April Writing Prompts

Remember that you can send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the words DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to the mailing list and you will receive a daily prompt.   

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 by Mia Botha

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    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 10: Your Next Move

    Welcome to week 10 of Anthony Ehlers's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

    Goal setting
    1. Take a moment to decide what your next step is.
    2. Continue planning the scenes, sequences, or chapters of your novel.
    3. Find the ‘telling’ details in a scene or sequence. 
    Breaking it down

    One goal after another
    The goal is to finish our novel in a year. It’s what keeps us going. But, as I’ve found, a novel is sometimes like Alice dropping down the rabbit hole: it’s easy to get lost. Confused.

    Just to be writing, putting one word after another, isn’t enough. We must see the next step. We must have something to look forward to. The idea of the novel — the story, the idea of finishing it — must be exciting, and create a sense of anticipation. And while, as writers, we must have the next step in mind, so must our characters. They must also be moving forward: achieving one goal, setting a new goal, battling the obstacles.

    This week wasn’t a great one for me: battling a bad chest infection, moving house - it just seemed like one blur. I couldn’t see the next step clearly in my life, my career and, to be honest, I didn’t even think about my novel. I wasn’t paying attention. My life was reduced to unpacked boxes, mild panic, and antibiotics.

    Then, this morning, driving to work before the sun came up, I saw the city lit up in the distance, the headlights of the cars on the highway. And I realised that everyone had ‘somewhere to be’ — they were going places. 

    Where are you going as a writer? Where are your characters going? Take a few minutes today — right now, in fact — to decide what the next step is your story. Write it down. Be clear about what you need to do today.
    Planning a sequence
    I just finished Nora Roberts’s entertaining romantic suspense novel, The Collector.  Her books are always page-turners and, while reflecting on it, I realised that she creates a great ‘flow’ in her novels — you never see the seams, she carries the reader from scene to scene.

    Last week we spoke about summarising each scene or chapter in your novel. We will continue with these summaries this week. But if you’re struggling to do this, or if it seems a bit ‘choppy’ or staccato, try to think of a sequence.

    A sequence is a grouping of scenes between your bigger plot points. You can plan a sequence according to a setting, period of time, character, or theme.  Often a sequence has to answer a plot question.

    For example, in The Collector, Lila, the main character, witnesses a shocking murder in the first chapter. It’s a great hook. Soon after, Lila meets Ashton, the victim’s brother, and decides to help him discover why his brother was murdered. This question — Why was his brother killed? — makes up one of her earlier sequences. The sequence ends when she and Ashton find a safety deposit box containing the first major clue to a possible motive for the killing.

    And just as each scene has a beginning, middle, and end — so does a sequence.  In The Collector, the beginning is when Ash convinces Lila that his brother died because of a bad business deal. The middle is when Ash discovers a letter his brother sent him. The end is when Ash reveals to Lila the contents of the safety deposit box.
    Jacqueline Kennedy

    Persistent vision
    Persistent vision is an image that stays imprinted on your mind for a while after it’s no longer there. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie and an image or two stays in your mind long after you’ve finished it? What made that image or those moments stand out for you? How can you recreate the same for your own novel?

    I’m reading Just Jackie, Edward Stein’s biography on Jackie Kennedy Onassis. To show the grief and devastation of her family, Stein creates some vivid scenes that rouse emotions without mawkish sentimentalism. A few days after the funeral of JFK, Jackie comes down to breakfast at their beach home. The table is set for three rather than four. She looks out the window and sees her young daughter sitting alone on a sand dune, looking out at the colourless horizon of the bleak cold day. She remembers the innocent game her husband used to play with her daughter — about a shark that used to eat socks.

    These moments had more emotional resonance than if the author had merely told us that Jackie was sad and her children bereft. Stein, even in non-fiction, is showing not telling.

    In my novel, I realised that I could use the weather, to reflect mood and emotion. I wanted to establish Monty, the young man who becomes involved with Jenna and Matt, as young, vulnerable, innocent: so I created a small scene: he is naked, drinking milk in their moon-blanched kitchen.

    In another scene, Jenna, my main character, looks out at a mist-shrouded Table Mountain the morning after their encounter with Monty — which could highlight her sense of confusion. Sometimes when you find those ‘visual moments’ — you get to understand your characters, and your story, better.
    Timelock — 2.5 to 4 hours

    2-3 hours on planning your scenes, sequences, or chapters
    30 minutes – 1 hour on creating visual images or ‘telling moments’ 

    5 Quick Hacks
    1. Create a small diary or journal where you can write down your emotions as you write – the small triumphs, the bad moments, etc.
    2. What are the questions do you think you readers want answered in the story? What questions do you want answered?
    3. Look through magazines or Pinterest for images that could stimulate you. Do you have a favourite photographer? Who is it? Why do you love them?
    4. What were your characters’ favourite childhood games?
    5. Take some time off to talk to a friend or a fellow writer if you feel the pressure set in.
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘It’s always your next step.’ — Napoleon Hill

    Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

    If you enjoyed this post, read:


    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

    The 4 Writing Styles Everybody Needs To Know

    Are you writing a piece to inform, to persuade, to describe, or to tell a story? The style you choose for your text is a result of the way you combine word choice, tone, and syntax. 

    The Four Writing Styles
    1. Expository - Writing to inform.
    2. Descriptive - Writing to create a picture in a reader's mind.
    3. Persuasive - Writing to share an opinion and to persuade.
    4. Narrative - Writing to tell a story.
    Why do you need to know these different styles?

    If you write for different publications, or if you write your own blogs for different purposes, you need to compose your content in a way that suits the audience and the purpose of the writing. 

    1.  Expository Style
    You use this style to tell your readers about a topic. Its purpose is to explain how to do something or how something has been done. You can include data and facts, but you must leave out your opinions. You need to organise your thoughts in a logical, practical manner to convey what needs to be explained. 

    This style is used in how-to articles, instruction manuals, and text books.
    2.  Descriptive Style
    You use descriptive language to describe something or somebody in detail. You should include all five senses when writing in this style and focus on specific information that leaves the most powerful image in the reader's mind. If used properly, readers should feel as if they could reach out and touch the character or object you are describing. 

    This style is used in parts of the following: poetry, reviews of restaurants, product reviews, and book reports. It is used in children's essays to describe a favourite toy, food, holiday, or pet. Writers use it as a literary device in descriptions of fictional characters and places, as well as those of historical figures and real people.

    3.  Persuasive Style
    Can I change your mind? Its aim is to persuade an audience to agree with you, to get them to understand your opinion, or to get them to do something. You express an opinion and support it in a way that convinces the reader to see it the same way. The format usually consists of an explanation of opposing points of view with data, facts, and statistics to show why that is incorrect and why readers should support your position instead.

    This style is used in opinion pieces, debates, marketing pitches, adverts, editorial essays, speeches, motivational talks, proposals, and sales pitches. Use our Persuasive Writing Brainstormer Template when you write this way.
    4.  Narrative style
    You use this style to tell a story so that readers feel as if they have been entertained by gaining insight into an experience or by learning something through your, or your character's, eyes. The author creates characters who show their stories through actions, description, and dialogue. It has a framework, or a plot, that usually involves a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

    Avoid the abstract. Do not say: 'I enjoyed the day swimming in the garden.' Be specific. Rather say: 'I raced across the garden, blades of grass tickling the soles of my feet. Sunlight tapped the ebb and flow of water as I dived into the pool.'

    This style is used in short stories, plays, novels, novellas, biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, and poetry.

    Extra Help

    No matter which of these styles you choose to use, these nine tips will improve your writing: 

    1. Avoid stereotypes and clichés.
    2. Be clear.
    3. Be concise.
    4. Be precise.
    5. Avoid the abstract.
    6. Choose the right words.
    7. Read widely.
    8. Use words that sound like you.
    9. Write every day.

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course. If you want to learn how to blog and write for social media, join our blogging and social media course in Johannesburg.

     by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

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    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 9: The Building Blocks Of Your Novel

    Welcome to week 9 of Anthony Ehlers's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

    Goal setting
    1. Breaking your novel up into individual scenes or chapters.
    2. Deciding on a timeline for the completion of your first draft.
    Breaking it down

    You’ll need coffee for this …
    This week is all about planning, so it’s time to dust off your left-brain thinking and have a view of the long term. Last week, we achieved a major ‘Yay!’ moment in our journey. We have a detailed working synopsis. It’s time to break that long document into the individual scenes that will make up the novel.

    Think of these scenes as the little Lego blocks that will build your bigger story. You’ll need quite a few of them to make up the finished ‘product’ – into something that looks like a complete story. And they will have to fit each other perfectly.

    You can’t write a book from start to finish in one sitting – not unless you have a Superman costume hiding somewhere in your closet. But, as the old saying goes, ‘With patience and saliva, the ant eats the elephant.’  Or you could say with careful planning and copious amounts of caffeine that you can write your book.

    What you can do is ‘chunk’ your book up into manageable segments, in either chapters or scenes. I prefer to focus on scenes — because each has a specific goal and an outcome. Each scene moves the story forward.

    From the inciting incident onwards, your lead character has to have a big, overarching goal to achieve. For my novel, Jenna and Matt, my main characters, have to overcome and survive the threat of a stalker — to save their relationship and possibly even their lives.  But I’ll need to look at the synopsis to break that goal down into more than a hundred scenes or so, each with a smaller goal. I’ll also have to ‘chart’ the course of the smaller subplots as the story unfolds.

    So how do we eat this damn elephant?
    Preparing the elephant buffet
    Let’s say you’re going to write a book of about 80 000 words. That’s a lot of ground to cover — so you have to break it up.

    You can safely divide this word count up by four. Why four? Because the middle of your book is by far the longest stretch and should be at least two quarters of the narrative. The first quarter would be your beginning — although this could probably be a shorter section because you want to get the story started quicker. And the last quarter would be devoted to your ending. Again, this could be a shorter section.

    So, you’d have four sections of roughly 20 000 words each. Is that still a bit daunting? For me, it is. I would go a step further. Take each of those sections and halve them, so that you have two 10 000-word sections for each quarter. You’d have four 10 000-word sections for the middle of the book, which is far more manageable. We’ll look at each of these segments more closely over the next couple of weeks.

    I guess the next questions to answer are: How long should a scene be? Well, it could be between 500-1 000 words. And how long should a chapter be? I think it could be between 2 500-3 500 words.

    So, you need either 160 500-word scenes or 80 1 000-word scenes. You could also break it up into 32 2 500-word chapters or 22 or 23 3 500-word chapters.

    This week you need to work out what length of book, chapter, and scene you’re going to be writing — and here it is a good idea to look at the typical books being published in your chosen genre. How long do you think your novel will be in its final format?

    Cutting up the calendar
    Now that you’ve divided up the elephant, you need to schedule your meal times. (OK, I think we’ve stretched the elephant metaphor as far as we can take it, haven’t we?)

    You may plan to write two scenes or a chapter a day. If that’s too much, maybe you want to stick to one scene a day — I think 500 words a day is a good average to aim for. Some of us prefer to write every week day and keep our weekends free, others don’t like to ‘put the brakes on’  and would rather keep the momentum — it’s really up to you. I think it would be good to aim for the end of September to complete the first draft.

    So, for the month of March, we’re going to take our synopsis and start developing the outlines of each scene or chapter in our novel. These outlines can be as short 20-50 words or as long as 100-150 words, depending on the detail you wish to include.

    You can outline in bullet form or just give a quick thumbnail of each section, but you should think about the following: What does the character want in this scene? What is both the external and internal conflict? Where does the scene take place? What or who is going to stop them from achieving their goal? How will the scene end?
    Timelock — 1 month

    Use March to outline each scene or chapter in your novel.

    5 Quick Hacks
    1. Buy a pack of 8x5-inch ruled index or record cards. Write out your scene outlines on the cards. You’ll be able to shuffle the order of the scenes — or add in new ones as you go along.
    2. Watch music videos on YouTube. Often these tell a short little story just in visuals — notice how the director moves us from scene to scene to achieve this.
    3. Try to see your finished book in your mind. See your name on the cover spine in your mind, feel the heft of its pages in your hand. Visualise the cover.
    4. Do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku to engage your left-brain and unleash your inner planner.
    5. Write your big central story goal on a sheet of paper. Stick it up at your desk to remind you what the story is really about.
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘No one can write a book. J.K. Rowling can’t. Tom Clancy can’t. All you, I, and those others can do at any one time is write part of a book.’ — Gene Perret

    Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 10: Your Next Move

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

    If you enjoyed this post, read:


    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 8: Untying The Knots

    Welcome to week 8 of Anthony Ehlers's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

    Goal setting
    1. Develop the ending of your novel in your synopsis.
    2. Decide what roles your characters will play in the story.
    3. Revise the outlines you’ve created so far.
    Breaking it down

    From big showdowns to ‘bumps’
    This week we’re looking at making the ending in your synopsis more exciting. The big moment you should be looking for is the ‘showdown’ between the protagonist and antagonist. The final test, the climax. It’s about tightening the tension to the point where you can’t squeeze any more from the story. Then releasing that tension, for your characters and the reader.

    Is there a moment where your main character comes face to face with his or her tormentor? Who wins? Who loses? How does this happen? Where will it take place? This should be the strongest scene in your book. In the crime thriller, The Equalizer, the vigilante McCall has a showdown with Nicolai, the hired hit man, in a deserted Home Mart store at night.  An unusual setting — but one that worked well.

    After the climax, you start to show the outcome for your characters. Some people call this tying up the loose ends. But if you look at the origins of the French word denouement — which means untying — it’s really about making sure you’ve unravelled all the ‘knots’ you’ve created in your plot.  For every conflict you’ve set up, there should be a resolution.

    In my novel, the climax brings together all the major players in the story. It ticks the right box at the right moment in the story. But I didn’t want to give the reader just the expected and inevitable moment — so I added on a ‘bump.’

    This is a scene, near the end of the novel, where your lead has to face a last obstacle. This challenge usually comes out of nowhere and blind sides your main character.  In my story, Jenna, my heroine, comes up against one final challenge — a final ‘knot’ before I could end the story.
    Character masks
    Because my novel is a thriller, I knew I had to create some twists and in the plot. Keep in mind: other genres also have these surprises. A family drama, like August: Osage County, has just as many ‘gasp moments’ as any crime story.

    To do this, I realised, you sometimes have to give characters masks. Not Batman or Zorro masks — although if that suits your story, why not? — but personas that hide that character’s true role in the story.

    For example, the small-town sheriff who turns out to be the killer is wearing the mask of justice. The best friend who is secretly sleeping with the hero’s wife is wearing the mask of friendship.

    The tricky part, for us as writers, is making sure we don’t confuse the mask the character wears with his or her function in the story.  Let’s take that best friend as a scenario. If you know that the best friend is actually the antagonist in the story, you have to make sure he wears the mask of friendship convincingly — and you have to make sure that, when his true function is revealed as the antagonist, you do it just as convincingly. What was his true motivation? Why is he a craven coward?
    Recapping and refining
    It’s also time this week to reflect on what we’ve achieved this far in our journey.

    At this point, you should have a detailed working synopsis, which covers the beginning, the broad swathe of the middle, and the end of your novel. You’ll also have character descriptions and some of your initial research dusted. Perhaps you’ve even decided on your theme.

    This is your chance to look at these elements. Try to identify any gaps or holes in your plot, character, setting and theme. In my synopsis, I realised that I jumped too quickly from the set-up to the middle of my story. The first major plot point had to mark the end of one 'world' — where Jenna and Matt are safe as a couple — and the start of a 'new world' — where they are in danger. What would signify that they were being stalked? This had to be a strong scene and it was missing.

    There may be a few things you have to add into your synopsis or character sheets, but don’t obsess about getting it perfect. It just has to be ‘workable’.
    Timelock — four to seven hours

    2-3 hours to work on the ending of your novel
    1-2 hours to work on character roles
    1-2 hours to refine your synopsis and character sheets 

    5 Quick Hacks
    1. If you’re struggling with the ending, start with the very last scene in your story and work your way backwards to the climax.
    2. What is the one thing your antagonist has burned to say to your hero but hasn’t been able to say? What would your hero say to your antagonist? Write it out as dialogue.
    3. Imagine a dream sequence where your characters are at a fancy dress party. What masks — yes, the Batman or Zorro masks — that would reveal their true nature?
    4. Wake your characters up at three a.m. — warn them about what’s about to happen them at the end? What do they tell you?
    5. Look at the rest of the synopsis and try to focus on the same tensions and conflicts in your climax.
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘I usually begin with endings, with a sense of aftermath, of dust settling.’ — John Irving

    Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year! Week 9: The Building Blocks Of Your Novel

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

    If you enjoyed this post, read:


    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 7: The Moment of Truth

    Welcome to week 7 of Anthony Ehlers's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

    Goal setting
    1. Develop your synopsis from the midpoint to the moment of truth.
    2. Create even more conflict for your characters.
    3. Spend some time with the best friend. 
    Breaking it down

    The thread of truth
    Earlier on your working synopsis, in beginning section, you probably identified your inciting moment — the moment that your main character brushes up against the thing that will eventually change their life in a dramatic way and he or she is called to action.

    Near the end of your synopsis, you now need to find the moment of truth — the moment when your character learns or experiences something that will that will do one of two things. One, it will bring them to their knees and they will feel defeated. Two, it will empower them to move forward to their goal even more forcefully.  Either way, this decision will lead you, as the author, and the character to the climax of the story.

    These two moments are pivots in a novel. Your character has to make a decision — rationally or irrationally — that changes the course of the story.  Having said that, they must tie up together.  In a romance, the first is when the two lovers meet: the second is when they declare their love for each other. In a family drama, it could the two could be connected around family rituals — getting engaged/the big wedding, falling pregnant/having the baby, or a loved one getting sick/death of the loved one.

    In my novel, the inciting moment is when Matt and Jenna invite Monty, the younger man, into their bedroom and their lives. What’s the moment of truth?  In a thriller, it would be the moment we reveal if their relationship survives – even if there is an emotional cost to its survival. It could almost mean the end of the relationship – even if there is an emotional freedom to its demise. And there it is — the pivot.

    As you work on your synopsis this week, developing it from the midpoint to this moment of truth, keep a few things in mind.  If your character appears to be losing in the middle — if this is the lowest point in their lives — then they should ideally triumph at the end. If your character appears to be winning in the middle— if they seem to be reaching their goal — then the end should probably cheat them of this goal.

    These aren’t inviolable rules, but they’re worth exploring. One thing is certain though. From the midpoint to the moment of truth, you have to start raising the stakes. And that means — you guessed it — more conflict.
    Turn up the heat …
    In Lisa Scottoline’s page-turning legal thriller, Dirty Blonde, her main character, a federal judge called Cate Fante, is faced with major conflict at the middle of the story.  It’s when her world implodes, and her private life and secrets are laid bare to everyone. Scottoline raises the conflict like someone turning the rheostat up with cruel relish— making things very hot and uncomfortable for Cate. (In fact, she even puts Cate in a setting that looks and feels like hell on earth.)

    How does she do it? Cate’s role as a judge is jeopardy. She’s lost her boyfriend. Her best friend and her autistic child are at risk. There’s a madman, bent on revenge, looking to kill her. It doesn’t get more intense than this. I think you can guess from how bad things are in the middle how it all ends.

    However, in a moment of truth, she learns something about her past and the mother she never really understood — and, more important, about herself — and this gives her the courage to fight on to the end.

    In my novel, I realised that there wasn’t enough conflict. I had to look at what could be taken away from Jenna and Matt. It wasn’t enough that they were in jeopardy — but their actions had to have consequences for their families, their careers, and so on. It is a challenge, but ask yourself: What does my main character have to lose? And is it worth fighting for? Really worth fighting for? 
    The bestie — what’s her role?
    One character you can focus on this week is the support character for your lead. This character is often overlooked but it is a great character to explore. Why? Instead of being inside your main character’s head to understand her intimate thoughts and feelings, she can express these to her confidant. (What would Sherlock Holmes be without Dr Watson?)

    At first, I struggled with this role. Who would be Jenna’s friend? I didn’t want to develop a cliché of two cappuccino-sipping friends in a coffee shop gabbing about ‘man problems’ or a ‘bad day at the office’. Instead, I decided that the jazz singer Jenna is photographing would, inadvertently and unexpectedly, become her confidante.

    This would give me the opportunity to show two very different women finding an unlikely friendship. The older singer would give the younger photographer advice in a way that wasn’t blatant but would almost be subtext to the main storyline. Who plays this role in your novel?
    Timelock — 4 to 6 hours

    2-3 hours on your synopsis for the second half of the middle of your novel
    1-2 hours to work on bringing in more conflict
    1 hour for developing the role of the best friend, mentor, or support character 

    5 Quick Hacks
    1. Spend a day in the life of your main character – not just a weekday but a weekend too. Write down as much as you can about what they do.
    2. Write down one line of dialogue that captures the essence of your moment of truth. Write down several. Which is best?
    3. Look to your own life. What was your lowest point? How did you feel? Write about this experience.
    4. Imagine your main character and their best friend shopping together. What advice would her confidante give her?
    5. Describe a setting or social situation that would make your main character or antagonist uncomfortable. Do it in detail.
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘Don’t just make love, make anguish for your characters. Don’t satisfy your hero’s desires, thwart them. Make them earn the happy ending they want. Even better, make them deserve it.’ — Damon Suede

    Don't miss next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year! Week 8: Untying The Knots

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

    If you enjoyed this post, read:


    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 6: Overcoming Your Fear of the Middle

    Welcome to week 6 of Anthony Ehlers's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

    Goal setting

    1. Expand the middle of your synopsis
    2. Identify and develop your subplots
    3. 'Design’ the interiors of your settings
    Breaking it down

    When the curtain comes down on Intermission…
    Last week, we spoke about the set-up or beginning of your novel. This week we’re going to expand the middle section of the working synopsis. We’re going to focus on opening up the story until we reach middle or midpoint.

    As we move into middle section, things have changed for your characters. Especially your main character. Sometimes this part of the story is called the ‘new world’ or the ‘extraordinary world’. Often there is a change in setting but it doesn’t have to be so dramatic.  The ‘world’ can be the same, but the character feels different about, well, everything. Probably very different.

    In my novel, Jenna, my heroine, drives out to her family’s isolated beach house for some soul-searching: to unravel her emotions and deal with the complications and confusion in her relationship. It’s a good place to slow down the story …
    …  Because from here on out, the decisions she makes, the actions the antagonist takes, the influences of other characters — all of these escalate the action and will take me to the middle of the novel.

    I’ll be honest. The middle is easiest place for me to get lost in a story. It seems a vast ocean to cross until you get to the end. It’s daunting. The best way to see the stretch from the end of the beginning to the midpoint is to view it as a story on its own. This makes it more manageable. 

    The midpoint of your novel is a ‘mini-climax’. It must reach a culmination. After the climax, it’s the biggest moment in your story. If you’re ever been to a play, you know that the scene just before the curtain comes down on intermission is always a memorable one. It doesn’t have to be a cliff-hanger. Just dramatic, lively, and satisfying enough to reward the audience’s investment in the story so far. Do you want people dashing off to a late supper? No, you want them to come back and see how it all ends. And the same concept applies your book.
    Subplot to the rescue
    There’s one thing that takes a lot of the fear out of planning the middle of your book … the subplot.

    After the beginning of your novel, this is precisely the point where you start bringing in secondary storylines and characters. These can be hinted at in the set-up but here is where you can start exploring them more fully. Why? Well, in the beginning readers want to know one thing: What is this story going to be about? Once they know that, they’ll be more comfortable with other smaller storylines.

    In his historical crime novel, Budapest Noir, Vilmos Kondor immediately engages us in the main storyline. A newspaper reporter wants to find found out why a prostitute has been killed in pre-World War 2 Hungary. Once this has been established as his goal, Kondor brings in other aspects of the reporter’s life — his tenuous relationship with his girlfriend and his deep affection for his grandfather. These subplots balance out the ‘noirish’ elements of the novel.

    In my novel, I was excited to find I could tease out Jenna’s career as a photographer. Not only was I going to throw conflict into her relationship, I was going to do the same in her career. A major subplot is her commission to shoot the portrait of a jazz icon — an assignment that can make or break her career. What would be a subplot in your novel?
    Interior and inner worlds
    If you have time this week, you could also play the role of interior designer. Create some notes on your character’s home — the social living spaces, the intimate spaces of their bedroom and bathroom, or even their workspaces. What is their most prized object? Are they neat freaks or messy? What is their favourite colour? If you’re a halfway decent artist, you could even sketch these.

    In First Sight, Danielle Steel wrote some lovely descriptions of her heroine Timmie O’Neill’s beach house. I remembered these and thought I’d like to also create vivid, memorable pictures for Jenna and Matt’s apartment and beach house.  For example, I know Jenna has a drawer in her studio where this yoga-loving wheat-grass-drinking vegan keeps a secret pack of cigarettes.

    Often our homes reflect our personalities and give little glimpses into our lives. It is more so for fictional characters. Even if their houses are meant to be perfect façades they show the world, there will always be something that betrays their inner selves. 
    Timelock — four to six hours

    2-3 hours on your synopsis the first-half of the middle of your novel
    1-2 hours to develop subplot/s for your story
    1 hour for creating the interiors of your settings 

    5 Quick Hacks
    1. Try to isolate the midpoints in the last three novels you’ve read.
    2. Throw a party right in the middle of your book – or a wedding, a funeral, or a gallery opening. These ‘set pieces’ can give you something to write towards.
    3. Think about all the things that interrupt your daily life – paying bills, writing blogs, taking the dog for a walk. Can you use these for your characters?
    4. Draw the floor plan of your main character’s house or clip pictures from a lifestyle or décor magazine.
    5. Describe the childhood room of your antagonist.
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘Subplots bring realism to your main plot simply by existing – by interrupting the flow. Readers don’t expect continuous narratives.’ -Elizabeth Sims

    Don't miss the seventh instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year next week.

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

    If you enjoyed this post, read:


    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 5: What Will Happen Next?

    Welcome to week 5 of Anthony Ehlers's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

    Goal setting
    1. Expanding the beginning, middle, and end of your synopsis.
    2. Develop a theme for your novel.
    3. Experimenting with viewpoint or viewpoints for your novel. 
    Breaking it down

    Sharpening the set-up
    I love the weekend. You can spend it visiting friends, going to dinner parties or movies, browsing book shops, or maybe even getting a manicure or facial. Or you could spend it obsessively going over the notes of your novels, trying to fix plot problems, develop characters, or do research. Once the novel writing bug bites, it’s hard to maintain your social life — or keep your nails buffed and polished.

    With your working synopsis, you probably have a clearer idea of your story, from major plot points to character arcs. This month we’re going to flesh out at each section of the synopsis: beginning, middle, and end. For this week, we’ll be focusing on the beginning or set-up of your novel.

    Typically this would be the first three to five chapters of a novel, but there’s a simpler way to look at it. At what point has your main character made a decision — whether impulsive or deliberate — that is irrevocable?

    In my novel, the end of the beginning section is when my couple, Jenna and Matt, have had a threesome with Monty, a younger guy. After this point, their relationship won’t be the same as it was before. There’s no way of ‘undoing’ the night before. For me, this stands out as a natural ‘marker’ in the synopsis.

    Last year, I devoured one James Hadley Chase thriller after the other. This author, despite his stereotyped femme fatale characters and two-dimensional villains, was a master of the ‘page turner’. As a reader you keep thinking: What will happen next?

    This is a good question to keep in mind when you’re working on the three sections of your synopsis. What will happen next? What could go wrong? How can I make things worse for my main characters?
    Teasing out a theme
    In the beginning of your novel, you get play with theme — teasing out questions that will prickle the imagination of the reader. In the middle of your book, you need to feed the development of your theme into just about every scene. And, at the end, you must make a strong statement on your theme. You answer the question.

    In my story, the question I want to put to readers is clear. Does inviting a third person into your relationship change the chemistry of the relationship?

    In the middle, my characters must become more vulnerable. I want Jenna and Matt to grapple with trust, jealousy, and insecurity — instead of becoming closer as a couple, they must turn on each other. The middle must peel away their secret ‘masks’ to expose their real needs, fears, and motivations.

    In the end, I want to show that an ‘open’ relationship is based on fantasy and will just invite trouble in. Well, at least for Matt and Jenna.

    As you can see from the above, theme is as much about character as it is about plot.  Your characters have to be complex enough to sustain the theme in your story.  This week try and work on your character profiles a bit more to make sure they support your theme.
    Voices on the page
    One of my favourite writers is Marian Keyes. When I facilitate Writers Write, I often use this fine Irish novelist as an example of a writer at the top of her game when it comes to viewpoint. She is the ‘mistress of viewpoint’ in my opinion. In one of her novels, This Charming Man, she uses multiple viewpoint devices to give the reader insight into what it’s like to be in a relationship with an abusive man.

    Viewpoint is often the ‘secret weapon’ of a novelist: as a device it must help you to tell a better story. Sometimes you may want to use first person as a way to create an intimacy with the reader. In some cases, you may not want to give a character a viewpoint to ‘hide’ their true feelings or motivations.

    In my novel, I have a few options when it comes to viewpoint that I can explore. I could give Jenna, as the main character, a viewpoint as she is the character I most want readers to identify with and have empathy for. To create a little bit of distance and coolness in the story, I could use limited third person as a device.

    I could also give equal ‘airtime’ to both Jenna and Matt  — to build dramatic irony and show the fracture in their relationship. For Monty, as an outsider, I could show his isolation from the rest of the narrative by using stream-of-consciousness or ‘contained’ interior monologues.

    Why not play around with ideas for viewpoint for your novel? Which viewpoint would work best?
    Timelock — four to six hours
    • 2-3 hours for the beginning of your synopsis
    • 1-2 hour for theme
    • 1 hour for viewpoint 
    5 Quick Hacks
    1. If you’re struggling with theme, write down all the possible themes on a page – and cross out the ones that don’t resonate with you as a writer.
    2. Try to isolate your theme in one or two sentences. Write it out on a card and paste it up at your desk.
    3. What does the voice of one of your characters sound like? Write out a one-sided telephone call where he or she is telling a friend about a problem.
    4. Rewrite a passage from a favourite author’s story in a different viewpoint. How has it changed? Did it alter the mood of the passage?
    5. Cut your own nails, or buy face masks from your pharmacy — it’ll save you a lot of time.
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.’ — Herman Melville

    Watch out for the sixth instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year next week. Overcoming Your Fear of the Middle

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

    If you enjoyed this post, read:


    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 4: Getting to Grips With Research

    Welcome to week 4 of Anthony Ehlers's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

    Goal setting

    1. Start the (fun) process of researching your novel.
    2. Keep a system to track your research.
    Breaking it down

    First-hand accounts are authentic
    Some genres demand a lot of research. Historical fiction, for one, requires a lot of study of past events. Police procedurals, political stories, and so forth always require you to know your facts.

    Other stories don’t require that much research. A modern romance, which focuses more on the relationship and sensual tension between the hero and heroine, probably won’t benefit from too much other detail — in fact, it may impair the narrative.

    At this stage of our journey, we’re not going to focus on doing all the research at once — rather than a specific and detailed investigation, we should be doing enough to get us comfortable with the story. No one likes to be writing in a vacuum, so some preliminary research is reassuring.

    Where is your novel set? My novel is set in Cape Town. Although I’m familiar with the setting — I can see it, feel it, and filter it through my imagination — I haven’t been to the city in almost a year. Fortunately, I have some good friends who live there and I’ve been picking their brains. Where are the coolest clubs? What’s the most desirable suburb to live in? Just jutting down notes as they chat leads me to more defined searches online or gives me an idea of what places to visit when I next go to Cape Town.

    Sometimes we don’t have access to familiar worlds. Five years ago, when I was writing a romance for a young adult audience, I had to approach some young women in their twenties to learn about their lifestyles, careers, finances, and fashion. I was amazed at how open, and eager, they were to share their thoughts with me over a coffee.

    People love talking about themselves — about their jobs, their hobbies, or their area of expertise. Perhaps you can ask at your local police station if you’re writing a cop story, or talk to a vet if your story features a rescue dog with a broken leg.

    Writers are often shy. The most daunting part is stepping up and asking for help — after that it’ll probably be a lot easier. Ask around: there’s always somebody who knows something about what you’re writing, or will point you in the right direction.
    Rendering fiction … not rehashing facts
    A lot of research can be done online and there are some great tips you can use to refine a Google search, simply by using different symbols and punctuation, and even ways to search faster when you’re on a website. So these may be worth investigating.

    There are excellent DVD documentaries you can stream or order online on just about any subject. YouTube may also be a great resource if you don’t like reading rivers of static text. Just a quick search on YouTube for ‘Cape Town night life’, for example, immediately produced some engaging videos I could use for background in my novel.

    You can also visit museums or university libraries, where you can ask professionals to help you. A friend who was writing a story about World War 2 found the official website for a museum of military history. Although it had some information, he emailed the curator of the site to ask specific questions — for the next few weeks, he was corresponding by email with some the best academic minds on his subject. In this way, specialist interest sites can be a great resource for an author.

    As writers, our aim should always be to use research to help us render the most authentic, striking details of time, place, people, or an event as fiction. It should never be to impress (or bore) the reader about how much we know about a particular subject. So even though we may uncover a lot of information during our research, it doesn’t mean we should use all of it in the story. (Just another reason to limit it at this early stage of the novel-writing process.) 
    Become a fabulist
    One of my favourite novels of the late 70s is Scruples by Judith Krantz. In this story, the heroine opens a fabulous fashion store in Beverly Hills. Her descriptions of this store were so lush, vivid, and enticing I couldn’t believe this place didn’t exist. Only years later, while reading a book on fashion, did I realise she must’ve been influenced by Barbara Hulanicki’s cult London fashion store, Biba.

    This taught me a powerful lesson about research. As a writer, we may draw from the real world and then mould it, reinvent it, or spin it out through our imagination until it fits the purpose of our story, our characters. We put our mark on it. This could even apply to historical stories or legends. What if James Dean hadn’t died in car crash? What would’ve become of this iconic star? What if JFK wasn’t assassinated — how would the destiny of a country be influenced? Sometimes research is the starting point to spark our own imagination.
    Timelock — 2 to 3 hours

    Spend perhaps one afternoon or evening on research — depending on your genre or type of story.

    5 Quick Hacks
    1. Create a list in a Word document or spreadsheet with headings for your research (Careers, Clothes, People, Places, and so forth). Copy the URLs of sites under each heading for easy reference later.
    2. Keep all your research books, DVDs, or magazines on one bookshelf so that you don’t have to waste time looking for them as you write.
    3. You may want to keep a concertina file or a separate folder for clippings or printed material for the same reason.
    4. Don’t forget to keep the names, dates, contact details, etc., of your sources of information — you’ll need it when you cross-check later on in the process.
    5. Collect maps, images, photographs, and other visual elements that will help you ‘see’ the research as you write your novel.
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘Although the main part of the research is usually done before starting, a writer can never underestimate how many tiny details need to checked and re-checked during the writing of the manuscript.’  ~ Miriam Halahmy

    Watch out for the fifth instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year next week.

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

    If you enjoyed this post, read:


    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 3: Getting To Grips With Genre And Tone

    Welcome to week 3 of Anthony Ehlers's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

    Goal setting
    1. Decide on genre
    2. Rewrite your working synopsis
    3. Exploring the mood of your novel
    Breaking it down

    Through the lens of genre
    You may have wondered when I was going to bring up the topic of genre. I deliberately left it until now, because I think if you focus too much on genre right at the beginning of the novel writing process, it can stifle the natural flow of your story.

    Yes, it’s great to have an idea of what type of story you’re telling from the start — but by working on your synopsis and character thumbnails, you’ll probably come up with some great unfettered ideas. Some may even suggest a different genre to what you had in mind.

    At the start of my story, I knew I was going to write a suspense novel but I need to sharpen my focus on genre. For me, the psychological element of a suspense is always more exciting that the physical element of it.  I love Eyes Wide Shut, the movie based on the story ‘Traumnovelle’, which explores sexual jealousy and fantasies. So I knew I wanted my story to have an erotic edge. However, I wanted it to play out like a thriller — with an element of pursuit.

    What genre most suits your story? How can you align your plot more closely to that genre? My story, at the end of the day, is an erotic thriller — so I felt it was lacking in menace. It needed more tension and suspense. That was something I needed to focus on.  This meant I had to relook at both the storyline and the characters, especially the antagonist.
    Bringing the antagonist from the edge … closer to your main character
    With this is mind, this week the task is to have another look at your working synopsis. Is there enough in it to satisfy the requirements of your genre?

    At this point, try to find three or four key scenes that if someone read just these scenes, they would immediately guess the genre. In the film Fatal Attraction, for example, Alex, the stalker, escalates her obsessive pursuit of a married man after he tries to rebuff her following their one-night stand. She fakes a pregnancy to get his attention, shows up under the guise as a potential buyer of his apartment to meet his wife, and even ‘kidnaps’ his daughter. (Oh, let’s not forget the bunny boiling!).

    These three scenes, on their own, show how she’s encroached on his life and is posing a threat to his wife and child — the two people he doesn’t want to lose. There’s a lot at stake for this main character.

    Of course, if we use this movie as an example, Alex as an antagonist is superb. Her successful career and casual attitude to sex hide her obsessive and unbalanced nature. She is not a stereotypical ‘vamp’: at times, we even feel empathy for her.

    This week look at your antagonist and try to flesh out elements of this character so that they will function better in your chosen genre. Then look at the characters around them — your lead, your love interest, and so forth — and see how you could make them more vulnerable to the antics of the antagonist, and also what strengths (hidden or otherwise) you could give them to stand up to the antagonist.
    The ‘feel’ of your story
    Every story has its own mood. How an author creates a scene, builds a character, the pace he or she uses to create tension or relief in the reader, their descriptions of setting — all these influence the tone of a novel.

    I’ll give you an example from the film world. The film Basic Instinct, a thriller, has a cool Hitchcockian style, with an icy soundtrack and a detached voyeuristic feel. However, if you read Joe Eszterhaz’s original script, he intended it to have a much rougher touch — with a Rolling Stones rock ’n’ roll edge. Not a single word of the dialogue or the plot changed from script to screen, but the director gave the film his own unique treatment.

    While plot is about story, genre is more about tone, I believe. This week you may want to write out a ‘treatment’ of your novel, much the way filmmakers do with a movie. What kind of tone do you want to create? What’s the mood or feeling you want to stir in the reader?

    Stephenie Meyer, I recall, used to create playlists of music while writing her Twilight series (I think Muse featured heavily). A good idea is to think of what invisible soundtrack you want the reader to ‘hear’ while reading the book — this will influence the tone of your novel.
    Timelock — 2-3 hours
    • 1 hour to rewrite your synopsis
    • 1 hour to rewrite your character thumbnails
    • 1 hour to write out the treatment (Optional)
    5 Quick Hacks
    1. Read a novel or two and try to isolate the three plot points, or three scenes, that are key to its genre.
    2. Make a list of your favourite baddies or antagonists — next to each name write down one or two characters traits that you remember about them.
    3. Imagine your main character and antagonist in two different locations at exactly the same time — describe how your antagonist would travel to get to your main character and why.
    4. Watch one of your favourite movies — pay attention to the mood or tone of the story. How was this achieved?
    5. Create a playlist of music that you think would suit your story. Listen to it while you write.
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘Genre is a powerful but dangerous lens. It both clarifies and limits. The writer must be careful not to see life in the stereotyped form — but to look at life with all the possibilities of genre in mind.’ — Donald Murray

    Watch out for the fourth instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year next week.

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you enjoyed this post, read:


    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate