Outlining Your Novel – How to plan your story.

I recently tweeted a picture that showed the process I am using to outline my new novel. There were a number of replies which generally fell into two categories:

  • That is mental, you are mental #PantsersRuleTheWorld
  • Interesting, I might give it a try.


Of course, we all love to write and the more time you have to spend before you can actually sit down and indulge the core of your passion, is, well, a ball ache (or equivalent). However, by knowing where your story is going, you lose some of the ‘wandering’ that occurred in my first novel. You have a tight structure and you know the points you will need to touch to get from that exciting start to that raging climax of a finish.

That is not to say you can’t veer off course, but the degree of the veering will be vastly reduced by having invested more time during the outlining stage. As I look up to my left and see my post-it covered wall, I can easily work out the best points in which to implement a new subplot or notice where there are too many scenes of the same level of tension next to each other. Far from stifling your creativity, it provides you the capacity to expand it.

When I wrote my first novel, the thought of rewriting sections filled me with dread and fear because I did not fully understand where the other related impacts and aspects lived. It was poorly planned in that respect and had I outlined in the method I am now working with, the stages after the writing would have been more efficient. Providing you get to the end of the novel you have outlined, you get the time back!

The process is not one I have invented and there are naturally tweaks that you will implement to customise to your own particular preference, however, the steps are:

  • Brainstorm like a lunatic, writing all the ideas, plots, dialogue, and twists that fall out of your head.
  • Create an approximate story pattern with a W Storyboard.
  • Use a variety of post-its each with a direction for a chapter or scene.
  • Develop character profiles.
  • Lay the post-it notes on a wall and re-order them as appropriate.
  • See where you have gaps and fill them with worthwhile and credible content.
  • Alongside the post it notes (which I sub-categorised into acts), used different coloured post-it notes to identify the calendar timeline and chapters.
  • Document the post it notes to your laptop.
  • Get writing.


Where do you stand on the subject? Is this a crazy way to write a novel, completely contradictory to the idea of being creating? Or is this an approach you use or think could be beneficial to your writing process?

I will keep you informed with how it goes for me throughout.



30 Day Blogging Challenge – The good, the bad, and thanks.

In a previous post, I raised that I was participating in the 30 Day Blogging challenge. More details about the challenge itself can be found in the Facebook group here.

The motivation for partaking ranged from a New Year’s resolution (which I have actually managed to stick to) to boosting the volume of content on my blog, which began at the inception of the challenge.

As I sit in front of my laptop 30 days later, there is a feeling of satisfaction that I have managed to complete the challenge. It wasn’t easy, some days I spent longer debating with myself about what to write than I did actually writing. The most difficult times were when other things in my life (family and work) became a little pressurised and I still had this little alarm flashing in my head screeching ‘blog post, blog post, blog post’. On the trickiest days, I resorted to lists which weren’t as enjoyable from a writing perspective and not as satisfactory as those that provoked considerable thought and reflection.

To coincide with launching the blog, I opened a twitter account (yep, totally down with the kids) and used it to promote my blog and to network with other writers. That too had been a hopeful intention and one which has proved relatively fruitful. When aiming to connect with other writers, I realise I’d actually meant writers of fiction that sat comfortably within the genre I write. The reality has been far more expansive than I could have imagined.

I have found mutual interest with writers of genres that I don’t even read. Erotica and romance to sci-fi, the spectrum is vast but in some cases even more educational than sticking to my own. What is life about, if not stepping outside your comfort zone and doing so with an open mind?

There are bloggers blogging on subjects that I would never have sought which have provided amusement and inspiration in equal measures. There are non-fiction writers who have toyed with the idea of fiction or are in process of writing their first. The list goes on, journalists, literary agents, publishers, and as obvious as it seems in retrospect, readers of fiction.

I can’t, however, deny that the progress of my second novel has suffered. I remain in plotting phase and have barely touched it. So keen was I to complete the blogging challenge, I neglected the motivation that instigated it. I want to write fiction, and I haven’t been as disciplined as I should have been to continue to do that alongside blogging. For all the benefits I have experienced, this has been a disappointment, albeit a self-inflicted one.

It will be strange not getting up each day and feeling the unnegotiable compulsion to blog. The routine has become established and apart from the very few days it felt like a burden, it has been something I’d look forward to posting. I’d wake and email myself some ideas before I even got out of bed. The ideas would reverberate around my mind as I drove to work and by the time I got there, I had a good idea of what to do.

A routine is important, I try to make it one of my first jobs of the day, somewhere between waking up and starting the day job. When my alarm goes off, a habit has developed which sees me grab the iPad, email myself some ideas which I then write up when in front of my laptop. I know I need a break from the daily recurrence of the task, but I will miss it and suspect I’ll revisit the challenge at a later date. I do intend to maintain the blog regularly moving forward, just perhaps not every day for a while!

To everyone who encouraged, supported, read, liked, commented, and shared, I sincerely thank you for aiding my motivation to continue. It has been a pleasure to do, to connect, and ultimately to complete the challenge. I have learned a lot throughout the 30 day period and that in itself is hugely rewarding. I’m raising my hand for high fives so don’t leave me hanging…   I look forward to supporting you when you start the challenge (ahem!)




My 7 Favourite Posts of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge

Fast approaching the end of my 30 day blogging challenge, I wanted to highlight what have been my favourite articles over the period. Some were selected due to the higher than average volume of traffic, whereas others flew under the radar but were satisfying from a personal perspective.


Here are my top seven favourites:



A therapeutic reflective post based on the lessons I learned whilst completing my first manuscript.



A post to address the one of the two biggest challenges I face whilst trying to forge a career in writing.



The other of the two major challenges, balancing family responsibilities with the challenges of writing.



A difficult post to write, choosing only five books that inspired me to write myself.



A post that came out of the blue after chancing across a documentary on Sky catch up. A real must watch for aspiring writers.



A reflection on where my passion was triggered and paying respect to the teacher who played a large part in that instigation.



A ‘thinking aloud’ type post which debates the pro’s and con’s of each method of publishing.


Grammatical Annoyance

My day job consists of a variety of tasks, one of which involves reviewing documentation created from within the team that is destined for the wider business audience.


There are technical arguments over particular grammatical usages, but there are some mistakes that are unforgivable. I’m not referring to the intricacies of language construction, just basic words interchanged due to a lack of basic understanding of what they mean.


The most common annoyances are:

They’re vs. Their vs. There

Come on… This is primary school stuff.

Its vs. It’s

Is it really that difficult?

Your vs. You’re

The apostrophe in the later represents ‘ a’. Simple.

To vs. Too

Probably the most common but none-the-less irritating.

Affect vs. Effect

Effect relates to the change, affect is the act of changing.

Then vs. Than

Think of ‘than’ as a comparison, ‘then’ as a mover of time.

Me vs. I

My favourite annoyance as my Mother often corrected me on this one, time proved that it was I/me who had been correct. ‘I’ is not to be used in objects, so in that scenario, use ‘me’.



I genuinely don’t mind adding or removing commas, even apostrophes. However, the list of mistakes above which are repeated by the same people over and again frustrate me. If my work was continually corrected I would feel obliged to observe a lesson. When I first began writing as a journalist, the best advice I was given was to compare the final version to the submitted version and use a highlighter over the differences. I just wish others would follow this guidance… or perhaps I am becoming as pedantic as I considered the person who had given me that advice.

Write like Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway appears to be the most quotable author in the spectrum, my personal favourite being the rather blunt, ‘the first draft of anything is shit’.


The Nobel Prize-winning American writer created most of his works from 1925 over the next 30 years. He published 7 novels, 6 collections of short stories, and 2 non-fiction pieces. After his death in 1961, further publications bearing his name were released (3 novels, 4 short story collections, and 3 non-fiction). His journalistic background would go on to shape his fiction writing, a short, sharp style that left little room for auxiliary words.


Brian Clark’s piece on Copyblogger (http://www.copyblogger.com/ernest-hemingway-top-5-tips-for-writing-well/) highlighted 5 Hemingway tips for writing well and it is well worth a read.


In summary, the rules are:


  • Use short sentences.
  • Use short first paragraphs.
  • Use vigorous English.
  • Be positive, not negative.
  • Never have only 4 rules.


Traditional Publishing or Self-Publishing?

Self-publishing has come a long way from the vanity based projects that once consumed the industry. It was not something I have ever given serious consideration to. My thoughts were quite dated in the sense that I thought it would like being a signed or an unsigned recording artist, you are either signed, or you are unsigned, it is not so much a choice as a decision made for you. Not so it seems, many established authors are choosing the self-publishing route. By why so I remain instinctively reluctant?


Perhaps acceptance by someone else is one of the major reasons, in the traditional route, a professional has patted you on the back and put a stake of themselves in your book. Then there is the question of how little old me could get my book into the stores to sell it. Even the layers of support that comes with a book deal, albeit at the cost of the control.


While I believe in my writing, I also believe that my children deserve the occasional meal. The cost of going alone must be astronomical, surely? I’m not looking to make a fortune out of writing (and you’re thinking just as well), but I don’t want it to cost me a fortune either. Would anyone even take me seriously if I published it myself?


Of course, there are negatives when navigating the publishing route, the main one being actually having a professional take a punt on you. Even when they do, you have considerable delays, a loss of creative control and a loss of ownership. Royalties are low, albeit balanced but the larger reach a traditional publishing house would expect to cover. Then you have the whole minefield of contracts, with clauses as restrictive as claiming percentages of all future sales regardless of whether or not they are involved with your writing at that stage.


Enter the different but equally stress filled world of self-publishing, in short, doing it all yourself. Many prefer to refer to themselves as independent authors, perhaps justifiably distancing themselves from the negative connotations associated with self-publishing. To some people, self-publishing simply means not good enough to be traditionally published. It is a harsh interpretation given the volume of established authors who have chosen to adopt this method of reaching their readership, but the view does still exist.


As an independent, you do keep creative control and ownership, and you can get your book out there the instant that it is ready. We all have different views on what ‘ready’ constitutes and this has contributed to the vast spectrum of quality out in the self-published market. Royalties are higher, and while you do have to work hard to market the book, you have to work hard to market the book in the traditional world too. If you hope to be published in the traditional manner, this can even be a step towards attaining that goal – see 50 Shades of Grey as evidence of this.


It seems that the key when self-publishing is to ensure you have taken a cautious and professional approach to the process which a publishing house would. You will need an editor, a cover designer, and a company to publish the books at your cost. It all adds up, if you want to do it properly. Then, are you focusing on online, or are you going to try and get your books into stores? Despite the costs, it is this that sounds like one of the most difficult challenges to me.


The reality is that there isn’t a correct path any longer, there is the way that is best for you. Despite all my research into the various options, I’m still none-the-wiser of which I should do!


What made you self-publish? If you are signed to a traditional deal, would you consider self-publishing in future?


Teaching of English in Schools

I always had an interest in the English Language, however, there were many other areas of interest which I did not pursue with the tenacity I do for that particular subject. As you grow older, a variety of imponderables dictates which hobbies inspire you and which fall by the wayside. I have been published online and in print through a voyage into journalism, so what was that made writing (and reading) so important in my life?


Looking back, I always had an interest in the subject. At the age of nine, I sat down to begin my memoirs (ah, the modesty). Despite the brevity of the life which preceded that time, the piece became one of many unfinished works that bore my name.


I pursued another career and have achieved rather a lot in a field alien to that which my ambition lays. It pays relatively well, it tickles my ego, but does it excite my elevation from a warm bed in the morning? A box of smashed alarm clocks would suggest not.


The passion for English remains constant and I can trace a real triggering rather than inception back to a particular teacher I had in high school. This wasn’t one of those Good Will Hunting type relationships, it was the standard fare between teacher and all students which said they will teach and I will (sometimes) learn. Indeed the teacher had no problem calling someone a ‘moron’ or even ‘dickhead’, but in a school that was particularly unruly, it did no more than gain him respect from otherwise difficult pupils.


Mr. Foley was an Irish teacher who was, at least to me, defined by his love for the works he taught really gave light to the underlying drive I had to write and to read. When he read to the class, he took on quite brilliant accents to bring characters to life. I can still hear his Of Mice and Men voice for Lenny some twenty years on. As much as teaching, he was passing on a quench to learn, a desire to read, write, and absorb everything that English had to offer. I can only hope there are a plethora of Mr. Foleys out there teaching the next generation, but my reluctant suspicion is that they are far too rare a commodity.


What inspired your interest in English? Did a particular teacher play a significant role in you developing a passion?

Phrases and Sayings invented by authors (other than Shakespeare)

Whilst researching for a recent post on words created by authors other than Shakespeare, I found a deluge of phrases that had also come from the hand of writers. Here are my top ten:




Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Lilian used the term and it was used against him in a negative review before becoming a mainstream phrase.


The female of the species is more deadly than the male

Rudyard Kipling created the phrase in his 1911 poem The Female of the Species.


Banana Republic

Oft-used by judges describing inappropriate government behaviour, the phrase describes a politically unstable and undemocratic nation. The phrase derived from the pen of William Sidney Porter in his short stories entitled Cabbages and Kings.


Fly off the handle

Used first in 1843 by US writer Thomas C Haliburton based on the way that the top of an axe would fly off if loose.


Cloud cuckoo land

A translation from the Greek writer Aristophanes who used the phrase to describe the bird-built city intended to separate the gods from mankind.


A sight for sore eyes

Gulliver’s Travels writer Jonathan Swift created the phrase in his 1738 works ‘A complete collection of genteel and ingenious conversation’.


Cool as a cucumber

The phrase first revealed itself in a poem by John Gay in 1732.


Busy as a bee

Initially used by Chaucer in Canterbury Tales.


Bee in your bonnet

The phrase was first used as far back as 1513 by Alexander Douglas in Aeneis.


A stone’s throw

Although deriving from the bible in a slightly different form (a stone’s cast), the reworked version of the phrase was penned by John Arbuthnot in his 1712 work The History of John Bull.




Words invented by writers (other than Shakespeare)

When one considers words that have entered the English language from the pen of an author, it is most often credited to William Shakespeare. Here are ten frequently used words invented by other authors.



Obviously this comes from the title of Joseph Heller’s classic novel, but interestingly the title was supposed to be Catch-18. To avoid confusion with another novel with 18 in the same name it was changed to the phrase that we are all familiar with today.



Invented by William Gibson in a short story in 1982 to describe “a graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system,” the word has become commonplace in describing the internet.



Created in 1950 by Dr Seuss, a nerd is an imaginary animal to be collected for a zoo. Less than 10 years later, it became a term often used in the manner understood today.



Created by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria in 1817.



The first evidence of the use of the word was in Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott to describe mercenaries.



The name of a race in Jonathan Swifts 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels.



Lewis Carroll’s created the word in his poem “Jabberwocky,” derived from a combination of chuckle and snort.



The title of Sir Thomas More’s fictional perfect-world island.



The name of a character in Homer’s The Odyssey who provides advice to a son in his father’s absence.



Created by Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene, preceding the word beast to describe a thousand tongued monster. Nice!








Five Books That Inspired Me to Write

There are many reasons why we chose to invest our time in reading fiction. The benefits are vast and appealing. If a doctor prescribed a drug which was a proven stress reliever, led to a slower mental decline in later life, and expanded your vocabulary, opened your mind and gave you pleasure – who wouldn’t take it?

I mentioned in a recent post that reading often provides me with the inspiration to write. Noting this on paper pushed me to think of specific books that made me want to write my own story, the five books below are (in no particular order) responsible for the hours I’ve since invested in fiction writing.


Siege – Simon Kernick

There was always going to be a Simon Kernick book in this list. If you are looking for a gritty London-based crime thriller that will have you turning page after page while you should be doing something else, pick up any of Kernick’s books. I can’t speak highly enough of the breakneck pace he writes with, if my novel can keep such a prolonged accelerated pace, I will have achieved more than what I had set out to do.

Siege tells the tale of a central London hotel targeted in an audacious terrorist plan. A bomb goes off in a shopping centre, then another at a train station, then the siege at the Stanhope hotel. Packed with twists and turns, it is the kind of book that has you trying to squeeze in a chapter or two before getting out the car that you have just parked. More than anything else, it is the relentless pace of the book that keeps you fully engaged throughout.


The Damned – Tarn Richardson

The book begins depicting a scene of World War One, and then beautifully transcends that time with years prior to develop two intricately planned, delivered, and engaging stories culminating to one. Genres are intertwined, tangled together seamlessly where fantasy (an area that I’ve never been partial to) is presented with entire and frighteningly plausibility, where historical war is depicted and portrayed as if personal experience, all the while maintaining the pace and enticement of a modern thriller.

The book itself is beautifully written, short sharp chapters each leading you immediately to the next, leaving you grateful for the next episode of either of the key story lines through the book.


The Day of the Jackal – Frederik Forsyth

Published in 1971, The Day of the Jackal was the first ‘faction’ book I read and it had quite an impact. The story is about a professional assassin engaged by a paramilitary organisation to kill French President Charles de Gaulle


The paramilitary organisation cited, The OAS, was a real group and the story opens with the true tale of an assassination attempt on De Gaulle by Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry. After reading, I think the next ten books I read were works of Forsyth.

We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shrivers

This was one of those books that I found hard going for the majority of it but then felt rewarded towards the end when the full story was explained.

The novel surrounds a fictional school massacre and is written, unusually for the majority of books I have read, in the form of letters from the killer’s mother to his father. The letters depict a broken woman trying to understand the events that have shattered her life and the reasons behind them, was it nature or nature? The film of the same name does not do the story justice.

Green River Rising – Tim Willocks

It’s the imaginative writing within this story that lifts the 72 hours in Green River prison to its status as one of my top inspirations for writing. Told through the eyes of a wrongly convicted rapist, Dr. Ray Klein, the reader takes an attaching glimpse into an inmate takeover of the prison as Klein’s parole date looms ever closer.

There are some gruesome scenes with violence commonplace throughout the story. The dialect is superbly captured and there is are layers beyond the obvious prison culture of the book, strands which are coherent with the state of prisons in the UK. The lacked desire for rehabilitation, a holding pen for which no promise of a better way is offered to its inhabitants.