Monday, October 25, 2021

Top Writing Tips from The Novelry

We invited The Novelry to post some of their top writing tips and introduce themselves to our members as another resource for writers seeking publication. If you're interested in learning more about their services, there are links at the end of the post.


Writing is a whirlwind journey. Some days you can be in deep flow - character, setting and plot all clicking into place like a jigsaw - while other days it feels like a Herculean effort to get any words on the page. Although the act of writing can be a lonely one, at The Novelry we believe it is not one you have to do alone.  Below are our top 10 writing tips to keep you in the flow. 

1. Make mistakes – So many writers delay plunging into their first draft, afraid that what they produce won’t live up to their expectations. The truth is every writer is afraid, and those who aren’t are probably no good. Give yourself permission and time to make mistakes so you can find your story. The more you go through this process, the more likely you are to write the story you’re best placed to write.

2. Story, story, story – When writing, the most important question to ask yourself is how does this (place, person, event) serve the story? Are you clinging to this sentence because it contains your best-crafted metaphor, rather than because it drives the narrative forward? Story is all about what your main character wants and the problem or dilemma they’re facing. Keep connecting back to this and, when you aren’t, be prepared to kill your darlings. 

3. Find your ‘Golden Hour’ – To be able to get your writing into shape, time is vital. We recommend carving out an hour for your writing every day. Get up with a coffee and spend time in your happy place. Doodle, lament, journal, conspire, on the beach, but keep that affair with your writing alive and kicking. You will be amazed by how much you produce as a result. 

4. Know what your character WANTS – As Kurt Vonnegut said, ‘Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water’.’ Dig into your characters' desires but don’t make it easy for them to get. Your main character needs to be active, give them agency. There is nothing more irritating than a character who passively allows everything to fall into their lap. We need a character to root for and that comes in their struggles. By the end of the novel, they may not get what they want, but do they get what they need?

5. Choose a ‘Hero Book’ – We have a comprehensive list of Hero Books we recommend to our authors, a diverse list of great reads that span over genres to use as inspiration. Choose a great book and dip into it during the drafting process for ten minutes a day. You are not aiming to emulate or make your work sound like anyone else’s, the aim is to see how the greats dealt with the elements of craft you might be struggling with e.g. plot reveals, dialogue, how to deal with that pesky mid-point. 

6. Don’t sweat the word count – At The Novelry we ask you to start small, just 250 words on the first day you start writing. Then 500 words the next day. It’s those small steps that will take you from base camp and scaling up that story mountain. Before you know it, you’ll be rock-climbing like a pro at 1,000 words a day…or not. The point is to take your time, find what works for you and to not get caught up on the numbers but the story. 

7. Never share a first draft with ANYONE – Ok, it’s tempting. You’ve just written that really great opening that you’ve got all polished up and, for the first time ever, you feel you’ve got this writing thing down. Perhaps your close friend, sibling, or perhaps even partner, could have a quick look and give you some notes? Don’t do it! At this stage, we use tutors to help guide writers on their story plan and advise on writing dilemmas but recommend not getting feedback on written work until draft two. The first draft is a precious seedling, it needs time and nourishment to help it grow. The last thing it needs is someone’s big, grubby opinions stamping all over it. 

8. Do not be mean to yourself – Remember the writing whirlwind I described earlier? When you’re not on those writing highs, it’s easy to be hard on yourself, especially when things aren’t going to plan. We have a series of blogs to help writers get through the slumps. You can find pieces on motivation, dealing with the dreaded imposter syndrome as well as a number of Q&A’s from bestselling authors on our website. But for now, remember to be yourself only more so. Don’t worry about the market, it moves quickly, and publishing moves slowly. Write the book you want to write and the book you want to read.

9. Find the emotional heart of your story – What do you remember from books? The paragraphs of text or the great emotional moments? Look for transfigurative moments in your novel. It might be a visual or a line of dialogue. The emotional heart might not be in your head but you have always had it in your heart. It is what you believe in more strongly than reason. Put this at the centre of your story. Remember: if you care, your reader will care. 

10. Tools not rules – If the tips above don’t work for you, feel free to discard! Our mantra is ‘tools not rules’. Writing is a craft, it is as personal and unique as the numerous books produced from it. Our courses, tutors, and editors advise our writers but we do not dictate. This is your dream, your time, your writing. No one else can do it but you (though a few friendly faces with words of wisdom along the way sure does help). 

The Novelry is the worldwide specialist school offering novel writing courses dedicated to helping aspiring authors get published. Visit to find out more.

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Write Life

Meeting up with Dixie.
A highlight when visiting Hatteras Island. 

Long ago, back when I still thought saving the cat was the fire department’s problem, I was blessed to make the acquaintance of a seasoned pro who gave me some of the best advice that has not only shaped my writing life, but my real life as well.

I messaged Dixie Browning for an autographed book for my sister’s birthday. Being the wonderful, gracious lady that she is, she signed one and sent it back with a very nice birthday note. I sent her a thank-you and in it, I mentioned that when I was a kid, I always wanted to be a writer who lived at the beach, so she, Ms. Dixie, was living my dream life. She wrote back— if you want to live at the beach, I know a good realtor! And if I wanted to be a writer, I should just do it! 

Such a bold suggestion! Especially for a small-town girl from West Virginia, a place where big dreams are smothered in the wet blanket of statistical realities. Rule of thumb, count on West Virginia to rank first in bad things and last in the good ones. Cultural negativity seeps into the psyche after a while and crushes dreams as they hatch. Too often, “I will” is followed closely by “I can’t”.

I wrote back that I didn't have a clue even how to start, but I appreciated her hopeful words. 

She responded with half pep talk, half chide. Dixie grew up in a poor fishing village on an island. A setting she figured was similar to an Appalachian farm town. Fortunately, she'd been too na├»ve to realize she was supposed to doubt herself. It was too bad I knew enough about stuff to know what I couldn't do without even trying. 

Point taken.

I wrote a sample chapter and sent it to her. She smothered it in red pen, sent it back, and told me I was on my way! I simply needed to follow chapter one with chapter two, then three…and so on and so forth until I “what-iffed” my way to THE END.

It was simple. Sort of.

Once I had my book polished and ready to submit, she offered me another key piece of advice. As she approached the end of her writing career, she looked forward to never, ever writing again.

I was shocked. How could a writer hate to write? She told me it was simple, really. She earned her living working for the publishing industry and anything you do just to make money is a job and jobs eventual feel like work.

That offhanded piece of advice has shaped how I approach my “writing career”. I put that in quotes because writing is not my job. It’s what I do for the love of it. Life is too short not to enjoy the heck out of it. 

That’s me living my best life, sans beach cottage.


Dixie Browning published over 100 category romance novels during her writing career. She was a Romance Writers of America RITA Award winner and was a five-time RITA finalist. After her much-too-soon for her reader’s liking retirement from writing, she concentrated on painting watercolor landscapes—her true passion best-life hobby. Dixie Browning: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Elizabeth Seckman is a writer and admin for the IWSG. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Story Need More Conflict? Look to Your Setting - Angela Ackerman


Every writer’s mission is to pen a story that draws readers in, offering familiarity when it comes to certain genre expectations while also delivering something fresh so to be distinctive and memorable. This is how to cultivate a loyal--and, fingers crossed, rabidly obsessed--reading audience.


But heck, there’s a lot of stories out there. And didn’t someone say there’s only so many plot forms to choose from? Is “fresh” even possible?




When you know where to look, you can find a kaleidoscope of unique ideas and apply them to any type of story to transform it.


A Story’s Secret Weapon: Conflict


One of the easiest ways to offers that thrill of “newness” for readers is to activate the power of conflict. In fiction, it is the crucible that tests, bruises, and shapes our characters. Externally, it pushes the plot onward by supplying the resistance needed to force characters to scrutinize their world, make choices, and take action to get what they want. Internally, conflict generates a tug-of-war between the character’s fears, beliefs, needs, values, and desires. Ultimately, it forces them to choose between an old, antiquated way of thinking and doing, or a new, evolved way of being, because only one will help them get what they want.


Conflict touches everything: plot, characters, arc, pacing, tension and more, and can be endlessly adapted to generate fresh scenes, and scenarios that provide readers with something special to experience.


Conflict Is Everywhere

The other beautiful thing about conflict is how you can find it anywhere: the character’s career, relationships, duties, etc., or it can come from adversaries, nature, the supernatural, or even from within themselves. And that’s just to start.


But no matter where your character is and what is happening, there’s one eternal source for conflict that can always lead you to a complication, obstacle, or blocker to clash with your character’s goals: the setting. 


The location of each scene will contain inherent dangers and risks, meaning you can mine those to create problems and remind the character of the cost of failure. Drawing conflict from your setting also gives it a greater role in the story. Rather than be a “stage” for action to unfold, your setting becomes a participant.


Here are some things to keep in mind to draw the very best conflict from your setting, making important story moments more intense, and offering that fresh gauntlet of challenges for your character to navigate.


Choose Settings Thoughtfully

Some setting choices are obvious. If you need your character’s car to break down in an isolated area, then a country road, campsite, or quarry might do the trick. But conflict very often happens in an ordinary setting, like a retail store or at home. In cases like these, when the story has dictated where events will occur, up the ante by choosing a specific location that holds emotional value for your character. Instead of choosing just any store, pick one with an emotional association—such as the place the character was caught shoplifting as a teenager. Good or bad, any setting that plays upon their emotional volatility will increase their chances of saying or doing something they’ll regret.


And while we’re talking about emotional value, don’t underestimate the symbolic weight of the objects within the scene. The backyard may be a generic place to have a difficult conversation but put the characters next to the treehouse their son used to play in before he got critically sick, and you’ve already heightened their emotions, potentially adding additional conflict to the scene.


It’s also important to think about which settings contain infrastructure that will make the character’s goal harder to reach. Maybe it’s a ravine the protagonist will need to cross, a locked door to get through, or a security guard to evade. Remember that the character's journey to achieve their goal shouldn't be a walk in the park. Conflict is necessary in every scene, so choose settings that contain obstacles or provide poignant emotional roadblocks.


Think about how conflict naturally evolves. The character has an objective. They put together a plan and start pursuing that goal. Then complications come along and make things interesting. Luckily, there are lots of ways we can manipulate the setting to create additional conflict scenarios.


Mess with the Weather. Unexpected showers, a heat wave, an icy driveway, the threat of a tornado—how can small and large weather considerations create problems for your character?


Take Away Transportation. No matter what setting you choose, your character will need to move from one place to another. What kind of transportation disruptions will make it harder for them to get where they need to go?


Add an Audience. Falling down in private is totally different than doing it in a crowd of people. Both may be physically painful, but the latter adds an element of emotional hardship. Who could you put in the environment as a witness to the character's missteps or misfortune?


Trigger Sensitive Emotions. Conflict is easier to handle for an even-keeled, emotionally cool character. So use the setting to throw them off balance. If they're struggling to put food on the table, place them in a locale where wealthy characters are eating lavishly and throwing away leftovers. Likewise, a character with daddy issues can be triggered in an environment that highlights healthy and loving father-daughter relationships. So when you’re planning the setting for a scene, ask yourself: What could I add specifically for my character in this situation that will elevate their emotions?  


Exploit What They Don’t Have. If your character doesn’t have a light source, place them in a dark place, like a cave or deserted subway tunnel. No weapon? Surround them with physical threats. If they're lacking something vital, capitalize on that.


Make Them Uncomfortable. Vulnerability sets the character on edge and elevates their emotional state. So whenever you can, put the character in a location where they have no experience, don’t know the rules, or aren't really suited to navigate it. This can work for small- or large-scale settings, from a character who has to traverse an alien planet to someone who's averse to kids having to host a child's party.


Use Symbolism. Nothing impedes progress like fear and self-doubt. Think about which symbols can be added to the environment to remind the character of an area of weakness, a past failure, a debilitating fear, or an unresolved wound.


Add a Ticking Clock. One sure-fire way to up the ante is to give the character a deadline. Instead of them having unlimited time to complete the goal, make them dependent upon elements within their environment, such as having to avoid rush-hour traffic, reach the bank by four p.m., or get home before sunset.


Setting-related conflict is fantastic in that it can be endlessly adapted, helping you keep the tension going in every scene no matter where your character is.


Want More Ideas on How to Unleash the Power of Conflict?


The Conflict Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Obstacles, Adversaries, and Inner Struggles
(Volume 1). It’s packed with ideas on how to apply meaningful conflict to reveal your character, challenge them, and keep the story tense and on track. It also digs into a plethora of conflict scenarios to help you plot fresh scenes.

Angela Ackerman
is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and its many sequels. Her bestselling writing guides are available in eight languages, and are sourced by universities, recommended by agents and editors, and used by writers around the world. She’s also one half of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, and co-founder of One Stop for Writers, a creativity portal loaded with one-of-a-kind tools, resources, and a Storyteller’s Roadmap that makes planning, writing, and revising a novel almost criminally easy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Welcome, First Wednesday in Fall!

Before we get into the post, the Admins here at IWSG want to recognize two amazing and hard-working Admins for their contribution to the group. Heather Gardner and Tyrean Martinson are unfortunately stepping down from their spots. While we hate to see them go, we understand how there is only just so much time and these are two very busy authors. We will miss them so much, but wish them the best of luck.

  Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

October 6 question - In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

The awesome co-hosts for the October 6 posting of the IWSG are

 Jemima Pitt, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard!

I like this question, and I'm answering it on my own blog as well as here, but I'm taking a slightly different slant in the two post. 


When I write a story, I often tackle hard topics, ones that are controversial and not necessarily pleasant. However, that doesn't mean that I resort to language bombs, x-rated or violent scenes to tell the story. Shakespeare and Hitchcock had the right idea, take the violence off the center stage, allow the imagination to fill in those spaces because in all likelihood, those imaginations will conjure up more vivid images than anything you "show" explicitly.  

Another of my "avoid if at all possible" language techniques is what is called re-spelling. In other words, writing dialogue so that it's spelled to imitate the way a character talks. 

Character or Caricature?
Image credit: Hitchster on Wunderstock (license)

There are a couple of reasons I don't like re-spelling.  First, I find the use of this technique demeaning when it's used to characterize a social class or ethnic group. Perhaps the most extreme example is Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. The author set out with the intention of exposing the evils of slavery, and that was admirable. However, her heavy use of re-spelling (and this is my modern-day opinion only) seems to have turned many of her characters into caricatures.  Here's one example:

"Mose done, Mas'r George," said Aunt Chloe, lifting the lid and peeping in, —"browning beautiful—a real lovely brown. Ah! let me alone for dat. Missis let Sally try to make some cake, t' other day, jes to larn her, she said. 'O, go way, Missis,' said I; 'it really hurts my feelin's, now, to see good vittles spilt dat ar way! Cake ris all to one side—no shape at all; no more than my shoe; go way!"

I recently finished a book set in Portugal and the author did a masterful job of capturing the second-language sound of a Portuguese speaker using English. She didn't re-spell, she changed the syntax and achieved the effect.

"What kind of Port you want? You are in the land of great Port. We invent it, you know." 


"Ah, Senhor Costa at your service. I am pleased to advise such pretty lady...You are inglesa? English?"

Another reason for my bias against re-spelling is that it makes it darned hard to read. I hate to pick on Mrs. Stowe, but she's the most extreme example, and it's easy to demonstrate with her since Uncle Tom's Cabin is so dense with re-spelling.

"La bless you, Mas'r George!" said Aunt Chloe, with earnestness, catching his arm, "you wouldn't be for cuttin' it wid dat ar great heavy knife! Smash all down—spile all de pretty rise of it. Here, I've got a thin old knife, I keeps sharp a purpose. Dar now, see! comes apart light as a feather! Now eat away— you won't get anything to beat dat ar." 

I'm not completely re-spelling free in my writing. I jumped into the WEP with a short story called The Lynching and wanted a "back-woods" twang for my characters, so I did use gotta and should'a and maybe a couple of 'em for them. The rest of that twang I tried to get with vocabulary and idiom that I thought characterized these people.

“Gotta take a leak Bart. You hang onto the rope.

Duchane’s bladder’s about the size of a grape. I take the rope, but that means if the bugger comes while Duchane’s playing bear in the woods, I’ll have to change up the plan. I should’a called on Newt for this job. He might be seventy, but he’d pee his pants before he’d sabotage a planned attack like this one.

I'm looking forward to reading other answers to this question. Hope you'll join me to see what other members have to say.