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Story and plot

A well-paced plot that keeps the reader hooked from the very first sentence to the very last is one of the hardest, but most important, things for a writer to achieve. Our section on Story & Plot gives you advice on planning and pacing, to help you make your novel a page-turner.

'It Was The Day My Grandmother Exploded'

Malcolm Pryce

As part of his series of articles for on his new Howdunnnit Machine, author Malcolm Pryce considers the employment of shamelessly effective writing tricks.

In previous posts on my Howdunnit Machine I have described the fictive dream as an altered state, a walled Garden of …

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3 Fixes For When Your Novel's Upside-Down in a Ditch

You started your novel full of good intentions but now it’s sat at the side of the road like a tired donkey, refusing to move.

First of all, congratulations. Stopping means you’ve noticed something’s wrong. You’ve read novels where it’s clear the author never paused to ask ‘is this any …

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Balancing the Natural and the Supernatural

Bryony Pearce

Our world is shrinking: we can be in other countries in hours, we have excavated the past and broken the atom, our eyes have reached the stars. Knowledge renders the exotic ordinary - yet whenever we hear of a new discovery, don’t we feel a thrill? 

What is that thrill we feel? For me, it is …

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Building Suspense: Keeping Your Readers on Edge

While I was writing my first novel, I worked for the literary agency Darley Anderson, whose many bestselling clients include Lee Child, John Connolly and Tana French. I enjoyed the work so much that it took three years longer than it might have done otherwise to finish The House at Midnight. It was …

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Countdown to keep your novel pacey

Over the summer I had the pleasure of reading Colm Toibin's Brooklyn.  For all the routine of his female protagonist's days, I found myself compellingly drawn less into the narrative and more with the narrative. A personal lover of jazz, there is a rhythm here that pays homage to another …

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Creating An Assassin

Girton Club-Foot, the apprentice assassin who narrates both Age of Assassins and Blood of Assassins (and the final book, King of Assassins which will be out later in the year) always felt like he leapt straight into my mind fully formed. I heard his voice. So when it comes to an article about …

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How Setting Can Create Tension

The Girl In The Photograph by Kate Riordan

For me, a strong and memorable setting is a huge part of any story. I’ve been entertained and diverted by books where setting doesn’t play much of a role, but the fiction that really stays with me – and made me want to be a writer in the first place – is the kind where the characters …

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How To Create An Immersive Setting

Both of my novels, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and The Summer Before the War are rooted in place; East Sussex, a childhood home and still an emotional heartland for me.The County and the towns and villages are almost characters in their own right and whether contemporary, or set in Edwardian …

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How To Make Your Book Pacey

I'm going to be honest with you here. I discovered very early on when I decided I want to write novels that the absolute worst thing for me to do was to read about writing or listen to advice about writing. Partly, because I am contrary and don't like being told what to do. Partly because I really …

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How to Structure a Novel with Multiple Timelines

Natasha Bell

Natasha Bell, debut author of psychological thriller Exhibit Alexandra, offers some tips on how to structure a novel with multiple timelines...

I’m at the lovely, nerve-wracking, stage of waiting for reviews to come in for my debut novel, Exhibit Alexandra. We’ve had some great pre-publication …

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How To Write A Happy Ending – Against The Odds

Meike Ziervogel

Meike Ziervogel, author of The Photographer, on the challenge of writing a happy ending.

I like to tip my characters over the edge.  I revel in their delusions and walk with them along the thin line between madness and sanity. Dark psychological novels, with dark beginnings and even darker …

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How To Write A Series That Sells

Last year I wrote a piece for Writers & Artists entitled Elephants, Murder, and India: My Magic Formula for Getting Published!, in which I gave my take on how aspiring authors might shorten the journey to seeing their work in print. But the truth is that being published is merely the …

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Introducing the Howdunnit Machine

Malcolm Pryce

Author Malcolm Pryce introduces an innovative online course that shows how the concept behind the 747 Flight Simulator could help you write your first novel.

A century after a simulator teaches you to fly a plane, they invent one for the novel.

It’s called the Howdunnit Machine, a rather innovative …

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Location, Location, Location

Some would say I’ve had it easy when it comes to choosing a setting for my writing. I based my first novels in the stunning French Pyrenees, where I was living at the time. As that series came to a natural end, I moved to the north of England where I fell in love with this amazing part of the …

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Pacing your plot

Do you find yourself 90% of the way through writing your novel, but with a lot of action left to cram in? Or have you galloped through your main ideas, only to find there's another 40,000 words left to write?

Pace is one of the trickiest things to get right, and one of the most …

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Researching An Unfamiliar Location

For my novel-in-progress I’ve spent the past couple of years immersed in the physical and psychic landscape of Algiers — its history and politics, aggravations and delights — to the point that I experience a little dart of joy whenever I stumble across any new reference. Researching a place …

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Sarah Perry Discusses Not Being a Woman Writer

Some time ago I was asked by a novelist of world renown why I - a woman – had written a novel featuring a male protagonist. Did I not think (as a woman) that it might be more appropriate to have a female protagonist? Was I not (as a woman) interested in the female experience? 

I was a little …

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Seven Secrets of Writing a Page-Turner

I wasn't classically trained in creative writing as such, but I did learn a lot of lessons ‘on the job’ from my brilliant editor, Marian McCarthy, the pick of which, I've listed below. 

1. The characters have to be believable and relatable with a real sense of depth.

2. Every …

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Six Questions to Help You Build Your Fantasy World

Sarah Ahiers offers six questions to ask yourself that might prove useful when you're building your fantasy world...

I love world-building in fantasy novels.I sit at my desk and stare out the window and think about all the lovely bits that make up my world without doing any writing at all. Easy!

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Soap Opera Redux: The Returning Popularity of the Saga

Pam Jenoff

Bestselling author Pam Jenoff discusses our enduring love affair with sagas and shares her advice on what a successful saga needs if it's going to engage readers and draw them in.

For many of my younger years, I watched a soap opera called Guiding Light.  I’m convinced from my years at …

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Starting A Novel

Richard Beard

A novel has to start somewhere. It doesn’t, however, have to start at the beginning.

Here lies the challenge of writing a novel: decisions need to be made, but the options can feel close to unlimited. Defer making decisions, and the novel will never take shape – the decision of where …

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Structure and Occam's Razor

I'm terrible at structure, let’s be clear about that. Whenever I have an editorial meeting, it’s always the same: ‘I love it! Change all the words, none of these ones make any sense.’ It’s the hardest thing about writing. I've got ideas, some of which are good, I can see the characters …

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The Currents and Colours of Setting

For me, the when and where is as important as the who and what. In fiction the actual setting (geography) and the ephemeral setting (historical moment in time) tell the story alongside the who (character) and the what (plot). The location is another character, as important as the ensemble I've …

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The Importance of Developing Engaging Subplots

How can you develop your story, add depth to your plot and create engaging & believable characters that will remain with readers long after they've turned the last page? This is where subplots are important.

The impact of your main plot is something that you probably give a considerable amount …

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The Miracle Under Your Nose

Malcolm Pryce

As part of his series of articles for on his new Howdunnnit Machine, author Malcolm Pryce now considers a question no one asks. What is reading?

After sex and shopping, it is probably Mankind’s most popular recreational activity. Yet few people ever bother to inquire about …

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Thoughts on the Unreliable Narrator

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

Dana is the main character in my book The Pocket Wife. She is bipolar and off her medication; she’s also going through lots of “stuff,” and this toxic mixture is beginning to bring on a manic episode. In Chapter One, Dana is poised for flight. Still, she is quite lucid. In fact, except for a …

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Tips for Nailing Your Novel's Prologue

Tips for Nailing Your Novel's Prologue

You’ve decided to give your novel a prologue. Can’t blame you. Romeo & Juliet had one, and so did Pulp Fiction, so that pretty much covers all your bases right there. Face it, prologues are just cool… that is, if they’re done right. 

Prologues are called the first of two beginnings

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Top Tips On Creating Setting

As a child I often imagined I was on adventures in the wilderness without my parents in tow. My grandparents were avid David Attenborough fans and I used to watch wildlife documentaries with them before acting the scenes out: pretending I was climbing to the top of a rainforest; rescuing a pelican …

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Why characters are the heart of your novel - & how you can write them effectively

In her fourth article for Writers & Artists, Roz Morris discuss the importance of character development in your novel - and how you can make sure your characters are the kind readers connect with and remember long after they've turned the final page.

Why is character so important? Isn't plot …

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Writing Dysfunctional Families

I started to write this, then thought, hang on, what is a functional family? Does one actually exist? Even those perfect-looking ones, with happy parents and cute, well-behaved kids probably have their own hidden layers of dysfunction. The kids are well-behaved only because the parents are …

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