Here’s a writing prompt for today. Using an unusual setting for your story can really help to develop your characters.
Everyone has a writer friend, right? That person in their life who’s never without a notebook and pen, whose head is forever in the clouds. So what do you get them for their birthday or for their graduation present? Don’t worry, we’ve got a few ideas to keep you covered.
A Book of Writing Prompts
Every writer uses writing prompts to help get their creativity going, so what better present to get them than a book choc full of them? There’s plenty in The Write-Brain Workbook, with great variety for different moods. Go on, have a look…
A Magazine Subscription
Not just to any magazine, to the magazine; The Writing Magazine. It’s a must-have for all writers, full of writing tips and competitions to enter. It doesn’t have to be to this particular magazine, there are plenty of others out there, but I find that this one is cracking.
These are amazing! They’re dice that you role to give you ideas for stories. I know many writers that use and collect them, and I’m sure your writer friends will find them super useful too. You can have lots of fun with them, in a group and by yourself. And, when you get bored of using the same set of dice, there are plenty of Story Cube expansion packs that you can buy.
A Poetry Card
You might remember that a few weeks ago we reviewed a poetry pamphlet by the wonderful Candlestick Press. They make great substitutes for birthday cards, and with the variety of topics available there’s something for every writer. You can take a look at them here…
An Editing Gift Card
For a writer to submit their work to competitions and literary agents, and even publishing companies, they need to have their work edited. We offer gift cards that you can give to them to help pay towards their editing services. Take a look at them here. They’re available in different designs and at different prices.
A Novel Writing Book
Writing a novel is hard, but this book here, Ready, Set, Novel!, is great for helping to plan the plot along with the characters. It’s a must-have for every writer, and your friend will love you forever for getting it for them. Don’t believe me? Take a look at it and see what you think…
A Novel Poster
These make A M A Z I N G presents! If you know your friend’s favourite classic novel, buy them a poster of it. These posters have the entire novel written on them, really small, shaped in an image relating to the book. I love this one of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea! You can read every word on it, so it’s like buying them a book that they can frame and put on their wall.
Hopefully we’ve given you an idea or two on what to get your writer friend for their special event. Tell us in the comments below the best present you’ve ever been given as a writer to give us more ideas!
Towards the start, when we first started writing our blog, we wrote a post on how to structure your novel. This novel plan works perfectly fine for every genre, whether that’s fantasy, crime or erotica, but if you’re writing a romance there are a few other things you might want to add…
The First Sight
When and where do your love interests meet? Do they talk on this first meeting, or do they just see each other? What are their first impressions of each other? These are all things you’ll need to cover when talking about your soon-to-be couple meeting for the first time. I think one of my favourite examples of this type of scene is in Bridget Jones, when Bridget meets Mark Darcy for the first time. Humour is used well in this scene, through the use of dialogue and Mark’s ridiculous Christmas jumper.
The First Kiss
When do they have their first kiss, and what sort of kiss is it? Are they angry, drunk, was it accidental, or part of a game? The first kiss can help to shape how their relationship forms over the course of the novel, and you can even use it as foreshadowing for their big finale snog, or something like that.
The First Date
This scene is sort of optional, although I imagine it will pop up in your novel. What is their first date? This could be anything, from a romantic dinner to a sports game to a night in. Make it suit the characters, and choose your setting based on how the date is going to go. If you want the date to go wrong, pick a setting that will help enable the bad things to happen. Similarly, if you want this first date to be funny to the reader, pick a scene that will help add to the humour.
The OMG THEY’VE BROKEN UP Moment
This is the moment where it appears all is lost and your reader’s new favourite couple weren’t meant to be. There’s no love there anymore (for at least one of them), and it looks like there will never be love there again. Your protagonist starts to move on with their life, because the conflict that instigated the breakup seems unsolvable.
Would you believe it? They’ve found a way through their problems! This is your big finale, the moment your two lovers realise that they can and will be together. They’ve sorted out the conflict and they’ve declared their love for each other. There’s a commitment between them, whether that’s an engagement, a promise to be monogamous or just a lot of sex. This. Is. It.
So there they are, the super important extra scenes you should be including in your romance novel. Happy writing!
The most amount of fun you’ll have being a fantasy and science fiction writer is making up your own creatures and supernatural attributes. You get to take your idea and turn it into a living monster that will haunt your pages and make your story magical for everyone that reads it. Creating them can be pretty hard though, especially when it comes to originality, so here’s a few tips on how to get started.
Base them on others
Don’t be scared to base your new creature on one that already exists. If you were really into Greek mythology as a child, it’s perfectly okay to start your creation off with the image of a minotaur at it’s heart. Starting with something that you already have a strong idea of means you’ve got something to build on and make your own. It’s not copying or unoriginality, it’s having the courage to build on what other great writers have started. You don’t have to start with an already fictional creature; using an animal as your base works just fine too.
Make it fun
One of my favourite ways of making a new creature is by picking attributes out of bowls and mushing them together to shape something new. What I do is create multiple lists. One would be of powers, another colours, another of body shapes and another of weaknesses (you can add more if you like, but this is generally enough to get me started). I then cut each individual item from each list up, fold them into tiny pieces and put them in bowls that match the category. After that, it’s just down to picking one piece of paper from each bowl until I’ve created a creature I’m really happy with. It’s a fun way of creating something new, and also gives you some writing prompt material for other stories.
How do they get around?
How your creature moves from A to B can really make a difference when it comes to writing your story. If they’re just going to walk you’re going to need to make sure they have bodies suited for walking. This is the same for flying or driving, for everything really. Alternatively, you could give them an ability like teleportation or super speed that helps them move from place to place in a less conventional way. Doing this means you don’t have to shape the creature’s look around their travel. Whatever you do with it though, make it suit the character. If your character is someone that wows crowds and has an air of power about them, make their form of transportation quite showy. Similarly, if they’re a character that goes bump in the night, make them move in a way that will put your readers on edge.
What do they eat?
It’s a bit of a daft question really, and it’s something that might not even come up in your story, but knowing what your creature eats can change who they are or how you portray them. It can also be great for adding humour to your story, or horror if you’d prefer. For example, a small, fluffy kitten with teleportation abilities and big eyes would be cute to a reader, until on one page it’s seen to eat the souls out of baby elephants. Doing something like this gives another dimension to an otherwise flat character and can help to shape your story.
How do they fit into their world?
This won’t apply to all of you, but for those of you setting your fantasy story in the world we live in you need to decide how you can get your creature to fit in. If you’re writing in this reality, we’d surely notice if huge, hairy ogres are walking around Liverpool on a Friday lunchtime. To counter this you would need to think of a way for these creatures to fit in, whether it’s a visual camouflage device, invisibility or shape shifting abilities. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer here. What made it truly terrifying was that the vampires looked just like humans until they came to feed, then their shapes would contort back into their natural form. It worked great to scare watchers as it was realistic and terrifying.
There’s just a few tips for when you’re creating your fantasy character. Most of all though, just enjoy doing it. Creating your own monster is so, so fun and can really help your imagination strengthen. And when you’ve decided on what your creature will look like and do, try drawing or painting them. Sure, you might not be a top artist, but making the character into something you can look at will help you to write them better and develop them into something you’re truly proud of.
Modern day fairy tales are often full of tired clichés and annoying attempts at 21st century twists, but Nicola Monaghan’s The Troll is a beautiful exception. It tells the chilling tale of three old school friends who become the target of an internet troll, who threatens to bring to light events from their dark (and to us, unknown) pasts. Although most internet trolls stay hidden firmly behind their screens, this story speculates on what would happen if one were to enter reality.
The story is split into three novellas, each an exciting story of its own. Each starts and ends with a blog post that sounds like a classic fairy tale, yet enriched with the tone of a spiteful villain. I love this twist, where the tale is told from the point of view of the villain of the story, and it makes me think of The Brothers Grimm fairy tales. The blog is a great way to move the story along in general, and is used at many points during the story to great effect.
One day, they learned how to get to Fairyland. Back then, this trip was much cheaper and *so* much easier. They needed only to find the magic beans, or the small squares of enchanted paper, to take them far, far away.
This section from one of the blog posts is also a great example of how the writer manages to describe drugs from the perspective of a user. It’s an unusual way of describing them, but works really well in the context of the narrator.
As far as imagery goes, this story is full of it. In every good book there’s always at least one image that sticks in your head, and this one is no exception. For me, it’s the image of a dead rabbit strewn across one of the character’s front gardens.
…a rabbit whose head had been dragged around like a pen to make a message…she picked up the animal’s body parts and entrails, heaving as she went. She put it all into the bin bag. She was pretty sure it wasn’t recyclable, and had no idea if it was legal to put dead rabbits in your rubbish bin.
This is my favourite scene in the story because it’s so well written and the imagery is amazing. I love how the writer has paired such a disturbing image with humour without going over the top. It’s the narrator’s internal monologue that makes this such an amusing scene. Without hearing her thoughts, we’d undoubtedly just find it horrifying. This addition of light humour adds to the tension of the piece and keeps it gripping.
There are two narrator’s in the story; Kelly and Louisa. Kelly is my favourite narrator. She’s such a likeable character, with her Bridget Jones-esque life and ‘fuck it’ attitude. I found myself loving her and sympathising with her troubles; it was almost like she was my own friend. Her voice is strong and funny, and even when she’s talking about serious things there’s always the edge of humour there.
Lousia, however, is a character I could do without. Don’t get me wrong, she’s written so, so well and exists off the page just as much as Kelly does, but I just straight out do not like her. I found her to be annoying and irritating, constantly with her head in the clouds and not knowing what she wants. And then when she knows what she wants, she never goes for it. She acts innocent throughout the story but she isn’t, and deep down I’m sure she knows that. The writing of Louisa though is fantastic. Her insecurities are shown very subtly through her narration, and Jack (her husband) humanises her a lot.
Jack himself is a very interesting character, especially when compared with his brother, Adam. Adam, Kelly and Louisa are the three being terrorised by the troll, and so have been good friends since they were very young. Jack is very different to them though. He’s sensible and reliable, which contrasts with Adam and Louisa’s uncontrolled chaos of lives. This contrast makes him an interesting character as it helps to highlight how unpredictable Adam, and helps me to understand why Louisa is sometimes wanting more from him.
My only issue is with the end of the story. I can’t really say much without ruining it, but what I can say is that I wish Kerry and Louisa’s lives had both changed to the same extent. I mean, I’m happy with the ending and it works, but it’s a little too perfect in parts for me. As horrible as it sounds, I wanted it to be a little less happy in some ways so it balanced more between them (Sorry if that doesn’t make sense, but hopefully when you read it yourself you’ll get what I mean!).
Even if you find yourself not liking this story (which I highly doubt), you’ve got to admire it’s style. Not only is it a fairy tale with a troll entirely based in the world of social media, it even reads like social media. When it’s Kelly’s turn to narrate we see ‘@kelly’, and for Louisa ‘@louisa’. And in Kelly’s parts, the hashtags are hilarious. Kelly is a local celebrity, a radio DJ, so is always on social media. So of course naturally her narration also reads like it’s come straight from Twitter. ‘#shit’. I love how in character they are too, for example ‘The #SinsOfTheMother and all that’, ‘#FiftyShadesOfSomething’ and ‘The last thing she needed was another #nutter in her life’. They read so naturally and well, it strengthens Kerry’s character and makes her even more loveable.
It’s also worth mentioning, from a literary point of view, the metaphors and descriptions in the story. There’s one part where Louisa is reminiscing about her past, but rather than the usual smells or sounds taking her back and being the prominent image it’s colour.
Orange inlaid with purple on wallpaper in her aunt’s living room. Green with a lighter green on a pair of curtains at their gran’s house. Puke green.
I love how this is a different way of remembering and describing the past in a story, without making it boring and forced.
Kelly’s metaphors are what really get me going though. My favourite being ‘it felt like the circus had come to town…the clowns were doing somersaults and the lions were roaring’, used to describe a hangover. Not only does it sum up the general idea we get of Kelly in the book, but it also creates quite an unusual and interesting image.
The story itself is full of suspense, and like good sex it builds us up numerous times and backs away just as we get close to reaching the climax. At some points it even gets frustrating. It builds to a point where we finally feel like we’re going to find out about what happened that summer, and then the chapter abruptly ends and we’re back to drunk Kelly, or Louisa’s mundane love life. ‘#fucksake’.
The book itself, as an object (and of course by object I mean e-object), is professional and looks like it could be available in bookstores. The cover designs are great and the typesetting on the inside is very professional. It looks amazing and just shows how much of an impact indie publishing is making in the publishing world. I love it.
Nicola Monaghan is an indie writer to look out for. Her previous work (The Killing Jar, Starfishing) is only the beginning of her career, and each piece gets better (and a little darker) than the last. She’s a great writer, with gritty, bone-chilling stories that strike at the heart of real issues like drugs, cyber-bullying and relationship problems. It’s rare that I give a 100% positive review (seriously, take a look at my others here), but this story truly deserves it. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for Ms Monaghan’s next work.
Over the past two weeks you’ve been sending in questions about writing and the publishing industry. Now you can see them answered by our Head Copyeditor and founder, Eleanor Hemsley. Keep reading to find out how to appeal to agents and style your manuscript.
How do I choose an agent?
Choosing an agent you’re happy with is relatively easy. Think of a writer that your writing is similar to. Got one? Now see who their agent is and apply to them. If you don’t yet know what writing your work is similar to, have a read around writers within your genre. Chances are one of them will have some similarities with yours. Agents probably won’t think you’ve copied this writer; it’s inevitable that your writing will be like someone else’s. By doing this you’re just choosing an agent that you know will like your style, and showing them that you’ve done your research.
Which bit of my submission is most important to an agent?
It’s really hard to say. Some agents focus on the synopsis, others focus on the first page of your manuscript. The best thing to do would be to attend a talk that your agent is at. If this isn’t possible, follow them on social media. You’ll find that a lot of them give small tips for writers. It also doesn’t hurt to call the agent or the company they work for to ask for advice. This doesn’t show weakness, but more shows a determination to get your submission right.
How can I make my writing good enough to get published?
Just try your best. Write every single day, and be a harsh critic for your own writing. Join writing groups in your area and give in a chapter every now and then to see what they think. As a writer you’ve got to be able to take criticism on board and respond to it well. Get friends and family to read your manuscript and ask them to be honest and brutal. And, if you’re still unsure, send it to a copyeditor or proofreader. It’s their job to make sure your manuscript is good enough to be published, so trust them.
What’s the most important think to get right in my story?
Character! There’s no story without a good character to experience it with. If you’re finding it hard to build a character, try spending time writing about their life, from the very beginning up until the start of your story. Here are a few questions to help you build your character.
Do I need to attend a writing course to become a writer?
Definitely not! Obviously attending writing courses can teach you skills that you possibly may not otherwise learn, but this doesn’t mean not attending one will stop you from being published. If you want to be a writer, just write every day and you’ll soon be good enough. Read online magazines and articles about writing, commit yourself to it and you’ll be just fine.
How should I lay out my manuscript for submissions?
Double spacing, not single spacing. No matter who your agent is, they will want this. Start every chapter on a new page, and write the chapter heading in such a way that they’re obviously new chapters (either in bold or underlined, but not a different size). Make sure page numbers are at the bottom of every page. Keep the font at either 10pt, 11pt or 12pt, and simple. Times New Roman is a good, solid submission font. You don’t want fancy embellishments here because agents just want to get to know the content, not your artistic prowess. And when it gets sent to be published they’ll get rid of all of these things anyway.
Thanks so much for sending your questions to us, and we hope we’ve managed to answer them I a way that you find helpful. You just need to remember that writing is something that needs passion to drive it, so work hard, enjoy yourself and eventually you’ll achieve your writing dreams.
If you’ve been following us these first six weeks of 2016 you’ll have your novel and synopsis written, ready to be sent out to your chosen agent. The last thing you need to do now is write your cover letter. Unfortunately, this is something you have to do yourself; it’s not a job you can really pass on to someone else to do for you. Get it right though and you’ll be well on your way to publishing your manuscript.
Remember the novel
It’s easy to talk about yourself in cover letters, especially when considering that’s what you’d do for a job. This is a little different though. In this cover letter you’re selling your novel, not yourself. Make your first paragraph a very short and concise summary of the novel. You’ll need to include:
If there’s anything else you feel is essential to getting across the general gist of your story you should include it here too.
It’s possible that your novel doesn’t fit perfectly into any genre, but instead spreads across two or three. This is fine. State that it crosses over confidently and with conviction; if you sound like you’re questioning yourself you’re giving the agent reason to question it too.
That’s right, we’re telling you to show off, just a little. Have you had anything published before? Whether it’s a poem in an anthology or a short story in a magazine, the agent most probably wants to know. Take this opportunity to write about all of your writing achievements, including any writing courses you’ve been on. Keep it short though. This paragraph about you is just a little bit of background information, not your autobiography.
Do you know what agents love more than your first manuscript? Your second. If you only intend on writing the one novel in your lifetime it means the agent only has one shot with you, so they’re less likely to take it on. However, if you’re planning a few more books they’re much more likely to consider you. If your book is part of a series that you’ve planned, briefly mention this. Or maybe this manuscript is a stand alone novel, but you fully intend on writing another in future. Either way, your agent wants to know what your writing plans are past the novel that you’ve submitted so they know what to expect from you in the future.
Most importantly, be yourself. You’re not writing your novel here, you’re writing a letter asking an agent to represent you. This means you should just sound like you, not your narrator. Avoid using clichés, avoid being braggy (stating that your novel is the best modern day fantasy romance won’t do you any favours), and avoid exaggerating. Just be genuine, tell the truth, and inject the enthusiasm you have for your novel into your words.
Do you have any questions about writing your cover letter, writing your synopsis or approaching an agent? Or, come to think of it, do you have any questions about writing or the publishing industry in general? Post them in the comments below or message us privately here, then join us on the 26th February to see them answered.
NB: if you want your question to remain anonymous, please let us know in your message.
Have you ever wondered what would have happened if your antagonist fell in love with your protagonist? Or maybe if your protagonist fell in love with your antagonist’s dragon? No? Well get thinking, because today is the day to write about an unlikely romance.
You’ve finished editing your novel now, so you’re probably thinking about sending it out to an agent. This can be the hardest part, as you’ve got to research exactly what the agent wants from you and give them just that. Undoubtedly, they’ll want a top notch synopsis from you, so here’s a few do’s and don’t’s for you to bear in mind when you’re writing yours.
Do include everything
And by everything, we mean everything. You must include the end of your novel, that ending you worked so hard on to shock the readers with. It will hurt you to do this, but 99% of agents want it. Think about it; if they don’t know the ending, how are they meant to decide whether your story is any good?
So you’re really proud of this one scene you’ve written, I get that, but don’t waste half of your synopsis talking about it. Glide over it the same as you have with the rest of the plot, so that when the agent reads the actual manuscript they can experience it in all its glory. Try to be concise. Think hard about the words you choose, because you don’t have too many of them to impress with. Try to describe things in as few words as possible whilst still giving all the information in an interesting way.
Do pay attention to your agent’s preferences
Every agent wants something different. Some want a one page synopsis, whilst others want ten pages. If you really can’t find a way to fit your synopsis onto one page then pick a different agent; sending a three page synopsis to someone who only wanted one won’t get you anywhere. Agents may also specify how many paragraphs they want on plot and how may they want on characters. Listen to their wants and respond to them well.
Don’t include too many names
A synopsis is meant to be a concise summary of the key points in your novel. This means only including the characters that are essential to the plot. Putting too many names in your synopsis can be very confusing, which can put people off your novel. My general rule is to mention a maximum five people. These should be the protagonist, the antagonist, and then anyone else you feel is very important to the plot, for example, the protagonist’s sidekick.
Do keep it simple
This doesn’t just apply to your wording, but also the look of your synopsis on the page. Your word choice should be simple but effective, giving as much information about plot and character as possible. On the page though, your synopsis should look easy to read. Keep it a simple font, for example Times New Roman, and make it 12pt. Don’t add any unnecessary embellishments; even the title ‘synopsis’ should be simply in bold.
Don’t add your style
You’re a writer, which means you have a writing style. Letting this creep into your synopsis is fine, up to a certain point, but remember that your synopsis should be written very neutrally in third person to give the best and most straight forward view of your novel. Try not to slip into the voice of your protagonist, and try not to write the usual poetic descriptions that you put in your novel. This isn’t the place for them.
These six simple tips should help you to write a synopsis that impresses the agent you send it to. Work hard on it; after all, it’s just as important as your novel. Don’t forget that this one page of writing (or ten pages!) could be what gets your book published. Work at it, put in the time, and you’ll hopefully get the results you want.