carry on. Or in the manner of Stephen King (just read The Dark Tower): get a bigger nail! This advice also holds up when it comes to rejecting yourself.

You know not to read back your first draft until you finished it but you do it anyway and start doubting and worrying, and rejecting your writing. Like me. The key is to start again. Be kind to yourself. Recharge, write more. At least that’s what I intend to do.

It’s 2021 and if there are any of you out there wondering how to bounce back from the black hole that was lockdown Christmas (at least that’s what it was in the UK) I hope this post helped.

See ya next time 😉

How was your winter holiday? Did you also get caught up in any ‘research’? If you got anything out of this post (or if you read something amazing and want to share a recommendation) let me know in the comments below.

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Author Business, Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

The trouble with consistent writing…

Those of you who read this blog regularly (you have my eternal gratitude) will have noticed that I have some difficulty keeping up with my posting schedule. My novel writing has suffered just as much. What you might not know is that I am desperately looking for ways to improve this.

If you are a fellow writer who is always looking for ways to discipline yourself to put one word next to another and build an unshakable writing habit in the process, I expect that you will have come across various methods that supposedly help writers write consistently.

Here are a few of my personal faves:

  1. The 8 minute writing habit
  2. The pomodoro method
  3. Morning pages/ free-writing
  4. NaNoWriMo

These are all great and in some cases really work, but if you are a terrible procrastinator (like me) you might struggle to implement any of these techniques…or at least fail to so consistently…which kind of defeats the point.

If you are as frustrated about this as I am, the following nugget of wisdom might help soothe the pain: the writing part is not the problem. It’s the sitting down part you might have the problem with.

If you have kids (or a busy job…or both), you will know all too well how hard it is to find quiet time…and how it feels to try and write in the ungodly hours of the morning (or at night) whilst feeling exhausted…with a brain that is utterly devoid of any decent ideas.

Then comes the weekend or the quiet weekday morning when your kids are in school and you just can’t seem to get the starting energy required to light your creative fire. You kind of can’t be bothered to actually write, even though conditions are close to ideal.

If this scenario looks familiar you, you don’t need a method to help you write consistently. You need a method to wake up your brain (ideally the pre-frontal cortex) and learn to take advantage of any moment of motivation energy, no matter how brief…spoiler alert…these only last a few seconds.

In case you’re intrigued, the 5 Second Rule is my recommended method for any writer looking to tame their busy brain. I am no master at this yet but find that just by catching a good moment here and there I am becoming more consistent…and more motivated already.

See ya next time 😉

If you have previously heard about the 5 Second Rule, are hearing about it for the first time, or think this is all of no use whatsoever, don’t be shy and let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Backstory, Writing Process

What do you need to know about your antagonist?

We are all pretty clear on the concept that knowing your characters is key. And we are all usually very excited to get to know our protagonists. But what about the villain of the story? Is the antagonist worth knowing?

I would argue, yes! The antagonist often isn’t the most pleasant of characters but there is most likely a reason why they are the way they are and act the way they do. As a writer, it’s crucial that you know this…even if you never share the backstory of your villain with your reader…after all you don’t want to chance the info-dump alarm going off.

So, how best to get to know your antagonist? What do you need to know about him/her/they? I find free-writing can really help with this. Meet the antagonist of my current project (Fearful Magic)…don’t worry, just backstory, no spoilers!

Name: John

Age: early 30s

Occupation: witch hunter

Serves: the Bishop Benedict III

Bio: John’ s mother leaves the family when he is only 4 years old. Nobody wants to speak about her or tell him where she went. John grows up rebellious and angry. He develops a short temper. At the dawn of a Holy War (known as the Great War) against magic, John runs away from home at the age of 16 to escape being married off to an affluent but unattractive Duke’s daughter. To survive, he works as a sell sword / bounty hunter and is soon enlisted as a soldier to serve the Holy Church in it’s fight against the mage-folk. John is luckier than others as he seems to have a natural ability to anticipate magic strikes, traps, and defences and often escapes battles with little more than a few scratches whilst fellow soldiers are burnt, maimed, and killed around him. The trauma of war haunts his dreams even after the last battle is fought. Most men he gets to know die. John enters the service of the Bishop at the end of the Great War. His mission is to find and bring to justice every remaining mage-born in the land.

See ya next time 😉

If you have found this article helpful, have your antagonist’s backstory all figured out, or don’t know where to start, share your views in the comments below.

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Writer's Mindset

What to do when your writing stops?

Now, let me get this straight. I don’t believe in writer’s block. And no, that’s not the same as anti-maskers saying they don’t believe in Covid-19. Here’s why:

I know what it feels like when your creativity dries up and you feel for all intents and purposes as if you are blocked…like the words are stuck somewhere but you just cannot get them out. I was recently forced to realise that creativity is the first thing to go out the window when our bodies feel stressed.

Life is full of stressors, especially during these uncertain times. As most writers juggle many commitments (day-jobs, families, daily chores, etc.) it’s not surprising that the essential beam of creativity starts to flicker and sometimes doesn’t shine at all…for long anxious stretches of time.

Avoiding a panic when this happens is hard. Especially when you are in the middle of #NaNoWrimo and suddenly struggle to get a simple blog post written, never mind a couple of thousand words you committed to put down every day of November.

But acknowledging that you might feel stressed can help lift the pressure…even if you don’t feel stressed. Cut yourself some slack. Look for the warning signs and laugh, cry, move your body, or use one of the other four most common activities to signal your body that it’s time to break the stress cycle.

Eventually your creativity will flow back and you will be able to pick up where you left off. I am writing this after a week of absolute non-creative energy and two hospital visits to confirm my stress-related physical symptoms are luckily nothing chronic!

Pay attention to your bodies and take lack of creativity as an early warning sign that you might be stressed. Don’t push yourself too hard, take breaks when you need them and fingers crossed for a productive week ahead.

See ya next time 😉

If you know the signs of burn-out all too well, battle chronic (or acute) stress, have physical challenges that interfere with your writing, or found this post in any way helpful, don’t be shy and leave a reply in the comments below.

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Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

How do you get around info-dumping?

One of the more mysterious questions to come across as a writer: why is info-dumping so hard to avoid? Despite my best efforts, I still way too often come across it in my drafts during editing…even though I set out to write with the firm intention not to info-dump…every time!

Oh and by the way, it doesn’t seem to matter how well (or badly) my story is researched. The urge to overpopulate my writing with meaningless detail that no reader will appreciate simply seems ingrained in me.

Whilst I can easily spot info-dumping as a reader (or with my editor hat on), it seems that my unruly writer-self is simply oblivious to it whilst writing is in progress. So annoying!

So, on this occasion I don’t have any advice for you readers out there but I sure hope that somebody more experienced than me might read this and have some useful advice for me on my long and tiring journey.

See ya next time 😉

If you have any good ideas or even success stories to share around how to get rid of (or at least reign in) the pesky habit of info-dumping in novels, short stories, or any other works of fiction, please let me know in the comments below.

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Genre, Worthless Waffle

Is fantasy really a genre?

I hear your collective gasp! How is this even a question?! Where have you been all these Tolkien and Game of Thrones filled Cinema/ TV evenings over the last erm…19 years?!

I have been glued to the screens of course! Read all the books and have properly geeked out! But every time I tried to write my own fantasy stories they kind of came up short. I never really knew what to write about…and that’s because of what I know now:

Fantasy is not a genre in itself…it’s a component of genre.

To be precise, it’s actually an indicator for how much a reader should prepare to suspend their disbelief when reading the story. Whether they should expect a romance, action adventure, coming of age etc. aside from the fantasy stuff is really down to other essential genre components. It appears that genre is not a thing…it’s a construct.

The term fantasy alone is not enough to describe your genre and tell your reader what your work is about. Check out the genre clover by Shawn Coyne to see what helped me better understand fantasy and its relationship with genre.

See ya next time 😉

If you found this article helpful, thoroughly disagree or have no idea what all this has to do with a clover, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Worthless Waffle, Writer's Mindset

Don’t worry, write happy!

Writers are dreamers! I am sure that you and I are no exception. That’s what makes us strong…and weak. The world wasn’t built for dreamers Being a dreamer is hard…tiring…and often disappointing.

But for those who dare to dream, one special reward awaits. No, it’s not becoming rich. No, it’s also not winning awards or speaking at a writer’s convention whilst brushing shoulders with your idols…although any one of these dreams is entirely within the realm of possibility…for some very lucky ones.

So, what about those of us who will most likely never fulfil our dreams? Should we stop now? Of course not! Our dreams are the fuel for the engine of our imagination…any writer’s bread and butter. A dreamer is rewarded in the moment of pursuit. The journey is the reward.

Feeling happy about the possibility of success (as defined in our day-dreams) is the best kind of feeling. We have no expectation for that in-the-moment feeling, we just let it happen. We don’t judge it, don’t expect it, don’t compare it. It’s not what we dream about but it is what makes even the unfulfilled dreams worthwhile.

Dream big! Write! Never stop dreaming. Never lose hope. And please never beat yourself up!

See ya next time 😉

If this post makes sense to you, or if you have another opinion on the matter, don’t be shy and leave a reply in the comments section below.

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Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

Why some research is essential to your story, even if you don’t think it is…

I know, that writing is subjective. As a writer you have your own method to plan, research, and construct your narrative and this post doesn’t change that. So, if you are foaming at the mouth due to the preachy title…I apologise. Give me a chance to explain what I mean.

Research can be a very difficult issue to navigate as a writer…especially when your characters are tugging at you from the backdrop of a new, bright idea and all you want to do is jump in and type. In some instances, getting started on your story is a great idea…and at other times you might want to pace yourself in favour of some research.

But what about fantasy? I hear you groan. Can’t I write whatever I want if it’s fantasy…research-free? Yes, you can…but don’t forget that research isn’t only about getting factual information down. There is one particular type of research that I found to be beneficial for fantasy writing as it helps to make my characters and my story more relatable.

I am of course talking about emotional research…which can be done purely from your own memory of how it felt to be in a certain situation or can be done from second-hand sources (biographies, interviews, etc.) if you are writing about something that you haven’t got personal experience with.

Getting your understanding of the thought-life and feelings that factor into your characters’ experience throughout their story arc is in my opinion one of the number one ways to write something your audience will care about. It’s certainly something that is key to all the fantasy novels I have read and loved.

Think about Frodo Baggins’s journey to Mount Doom and how this affects his mood, mind, and feelings as he tumbles from one perilous adventure to another whilst slowly becoming possessed by the dark magic of the ring. And what about His Dark Materials where Lyra’s curiosity and risky maneuvers pull us right into her story where we have a visceral reading experience as key events unfold and some dangerous truths are discovered?

See ya next time 😉

If you are already a fan of emotional research and have a useful method to share, never heard of this, or think it’s bogus, leave a reply in the comments below and share your views.

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Plot, Scenes, Structure, Writing Process

Is it OK to stray from your outline?

A prime question among writers! If you are a dedicated plotter (like me), you will appreciate the many upsides to having a detailed outline for your novel, short-story, work of non-fiction (or whatever else you are writing). You will know the feeling of sitting down to write with a good idea of what events, characters, scenery, etc. you need to put on the page and therefore be able give the finger (or two) to any #creativeblock that may be waiting in the wings to derail your progress – most days.

Then there are those writers (and if you are one of these, I am profusely jealous) who like to fly by the seat of their pants, discovering the story, characters, events, and scenery as they go. ‘Pantsers’ hate outlining and I get why. If you are not a plotter this post is not for you. This is for the writers who struggle to write without a map – welcome friends!

Eight scenes into my #NaNoWriMo project (Fearful Magic), I am not surprised to find that the scenes I have down so far are not the same eight scenes that fill spaces one to eight on my story grid outline. Creativity just works it’s magic that way. Once my fingers start flying over the keyboard, the unexpected happens and I let it…gladly.

First draft writing is not science. It’s a dark art. It’s perfectly fine to stray from your outline, especially during the writing of the first draft which is really about finding the right tone for the work and building the framework upon which to improve upon later. The only important thing is to make sure that you meet the key milestones of your story. So, a lose following of your outline is absolutely OK. I would say, it’s essential to ensure that you don’t get fed up with your story before it’s written.

There is always more to discover and you will never be able to come up with all the scenes up front. Does this mean outlining is a waste of time. NO! Of course not! The outline is there to get you writing. Once the writing is happening, do as you will. Once you don your editor hat you can amend your outline where necessary, then re-read, revise, re-think all aspects of your first draft…until your vision comes to life.

See ya next time 😉

If you have trouble following your outline, get frustrated with your creativity taking you down unexpected paths and alleys, or haven’t cracked this outlining thing at all, leave a reply in the comments below and share your experience.

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Worthless Waffle, Writing Process

Do you keep writing when the writing gets tough?

The answer to this question should be obvious. If you are a writer coming across this blog post, wouldn’t we be expecting you to emphatically shout ‘YES!’ at the top of your lungs with your fists clenched and a never-say-die attitude straight from the movies?!

Of course! But real life is not a movie and most writers, are sensitive, introverted, treasure seekers rather than limelight-loving superheroes with fluttering capes. Negative comments hurt! Missed deadlines cause guilt! Stifled progress sparks self-doubt! Internal critics nag at us!

Most writers I know (incl. myself) are plagued by self-doubt on a daily basis. Have we done enough world-building? Do we need more research? Have we over-researched our subject? Are our characters compelling? Is the story adequately paced? Is our writing style boring? Have we missed any spelling mistakes? And on, and on the list goes!

It’s Day 4 of NaNoWriMo and I have already missed a day. Neither of the first two days reached up to the daily target of 1667 words and I am already in doubt if I can even finish this thing! Do I want to sit down after work today and keep writing? Not really…

Will I sit down and write (at least for a bit)? Probably…

People say that ‘writers write’ and that’s true but nobody every said writers write easily and happily in spite of all their other life commitments. So let’s console ourselves with these words:

Writing is hard. You often won’t fee like it. But writers always come back to writing eventually… and sometimes magic happens.

Josie Cole, 2020

See ya next time 😉

If you are also having a hard time working on your NaNoWriMo project, know all too well what it feels like to be plagued by self-doubt or have a good technique for motivating yourself to write, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Scenes, Writing Process

How do you write your first draft?

If award winning author Joyce Carol Oates is to be believed, the answer to this question is: quickly! Write quickly and carelessly. Get it all out of your head and onto the page. Then revise as many times as it takes to realise your vision in a way that let’s your audience understand (and enjoy) it.

‘Write with the door closed.’ comes the advice from Stephen King who believes in total lockdown for your first draft and full disclosure for all following drafts. Write it all down first then start showing it to people as you revise and hope that some nuggets of wisdom will shake you out of your writing stupor, and overcome your already inflated writer’s ego so you can write a story somebody actually wants to read.

I have written many first, second, and even third (and fourth) drafts…but never a final one. Most likely that’s due to my inner critic who never sleeps and always has plenty to say. I also never write fast. So, this time around I am taking the advice of the masters. I am writing my first draft and I am going to write it as fast as I can and force myself not to re-read a single scene until all scenes have been drafted. Then I am going to take a break, read, catch-up on all the Netflix shows I missed whilst in my writing stupor. After a few weeks, I’ll pick up my first draft and start turning it into a second.

In this spirit, I decided that the best way to get me to write fast is to participate in #NanoWriMo. It’s unlikely that 50,000 words will be enough words to cover my first draft but if I get to 50,000 by the end of November, I’ll have written 50,000 more words than I would have written if I let me inner critic nag away at me. As far as I can tell, the secret to first draft writing is just to start and worry about the quality later.

The first scene of my debut novel ‘Fearful Magic’ is already written and whilst I can’t guarantee that it will exist in the final published version, here is a sneak peak into my rough writing (pre-any editing)…for those of you who want to know if I am really sticking to what I am saying in this blog post.

See ya next time 😉

If you have a better idea for first draft writing, agree/ disagree with the advice I have used for my current first draft, love/ hate or have other strong feelings about my first draft scene, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Structure, Writing Process

How do you choose which scenes to write?

It’s fun to come up with scenes – isn’t it? I don’t know how you feel about this statement but I would have vehemently started shaking my head if anybody had said this to me a few months ago. Working out what should happen in each scene and deciding which scenes to write and which scenes to cut from my outline used to be my kryptonite!

Luckily this changed recently when I discovered the story grid by Shawn Coyne (a tool for editing books that can also be used to help writers – provided they like to plan ahead). If this has piqued your interested, I have good news: Shawn lets you download the spreadsheet template for free from his website!

Whilst the template is really helpful for working out much of the plot and how it spreads across your scenes, including values, objectives, characters, the passing of time in your story (and much more), In my opinion there is a crucial bit missing – the why!

I found it really hard to populate a detailed template without having first understood what the function of each scene needs to be to make the story make sense (and keep things interesting). So, I made a little modification to the template as per the following excerpt which shows the first two scenes in my #NaNoWriMo 2020 story/ debut novel ‘Fearful Magic’ (yay! title-reveal!) as they currently appear on my #preptober story grid.

SCENEWORD COUNTSCENE PURPOSESTORY EVENT
1tbcIntroduce the protagonist and make the reader care for her.Elaine is going about her daily chores when she senses a bird being shot with an arrow. She goes outside to see the bird fall into the back garden of the house she calls home. Her ‘mother’ witnesses this event and flies into a wild panic. She urges Elaine to leave but Elaine refuses to go anywhere without an explanation. She goes to hide in the root cellar under the house when they hear a knock on the door.
2tbcConfirm the danger is real and demonstrate Elaine’s magic powers, showing she is not in control of these powers.The hunters arrive at the house, looking for their bird. They become suspicious when they discover multiple footprints in the snow and discover Elaine in the root cellar. They threaten Elaine’s ‘mother’ to force Elaine to disclose the whereabouts of a mage whom the hunters are after. Elaine unwittingly unleashes her deadly powers, then blacks out.

This way, I have an overview of the function of each scene, can see if the story events (or plot points) fulfil the scenes’ purpose and tweak (or cut) scenes if they don’t live up to their purpose.

I hope this little insight into my #preptober work has wet your appetite for this brand new fantasy story. I will be excited to share more about my writing process throughout November as I will be aiming to complete my first draft during #NaNoWriMo!

See ya next time 😉

Let me know if you are also participating in #NaNoWriMo this year (and what your #preptober prep looks like) by leaving a reply in the comments below.

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Author Business, Writing Process

Is genre writing ‘selling out’?

As a lurker in the shadows, monitoring the online forums and social media discussions concerned with writing is a curious ping-pong-like experience. Not surprising in an area of interest which so heavily depends on the personal experiences of individuals trying to figure things out. Just about any claim made by any group of writers is almost instantly opposed by another.

However, there is one thing that most writers seem to readily agree on: ‘selling out’ is a bad, BAD thing. Real writers shouldn’t compromise quality for profit. Those who do (the hucksters) shall be ostracised from the writing community along with their questionable tactics.

I share this belief. Get-rich-quick? Not here, not with us! So, if writing to market and jumping on trends are outlawed practices…where does it leave genre? After all, writing within a genre and writing to market have their similarities. Both require the writer to pay attention to established conventions and craft a story that abides by them. Otherwise you might be risking some very upset readers.

Wherever you might stand on this, I have done my research and here’s my take: if any of us ever want a chance to get our books in front of readers, we need to be able to explain what we write about. Genre accomplishes just that. It defines/ classifies your work in a helpful way so your readers can find (and enjoy) your story. Mess this up and you might end up looking like a huckster after all – misleading your readers and failing to meet their expectations.

See ya next time 😉

If you are struggling with genre writing, don’t really get why it matters, or have some other thoughts to share on this, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Writing Process

How do you get from an idea to a novel?

The writer’s brain is a curious place. Clutter everywhere! Bits and pieces of information float through the ‘air’, echoey voices of half-baked, faceless characters repeat hollow words in the darkness. Or maybe that’s just me…?

If you’re a writer who is living in less of a Sherlock Holmesian mind palace, I salute you! This is the type of post where I can really only describe how it works for me and you can totally ignore this and merrily walk through the well-groomed park of your own imagination. Enjoy!

My writing process doesn’t start with a scene, nor with a character. It often starts with a vivid, slow-moving mental image:

Snowflakes slowly drift by a window. A black bird (pierced by an arrow) falls from the sky. Here. That’s how my current #story began – as a passing thought. #amwriting

@wimpywriter

To go from this to a novel-length story is a BIG ask. This is where the plotting kicks in. I examine the image in my mind for weeks (and months) and start to spin out the story, characters, scenes, etc. from there by asking questions such as:

  • Why is the bird significant?
  • Who is watching the bird?
  • Why is the season (winter) significant?
  • Does it have to be snowing?

I start answering these questions in my (very rough) story notes and move through my writing process from there.

See ya next time 😉

If you’re intrigued by my method, have something similar (or even better) to share, or think this is just overkill, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Plot, Structure, Writing Process

Write scenes – not chapters!

Before you bite my head off for the contentious title of this post – let me explain. There is actually a really important distinction between a scene and a chapter which I only recently understood and it changed my outlook on writing.

A scene is a sequence of story actions taken by characters within your story. A chapter is a collection of scenes. How many scenes go into a chapter is mostly an arbitrary decision by the writer/ editor/ publisher.

If you bear this in mind, it becomes easy to see why writing in chapters might cause problems for a writer. How can you divvy up scenes into chapters when you haven’t written those scenes first and don’t know how many words are in each of them? Chapters are there for the reader. But for a writer, scenes are your friends.

Following this logic, I am committed to writing all of my stories in scenes and it’s working wonders for coming up with the right sequence of events as it becomes easy to see where there might be gaps in the plot.

See ya next time 😉

If you are also a fan of writing in scenes rather than chapters or if writing in chapters works better for you, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Writing Process

How do you start a novel (in notes)?

So, here we get into debate territory. Popular opinion rules that there are many ways to start a novel. And that’s absolutely true. The following are only a few examples of the different options available:

1. You could start at the beginning, end, or middle of your story (if you already have a rough idea) note down key events and work out what setting, characters, etc. you need later.

2. You could start with a character profile (not even necessarily the protagonist) and then work the story/ setting out from there.

3. You could decide just to write random scenes and discover the story, setting, characters, etc. as you write.

I have tried all of these approaches (and a few others) and none of them have worked for me. The only method that has so far proven successful is a brainstorm of notes where I don’t need to worry about any of the above options.

Try it: start a document and note down whatever comes into your head – be it character traits, descriptions, a part of a scene, a short speech, notes about the world/ setting, or anything else you can possibly imagine. You might be surprised how much of the word-vomit will later jog your brain about pretty much any aspect of your novel. Even a picture can work!

See ya next time. 😉

If you have tested any of these (or the many other) methods to write a novel, share your experience in the comments. We are all learning!

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