7 Useful Lists To Help You Create A Character

Are you looking for a creative writing exercise to share with your students or your writing group? Use this infographic as a quick fix to help beginner writers create more rounded characters.

Lists are one of the most useful prompts for writers to use as a starting point. I suggest that you start with a list of five items for each list. Use each list for a different exercise. 

Example: Use the 'Dreams List' to create a scene where the character thinks about what she still wants to achieve. Let her think about these things as she performs a mundane task.

If you are looking for more detailed ways of creating a character, read The Only Character Questionnaire You Need to Complete and 127 Prompts To Finish Before You Write About Yourself (Or Any Character)

Do you want a daily prompt?

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 our mailing list.

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

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

If you enjoyed this article, read:

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

5 Tips For Writing Vivid Fiction From Edgar Allan Poe

'How many good books suffer neglect through the inefficiency of their beginnings!' ~Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor, and literary critic. He was one of the first American short story writers. He is known as the inventor of the detective fiction genre, and for contributing to the emerging science fiction genre. 

Poe was ahead of his time in his writing. Born on 19 January 1809, he understood that less is more. He had a critical plan for each piece that he wrote. In his essay, ‘The Philosophy of Composition’, he explains the elements that make up a good story. 

Poe takes us through the creation of his poem, 'The Raven'. He says he selected this well-known work to show that nothing is in it by accident. He writes '...that the work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.'

5 Lessons I Learnt From Reading Poe's Analysis

  1. The work should have a vivid, original effect. He writes ‘Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?' He says that tone and incident should be worked together to have the desired effect on the reader, 'whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone'.
  2. Do not overwrite. To have the desired effect, it should be read in one sitting. He says, 'if any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression.' Obviously, novels do not necessarily fit this rule, but he believed this was essential for effect. Perhaps our modern unputdownable novels with shorter chapters have the same effect on the reader. The ideal length for a poem, he says, is one hundred lines.
  3. Know the ending before you begin. He believes you need to know this to be able to plot effectively. He says, 'Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.' I agree with this. Read 7 Extremely Good Reasons To Write The Ending First and 5 Really Good Reasons To Outline Your Novel - before you write a word.
  4. Choose a setting that works for the story. Poe first decides what he wants to say in the poem, or rather what he wants the characters to say, and only once that is in place, does he decide where to set the poem. He says he needed to bring the lover and the Raven together in a specific way, '— and the first branch of this consideration was the locale. For this the most natural suggestion might seem to be a forest, or the fields — but it has always appeared to me that a close circumscription of space is absolutely necessary to the effect of insulated incident: — it has the force of a frame to a picture.'
  5. The tone should reflect the theme. He says the choice to allow the raven, a bird of ill omen to repeat one word, 'Nevermore',  in a monotonous, melancholy tone at the end of each stanza allowed him to ask: 'Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy? Death — was the obvious reply.' The melancholy tone echoes the theme of death.

Follow the link if you want to read the complete essay and follow this link to read a selection of Edgar Allan Poe quotes.

Happy writing.

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

If you enjoyed this, you will love:

  1. e.e. cummings - on being nobody-but-yourself
  2. 7 Writing Tips From Roald Dahl
  3. The Man With The Golden Pen — 5 Writing Secrets From Ian Fleming
  4. 6 Things Alfred Hitchcock Can Teach You About Writing
  5. 10 Elementary Tips For Writers From Sherlock Holmes
  6. 6 Lessons From Jane Austen's Novels - On Love, Life & Writing
  7. 17 Things You Probably Never Knew About Arthur Conan Doyle


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

The Rise And Fall - 13 Social Media Trends To Watch In 2017

Don't panic. Social media is not going anywhere. Last year I looked at blogging trends for 2016. I believe that most of these will hold for 2017. This year, I want to look at some social media trends that are rising and others that are falling.

Money spent on social media marketing grew 55% to $10.9 billion between 2014 and 2015. It is estimated that it will reach $14 billion in 2018. (Source: Mediakix) This is not surprising with the number of people using social media.

How Many People Are On Social Media In 2017?

The key statistics for digital, social, and mobile media in 2016 are: 
  • 3.42 billion internet users, equalling 46% global penetration
  • 2.31 billion social media users, delivering 31% global penetration
  • 3.79 billion unique mobile users, representing 51% global penetration
  • 1.97 billion mobile social media users, equating to 27% global penetration
Source: We Are Social: Digital In 2016. Visit this site to see how social media is growing across the globe.

The Rise And Fall - 13 Social Media Trends in 2017

When asked to choose only one social media platform, most businesses chose Facebook.

  1. Social media giants will rise. It is impossible to do business online without filtering your information through these sites first. The giants of 2017 for business are Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Your content has to be brilliant so that the platform’s filters share it and followers see it. Facebook especially will become even more powerful. It is the most important platform and more than 60% of businesses have plans to increase their exposure on Facebook and YouTube. Source: Social Media Examiner from Social Media Marketing Industry Report. (Download a version here)

  2. Twitter will continue to struggle. Twitter is trying to reinvent itself as the number one source for news. 'Twitter has refocused. It’s no longer a social network, it’s a news product.' (Source) For this to become more successful, it will have to solve harassment issues and deal with fake news. Twitter fatigue is real. (Source)

  3. Video will rise. Video has become essential. 60% of marketers use video and 73% plan to increase their use of video, including live video. A YouTube channel becomes even more attractive when you know that YouTube has paid out $2 billion to users as of July 2016 (YouTube). 

  4. Content marketing will continue to rise. Information in the form of well-written articles using storytelling techniques becomes more important each year. (Source) Social media sites will try to encourage people to blog directly on the platform. This may seem like a good idea, but I think it is better to keep your options open. Post on the site, but link to your content as well. Have you ever been blocked by Facebook? You need to have some control over your content. [Read 5 Things You Need To Know About Content Marketing]

  5. Organic social media growth will fall. Being there is the first step. Now that you're there, you have to have a plan to stay in the limelight. These 6 studies show why this is happening. Use targeted marketing social media tools on the big platforms to reach your audience. You will also have to budget for paid reach.

  6. Social media advertising will rise. You will have to budget for advertising on social media. Identify the platform you want to use and find out how to do this. Facebook is the best place to start. 86% of social marketers regularly use Facebook ads, while only 18% use Twitter ads. Facebook advertising is easy to use if you are a beginner. Facebook has over three million active advertisers, and more than 70% of these are from outside America. (Facebook). 

  7. Fake news will fall. It may be too late for some, but the fight back is beginning. After Oxford dictionary decided that ‘post-truth’ was its word of the year, we knew we had reached rock bottom. Facebook is putting measures in place to filter the nonsense people are presenting as facts.Twitter will have to find a way to combat this as well. In South Africa, we need to stop abusive trolls that other users call 'Paid Twitter'. Google will have to look at its algorithm as fake news sites benefit from the sheer volume of traffic they create.

  8. The importance of trustworthiness will rise. You will have to make triple sure that your facts are correct. People are getting tired of lies and it could be bad for business if you inadvertently slip up. This means you need to verify what you are sharing. It also means that you must research anything you write in a blog post. Earning this trust will be the key to selling your products. 

  9. Social messaging will rise. WhatsApp, an SMS replacement app recently crossed the one billion user mark. Businesses will be able to use these messaging apps to interact with some customers, especially the younger generation. Use this for customer queries and complaints. Doctors in Brazil use WhatsApp to contact patients. (Source for graph: Dreamgrow)

  10. Marketing posts will fall. People will become more averse to content that is designed to sell. Search engines will also become more intolerant of this. Do not try to disguise an advertisement or a press release as information.  Invest in learning how to create proper content, or in employing somebody to do it for you. [Read 40 Types Of Content That Will Make Blogging Easier For You]

  11. Email newsletters will rise. The effectiveness of email marketing increased in 2016. Email newsletters became more interactive and setting up of email lists became more user-friendly. Use an email marketing service such as Mailchimp to create your newsletters and maintain your mailing list. Email newsletters will become even more targeted and personalised in 2017. (Source: Business2Community

  12. Push advertising will continue to fall. More people than ever are using ad blockers to prevent unwanted advertising. Don't force banners, pop-ups, paid ads, and pop-unders on your audience when they visit your blog.

  13. The power of social media influencers will continue to rise. Your goal on social media is to get people to notice you and to talk about you. You have to be everywhere. Jeff Bullas says 'As the noise increases online... , the influencer and thought leaders who have built reach globally are the new niche gatekeepers. Brands are now paying to reach their admirers and devotees.' 

Which of these trends do you think will change our world in 2017?

Writers Write has almost half a million followers on social media. Join us here:


If you want to learn how to blog and write for social media, join us for  The Complete Blogging and Social Media Course

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

If you enjoyed this post read:


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

Use Your Antagonist To Define Your Story Goal

If you want to write a book, you have to keep your characters busy. You need to give them something to do. Presenting them with a tangible threat, giving them a reason to overcome it, and allowing them a way out, will give them a physical story goal.

As Chuck Palahniuk says: 'One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.'

The easiest way to define your protagonist’s story goal is to determine your antagonist’s physical story goal. The two will be in conflict with each other. 

It is often easier to give your antagonist a physical goal. It is also easier for us to assign base story goals to villains than to assign them to our heroes. If you understand this, we can use it to your advantage. 

Remember, to define a physical story goal a character needs: 
  1. to get something physical
  2. to cause something physical
  3. to escape something physical
  4. to resolve something physical
  5. to survive something physical
The pursuit of the physical goal is the road map your character needs to follow to achieve his or her abstract story goal. [Read The Story Goal - The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure]
Let's look at this example of a physical goal from Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
The antagonist's physical story goal: The constable wants to find, and kill, Danny Angel because Danny mistakenly killed his girlfriend, Injun Jane. The constable wants to cause something physical – Danny’s death.
The protagonist's physical story goal: Danny wants to physically move away from the constable and survive. He wants to live, and write books. Danny wants to escape something physical – The constable killing him.
When the constable finally tracks him down, Danny kills him. The constable therefore fails to achieve his story goal.  Danny achieves his story goal. When the antagonist does not achieve his physical goal, the story ends. 

Let's look at the abstract goal from Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
The antagonist's abstract story goal: The constable wants revenge.
The protagonist's abstract story goal: Danny Angel wants to be free to live a normal life.
When the constable fails to kill Danny, he does not get his revenge. He does not achieve his abstract story goal. When Danny survives, he is able to confess his part in the accident, and go on to live ‘a normal life’. He achieves his abstract story goal as a result of his actions.
The physical goal is always the most important for the purposes of plotting and writing your book. Never forget this. Without the constant tension created by this physical goal , it is difficult to sustain momentum in your story. Chasing an abstract goal is as absurd as fighting a war on 'terror'. 

If you apply this rule to your own life, you will find that you achieve your abstract goals. For example, if you want to become a success in the publishing industry (abstract goal), you will first have to write many books (physical goal). 

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

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

If you enjoyed this article, read:

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

10 Tips To Help You Write More Effective Emails

I write about emails frequently because business is mostly conducted via email. Telephone calls, meetings, and text messaging are part of the way we communicate, but the bulk of what we say and what we ask happens via our inboxes. 

So, it seems like a good idea to write an email etiquette refresher for my first business writing post of 2017.

We write emails to: 
  1. Provide information
  2. Answer queries
  3. Ask for information
  4. Build relationships
  5. Deliver reports
  6. Submit proposals
  7. Make offers
If we communicate clearly and simply, we have a better chance of getting the response we want.

Here are 10 tips to help you write effective emails.

1.    Send it to the correct person
Are you sure that the recipient wants or needs to get your correspondence? Is he or she the correct person to contact? If you are certain, make sure that you spell their name correctly.
2.    Dear Sir or Madam
Do not use archaic overly formal language. Use a respectful, cordial greeting and salutation. Make sure your tone is correct for the subject and recipient.
Dear Dan
Kind regards
3.    The subject line must tell us what the email covers
Do not leave this empty. It shows an immaturity in business and spam filters are likely to send it to junk mail. Use the subject line to indicate clearly what you want from the email. Are you advertising an event, sending an update, asking a question, setting a deadline, or requesting information? Whatever it is, make it clear. [Read The 12 Worst Mistakes People Make In Email Subject Lines]
Example: Short Story Course – Take advantage of our discount
4.    Write in your own voice
Write the way you would speak. Use a conversational tone and allow your personality to come through. People will see through your ‘business persona’ and your affectation will alienate them. [Read But How Did The Email Make You Feel?] Do not use big words and complex, convoluted sentence structures.
Do not say: We require your consumer-related data for the course at this point in time.
Do say: We need your registration information now.
5.    Start at the end
Start your email with the reason for writing. Do not build up to it. You are not writing a suspense novel. We don’t have time to wade through your history, your resume and anything else you include. We need to decide if the email is of interest to us.
Example: Writers Write is offering a discount on the course you’re interested in attending.
6.    Ask a question
Before we write the email we should be clear about what we want to achieve. Be specific. Be confident without being arrogant.
Example: Would you like to take advantage of our offer?
7.    Less is more
Be brief. Be courteous. Your email should not be longer than 250 words. Keep it as short as possible without sacrificing important information. One way to get this right is by using the five Ws and the one H to make sure you cover the facts.
Where: Provide the venue
When: Give the date of the course
How much: Provide details of the discount
Why: Tell the reader why it’s a great deal
Who: Provide (brief) details of who will be facilitating
What: Include what you will we cover on the course
8.    Include a deadline
We need to be clear about when we need the response.
Example: This offer is valid until 23 December 2016. If you want to take advantage, please book before that date.
9.    Make us care
Show readers why this is of interest to them. Why should they spend time on our request? Know your audience. Don’t waste time with frivolous requests.
Example: We are making this offer because you asked us to alert you about new dates.
10.  Do not harass the recipient
Once we’ve sent the email, detailed our reason for sending it, and given a deadline, we have done what we can. If you require an urgent response, send one reminder email to make sure the recipient is aware of the importance. After that, leave them alone.

If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme

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

If you enjoyed this article, read:


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

The Top 3 Emotional Responses That Make People Share On Social Media

If you blog, you want people to share your content. You want to reach as many people as possible. Having an informative, vivid, accessible presence on the internet is crucial for the success of your business in 2017. 

Last year I wrote about The 18 Responses You Need For Content To Go Viral. Your audience shares content when it affects them in a certain way and they are more likely to share positive than negative content.

BuzzSumo narrowed it down even further. They analysed the social share counts of more than 100 million articles to find out why people share. This is what they learnt.

After looking at the top 10 000 most shared articles across the web, they mapped each one to an emotion, such as joy, sadness, anger, and amusement. This is what the breakdown of emotional responses looked like:

The three most popular emotional reasons for sharing were:
  1. Awe (25%)
  2. Laughter (17%)
  3. Amusement (15%)

They say: 'The differences between laughter and amusement were blurry at times, but we define amusement as being entertained, and not laugh out loud funny.'

The least popular were sadness and anger, which made up 7%.

In summary, they came up with these 10 criteria if you want to create viral content. You should:

  1. Inspire awe, laughter, or amusement.
  2. Appeal to people’s narcissistic side (BuzzFeed quizzes are an example).
  3. Provide long-form content because it has less competition, and more shares on average.
  4. Use list posts and infographics as they are more likely to be shared.
  5. Make sure your article inspires trust. Have a byline and a biography. Make sure you have a professional logo and design as well.
  6. Mix text with visually appealing elements.
  7. Implement social metadata such as the Facebook preview image.
  8. Reach out to influencers before you write your content.
  9. Promote your article for a week after it’s been published.
  10. Post on a Tuesday. It is the best day to publish and promote content. 

Their findings are interesting and it is well worth reading the full article: What Analysing 100 Million Articles Taught Us

If you want to learn how to blog and write for social media, join us for  The Complete Blogging and Social Media Course

If You Don't Have These 7 Qualities You Probably Shouldn't Be Writing A Novel

Do you ever wonder why you're writing your book? Does it seem more of a chore than anything else? Sometimes, we fall in love with the idea of being a writer, rather than loving the writing itself. Over the years, I've watched people who write, and finish, their (many) novels and they seem to share these qualities.

7 Qualities You Need To Become A Novelist
  1. You have to have a passion for stories. This is more than having a passion for books. You need to love the sound and shape of words and the way they can be used to intoxicate, persuade, and change people. You have moments when you're reading and you stop because a sentence is so exquisite it takes your breath away. Your mind is probably never quiet, filled as it is with all the situations you could turn into stories.
  2. You need to create. Fiction writing is not about you. You need to have something to tell that it is not autobiographical. You should be writing a memoir if that is the case. To become a writer of fiction, you should have a fantastical story populated with unique characters that keeps you up at night - a story that makes you daydream and believe that you could actually become a novelist. You should love the idea of creating something that was not there before. 
  3. You need your imaginary friends. You probably have an inner voice that narrates the life you experience around you. You will find yourself wondering what your protagonist would think about somebody you've just met or somewhere you've been. You constantly think about all the 'what ifs' you could throw her way. You shop with these characters, create worlds for them, and live through joy and tragedy with them.
  4. You cannot be afraid of a blank canvas. This can be terrifying if you prefer to have more structure in your life. Even if you have planned and plotted your novel, you have to take a leap of faith and do it. You will spend long periods alone without anybody who can help you. The book will not write itself. [Suggested Reading: So You Want To Be A Writer?]
  5. You have to be comfortable with your voice. The only way to do this is by writing many, many words. A daily writing prompt is a must for writers who want to become novelists. David Eddings says: 'My advice to the young writer is likely to be unpalatable in an age of instant successes and meteoric falls. I tell the neophyte: Write a million words–the absolute best you can write, then throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written. At that point, you’re ready to begin.' If you write every day, you will develop a style that is uniquely yours so that you get on with telling the story instead of stumbling on the mechanics of the writing itself.
  6. You need to love the process. Yes, writing is difficult. It could even be the hardest thing you will ever do, but you need to love the act itself. Many authors say they write because they can't do anything else. Most authors say they write to find out what they think. Writing teaches you more about yourself and the world around you than you could ever imagine. [Suggested Reading: 10 Things Successful Authors Do]
  7. You have to do the time. The ability to work alone, setting deadlines, and reaching word counts is not for the fainthearted. This is where learning the craft of novel-writing can really help you, because it teaches you structure and discipline. Sue Grafton advises writers to slow down. She says, 'I don't know that people are spending the time and attention on learning how to write -- which takes years. Everybody sees the success stories. So instead of taking five years to learn how to write a decent sentence, they're writing a book proposal and asking who your editor and your agent are. So I find it a little infuriating that there is not more care given to the issue of being wonderful at writing.' If you can learn the rules, write the words, set a goal and reach it on a regular basis, you will probably be able to finish writing a novel. 
There are many more qualities you could and should have, but these seven seem to be an intrinsic part of a writer's make-up. Please add the qualities you think novelists should have in the comments section.

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

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

If you enjoyed this article, read:

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

35 Items To Add To Every Writer's Wish List

Writers are the heroes of their own stories. They bravely struggle to get their words down on paper, battling their insecurities and avoiding distractions as they will themselves to get to 'The End' of the book.

I've put together a wish list for writers. Some of the items are funny and others are serious. I hope you enjoy it - and please add your wishes in the comments section below.

35 Items For A Writer's Wish List
  1. Time to write
  2. The ability to avoid procrastinating when you have the time to write
  3. Unlimited cups of good coffee (or tea)
  4. Chocolate
  5. Wine (if the chocolate and coffee are not working)
  6. Books
  7. Time to read those books
  8. The ability to accept criticism from professionals
  9. The wisdom to reject biased critiques from family and friends
  10. Books on writing
  11. Bookish gifts
  12. Inspiration from unlikely sources
  13. A space to write
  14. A writing desk (or a standing desk)
  15. Learning the rules of writing
  16. Breaking the rules of writing (now that you know what they are)
  17. Conversations with intelligent people
  18. Interviews with interesting people
  19. An invisibility cloak to avoid people who watch reality television shows
  20. Noise cancelling headphones
  21. Time to visit bookshops
  22. Time to daydream
  23. Perseverance
  24. Curiosity
  25. Courage
  26. Support from loved ones
  27. A creative writing course
  28. A writer's retreat
  29. Letting go of the fear of rejection
  30. Letting go of the fear of not being good enough
  31. The willpower to stop talking about writing… and write
  32. Finally finishing the story
  33. The ability to write a fabulous synopsis and jaw-dropping query letter
  34. An agent
  35. A publishing deal
I hope you get some of the items on this list (or your list). Happy writing. 

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

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

If you enjoyed this article, read:

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

15 Fabulous Resources For Short Story Writers

21 December is Short Story Day in America. We celebrate Short Story Day on 21 June in South Africa. These days were chosen because they are the shortest days of the year in the two hemispheres.

To commemorate the day, we've included links to our 15 favourite posts on short stories:

  1. The Top 10 Reasons To Write Short Stories
  2. The Secret To Writing A Great Short Story
  3. Five 10-Minute Fixes For Your Short Story
  4. The Top 20 Literary Quotes About Short Stories
  5. 3 Short Story Writers Who Inspire Me
  6. How To Outline A Short Story For Beginners
  7. The Long And The Short of It – The Difference Between A Novel And Short Story
  8. Short Story Day Africa - 21 June
  9. 20 Unforgettable Quotes About Short Stories
  10. 5 Tips For Choosing The Short Story Competition That Works For You
  11. 5 Ways To Kick-Start Your New Short Story
  12. 3 Ways To Get Your Short Story Started
  13. 10 Writing Contests You Should Definitely Enter
  14. Stephen King On Writing Short Stories
  15. A Guide to Short Story Contests in 2017

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

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  PinterestGoogle+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

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

How A Timeline Helps You Plot A Novel

History is neither simple nor linear, but when we show events in a line they seem to make sense. We see the results of cause and effect when we show sequences that exist in relationship to each other. We see patterns, turning points, and progressions. One of the main reasons we read is to make sense of the world.

A timeline suggests a past, present, and future. Using one for plotting allows us to see a beginning, middle, and ending. Linking units of time to events allows writers to plot a book in a graphic way. We are able to see the book from the reader's perspective. Is there a pattern? Does it make sense?

A timeline helps us choose what to include in our story. It also gives us a map to follow. It is the big picture of a novel - a place where we get the chance to see the overarching storylines and how they intersect.

Seven questions that will help create a timeline
  1. How old are your characters when the story begins?
  2. Where are the characters in the story?
  3. Why does the story start?
  4. What are your main characters’ story goals? [Read The Story Goal]
  5. Who are their co-stars?
  6. How old are your characters when the story ends?
  7. Where will it end?
Remember that a time-span has nothing to do with the length of a book. We can cover a lifetime in one paragraph. A week, a month, or a year could span an entire book. A timeline helps us to include only events that are relevant to the plot in our novels.

Beginnings and endings
We should never start our novel on the day our characters take their first breaths – unless that moment is important to the story. We are not writing our characters’ biographies. Try not to bore the reader with a factual re-telling of their first years. 

A timeline can help us remove unnecessary backstory. We get to see how much information we tend to dump in the beginning of a book. It can be used as a tool to help us work through where we should start our stories. We can use this part of our timeline to help fill in a character questionnaire.

Start at a point of crisis or change. The reader will immediately want to know what happened before and after that point. Start when the reason for writing the story begins. [Read The Importance of Inciting Moments]

Carry on by inserting the events needed to get us through the middle of the story to the end. We tell a story in (action) scenes and (reaction) sequels. We usually have 60-80 of these in a novel. You can use these to create the events on your timeline. [Read Why Writers Should Always Make a Scene]

Stop when the main character reaches his or her story goal. [Read The Sense Of An Ending]
One of the most useful things that emerges from this exercise is that we begin to see unnecessarily repetitive scenes and superfluous characters.

  1. Create a timeline for your story.
  2. Create separate timelines for your four main characters.
  3. Make sure they all work together.
There are also online timeline tools you could try, including Timeline, Timetoast, and Timeglider.

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

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

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