If you want to know how...
Handbook for Writers of English
Punctuation, common practice and usage
Practical Research Methods
Up-to-date ways to master research in six stages
Writing Your Life Story
How to record and present your memories
for future generations to enjoy
Touch Typing in 10 Hours
Gain a valuable skill that will last a lifetime
Quick Solutions to Common Errors in English
An A–Z guide to spelling, punctuation and grammar
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© Copyright 2007 Ade` le Ramet
First published 1997
Second edition 1999
Third edition 2001
Fourth edition 2003
Fifth edition 2004
Sixth edition 2006
Seventh edition 2007
First published in electronic form 2007
British Library Cataloguing in Publication
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ISBN 978 1 84803 222 4
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NOTE: The material contained in this book is
set out in good faith for general guidance and
no liability can be accepted for loss or
expense incurred as a result of relying in
particular circumstances on statements made
in the book. Laws and regulations are
complex and liable to change, and readers
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List of illustrations
1 Getting started
Making time to write
Where do you get your ideas?
Writing aurally and visually
Drawing on your own experiences
Looking back into your past
Read, read, read
2 Writing non-ﬁction
Writing about what you know
Letting oﬀ steam
Changing work into leisure
Relating your life-story
Telling travellers’ tales
Finding funny moments
Following where your ideas lead you
3 Creating ﬁctional characters
Basing characters on real people
Involving yourself in your characters’ lives
Changing the character
Relating to your character
vi / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
How would you react if they approached you?
4 Setting and atmosphere
Getting a feel of place and time
Imagining what it would be like to be there
Wearing diﬀerent clothes and costumes
5 Showing not telling
Reacting and interacting with people and surroundings
Feeling the heat
Shivering against the cold
Moving your characters around the room
Speeding and slowing the pace with vocabulary
Flashing back and forth in time
6 Writing realistic dialogue
Developing a good ear
Acting out a situation
Losing your temper
Falling in love
Creating realistic accents and dialects
Swearing and slang
C O N T E N T S / vii
7 Finding true love
Writing a romance
Finding ﬂaws attractive
Overcoming insurmountable obstacles
Driving fast cars and wearing fancy clothes
Enjoying sex and food
Heightening all the senses
Bringing the hero and heroine together
8 Haunting, thrilling and killing
Introducing a note of suspense
Confronting the fears within
Contrasting normality with terror
Writing a murder mystery
Choosing a murder weapon
Plotting and planning
Twisting the tale
Looking to the future
9 Writing for children
Thinking back to your childhood
Looking at life through a child’s eyes
Playing around with ideas
Writing for educational markets
Writing about children
Writing picture books
viii / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
10 Sending your work to a publisher
Seeing your work in print
Playwriting for your local drama group
Writing for established TV characters
Writing a synopsis
Presenting your manuscript
Approaching an editor
Copyrighting and syndication
Finding support from other writers
Answers to assignments
List of illustrations
1. Analysis sheet
2. Framework for article
3. Suggested format for potted history
4. First background for young, smart anchor-woman
for regional news programme
5. Second background for young, smart
anchor-woman for regional news programme
6. Map of ﬁctional location
7. Plan of obstacles to romance
8. Outline for crime novel
9. Twist clue format
10. Sample outline for non-ﬁction book
11. Sample chase-up letter
12. Sample covering letter
13. Sample front sheet
14. Suggested headings for expenditure record
15. Suggested headings for income record
This page intentionally left blank
WHAT IS CREATIVE WRITING?
When I ﬁrst wrote this book, the term ‘creative writer’ conjured up an image of the artistic amateur. Few of the students
who joined my classes had any idea what creative writing was
or understood the workings of the publishing industry.
Things have changed dramatically in the intervening years
and now, when each new course begins, I ﬁnd that most of my
students are extremely knowledgeable about the business of
writing. They will have seen writing competitions featured on
television, heard about writing initiatives on radio. They will
have read about university degree courses in creative writing,
joined book clubs or discovered the wealth of information
available on writers’ websites on the Internet.
So, what is creative writing? Chambers Dictionary deﬁnes
creative as ‘Having the power to create, that creates, showing,
pertaining to, imagination, originality’ and writing as ‘The act
of one whowrites, that which is written, literary production or
composition’. Therefore, the term ‘creative writing’ may be
Having the power to create an imaginative,
original literary production or composition
and can be applied to avery broad spectrum of writing genres.
In this book we will be looking at:
ways of drawing on personal experience in order to write
non-ﬁction articles on a wide variety of topics in a number
of diﬀerent styles
xii / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
ﬁction writing and the world of genre ﬁction – science,
romance, horror and crime
writing for children which requires specialised skills that,
once mastered, bring enormous satisfaction to both the
writer and the reader
the impact of the Internet on the creative writer and the
beneﬁts of Information Computer Technology.
Finally, there will be advice and guidance on how to turn your
writing into a marketable commodity for, even though many
people set out to write purely for their own pleasure, there is
little doubt that nothing can compare to the thrill of having
work accepted for publication and reading it from a printed
I would like to thank authors Patricia Burns, Martina Cole,
Jonathan Gash, Michael Green, Susan Moody, Margaret
Nash and Ruth Rendell, agents Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann, Peters Fraser & Dunlop, editor Richard Bell of Writers
News, Harcourt Education Ltd. and Lonely Planet for their
invaluable contributions to this book.
The Art of Coarse Sailing, Michael Green, Arrow Books.
Cinnamon Alley, Patricia Burns, Century Arrow.
Hush-a-Bye, Susan Moody, Hodder & Stoughton.
The Judas Pair, Jonathan Gash, Collins/Viking Penguin.
Some Lie and Some Die, Ruth Rendell, Arrow Books.
The Ladykiller, Martina Cole, Hodder Headline.
MAKING TIME TOWRITE
One of the ﬁrst rules to remember is that writers write. You
should write something every day, even if all you do with the
ﬁnished piece is tear it up and throw it away.
Writing something, anything, every day will enable you to
build up the discipline and commitment required to ensure
that you can produce a complete manuscript in whatever
genre you choose.
Giving yourself permission to write
Due to a common misconception that unless you are a published novelist, you cannot be considered a ‘real’ writer,
novice authors often ﬁnd it diﬃcult to convince either
their nearest and dearest or, indeed, themselves that their
desire to write should be taken seriously.
However, even the most famous authors had to start somewhere, so don’t be put oﬀ by outside pressures. Be assured
that your writing is more important than:
mowing the lawn
washing the dishes
cleaning, dusting, gardening
2 / CREATIVE WRITING
or any other similar activity that will keep you from your pen
Locking the door
One successful Mills & Boon author states that, once she had
made up her mind to become a novelist, she turned one room
of her house into a study, locked the door and forbade anyone
to enter whilst she was working.
You may not feel you have to go quite this far but it is
important to set aside both a space in your home where
you can work and make a regular time to write.
Lack of time is, perhaps, the most commonly used excuse for
not putting pen to paper. This can be justiﬁed with a number
of perfectly credible explanations:
You have a demanding full-time job.
You have a large family.
You have to get those seedlings planted.
You have too many other commitments.
You’re too tired.
Perhaps all these excuses can be rolled into one simple
You don’t think you’re good enough.
Lack of conﬁdence is a major stumbling block for the wouldbe writer. There is no easy way round this but if you really
want towrite, the onlyoption is to get on and do it. Taking the
following steps can help:
GETTING STARTED / 3
Set aside a corner in your home solely for your writing.
Keep a notebook in which to jot down ideas.
Select a suitable time to write each day and stick to it.
Give yourself a time limit for writing, say, an hour a day to
Write something every day and even if you think it’s terrible, retain it until the next day.
Begin by re-reading what you wrote yesterday; at the very
least it will encourage you to rewrite. At best, it will be
much better than you thought and spur you on to write
Buy a good dictionary and thesaurus.
Manuscripts intended for publication must be typewritten so, if possible, use a personal computer (PC). The
more professional your writing looks, the more professional you will feel.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?
Having made the decision to write, the next step is ﬁnding
something to write about.
Watching the world go by
Watch how people behave in everyday situations, jotting
down ideas in your notebook as they occur to you.
The next time you go to the supermarket, for example,
observe the behaviour of the other customers. Take a few
seconds to chat to the checkout girl or the assistant who packs
your shopping. Listen not only to the words they say but to
how they say them.
4 / CREATIVE WRITING
If you commute to work, use your journey time to study your
fellow travellers. Try to imagine what sort of homes they
come from and how they might lead their lives. Whatever
situation you ﬁnd yourself in during your daily life, observe
the people around you.
Not only should you watch but you must also listen. Writers
are terrible eavesdroppers and will shamelessly listen in on
the most private conversations. You can pick up some wonderful snippets that will eﬀortlessly turn themselves into ideas
for all sorts of things, from brief letters to your favourite
magazine, factual articles explaining the apparently inexplicable, to lengthy works of ﬁction.
Keeping an eye on the media
Perhaps the richest sources of ideas are newspapers, television and radio. Keep your eyes and ears open for the
unusual stories and quirky programmes tucked away
between the major items. All kinds of things can capture
For example, a BBC Radio 4 programme about the potentially dull topic of making a will inspired me to write a short
story for Bella magazine’s ‘Mini Mystery’ page. The programme highlighted the legal pitfalls facing people who wish
to make unusual wills and the idea captured my imagination.
Having gleaned the necessary technical legal information, I
soon had the protagonist, beneﬁciary and terms of the will
clearly formed in my mind. From there, it was a short step to
writing the story, sending it oﬀ to my editor and seeing it in
GETTING STARTED / 5
Sources of ideas
Ideas are all around you, if only you can train yourself to ﬁnd
them. Listed below are just a few possible sources:
buses, coaches, planes and trains
cafés and restaurants
The list is endless but as a general rule, ideas are to be found
anywhere a number of people gather in one place.
WRITING AURALLY AND VISUALLY
Having developed your watching and listening skills, it can
nevertheless be quite diﬃcult to set them down on paper.
More often than not, a phrase that sounded wonderful in
your head looks dull and lifeless when it hits the page.
Later in the book, we will be looking at ways of bringing your
writing to life and obtaining that vital ingredient, reader
identiﬁcation. You will learn how to stimulate the reader’s
senses so that they identify with the people being portrayed,
see and hear the sights and sounds you are attempting to
6 / CREATIVE WRITING
Long descriptive passages, no matter how beautifully written, can be very dull without dialogue, action or interaction
to liven them up. People enjoy reading about people, so
even the most factual non-ﬁction article can be enriched by
the inclusion of a brief interview with an acknowledged
expert or a comment from someone involved in the featured
For ﬁction, too, there is no better way to convey setting,
atmosphere, sights, sounds and scents than through the reactions of your characters.
Whatever genre you choose, be sure you know the true meaning of each word you use, consulting your dictionary and
thesaurus whenever you are unsure about the spelling or
context of a word or phrase.
DRAWING ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES
One of the ﬁrst rules awould-be writer learns is to ‘write about
what you know’. If, however, this rule is taken too literally, few
writers would ever gain the requisite knowledge to write an
historical romance, murder mystery or science ﬁction novel.
Far more practical is the advice from bestselling author
Martina Cole to ‘Write about what you know and if you
don’t know – ﬁnd out’.
You don’t need to have lived in a previous century, be a
murderer or travel in space to write genre ﬁction. Thorough
research into the background against which your story is set
should provide you with the factual information you require.
GETTING STARTED / 7
Expert knowledge is invaluable, of course. Years spent in
industry or in the legal, nursing or teaching profession;
seeing active service in the armed forces; bringing up a
familyon a low ﬁxed income; working long shifts on a factory
assembly line; running and perhaps losing your own business
– any one of these and similar experiences oﬀers a wealth of
information on which you can draw, but factual accuracy is
only one aspect of writing. You also have to ﬁnd a way to
breathe life into the characters featured in your articles and
stories and this comes from your experience of personal relationships, both good and bad.
From our earliest memories of childhood through our schooldays to adult friendships, romantic attachments, experiences
at work and in our domestic lives, everything that went into
forming our character has a part to play in our writing.
LOOKING BACK INTO YOUR PAST
There is little doubt that anyone with a chequered past will
have plenty to write about but many of us feel we have done
very little in our lives worth committing to paper.
On closer inspection, however, this is very rarely the case.
Take yourself right back to your earliest memories. How did
you feel when:
you were told oﬀ for being naughty?
you were picked on by other children?
you missed out on a treat?
your parents argued?
you got detention at school?
you had to have treatment in hospital?
8 / CREATIVE WRITING
a family trauma made you realise that nothing at home
would be the same again?
These are just a few experiences many children share, but try
going up a notch in age and see if you can recall how you felt
you left home
started your ﬁrst day at work
travelled abroad on your own
got your ﬁrst cheque book
bought your own car.
Seeking reader identification
By now, you may be wondering how such very ordinary,
everyday experiences can possibly be relevant to creative
writing. Surely writing is all about escapism, original
ideas, unusual situations, not about opening a ‘Young
Saver’ bank account?
Of course, you’re right. Originality is a vital ingredient in any
piece of writing, fact or ﬁction, but then so is realism. Without
realism, you cannot have reader identiﬁcation and it is this
element that brings your work vividly to life.
Observing everyday life
Michael Green, professional journalist and author of many
humorous non-ﬁction books, oﬀers the following excellent
advice to would-be writers:
‘Observe everyday life with a writer’s eye. There lies your
material. Carry a notebook and jot down any ideas that
come or incidents you can see.’
GETTING STARTED / 9
READ, READ, READ
Whatever your writing interest may be, ﬁction or nonﬁction, literary novels or specialist articles, you should
read anything and everything in your chosen genre.
Reading with a writer’s eye
This book is designed to help you understand how to read
with a writer’s eye, taking the time to analyse how an author
manages to grab your attention and hold it so that you keep
on reading through to the end.
Your notebook will become a valuable source of reference.
Failure to write ideas down can result in you losing them
altogether. Committing them to paper helps commit them to
memory and stimulate new writing projects.
Use the questionnaire in Figure 1 to analyse published examples of your particular writing interest. Whether you intend to
write non-ﬁction articles, short stories or novels, you will
discover that the same basic principles apply.
As your critical faculties develop, you may ﬁnd your reading
enjoyment is spoilt by the way technical points you were
previously unaware of suddenly become glaringly obvious.
Gradually, however, as your new-found understanding helps
you to appreciate the skills being employed, the sheer pleasure of reading something that is both beautifully written and
well-constructed will return and increase.
By the time this stage is reached, your own writing will be
showing a marked improvement.
The following questions are designed to provide an insight into the
techniques employed by published authors of both fact and ¢ction
to catch and hold their readers’attention.
2. Was the ¢rst paragraph shorter than the second? &
3. Did the ¢rst paragraph tell you what the article/
story was about?
Was the ¢rst sentence shorter than the others
in the opening paragraph?
4. What was it about the article/story that made
you read on?
(a) You wanted to know how to perform a
(b) You found the topic fascinating
(c) You discovered something you didn’t know
(d) You had to know what happened next
(e) You wanted to ¢nd out how it all ended
5. Was the middle informative/entertaining?
6. Was it set out in a logical order?
7. Did each section/scene lead you on to read
8. Did you feel compelled to keep reading?
9. If characters were included, could you relate
10. Did the end bring the whole thing to a logical
12. Were all the questions answered/loose ends
13. Did the author deliver what they promised?
14. Did you enjoy reading it?
15. Would you read more by this author?
Was the ending satisfactory?
Answers to the above questions should mostly be ‘Yes’.
Fig. 1. Analysis sheet.
G E T T I N G S T A R T E D / 11
1. Do you read extensively?
2. Have you set aside a time to write each day?
3. Do you keep a notebook of ideas?
4. Do you have a good dictionary, thesaurus and access to
5. Have you considered how the use of computers impacts
on your own writing ambitions?
6. Are you writing about what you know?
Take your notebook and jot down 10 ideas for articles or
stories. By the time you have ﬁnished reading this book, you
should have developed at least one of those ideas into a
WRITING ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW
As we saw in the previous chapter, one of the ﬁrst pieces of
advice any would-be writer learns is to write about what you
This can be interpreted as anything from factual articles
about a hobby, profession or skill to writing your lifestory. You can be sure that everyone has experience in
one area or another that will be of interest to someone else.
CASE STUDY: VAL EXPRESSES HER OPINIONS
Val is a forceful lady in her mid-fifties. She writes clearly and expresses
herself well on paper. She has written several articles complaining about
a variety of goods and services which, although important to her, are
neither topical nor of much interest to anyone else. She has tried to have
her articles published in a number of women’s magazines but to date,
they have all been rejected.
LETTING OFF STEAM
For the avid newspaper and magazine reader, the temptation
to write a learned piece complaining about the state of the
nation or the rising price of a pack of frozen peas can be
W R I T I N G N O N - F I C T I O N / 13
It is tempting to try to emulate controversial comment columns in the hope that a discerning editor will be keen to give
pride of place to our words of wisdom. Sadly, this is rarely the
Comment columns are usually written by staﬀ writers, wellknown journalists or political analysts. These are the professionals considered by the media to be qualiﬁed to comment
on ‘life, the universe and everything’.
However, as the infamous ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’
discovered, there is an outlet for the man or woman in the
street to voice their opinion and that is through the readers’
Sending letters to editors
The letters page in any publication is an excellent way of
letting oﬀ steam in print. It can also be a way of earning
small amounts of cash or gifts for your writing.
If you like the idea of making your voice heard, you stand a
better chance of having a letter published if you follow a few
Write clearly and neatly or, if possible, type your letter.
Address it to the correct person.
Keep it brief and to the point.
Make it as topical as possible.
Write about something relevant to the publication’s
14 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
A brief word of praise for the publication always helps.
Invite comments or advice from other readers.
Never send the same letter to more than one magazine at
the same time. These pages operate on the assumption
that all letters are from regular readers of their publication.
CHANGING WORK INTO LEISURE
There are literally hundreds of magazine titles listed in trade
directories, a large proportion of which potentially oﬀer
opportunities for non-ﬁction writers.
Knowing your subject
Just a few of the categories intowhich these magazines fall are
animals and pets
arts and entertainment
business and ﬁnance
trade and professional
W R I T I N G N O N - F I C T I O N / 15
Even more opportunities for would-be columnists can be
found in local interest publications, parish magazines,
local newspapers, club magazines etc.
Becoming a ‘stringer’
If you regularly write to the letters page of a newspaper or
county magazine about items of importance to the residents
in your area, you may be contacted and asked if you will
become a ‘stringer’. This involves keeping an eye out for
snippets of news and views on local issues and phoning
them in to the editor.
Many regular columnists in specialist magazines begin their
writing careers in this way before graduating to their own
Experts who can express themselves clearly and be relied
upon to produce manuscripts on demand are few and far
between. Specialist magazines and small local newspapers
can oﬀer a wonderful opportunity to pursue your writing
interest by sharing information with other readers.
Constructing an article
Writing about something you enjoy can be a real labour of
love. If you have the ability to impart your enthusiasm and
expertise to a like-minded reader, your pleasure will be
increased immeasurably by seeing your words on the
pages of your favourite magazine.
Constructing a readable article is, however, not as easy as it
looks. First you must study your chosen magazine and familiarise yourself with the length and style of their articles. Your
16 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
opening sentence should give a clear indication of what the
article is about and once you begin writing, keep to the point
and don’t get sidetracked.
If, for example, you are a recognised connoisseur of real ales
and you want to explain how to assess a prize-winning pint,
you might open the article with something along the following
With the growth in popularity of real ale, brewers are
becoming highly competitive. Brewing a prize-winning
pint takes skill and dedication but by following a few
basic guidelines, you can ﬁnd yourself up there with the
Anyone reading the article would be in no doubt as to its
content and having caught their attention, you now hold it by
taking them step by step through the promised guidelines.
Your closing paragraph should bring the article neatly back
to the beginning, ﬁnishing with something like:
Follow these few principles and before long, your ale will
take its place on the list of home-produced, award-winning
You could add to this a list of competitions and national
events open to real ale brewers and drinkers but very little
more would be needed other than some captioned photographs to illustrate the piece.
W R I T I N G N O N - F I C T I O N / 17
A simple framework of an article is set out in Figure 2. The
main constituents are:
a good, attention-grabbing introduction
a middle, arranged in a logical order, which keeps to
the subject and delivers the information promised in
an ending which rounds the article oﬀ, bringing it logically
back to the beginning.
Introduce the subject, go straight to the
‘With the growth in popularity of real
ale. . . .’
Keep to the point of the article, dealing
with each relevant item in a logical
How to assess the quality, i.e. ‘Points
to look for . . .’
Tips for brewing your own prize-winning ales.
List of quality brews.
Where to ﬁnd good ales.
Round oﬀ article by bringing it back to
the beginning, e.g. ‘Follow the basic
principles and before long, your ale will
take its place on the list of homeproduced award-winning real ales.’
Fig. 2. Framework for article.
18 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Ideally, your opening sentence should be shorter than all the
rest and should grab the reader’s attention by immediately
telling them what the article is about. The more technical the
magazine, the more factual your article should be.
Illustrations in the form of colour slides, photographs or
diagrams are always useful. These should be sensibly captioned, so that it is clear what section of the text they relate
to, something like:
A judge samples my latest brew.
Expanding your idea
From one article idea can spring several more. Perhaps you
could follow up the ﬁrst article with an interview with a
brewer and this in turn might lead to a visit to a beer festival
and yet another article about that. Before long, you could ﬁnd
yourself becoming a regular contributor to a whole range of
RELATING YOUR LIFE-STORY
One popular non-ﬁction topic creative writers like to embark
upon is their autobiography.
Almost everyone has a tale to tell, many of which are fascinating, even verging on the unbelievable. Those who have
lived through some pretty amazing experiences understandably want to write them down, both for their own personal
satisfaction and to provide a written record for future
Examining your motivation
Before you begin to write your life-story, however, it is worth
W R I T I N G N O N - F I C T I O N / 19
examining exactly what your motives are, so ask yourself the
1. Do I have a fascinating tale to tell?
2. Is my story unique?
3. Do I need to confront my past in order to move on in my
4. Do I wish to leave my family a record of my life?
5. Do I want to give hope to others?
6. Do I want to have my autobiography published?
If the answer to question 6 is ‘yes’ the next question has to be
‘Am I famous?’ Unfortunately, if you’re not, then the chances
of having your book accepted by a publisher are very slim
The fact is that the majority of autobiographical books being
published at the moment feature celebrities currently in the
news, be they supermodels in their early twenties, sporting
personalities, leading politicians or famous names from the
world of ﬁlm and television.
Compared to yours, their lives may have been extremely dull
before they were propelled into the public eye but it’s the here
and now that matters and in today’s throwaway media, fame
Informing the public
Many successful autobiographies do more than tell the
author ’s life-story. They also provide a documentary
20 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
record of historical incidents and procedures which may have
been hidden from the public eye.
An autobiography which performs any one of the following
functions might well be of interest to an appropriate
Describes a practice which has been concealed from the
public, e.g. sending orphanage children to Australia.
Details the author ’s recovery from a potentially lifethreatening illness or condition.
Is an account of the author’s experiences as a hostage,
either political or during a crime.
Tells the story of a kidnap or hijack victim.
Gives information about a turning point in the author’s
life towhich others can relate, e.g. nursing a disabled child.
Details the sequence of events which led to the author
setting up an international charitable organisation.
Providing a family record
For many creative writers, the sole motivation for writing
their autobiography is to provide a family record for future
A written record will be enhanced by the inclusion of captioned family photographs and thanks to the growth of
desktop publishing, on payment of a relatively small
amount, you can have your family history professionally
printed and bound. This will ensure that all the information
is kept together and is presented in an attractive, userfriendly way.
W R I T I N G N O N - F I C T I O N / 21
Shop around in the writing press to obtain several quotes
from reputable sources but don’t be tempted to stray into the
realms of vanity publishing. These organisations, purporting
to oﬀer a publishing service to authors, can charge several
hundred or even thousands of pounds for a volume which
would cost a reputable printer a fraction of the price to
We will be looking at vanity publishing later in the book
but if you are in any doubt about the authenticity of a
publisher, remember the writer ’s golden rule:
YOU NEVER PAY PUBLISHERS – THEY PAY YOU
For a detailed listing of reputable book and magazine publishers, see The Writers and Artists Yearbook (published by A
& C Black).
Contributing to national archives
One increasingly popular method of recording your life
experiences has evolved through the rapid growth of interactive media such as the Internet, digital television and digital
radio programmes. There are regular appeals, locally,
nationally and on the web for contributions to historical
initiatives not only for television and radio programmes
but also for exhibitions and archives to be held in museums,
universities and community centres.
One recent project of this type was the BBC’s ‘People’s War’,
which ran throughout 2005. Through publicity on BBC television, radio and the BBC website, members of the public
were invited to send accounts of their Second World War
22 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
experiences for an historical archive to be made accessible for
future generations. Although the BBC is no longer taking
contributions, to see the sort of story they were looking for,
you can access the archive on www.bbc.co.uk/dna.ww2/.
Whilst there is no payment for contributions, such projects
oﬀer an excellent opportunity to see your life experiences
become part of a valuable historical record for posterity.
Fictionalising the truth
Researching and writing your autobiography can prove therapeutic in more ways than one.
For many, it is a way of exorcising traumatic events, confronting their feelings and working their way through bitter
experiences. It can also provide a wealth of material for a
Whilst a publisher is unlikely to consider the true story of a
so-called ‘ordinary’ person, ﬁctionalising your extraordinary
life oﬀers a more viable route to seeing your work in print.
Changing the names
If you do decide to turn your autobiography into a work of
ﬁction, the names of your characters and their locations
should be ﬁctional too.
You may also need to alter the facts in order to make the
whole thing more believable. Even though a sequence of
events actually happened, it can appear to be extremely
unlikely. If this is true of your life-story bear in mind that,
whilst truth is often stranger than ﬁction, for the purposes of publication, ﬁction has to make sense.
W R I T I N G N O N - F I C T I O N / 23
TELLING TRAVELLERS’ TALES
For many of us, travel writing involves keeping a diary and
photograph album as a pleasurable reminder of our holidays
to enjoy during long winter evenings at home. Writing articles about your travels with a view to publication needs a very
Passing on information
The majority of travel features are written by professional
staﬀ writers or compiled by travel editors.
Some magazines include small snippets of information about
specialist breaks. These are usually conﬁned to details of
family fun days, singles or economy breaks and these sections
oﬀer the best publishing opportunity for new writers.
Wishing you weren’t here
One of the biggest problems facing the would-be travel writer
is understanding the requirements of the travel industry and
the tourist policy of the country they will, by their article, be
A good travel article should not be a blow by blow account of
your particular holiday, nor your reactions to the people you
met and the places you visited. Nor is it an opportunity for
you to relate your tale of woe about the appalling journey you
suﬀered in order to reach a half-built hotel, miles from the
Taking a free trip
Magazines use travel articles to inform their readers about
holidays which will best suit them, so some of the points that
should be included are:
24 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
where to stay
whether the location is suitable for families
the safety of the beaches
whether it is noisy or quiet
what sort of nightlife it oﬀers
what the food is like, cost and availability
places to visit and their accessibility in relation to the
how to get there – a choice of methods is useful
the cost of travel and accommodation – again, a selection
should be given.
Whilst professional travel writers receive ‘free’ trips from
tourist boards and travel companies, these are in return
for guaranteed coverage in well-known publications, so
the writer must be able to fulﬁl the following criteria:
they must be prepared to follow a set itinerary
publication for articles must be guaranteed in at least one
any articles must include the features speciﬁed by the
articles must be published to coincide with speciﬁc
W R I T I N G N O N - F I C T I O N / 25
Without some kind of a track record as a freelance article
writer, it is unlikely that you would be invited by any travel
company to take a free trip.
Travel books are a very diﬀerent kettle of ﬁsh. They range
from guidebooks produced by tourist boards to exciting tales
The intrepid traveller who crosses deserts, scales mountains
and shoots rapids equipped with little more than a change of
underwear, a toothbrush and a blunt penknife will clearly
have a fascinating tale to tell.
It is, however, worth bearing in mind that, more often than
not, our canny explorer already has a publishing contract
signed and sealed before the toe of his or her walking boot hits
the ﬂoor of the departure lounge at Heathrow airport.
Guiding and informing
For would-be travel writers, keen to master what is a highly
specialised skill, travel guides such as the Lonely Planet series
can be an excellent place to begin. Aimed at the independent,
adventurous traveller, these practical guides oﬀer their readers clear, down-to-earth information to support them with
their journeys around the globe.
At the time of writing, Lonely Planet are looking for authors
who can meet the following criteria set out in the guidelines
on their website:
26 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Professional writing experience.
Specialised knowledge of a city, country or region.
Ability to write vibrantly, with authority and attitude.
Excellent research and organisational skills.
On-the-road experience using Lonely Planet guides.
‘Tools of the trade’, eg computer hardware and software.
Ability to work independently.
It’s a bonus if you also have:
Travel writing experience.
Written or spoken foreign language skills (this is
essential for some destinations).
Speciﬁc areas of expertise, such as art, music, wildlife,
other cultures, food, languages, outdoor activities and
other travel-related pursuits.
Submitting an application to be an author
Before submitting, do your homework. Tell exactly
what you can oﬀer Lonely Planet. Tell about your
travel experience. Are you interested in a certain
part of the world, or a particular Lonely Planet
series? Do you have an idea for a brand new book
or series? Do you want to write a new guidebook or
update an existing one? New authors are generally given
a small project for their ﬁrst contract and then take on
bigger assignments from there.’
You will need to send a CV and details of your published
work to the address listed on page 173 at the end of this book
so before submitting anything, you would be well advised to
W R I T I N G N O N - F I C T I O N / 27
check out the information on the Lonely Planet website at
www.lonelyplanet.com/about. Scroll down the page to ‘Work
for Us’ and click on the link ‘Become an Author’.
Between the two ends of the scale, the standard guidebook
and the one-oﬀ adventure, there is an incredibly wide range
of topics for the seasoned traveller to write about. Listed
below are just a few suggestions:
handy hints on packing
travelling throughout pregnancy and with a baby
value family fun days out
holidays on a budget
backpackers’ guides to a range of countries (series)
locations oﬀ the beaten track
travelling across continents by train/bicycle/car/motorbike etc.
With a little imagination and a lot of experience, setting down
your travelling tales on paper could lead to endless opportunities, not least of which is to provide a realistic,
atmospheric and exciting background for a ﬁctional novel.
CASE STUDY: LEN TAKES LIFE IN HIS STRIDE
Len lived and worked in Spain for several years up to his retirement,
when he decided to return to the UK. He is easy-going with a ready wit
28 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
and likes to try his hand at most forms of writing. He keeps a close eye
on local issues and his witty, topical letters to the local newspaper are
regularly printed. He is currently enjoying writing a series of humorous
articles about his experiences living and working abroad.
FINDING FUNNY MOMENTS
A sense of humour is one of the most useful assets any writer
Seeing the funny side
If you are one of those fortunate beings who has the capacity
to see the funny side of even the most diﬃcult situations, your
writing will beneﬁt a thousandfold.
Having fun with your hobby
Michael Green is one author who has made a successful
career out of the humorous aspect of his hobbies. His
Coarse series is required reading for every weekend
sailor, rugby player, golfer and amateur actor.
With an innate ability to home in on the way the average
person will go through hell and high water in the name of
their favourite leisure activity, Michael’s books keep you
laughing from the very ﬁrst line, as the opening to The
Art of Coarse Sailing demonstrates.
Every year I swear I won’t spend my holiday sailing again.
Considering I say this annually, it’s surprising how much
sailing I’ve managed to do. Each time I return bruised, battered and suﬀering from incipient scurvy, with a great dent
worn in my buttocks and I say, ‘That was terriﬁc fun but next
year I’m going to do something restful’. And somehow twelve
months later I’m banging the same dent in the same place
W R I T I N G N O N - F I C T I O N / 29
with the edge of a cockpit coaming or crawling on hands and
knees in some stinking bilge.
(The Art of Coarse Sailing, Michael Green,
Michael has a gift for highlighting the romantic ideal and
contrasting it with the less than pleasant reality. More importantly, he has a real enthusiasm for and knowledge of his
His Coarse books are not simply amusing accounts of his
adventures, they are genuinely informative and packed
with colourful characters who embellish and add to his
FOLLOWING WHERE YOUR IDEAS LEAD YOU
Writing non-ﬁction is a useful method of getting your ideas
down on paper. It also helps you to understand the importance of accurate research and is awayof training you towork
methodically and to a set routine.
Trying something new
Having identiﬁed just a few of the topics your past experience
will equip you to write about, the next step is to sit down and
1. Can you put information over clearly and concisely, in a
way that is easy for your reader to understand?
2. Do you have something new and original to say?
3. Do you want to leave something for your family to
remember you by?
30 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
4. Could your true-life experiences provide the basis for an
exciting ﬁctional novel?
5. Would writing about your experiences be both therapeutic for you and useful for others?
6. Are you sure you have the expertise and discipline
required to write for specialist markets?
Pick a topical item of local importance, preferably one which
matters to you personally and write a letter about it to the
editor of your local newspaper. Keep the letter brief and to the
point and if you can, type it. Remember, for the best chance of
publication, your letter should be just controversial enough to
invite further comment.
Creating Fictional Characters
BASING CHARACTERS ON REAL PEOPLE
When interviewing authors plugging their latest book, one of
the most frequent questions asked by the presenter is ‘Are
your characters based on real people?’ The answer invariably
given is ‘Not exactly’.
In order to be convincing, ﬁctional characters must ring true.
The reader should be able to relate to them and identify with
them, but the description needs only to be suﬃcient to project
a recognisable image.
After all, as the average reader is unlikely to have met her,
there is little point in faithfully producing an accurately
detailed word-picture of Great-Aunt Edna. Worse still, if
Edna had something of a reputation in her day, you
could end up causing oﬀence and even leaving yourself
open to a possible lawsuit if you get your facts wrong.
Mixing and matching
The best way of avoiding this is to come up with a composite
impression of Aunty which will satisfy interested relatives
that she was the inspiration for your character, but is far
enough removed to keep you out of the law courts.
32 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
As with an autobiographical account, mixing and matching
enhances your characters and surprisingly, often helps to
make them more believable.
Stereotyping and cliche¤s
Stereotypes can be very useful in ﬁction. Used with caution,
they oﬀer an instantly recognisable framework on which to
base your character.
However, writers who attempt to portray their own racist,
sexist or socially stereotypical images invariably cause oﬀence
and these views do nothing to improve their characterisation.
Portraying a multicultural society
Chapter 1 highlighted the importance of writing about what
you know, with the proviso that you should not limit yourself
purely to your own personal experience. Research plays a vital
role in providing background information but research alone
is unlikely to adequately equip you with the insight required
to create characters from social, sexual, religious or ethnic
groups of whom you have only a ﬂeeting knowledge.
When you consider that, for some authors, simply attempting
to write from the viewpoint of a member of the opposite sex
can be extremely daunting, straying into unfamiliar cultures
and societies can be a recipe for disaster. This is a highly
sensitive aspect of writing, which should be treated with a
great deal of respect.
Writing as an insider
Conversely, inside knowledge is one of the greatest writing
strengths you possess. The more you can draw on a background and culture you know inside out for your settings and
C R E A T I N G F I C T I O N A L C H A R A C T E R S / 33
characters, the more vividly realistic your stories will become.
We will be looking at political correctness in the chapter on
children’s writing but always bear in mind that without depth
of personality, your characters will be clichéd and cardboard.
It is essential, therefore, when building characters, that you
can empathise with them through your own in-depth knowledge of their way of life.
Giving them a past
Just like real people, ﬁctional characters don’t simply appear
fully-grown. They have parents, backgrounds, siblings and
experiences that shape their personalities and inﬂuence their
As soon as a suitable character comes into your head, be
sure that you know what sort of person they are. Write a
potted history or CV, as illustrated in the suggested format
in Figure 3, which will give you an insight into their motivation for behaving as they do.
Testing for realism
Whilst stereotyping can be a useful method of characterisation, be aware that diﬀerent people have diﬀerent
perceptions. If you belong to a writers’ circle or class,
the following group exercise is a useful one:
1. Write a selection of job titles such as teacher, plumber, TV
presenter, sculptor, nurse etc, on pieces of paper then
distribute them among the group, allocating the same
job title to two members at a time, e.g. if there are 8 group
members, 2 will have teacher, 2 plumber and so on.
NAME: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
AGE: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
APPEARANCE: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(hair, eye colour, height, weight, build etc.)
MARITAL STATUS: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
CURRENT HOME: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
OCCUPATION:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
PARENTS: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(alive or dead?)
SIBLINGS:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(names, ages, marital status etc.)
CHILDHOOD: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(happy, sad, traumatic etc.)
EDUCATION: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
QUALIFICATIONS: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
RELATIONSHIPS: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(past and present)
PERSONALITY: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
SPECIAL SKILLS: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
STRENGTHS: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
WEAKNESSES: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ANYOTHER RELEVANT INFORMATION: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fig. 3. Suggested format for potted history.
C R E A T I N G F I C T I O N A L C H A R A C T E R S / 35
2. Ask each member to write their own description of the
character the job title conjures up.
3. Now ask each member to read their description out in
turn for the rest of the group to guess the job of the
character being described.
Despite the fact that some of the group members will have
been asked to write about the same character, the descriptions will probably be very diﬀerent. Each image will,
nevertheless, be an identiﬁable stereotype.
CASE STUDY: BILL TAKES A PRACTICAL APPROACH
Bill is a businessman in his late forties who travels extensively as part of
his job both in the UK and abroad. The father of teenage children, he has
had quite a chequered career, serving in the armed forces for a time and
then as a prison officer. His past and present occupations have meant
that he has learned how to relate to a wide variety of people on vastly
different levels from all sectors of society. Consequently, he has
developed the ability to predict how people are likely to react in stressful
situations. He is currently writing a novel set against a background of the
prison service which contains sufficient conflict and realism to make it
Seeing your characters in context
Having established that diﬀerent people have diﬀerent perceptions, another dimension to characterisation is the
context in which your characters are set.
Using a TV Presenter from the above list as an example, there
are a variety of options open to us, depending on the style,
tone and genre of the novel. The character could be a:
36 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
young, attractive ex-sportsman/woman, activity gameshow host
young anchor-man/woman for regional/national news
investigative journalist for consumer programme
ageing newsreader, concerned about fading looks
ex-actor-turned-magazine-columnist, presenting afternoon magazine-style programme
ex-pop-singer-turned-children’s TV presenter
The title ‘TV Presenter’ clearly has a very wide interpretation. The character can be male or female, young or ageing.
The one thing all of these characters have in common is that
they work in a high-proﬁle, fast-moving industry in which
their status and job security is measured against their position in the viewing ratings.
Fitting into the storyline
Having determined the age, sex and personality of your character, he or she must now be placed into the context of the
story you are writing.
Whether it is a thriller, romance, lifestyle or detective
story, yourcharacter has to behave in a realistic and believableway. In order to do this, they must be seen to be the sort
of person who would opt for the course of action you have
in mind for them.
C R E A T I N G F I C T I O N A L C H A R A C T E R S / 37
In her novel, Hush-a-Bye, author Susan Moody draws vivid
word-pictures of her characters, all the while giving hints that
their upbringing and backgrounds will have a profound inﬂuence on how they will react in the future.
In the following description of Harriet, the central character,
there is a clear implication that parts of her childhood which
she feels made little impact on her will prove to have been
highly inﬂuential in her reaction to the situations in which she
eventually ﬁnds herself:
Harriet’s mother had died when she was a baby. The fact
of being an orphan had not, Harriet believed, aﬀected
her, apart from imbuing her with a spurious kind of
glamour both in her own eyes and those of her schoolfriends. Most of these possessed the requisite number of
parents; in other respects their lives and Harriet’s were
almost identical, their houses similar, the strictures
placed upon them by adults the same. Growing up in
a leafy, well-heeled London suburb, the loss of a
parent by death was almost the only evidence any of
them had seen of the misfortunes which could befall
unluckier souls than themselves.
Harriet’s father is a remote, undemonstrative ﬁgure and the
inﬂuence of her relatively loveless early years is an integral
part of the development of her character, particularly when,
quite late in the book, her own baby is kidnapped.
Talking to each other
One of the most eﬀective methods of characterisation is
through the use of dialogue. How a character speaks will
38 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
tell you an enormous amount about their attitude and
We’ll be looking at the techniques involved in writing realistic
dialogue in a later chapter but for now, we need to think about
our feelings towards the characters we create.
INVOLVING YOURSELF IN YOUR CHARACTERS’ LIVES
We have seen how important it is to create backgrounds for
our characters in order to give substance to them. We have
also seen how their upbringing and backgrounds form the
basis of the motivation for their actions.
Knowing the struggle your character may have had to
achieve the status they have attained, you will instinctively
know how they will react if they learn that everything they
have worked for is to be taken away.
Returning to our TV Presenter, we can select a young anchorwoman for a regional news programme and devise both
background and motivation for her. Using a chart
format, Figure 4 details an unhappy childhood and diﬃculty
in sustaining relationships which suggests the following storyline for 26-year-old Sally Blake:
Motivation for young anchor-woman for regional news
Sally’s progress and oﬀers her a job in their studio. She intends
to take it when the oﬀer is withdrawn. Mark, her inﬂuential
lover, doesn’t want to lose her on either a personal or professional level and has pulled strings to block the job oﬀer.
Blonde, neatly-styled, shoulder-length
Blue, bright and smiling
Sensitive, quite wide with fairly full lips
showing white, even teeth
MARITAL STATUS Single
Functional £at nearTV studio
Beth and James. Divorced when Sally was
four. Father died recently, was a respected
investigative reporter. Had little contact with
his daughter. Mother ^ model, after divorce
married fashion photographer, moved to
France. Sent Sally to boarding school in UK
when sister was born
Eighteen-year-old half-sister, Sophie, a model
Claude, has little interest in either Sally or
Sophie. Absorbed in his work, he enjoys his
glamorous jetsetting lifestyle. Has frequent
a¡airs with young women
Happy until divorce and Sophie’s subsequent
Hated boarding school and during holidays,
fought with Sophie, who was educated at
home in France
Language Degree, 1st class honours from
First real boyfriend was an activist in the
student union, left her to move in with a
drama student. Several short-term
relationships since. Currently seeing Mark, a
married chief executive in herTV company.
Speaks £uent French
Ambitious, level-headed in a crisis
Scared of forming permanent relationships
Sally is hardworking, conscientious and very
ambitious. Scarred by her unhappy childhood
and more recently, by the loss of her father,
whom she emulates, she is determined to stop
at nothing to reach the top of her profession
Fig. 4. First background for young, smart anchor-woman for
regional news programme.
40 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Based on what we already know about Sally’s character, it is
unlikely that she will give up without a ﬁght or that there is
any future in her relationship with Mark. She has never put
familyor friends before her own needs. She is a loner whowas
forced to take control of her own life from a very early age
and is not going to be pushed around by someone who is
trying to manipulate her for his own ends.
Armed with the information about Sally’s background and
character, depending on the style of the book, she could react
in one of a number of ways. She could:
1. blackmail Mark into using his inﬂuence to reinstate the
2. devise a plan to murder Mark
3. confront Mark, ﬁght with, and accidentally kill him
4. consult a lawyer and take Mark to court
5. compile an exposé of the TV industry
6. secretly conduct an in-depth investigation into corruption in Mark’s company
7. set Mark up to take the blame for running a libellous news
Sally’s reaction is determined by her tough background. The
product of a less than perfect marriage, she has an absent
father and a mother who transfers her aﬀections to her new
husband and baby with little thought to her daughter ’s
C R E A T I N G F I C T I O N A L C H A R A C T E R S / 41
To her stepfather, she is an encumbrance, shipped oﬀ to
boarding school to make way for her baby sister. It is
not surprising that, as soon as she leaves university, Sally
ﬁnds herself a ﬂat in England and rarely returns to France.
She has been forced to become totally self-reliant and will
take whatever action she deems necessary to achieve her aims.
CHANGING THE CHARACTER
However, if Sally’s upbringing had been diﬀerent, her reactions would change accordingly. Taking the same scenario, a
few alterations here and there will produce a totally diﬀerent
Rebuilding the background
Keeping the same framework, all we need to do is make a few
adjustments to the attitudes of Sally’s parents, change her
schooling and her relationship with her sister and we have a
whole new set of possibilities.
We’ll still have the parents divorcing when she’s four years
old and her mother remarrying, but this time their attitude
towards the child will be far more positive, as shown in the
alterations to the chart in Figure 5.
With this background, we now have a whole new set of reactions. When Sally’s father dies, her family is supportive and
caring. Her stepfather knows he cannot take her father’s
place but he is there if she needs him.
With a supportive family and a happier disposition, Sally will
Blonde, neatly-styled, shoulder-length
Blue, bright and smiling
Sensitive, quite wide with fairly full lips
showing white, even teeth
MARITAL STATUS Single
CURRENT HOME Functional £at nearTV studio
Beth and James. Divorced when Sally was
four. Father died recently, was a respected
investigative reporter. Saw Sally whenever he
was on leave. Mother ^ model, after divorce
married fashion photographer, moved to
France. Sent Sally to boarding school in UK
when sister was born
Eighteen-year-old half-sister, Sophie, a model.
Irresponsible and fun-loving
Claude, good family man. Fond of Sally but
feels a little intimidated by her determination to
succeed and is aware that she idolised her
Happy.Very protective of Sophie, whom she
looks out for when things go wrong, as they
Loved boarding school in England but looked
forward to holidays spent in France or in
London with father whenever he was around
QUALIFICATIONS Language Degree, 1st class honours from
Has been refusing Mark, a married chief
executive in her ownTV company, for some
time. Is admired from afar by Nick, a
SPECIAL SKILLS Speaks £uent French
Ambitious but puts friends and family before
A little too trusting in her relationships
Sally is hardworking, conscientious and
ambitious. Although she loves her French family,
she decided to live and work in the UK to be near
her father.Whenhe dies, she is left feeling
vulnerable and frightened of the powerful Mark
Fig. 5. Second background for young, smart anchor-woman for
regional news programme.
C R E A T I N G F I C T I O N A L C H A R A C T E R S / 43
be less aggressive, sowe need to add an extra dimension to the
storyline to trigger a reaction. We can utilise her half-sister
Sophie who, whilst staying with Sally, falls in with a bad
crowd, in which the powerful Mark plays a leading role.
Whilst she would no longer consider violence, points 4 to 6
above would almost certainly ﬁt into the new scenario. Sally
consult a lawyer and take Mark to court
compile an exposé of the TV industry
secretly conduct an in-depth investigation into corruption
in Mark’s company.
The ‘new’ Sally wouldn’t go it alone, she would seek help from
a variety of sources:
1. The lawyer, with whom she becomes romantically
2. The lovelorn cameraman, who risks his livelihood to help
with her investigations.
3. Her stepfather, whose contacts in the media help her to
rescue Sophie and put Mark behind bars.
4. Her father’s papers – he was investigating Mark’s activities just before he died.
5. Her mother, for support as a friend and conﬁdante.
44 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
RELATING TO YOUR CHARACTER
Whichever scenario you choose, bear in mind that if you don’t
care about your character, neither will anyone else.
The ‘old’ Sally (Figure 4) may be ruthless but it’s not her
fault. As her creator, it is your task to convey her innermost
thoughts and feelings to the reader so that they will understand the reasons behind her behaviour.
In order to truly relate to Sally, you need to put yourself in her
place and imagine how you would feel if:
when you were four years old, you saw your father leave
home, never to return
after your father left, you felt utterly alone and
you were brought up by a selﬁsh, spiteful mother
without warning, your mother married a womaniser
whom you hardly knew and who clearly disliked you
you were taken away to live in a foreign country
you were confronted with a baby sister then immediately
packed oﬀ to boarding school
your father died suddenly, severing the only link with
memories of a happier time.
You would have to be particularly hard-hearted not to
relat e to at least one of the above c ircumstances.
Adding this kind of depth to a character brings realism
and is a major factor in obtaining that vital ingredient,
C R E A T I N G F I C T I O N A L C H A R A C T E R S / 45
Caring what happens
In our second characterisation of Sally (Figure 5), her background gives us little cause for concern. Despite her parents’
divorce, she had a happy childhood so we need to rely on
Sally’s charismatic personality to gain the desired eﬀect.
Once again, you have to put yourself in her place. You have
everything going for you, happy family, comfortable home
and excellent job prospects. Imagine how you would feel if,
within an incredibly short timespan:
your father, whom you adored and emulated, died
a situation with which you were coping (i.e. Mark’s
unwanted advances) suddenly spiralled out of your
you discovered that your beloved younger sister was in
moral or physical danger
you felt you were falling in love at a time when everything
in your life was being turned upside down.
In our second scenario, everything seems to be happening to
Sally at once and as the author, you should be right in there
with her, concerned for her, urging her to make the right
decisions which, initially, she is unlikely to do, as we’ll shortly
discover in the following section dealing with conﬂict.
CASE STUDY: JUNE MAKES EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT
June is a cheerful person in her mid-twenties. The mother of two small
children, she has an optimistic outlook on life and this is reflected in her
46 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
characterisation. Unfortunately, this tendency always to look on the bright
side means that her characters often lack depth and realism. She also
finds it difficult to bring conflict into her stories, as she likes to make their
lives run as smoothly as possible. Until she can overcome her desire to
have everyone living happily ever after, her stories will continue to be dull
HOW WOULDYOU REACT IF THEYAPPROACHEDYOU?
Without realistic characters, a ﬁctional story is ﬂat and
lifeless. People read about people, so the characters you
create should not only be realistic, they should also provoke
a reaction from your reader.
Every character in a work of ﬁction should be there for a
purpose. Characters should never be used in order to set the
scene or create a backcloth.
If you’ve placed them in a scene, they have to perform a
function and with this in mind, you should either be attracted
or repelled by them. If they only have a small role to play, you
may simply ﬁnd them interesting or intriguing but you should
never be indiﬀerent.
When creating ﬁctional characters, therefore, imagine how
you personally would react if you met them on a dark night.
Stop to oﬀer assistance?
Fall in love?
Be rooted to the spot in terror?
C R E A T I N G F I C T I O N A L C H A R A C T E R S / 47
Be ﬁlled with loathing?
Avoid making eye contact?
Nod a brief greeting and move swiftly on?
One method of conveying exactly what sort of reaction your
character would provoke is through interaction with another
Interacting with one another
In the following extract from the psychological thriller
Ladykiller by Martina Cole, a description of serial killer
George Markham is given through the eyes of Josephine
Denham, a colleague at work:
‘Mr Markham, have you ﬁve minutes to spare?’
The voice of Josephine Denham broke into his
thoughts. He turned in his seat to see her standing in
the doorway, smiling at him.
‘Of course, Mrs Denham.’ His voice was soft and
Josephine Denham turned and walked back to her
oﬃce. George Markham gave her the creeps and she
did not know why. He was always polite. Chillingly
polite. He never took days oﬀ for no reason, he always
kept himself to himself, never took long lunches or
tried to engage her in banter, like some of the other
male employees. All in all he was a model worker. Yet
she had to admit to herself there was something about
his soft, pudgy body and watery grey eyes that gave her
the willies. She sat at her desk and observed the little
man in front of her.
‘Please, take a seat.’
48 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
She watched George take the material of his trousers
between his thumb and foreﬁnger and pull it up before
sitting down. Even this action irritated her. She saw his
funny little smile that showed his teeth and felt even
Provoking a reaction
The author leaves us in no doubt that George is most
unsavoury and at no time do we feel the slightest bit of sympathy for him. Josephine has, we are sure, every right to
dislike him. This impression is reinforced a few lines further
on when we see his reaction as Josephine tells him he is to be
George felt an urge to leap from his chair and slap the
supercilious bitch with her painted face, her dyed
blonde hair, her fat, wobbling breasts. The dirty
stinking slut! The dirty whore!
Whilst there is no doubt that George’s vitriolic reaction is
appalling, there is still room for a hint of justiﬁcation. Anyone
who has experienced redundancy must be able to relate to the
feelings of frustration and helplessness welling up inside him.
At the same time, Josephine’s unease in his presence is very
well-founded as it is all too clear that any woman unfortunate
enough to ﬁnd herself alone with George Markham is in very
In order to understand the importance of conﬂict in a
ﬁctional tale, imagine the following scenario:
A beautiful, titled young lady is about to celebrate her
C R E A T I N G F I C T I O N A L C H A R A C T E R S / 49
eighteenth birthday. Her wealthy, happily married
parents throw a party for her at their stately home.
Her adored older brother telephones to let her know
that he is bringing his best friend and partner in his
successful law ﬁrm to the party. The best friend is the
handsome heir to a fortune and a vast estate in the
country. Their eyes meet, they fall instantly in love to
the great delight of their families. They marry, have
two children, a girl and a boy and live happily ever
By now, you are either shrugging and muttering ‘So what?’ or
you’re drifting oﬀ to sleep. Either way, it is unlikely that you
found the above storyline exactly riveting because the simple
fact of the matter is that nothing has gone wrong.
Throwing obstacles in the path
Conﬂict is all about obstructing the course of:
solving a mystery
tracking someone down
reaching a goal.
It is a sad fact of human nature that no one wants to read
about anything that is easily gained. Your task as an author is
to throw as many obstacles as possible in the path of your
characters to ensure that we have to keep on reading if we are
to discover whether they manage to achieve their aims.
50 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
1. Are you sure that you and your readers will relate to the
characters you have created?
2. Do you know how your characters will react under pressure, at rest, at home and in the workplace?
3. Is your knowledge of the backgrounds you have created
up to date and accurate?
4. Do you care what happens to your characters?
5. Are you sure there is suﬃcient conﬂict to keep your reader
turning the page?
6. Have you avoided stereotypical, clichéd characters by
realistically basing their development and behaviour
on their background and upbringing?
To help you understand how to build a character from a
stereotype, try this rapid response exercise. Picture in
your mind’s eye a wealthy businessman, then answer the
questions below using the ﬁrst answer that comes into
1. How old is he?
2. What colour are his hair and eyes?
3. How tall and what sort of build is he?
4. Is he nice or nasty?
5. What is his oﬃce like?
6. Where is it situated?
C R E A T I N G F I C T I O N A L C H A R A C T E R S / 51
7. Is he married?
8. If yes, does he have a mistress?
9. What is his home like and where is it situated?
10. Does he have any children?
11. If yes, how many, what sex and how old are they?
12. Where is he now, at this moment?
13. What is he doing?
14. What will he do next?
NB: By now, you should be forming a storyline around his
Setting and Atmosphere
GETTING A FEEL OF PLACE AND TIME
Whenever and wherever your story is set, a thorough knowledge of the period and location about which you are writing is
Using all five senses
You need to use all the ﬁve senses, sight, sound, smell, touch
and taste, if you are to convey a feeling of time and place.
In the following extract from Susan Moody’s novel HushaBye, her central character, Harriet, is staying with her grandparents. Opening with the sense of smell and continuing this
as an overriding theme throughout the passage, the author
skilfully brings all Harriet’s senses into play to paint a vivid
picture of the house and its occupants.
The house in Cornwall smelled diﬀerent from the one in
London: shinier, cleaner. Harriet’s grandmother spent
her time arranging ﬂowers picked from her garden,
polishing the furniture, ﬁlling the days with small
routines, doing what she had done yesterday and what
she would do again tomorrow. The lavender-scented
sheets on their beds were starched and made of linen;
there were starched napkins at meals too, with
monograms in one corner. She did things in due
S E T T I N G A N D A T M O S P H E R E / 53
season; made marmalade, collected windfalls, stirred
Christmas puddings, cut the stalks of lavender and
sewed the scented grains into sachets of lace and
ribbon. Things were done at prescribed times; milk
drunk at eleven, a walk at three, the radio switched on
at 5.54 for the weather forecast before the six o’clock
Moving back and forth in time
The above passage does more than set the atmosphere, it also
conveys an impression of time.
Harriet’s grandmother is not a modern career woman. She is
the epitome of respectability, comfortable with her role as
wife and homemaker. She lives an ordered life in the country
and her outlook is rooted in a strong sense of duty and the
values of a previous generation.
Remove her from this setting and place her in a chrome
and glass apartment in the centre of a bustling city and
she will appear old-fashioned and vulnerable. Pulled out
of her own time, she will be like a ﬁsh out of water and the
atmosphere will become completely diﬀerent.
Setting over characters
The importance an author gives to a story’s setting depends
not only on the style of writing but also on the genre. In a
romance, for example, the background has a major inﬂuence
on the behaviour of the characters. Listed below are just a few
examples of settings taken from romantic novels:
54 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
a Caribbean cruise ship
a tropical island
an Italian vineyard
a lake in the Canadian Rockies
an antiques shop and cottage in the country.
In each case, the setting is described in sensuous detail, the
scents of fruits and ﬂowers, crystal clear lakes, whispering
breezes and rolling hills.
The pace of the story is always slow enough to allow the reader
to savour the sights, sounds and ﬂavours but fast enough to
maintain the impetus.
Making war not love
Action novels such as war stories use similar techniques to
conjure up the feel of battle. Shattered bodies and ﬂattened
buildings, deafening shellﬁre, screams of terror, the stench of
death all around. Once-bustling towns are reduced to piles of
rubble and twisted metal, the surrounding landscape
becomes a mass of craters littered with burned-out vehicles.
This time, the pace is very fast, pulling the reader through the
horriﬁc sights, sounds and smells as quickly as possible to the
comparative safety of the next chapter.
Keeping the background out of the foreground
As a general rule, the setting should never be allowed to
dominate the storyline. It is relatively easy to get carried
away but try to avoid using more than ten lines of pure
description in one block or your story will lose pace and
fail to hold a reader’s attention.
S E T T I N G A N D A T M O S P H E R E / 55
Letting your characters set the scene
The most eﬀective way to describe a scene is to let your
characters do it for you through interaction with their surroundings. This will improve the pace of your writing and
convey a feeling of setting, atmosphere and insight into the
character in one fell swoop.
For example, study the following two passages and decide
which you feel is most atmospheric:
It was the middle of winter. The room was icy cold and
hiding in one corner was a child, a little girl. The man
stood in the room for a moment but could not see her
concealed in the dark shadows. He turned and strode
No warmth from the thin winter sun had managed to
penetrate the icy coldness of the room. The child
huddled, shivering in one corner, willing the shadowy
dimness to conceal her. She held her breath as the man
stood motionless, listening for what seemed an eternity,
before he turned and strode impatiently away.
There are pitfalls in setting your stories in real locations,
particularly if you choose an area you moved away from
and have not visited for many years.
To illustrate this, the following is just a small sample of recent
changes in my own neighbourhood.
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The local high street has been decimated by the opening of
an out-of-town shopping complex.
A multiplex cinema is being constructed on the site of the
former technical college.
A series of mini-roundabouts has been built.
Several roads have changed their use from two-way to
A complex system of zebra crossings and pedestrian
refuges has been constructed.
Changing the landscape
All over the country, roads are being widened, housing, trading and industrial estates are being built, supermarkets are
springing up, golf courses and theme parks are changing the
appearance of the landscape.
Conversely, many town and city centres have acquired a
neglected, derelict look as unsuccessful businesses close
and once-thriving factories stand empty, the surrounding
areas overgrown with weeds and littered with glass from
Soaking up the atmosphere
It’s not all gloom and doom of course. Much of the countryside has remained unchanged for generations and large tracts
of land on old industrial sites have been reclaimed and landscaped by environmentalists.
If you intend to set your story in your own locality, you’ll
be up-to-date with any changes and have few problems
S E T T I N G A N D A T M O S P H E R E / 57
establishing a realistic atmosphere. If, however, you wish
to set your story in the area where you grew up or lived
some years ago, it is well worth revisiting the location in
order to establish whether it still retains the atmosphere
you wish to convey.
CASE STUDY: IVY LOOKS BACK
Ivy was brought up in a rural village but has lived most of her adult life in
the city. Prompted by nostalgia, she decides to set her contemporary
novel in the area where she spent her childhood and describes the
surrounding countryside in meticulous detail. Fortunately, she decides to
visit her old home before she completes the novel, to discover an out of
town shopping complex now covers the farmland where most of the
present day action of her story takes place.
Striking a balance
Another problem with using a well-known location is that of
striking the balance between instant recognition and distracting realism. The following passage details the progress of a
character through the City of London.
Leaving the Bank of England, Barnaby made his way to
St Paul’s Cathedral. He followed the route from
Threadneedle Street to Cheapside, passing St Mildred’s
and Grocer’s Hall Courts, Old Jewry, Ironmonger Lane
and King Street on his right and Bucklersbury, Queen
Street, Bow Lane and Bread Street on his left.
Whilst the famous names mentioned provide an unmistakable London setting, there is very little atmosphere in this
passage. There is the added diﬃculty, too, that anyone
58 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
familiar with the area may well begin to wonder if the route
and road names are correct. At best, this will distract them
from the storyline and at worst, they may put the story down
while they go oﬀ and search for their London A to Z.
As with any other writing technique, in the hands of a skilled
author, the use of this kind of detailed information can
become integral to the tone and pace of the book and
many writers can and do use it to great eﬀect.
The attention to detail award-winning novelist Ruth Rendell pays to the routes taken by her protagonists, emphasises
rather than detracts from the atmosphere of her novels. She
sometimes takes this one stage further by drawing a map or
street plan of a location, as illustrated in Figure 6. Taken
from an Inspector Wexford novel entitled Some Lie and
Some Die (Arrow Books), the map depicts the location
for a pop festival in an area just outside the ﬁctional
town of Kingsmarkham and not only helps the reader
get their bearings but also adds realism to the story.
Creating the feel of a place
For some novels, the setting is integral to the plot. Until its
demolition, the area surrounding the Berlin Wall was a central feature in scores of spy novels and the same is true of
famous landmarks such as the:
Empire State Building
Houses of Parliament
Fig. 6. Map of ﬁctional location from Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford
novel Some Lie and Some Die (Arrow Books), depicting the location for a
pop festival in an area just outside the ﬁctional town of Kingsmarkham.
60 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
St Mark’s Square
Statue of Liberty
Basing your setting on a familiar location
In order to avoid the distracting ‘street map’ scenario, an
eﬀective alternative is to throw in one or two well-known
evocative names. This encourages the reader to use their
imagination to ﬁll in the blanks, as demonstrated by the
following rewrite of the previous City of London example:
Leaving the Bank of England, Barnaby made his way
from Threadneedle Street towards St Paul’s, feeling a
ﬂicker of excitement as he read oﬀ the historic names of
the roads he passed. Old Jewry, Bow Lane, Bread
Street, Cheapside. Barnaby recited them to himself as
he tried, in vain, to block out the intrusive din of the
Making up your own location
Making up your own location allows you to design the landscape to suit your own purposes, particularly if it is based on
an area with which you are very familiar.
It also allows you to deal with any unforeseen hazards constructed in your absence by the town planning department.
The odd new road layout, housing or industrial estate can be
happily discarded if it obstructs your protagonist’s progress
or detracts from the planned storyline and if you need to get
from A to B in a hurry, you can simply build yourself an
S E T T I N G A N D A T M O S P H E R E / 61
CASE STUDY: RACHEL DEMOLISHES AN OFFICE BLOCK
Rachel has the perfect location in mind for the fictional city setting of her
historical novel. There is now an office block on the site but, with the aid
of some careful research, she unearths sufficient information about the
houses which once stood there to create a vividly realistic impression of
the layout of city streets at the time in which her story is set. Based on
her investigations, she is able to devise her own street map for reference,
adapting it to suit the storyline wherever necessary.
Travelling to exotic places
As we have seen, romantic novels are by no means the only
books which use foreign and exotic settings. Political thrillers, adventure novels, crime stories can all be set against
exotic backgrounds and where science ﬁction and fantasy
are concerned, the universe is your oyster.
However, reliance on a combination of travel guides, tourist
brochures and memories of a seven-day package holiday to
Benidorm is, on its own, unlikely to provide you with suﬃcient detail to create a realistically atmospheric background.
If you are setting your story in a foreign country, your writing
will be far more eﬀective if you are thoroughly familiar with
the area, its climate, people and politics.
This is ﬁne if your story has a contemporary, earthbound
setting but for historical or futuristic tales, research and educated guesswork are vital ingredients in the creation of the
62 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
IMAGINING WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE TO BE THERE
Assuming that you’ve done your research and have suﬃcient
information to write a detailed description of your character’s surroundings, try the following test:
Picture yourself sitting in an armchair in your living
room. It is around 7.30 pm in the middle of winter and
you are reading a book. You have a drink beside you.
Now imagine exactly the same scene in a previous
century and then at a point of your choosing in the future.
For all three scenes, answer the questions listed below:
1. What material has been used to make the chair you are
2. What method of lighting are you using?
3. Is the room heated and if so how?
4. Is the room carpeted? If not, what sort of ﬂoor covering
does it have?
5. How is the room decorated?
6. What is the title of the book you are reading?
7. What are you drinking?
8. Is it in a glass, cup, goblet, other? If not glass or china,
what is it made of?
9. What are you wearing?
10. Are you warm enough?
By comparing how comfortable you normally feel in the
S E T T I N G A N D A T M O S P H E R E / 63
given situation with how you imagine it would have felt in
the past and how it might feel in the future, you can bring a
great deal of realism to your writing.
Living the part
One advantage historical settings have over futuristic ones is
that lifestyles, costume, homes, furnishing and utensils of
previous generations are very well documented. Research
material is available in the form of books, paintings,
antiques, published letters, historic buildings, museums,
newspapers and for more recent history, photographs and
Making an educated guess
For historical settings, we have suﬃcient information to imagine how our characters related to their surroundings. The
only disadvantage is that, if you get it wrong, someone is
bound to notice.
In contrast, stories set in the future oﬀer more leeway to let
the author’s imagination run riot but the designs, materials
and lifestyles depicted must be based on current scientiﬁc
WEARING DIFFERENT CLOTHES AND COSTUMES
The costumes your characters wear do much more than just
set the scene. Among other things, they:
set the period
set the age, nationality and occupation of a character
give an insight into the character’s personality
convey a sense of occasion
evoke reader identiﬁcation.
64 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
To help you relate to the way a character would move and
respond in various situations, imagine how you react when
you are wearing clothes designed for a speciﬁc purpose. If
you have ever worn one or more of the following outﬁts, for
example, how did you feel and how did you move around the
A full-length evening dress
top hat and tails
a wedding dress and veil
a dinner jacket and dress shirt
a business suit
old jeans and tee shirt
luxurious silk underwear
nothing at all.
Acting the part
Take top hat and tails from the above list. They have a
seemingly magical eﬀect on their wearer so that men not
exactly renowned for their sartorial elegance suddenly ﬁnd
themselves holding their shoulders back and their stomachs
in. Perched at a jaunty angle on their heads, the top hat
provides the perfect ﬁnishing touch, conveying both style
The same is true of the full-length ball gown. Ladies who
usually dress for comfort in tee shirts and jeans can ﬁnd
themselves transformed into Cinderella look-alikes at the
drop of a neckline. Exchange the squashy trainer for the
S E T T I N G A N D A T M O S P H E R E / 65
satin slipper and you have a picture of elegance and femininity
in not only her looks but also her demeanour and actions.
Conforming or contrasting
The fact that the clothes your hero is wearing have him looking every inch the gentleman and your heroine’s attire implies
style and breeding is a major factor in characterisation.
Whilst the tall, handsome, immaculately turned-out chap
may fulﬁl the role of every woman’s answer to her
dreams, he could also be any one of the following:
a conﬁdence trickster without a penny to his name
a fashion-conscious young dandy, interested only in his
a charming rogue, who overspends on clothes, wining,
dining and gambling
a man of action, uncomfortably restricted by his formal
The way he wears his clothes, his bearing, attitude and behaviour will all give a clue to his personality. Does he, for
example, constantly rub his ﬁnger round his shirt collar,
indicating discomfort? Or is he unable to pass a mirror
without stopping to check the condition of his silk pocket
Heroines, too, reveal a great deal from the way they cope with
their clothes. Dressed in skin-tight evening gown and dripping with diamonds, our heroine could be:
66 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
a conﬁdence trickster without a penny to her name
a vain gold-digger, determined to trap a rich husband
a shy, sporty-type restricted and uncomfortable in these
Like her male counterpart, our heroine may be sophisticated
and elegant but if she has diﬃculty walking in her tight skirt
or modesty has her constantly pulling up the top of her dress,
it will be clear that she is less than comfortable with the image
she is expected to project.
1. Are you thoroughly familiar with the location you are
2. Do you have an accurate map of the area for the period in
which your story is set?
3. Have you calculated distances and travel times depending
on the modes of transport available at the time?
4. Does your dialogue accurately reﬂect the historical
period, location and social status you wish to convey?
5. Are you conﬁdent you know how it feels to live in your
6. Are the costumes accurate and do you know how it feels to
Select one of the following castles and describe it as seen
through the eyes of a visitor:
S E T T I N G A N D A T M O S P H E R E / 67
a Disney-style theme park fantasy
a stately home, open to the public
a highland fortress
an urban castle
a bouncy castle.
(NB: This exercise works well in pairs within a group. The
description is given by one pair and the others have to guess
what sort of castle is being described.)
REACTING AND INTERACTING WITH PEOPLE AND
As we saw in the previous chapter, one of the most eﬀective
ways to convey personality, age, setting and atmosphere is
through the reactions of your characters.
This involves showing what is happening through a combination of action, reaction and dialogue rather than narrating or
telling the story to the reader.
Writers tend to be avid readers, often with a background
steeped in classic works of literature, many of which are
written in the narrative voice. One example of this technique
is Emily Brontë’s classic novel Wuthering Heights, where the
sequence of events is related in story form by one minor
character to another.
It is perfectly understandable that well-read writers should
seek to emulate this approach but in a modern context, the
technique is very dated. It slows the pace considerably and by
the time the scene is set, both you and the reader may well
have forgotten what the story was about in the ﬁrst place.
Moving with the times
It is a testament to the skill of our classic authors that their
S H O W I N G N O T T E L L I N G / 69
stories continue to be enjoyed today. One reason for this is
that, despite the ‘Let me tell you a story . . .’ quality of the
writing, many classic tales contain far more action and interaction than you may think. It is the narrative style that creates
the misleading impression of a leisurely pace, not the actual
content of the story.
In contrast to using a static character to ‘tell’ the tale, showing
what is happening through the actions and reactions of your
characters brings pace, movement and life to a story, as you
can see by comparing the following examples:
Example A (telling)
The weather was very cold. Luckily, Susan had put on her
heavy overcoat, the one with the hood, so she was able to
keep reasonably warm. Walking along the road, she noticed that there were no leaves on the trees, a sure sign of
winter. The windows of the houses on either side of the
pavement were blank and dark. Susan thought it made the
street feel gloomy and oppressive.
Example B (showing)
Susan pulled her heavyovercoat around her to keep out the
icy cold. Oﬀering silent thanks for the warm, fur-lined
hood, she hurried down the deserted street. Leaﬂess trees
waved menacingly in the bitter wind as she anxiously surveyed the blank windows of the houses lining the bare
pavements. The oppressive gloom of her surroundings sent
a shudder of fear through Susan’s slender frame.
70 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Doing and describing
By comparing the two passages above you can see that in
Example A, Susan is almost static. The reader is told that the
weather is cold, that Susan is wearing a heavy, hooded overcoat, that the street was gloomy and the atmosphere
In Example B, however, Susan is reacting to her surroundings. She ‘pulls’ her heavy overcoat around her, ‘oﬀers silent
thanks’ for its warmth and ‘hurries’ down the street. The
trees, too, are moving. They are ‘waving menacingly’ causing
her to become anxious. There is more description too, as the
‘oppressive gloom’ sends a ‘shudder of fear’ through her.
Through the use of verbs and adverbs, your characters will
perform actions that demonstrate clearly their reaction to the
situation in which they ﬁnd themselves.
This is a far more economical method of writing description
than the narrative style. In fact, Example A is 70 words long,
whilst example B, with all the extra information about Susan’s
build, her coat and her frame of mind etc., amounts to only 64.
FEELING THE HEAT
Having established that our characters must react to the
conditions around them, we have to think about how
they will behave in a variety of circumstances.
In the following passage from Jonathan Gash’s novel, The
Judas Pair (Arrow Books), antiques dealer and amateur
sleuth Lovejoy ﬁnds himself in mortal danger, when the villain sets ﬁre to the thatched roof of his cottage.
S H O W I N G N O T T E L L I N G / 71
Then I smelled smoke.
The shushing sound was the pooled noise of a million
crackles. My thatched roof had been ﬁred, probably by
means of a lighted arrow.
At this point, Lovejoy panics but his sense of self-preservation
swings into action and he makes a rapid analysis of his situation:
I had to think. Smoke was beginning to drift in ominous
columns vertically downwards. Reﬂected ﬁrelight from
each window showed me more of the living-room than
I’d seen for some time. I was going to choke to death
before ﬁnally the ﬂames got me. The beams would set
alight, the walls would catch ﬁre and the ﬁre would extend
downwards until the entire cottage was ablaze.
Lovejoy realises that his only hope is to bury himself in a
priest’s hole under the ﬂagstone ﬂoor but he is unprepared for
the conditions he encounters:
The air entering my lungs was already searingly hot. From
above my head came frantic gushing sounds, creakings
and occasional ponderous crashes which terriﬁed me more
than anything. The walls would be burning now and the
beams would be tumbling through the living-room ceiling.
Twice I heard loud reports as the glass windows went. It
must be an inferno. I was worn out and dying from heat.
Too clever by far, I’d got myself in the reverse of the usual
position. I was safe from smoke and being cooked in an
oven. If only I could bring air in.
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I forced myself to think as the blaze above my head
reached a crescendo. What could make air move?
All through the passage, Lovejoy is reacting to his surroundings and the rising temperature. He is faced with a race
against time and in order to convey this, the author ﬂicks
back and forth between the raging inferno above Lovejoy’s
head and the extreme heat of his conﬁned conditions in the
priest’s hole under the ﬂoor. This keeps the pace moving
extremely quickly, pulling the reader along so that they,
too, can feel the heat, smell the smoke and sense the
terror Lovejoy is experiencing.
SHIVERING AGAINST THE COLD
As we have already seen in some of the examples used, our
characters’ reactions to temperature will be reﬂected in their
There is a variety of ways to convey the impression that a
character is feeling the cold. They may:
pull their coat more tightly around them
carefully select warm clothing to wear
ﬂap their arms
stamp their feet
huddle together for warmth
feel sleepy, risking death if they close their eyes
keep moving to increase their circulation.
S H O W I N G N O T T E L L I N G / 73
CASE STUDY: GARY INCLUDES EVERY DETAIL
Gary is extremely keen to write action novels and once he starts to write,
the words tumble onto the page. His story ideas are exciting and
imaginative but his tendency to include large tracts of background
information and longwinded description produce static characters, lacking
realism. Sadly, the superfluous information in his stories makes them
over-complicated and confusing to read.
Weathering the storm
Whether hot, cold, wet or dry, one thing you have to remember is not to overdo climatic conditions. The following
passage illustrates this point:
It had been raining hard for days. Water streamed from the
gutters of every roof, pouring down windows, along pavements, running in fast moving rivulets along each road.
Underneath the streets, torrents of water gushed and
gurgled beneath the feet of the people hurrying along
the shiny, wet pavements, pushing and shoving one another in their haste to get out of the rain. Steel grey storm
clouds gathered overhead, meeting one another head on in
preparation for yet another downpour. It was very, very
wet. (85 words)
Feeding in the information
One method of avoiding this kind of over-emphasis is to feed
the information to the reader in snippets.
If it is raining heavily, then have your character run for
shelter, or struggle for a few seconds with an uncooperative
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umbrella. An impression conveyed with a few well-chosen
verbs, adverbs and adjectives will be far more eﬀective than
wordy description, hammering home a point made early in
the ﬁrst sentence.
Economy with words not only improves the quality of your
writing, it also makes your work a more attractive proposition for prospective publishers. Bearing this in mind, try
rewriting the above passage in a more eﬀective and subtle
way. You will ﬁnd that, by cutting out any superﬂuous information and including a character to react to the conditions,
the piece will be far more evocative and probably a lot shorter.
(A suggested rewrite of the above exercise can be found at the
back of the book.)
We all have emotions which reveal themselves through our
writing and there are certain circumstances to which we react
more strongly than others.
Whilst our characters need not be based on ourselves or on
our nearest and dearest, our own emotions will be reﬂected in
their reactions and behaviour.
Standing up for yourself
You may, for example, have been bullied in the past by someone in a position of power, a teacher, employer, parent or
spouse. As a result of this experience, bullying behaviour in
anyone you encounter will evoke some very strong feelings.
These can and should be harnessed and used to great eﬀect by
S H O W I N G N O T T E L L I N G / 75
If you feel strongly about something, so will your characters
but unless you believe implicitly that they will react in a certain
way, then your portrayal will be unrealistic.
Allow your characters to do the talking for you. Whilst it is
important that your characters react as they, not you, would in
a given situation, you’ll be amazed at how often your attitudes
and opinions are reﬂected in their actions.
There is no reason why emotions should be negative. Positive
attitudes work every bit as well as negative ones and enthusiasm always comes over in an author’s work.
It may be a lifestyle, an ideal, a sport or a certain type of
person but whatever your passion, you can convey it very
eﬀectively through the character you write about and add
realistic backgrounds to your stories at the same time.
Writing as I do for the women’s magazine market, my characters’ attitudes and opinions reﬂect my own but must also
relate to the readership of the magazine.
The extract below, from a short story entitled ‘Wishing’,
illustrates the frustration an intelligent, hardworking businesswoman feels when trapped in a marriage with a
dominant husband. She has found what she considers to
be her dream home but her husband controls the ﬁnances
and has to be persuaded that the property is a good investment before he will consider parting with her hard-earned
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Watching Martin pace round the outside of the building,
Lisa could almost see the ﬁgures being calculated within his
She sighed, wondering why his head for business had
ever attracted her to him. A young accountant who knew a
good thing when he saw it, Martin had seized the opportunity to show the inexperienced fashion student how to
market the hand-made knitwear she was producing.
In the eighteen years since they’d married, the homebased operation had grown into a thriving, designer label
She squared her shoulders, determined to ﬁght oﬀ the
familiar knot of disappointment that Martin’s attitude was
causing in her stomach.
Throughout the story, Martin’s reaction to everything Lisa
shows him is cold and disinterested. Determined not to lose
her dream, Lisa explores the grounds and is delighted to ﬁnd a
wishing well, complete with thatched roof, concealed in the
She intends to breed sheep on the land in order to produce
wool for her garments and is even more pleased when the
house agent assures her that the well is real and the water
Unfortunately, Martin fails to see the potential of the property, either romantic or ﬁnancial, and in a last ditch attempt
to persuade him otherwise, Lisa lures him towards the
wishing well. The story’s ending was, for me, more than
satisfactory in dealing with the injustice of Lisa’s situation:
S H O W I N G N O T T E L L I N G / 77
A sudden thought caused Lisa to frown. As she opened the
car door and reached for the mobile phone, she wondered
whether the well might be polluted. Admittedly Mr Peters
had insisted that the water was pure but things were a little
No. Lisa shook her head ﬁrmly. Nothing could go
wrong. Especially as she’d made a wish. Which is what
you always did, wasn’t it? Just before you threw something
into a wishing well.
It is not only the sense of a wrong righted that vindicates Lisa
in the appalling crime she has committed but also her almost
childlike innocence in chasing an elusive dream.
She and I had absolutely nothing in common in looks, age
and, thankfully, our choice of husband but I couldn’t help
feeling sorry for her and wanting her to have her wish and it
was this element that brought her character alive and made
the story work for me.
CASE STUDY: STEVE TRIES OUT HIS CLIMBING SKILLS
Steve’s hobby is climbing and he bases his plot development on
situations he has encountered as a member of a climbing team. By
combining his experiences of climbing different types of terrain, in a
variety of weather conditions with his knowledge of teamwork in
potentially dangerous situations, he is able to bring his characters vividly
to life. As a result, his adventure stories are fast-paced and exciting.
78 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
MOVINGYOUR CHARACTERS AROUND THE ROOM
As we saw in the section dealing with reaction and interaction, static characters are dull and lifeless. If you are to
breathe any life into them, they must be seen to move about.
In order to write eﬀectively about a situation, it is not enough
just to visualise the characters, the author must also have a
clear picture of their surroundings. The layout of a room, for
example, the length of a road, the interior of a car.
Minding the furniture
Even when all the characters are seated, they still nod their
heads, shift position, wave a hand expressively. They may
stand up, pace the carpet or make their way into another
room. In order to convey this eﬀectively, you need to know
the layout of not only the room but also the building and
how they can get to where they want to go.
You also need to know where the furniture is placed, how
they manoeuvre around it and how fast or slowly they move.
SPEEDING AND SLOWING THE PACE WITH VOCABULARY
Throughout any story, an author has to increase and slow
the pace in order to gain the maximum eﬀect. This is
achieved by a combination of emotive vocabulary and
the length of the words and sentences used.
Shortening and lengthening the sentence
As a general rule, short words and sentences denote:
S H O W I N G N O T T E L L I N G / 79
Longer words and sentences denote:
You can also use longer, slower sentences to help build tension as in the following extract from Martina Cole’s suspense
novel The Ladykiller:
It was Saturday and George was alone in the house. After
carefully washing up the breakfast things and putting them
away, he made himself a pot of tea. While it brewed on the
kitchen table hewalked down to his shed and brought back
At ﬁrst sight, this scene portrays a contented man relaxing in
his home on a Saturday morning. By this stage in the book,
however, the reader is painfully aware of the horriﬁc images
that George’s ‘scrapbooks’ contain.
Now compare the lengths of both the words and the sentences
in the above extract with the following passage from the same
The two small boys walked fast. Driving rain was pelting
into their faces. The smaller of the two had red-rimmed
eyes and had obviously been crying. A large clap of thunder boomed overhead, followed by a ﬂash of lightning that
lit up the sky.
(The Ladykiller, Martina Cole, Hodder Headline)
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The pace of the second passage is much faster than the ﬁrst. In
both cases the reader is in no doubt that something very
unpleasant is about to happen but in the ﬁrst example,
the character is content and this is reﬂected in the vocabulary
used. In the second extract, the characters are clearly
unhappy and the vocabulary is short, sharp and threatening.
FLASHING BACK AND FORTH IN TIME
Flashback is one of the most useful tools a writer can use. It:
provides an insight into your characters’ personalities and
gives background information
describes the characters and adds substance to the plot
moves the story forward
oﬀers hints or ‘signposts’ that history is about to repeat
Whilst the length of a ﬂashback varies considerably from one
short phrase to a complete chapter, the technique works best
if you simply ‘ﬂash’ to a signiﬁcant incident in the past, then
bring your character straight back to the present as soon as
you have imparted the relevant information.
For example, if the reader is to understand why our TV
presenter, Sally Blake, behaves in a certain way, we need
to give them a few hints about the background to the
story. The ﬂashbacks in the following scene are marked
S H O W I N G N O T T E L L I N G / 81
‘I’m sorry Mark,’ Sally fought back the tears which
threatened to overwhelm her resolve, ‘It’s over. I’m leaving
you. I shouldn’t have believed your lies about leaving your
wife and children.’
Hugging her knees to her chin, she rocked childishly to
and fro for comfort, waiting in vain for his response, ‘Did
you hear what I said?’
‘Oh, yes, I heard you.’
Sally felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end
as she unclasped her legs and lifted her head to meet his
furious gaze. The last time he’d used that tone, the violence
that had followed had landed her in hospital. Furtively, she
slid sideways across the bed, increasing the distance
Flashbacks should provide a series of revelations about the
characters which give just enough information to keep the
reader wanting to know more but at the same time, reveal
something the reader didn’t know before.
In the above example, the ﬁrst ﬂashback informs us that
Mark is a married man, the second that he is violent. From
these two snippets of information, we know the background
to their relationship and can predict a negative reaction to
Sally’s desire to end it.
Listed below are some key phrases designed to lead you
smoothly into ﬂashback:
That summer had been almost perfect.
There had been a time when things were diﬀerent.
As a child, he had been nervous and shy.
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Filling a whole chapter
Whilst it is possible to write whole chapters in ﬂashback, this
can be counter-productive. As always, in the hands of a skilled
author, lengthy ﬂashback of this type can be very eﬀective.
However, for it to work well, the content must be completely
riveting and integral to the main plot. Even then, it can
sometimes be diﬃcult to pull the reader back to the present.
It is usually better to stick to brief, rapid ﬂashes to keep your
story moving smoothly and at a good pace.
Moving forward in time
It can be surprisingly diﬃcult to move your characters forward from one place and time to the next.
For example, when getting them from work to home, unless it
is vital to the plot, there is no point in having them walk out of
the building, get into their car and giving a blow by blow
account of the drive home.
Nor is there any need, once they are home, to follow their
progress through eating their evening meal, going to bed, then
getting up in the morning, leaving the house and driving back
to work again.
How, therefore, do you get your characters from A to B and
from one day to the next without slowing the pace?
Stopping and starting
The solution is relatively easy. You simply stop at the end of
one piece of action and start up again at the next. For
S H O W I N G N O T T E L L I N G / 83
She picked up her handbag and walked briskly to the
door, ‘See you tomorrow then,’ she nodded curtly in my
direction, ‘I’ll see myself out.’
She arrived promptly at nine the next morning.
Once again, there are key phrases that are helpful in moving
the action forward.
It wasn’t until much later that . . .
It was to be years, not days, before they would meet again.
Less than an hour had passed before . . .
1. Are you conﬁdent that your characters’ actions and attitudes are clearly conveyed through their reactions to their
2. Do your characters interact realistically with one another
through a combination of dialogue and action?
3. Would cutting the amount of description and narrative
improve the pace of your story?
4. Do you know how their past governs their present
5. Do they ﬁght for their principles?
6. Are you using sentence length and emotive vocabulary to
vary the pace and style of your story?
7. Are your ﬂashbacks short and eﬀective?
8. Does each scene move smoothly into the next?
84 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Write a scene in which a wife is trying to conceal a murder
weapon immediately after killing her husband. The scene
should contain the following information:
the wife’s appearance, including height, hair style, age and
the time of day
the room she is in
how the room is furnished
why she killed him.
Writing Realistic Dialogue
DEVELOPING A GOOD EAR
Dialogue is the bearer of information, plot and characterisation. It performs a number of vital functions for the ﬁction
moves the story forward
creates conﬂict, tension and suspense
explains what happened in the past
conveys the thoughts of the characters.
Perhaps most importantly of all, dialogue between your characters brings them to life in a way that no other writing
Hearing them speak
Until a character speaks, all their thoughts and emotions are
portrayed through someone else’s eyes, i.e. the narrator’s.
The things a character says and the way they say them gives a
much clearer insight into their character and allows the
reader to make up their own mind as to what sort of
person they might be.
86 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Realistic dialogue gives immediate characterisation in a way
that narrative simply cannot do. As a quick test, read through
the following phrases and see who you think is speaking:
1. ‘For goodness’ sake get your hair out of your eyes and
stand up straight when I’m talking to you.’
2. ‘I can spare you ﬁve minutes but keep it brief.’
3. ‘Hold my hand while we cross the road.’
4. ‘Good morning, how may I help you?’
Not only do we have an instant idea of the person speaking
but we can also make an educated guess about their appearance and their expression.
For no. 1, for example, the image is immediately of someone
in authority, a parent or teacher, and their expression is stern,
their demeanour impatient.
By contrast, example no. 4 is probably smiling and is making
an eﬀort to be polite and friendly. He or she is almost certainly
dressed smartly in order to make a good impression on a
If you were to write a completely realistic piece of dialogue
between two young women, it might sound something like
‘Hi! How’s it going?’
‘OK. How’s things with you?’
‘Oh, you know, OK but I, er . . .’
W R I T I N G R E A L I S T I C D I A L O G U E / 87
‘Yeah, I know but you can’t, well, um, you know.’
‘Yeah, I know but anyway, did you watch ‘Soapsuds’ last
night? Wasn’t it awful?’
‘The pits. She’d never have done that in real life. I mean,
erm, well, it’s so . . .’
‘Yeah, I know.’
In real life, most people sprinkle their conversations with
‘ums’ and ‘aahs’. They also tend to interrupt the person
speaking to them, so that sentences are cut short in mid-ﬂow.
If ﬁction writers were to include this sort of dialogue in their
stories, no one would read past the ﬁrst piece of conversation.
In ﬁction, each character must have their say in their own
instantly recognisable voice.
In order to produce realistic dialogue, therefore, you have to
develop a good ear for listening to how the people around you
speak and an ability to transfer their ‘voices’ onto the page in
an acceptable way.
ACTING OUT A SITUATION
One method of developing realistic voices for your characters
is to act out the situation you wish to portray.
Recording the speeches
You can do this by imagining it in your head or by speaking
the words out loud to hear how they sound.
You may prefer to record all the dialogue so you can play it
back at your leisure and ensure that each character has their
own distinctive way of speaking.
88 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Use the method which works best for you but make sure that
if one character says, ‘Hello, how are you?’, the response is
‘I’m ﬁne, how are you?’ and not something entirely unrelated.
Communicating with each other
Remember that the purpose of writing dialogue is to get your
characters communicating with each other, not talking
directly to the reader.
The technique of having one character saying something,
whilst the other talks either to themselves or to the audience
about something completely diﬀerent is best left to scriptwriters who have the advantage of the visual and aural
dimensions to explain what is going on.
Having a conversation
One useful method of bringing your dialogue to life is to
choose the pair you most strongly identify with from the list
below and write a confrontational conversation between
dissatisﬁed customer/unhelpful shop assistant
unreasonable traﬃc warden/irate motorist
disinterested hospital receptionist/frantic patient
oﬃcious train guard/exasperated commuter
harassed shopper/pushy elderly lady
angry homeowner/selﬁsh neighbour.
If, by now, you are in a ﬂaming temper, calm yourself down
by reading what you have written. The dialogue should be
wonderfully realistic and vibrant.
W R I T I N G R E A L I S T I C D I A L O G U E / 89
Putting the speech in context
The vocabulary your characters use conveys more than just
personality, it also gives an idea of their age, social status and
relationship to one another. Read the two examples below
and see if you can tell who the characters might be:
‘You’re not going out tonight. I won’t let you.’
‘You can’t stop me, I’m old enough to do as I like.’
‘You’re not so old that I can’t give you a clip round the ear.’
‘But I’ve got to go, everyone’s going.’
‘You’re not going out tonight. I won’t let you.’
‘You can’t stop me, I’ll do as I like.’
‘If you go I’ll kill myself.’
‘Don’t be a fool.’
Altering the vocabulary
The characters speaking in Example A are most likely to be a
parent and child, probably a teenager.
In Example B, we have an entirely diﬀerent situation. Here
the characters are clearly lovers, heading towards a break-up
in their relationship.
In essence, it is the same conversation but the things the
characters say, the vocabulary they use, the way they
speak, are quite diﬀerent.
He said, she said
Take a look at the following passages and decide which you
think works best:
90 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
‘You know I hate ﬁsh,’ he said, ‘Yet every week without
fail, you insist on trying to make me eat it,’ he complained,
throwing down his knife and fork in disgust.
‘You know I hate ﬁsh.’ He threw his knife and fork down in
disgust. ‘Yet every week without fail, you insist on trying to
make me eat it.’
In fact, both passages work perfectly well but in Passage A,
the words ‘he said’ and ‘he complained’ are completely
Combining action and dialogue
As we saw in the previous chapter, characters are not static.
They move from place to place, wave their hands around,
shrug their shoulders and stamp their feet.
Their facial expressions change, they have endearing or irritating mannerisms and their body language can tell you
almost as much about them as the way they actually speak.
A combination of action and dialogue, as demonstrated in
Passage B above, will bring far more realism and life to the
characters than a string of ‘he/she said’s.
For short passages, good dialogue will stand alone without
any action at all as you can see from the following conversation between a customer and a shop assistant:
W R I T I N G R E A L I S T I C D I A L O G U E / 91
‘I bought this toaster yesterday and it doesn’t work
‘I see. What’s the problem?’
‘It burns the toast.’
‘I see. What would you like us to do about it?’
‘Give me a replacement of course.’
‘I’ll have to get clearance from the manager but she’s at
lunch right now.’
‘OK. I’ll wait.’
There is no problem understanding the situation. We can
easily tell which one is speaking and the dialogue ﬂows perfectly well.
Within the context of a story where we are familiar with the
characters and the plot, a short conversation like this keeps
the action moving very eﬀectively. It should not, however, be
sustained for too long for a number of reasons:
unless we know the characters beforehand, we have no
idea what they look like
it is more diﬃcult to assess the mood of the characters
no matter how distinctive the voices, the conversation will
eventually become confusing
a long block of unbroken dialogue soon becomes boring.
Bringing in some action
Action serves as the descriptive element within dialogue as
you can see from the following rewrite:
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‘I bought this toaster yesterday and it doesn’t work
properly.’ Colin placed the box purposefully on the counter.
‘I see. What’s the problem?’
‘It burns the toast.’ Irritably, he pulled the toaster out of
‘I see.’ Sliding it towards her, the girl turned the dial
through its settings in a vain attempt to detect the fault,
before smiling helpfully up at Colin, ‘What would you like
us to do about it?’
Colin sighed impatiently. ‘Give me a replacement of
The girl frowned. ‘I’ll have to get clearance from the
manager,’ she chewed nervously at her lip, ‘but she’s at
lunch right now.’
‘OK.’ Colin snatched up the toaster and stuﬀed it into its
box. ‘I’ll wait.’
From their actions, we can see that the girl is anxious to please
but has no idea how to deal with the situation. Colin, on the
other hand, is irritable and not about to be palmed oﬀ by an
LOSING YOUR TEMPER
In the middle of domestic arguments with their loved ones, it
is not unknown for authors to stop dead in mid-insult and
reach for their trusty notepad and pen.
A keen writer will never let a good piece of dialogue escape,
no matter when or where they stumble across it. If their
partner happens to hurl a particularly juicy phrase at
W R I T I N G R E A L I S T I C D I A L O G U E / 93
them in the heat of battle, they know they’ll only regret it if
they don’t stop and write it down.
We all ﬁnd ourselves in confrontational situations from time
to time and the more you can identify with the roles of your
characters and relate to their feelings and frustrations the
more realistic their arguments will sound.
Basing your characters’ dialogue on your own domestic disputes may seem heartless and insensitive but for the true
creative writer, there’s no sense in wasting good material.
FALLING IN LOVE
Conﬂict is a vital element in any work of ﬁction, so the
dialogue between two characters falling in love should be
as volatile as arguments between warring partners.
Whispering sweet nothings
Whilst tender pillow-talk has its place, all the concerns, heartache, soul-searching and nerves that are part and parcel of
forming a new relationship must be reﬂected in the dialogue.
If every conversation is dripping with sugary sweet declarations of love, it will not only sound unrealistic but also be
utterly boring. In order to convey heightened sexual attraction between two characters, there must be an element of
tension in the dialogue.
In novelist Patricia Burns’ First World War saga, Cinnamon
Alley, heroine Poppy Powers meets and falls for American
serviceman, Scott Warrender. To complicate matters, she is
already being ardently pursued by veteran Joe Chaplin.
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The following short extract leaves the reader in no doubt
about her feelings towards the two men:
Then Scott gave her a brief hug and let her go.
‘I guess I better let you get back to work. But I’ll be
watching you, mind. I’ll be watching every move you make.’
When Joe said things like that it irritated her. From
Scott, it made her feel cared for and secure.
(Cinnamon Alley, Patricia Burns, Arrow Books)
CREATING REALISTIC ACCENTS AND DIALECTS
So far, all the conversations we have looked at have been in
standard English but this isn’t always the case.
If your story has a regional or foreign inﬂuence, part of the
characterisation may hinge on the protagonist having an
instantly recognisable accent and this has to be conveyed
to the reader.
CASE STUDY: ELIZABETH USES PERFECT ENGLISH
Elizabeth is a retired English language teacher. After a lifetime of
correcting her pupils’ grammar, she finds it impossible to ignore the rules
and allow her characters to speak naturally to one another. As a result,
she is unable to develop clearly identifiable ‘voices’ for her characters
and their dialogue is stilted and unrealistic.
Avoiding the apostrophe
Let’s take a well-known quotation by Robert Burns:
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin tim’rous beastie,
O’ what a panic’s in thy breastie.
(To a Mouse)
W R I T I N G R E A L I S T I C D I A L O G U E / 95
To anyone familiar with the quote, deciphering it on the
printed page is relatively easy but for many, a long tract
of unfamiliar words littered with apostrophes is a highly
unattractive, not to say unreadable, proposition.
Listening to the rhythm
Rather than try to reproduce an accent phonetically by spelling the words diﬀerently or dropping the odd letter here and
there and replacing it with an apostrophe, listen to the
rhythm of speech.
You can achieve far more realism by turning the order of
words around in a sentence and sparingly throwing in the
In contrast to her Scottish namesake, contemporary novelist
Patricia Burns eﬀectively conveys Scott Warrender’s American accent through the subtle use of phraseology and in
Poppy’s reaction to the things he says, as shown in the
Poppy tucked her hand inside his elbow.
‘You’ll have to tell me which way to go. Is it far? I hope
‘I usually get the ﬁrst workmen’s tram,’ Poppy told him,
before she could stop herself.
‘To hell with that – begging your pardon – we’ll ﬁnd a
cab. Are you tired?’
Generallyshewas worn out at the end of a night spent on
her feet, wanting only to crawl into bed and sleep the sleep
of the dead. But tonight she could have run all the way to
Scotland and back.
‘No, not a bit. I’m ﬁne.’
96 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
‘You’re tougher than me, then. When I was waiting
tables I was washed out by the time I ﬁnished.’
‘You? A waiter? But you’re an oﬃcer.’
‘Don’t mean a thing, honey. My folks keep a hardware
store in upstate Pennsylvania. I worked my way through
‘Oh’ – It was like a foreign language, but she did get the
gist of it.
(Cinnamon Alley, Patricia Burns, Arrow Books)
Not only does the author clearly convey the American lilt in
Scott Warrender’s speech, she also eﬀectively conjures up the
period wartime feel in Poppy’s responses and reactions.
There is a sense, too, of the characters circling round one
another in a way that is typical when there is mutual attraction. Keen to get to know each other better, each one is
anxious to sustain the moment and worried that they
might say the wrong thing and miss the opportunity of a
SWEARING AND SLANG
Whether or not a writer decides to use expletives depends not
only on the style and content of the story but also on the
author’s own sensibilities. You may feel swearing is an integral part of your character’s personality and without it, their
dialogue would lack realism.
Used sparingly, swear words can add impact and pace to
dialogue but gratuitous use of obscenities is oﬀensive and
unnecessary. Where a scene is violent or a character is
depicted as being extremely angry, upset or frustrated,
W R I T I N G R E A L I S T I C D I A L O G U E / 97
the occasional expletive will add realism and power to the
scene. Too many obscenities will, however, have a diluting
eﬀect and the full impact will be lost.
CASE STUDY: BRENDA ACTS OUT EACH SITUATION
Brenda is a mother of four. Her children’s ages range from 18 to 30. She
is a keen amateur actress and member of her local drama society. She
has a good ear for language and her family keeps her abreast of the
latest slang phrases. Her interest in thriller writing means that she uses
tough, uncompromising characters who have colourful vocabularies. She
is not afraid to use expletives or slang in the right context. As a result,
her writing is vibrant and realistic.
Slang dates very quickly so that a contemporary piece of
ﬁction, liberally sprinkled with buzz words from up-tothe-minute speech, will appear quaint and odd in a few
Slang is, however, an invaluable method of conveying period.
For example, can you date the following phrases?
1. She thinks she’s the cat’s pyjamas.
2. Right-on man – that’s groovy.
3. You’re doing my head in.
(Answers at back of book.)
The characters’ ages play a large part in the use of slang.
Diﬀerent generations have their own slang languages and as
we have seen, the most eﬀective method of conveying a
diﬀerent language is through the use of the odd word
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here and there, rather than trying to reproduce it in large,
Writing dialogue is not so much a matter of reproducing
exactly how people speak to one another in real life. It is
more about setting down on the page a representation of
speech which helps the writer convey character, period and
plot in a realistic way.
1. Do your characters each have their own distinctive
2. Can you tell who is speaking to whom by the dialogue
3. Have you used a combination of dialogue and action that
moves the story forward?
4. Does the dialogue sound natural and realistic?
5. Is the use of expletives and/or slang necessary for the
purposes of characterisation and authenticity?
6. Have you relied too heavily on changing spellings or
inserting apostrophes in place of dropped letters,
rather than using the rhythms of speech to eﬀectively
convey dialects and accents?
If you belong to a writing group, there is a simple exercise
which demonstrates how a conversation develops.
Going clockwise round a circle, the ﬁrst person begins with
the phrase, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t have the car tonight’, then
W R I T I N G R E A L I S T I C D I A L O G U E / 99
turns to the next person for a response, which is usually,
‘Why not?’ Continue in this manner, making a rule that the
dialogue must be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
The end result will usually be a compromise between the two
characters who have evolved. (Nine times out of ten, the
dialogue develops into an argument between father and son.)
WRITING A ROMANCE
A romance is the story of a man and a woman who meet and
fall in love against all the odds. The ingredients for a standard
attractive central characters
a beginning, middle and happy ending
an element of suspense
obstacles designed to keep the hero and heroine apart
a satisfactory conclusion, culminating in the promise of
Romantic ﬁction is true escapism and great fun to write as
you steep yourself in a vision of what life could be like if only
all your dreams could come true.
Most but not all romantic ﬁction is written by women. This is
because it is centred around a particularly feminine, idealised
perception of what a loving relationship should be. The male
hero is strong, yet gentle. A caring, nurturing creature, who
puts the needs and desires of the heroine before his own.
F I N D I N G T R U E L O V E / 101
Believe what you write
A tongue-in-cheek approach to romantic ﬁction simply won’t
work. In order to write convincingly, you must believe in your
characters and be prepared to fall helplessly in love with the
This doesn’t mean you can’t bring humour into the story.
Providing you are laughing with and not at your characters,
you can make them and their situation as amusing as you
wish. At the end of the day, however, you have to care
whether or not your characters proclaim their love for
one another and achieve the happy ending that is an integral part of every romantic story.
FINDING FLAWS ATTRACTIVE
Bearing in mind that attractive characters are central to the
romantic theme, we need to explore the idiosyncrasies of
Beauty in the eye of the beholder
It is tempting to depict your heroine as exquisitely beautiful –
shining hair, immaculate complexion and a ﬁgure any
woman would die for.
Equally, you might initially portray your hero as a picture of
masculinity. Tall and handsome, with a head of thick, luxuriant hair and of muscular, athletic build.
They both look and sound wonderful, have warm, caring
dispositions and to all intents and purposes, are perfect.
Too perfect. We ordinary mortals know we haven’t a chance
with people like this. They would never fall for little old us,
so in order to make your romantic characters appear more
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believable and, more importantly, attainable, it is necessary
to give them a ﬂaw.
Falling for the flaw
The ﬂaw may be physical, perhaps the heroine is a little too
short, the hero just an inch or so too tall. Whatever you feel it
takes to make them a bit more human than if they were
However, a physical ﬂaw, whilst useful, only oﬀers part of
the picture. A rounded character will also have an emotional
hang-up. Perhaps they are stubborn, proud, impetuous or
absent-minded. These are the sort of characteristics that will
at ﬁrst exasperate and subsequently attract one to the other.
OVERCOMING INSURMOUNTABLE OBSTACLES
In Chapter 3, we saw how important it is to include conﬂict
in a story. The scenario illustrating the point had a beautiful
young woman meeting and marrying the man of her dreams
and living happily ever after.
Whilst this formula is the basis for a romantic story, on its
own without any conﬂict, it oﬀers no sustainable plot.
Preventing the characters from succeeding
Having created your almost perfect characters and set them
against a suitably romantic background, it would be very
pleasant to simply sit back and let nature take its course.
Sadly, that’s the last thing a romantic writer can do. The
author’s task is to come up with devious ways to prevent the
hero and heroine from getting together until the last possible
As we have already formed a picture of television newsreader Sally Blake, we can use her as a heroine for our
romance. Taking the ﬁrst CV, where she is the product of
F I N D I N G T R U E L O V E / 103
a broken marriage, with a disinterested stepfather and a
spoilt half-sister, we know that she is scared of forming permanent relationships. However, we also know that she is
ambitious so, for the purposes of our story, we will need
1. any attempt on her part to form a lasting relationship
with the hero
2. any exciting new career prospects.
Getting to know the hero
Before we can devise a plan of obstacles to their love, we need
to get to know the hero.
Like Sally, Nick will have one or two endearing personal
quirks. Perhaps he rubs the bump on his broken nose when
he’s concentrating or the corner of his mouth twitches when
he is amused.
He has probably been hurt by a woman in the past and his
attraction to Sally will be in spite of a determination not to
repeat the experience. It will be these traits which will make
him irresistible to our heroine.
Jumping to the wrong conclusion
By drafting a plan of obstacles to the couple’s romance, as
shown in Figure 7, we can see at a glance how they will ﬁt into
One of the most eﬀective obstacles is the romantic hero and
heroine’s unerring talent for jumping to the wrong conclusion, as shown in Frame 5.
Nick asks her out. She refuses. Mark o¡ers
her promotion on condition that she
continues their a¡air.
She is level-headed in a crisis.
She tells Mark she needs time to think.
She bumps into Nick as she leaves the
He senses something is wrong.
They go for a drink.
Despite her problems, Sally ¢nds herself
falling for Nick.
He takes her home and stays the night.
He persuades her to stand up to Mark.
The following afternoon Sally overhears Nick
deep in conversation with Mark.
She mistakenly believes they are conspiring
Sally ¢ghts with Nick, refusing to listen to his
She resigns and walks out.
At home, the phone rings constantly but she
Job and romance prospects gone, Sally goes
to stay with her mother in France.
Sophie is spiteful and Sally miserable.
Nick arrives in France.
A studio is looking for an ‘anchor’ for the
This was what he’d been discussing with
Mark, trying to persuade him to let Sally go.
Everything is wonderful. Sally is in love and
plans to return to the UK and take up the new
Then she sees Nick going into Sophie’s room.
Nick denies being in Sophie’s room but in the
middle of a romantic meal with Sally, Sophie
bursts in screaming.
Nick bustles her outside and into his car and
they drive o¡.
Hurt and angry, Sally returns immediately to
the UK and throws herself into her new job.
She manages to break the hold Mark has
over her but she can’t get over Nick.
Then, she sees him in the studio.
At ¢rst, she resists his attempts to talk to her
until Sophie arrives and confesses that Nick
was helping her kick her drug habit. Finally,
Sally realises she can trust Nick and they
confess their love.
Sally’s relationship with married Mark is
Sally tells Mark they are ¢nished.
She meets Nick, a new cameraman.
Fig. 7. Plan of obstacles to romance (based on Figure 4). Sally ends affair with Mark and falls in love with Nick. Her emotional background
prevents her from embarking on a new relationship. Finally, Nick wins her over and they achieve the requisite happy ending.
F I N D I N G T R U E L O V E / 105
Sally’s immediate reaction when she discovers Mark and
Nick in conversation is to assume they are plotting against
her. It never occurs to her that Nick might be trying to help
her but if it did, she would thoroughly resent his interference.
Either way, he cannot win.
The next misunderstanding occurs in Frame 10, with Nick’s
attention to Sophie. It is her fear of losing him to her spiteful
step-sister that prompts Sally’s ill-judged behaviour. Meanwhile, it is a combination of pride and integrity on Nick’s
part which governs his reactions.
Remember that, however many obstacles we throw in her
path, Sally must have overcome them by the end of the book.
DRIVING FAST CARS AND WEARING FANCY CLOTHES
Romance and glamour go hand in hand and if you intend to
write romantic ﬁction, you need glamorous settings for your
Our story is set around the fast-moving background of a
television news station. However, the worlds of high fashion,
fast cars, thoroughbred horses and sporting champions also
feature heavily in this kind of novel. No one wants to read
about the love life of a garage mechanic and a secretary. Not,
that is, unless the garage mechanic designs and builds revolutionary racing cars or the secretary works for a highpowered executive of an international industrial giant.
Following high fashion
Clothes are particularly important and always set oﬀ a hero’s
physique or a heroine’s ﬁgure to perfection.
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Even the poorest heroine seems to be able to lay her hands on
at least one pure silk designer evening gown, whilst old,
worn jeans and an open-necked work shirt enhance our
hero’s hard-man image as much as the cultured side of
his nature is improved by his appearance in an immaculate
Keeping up with the times
In line with the glamour/power image, today’s romantic heroine may well be in her mid to late twenties and running her
own business. She may drive a powerful car, pilot a plane, sail
a yacht or be an expert horsewoman and will not appreciate
being treated as if she’s a rare and fragile ﬂower.
ENJOYING SEX AND FOOD
The only rule relating to the inclusion of sex in a romantic
story is that it must be integral to the storyline and portrayed
within the context of a love scene. Gratuitous sex, particularly
if linked with violence, is totally unacceptable.
Practising safe sex
Some romantic writers always include explicit sex scenes,
others never do. It is entirely up to you to decide whether
or not you are comfortable writing about sex.
All sexual encounters between the hero and heroine are
immensely pleasurable and safe sex is practised. This is
all part of the caring, nurturing role which is the essence
of the true romantic hero.
Eating and drinking sensuously
Eating is almost as important as sex in a romantic story.
Meals are described in great detail and range from plain but
wholesome simple fare to delicately presented gourmet
F I N D I N G T R U E L O V E / 107
For example, a romantic ploughman’s lunch for two would
consist of a fresh, French loaf, deliciously crusty on the outside, the soft, white middle thickly spread with creamy butter.
The cheese will be ﬁrm and mature, served with a generous
helping of tangy, home-made chutney. The whole thing will
be washed down with a named wine, a fruity red or light,
Listed below is a selection of key words for describing food
HEIGHTENING ALL THE SENSES
As we have seen in previous chapters, in order to bring ﬁctional characters to life, it is important to bring all ﬁve senses
In romantic ﬁction, these senses are heightened for maximum
stimulation. Cars go faster, food tastes better, clothes feel
silkier and voices are softer and warmer.
Things look better, too. Cars gleam, meals are feasts for the
eyes, garments cling in all the right places, hair and eyes shine
and ﬂash, skin and muscles are soft or hard to the touch.
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BRINGING THE HERO AND HEROINE TOGETHER
With all these sensations to look forward to, it’s not surprising that romance is such a popular form of ﬁction. All that
remains now is to bring our hero and heroine together.
In a romance, when hero and heroine meet, their ﬁrst emotion should be any one of the following:
What it should never be is ‘love’. That would be too easy and
as we know, without conﬂict, there is no story.
The advantage of a contemporary romance is that you are
writing about today’s characters and can set them against
backgrounds with which you are familiar. As we saw in Chapter 4, it is important to have accurate knowledge of a location
whether it is a small provincial town or an exotic South Sea
island. Background information must also be accurate.
Knowledge of the television industry would, therefore, be
essential for anyone writing Sally and Nick’s story and for
historical romances, accuracy is equally important.
F I N D I N G T R U E L O V E / 109
Researching the period
For an historical story to work eﬀectively, the right monarch
must be on the throne and costumes, furnishings, vehicles,
dialogue, attitudes and behaviour must all reﬂect the right
Romantic etiquette through the ages is a complex area. In
order to write believable historical ﬁction, it is essential that
the author understands and is thoroughly conversant with the
conventions and rules of the period.
Employing the language of fans, for example, is one method
by which a heroine could embark on a romantic liaison with a
potential suitor. Like every other language, however, you
have to know it to speak it.
You also need to know who would be deemed an unsuitable
marriage partner and who would be considered an excellent
catch according to the conventions of the time. Methods of
overcoming parental opposition, schemes for bettering themselves or plans for eloping must all be workable within the
context of the historical setting you have chosen.
Eating and drinking was just as important in the past, if not
more so. For the historical novelist, it is vital that you know
what food was served and how it was cooked.
Finance also rears its ugly head as, whilst the hero and heroine
will care nothing for monetary gain, ﬁnancial status will have
enormous implications on any potential marriage plans.
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In romantic ﬁction, the background is as important as the
plot and accuracy provides an ideal balance for the escapist
tale you long to tell.
1. Would you fall in love with your hero?
2. Does your heroine possess qualities that are attractive to
both men and women readers?
3. Do you care whether or not everything works out the way
your characters want it to?
4. Does your story have an upbeat ending?
5. Is the background information up to date?
6. Do your characters react to one another and their surroundings through the ﬁve senses of touch, taste, sight,
sound and smell?
7. Is sex portrayed within the context of a loving relationship?
Select one of the following pairs and write the scene of their
ﬁrst meeting, conveying their reactions through a combination of dialogue and action:
A male lawyer whose brilliance in court led to a miscarriage of justice against the young woman’s father.
A female hospital administrator, charged with cutting
costs, and a male paediatrician.
A minor lady-in-waiting at Queen Elizabeth I’s court and
a Spanish courtier.
Haunting,Thrilling and Killing
INTRODUCING A NOTE OF SUSPENSE
For some writers, the thrill of the chase has little to do with
love. Their preference is for ghost and horror stories and the
opportunity they oﬀer to take their writing to the limits of
Explaining the inexplicable
Ghosts take many forms and appear in novels in a range of
guises and moods. They may be:
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In addition to all those qualities, the form they take could be:
messenger from the past, present or future.
Some ghosts assume clearly visible human form, others are
opaque and some are simply a shapeless presence but the one
thing they usually have in common is the ability to materialise
and disappear at will.
Digging up the past
Ghostly characters are no diﬀerent from any other protagonists and should be treated accordingly.
You need to dig deep into their past so that their background
oﬀers an excellent reason for their current existence. Their
past will also explain their attitude to the mortals they
For the mortal characters, whether the ghost is frightening or
friendly, the initial meeting must have an element of suspense
– a creaking ﬂoorboard, sudden icy draught, a slamming
door or window.
CONFRONTING THE FEARS WITHIN
Whilst not every horror story features a ghost, the two genres
often overlap as both set out to frighten the reader.
H A U N T I N G , T H R I L L I N G A N D K I L L I N G / 113
CASE STUDY: BOB LOVES TO SHOCK
Bob is a mature English Literature student. His special interest is horror
and his writing is colourful and imaginative. Unfortunately, he is inclined
to let his imagination run away with him, filling his stories with so much
blood and gore that the shock effect he strives for is lost. Until he can
tone down the imagery by taking a more subtle approach, he will fail to
achieve his full potential as a horror writer.
Horror stories exploit our fears and shock us into facing the
thing we believe to be lurking in the shadows. If you are
frightened of spiders, for example, it’s bad enough if you
see one crawling up your arm. Imagine how much worse
it would be if you were locked in a dark room with
dozens of them running around you. You might not be
able to see them but you’d certainly know they were there.
In fact, they need not be there at all, you simply have to believe
they are and your imagination will do the rest for you. Before
long, you’ll start to feel them crawling up your legs and over
Confronting your worst nightmare
Horror ﬁction is based on the principle of confrontation with
your worst nightmare and common phobias are used to great
eﬀect in both ghost and horror stories.
The prospect of spending the night in a haunted house, for
example, mercilesslyexploits our natural fears of the dark and
isolation. Among the spooky sensations and incidents guaranteed to scare us silly are:
114 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
being cut-oﬀ from the outside world
lack of warmth and light
no visible escape route
having supporting characters mysteriously disappearing
one by one.
The underlying theme of the scenarios featured above is that
Once a character is trapped in a situation, they must rely
heavily on their wits for survival and if they’ve had those wits
frightened out of them, we won’t hold out much hope for their
Loss of control or free-will is another very powerful theme in
ghost and horror stories and includes:
being under attack from monsters, e.g. werewolves, vampires, zombies etc.
being trapped alone with your worst nightmare
having your mind and/or actions controlled by someone
being unable to ﬁnd an escape route, i.e. every road you
take leads back to where you started
being unable to distinguish between reality and falsehood,
i.e. are you insane?
being the only one to recognise the growing danger, i.e.
being quite alone.
H A U N T I N G , T H R I L L I N G A N D K I L L I N G / 115
CONTRASTING NORMALITY WITH TERROR
Contrasting fear of the unknown with a background of familiarity produces an immensely strong feeling of terror and
Creating an element of doubt
Picture a scene of contented domesticity. A housewife is
tackling the routine chores when the phone rings. Just as
she is about to pick up the receiver, it stops. Nothing particularly unusual here, just a wrong number. Unless, of course,
the same thing happens continually throughout the day.
By the time her husband returns home from work, our housewife is a bundle of nerves. He manages to calm her, putting it
down to phone engineers working on the line.
That evening they are watching TV when the wife hears a
noise outside. Husband investigates but can see nothing.
The cat strolls in through the open door and they laugh the
In bed that night, the wife is woken by the phone ringing. Her
husband stirs but doesn’t waken so she makes her way downstairs to answer it but when she picks up the receiver, the line
is dead. She returns to the bedroom and climbing back into
bed, snuggles close to her husband but something doesn’t feel
right. She tries in vain to rouse him and discovers he is dead,
his face a contorted mask of fear.
Providing an explanation
Lull the reader into a false sense of security by providing
credible explanations when the strange events begin so that,
when the terror is revealed, it scares them as much as the
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Just when you thought it was all over
Depending on the style of the story you are writing, it is
sometimes possible to add even more impact to the tale
by reviving the monster just long enough for one last attack.
The central character has fought and vanquished his foe
and is feeling justiﬁably euphoric. Nothing can harm him
now, the town/city/world is saved and life is rapidly returning to normal.
Just when you thought it was all over, however, whatever
grisly being is left after our hero has ﬁnished with it
hauls itself painfully back from the dead and makes one
last, usually unsuccessful, lunge towards him.
Laying the foundation for a sequel
Alternatively, as you approach the end of your novel, you may
already be thinking about a sequel.
If so, it helps to give a hint that the means are there to recreate
the terror. A ﬂicker of life in a twitching limb, an unnoticed
pod or egg, an indication that the conditions which gave rise
to the terror could be reproduced if certain conditions were
WRITING A MURDER MYSTERY
Whilst murders frequently take place in both ghost and horror
stories, we can derive comfort from the fact that the perpetrators are products of the author’s vivid imagination.
The mortal murderer is a very diﬀerent kettle of ﬁsh as he or
she may be based on a real person or event.
H A U N T I N G , T H R I L L I N G A N D K I L L I N G / 117
Avoiding true stories
All writers exploit information gleaned from the media but
care must be taken to protect innocent victims of true-life
crime. The discovery of a murder victim’s remains or an old
newspaper cutting might trigger your imagination but for
the families of those involved, it is a trauma from which they
will never fully recover. By all means use true-life cases as a
framework for your stories but the background, characters
and plot should be your own ﬁctional creation.
Employing an amateur detective
For today’s crimewriter, the gifted amateur detective in the
style of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is a thing of the past.
Nowadays the amateur is usually someone who happened to
be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Having stumbled
across a crime, they become entangled in the events which
follow and are forced to solve the mystery in order to extricate
themselves from the situation.
The attitude of the professional policeman in all of this is
either one of outright hostility or downright suspicion.
Indeed, our unwilling sleuths could well ﬁnd themselves
on the run from the law and unable to convince anyone
of their innocence.
Consulting a specialist
Novels featuring amateur detectives are usually set against
specialist backgrounds reﬂecting areas of their authors’ own
expertise. Ellis Peters’ medieval monk, Brother Cadfael, for
example and Jonathan Gash’s roguish antiques dealer Lovejoy are just two such successful ﬁctional sleuths.
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In this type of novel, the fascinating backgrounds give rise to
sub-plots and back stories which are as gripping to the
reader as the crime being solved. If a new specialist amateur
sleuth is to break into this overcrowded ﬁeld of ﬁction, their
background must be completely diﬀerent from any other
detective series currently on the bookshelves.
Relying on the professionals
‘Police procedurals’, where a professional police oﬃcer solves
the crime, feature up-to-the-minute police methods and the
latest advances in forensic science. Accuracy is vital and the
detective needs to be a fairly colourful or eccentric character.
CASE STUDY: SUE ENJOYS A GOOD MURDER
Sue is a great fan of murder mysteries and her clerical job at the local
police station has given her an excellent insight into police procedures.
Drawing on the knowledge she has gained through her work, she is in the
process of creating a female Detective Inspector and is currently planning
a murder mystery novel featuring a back story dealing with sexual
harassment within the police force.
CHOOSING A MURDER WEAPON
The choice of murder weapon should be realistic, bearing in
mind that the cause of death could be anyone of the following:
a blow from a blunt instrument
stabbing with a knife or sharp implement
H A U N T I N G , T H R I L L I N G A N D K I L L I N G / 119
Whichever weapon and method you select, you must be sure
that it will work and know what eﬀects it will have on your
victim. For example, if you intend to stab, shoot or physically
attack your victim, could you answer the following questions?
How much blood will there be?
What shape will the wound be?
How much force will be needed for the blow to be eﬀective?
How long will the victim take to die?
Poisoning the victim
Poisoning the victim’s food is a favourite method but here
again, it is imperative that you know a few basic facts:
Is the poison easily detectable?
Does it have a distinctive taste/odour?
What quantities are you likely to need?
Is it readily available and obtainable?
What symptoms will the victim display?
How long will the victim take to die?
Killing by accident
Occasionally a victim is killed by accident. They may fall
down rickety steps and break their necks, have something
heavy fall on them or be locked in the cellar of an empty
Under these circumstances, they tend to be victims of their
own evil plans, having hatched the plot and fallen into their
own trap. Occasionally, however, they are innocent, their
death leading to untold problems for the character who
was instrumental in causing it in the ﬁrst place.
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When planning a murder, be absolutely sure of your facts
and remember, the simpler the plan, the more likely it is to
PLOTTING AND PLANNING
A plot is simply what happens in a story and plot development depends a great deal on your characterisation.
Your characters’ reactions to a given situation will have a
strong inﬂuence on your plot. In a family saga, for example,
the story will be centred around one character’s relationship
with their family and the people they encounter as their tale
In contrast, crime novels are centred around the solution of
the crime so that, whilst it is essential to have a strong protagonist, the book must be carefully plotted in order to keep
up the interest. Before you begin to write the book, you must
be very clear where all the twist and turns, clues and red
herrings will occur.
You should also take note of the following advice from crimewriter Susan Moody: ‘You must play fair with the reader. No
twin brothers produced in the last chapter. Share the clues
with the reader, your job is to hide them as skilfully as you
Planning your novel
No matter what the genre, you should always draft out a plan
or outline which takes the work through from its beginning to
its logical end.
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This helps you to plot both the main theme and any sub-plots
or ‘back stories’ within a ﬂexible framework. As we saw with
the plan of obstacles to Sally’s romance in Chapter 7, far
more is going on than just her love aﬀair with Nick.
Each stage of the plot must be set out within the frame of a
chapter-by-chapter outline, so that you can see at a glance
exactly where and when each incident occurs.
Using the plotline from Chapter 3 where Sally accidentally
kills Mark, Figure 8 shows the draft plan of a crime novel. As
you can see, the detail is very sketchy. At this stage the back
story, or sub-plot, has been omitted but there will be room
within each frame to slot in details of Nick and Sally’s
romance from our original plan.
An outline should be regarded as a ﬂexible tool, which may be
altered and shaped to suit the circumstances. You have to be
comfortable with the idea of changing it round, taking some
bits out and moving others to more logical places.
Devising a storyboard
Putting it on computer gives you the freedom to alter it at
will although it does help if the plan is in constant view in
storyboard or chart form while you are working. Some
authors use wipe-clean boards or self-adhesive notelets
which can be moved around and discarded when necessary,
whilst others prefer a large sheet of white paper, drafting
the plan out in pencil, colour coding, erasing or crossing out
items where necessary.
Whichever method you select, once you have a plan to which
you can work, it is much easier to slot in the plot changes
Sally returns to £at to ¢nd Mark in foul temper.
She says their a¡air is over, has met Nick. Ends
with Mark’s attempt to rape her.
Sally ¢ghts Mark o¡ and he leaves. Later in bed
is woken by phone. It’s Nick. Mark has attacked
him. He comes over. Love scene. Doorbell rings.
Police. Mark is dead, killed by blow from
paperweight from Sally’s o⁄ce desk.
Insu⁄cient evidence to hold Sally. In o⁄ce,
papers re drugs story she was working on are
missing. She hears noise, sees Nick ri£ing
through Mark’s desk and ¢nding ¢le. Confronts
him, his story is lame, distracts him. Ends with
her grabbing ¢le and running.
Sally on Channel Tunnel train. Thinks she sees
Nick but it is a lookalike. Relaxes, studies ¢le,
¢nd links with both Mark and Nick. Ends with
her leaving train unaware she is being followed.
At mother’s house in France. Claude behaving
strangely. Sophie looks pale and ill. Sally
discovers Claude searching her things.They
argue. She decides to return to UK. Ends with
her seeing Nick in garden with Sophie.
Sally confronts Nick. Did he murder Mark? He
swears his innocence. Says he was working on
drugs case for rival news station. Love scene.
Ends with Sally waking to ¢nd Nick, Sophie
and ¢le have all disappeared.
Sally returns to UK and studio. Checks
computer, ¢nds contact address in drugs case.
Breaks in but is captured. Recognises major
drugs baron. Ends with Nick arriving, revealed
as gang member.
Sally in locked room. Hears scu¥e outside.
Sophie high on drugs pushed in, door locked.
Sophie confesses she is a ‘mule’ (carrier) for the
drugs baron. She is terri¢ed of someone. Ends
with failed escape attempt.
Sophie su¡ering withdrawal. Door opens, it is
Claude, followed Sophie. Rescues girls but
insists unsafe to go to police. They return to
Sally’s £at. Ends with her discovering it
Sally begs Claude to call police. He refuses. She
tries to call an ambulance for Sophie but he says
he will get a doctor. Ends with Sophie trying to
warn Sally about something but before she can
name names, Nick arrives.
Nick agitated. Grabs Sally, she grapples with
him, manages to escape, runs straight into
Claude who brings her back inside. He
confronts Nick, both men accuse each other.
Which man can Sally trust? She appears to
choose Claude but he gives himself away by
telling her how Mark was killed (couldn’t know
this). Fight. Nick saves them ^ reveals he is
detective working undercover. Ends with
promise of romance.
Fig. 8. Outline for crime novel.
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when and where they occur and build up a visual picture of
the completed novel.
Another great advantage of producing a visual aid like this is
that errors in the storyline can be detected at a glance.
If, for example, you have a character who was killed in Chapter 3 unaccountably turning up in Chapter 5, you can remedy
this before you get too far into the book.
A written plan allows you to see where each character is at
any given moment and to calculate how to move them from
and to each location. It also prevents you forgetting any
minor characters along the way.
TWISTING THE TALE
Every crime story contains an element of suspense, provided
by the twists and turns in the plot.
Laying a false trail
Twisting the tale involves laying a false trail in such a way that
any surprise ending is a feasible one. The clues must be
double-edged, so that whilst carefully steering the reader
in the wrong direction, on closer examination they actually
lead to the right one.
For example, in our story about Sally Blake, the minute Nick
meets Sophie, he appears to be following Route (a) in the
chart in Figure 9, ditching Sally in favour of her sister when,
in fact, he is actually following Route (b). As both routes are
equally valid, neither Sally nor the reader will feel cheated
when the truth is revealed.
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Nick appears to be very
interested in Sophie
(a) He ﬁnds her sexually attractive
(b) He recognises that she is a drug
When questioned by
Sally, Nick is evasive
(a) He wants to ditch her for her sister
(b) He wants to protect her from the truth
Nick is cagey about his
(a) He is a villain
(b) He is a detective working undercover
Nick and Sophie
(a) They have run o¡ together
(b) Nick has taken her to a clinic to kick
her drug habit
Fig. 9. Twist clue format. The reader should be deliberately led to
believe that the first answers, Route (a) are correct. However, the
second answers are equally valid and Route (b) is, in fact, the
In a twist story, the reader should be kept guessing right to the
end. For detailed information on how to write twist-in-tale
short stories, see my book in How To Books’ guides series
entitled Writing for Magazines.
Planting red herrings
Red herrings, unlike twists in the tale, are simply false trails
which are designed to lead you down a proverbial blind alley.
Each suspect is furnished in turn with an alibi and there is an
element of challenge involved whereby the reader is being
invited to unravel the mystery.
For example, Sally is initially the obvious choice for Mark’s
murderer but can be eliminated by a helpfully detailed
H A U N T I N G , T H R I L L I N G A N D K I L L I N G / 125
This leaves us with the standard murder mystery question: ‘if
she didn’t kill him, who did?’ Nick, our next most obvious
suspect, is released by the police, leaving us free to send the
reader oﬀ on a number of false trails before the resolution of
the mystery in the ﬁnal chapter.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Futuristic stories are enduringly popular and the science
ﬁction writer can choose to write any of the following
types of story, providing they are set against a scientiﬁc
Explaining the inexplicable
Unlike fantasy, which features magical creatures such as
goblins and gremlins within parallel worlds and time
zones, science ﬁction explores the concepts and implications
of space and time travel, scientiﬁc developments and theoretical possibilities.
The premise you use need not be proven scientiﬁc fact but it
must have a factual basis and it must be theoretically possible. Within these constraints, the science ﬁction writer can
approach the genre from a variety of angles:
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exploring the inﬂuence of technological change from both
negative and positive angles
voicing concerns for the future of the planet
exploring the possible damaging eﬀect of new technology
when taken to the edges of theoretical probability
using technological advances to provide a futuristic setting for an adventure story or political novel.
Recognising an alien
Aliens, like ghosts, can be hostile or friendly, depending on
the tone of the story. Many are humanoid but if they are, they
always have one strange characteristic by which they can be
Of those that aren’t humanoid, hostile aliens tend to be
slimy or scaly, whilst friendly ones are usually cuddly and/
or furry. However, watch out for aliens disguised as earth
creatures. These may take the form of insects or small
mammals, only revealing their true identity under certain
As all aliens function diﬀerently from Earthlings, one eﬀective method of introducing humour is to give your alien a
slightly irritating quirk or habit which may or may not be the
same as any special powers or abilities it may possess.
Travelling in time and space
Travel to the past often aims to prevent a catastrophe in the
future or tackles political issues such as what might have
happened if historical events had taken a diﬀerent turn.
Travel to the future tends to explore the human potential for
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self-destruction, the eﬀects of over-mechanisation, pollution
and nuclear warfare.
Discovering new worlds
We now know so much about our own solar system that, if
you wish to write about inter-planetary travel, you need to
go much further aﬁeld.
Due to the vast distances involved, you have to ﬁnd ways of
preventing your characters from dying of old age before they
reach their destination and there is a number of methods you
‘warp’ speed drives for your spaceship
‘hyperspace’ – a dimension where distance is reduced to
a ‘generation’ starship, i.e. a moving, living colony in
Losing sight of the story
Science ﬁction has so much to oﬀer the writer in the way of
technological background, exotic settings and political
themes that it is all too easy to lose sight of the characters
In order to ensure that the setting does not swamp the story,
follow the same rules that apply to every other form of ﬁction
writing: well-drawn, believable characters and a story that is
carefully planned and plotted from beginning to end.
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1. Have you written a chapter-by-chapter plan of your
2. Have you charted the plot developments?
3. Have you thoroughly researched the background to your
4. If your story is based on true events, have you ﬁctionalised
the characters suﬃciently?
5. Is your storyline credible and within the bounds of probability?
6. Have you revealed just enough of the story for the reader
to use their imagination to fully involve themselves in the
A teenage girl is babysitting for a couple new to the neighbourhood. She hears a noise upstairs, investigates but can
ﬁnd nothing amiss, the two children aged 3 and 9 are sound
asleep. Continue this storyline, including the following
other unusual events which occur throughout the evening
an apparently innocent explanation of the noise
a more sinister explanation of the noise
the discovery of something relevant to the noise
the implications to the girl and the family of this incident.
Writing for Children
THINKING BACK TOYOUR CHILDHOOD
For many novice writers, the desire to write for children
springs from their enjoyment in making up stories for
their own oﬀspring.
Telling bedtime stories
Despite the inﬂuence of television and computers, bedtime in
a comfortingly large number of families is still synonymous
Parents still enjoy reading to their children, as they were
read to when they were small and will jump at the chance to
dig out their old favourites and introduce them to a brand
Sometimes, however, the stories need a little alteration. Perhaps the vocabulary is too diﬃcult or the story rather
frightening. We may feel a few changes are in order and
before long, we are making up our own stories, replacing
the leading characters with ourselves and our children.
Entertaining the family
Both child and parent gain a great deal from this exercise. The
children enjoy being part of a nightly adventure and parents
have fun letting their imagination run riot.
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There may well come a point when an admiring relative or
friend urges you to write these stories down and turn them
into a book and if this is your intention, bear in mind that:
family stories usually include lots of little personal asides
and ‘in’ jokes
the stories often feature incidents which are amusing only
because they happened to family members
telling stories to your own children is enjoyable because
they understand and relate to your sense of humour.
Consequently, the very things about your stories which appeal
to your own children may hold little or no interest for anyone
outside your circle of family and friends.
Broadening your horizons
If you intend to write work of a publishable standard for
children, you must considerably broaden your horizons.
Begin by exploring your attitude to children in general. If you
love them all unreservedly, believing them to be delightfully
angelic creatures, children’s writing is probably not for you.
LOOKING AT LIFE THROUGH A CHILD’S EYES
In order to write eﬀectively for children, you need to think
and react as they do. To help you look at life through the eyes
of a child, consider how a tiny baby functions within its
environment. Under normal circumstances, a baby cries
for the following reasons:
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We learn how to stop the baby crying through a combination
of instinct, trial and error.
At the same time, the baby also uses trial and error to manipulate the adults who pander to its every need.
It learns very quickly how to stimulate the desired response
in its parents and understands all too well how to react in
order to avoid certain situations. At a very young age, the
baby will be capable of quite complex behaviour guaranteed
to drive its parents to distraction.
It is at this point that the baby begins to form the very
accurate opinion that adults are highly irrational creatures.
Children are refreshingly direct in their thoughts and actions.
In contrast, adult behaviour can appear extremely irrational.
For example, the person who praises you for drawing a picture on a blank sheet of paper will, for no reason immediately
obvious to the average toddler, punish you severely for drawing a similar picture on a blank wall.
By the time the child is walking and talking, it knows that
everything it does has a certain risk factor attached to it.
When attempting something new, it runs a 50/50 chance
of either being praised or getting into trouble.
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Poking fun at authority
Once a child has begun to progress through the school system,
it will begin to relate much more to slapstick humour, as
demonstrated by the enduring popularity of comics such as
The Dandy and The Beano (published by D. C. Thomson).
Children adore stories which poke fun at authority, an aspect
of their nature which Roald Dahl, considered by some to be
the greatest children’s author of our time, shamelessly
CASE STUDY: VIC ENTERTAINS HIS GRANDSON
Vic is a retired journalist. His column ran in the local press for over
twenty years but now he has time on his hands, he would like to try his
hand at writing for children. He used to make up stories for his own
children and enjoys retelling them now to his seven-year-old grandson
but recently noticed the child’s attention wandering. When questioned,
the boy confessed that he found the stories old-fashioned and said he
would rather be playing computer games.
Understanding how it feels
If you intend to write for children, you must be able to relate
to their anti-authoritarian emotions.
There will be many signiﬁcant incidents in your childhood
that you have carried with you into your adult life. Try to
remember exactly how you felt when they happened, what
emotions you experienced and how long it took you to get
W R I T I N G F O R C H I L D R E N / 133
It is surprising just how much stays with us into adulthood,
especially if we have been at the receiving end of particularly
spiteful or thoughtless behaviour.
Being small and powerless
The one emotion that is shared by all children is the feeling of
powerlessness in the face of adult supremacy.
Looking at life through a child’s eyes gives you a very diﬀerent
perspective from that of a grown-up. Adults can come and go
as they please, buy what they like, eat what they like, do and
say what they like and more importantly, they are big and
A child, on the other hand, is small and powerless, subject to
the whims and wishes of pretty well anyone bigger than
themselves. It is surely no coincidence that, as we saw in
the previous chapter, the concept of being powerless is a
recurring theme in horror stories.
Relating to the right age group
Before you attempt to write stories for children, decide which
age group you relate to best. Children are as varied in their
tastes and interests as adults but whilst there is no limit on the
themes you can explore, vocabulary and style is a very different matter. As Margaret Nash, author of many children’s
books, including the popular ‘Class 1’ series, explains:
Plots have to move much faster for children than adults
and each chapter should include some particular interest
as well as some form and progression.
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Read with a writer’s eye books written for the age group of
your choice and in order to establish the vocabulary and
concepts you should be using, study National Curriculum
If you can, oﬀer your services to the local school as a volunteer
helper and read stories to the children. During these story
sessions, assess their reactions by noting the following points:
How soon do they begin to ﬁdget?
Which stories hold their attention and which do they ﬁnd
What type of story do they enjoy the most?
Which stories stimulate reactions and why?
PLAYING AROUND WITH IDEAS
Take a good look at the latest children’s books, particularly
those which are recommended for use within the National
Curriculum. You will ﬁnd that they deal with a staggering
variety of topics, ranging from serious lifestyle issues to
When writing for very young children, you need to use simple,
basic concepts and familiar situations. As their social skills
develop, humour plays a much larger part and includes slapstick, puns, one-line jokes and wisecracking characters.
Once the child approaches teenage, the range of topics
matches that of adult material, the main diﬀerence being
the fast-paced style, vocabulary and attitude. The teenage
novel is a rapidly expanding market for authors who
have the ability to identify with this diﬃcult stage of a child’s
W R I T I N G F O R C H I L D R E N / 135
WRITING FOR EDUCATIONAL MARKETS
Writing for children involves both entertaining and educating
the reader and for non-ﬁction writers, there is a variety of
opportunity to do just that.
Reading comics and magazines
Glancing through the wealth of comics and magazines on the
newsagents’ shelves, you will ﬁnd something for all age
groups and interests. Newspapers and magazines occasionally feature pages for children and may take nature, craft or
Whilst many comics, especially those designed for pre-school
children, are produced by the makers of television programmes, toys and computer games, there is still scope in
this market for authors who can write to the required format.
Moreover, there are many junior versions of national clubs
and societies producing their own magazines, both in print
and online. Writers who demonstrate that they have the
ability to write about a particular specialism with the clarity
required for a young readership can ﬁnd themselves in great
Educating young readers
Both non-ﬁction and storybooks for children oﬀer enormous
scope to teach young readers about the world around them.
The following is just a taste of what can be covered:
conservation and ecological issues
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Bearing in mind the expertise required, the educational book
market can be quite diﬃcult to break into.
Harcourt Educational Publishers, the UK’s leading publisher
of educational materials, admits that very few of the hundreds
of unsolicited manuscripts they receive each year are
accepted. Almost all of the material they publish is specially
commissioned from experienced educational authors.
However, if you really think you have something worth looking at, Harcourt has this advice for ﬁrst-time authors:
familiarise yourself with the publisher’s catalogue – it’s no
good sending your best poetry collection to a publisher
that specialises in non-ﬁction
it may be worth talking to the publisher in advance, to ﬁnd
out their needs and current projects and see if what you
propose ﬁts in with their plans
make sure you pitch your writing at the right level for the
intended reader – remember that most educational publishers produce material for children to read themselves,
not for adults to read to them
think carefully about the age and interest levels of your
reader, and choose the content of your writing accordingly
demonstrate any experience you have of working with
children, particularly if you have used the materials
you want to publish
W R I T I N G F O R C H I L D R E N / 137
this may sound obvious, but to get noticed, you need an
original idea! (The ‘orphan becomes heroic wizard’ plot
line has been taken!)
‘The biggest problem with most of the proposals we receive is
one of Harcourt’s Primary Literacy Publishers. ‘Adults tend
to make assumptions about what children like to read about,
and they usually plump for the ‘‘cutesy’’ topics for very young
children – bunnies, bears, families of elves at the bottomofthe
will be about 7 or 8 years old – and unlikely to be interested in
the adventures of Barney the Bunny.
Our other problem is that we publish mostly large, and
carefully structured reading schemes. Individual story submissions, or ideas for a small series of books, very rarely ﬁt
into our portfolio. But we are open to good ideas and just
occasionally a story comes in that demonstrates real talent –
it’s really pleasing when that happens.’
Being politically correct
Political correctness is an increasing feature of all walks of life
and as with all good intentions, the basic idea behind the
principle is sound. In its best form, political correctness
addresses, among other things, the attitudes and concepts
which give rise to:
prejudice against people with disabilities
138 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
the concept that a two-parent family with 2.4 children is
superior to any other
CASE STUDY: BEN TRIES AN EXPERIMENT
Ben is a science teacher at a large comprehensive school. Utilising his
knowledge of school systems and the National Curriculum, he devises a
plot in which a group of children working on a class project make an
amazing scientific discovery. They show their teacher who promptly takes
all the credit and the children have to combine forces to prove to the
school’s head that they are the true inventors of the formula. The
vocabulary is correctly pitched and as they are based on Ben’s own
pupils, the characters are very realistic.
What are little boys/girls made of?
Until relatively recently, most traditional children’s ﬁction
depicted boys asthe leaders, solving mysteries, forming gangs
and generally running the show. Girls were grudgingly
allowed to tag along in order to provide refreshments and
be rescued whenever necessary.
Any strong-willed girls who understood anything mechanical
or were in any way sporty were labelled ‘tomboys’ and never
quite ﬁtted in with the rest of the group.
School stories have always been and still are immensely popular but the school featured was invariably the boarding
variety and very deﬁnitely upper middle class.
Times have changed and thankfully, attitudes have moved on.
Black, Asian and foreign characters are no longer portrayed
W R I T I N G F O R C H I L D R E N / 139
as caricatures, whilst tough girls and sensitive boys are perfectly acceptable.
Today’s publishers acknowledge that not every child comes
from a two-parent family and that goodness and decency are
not necessarily commensurate with a white, middle-class
The inﬂuence these positive changes in attitude have had on
children’s ﬁction should not be under-estimated.
Reflecting today’s lifestyles and values
Modern children’s ﬁction reﬂects today’s lifestyles and values
in a fast-moving, multicultural society.
In an age of interactive computers and the information superhighway, youngsters have never been so well-informed. The
children’s author of today keeps abreast of the latest technogical developments, is up-to-date with current school
systems and relates to modern attitudes and concepts.
At ﬁrst glance, ‘anthropomorphising’ or humanising animal
characters would appear to be the ideal way to capture and
hold a child’s attention.
Change all the characters in your story to cuddly animals,
dress them in picturesque clothes, place them in a country
setting and you can forget all about modern technology, the
kids will love them to bits.
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Assuming a parental role
Anthropomorphised animals do, it is true, have instant
appeal but they also perform a variety of other functions.
They can be:
adults who behave like children
children with capabilities far exceeding their actual age
naughty to make a moral point
a metaphor for their human counterpart.
Having your animal playing the part of a silly adult oﬀers the
young reader the opportunity to feel superior and adopt the
parent role. The naughty animal can get into all sorts of
scrapes from which it has to be rescued, making a moral
point in the process.
Your animal character may, however, be a child. In this case,
it usually has skills, commonsense and abilities far beyond its
true age but because it is an animal, this appears perfectly
Animal characters can also be used to portray frightening or
threatening concepts. The most familiar examples are, perhaps, the themes used in traditional folk tales such as the
three little pigs and the big bad wolf. The moral messages are
always there but are more palatable when delivered by animals rather than people.
Appealing to older children
There is no age limit for anthropomorphised animals. Books
like Watership Down aimed at young teens to adults have a
very powerful eﬀect. The animal society they portray is a
metaphor for its human counterpart and as such, complex
W R I T I N G F O R C H I L D R E N / 141
issues can be dealt with in a way which will be readily
absorbed by younger readers.
WRITING ABOUT CHILDREN
Attitudes in children’s publishing have changed dramatically
over recent years. Although animal stories continue to be
popular, the majority of children’s books today have a child
as their central character.
Solving a problem
In the same way that conﬂict is an essential ingredient in
adult ﬁction, giving your central character a problem to
solve is the main concept behind any children’s story.
The basic formula which can be applied to children’s ﬁction
character – problem – solution
bearing in mind that the child central character must be the
one to ﬁnd the solution to the problem. It is tempting to
produce a kindly adult to save the day but this would defeat
the object of the exercise.
Providing the problem
As a general rule, adults in children’s stories tend to be one or
a combination of the following:
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Their main function is usually to perform tasks that cannot
be handled by the child characters, like operating heavy
machinery or signing legal documents, to provide the
humour or to be rescued as necessary.
The adult character may also provide the problem to be
overcome but is rarely of much practical use. Children
need to be able to relate to the characters in their stories
and allowing an adult to take control is tantamount to sellingout to the enemy.
WRITING PICTURE BOOKS
Picture books present a whole new set of challenges. The
pictures may perform a variety of functions, depending on
the type of book. They can:
tell the entire story without any text at all
provide an interactive dimension
provide an educational element
add to the tone (humorous, frightening, exciting etc.)
complement the story.
In picture books for the very young, it should be possible for
the child to understand what is happening purely from the
Moving up in age, the illustrations should complement the
storyline, adding depth and dimension to the story and helping to bring the characters alive.
Finding an illustrator
It is not a good ideato draw the picturesyourself unlessyou are
a trained illustrator. If the idea for your picture book is strong
enough, a publisher will ﬁnd a suitable illustrator for you.
W R I T I N G F O R C H I L D R E N / 143
Because the illustrations are so important, this may take
some time, possibly years rather than months. Due to the
skill and time involved in illustration, the artist often receives
a higher payment than the author.
On the plus side, picture books are so expensive to produce
that if your manuscript is accepted, you can be sure of the
publisher’s commitment to you and your work.
Creating an interactive dimension
One type of book forchildren that you cannot miss asyou scan
a wide range of shapes and sizes, aimed at an equally wide age
and ability range. In their simplest form, the stories are very
basic and designed so that, when pages are pressed, the pictures will make the appropriate sound. For slightly older
children, the books invite the child to ﬁnd symbols scattered
the side. This is designed to help promote the child’s ability to
identify shapes as well as sounds. From there, the sounds
become more complex, often issuing instructions to assist
the child in completing more demanding tasks.
Whole reading schemes are now being produced using this
kind of technology and in order to fully engage their young
readers in the activities within the books, the stories have to
be visually stimulating. Familiar characters are ideal for
this purpose and at the time of writing, the books are
mainly either adaptations of well-known stories by very
well-established children’s author/illustrators or feature
familiar cartoon characters from the world of television
144 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Achieving quality through technology
One of the drawbacks of many interactive books is that the
story can be sacriﬁced in favour of the technology. Finding
authors who possess the skills towrite captivating stories with
the required visual dimension can prove problematic.
The growth of this ﬁeld of children’s writing has led the major
publishing houses to begin seeking new authors for their
interactive ranges. This is the ﬁrst step towards opening
up a relatively closed area of writing, so if you have a background in IT and the ability to write visually and innovatively
for children, you may ﬁnd that the interactive book is a good
place to begin.
1. Have you chosen an age group that you identify with and
are conﬁdent will relate to the attitudes and behaviour of
the characters in your stories?
2. Is your vocabulary designed to build on the literacy skills
of your target age group in a way that links in with the
National Curriculum and publishers’ current reading
3. Is your story told from a child’s perspective?
4. Does your story reﬂect contemporary society?
5. Have you visited bookshops, libraries, schools etc. to ﬁnd
out what books are popular with today’s young reader?
6. Do your child characters solve the problem themselves?
W R I T I N G F O R C H I L D R E N / 145
We have all experienced similar incidents to those listed
your sibling got a present and you didn’t
you got a present and your sibling didn’t
you won a prize
a childhood illness caused you to miss a treat
you fell over and hurt yourself and everyone laughed
a much-loved pet died
you were hauled out of your desk at school and told oﬀ in
front of the whole class for something you didn’t do.
Think back to your childhood and write down the emotions
you felt when such incidents occurred.
to a Publisher
SEEINGYOUR WORK IN PRINT
Surveys conducted by both the Workers’ Educational Association and adult education authorities have shown that over
90 per cent of students enrol on creative writing courses with
the intention of learning how to write for publication.
Unfortunately, the harsh realities of the publishing world
can, for some, come as a terribly cruel shock.
Meeting the publisher’s requirements
Creativity is, of course, a vital ingredient but even the most
gifted writer will fail in their bid to achieve publication if they
are unable to fulﬁl certain criteria. For example, the majority
of mainstream newspaper and magazine editors expect to be
able to contact you via both fax and email and the non-ﬁction
articles and features you write for them to:
be computer-produced in double-line spacing
be written to the speciﬁed length
cover previously-agreed subject matter
have a beginning, middle and an end
arrive by an agreed deadline.
S E N D I N G Y O U R W O R K T O A P U B L I S H E R / 147
Fiction for magazines should be typewritten, preferably on a
PC, in double-line spacing on one side onlyof A4 white paper.
On acceptance, you may well be asked to re-submit the story
via e-mail or possibly on disk.
Creative writers who are prepared to comply with these criteria stand a much greater chance of ﬁnding markets for their
work than those who never consider the practical requirements of writing for publication.
Finding the right market
The following magazines usually welcome good, reliable
Useful market information, advice on writing techniques and
news of developments in the publishing world can be found in
a number of writing magazines and on the Internet. Subscription addresses and websites are listed at the end of the
PLAYWRITING FOR YOUR LOCAL DRAMA GROUP
It is notoriously diﬃcult for new playwrights to get their work
performed in the legitimate theatre but if you are lucky
enough to have a repertory theatre in your locality, keep
an eye out for schemes designed to encourage new authors.
148 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Regional Arts Councils occasionally sponsor competitions
and drama projects and one or two leading playwrights run
schemes for young writers. It is worth keeping an eye on local
websites and newspapers for scriptwriting projects in your
Working with your local drama group
One way you may be able to see your plays performed is by
contacting your local amateur dramatic company.
Published plays are subject to performing rights payments
and this is an expense many amateur groups can ill-aﬀord.
Having a tame author who can keep them supplied with
imaginative scripts is, therefore, a huge asset and provides
the would-be playwright with a valuable training ground.
WRITING FOR ESTABLISHED TV CHARACTERS
If it is your intention to write scripts for television, opportunities are opening up for people to write episodes of primetime soaps and drama series. More often than not, these
programmes are team-written and production companies
are always on the lookout for fresh talent to come up
with new and innovative ideas.
In order to stand a chance of being successful, your dialogue
must be right for the characters that appear week in and week
out on these shows. Therefore, it is vital to choose a programme you enjoy and are prepared to watch for months in
order to fully appreciate how the characters interact with one
Going over old ground
The ongoing challenge for programme makers is ﬁnding
exciting and original storylines and where a long-running
S E N D I N G Y O U R W O R K T O A P U B L I S H E R / 149
soap is concerned, almost everything and anything has
already been done. For a script to be considered, you
need to be sure that it not only develops existing storylines
but also has something fresh to oﬀer a loyal audience.
One useful method is to keep abreast of topical issues that can
be woven into your scripts. These could be anything from the
imminent marriage of a member of the Royal Family to the
latest educational or health initiative arising from headline
stories in the media. Make sure you know the timeframe from
having the script accepted to seeing it performed on air. There
is no point including something that will be old news by the
time the episode will be screened.
Appeals for writers, details of competitions and information
on how towrite for a number of series and soaps can be found
on the websites of several terrestrial television channels
(listed on page 175). Some useful websites for scriptwriters
are also listed on page 175.
Competitions oﬀer enormous opportunities for writers in
every ﬁeld of writing but perhaps most particularly in the
women’s magazine market where, for many winners, they
can be the ﬁrst step towards a career as a novelist.
Competitions are regularly listed in the writing press and
often levy a legitimate entry fee of up to £10, but be
aware that some advertisements, particularly in national
newspapers, can be misleading.
150 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Paying for prizes
Poets ﬁnd it especially diﬃcult to ﬁnd a publishing outlet for
their work, so it is not surprising that they can fall victim to
The prize is publication in an anthology which the so-called
‘winners’ are invited to purchase for anything from around
£12 upwards. Knowing that few writers can resist the opportunity to see their work in print, the competition organisers
can be sure of receiving at least one if not more orders from
each entrant. The book, if it ever materialises, is generally
poorly produced and contains few poems of any literary
The writers’ magazine Writers’ News has mounted a campaign against these competitions and refuses to feature
advertisements for them. According to editor Richard
Bell, competition winners should expect to receive a complimentary copy of any anthology containing their work or if
this is not possible, it should at least be available in the library.
Selecting the sensible option
There are, however, plenty of reputable bodies running competitions which, depending on the rules, conditions and the
prize on oﬀer, may open useful doors for the winning author.
Despite all the warnings regularly given in the writing press,
novice authors are still persuaded to part with money in order
to see their work published in book form.
Paying for publication
The price for this dubious privilege may start at four ﬁgures
and can escalate beyond your wildest imagination. Horror
S E N D I N G Y O U R W O R K T O A P U B L I S H E R / 151
stories include tales of people selling their homes and everything they own in order to pay for something that is, as far as
the commercial book world is concerned, completely
If you are driven by countless rejections from legitimate publishing houses to investigate theworld of the vanity publisher,
be aware that:
1. their income is derived from being paid to produce a
book; once this part of the bargain is fulﬁlled, they
have no need to waste any expenditure on marketing
2. vanity publishers are under no obligation to distribute
the book and rarely have distribution outlets
3. books produced by vanity publishers usually look unprofessional and are easily identiﬁed by book retailers who
will have little interest in ordering them
4. the published books are legally the property of the publisher; any payments you make are purely to cover the cost
5. remember the golden rule publishers pay you.
Self-publishing diﬀers from vanity publishing in that the
author sets up and controls the publication and marketing
of their book.
This involves paying a printer, ﬁnding retail outlets and
handling all the distribution and publicity. It is, therefore,
imperative that before you embark on the expense of publishing your own book, you are quite sure that there is a
market for it.
152 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Finding a gap in the market
The majority of successful self-published books are non-ﬁction and invariably ﬁll a gap in the market.
For example, your business may involve travelling around the
country but as you work for yourself, your budget may be very
tight. Perhaps you have built up a personal directory of B & B
establishments oﬀering exceptionally good value for money.
So many of your colleagues ask to borrow your directory that
you realise it has potential as a saleable commodity. You
obtain quotes from local printers and choose the one
which will give you the best result at a realistic price.
The advent of desk-top publishing has helped to bring production costs down, so this may not be too prohibitive, but
distribution can still be a problem. Retail outlets are unenthusiastic about taking self-published books, so you should
consider setting up a mail order operation. Advertise in
the appropriate trade press and on the Internet and providing
you do not expect the project to make you either rich or
famous, it can prove to be a very satisfying exercise.
Selling your idea
Before you embark on the expense of publishing your own
non-ﬁction book, however, it is worth trying a professional
Publishing made easy
It is worth noting that the combination of desk-top publishing and the Internet has brought about a major change to the
image of self-publishing.
Rather than cope with organising the production and marketing of your book yourself, you may be tempted by the
S E N D I N G Y O U R W O R K T O A P U B L I S H E R / 153
many advertisements for self-publishing companies in the
writing press and on the Internet.
In addition to publishing, the services on oﬀer range from
critiquing, editing, design and publicity to marketing and
Internet sales through their own online bookshops. Some
even oﬀer advice on arranging book launches and bookshop
signings and guarantee you distribution through online
bookstores such as amazon.com. Book lists and resumés
of their existing authors may be readily available on their
websites, together with submission guidelines for would-be
However, if you are considering ‘self-publishing’ your manuscript through one of these companies, it is imperative that
you check their credentials carefully to ensure that they are
not simply vanity publishers in an updated, online form.
If your idea is good enough and you are convinced that there
is a market niche for it, then your ﬁrst step should always be to
contact a suitable publisher. Market research is essential in
order to help you familiarise yourself with the structure and
length of similar books. Try to ﬁnd a series into which your
topic will ﬁt, then write a chapter-by-chapter outline along
the lines illustrated in Figure 10.
When you are sure that you have suﬃcient material to sell
your idea, make a list of suitable publishers and telephone or
write an initial enquiry letter asking if they would be prepared
to consider your proposal.
The Salesman’s B & B Directory
CHAP 1: CHEAPAND CHEERFUL ACCOMMODATION
Under »25 per night
Near town centre
Close to motorway
CHAP 2: THREE STAR AND OVER
En suite rooms
Full English breakfast
CHAP 3: LONG-HAUL STOPOVERS
Value for money
CHAPTER 4 ONWARDS: continue in this format until the last
chapter which, for this type of book, would be along the
COSTS AND RECORD-KEEPING
Comparison of costs and services
Expenses, record-keeping, tax implications
Fig. 10. Sample outline for non-fiction book.
date. . . . . . . . . .
Dear Mr Smith
Following our telephone conversation in January this year, as
requested I submitted an outline forTHE SALESMAN’S B & B
It is now three months since I heard from you and I would be
grateful if you could let me know whether you are interested in
publishing the book. If not, I would appreciate its prompt
return so that I may submit it elsewhere.
Thanking you in anticipation.
Fig. 11. Sample chase-up letter.
156 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
If the idea is strong enough, you will be asked to submit your
written outline based on the publisher’s house style. Reputable publishers will usually respond quite quickly, probably
within 4–6 weeks. Any longer than three months and you
should chase them up and if necessary, request that the outline
be returned to you (see Figure 11).
WRITING A SYNOPSIS
A synopsis of a novel is a resumé of the book’s story. Leading
literary agent, Blake Friedmann, issues clear guidelines to
authors on how towrite a treatment or synopsis. They recommend that it is broken down into four sections:
1. Introduction – a brief selling statement about the book.
2. Character biographies – short biographies of all of the
3. Statement of intent – why you wanted to write the novel
and whether it is based on a factual event.
4. Synopsis or treatment – a step-by-step storyline of the
The guidelines explain that the synopsis conveys the emotion,
not just the plot, by making it clear what motivates your
characters and the impact of events on them.
Whilst all of the above information should be included, it is
imperative that you keep your synopsis as brief as possible.
Remember, its purpose is to capture a publisher’s attention
and hold it right through to the end.
S E N D I N G Y O U R W O R K T O A P U B L I S H E R / 157
Giving away the ending
One recurring error that irritates publishers and agents
beyond belief is the synopsis which promises wonderful
things but ﬁnishes with something like:
‘If you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to
read the book!!!!’
Sadly, they won’t. They’ll probably just heave a sigh and send
your manuscript back in the next available post.
Your synopsis is your sales pitch and should contain all your
manuscript’s strongest points, including details of a satisfactory ending.
PRESENTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT
There is no absolute rule about what you should send to either
a book publisher or an agent but unless stated otherwise, it is
generally a synopsis and three chapters.
Submitting user-friendly manuscripts
One of the ﬁrst questions students on my creative writing
courses ask is ‘Do I have to type my manuscript?’
Handwritten manuscripts are almost always returned unread
so, if you want to be published, your manuscript must be
typewritten in double-line spacing on one side only of A4sized white paper.
The equipment you use is a matter of personal preference but
if you intend writing for mainstream magazines or newspapers on a regular, professional basis, then being user-friendly
takes on a whole new meaning.
158 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Unless otherwise stated, ﬁction manuscripts should still be
submitted on A4 white paper as above. However, once a short
story has been accepted for publication in a mainstream
publication, you will probably be asked to re-submit it
via email. Bearing in mind that this acceptance could well
be the ﬁrst of many, the initial outlay for a PC will prove an
Technophobic article writers, on the other hand, can face real
problems as magazines and newspapers tend to look to electronic communication for their topical features. Rather than
posting a completed manuscript, would-be contributors are
usually advised to submit their idea, together with a working
outline, via fax or email.
Whilst there is still plenty of opportunity in the huge range
of smaller, specialised publications, ambitious article and
short story writers cannot aﬀord to bury their heads in the
sand and ignore the impact of the Internet on the mainstream publishing industry. For more information on
writing for the mainstream market, see my book Writing
Removing staples and pins
Never use staples or pins to fasten the pages of your ﬁction
manuscript. One of the quickest ways to annoy an editor is to
wound their ﬁngers on spiteful fasteners.
Another sure-ﬁre irritant is the clear plastic folder, whose
slippery surface can be almost guaranteed to send a pile of
manuscripts crashing to the ﬂoor the minute anyone walks
past the editorial desk.
S E N D I N G Y O U R W O R K T O A P U B L I S H E R / 159
Every editor, publisher and agent has a ‘slush pile’, a pile of
unsolicited submissions which have to be read.
In order to ensure that your manuscript ﬁnds it way fairly
quickly to the top of the pile, here are a few simple tips:
1. Include a brief covering letter and front sheet with each
manuscript as shown in Figures 12 and 13.
2. Number each page consecutively.
3. Head each page with your name and the title of the
4. Finish each page with ‘m/f . . .’ or ‘cont/d.’ to indicate
more is to come.
5. End the ﬁnal sheet with the word ‘End’ or a line of
6. Manuscripts should be posted, unfolded in a large
7. Place book manuscripts unbound in a card folder or box.
8. Never fasten your manuscript with pins or staples.
9. Always attach suﬃcient postage to cover the full cost of
returning your manuscript.
10. Attach a return envelope for the editor’s reply but do not
insist on having rejected articles, features or short story
manuscripts returned to you. Editors will appreciate the
fact that you are content to run oﬀ further copies from
date. . . . . . . . . .
Dear Mr Smith
Please ¢nd enclosed a short story of approximately 1,000 words
entitled ‘Acceptance’ which I hope you will ¢nd suitable for
publication inThe Magazine.
I have enclosed return postage for your convenience and look
forward to hearing from you in due course.
Fig. 12. Sample covering letter.
REAL NAME, ADDRESS, Tel/Fax/Email
A short story of approximately 1,000 words
A Writer (or pseudonym)
Fig. 13. Sample front sheet.
S E N D I N G Y O U R W O R K T O A P U B L I S H E R / 161
APPROACHING AN EDITOR
One of the most frequent disappointments for new writers is
having their manuscript returned with a standard rejection
The rejection itself is disappointing enough but authors,
keen to know where they are going wrong, long for a few
pearls of wisdom from the publishing establishment.
Editors are simply too busy to write personally to everyone
who sends them a manuscript but if your work shows promise, some will take the time to scribble a few brief words of
Some have two standard letters, one an outright rejection, the
other rejecting the piece but asking to see anything else you
write. If you receive the second type, send something else oﬀ
without delay – your toe is in the door.
Occasionally, an editor will phone you, either to accept the
piece or ask if you can alter it slightly. If you want to see your
work in print, agree to any changes they suggest. You may not
like amending your work but it will be worth it in the long run.
It is no good expecting busy editors to teach you your craft.
It is up to you to develop the ability to assess your own work
and approach the right market, so before you submit a
research the market thoroughly to establish the publishers
likely to be interested in your manuscript
162 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
ﬁnd out if the editor prefers initial approaches to be in the
form of enquiry letters or is prepared to consider completed manuscripts
establish the name of the person to whom you should
address your manuscript
allow six to eight weeks before you write a chase-up letter
take any editorial advice you are oﬀered and act on it.
Until recently, sending your manuscript simultaneously to
more than one publisher was frowned upon by the industry.
Now, however, publishers recognise that having to wait
months for an answer can be frustrating and are prepared
to tolerate authors making multiple submissions providing
this is stated in the covering letter.
Looking at it from the publishers’ point of view, by submitting your manuscript to them, you are oﬀering it for sale. If,
when they agree to buy it, you tell them you’ve just sold it to
someone else, they will be justiﬁably annoyed that you have
wasted their time. This is not a good way to win friends in the
COPYRIGHTING AND SYNDICATION
As soon as you commit your work to paper, it becomes your
copyright. You may then oﬀer for sale any number of rights in
that work for publication purposes, e.g.:
First British Serial Rights (FBSR)
S E N D I N G Y O U R W O R K T O A P U B L I S H E R / 163
foreign rights, i.e. French, German, American etc.
speciﬁc rights for a set period
all rights for all purposes.
Signing away your copyright
FBSR means that the purchaser has the right to publish the
manuscript once only in Britain. The same applies to ﬁrst
foreign rights but you can also sell second, third etc. rights.
Broadcasting, ﬁlm and, with the growth of the use of the
Internet, electronic rights are also in demand.
The more times you sell a manuscript, the more complicated
the copyright process becomes but think very carefully before
agreeing to sell your work on an ‘All rights for all purposes’
basis as you will be signing away all ownership of your
Copyright is a complex and specialised ﬁeld and if you are at
all concerned about the rights you are being asked to sell, you
should consult an expert.
Getting an agent
Carole Blake, joint managing director of leading literary
agency, Blake Friedmann, states that the main advantage
of having an agent is that the author has someone on
their side who will give them honest criticism that will
improve their career prospects.
Blake Friedmann receives approximately 400 unsolicited
manuscripts per month but, on average, takes on only
three to six new authors a year. Like publishers, literary
agencies specialise in speciﬁc publishing areas and once
again, market research is imperative before making an initial
164 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
approach. As a general rule, agents do not handle short story
and article writers, who may be better served by a syndication
agency. Please note, however, that in the currently shrinking
magazine ﬁction market, it is becoming increasingly diﬃcult
to ﬁnd syndication agencies that represent short story writers.
Syndicating your work
Many writers try their luck abroad and a reputable syndication agent can lighten the load considerably.
They will sell your manuscript to as many markets as possible
all over the world, keep a record of sales and save you both
legwork and heavy postage costs.
In return, of course, they will take a percentage, so before you
hand over your manuscripts, make sure the terms are agreed
in advance and in writing. Reputable syndication agencies are
listed in The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.
From the day you send your ﬁrst letter to an editor, you should
keep a record of when and where you sent it, whether it was
published and if so, how much you were paid.
Informing the Inland Revenue
Once payments start coming in on a regular basis, it is
imperative that you have a clear record of everything you
earn from writing.
Bear in mind that all payments from publishing houses are
put through their books so even if you don’t inform the
Inland Revenue about your new source of income, your
name will eventually come to their attention.
S E N D I N G Y O U R W O R K T O A P U B L I S H E R / 165
Offsetting your costs against tax
You can oﬀset the cost of materials such as paper, ink cartridges, postage etc. against tax and, of course, capital
expenditure such as PCs, desks and ﬁling cabinets.
Keep receipts of everything you purchase and record all your
income and expenditure. Suggested formats for recordkeeping are illustrated in Figures 14 and 15.
There is a number of useful leaﬂets available from the Inland
Revenue and your tax inspector will be prepared to advise you
or you may prefer to engage an accountant. Shop around to
establish how much you are likely to be charged and remember, accountancy costs can be oﬀset against tax and will prove
to be a very worthwhile expense when your work really begins
to take oﬀ.
FINDING SUPPORT FROM OTHER WRITERS
Writing, we are constantly told, is a very lonely occupation
even though the image this presents is actually very romantic.
There you are, just you, your PC and your characters. You’ve
locked the door, taken the phone oﬀ the hook and disconnected the doorbell. There is nothing to prevent you from
producing a masterpiece. Unfortunately, you can’t think of a
word to write.
Confronting writers’ block
It is arguable whether writers’ block actually exists or whether
it is simply brought about by the provision of perfect conditions in which to write.
Motor & Travel
Use of home
Telephone Subscriptions (Bus. prop.
(Bus. prop. only)
Fig. 14 Suggested headings for expenditure record.
Brewing Real Ale
Article (1,000 words)
Interview – hop-picker (500 wds)
Beer for the Connoisseur
Article (1,500 words)
One for the Road
Short Story (1,200)
Fig. 15. Suggested headings for income record.
AMOUNT £ DATE PAID
S E N D I N G Y O U R W O R K T O A P U B L I S H E R / 167
Like our ﬁctional characters, we will strive to overcome any
obstacle in order to fulﬁl our ambitions to see our work in
print. Remove those obstacles and we immediately yearn for
We long to have someone to talk to, preferably a like-minded
person from whom we can gain some positive feedback. We
need other writers.
Joining a writers’circle
Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of writers’ circles and
websites, conferences, seminars and courses.
Your local library should have details of writers’ activities
in your area and writing organisations will be only too
pleased to add your name to their mailing lists. Societies,
associations and websites for writers are listed at the end of
this book but for some excellent on-the-spot advice, here
are some words of wisdom from established writing professionals:
‘I look for a strong story with believable, interesting characters that I know I will be able to interest a publisher in.
Most irritating are sloppy writing, author arrogance and
incorrect assumptions about the trade.’ (Carole Blake,
‘Don’t just sit there – get on with it!’ (Patricia Burns,
‘If you don’t enjoy what you are writing, no one else will.’
(Martina Cole, novelist)
168 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
‘Don’t wait for inspiration to come. Sit down and write,
however hard it is. The act of writing itself stimulates the
creative ﬂow.’ (Michael Green, humorist)
‘Write every day, even if it’s only for an hour a day, keep
one hour sacred. Do not wait for inspiration, you may wait
in vain.’ (Susan Moody, crimewriter)
‘Make writing your top priority after family and moral
obligations, making sure you spend a certain amount of
time each week either writing or thinking your story
through, even if it means evening work. Read your
work aloud and check for pace etc.’ (Margaret Nash,
Forming your own group
Whilst family and friends can be wonderfully encouraging
and supportive, feedback from other writers is invaluable.
If all else fails and you can ﬁnd nothing in your area, why not
start your own writers’ group? You’d be amazed at the
number of people who have a manuscript tucked away
and would welcome the opportunity to share their love of
Anthropomorphisation. Giving animal characters human
Article. A factual piece written for publication in a magazine
Back story. Background storyline or sub-plot against which
the main action is played out.
Conﬂict. Problems and emotions providing the obstacles to be
overcome in a work of ﬁction.
Copyright. The legal ownership of publication rights in a piece
of written work.
Dialogue. Conversation between characters.
Double-line spacing. Leaving a blank line between each typewritten line on a page.
Fiction. A made-up story, not fact.
Flashback. A method of revealing background through snippets of information.
Genre. The literary category into which your work falls.
In-house magazine. Publications produced by companies for
their employees containing items of news about staﬀ and
changes within the organisation.
Interaction. How characters react to the people, settings and
objects around them.
Letter to the editor. Letter intended for publication on a
magazine or newspaper’s letters page.
170 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Location. Where the story is set.
Motivation. The reasons for a character’s behaviour and
Mule. Someone who carries concealed drugs through customs for drug smugglers.
Multiple submission. Sending the same manuscript simultaneously to a number of diﬀerent publishers.
Narrative style. Using a narrator to tell the story.
Outline. Flexible step-by-step plan of a manuscript.
PC. Personal computer.
Piece. An article intended for publication.
Plot. The plan of events running through a story.
Police procedural. A crime novel where the detective is a
Political correctness. The requirement that attitudes and
vocabulary in your manuscript are not oﬀensive with
regard to race, sex, creed etc.
Potted history. Brief resumé of a character’s background.
Protagonist. The main character.
Reader identiﬁcation. Characters and situations which are
instantly recognisable to your intended readership.
Red herring. Clue deliberately implicating the wrong suspect
in a crime story.
Self-publisher. An author who publishes and markets their
Short story. A work of ﬁction of less than 10,000 words.
Showing not telling. Using interaction rather than narration
to depict the sequence of events in an article or story.
Slush pile. Collection of unsolicited manuscripts waiting to be
read by an editor or agent.
G L O S S A R Y / 171
Stereotype. A ﬁxed image of speciﬁc groups based on age, sex,
race, religion, social status etc.
Stringer. Contributor of items of news to a local newspaper.
Syndication. To oﬀer manuscripts for simultaneous sale to
Synopsis. A step-by-step resumé of a book’s story.
Unsolicited manuscript. A manuscript submitted unrequested for a publisher or agent’s consideration.
Vanity publisher. A company which will agree to publish your
manuscript in return for payment.
CHAPTER 5 ^ SUGGESTED REWRITE OF ‘SHOWING’ NOT
It had been raining hard for days. Water streamed from the
gutters of every roof, pouring down windows, along pavements, running in fast moving rivulets along each road.
Underneath the streets, torrents of water gushed and gurgled
beneath the feet of the people hurrying along the shiny wet
pavements, pushing and shoving one another in their haste to
get out of the rain. Steel grey storm clouds gathered overhead,
meeting one another head on in preparation for yet another
downpour. It was very, very wet. (85 words)
It was the third time this week Claire has been soaked to the
skin on her way to work and she’d had enough. Why, she
wondered, did heavy rain bring out the worst in people? The
way they pushed and shoved, it was as though they believed
they’d dissolve if they got too wet. Anxiously, Claire lowered
her umbrella to peer up at the sky. More grey clouds. Not a
hope of a break in the weather. (77 words)
CHAPTER 6 ^ DATE THE SLANG EXPRESSIONS
Blake Friedmann, Literary, TV & Film Agency, 122 Arlington Road, London NW1 7HP. Tel: (020) 7284 0408. Fax:
(020) 7284 0442.
Email: [email protected]
The British Science Fiction Association Ltd (BSFA). Contact: Peter Wilkinson, 39 Glyn Avenue, New Barnet,
Herts EN4 9PJ.
Email: [email protected] Website: www.bsfa.co.uk
British Society of Comedy Writers (BSCW), 61 Parry Road,
Ashmore Park, Wolverhampton WV11 2PS. President:
Ken Rock. Tel/Fax: (01902) 722 729.
Email: [email protected]
Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain, PO Box 6939
Birmingham B14 7LT. Contact: Rebecca Tope, Membership Secretary. Email: [email protected]
Harcourt, Halley Court, Freepost PO Box 1125, Oxford OX2
8YY. Tel: (01865) 888000. Fax: (01865) 314091.
Email: [email protected]
Lonely Planet Publications, Publishing Administrator,
Locked Bag 1, Footscray VIC 3011, Australia.
Email: [email protected]
174 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE), PO
Box 1, Sheriﬀ Hutton, York YO60 7YU. Tel: (01653)
618429. Email: [email protected]
Websites: www.nawe.co.uk www.artscape.org.uk
National Association of Writers’ Groups (NAWG) Secretary, 40 Burstall Hill, Bridlington, E. Yorks YO16 6GA.
Tel: (01262) 609228. Email: [email protected]
National Union of Journalists (NUJ), 308 Gray’s Inn Road,
London WC1X 8DP. Tel: (020) 7278 7916. Fax: (020)
Email: [email protected]
Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA), Contact: Hon.
Membership Secretary, 65 Maryland Road, London
E15 1JL. Website: www.rna-uk.org
Society of Authors, 84 Drayton Gardens, London SW10
9SB. Tel: (020) 7373 6642.
Society of Women Writers & Journalists (SWWJ), Membership Secretary: Wendy Hughes, 27 Braycourt Avenue,
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey KT12 2AZ (sae for membership details).
Women Writers’ Network, 23 Prospect Road, London NW2
2JU. Tel: (020) 7994 5861.
Email: [email protected]
Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), 3rd Floor, 70
Clifton Street, London EC2A 4HB. Tel: (020) 7426
3450, Fax: (020) 7426 3451
Email: [email protected]
U S E F U L A D D R E S S E S / 175
Writernet and the Playwrights’ Network, Cabin V, Clarendon Buildings, 25 Horsell Road, London N5 1XL. Tel:
(020) 7609 7474. Fax: (020) 7609 7557.
Email: [email protected]
Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, 15 Britannia Street, London
WC1X 9JN. Tel: (020) 7833 0777. Fax: (020) 7833 4777.
Email: [email protected]
Aslib Directory of Information Sources in the UK.
501 Writers’ Questions Answered, Nancy Smith, Piatkus.
The Chambers Dictionary.
Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus.
Directory of Writers’ Circles, available from Oldacre, Horderns Park Road, Chapel-en-le-Frith, High Peak, Derbyshire SK23 9SY. Tel: (01298) 812305.
Email: [email protected]
Encyclopaedia Britannica 2007 Ultimate Reference Suite
From Pitch to Publication, Everything You Need To Know To
Get Your Novel Published, published by Carole Blake,
Getting the Point: A Panic-free Guide to English Punctuation
for Adults, Jenny Haddon and Elizabeth Hawksley,
How to Turn Your Holidays into Popular Fiction, Kate Nivison, Allison & Busby.
How to Write Horror Fiction, William F. Nolan, Writer’s
How to Write Short Short Stories, Stella Whitelaw, Allison &
Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Susan Ratcliﬀe,
Research for Writers, Ann Hoﬀman, A & C Black.
Roget’s Thesaurus, Penguin Books.
The Bloomsbury Guide to Grammar, Gordon Jarvie.
The Craft of Writing Articles, Gordon Wells, Allison &
The Hutchinson Concise Encyclopedia, Century Hutchinson.
The Way to Write Novels, Paddy Kitchen, Elm Tree Books.
The Writer’s Handbook, Macmillan.
Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, A & C Black.
Writers-circles.com Directory, Diana Hayden, 39 Lincoln
Way, Harlington, Beds LU5 6NG. Tel: (01525)
873197. Email: [email protected]
Teach Yourself Writing for Magazines, Rod Lawton, Hodder
Writing for Radio, Rosemary Horstmann, A & C Black.
Writing Step by Step, Jean Saunders, Allison & Busby.
Please note that online versions of most dictionaries and
thesauruses are now readily available on the Internet.
Check out the websites of major educational publishers
and online bookshops for details of electronic versions.
How To Books on Successful Writing
Awaken the Writer Within, Cathy Birch (2nd ed.).
The Beginner’s Guide to Writing a Novel, Marina Oliver.
The Five-minute Writer, Margaret Geraghty.
Handbook of Written English, John G. Taylor (2nd ed.).
How to Write a Thriller, Scott Mariani.
Ideas for Children’s Writers, Pamela Cleaver.
Times of Our Lives, Michael Oke.
Write & Sell Your Novel, Marina Oliver (3rd ed.).
Writers’ Guide to Copyright and Law, Helen Shay (3rd ed.).
178 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
Writers’ Guide to Getting Published, Chriss McCallum (5th
Writing a Children’s Book, Pamela Cleaver (3rd ed.).
Writing for Magazines, Adèle Ramet (3rd ed.).
Writing Your Life Story, Michael Oke.
Magazines for writers
The New Writer, POB 60, Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2ZR. Tel:
(01580) 212626. Fax: (01580) 212041.
Email: [email protected]
Writers Forum, Writers International Ltd., PO Box 3229,
Bournemouth BH1 1ZS. Tel: (01202) 589828. Fax:
(01202) 587758. Email: [email protected]
Writers’ News & Writing Magazine, Fifth Floor, 31–32 Park
Row, Leeds LS1 5JD. Tel: (0113) 200 2929. Fax: (0113)
Email: [email protected]
accent, 94, 95, 98
agents, 156, 159, 163–4
animals, 14, 139–41
atmosphere, 6, 52–3, 57–8,
61, 68, 70
autobiography, 18–20, 22
letters to, 13, 15, 28, 159,
educational markets, 135–6
background, 27, 32–3, 34–42,
45, 50, 53, 61, 68, 73, 75,
80–1, 102, 104–5, 108,
ghosts, 111–14, 116, 126
front sheet, 159–60
historical, 20, 22, 61, 63, 66,
horror, 111–13, 116, 125, 133
humour, 28, 101, 126, 132,
characterisation, 32–3, 35,
37, 45–6, 65, 85–6, 94
comics, 132, 135
competitions, 16, 149–50
conﬂict, 45, 48–50, 85, 93,
102, 108, 141
crime, 20, 61, 77, 117–18,
ideas, 3–5, 8, 11, 18, 73, 134
illustrations, 18, 142–3
Inland Revenue, 164–5
interaction, 47, 55, 69, 78
Internet, 21, 147, 152–3, 158
killing, 40, 84, 89, 111, 119,
121, 123, 125
detective, 36, 117–18
dialogue, 6, 37–8, 68, 83, 85–
88, 90–4, 98–9, 109–10,
chase up, 155, 162
covering, 160, 162
to editor, 13–15, 28, 159,
180 / C R E A T I V E W R I T I N G
locations, 22, 24, 27, 52, 55–
7, 66, 108
presentation, 157, 158–9
submitting, 157–8, 161
unsolicited, 136, 159
maps, 58–60, 66
media, 4, 13, 19, 43, 117
motivation, 18, 20, 33, 38, 41
murder, 6, 116–8, 125
multiple submissions, 162
article, 4, 6, 9–12, 15–18,
23–25, 135, 146
book, 8, 152, 154
column, 13, 15, 132
openings, 16, 18, 28, 52
outline, 11, 120–2, 153–6
pace, 54–5, 68–9, 72, 76–8,
80, 96, 134, 168
picture books, 142–3
planning, 118, 120
plotting, 105, 120
political correctness, 33, 137
vanity, 21, 150–1
reader identiﬁcation, 5, 8, 44,
realism, 8, 33, 44, 46, 57, 63,
red herrings, 120, 124
rejection, 151, 161
background, 6, 22, 29, 61–
3, 109, 128
market, 153, 161, 163
rewrite, 3, 60, 74, 91
romance, 6, 36, 53, 79, 100–
8, 121, 125
science ﬁction, 61, 125–7
sex, 36, 51, 106, 110
slush pile, 159
stereotyping, 32–3, 50
suspense, 79, 85, 111–12,
syndication, 162, 164
vocabulary, 78, 80, 97, 129,
133–4, 138, 144