On finding the plot

If you’re like me and plot isn’t your thing, you may not know it yet, and unlikely as it may seem, you need The Plot Whisperer by Marsha Alderson. Amazon describes it as a “plotting system that’s as innovative as it is easy to implement. With her foolproof blueprint, you’ll learn to devise a successful storyline for any genre.”

My friend Kate Braithwaite (author of Charlatan, which also should be on your reading list) told me about it. It’s hard work to do the exercises, I won’t disguise the reality of that, but if you do them you will get your plot. The method really works! If you’ve lost the plot, take a look at The Plot Whisperer, for the sake of your sanity.

Here’s a picture of the structure of my novel. As you can tell, I’m very proud of it. Happy plotting!


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10 top tips for attending a bookfair

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Originally posted on Kate Braithwaite:
In the last month I have been to two bookfairs to sell my novel, Charlatan: the Collingswood Bookfair in New Jersey and the Hockessin Art & Book Fair. Both times I went with members of…

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How very difficult it is…

love-me-backThis morning I came across an article in Marie Claire which had been shared on facebook. It’s by author, Merritt Tierce, whose first novel, Love Me Back, was published to huge critical acclaim in 2014.

I’d recommend reading the whole article but in brief, she explains how after selling her first book she gave up working to become a full-time writer. Only now, two years later, she has not written a second book. Her main emotion seems to be anger.

I had mixed feelings about her difficulties after reading the article. Some of her problems might well be self-inflicted. I feel like she is more concerned about making money than about writing. But she’s clearly talented. And struggling. And for those things I very much hopes she can find her way through this.

Also this morning, I came across another article on one of my favourite websites, Brain Pickings. This focused on what Jennifer Egan (whose novel Welcome to the Goon Squad I just loved) had to say about the ‘writing, the trap of approval and the most important discipline for aspiring writers’.

Merritt Tierce should read that article! Here’s a two of my favourite Jennifer Egan quotes, from the Brain Picking article.

whywewrite“The attention and approval I’ve been getting for Goon Squad — the very public moments of winning the Pulitzer and the other prizes — is exactly the opposite of the very private pleasure of writing. And it’s dangerous. Thinking that I’ll get this kind of love again, that getting it should be my goal, would lead me to creative decisions that would undermine me and my work.”


“Exercising is a good analogy for writing. If you’re not used to exercising you want to avoid it forever. If you’re used to it, it feels uncomfortable and strange not to. No matter where you are in your writing career, the same is true for writing. Even fifteen minutes a day will keep you in the habit.”

Gah! Exercise. Such good advice. So healthy. And yes… so true.




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Publication Day!

Today is the day! My novel, Charlatan, is available for purchase on Amazon & Barnes and Noble. It has been a long journey…


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Lipo for Manuscripts


When an editor asks you to shorten your work by 15% it’s not out of cruelty, although it might seems so.

Here’s an easy fix to trim down and help avoid head n’ heartache: cut adverbs and consider removing the words listed below. If the sentence conveys what you intended (or you’re inspired to be more precise), you don’t need the word.

a bit, absolutely, actually, about, all, almost, and, any, are, around, as, at, awful, basically, because, begin, but, can, certainly, completely, definitely, down, even, feel, go, hate, it, just, how, literally, little, much, not, of, okay, one, or, ponder, probably, quite, rather, realize, really, replied, said (or other dialogue tag – describe character action or trait instead), seem, so, some, somehow, somewhat, sort of, start, still, that, the, then, think, this, those, thoughtfully, time, totally, understand, up, very, virtually, wonder 

Scarily effective!

(Adapted from: Creative Writing from Wesleyan University/Coursera)

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The inimitable W.B. Yeats said:

“Only that which does not teach,

which does not cry out,

which does not condescend,

which does not explain,

is irresistible.”

Easier said than done.


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Something about mothers

It’s Mother’s Day, in England at least, and so here is a prompt that rarely fails. Write 500 words beginning with: “My mother always… .”

Mother and Child detail from The Three Ages of Woman

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Something for the weekend #37

Mark Twain said, “Reality is stranger than fiction.”  Well, take a look below at the picture of a CNN news story.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 8.21.57 AMAlso found in the motel room by the police was “an incoherent man.” So, here is the prompt: what happened before the police arrived?


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Inspired by ABDCE

Nobody ever said writing was easy, and if they did, they didn’t know what they were talking about. Our group met today to write and to wail about the difficulties we’re encountering along the way: the elusive plot element, that character who just won’t behave, and the six months of hard graft of revisions only to find the first draft might have been better.

I always benefit from these sessions–writing can be a lonely occupation–and more often than not I come away with some idea for fixing what’s been troubling me about a scene, or a chapter, and even my novel as a whole.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 1.05.24 PM

(Source: Coursera, Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot)

Today, we also talked about online writing courses. You may be aware that there are many, often free, courses offered by globally-renowned universities. The particular courses we talked about were Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot, from Wesleyan University, and How Writers Write Fiction, from the University of Iowa.

For me, plot is a challenge. I love setting and character, but the plot, well that’s the reason for taking the Wesleyan course. It was a joyous revelation that much of what is going  wrong in my stories can be addressed by a simple ABDCE.

Note the order of those letters.

A means action, B means background, D is development, C is climax, and E is ending. One of Wesleyan’s course assignments was to write 400 words with the ABDCE sequence, according to this prompt:

“Begin a scene where someone wants a concrete physical object more than anything else in the world. Now include each of the five key components of a scene as you’re writing. Write for a few minutes, then give that character a disease where they learn they have only 24 hours to live. This is your first significant rising action. Write some more, then give that character a choice between that object and an antidote. This is your second significant rising action. Finish the story with a conclusion. Your final story should not exceed 400 words.”

Try it, it’s fun!

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Something for the weekend #36

There is a monster park north of Rome, the ruin of a folly, inhabited by giants and ogres and mermaids. Abandoned in the nineteenth century, it became a shelter for local shepherds and their flocks. It’s a tourist attraction now. What if you’d come across it on a walk in the woods? (Photo courtesy of canino.net)


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