All you need is………

…… some-one who tells you the truth.

You’re reading through a story. The first page is easy. You’re alert. Frisky even. Then by the end of page three you’re getting lost in your exciting plot. At this point it’s easy to read what you think is there. Everything is perfectly clear, because you invented it all. And hey presto, you’ve missed something that needs attention – a repeated word perhaps, or an omission. Or something more serious.

The answer may be your own personal truth-teller, a friend who will not wreck every last shred of your confidence, but is willing to read and appraise honestly.

P1160379What you need is a buddy who will say things like:


  •  ‘This is good stuff mate, but I got a bit lost here.’

  • ‘I like such and such a character, but I’m not sure he/she would do this.’

  • ‘This guy is so bad. Nobody is that bad. Give him some sort of redeeming feature, and I’ll start to believe he’s real.’

What you don’t want is a buddy who says:

  • ‘This is lovely, dear. I can’t fault it at all.’

  • ‘I wish I could write like you.’

  • ‘A work of genius. If they don’t accept this, they’re a load of idiots.’

So. A buddy, not necessarily a fellow writer, but definitely a reader.

And then all you’ve got to do is listen to them, and tell them (maybe through gritted teeth) that you understand what they’re getting at, and you will work on it.

Frog:(merrily): I’m hopping off to editP1130023 my Christmas list. Add what you like. Don’t take anything away.


Editing is about getting it right.P1160037


This is advice for myself, and for anyone else who’s interested.





And follow this self-editing check-list

  1. Run a spell check, then check the spelling yourself. The computer seems fond of playing the occasional joke.

  2. Check the grammar. Sloppy grammar is fine when talking to someone (well, usually, anyway. There are exceptions!)

  3. Does every passage add something? Does it take the action forward, or add something new to the subject? Or is it simply repeating what the reader already knows?

  4. Are there mistakes in continuity? A friend of mine has written 74 books, and her editor still finds small mistakes such as the colour of someone’s eyes – brown on page 6, green on page 49. Double check everything.

  5. Are there inconsistencies in characterisation? Or in motivation? Ask yourself – would this person really say this? Really do this?

  6. Does a scene need expanding or, on the other hand, tightening?

  7. Are you using narrative viewpoint effectively? In other words, can you take the reader inside somebody’s head and then keep them there?

P1150894                     Frog: (frowning)

I’m not quite ready to take the plunge. Are you?


Choose your own path

Write what you like to read

Have you heard about Alfie Dog Fiction?

It’s a website where you can download short stories. Most can be purchased from 39p each, but there are some freeP1140343 ones too. Definitely worth a look, because if you write short stories, it’s important to read them, too.


Alfie Dog lists the following categories of short story:

Animal, children’s, Christmas, commercial fiction (sub-divided into ‘feel good’ and ‘romance’) crime, fairytale, fantasy, general fiction (sub-divided into action/adventure, Christian, historical, literary, westerns), ghost, horror, humour, mystery, science fiction, teen/young adult, thrillers.

P1140409So, take your pick.


Dip into different genres. Reading short stories can be very energising and inspiring. So this month I’m challenging you to write a story that you would like to read. As long or as short as you like.

Then come back next month for some editing tips.


Frog: (mournfully)

Alfie Dog, I have a question.

Why isn’t there a category about frogs?

Alfie Dog Fiction can be found at


It’s not rocket science

Let’s face it, clichés are useful.

Who has never used one or more of the following expressions?P1150487

‘By the end of the day I was on my knees.’

‘She was dashing around like a headless chicken.’

‘Watch my lips.’

Clichés. They’re everywhere, aren’t they? After all’s said and done, they’re just a manner of speaking.

Exactly! A manner of speaking.

The characters you create may utter clichés till the cows come home. BUT, having said that…

Prose that is riveting, fascinating, and interesting, has to be free from clichés. We can improve as creative writers if we aim to make our work captivating and entrancing. Our choice of words is important. It makes the difference between a reader hurrying to the next paragraph, or closing the book forever.


Editing our work should take us beyond checking spellings and making sure we haven’t used a noun more than once in a paragraph. We should always be alert for clichés. If you find them, make sure you’re hard-wired to take them out.

Where will your words take your reader?

 Frog: (thinks he’s the foreman)P1150788

That’s that job sorted. All done and dusted.


The Perfect Title


OK. You’ve looked at your notebook which is brimming with random thoughts and ideas. You’ve decided on your characters, your setting, and your plot. You’ve sat in front of the computer screen. Getting going may have been difficult, but in the end you simply went for it. And now you have a story. It might need a bit of editing, but it’s coming along, and you’re almost/fairly/quite/very pleased with it. (If none of these apply, don’t give up. Put this story down to practice and experience.)

P1140933Before you send your story off to a competition, or read it out to your writing group, you need a title.

Finding the perfect title may be easy for some, but I speak as one who struggles with the task. In other words, I need all the advice I can give!


One or more of these perhaps:

  • Catch the reader’s interest

  • Intrigue the reader

  • Give a clue as to what the story is about

  • Tell the reader the theme of the story

A single word

Really good for echoing your theme; preparing the reader’s mind.




Two words, which could be words which don’t usually go together

Crystal Night

Ivory Bird

Rainbow Laughter

A phrase, perhaps from the story itself……

The Disaster Equation

Hitting Trees With Sticks

The Love of a Good Woman

…or perhaps a well-known saying, a title from a song or film……

(NB There’s no copyright on titles)

A Stitch in Time

The very Thought of You

Last Man Standing

…or something more unusual may be more appealing

Half-mown Lawn

Hitting trees with sticks

The Breakfast She Had

Family Furnishings

(The four titles above were chosen and used by Dan Powell, Jane Rogers, Zoe Lambert, and Alice Munro)


I know I’ll continue to struggle! Why is the perfect title so elusive? Too much choice? Nothing quite right? A reluctance to send the story out into the world? A fear that no-one will like it; that no-one will appreciate the effort that’s gone into creating it?

Do you find choosing a title easy? I’ll be interested in hearing your views.P1140195


Frog: (kindly demonstrating the perfect title:

The Days of Whine and Roses)

OK, they’ve got the joke. Now GET ME DOWN!

Let’s talk


When your characters talk, it’s vital that they don’t all sound exactly the same. We should try to state something about them in the way they speak, something that expresses their uniqueness, their individuality.435V

Recently I’ve been attending a short course on playwriting, and this week’s focus was on developing character and voice. The character is the person, and the voice is the way they speak and express their personality, or the way they are feeling.

Add a bit of tension

Our tutor encouraged us to put our characters under pressure, and find out how they react. And it all has to be expressed in what they say and the way in which they speak.

Here are several of the exercises we were asked to complete during the session. You may like to try them yourself.

  • Write a short scene in which a jealous woman attempts to congratulate her friend on winning the lottery, while the friend is intent on explaining what she will do with the money.

  • Write a monologue or duologue of 20 lines, including a character who is very long-winded and wants to make him/herself heard.

  • Write a few lines about a character who has a secret he/she is trying to tell someone.

P1140187Frog: (nonchalantly)

A secret? Something I need to get off my chest? Can’t imagine what makes you think that. I often sit here whispering to these Scarlet Pimpernels.

Where are we……?

Let’s give our readers a sense of place.

A reader wants to be able to picture your story in her imagination. One of the most effective ways to create atmosphere is to slip in descriptions which use one or more of the five senses. You could have the character react to what is going on around her, using one of her senses.

162Does your heroine shade her eyes as she looks at the smooth turquoise sea? Is the sand burning the soles of her feet?

A boy is climbing the hill towards the ruin.2b Mt Edgcumbe What could you write to set this scene? Does it depend on the plot itself? Could you write words to make the scene feel a bit creepy? Or is the boy feeling relief because he may not be lost any more?


Making your work stand out

I’ve been taking part in the free course I mentioned in my last blog. (Open University. Start writing fiction.) One of the lessons is about using familiar words in unfamiliar places.

We were given the following example by writer V.S.Pritchett.

‘The sea fog began to lift towards noon. It had been blowing in, thin and loose, for two days, smudging the tops of the trees up the ravine where the house stood.’
(Pritchett, V. S. (1980) ‘On the Edge of the Cliff’ in On the Edge of the Cliff and Other Stories, Chatto and Windus: London, p.3.)


I love the use of the words ‘thin and loose’ and the idea of the fog ‘smudging the tops of the trees.’


Could we begin to use familiar language in unfamiliar places?57 Roy Ile de Batz To help the reader lose themselves in our story?





P1130294Frog: (warily)

I’m sorry to say this, but as a setting, it’s taking me right out of my comfort zone.

Monday Blog Tour

NB: Tips for beginner writers continue as usual, with
Character building is a bit like Lego…

Thanks to Lucy Mills for the tag. Lucy’s post may be seen here 

………….and my tour starts here. Welcome.


What are you working on?



  • There’s always a short story on the go. I’ve just finished editing one, so today I’m exploring themes for the next.
  • My first novel. The summit’s a long way off.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

A challenging question. Interesting. Very few people can be recognised by their unique style: the exceptionally gifted short-fiction writer Alice Munro, for example, or Ernest Hemmingway. Let’s say I’m working towards individuality.
I like exploring characters. I like stories where the reader is so in tune with the protagonist, he understands them, empathises with them, comes to the end of the piece saddened, or happier, perhaps slightly wiser than he was before.
Sometimes I write just for fun – like Miss Swanson’s Dog, which recently won the Spooky Tales competition run by What the Dickens Magazine and Miracle E-zine. The anthology hasn’t been published yet, so it’s a case of ‘watch this space’!


Why do you write what you do?

I want people to listen to each other, to understand each other better. 836VI think fiction enables people to see the world through the eyes of another person, whether it’s a disturbed individual like Sebastian Faulk’s Mike in Engleby, or the entire, and much more normal, Riordan family in Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave. You walk where they walk; you understand. Compassion grows.


How does your writing process work?

When my Writing Magazine fell onto the doormat last week, it contained a booklet which implored me to flounder no more! NO RULES, Just Write, it said sternly. 7 days of inspiration to unlock your creativity. It could have been written for me. I love writing, but I don’t find it easy.12 Apr 2010_0142I have a long way to go.
My stories are developed slowly. I have been known to ask my husband if he has any ideas I can work on. I rewrite frequently. I have learnt to listen to advice (husband again; friends at writers groups), and act upon it. I love the way the characters grow, emerge, follow me round, whisper in my ear. And then they remain, some-one I might bump into in the street. I would recognise them at once, greet them like old friends.


A non-writing friend once asked me if I was ‘still churning out stories?’
I took it as a compliment.


To continue this mini-blog tour I’d like to tag two excellent writers,Tiggy Hayes and Kathy Lang to post next Monday (May 12th).


Character building is a bit like Lego……

……………one brick at a time


In order to develop a sense of character, it’s a good idea to have him/her doing something.

Don’t tell me Ernie is depressed. Have him do something that makes me know how he’s feeling. Perhaps a child runs along the street and knocks into him. How does he react? What thoughts go through his head? Does he feel his old light-hearted self has gone, perhaps forever?

To develop Ernie’s character further, you need to give him a problem of some kind. Is somebody he loves in trouble, or desperately ill? Is his teenage son going completely off the rails? Is he worried that he can’t pay for that expensive holiday he’s promised his wife?

Try developing a character of your own. Think about him/her while you’re peeling potatoes, riding on the underground, weeding the garden. Anywhere where you can grab a few minutes to yourself. 03.23b


Brainstorm your ideas. Pick the one that appeals most. Write a short paragraph showing what he/she is like while they are doing something.

News about a FREE Open University course called Start Writing Fiction.

This is how it’s described on the website.

‘This hands-on course helps you to get started with your own fiction writing, focusing on the central skill of creating characters.’

The course is for anyone who wants to develop or improve their skill and creativity, complete beginners included.

In the introduction to the course you’ll read, ‘Fiction is all about characters. Make the best of everything you already have and know – your unique ‘material’ and ‘equipment’ for creating characters.’

The course started officially on Monday 28th April.

It is not too late to join in.



Frog: (smiling):

I’ve thought of a character.

Now for the action.




Plot and ride……..

…….. Plotting at the bus stop

For many of us, it’s not a good idea to start by sitting at the computer and wondering what to write. We need to be prepared for those snatched half hours when we inhabit the world of our imaginations. We need a plot that excites us, one that makes us eager to switch on and make a start….. even if at that point we don’t know P1120238where the story’s going. So, start plotting your next story while you work in the garden, or go for a walk, or wait for a bus.

What exactly makes a good plot?

It’s been said that every story has one of seven basic plots. Could it be true? Next time you read a short story or a novel, ask yourself whether the fits into one of these categories:

A quest
Overcoming the monster2b Mt Edgcumbe
Rags to riches
Voyage and return

And now ask:

Was it a good plot? If yes, what made it a good plot?

Did it have a strong beginning that drew you in?

Did the hero or heroine (the protagonist) have some sort of problem to face, or some kind of conflict to overcome?

Did the plot have a satisfying end?

Creating a good plot

One way to start is to ask ‘What if……?’

In one of my stories I asked, ‘What if a couple are all set to move from a grim flat to a house of their own, and the man hasn’t put down the deposit as agreed? He’s gambled it away.’

In another I asked, ‘What if a young widow is so bitter about her soldier husband’s death, she becomes unable to show kindness to anyone, including her young daughter?’

Both these plots were successful in competitions.  The first became Leaving it all behind was shortlisted in the Chorley and District Writers’ Circle competition, and published in an anthology in 2013.

The other one, The Cake Stall, came second in the 2009 HE Bates short story competition, and is published in an anthology called Beauty in the Bog.

You could try the following for yourself

1 What if a stranger bumps into you and slips a small package into your pocket? Do you open the package? What do you find? Will this lead to a quest? Or maybe it’s a rags to riches story.

2 What if someone plans a revenge that misfires? Will this be a tragedy, a comedy, or a story of the character’s rebirth?

3 What if your computer develops a mind of its own? What if it orders the most unusual things from the internet? What if it links you on Facebook to someone you can’t stand?


Frog: (sadly or joyfully, you choose)

I’m waiting for a princess.

What do you mean, will this be a comedy or a tragedy?