Calling All Aspiring UK Comedy Screenwriters

Just a quick reminder to you all that the BBC Writer’s Room has opened its submission window for comedy scripts.

The submission window closes on April 4th at 5pm, and is open to UK residents only.

For more info click here.

If you’d like to give screenwriting a try, but don’t know how to format your script, you can visit my cheat sheet: How To Format Your Screenplay.

Keep writing, people.

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Why I Write With A Pen And Paper (And You Should Too!)

It’s a romantic notion, a writer sat scribbling away in a notepad, chewing on his pen and doodling while he thinks. But since the popularisation and easy availability of the word processor it has fallen from being the norm for a writer, especially a professional, to write a draft by hand. And that’s fine, word processors are great, as is dictation software if that’s your tool of choice. But I write everything by hand, and I’d like to tell you why.

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Like many other writers, I have trouble shutting up the editor inside my head. Every writer has a little perfectionist creeping around behind their eyes telling us we had better get it right first time. It’s common advice to ignore that voice, to write now and edit later. But it’s not so easily done as it is said.

Using a word processor means having spelling errors immediately brought to your attention, even grammar errors depending on the software. It also means you can go back and easily edit anything you’ve written as you write. These are great features for editing. They aren’t so good for writing that first draft.

With a good old pen and paper approach, however, editing on the fly is discouraged by the fact that you can’t easily change what you’ve already got down. Your notepad won’t put a passive-aggressive red squiggle under your spelling mistakes, it just sits there and lets you get on with it. It helps you to not get in your own way.

Another common block to creativity is the urge to research. Many times I’ve found myself deep into Wikipedia or some obscure historical database trying to bring authenticity to my work, to get the details right when I have no first hand experience of a subject. And this is good, you should put that effort in and it’s a fun part of the process. But sometimes it’s just procrastination.

If you’re on a computer and you wonder about a detail, there is a world of information promising you answers at the click of a mouse right there on your desktop. It’s tempting to just do that research right away. If you’re anything like me, the compulsion to do that research leads almost invariably to delving deep into the subject and, in doing so, not writing.

Separation of your workflow is key here. The research should be kept as a separate activity. So cement that by using different tools for different jobs. The research must of course take place on the computer, so keeping the writing to a notepad tells your brain that whenever you’re holding a pen over some paper you are in writing mode, not research mode, or editing mode even. It’s the same reasoning behind only using your bed for sleep and sex, you want to form the association to strengthen good habits.

The last reason I think you should write with a pen and paper is simple and personal. For me, the act of writing is particularly satisfying as an act of creation, using craft to make something. Now, the value of the end product is the same whether you type or scrawl, but for me the intrinsic value of the process is far greater if I create something physical.

There’s no greater feeling than holding a pile of crumpled, messy pages containing your words in your hands. The feel of it is magical, a real moment of accomplishment. Maybe you get the same feeling from finishing typing a manuscript, but there is no comparison for me.

So while it probably won’t make your writing better, using a pen and paper to write a first draft can really do a lot for you. If you’re struggling with productivity, developing good writing habits or find yourself losing passion in the process, perhaps give it a go and leave a comment below to let us all know if it helped. Please like and share. You can follow Writer’s Allegory on Twitter (@writersallegory) and you can follow me (@matt__milton) as well.

Until we meet again, keep on writing.

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Traditional Poetry Forms: Ballad

Poetry has been used since the dawn of civilisation to tell the stories of the past and the distant. In the middle ages, the form of choice for this oral tradition was the ballad.

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Ballads are quite simple poems that tell a story, making them narrative poetry. They follow a simple meter and rhyme scheme so that they are memorable and can be set to music. Ballads were used to tell the stories of Robin Hood, Beowulf and many a bard’s tall tale. If you would like to write a ballad, perhaps as part of a fantasy series (where they fit very well if you have a medieval theme), then read on.

Stanzas
Most European ballads are written using four-line stanzas. There is no limit on the number of stanzas in a ballad, so use as many as you need to tell a story. However, the ballad is best written concisely, so use the short stanzas to keep the story moving, foregoing excessive detail in favour of imagery and metaphor.

Rhyme
Ballads typically follow an ABCB rhyme scheme, giving the effect of being written in couplets.

Metre
The first and third lines of each stanza are usually written in iambic tetrameter, meaning they consist of eight syllables and follow a pattern of alternating stress beginning with an unstressed syllable. The second and fourth lines are shorter, written in iambic trimeter. This is basically the same as iambic tetrameter except with six syllables rather than eight.

Example

O mother, mother, make my bed,
   O make it saft and narrow:
My love has died for me today,
   I’ll die for him tomorrow.

That’s an excerpt from “Barbara Allen”. You can see from where I have added bold type where the stressed syllables are and that they alternate. The second and fourth lines, though they contain seven syllables rather than the usual six, are still in iambic trimeter but end with an unstressed syllable, which is commonly known as a feminine ending.

A Couple More Things
As with all poetry, rules are made to be broken. The ballad can be reworked to your liking, with changes in metre, rhyme and stanza length. But in order for you to get a feel for what makes a ballad a ballad, you should practice the traditional form I’ve laid out for you.
You should also read some ballads, not least because they are very fun to read aloud, but also because they will give you a more intuitive grasp on the form. Some of my favourites are: “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe, “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and “The Lady Of Shalott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

And that concludes this post on the ballad. Do you have a favourite ballad? Leave a comment below. Please like and share. You can follow Writer’s Allegory on Twitter (@writersallegory) and you can follow me (@matt__milton) as well.

Until next time, keep writing!

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7 Ways To Reinvigorate Your Writing In 2016

Happy New Year! I hope you had an excellent holiday season and managed to find time between bouts of frivolity to get a little writing done. However, if you’re anything like me, trying to get anything productive done in the last week of December is a fool’s errand!
But now we’ve arrived in 2016 and it’s back to work with no excuses.
Did you make a New Year’s resolution? I made several, one of which was to take my writing to the next level in 2016. If you want to do the same, to reinvigorate your writing and start 2016 on the right foot then these tips are for you.

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1. Try New Forms
Do you only write short stories? Peg yourself only as a novelist? Is poetry your only creative outlet? Branch out.
Different writing forms require you to create in new and exciting ways. Even if you don’t fall in love with any new forms you can still learn a great deal from trying to write in them for at least a little while. And you never know! You may be an excellent playwright but have confined yourself only to novels, or a great poet who only writes screenplays.
You owe it to yourself, as a writer and as a creative person, to try new forms and learn from them. All writing is interconnected. The greatest writers have at least dabbled in poetry, prose and plays.
See also:
How to Write a Short Story from Start to Finish – The Write Practice
How to Write Poetry – Creative Writing Lessons
How To Format Your Screenplay – Writer’s Allegory

2. Switch Up Genres
In the same vein, cooping yourself up inside one genre can stifle your writing and suffocate your creative innovation.
There are so many genres you can write in and, while there are some merits to writing primarily within your favoured genre, sticking to only one means you miss out on interesting and valuable components of other genres that you can incorporate into your favoured one.
After all, genre fiction can only be stale if the genres stay entirely rigid and seperate from each other. The fluidity of writers in genre fiction leads to interesting developments within genres and leads to the creation of new genres.
Of course, if you don’t write genre fiction maybe you should give it a go, and if you only write genre fiction perhaps a dabble in literary fiction might be on the cards. Don’t hem yourself in.
See also:
List Of Writing Genres – Wikipedia
25 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING HORROR – TerribleMinds
Traditional Poetry Forms: The Sonnet – Writer’s Allegory

3. Broaden Your Reading Horizons
If you’re going to broaden your writing practice, you would be best advised to do the same for your reading habits as well.
Every writer does some things very well, as sure as they do some things not so well. Reading a variety of authors in a variety of genres, even in a variety of forms, gives you examples of all kinds of writing done well and not so well. Recognising how this is achieved is a core part of improving as a writer and as such reading a broad variety of different writing will help in this endeavour.
Of course, you shouldn’t read books that you simply won’t and don’t enjoy. Keeping the passion for reading is as important as keeping the passion for writing. But you shouldn’t shy away from reading something new because you don’t know if you’ll like it or not. In fact, that is exactly what you should be reading.
See also:
Books in 2016: a literary calendar – Guardian
Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels – GoodReads

4. Experiment With Voice
The primary goals of writing practice are to improve your technical craft, improve your structuring and to find your voice.
Finding your voice as a writer is a very difficult process and there are no shortcuts. You simply need to write until it feels right. But there are inefficient ways of finding your voice, and the most common way writers stunt their progress is by settling in to a voice that isn’t quite right but “good enough”.
A way to freshen up your voice is to experiment with entirely new ways of writing. You could study other writers and try to emulate their voice, or you could tell stories in a completely new voice that is nothing like yours. You’ll find that there are new and exciting things you’re able to do along the way, and some of these may be incorporated into your primary writing voice.
And it’ll be fun to write in the style of Douglas Adams, I assure you.
See also:
Voice in Writing: Developing a Unique Writing Voice – Writer’s Digest
10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice – Jeff Goins

5. Develop A Writing Strategy
While writing is a creative pursuit, many writers find that following a writing process helps them to be more productive and allows them to get out of their own way when writing.
Planning may seem the very opposite of creativity, but what it does is keeps you writing with certainty. Without a plan you may find yourself stopping and starting, trying to decide where you’re going next. This halts the creative flow and can even contribute to writer’s block.
Having a process for planning and outlining, setting yourself clear goals either for word count or scene count and paying attention to what works best for you and keeps you creative and productive can really take your writing to the next level.
See also:
Outlining Your Novel: Why and How | The Creative Penn
Outlining Your Novel – K.M. Weiland

6. Follow Writing Blogs
Even your downtime from writing, those little breaks that you allow yourself, can be used productively.
You should always be learning from those around you, and with the blogosphere spanning the internet you’ve never had more people around you willing to impart their knowledge. There are so many great blogs for writers like you that cover all sorts of perspectives and subjects within the field of writing. There are bound to be blogs that will be useful to you.
Engaging with writers through their blogs is free and easy. You could waste 15 minutes scrolling through your twitter feed, or you could load a couple of blog posts and learn something new to improve as a writer.
See also:
Top 25 Writing Blogs | Positive Writer
Live Write Thrive
Helping Writers Become Authors

7. Join Writing Communities
Another great resource the internet has coughed up for writers is the online writing community.
This includes message boards, online workshops, subreddits and a plethora of community-driven blogs. Even social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have groups and hashtags geared towards bringing writers together.
Engaging with other writers can help you tackle the inevitable loneliness that comes with a writing, the solitary pursuit that it is, and feeding off of a sense of community can help bring life to your writing by increasing your enthusiasm with the craft.
See also:
WritersCafe.org | The Online Writing Community
Writers Online
Scribophile

BONUS: Participate In Competitions
An underappreciated way of breathing new life into your writing is to participate in writing competitions.
There are countless writing competitions, big and small, that you can participate in every year. No matter what form you write in there is always some competition you can enter at any given moment.
Writing for competitions can force you to try something new, such as writing to theme or to a certain word count, and the rewards range from small cash prizes to publication to places in writing schemes. Having a set deadline can also force you to be more productive, and knowing that someone with real writing chops will be reading your writing will give you that extra drive to really deliver your best work.
See also:
A List of Creative Writing Competitions in 2016

Good luck with the new year and all of your writing endeavours. How are you planning on making 2016 a year of writing success? Leave a comment below.

Happy New Year, and keep writing!

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5 Tips For Writing A Killer Opening Line

How do you write a killer opening line for your novel? It’s a good question. The first line is very important, it serves as the first impression for your novel, so making sure you have a great one is key to hooking readers in.

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So I’ve put together these 5 quick tips for writing a killer first line for your novel.

1. Display Your Voice
As I said before, the first line of your novel serves as the first impression your reader gets. If it’s your first novel, or at least the first novel of yours a reader has come across, then it may well be your first impression as a writer to that person. It’s vital you display your voice in that opening line.
This is because your voice is what makes your writing unique. Your voice is your fingerprint, your signature. The first line of your novel should say to the reader, “Hey, you! This is what I’m about.”

2. Bait That Hook
If your first page is the hook for your potential readers to get caught on, then your opening line should function as a tasty little baitworm wriggling on that hook.
A great way to do this is to pique their curiosity. Pose a question. Tell your reader that there is something they don’t know. That’s infuriating, knowing that you don’t know something. But guess what? They could know. All they have to do is keep reading and you’ll answer that question.
This is twofold, killing a mating pair of magpies with one well slung rock. Firstly, it makes your reader want to read on and find out exactly what it is they don’t know, or the answer to that opening question. Second, it functions as a promise that there will be many questions to come, that they’ll be kept interested and kept guessing all the way through your novel.

3. Subvert Expectations
The element of surprise is always a thrill, and it is no different in the opening line of a novel. People crave novelty, the unexpected, it is endlessly intriguing to us.
And again, it functions as a promise. This time you’re promising the reader that you’re giving them something new, something they weren’t expecting. No-one wants to read a novel where every turn is expected and every development an obvious one. So tell them in the first line that they have no idea what might happen next.

4. Set Up What’s To Come
You could just tell your reader the whole story in one line. This isn’t a weird way of writing a novel very quickly, it’s a device for generating interest in the rest of your book.
Hopefully your story is more than a surface synopsis, otherwise you have more problems than a first line, so if you can give a vague outline of what’s going to happen, and I mean very, very vague, then the tone for the whole book is set and your reader will simply need to know the details.
Of course, this isn’t always possible, and it certainly isn’t always a good idea. And it’s rarely a good idea to do this if you’re giving away a twist ending, for obvious reasons.

5. Make It Memorable
If you can make your first line memorable then you’re in the money. Imprinting the beginning of your book on a reader’s brain has a great many upsides, not least being the knowledge that you’ve become a part of their psyche.
If someone can pick up your book, read the first line and remember that line weeks later, you’ve sold a book. That person is going to need to read your novel if they can remember your opening line, especially if you’ve used the other tips outlined here.
When trying to write a memorable first line you should strive for a little poetry, dichotomy and/or philosophy. Read it out loud, see if it makes your spine tingle, then you know you’ve got it.

And those were 5 tips for writing a killer opening line for your novel. I hope you found them useful. I’d like to hear from you what some of your favourite opening lines are, so leave them in the comments section below.

And, if it pleases you good sir/madam, keep writing!

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3 Ways Reading Can Improve Your Writing

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Reading as a writer is an essential part of improving your work. Seeing how those before you have crafted their writing and applying the lessons you learn to your own endeavours allows you to stand on the shoulders of giants rather than shiver in their shadows.
But many people find it difficult to make time, between writing and other commitments, to read as much as they should. If that sounds like you then it may benefit you to think about reading less as a thing you do for fun and more as another facet of writing practice.
So, on that note, here are three ways that you can use your reading time to improve your writing.

Absorb The Structure
Even Picasso needed to learn to use a paintbrush, and so every writer must learn how to wield the tools of their trade: the word, the sentence and the scene.
This is the nitty gritty of writing, the craft of the thing. It’s pointless having a story for the ages if you can’t tell it properly. In fact, most writers facing writer’s block are probably having problems with the craft rather than their creativity — they just can’t find the words!
Try this: go to google, type in “fan fiction”, scroll through until you find something truly awful and really read it, paying attention to why it sucks so much. I can save you some time, it’s almost certainly the word choices, sentence structure and scene composition. You see, something that is well written can have a bad story and flat characters and it’ll just be boring. If the craft isn’t there, the down and dirty mechanics of writing, then it’s just going to be offensive.
The great thing is you can absorb the structure of well-written prose simply by reading it. Of course, you have to read a lot of it (but then again if you don’t love reading then it beats me why you would want to write!). You’ll pick up the general structure of the craft very easily without really thinking about it, although it is always worth having a book or two on the intricacies of the craft so you can improve more quickly.

Learn The Tropes
What is your genre?  Most writers stick to a small number of genres for the majority of their careers, so it is important to understand exactly what your genre is.
Obviously you can name your genre, but that’s not what I mean. What I mean by knowing your genre is knowing the tropes and iconography your genre uses, in essence the building blocks of what makes a story fit into that genre.
For instance, the horror genre can count amongst its tropes the haunted house, characters being cut off from civilisation and supernatural beings seeking revenge on the living. There are, of course, thousands upon thousands more.
Knowing the tropes of your genre is very important when writing genre fiction, even if you decide not to use them or to subvert them. Seeing them used will help you to understand not only what the tropes are, but also what purpose they serve and why they are so often employed so as to become tropes. This can only help you improve your genre writing.

Find Your Voice
No matter how good your plot and how interesting your characters, it is your voice that carries your writing.
Every great writer has their own unique voice. You know without looking at the cover exactly who wrote the book. That’s a huge part of the appeal of those big name writers. In order for you to really master this craft you must find your unique voice to give your readers a reason to keep coming back for more.
One writer with an unmistakable voice was Douglas Adams. Any of you that have read anything by him would be able to identify immediately a line from one of his novels, not by memory but by voice. That’s what you should strive for, because it makes you irreplaceable.
Reading books by a variety of authors, both well known and otherwise, will expose you to the different ways writers achieve their voice. Your voice will come naturally and develop with you, but if the refinement is through writing then the mining is through reading.

And those right there are just three (of many) ways that reading can improve your writing. What lessons have you taken from reading other authors that you have applied to your writing? Leave a comment below.

And — as though I need say it — keep writing.

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4 Techniques For Naming Your Characters

Naming your characters is a very important step in any story. The name you give a character can influence the way a reader pictures them, the type of character the reader thinks they’ll be and, of course, if that character is remembered long after the story is finished. Harry Potter, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Artemis Fowl — these are all great names for different reasons.

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These are not so great...

The problem is, naming your characters can be deceptively difficult. We’ve all sat there, trying to think of a cool name for an slick-tongued space-rogue or an inexplicably adventurous archeologist, only to come up with such gems as “Jack Smith” or “Jane Nondescript”. I haven’t got the data to back it up, but I’m almost certain the human brain only has the capacity for 5 names of people that aren’t currently breathing your air.
In the interest of saving your sanity, I’ve put together four techniques for generating character names for you to use:

1. Try ‘Name-Farming’
Any time you hear or read a name that jumps out at you or evokes some kind of feeling, write it down. It helps if you carry a notepad, as all writers should anyway. Be especially aware when reading newspapers or online articles, when credits come on at the end of a film or tv show and even things as simple as radio shows with listeners phoning in. Then, jot it down and when it comes to naming a character later on you already have a list of great names to use.
For instance, I just took a look at the BBC News website and spent five minutes looking around, clicking on random articles and scanning them for names. The best I found was “Fergus Walsh”, an excellent name if I ever decide to write a novel about a stoic farmer who loses his beloved tractor and uses that loss to finally access his emotional core and reconnect with his estranged wife.
The great thing about this technique is that you can do it all the time without making much effort. You don’t need to go looking for the names, just jot down the good ones for later use as you encounter them doing what you’d normally do. It’s also an inexhaustible resource of at least semi-decent names, as there are always more articles to read with names in them and, presumably, most people have had at least a little thought put into their names by their parents.
You do have to get into a habit of writing down the names, which is a stumbling block for some, and there is also the distinct possibility that you write down the name of someone who, unbeknownst to you, is actually very, very famous. You don’t want to name your arch-villain “Barack Obama” and not realise your mistake until later.

2. Take Names From Your Childhood
Everybody remembers that kid at your school who just had the coolest name. Don’t be shy about appropriating it. It’s not just your friends either, it could be anyone whose name you can remember from your school days, including students, teachers, even lunchladies or your friend’s mum.
Taking two memorable names from my school days I came up with “Philippa Hillyard”, a bouncy young lass in a sundress who’s only too happy to show you the way to the village fair.
The great thing about this is if you can remember someone’s name from when you were much younger, then you already know that it’s a memorable name! This is especially true if the person whose name you remember was someone you barely knew or had only heard of in passing, as that means all you’re remembering is the name.
However, be careful about using people’s names without permission. It’s fine to use a given name or a surname without asking, as long as the character isn’t very similar to the real person. It is entirely inadvisable to use a full name of someone you went to school with, as you could open yourself up to legal action.

3. Visit Baby Name Websites
What better way to generate names than to go to a website specifically designed to deliver you names? Do a quick search for baby name websites and try a few out, but my favourite is Nameberry.com because of the advanced search feature. You can specify age, gender, number of syllables, what the name ends in and I’m sure other features I’ve never bothered using. You could also use a good old-fashioned baby name book, but print media is severly lacking in search functionality these days.
A quick search for ‘gift’ in name meanings gave me “Dottie”, who I imagine to be a giving, kind Christian lady who is very humble and very devout. ‘Joy’ gave me “Allegra”, who I imagine is the woman sleeping with Dottie’s husband while she’s at Sunday service.
This method allows you to add subtext to your character names if you like that sort of thing, but the most useful thing for me is using advanced search tools to get exactly the kind of names I’m looking for.
However, this technique only really works for given names. Also, unless your search skills are up to scratch you can end up wading through a lot of terrible names before finding the gem in the rough.

4. Make Your Own
But who needs all this searching? Any word can be a name if you that’s what you call someone! Obviously most words don’t sound much like names, but there are methods of making words that do. You could simply combine fragments of two different names to come up with a new one. Surnames are even easier, you can add “-son”, “-man” or “-berg” to pretty much any noun to make a surname that sounds plausible, or add “-er” to pretty much any verb. Job names, especially traditional ones, often make excellent surnames.
I came up with one full name by combing fragments of other names (“Fergen Wailey”), a surname (“Mirrorberg”) by adding “-berg” to a random item I could see, and another surname (“Wiggler”) by adding “-er” to the only thing I could be immediately bothered to do.
This technique can really bring you some truly unique names, which is especially great for scifi and fantasy writers. I mean, no-one wants to name a bloodthirsty Orc “Roy”, do they?
On the other hand, this is the most difficult technique as it requires you to engage more heavily with your creativity. You also run the risk of producing names that only you have any idea how to pronounce, which is very jarring for a reader. Also, you run the risk of coming up with names like “Fergen Wailey”. Maybe he’s a gnomish bard.

So there we have it, four techniques for generating character names. Did you employ one of these techniques and come up with a genius character name? If so, post it in a comment below.

And even if you’re stuck using “Fergen Wailey” for your first draft, keep writing.

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Story Structure: Dan Harmon’s Story Circle

How do you structure a story? We all know that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end, but is there any more depth to it than that? Yes, yes there is, and if you’ve ever tried to digest Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces you’ll know exactly how deep and complex story structure can get. For this reason, the universe gave us Dan Harmon and he, in turn, gave us his Story Circle.
The Story Circle is essentially a boiled down version of Campbell’s monomyth. Here, we’ll boil down the Story Circle for ease of understanding. Once you’ve got the idea, its well worth heading over and reading the original posts by Harmon himself as he goes into much more depth than I will here.

The Basic Structure Of Every Story

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So let’s start with the basics. This is how every structurally sound story plays out:

1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
2. But they want something.
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
4. Adapt to it,
5. Get what they wanted,
6. Pay a heavy price for it,
7. Then return to their familiar situation,
8. Having changed.

Or, boiled down only to the most important bits:

1. You
2. Need
3. Go
4. Search
5. Find
6. Take
7. Return
8. Change.

Memorise it. It won’t be hard to, it’s already ingrained in the part of your brain that recognises a good story.

The Steps Explained

1. “You.”
All you need to do here is show your protagonist. We need to know where we are and who we’re following. This is exposition, a quick tour of the world we’re inhabiting. This is your character’s life, the world he lives in, his roots.

2. “Need.”
Now show the problem. The world has a flaw, all is not right, your character’s life is imperfect in some way. His need will drive his personal journey. Whatever problem is presented here, he is offered a way of solving it, of fulfilling his need. He might refuse to solve it straight away, but rest assured he will give in and begin his journey, because this need is what the story is really about.

3. “Go.”
Everything changes. Whatever the hook of your story is, the thing you tell your friends the story is about to get them excited, it begins right here. The protagonist is thrown into a new world, crossing the first threshold into the unknown. We’ve crossed into a dark, mysterious world and our protagonist cannot leave until he has completed the trials that lay ahead.

4. “Search.”
The protagonist can’t just get what he wants by wanting it — he has to work for it, earn it. Campbell calls this “The Road Of Trials”. This is where the protagonist proves himself, overcoming challenges and in the process gaining the tools he needs in preparation for the events ahead. He is confronting his own limitations.

5. “Find.”
He finds what he is looking for, whether he knew he was looking for it or not. His trials have paid off. He couldn’t have got here without them. This is an intense moment, a moment of naked joy, weightlessness and vulnerability. This is the story’s midpoint, and marks the moment when the universe stops pulling the protagonist around and he must act on his own volition in order to proceed. It may be tempting to stay here, but he moves forward nonetheless.

6. “Take.”
Now to begin the journey back to the familiar world. This won’t be easy in the least, it is its very own road of trials, set to prepare our protagonist for his return to the familiar world. These trials strip away any remaining ego and by the time he’s through every last one of them he has become a living god. These trials are the price he has to pay for the previous step and for his return to the familiar world.

7. “Return.”
The last threshold. This is an epiphanal, defining moment, returning at last to his world as a new man. His journey has taught him all it could, and by crossing this threshold he tells the world he is ready to show what he has learned.

8. “Change.”
And he does. The tools and powers he acquired on his road of trials, or “Search”, have completed him. He has one last thing to do, a thing for which he needed to complete this journey, and this is where he does it. And the universe will bend to his will and give him what he wants, because he has become more than a man.

Applying The Story Circle
Go back to the basic outline. Whenever you’re putting together a story, no matter what form, see how well you can fit it to the steps outlined there. If it’s too much of a struggle then you probably have a problem with the structure of your story. Use the steps to see if you can change the story to better fit the structure laid out here and you’ll find your story will be more engaging.
What you shouldn’t do is use the Story Circle as a starting point, that’s a one way street to a formulaic, boring plot. It’ll be structurally sound, but it’ll have no style and no creative edge. This is a tool to aid the structure of your story, not a paint by numbers guide on how to write one.
The important thing to remember is that you’ll know intuitively if your story is lacking structure because it’ll feel incomplete. The structure laid out here is not invented, it’s discovered. It’s ingrained in the human psyche, the definition of a good story in its basic form.

Now that you’ve read my boiled down version of Dan Harmon’s Story Circle, you should head over and read the original posts for extra depth and theory. You should also try to spot this structure when you’re reading or watching a story and write down the steps. Post the results in the comments below.

As always, keep writing.

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4 Common Writing Tips You Should Ignore

If you’re anything like me and follow a lot of writing blogs (as you should) you’ll read a lot of great advice from established writers, publishers and the like. However, you’ll also come across a lot of truly awful advice. And it can be hard to separate the great from the godawful. Often the worst offenders are found in posts listing an obscene number of “Writing Tips”, many of which are repeated ad nauseum on every single list.

Here are four common writing tips I’ve encountered that you really should ignore:

“Writing is rewriting.”

No, no it isn’t. Writing is writing; rewriting is rewriting. They are two entirely different processes with different skills required to do them well.
Writing a first draft of anything is an unbridled creative experience, whether you have an outline or an in depth plan or no plan at all. It’s writing, it’s what you live for.
Rewriting is more controlled. You know where you’re going and what you’re doing. You’ve done it, now you’re doing it again having learned the lessons of the first draft. Rewriting can be a great thing, but it’s different to writing.
And it’s not always necessary.
Let me be clear: you should always go back to edit your work. Always. If you don’t, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to get the grammar, punctuation, sentence structure etc. right the first time and that will distract you from writing creatively. But rewriting? That’s an extreme action, to rewrite a whole piece.
And very few people are suggesting you rewrite everything at least once, which is why “writing is rewriting” is awful advice. It’s snappy, memorable advice, but taken at face value it can be very damaging to an inexperienced writer.
Better advice would be: “Rewrites revive dead writing.”

“Just write, even if it’s bad.”

Sure, if you hate yourself. Now, I’m being a little unfair, this is a great way of overcoming writer’s block, but it’s not much use for someone who’s perfectly able to get the words out. In fact, it’s quite damaging.
If you write and write and all you’re doing is turning out bad work then you may as well not be writing for all the good it’s doing. There are better ways to spend your time. Write a paragraph. If it’s bad, analyse it and work out why you feel that way, then write it again. It’s better to slow down and fix problems, while improving your craft through self analysis, than to write something bad and dig yourself a hole that only the delete key can solve.
Even if you have writer’s block and feel like you just need to power through, this advice isn’t specific enough. It is much better when trying to get through writer’s block to just free write. Better than that, use your free writing productively, by doing a character’s inner monologue or riffing on a topic. By nature that kind of writing is mostly throwaway,  but it can produce some gems, insight into your character or a snippet you can use in dialogue or even a new story idea.
You can always make use of your writing, but use it wisely. The point of the advice “just write, even if it’s bad” is to keep you writing all the time, and you absolutely should keep writing as often as you can. But slowing down and making sure it’s good, learning from when it’s not, is far more productive. And utilising free writing to generate creativity and support your writing is infinitely more useful than writing a few pages that you’ll be deleting tomorrow morning.

“Tell people you’re a writer.”

Now, I’ll temper this before I say it: it’s perfectly fine to call yourself a writer. However, you should be one first. Deciding to try to make a living as a writer doesn’t make you a writer, it makes you an aspiring writer. If you start calling yourself a writer straight away you’ll give yourself a sense of accomplishment for doing literally nothing towards making a living as a writer.
And that’s the point. If your goal is to “be a writer” then you’ve made a huge mistake already. Your goal is meaningless. Your goal should be an actual accomplishment, like writing a novel, or collection of short stories or poetry, or to make enough money as a writer to support yourself on writing alone. Because that’s what you mean, probably.
And none of those goals require you to call yourself a writer. Not a single one.
This advice probably comes from the idea that telling yourself and others that you are a writer will put you in that mindset. But it’s not necessary, and underneath what is quite an empty statement you’ll feel like a fraud for calling yourself something that you don’t believe, truly, you are.
So call yourself an aspiring writer, or say that you are trying to pursue a career as a writer. Then, one day, you’ll finally achieve your actual goal and realise you’re a writer.
Which is an excellent excuse to treat yourself to a self indulgent celebration.

“Get feedback on your work.”

Unless you have the ear of an accomplished writer or editor, feedback is not going to be useful. Again, I have to temper it, as having people read your finished work is a perfectly fine idea, but asking for feedback beyond “did you like it?” is not going to yield good results.
Here’s why: your friends, family and coworkers have absolutely no idea how to write a good novel. Just no idea. They know whether they like something, but they absolutely do not know why they like it. But they will try to give you advice, because you asked for it and presumably they like you and want to help.
It won’t.
Specific feedback from non-writers will only breed insecurity in you. If someone tells you “I think Hilda should die at the end” don’t take that advice. If everyone who reads it says they liked it but hated the ending, then maybe you should think about killing poor Hilda. But remember, you need to follow your gut, maybe Hilda just needs to lose a leg.
Having an honest first reader is great to get a guage on how others may react, but if you want specific feedback on craft you need writers on or above your level.
Feedback isn’t gospel, and most readers have no idea what they like.

Those were four of the most common writing tips that you should absolutely ignore. As with most bad advice, there is some truth to the original point but through repetition and bastardisation that truth has been lost, so the well meaning tip becomes less than helpful. Have you heard any other writing tips that are just plain awful? Leave a comment below.

As always, keep writing.

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Traditional Poetry Forms 101: The Sonnet

This post is part of a series on traditional poetry forms. This instalment focuses on one of the most famous forms of poetry, and a personal favourite, the sonnet.

Background
The sonnet originated in Italy in the 13th Century. Its invention is credited to Giacomo Da Lentini. Since its invention, the sonnet has been a staple of poetry across many cultures and has been utilised by a great number of the world’s most renowned poets. There are two main types of traditional sonnet in English: the Italian (or Petrarchian) and the English (also known as the Shakespearean, after its most famous practitioner).

Form
The traditional sonnet consists of fourteen lines and follows a variable rhyming scheme. When written in English, the lines usually employ iambic pentameter, though not always. A main characteristic of the sonnet is that it deals with one thought or sentiment, ending with a “turn” or reflection with its closing lines.
This is the basic form of the traditional sonnet in its entirety, nothing else is prescribed. However, as mentioned earlier there are two main types of traditional sonnet, and they are described below.

Petrarchan
Named after its most famous practioner, Petrarch, the Petrarchan sonnet is the prototypical sonnet. It divides the fourteen lines into two stanzas, an octave with the rhyme scheme ABBAABBA and a sestet most often following a rhyme scheme of either CDCCDC or CDECDE. Early Petrarchan sonnets employed a problem-solution idea, where a problem would be outlined in the octave and a solution would be proposed in the sestet. This is not a requirement however, but the turn on the ninth line typically is. The turn should indicate a change in the mood or stance of the poem.
A good example of a Petrarchan sonnet in English is “On His Blindness” by John Milton:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Shakespearean
The English or Shakespearean sonnet was not invented by William Shakespeare, but introduced by Thomas Wyatt. It is known as the Shakespearean after its most famous practitioner. The Shakespearean is one stanza consisting of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, typically in the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The third quatrain holds the turn and is called a volta, indicating a change in the poem in terms of theme or imagery, though Shakespeare himself preferred to do this in the couplet.
One of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets is “Sonnet 116”:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! It is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Note that the rhyme scheme doesn’t hold with modern pronunciation, but would have done in the pronunciation of the time.

And that, my friends, is the sonnet. Of course there are many variations and poetry, as a rule, has no rules, but these are the typical features of the traditional sonnet and they are a fun challenge to write. Perhaps you would like to have a go at writing one yourself? If you do, feel free to post it in the comments below. If this post has been helpful please share via social media and if you’d like to see more content like this please subscribe/follow and if you would like to get updates via our newsletter you can join our mailing list. Look out for the next instalment in this Traditional Poetry Forms series.

Keep writing, folks.