Is there something you’d like to know about writing fiction or any other aspect to the process? Do you have a quick question that you’d like a (hopefully) quick answer to? You can ask me here! Just put your question (writing-related please!) in the comment box below and I’ll reply as soon as I can (posting them subsequently in this main page field below). Please use this facility for asking writing-related questions only. If you have a general enquiry, please email me or see the Contact Me page. Questions asked so far…
- 27 August 2012: Jim asked, “Hi Morgen, Just wondering… I am trying to write a class outline to teach Japanese students how to ‘brainstorm’. I gladly took advantage of the Word-Web sheet you posted. (Thank you.) My question is: Would you be able to give me some direction on what a Word-Wall, Word-Tree, etc. might look like – if they were applied to brainstorming as well? Hope to hear from you soon. Jim”.
My reply was… Hi Jim. Thank you for your question (and for using my Word Web!). There’s a great video on how to create a Word Tree at http://www.ehow.com/video_12232965_word-tree-first-graders.html. It’s not dissimilar to the Word Web except that instead of synonyms or the likes it concentrates on the original word itself and how to expand on it (which can be done on the Word Web). Kathy Gursky has a great example of a Word Wall on http://www.theschoolbell.com/Links/word_walls/words.html. I put all the exercises that I do in my workshops on my https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/exercisespage and prompts on my https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/5pm-fiction page so feel free to try any of those. I quite often use small rectangles of coloured card with different words on them for compiling a story e.g. characters’ jobs, traits, objects, dilemma, locations and you don’t need many for variety.
- 18 September 2012: Scotty asked, “How would a complete virgin to writing fiction find where to start where is first base so to speak, and were talking complete newbie this is a totally alien world to me and dont have a clue where i would possibly start (apart from learning to spell that is), how do you structure your writing, build a character, the world they live in and how easy is it to wrap yourself in knots and be totally confused. Something else that intrigues me is you have ideas say for characters, situations they get into but how do you link them fluidly”
My reply was… The great thing about fiction is that it (generally) comes from nowhere. I run a writing workshop every other Monday night and we start with a single word, five keywords or a sentence beginning (and other prompts) and see what happens. I plotted my first novel back in 2008 but found very quickly that it look on a life of its own (guided by the characters) so sat back and just wrote. I would suggest keeping it simple to start with… too many ideas for one story could complicate. A story doesn’t have to be complex (if it is, it probably means it’s a novel) – I wrote a story recently (https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/5pm-fiction-017-the-chelsea-bun) about an old man in a bakery and it seemed pretty normal to begin with but generally with any story you need some form of action and dilemma. The Chelsea Bun is the grand sum of 240 words. :) Regarding linking them, you could just start with a character and even writing a description of them could take you somewhere. By giving someone a job gives them a location and probably someone else to interact with it would usually lead you somewhere, even just a dialogue between them – you can learn a great deal from what people say. Writing fiction does make you more aware of the world around you, and a great excuse to be nosy. :) You could start with this blog’s Exercises page and see if anything grabs you… or try a sentence start. Once I started writing I found I couldn’t stop… there’s only one way to find out what you’re capable of by putting pen to paper or hands to keyboard. Another exercise is freewriting where you just write a jumble of anything, even if it’s “I can’t think of anything to write” twenty times, your brain will get bored of it and hopefully come up with something else, perhaps a story about a child at school who has to do his / her lines, doesn’t like his teacher, wishes he was at home with his dog, is looking forward to the next episode of Doctor Who and has just finished his fiftieth line when a blue tardis appears in the school playground. :) Just make sure you have a small notepad (Tesco / Wilkinsons do some great ones here in the UK) and two pens (in case one runs out) wherever you go. :) Thank you for asking, Scott, and do let me know how you get on….
- 20 Sept 2012: Sasha asked, “Morgen: Thank you for a very informative article on comedy writing for TV. A question: is Sketch Comedy script’s format similar to the one for a sitcom? I am having a very hard time finding a sample of such a script, while there are plenty of samples for a sitcom. Thank you much. Sasha.”
My reply was… I’ve only written a TV script so have done some digging. http://freecomedysketches.blogspot.co.uk looks like a great source plus there’s http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Comedy-Sketch. The BBC is very supportive of script writers and they have examples of TV comedy scripts at http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scripts/search (select comedy / TV). I hope that helps.
- 14 Jan 2013: Colin said, “I began writing an ‘acute’ biography of my spiritual experiences (acute meaning, I have to use several characters to envelope my story) it is working okay, I have around 258 pages and 80,500 words so far… Question is, I need some ‘general’ valuable feedback as to how to become a writer, I hold no qualifications as such… (just your average ‘Joe’ who has become wise to a gift) any help you can give would be gratefully received. Just one more question, Are we able to post anywhere here, a tastier of our work….? (a short piece from the books that we have ‘or’ in the process of writing to gain any feedback). Love this site by the way :)
My reply was… 1. “I began… 80,500 words so far” – congratulations. :) “I need some ‘general’ valuable feedback as to how to become a writer, I hold no qualifications as such…” – unless you count ‘O’ level English, and the first year of a degree course, and some day / weekend classes, nor do I. No writer has to have qualifications (although studying does speed up the process). I’ve learned as I’ve gone along and don’t know how long you’ve been writing but I started eight years ago so have picked up a few tips, many of which I’ve put on this blog’s Writing 101. Absolutely. Not on this blog because I’ve just stopped doing the Red Pen Critique https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/red-pen-critique but I’ve stopped it because I’ve set up four online writing groups specifically to post extracts (<5,000 words) and gain feedback (and post daily writing exercises :)) and each one has a Facebook group to extend the conversations. They’re for novels, poetry, short stories and scripts and are listed on this blog’s Online Writing Groups page. For those with longer extracts, or who are shy, I also have a Feedback page where writers (and readers / publishers!) can swap contact details and I think we already (it’s 2 months old) have every genre covered – that’s at https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/feedback. I’ll gladly add you to either / both list(s).
- 14 Jan 2013: Colin then asked, “I really need to create a website for my work, my books and general feedback… do you deliver this service also…?”
My reply was… I do design (and only recommend) WordPress blogs – details on this blog’s Blog Design Service page. http://janewenhamjones.wordpress.com is one of my creations, as is this site (obviously) and the four new writing groups… and a few others. :)
- 19 Jan 2013: Albie asked, “In your opinion, are writing programs, (Newnovelist, WriteItNow, etc), useful for would be writers’, or Just a matter of personal choice?”
My reply was… I do think it’s a personal choice. I found going to workshops, belonging to writing groups, reading fiction and the writing itself to be the most helpful, but really whatever you use has got to be useful because it’s getting you writing. If you’re on a budget, then I do think software (I have heard good things about NewNovelist) and writing guides are the best way to go. Stephen King’s On Writing is the most recommended in my interviews. Scrivener is a software programme I’m think of getting and although developed for the Mac it’s also available for the PC. It’s not until November but I’d recommend NaNoWriMo (http://nanowrimo.org) because it gets you writing 50,000 words in 30 days and the joy of it only being January is you have nine months to plan!
- 18 Feb 2013: bzuley asked, “I’ve written a couple novellas as ebooks and I’m getting ready to start a series. I’ve got the website: http://www.carriebaileybooks.com and some readers ready to look at my work, but I haven’t connected with people who primarily read science fiction. Where are the best places to do that online or out in the real world? Do you have a top five? I don’t just want to push my work on people. I want to interact. Find new, inspiring work, do peer reviews…etc. Thanks for offering to answer questions.”
My reply was… I don’t read or write science-fiction so am not familiar with outlets but I do have a few opportunities listed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/submission-information/submissions-sci-fi-fantasy-horror-etc which may be of interest / use. Also lists of sci-fi reviewers on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/reviews/reviews-fantasy-horror-sci-fi.
- 26 June 2013: Jeanne asked, “I am working on another special needs story. I wanted to know how to put in a picture that I am painting into a word document then convert it into a pdf format and how to move it around. I have four that I would be painting including the cover again. I used create space and wanted to to again, but I wasn’t sure how much it would cost to use their services. The book would not be long maybe 15 pages?”
My reply was… The easiest way is to select ‘Insert’ from the menu bar then ‘Picture’ and it’ll ask you to locate the file. Once it’s inserted, right-click on it with your mouse and ‘Format Picture’ then ‘Layout’ and ‘Tight’. This means you can move the picture to anywhere you want it to be (and resize it by dragging in one of the corners, the cursor should change to a double-headed arrow). You’d need to do all that before you convert to a pdf which you would do simply by saving the document then selecting ‘File’ / ‘Save As’ then instead of the .doc or .doc file type, select PDF. I’ve not used CreateSpace so don’t know their charges but wouldn’t imagine it would be much for such a short book.
- 7 Nov 2013: Rosalind asked, “Please can you tell me how to get stuff in the right-hand margin on a blog. You’ve got a neat bullet-point list. My wordpress a/c won’t let me.”
My reply was… The side bar is made up of widgets (Dashboard / Appearance / Widgets – or hover over the name of your blog on your top black strip and the widgets should be the sixth option). Most of the ones with (arrow) bullet points are automated, e.g. Twitter updates, recent posts, blogroll, where to find me but the where to find me is a text widget. If you don’t have a right-hand menu, you should find layout options in Dashboard / Appearance / Theme Options but it depends on what theme you’ve picked. Some have it and some don’t – my http://shortstorywritinggroup.wordpress.com doesn’t but http://poetrywritinggroup.wordpress.com theme does. Annoying, I know.
- 5 Dec 2013: Jasmine asked, “can you tell me if you liked to read when you were younger?”
My reply was… I don’t remember much of what I read as a child although I do remember Russell Hoban’s ‘The Mouse & His Child’. I progressed to Stephen King in my teens, which I read under the duvet with a torch when I should have been sleeping and blame him for me wearing glasses.
- 12 Jan 2014: Anna asked, “I am a 12 yr old writer and I am currently writing a book called “other side”. I’m seriously having problems creating hooks and making the book original and not some ripoff of the clique. Did you have a problem making a story it’s own and if so did it come out original and how should I make my book original?”
My reply was… I wouldn’t worry about your story being unoriginal. Unless you deliberately copy passages of another author’s work, you’re not copying. West Side Story has the same plot as Romeo & Juliet. A lot of authors think that by reading it will influence their writing but every writer should also be a reader and it’s what established authors recommend. If you feel you are creating a cliche, think of another way of saying it e.g. cold as ice, think of something else, something unusual that’s really cold (polar bear?). Hooks can be tricky but sometimes when writing novels the hook is in chapter 2 or three so you need to remove the slow start (which is usually an introduction to a character or their backstory) and filter it in thereafter. Writing is a craft that just takes practice. No one would put you in front of a canvas and expect a Dali or in front of a piano and expect a concerto. Good luck. I’ll be running some online courses in the next few weeks which will include a novel course (inc. beginnings, middles, ends, cliches etc). I’ll put the details on my blog.
- 17 Jan 2014: Joanna asked on Facebook, “I’m constantly being told that my first chapter of my book, long lost, is slow. The trouble is its meant to be slow, setting the scene for the disruption that’s about to come in the subsequent chapters. I’ve reworked it several times to cut out any unnecessary descriptions etc but this still doesn’t please anyone. Anyone else have this problem? Any advice on how to make a slow opening chapter that’s meant to be slow more punchy?”
My reply was… It’s a common question and one that can be answered quite simply: Your opening chapter, in fact your opening paragraph, should be the ‘hook’ which your disruption sounds like it is. Regardless of length, all stories should start with action then filter in backstory etc. which will be slower but the reader is already engaged and will be interested in why what happened at the start happened. Don’t put too much detail so they lose that interest so a paragraph here and there is fine. It often happens that chapter 2 or 3 of a first draft should actually be chapter 1 because the writer is getting out the information (often called an ‘info dump) that’s in their head so that the real story can start. Think about where your action starts and that’s probably where you need to start your novel. I’d recommend against using prologues which some writers use to give that information but many readers (myself included) don’t read them because they want to start at the action so you’d be risking some readers not knowing the whole story, albeit their ‘fault’ not yours.
- 17 Jan 2014: And I was asked about halving the word count of a synopsis.
My reply was… I usually recommend starting with a 50- or 100-word max synopsis and work outwards, e.g. From waring families, Romeo & Juliet know they can’t be together but marry in secret. The feuding escalates and confusion arises but Juliet is offered a drug to fake her own death, with a message being sent to Romeo of the plan. A servant tells him of her ‘death’ and Romeo kills himself so he can join her. She wakes and finds him, so stabs herself. Their deaths bring the families together and peace is restored.’ Something like that. The elevator pitch you have is already a good foundation to then add in the main characters names (four/five maximum) and build on a few words of the plot (including the ending(s)) from there.
- 4 Feb 2014: Anthony said, “I’ve read your short story Feeding The Father and was hoping that there is a part two to the part one that I’ve read, as you left it on a little cliff hanger.”
My reply was… Thank you for your message, and for reading my story. This was inspired by a newspaper article so that’s all there was, although I enjoyed writing it so could do more with it. I have your email address so will email you the article.
- 12 March 2014: Dorothy said, “I am trying to write a short story for my grandchildren. It has always been something in the back of my mind to do. I want to leave them with a little bit of insight into my heart, my life and so forth. Truthfully I have no idea where to begin.. I start with, ‘Hello. This is your nana speaking’ but that’s as far as I get lol. Any word of help would be nice.”
My reply was… What a lovely thing to do. Most children’s stories have a message whether it’s safety or educational. Do you want them to learn something from your story? What sort of books do they like reading? Planning you story will give you a structure. You already have your characters (they could be you / your grandchildren or fictional characters, perhaps some from the books they read already). Children usually like reading stories where the main character (a child) is 2-3 years older than them so they can aspire to be them. Where is the story going to be set? Will it be at your house? Their house? Somewhere outside that they know? Don’t know? There’s nothing wrong with already-used themes. Could you character find something, an object they don’t know so have to find out what it is, or a door leading somewhere? There usually has to be a problem but nothing too difficult. Your character could go on an adventure meeting other children or animals. You could write dialogue where you could use different (funny) voices when you (or your grandchildren, or their parents) read out the story. Is there something in your history that they might like to read about? Something they enjoy doing? I post writing prompts on my blog’s home page every weekday. There could be some inspiration there.
Alistair Henry also answered Dorothy’s query: “I’ve written and published a biography and dedicated it to my children, grandchildren and future generations of children so that they might better know who I was. But I didn’t initially intend to write a book – it came about from a journal that my Daughter gave me when I went to live in a remote location in Canada’s far north with a small band of First Nations people. I titled my book “Awakening in the Northwest Territories -one man’s search for fulflllment.” If you would like to write your memoir for your children, this is what I suggest you do. Reminisce and enjoy thinking about your life’s journey and jot down key events, people etc, in your life that you think you would like to write about. Think of these as “dots” on the linear line of your life and sit back and ponder if and how they shaped your character, personality etc.going forward, because everything in life is interconnected – causes, effects and outcomes. For me, my strict Victorian parents and heavy catholic education were key factors in growing up. Take some time and flesh out these “dots” – use your imagination to bring them to life. You might want to make a mean teacher meaner, a caring teacher kinder. Its okay to do this because you are still using facts, only elaborating on them, and after all, what is the truth anyway? Perhaps the teacher was meaner or kinder than you recall! The next part is to connect the dots. This is where you begin to actually write your story. You may find that writing it chronologically helps you with the flow and the development of the “dots’ into a narrative. Here again, let your imagination soar – elaborate on and milk the essence of the “:dots” and before you know it, you will be into the writing, the reminiscing and the enjoyment that authors get when they are in the “zone”. For me, writing my memoir was cathartic, therapeutic and enlightening: When I had finished I had a greater sense of who I was and why and who I am now. And it was so much fun: for me as the writer, and for my children, grandchildren, as well as the general public as readers.”
- 23 April 2014: Cathy asked, “Wondered if you could give me some advice. I attend a writing group and am recently new to writing but have had a little success. Lately I have been seeing a lot of my ideas in stories in the womags. Not my full stories but maybe two or three ideas in one story. At first I thought I was being silly but a friend has noticed it too – particular unusual and funny incidents that have happened in my life. It has become more than a coincidence and I think I know who is doing it. Two women come along to the group, rarely hand in any work but listen and always insist on taking your work home to “crit” it. I’ve stopped doing this but I’m finding I’m avoiding my group and my writing is suffering because of it. Can you or any of your readers help with this sensitive issue please? I love your blog, it’s so helpful to readers of all experience and thanks for putting all the womag guidelines in. Thanks.”
My reply was… What dreadful women. The writing fraternity is generally so supportive but like anything / anywhere, there are a minority who spoil it for others. Firstly, I’d speak to whoever runs the sessions with your ‘proof’ (your manuscripts / the printed stories) and see what he / she has to say. Unfortunately ideas / story titles are not copyright – only the writing itself – so they could submit ideas about a boy wizard going to boarding school and it could be accepted (unlikely though). I run a couple of writing groups and we all have copies of others’ writing so it is a risk but we would hope that the others wouldn’t be so devious as to steal our ideas. The submitting-to-publishing process can take months so presumably they ‘stole’ your ideas early on. Another option is to say in one of the meetings that a “friend of yours” has had her ideas stolen and published, and although you know ideas aren’t copyright, it’s saddened you and is spoiling your friend’s enjoyment of her writing. Say she also goes to a group (in London, so they’d never work out where) and is thinking of quitting (please don’t – or is there another group you could join?). Hopefully if the women have any conscience at all (which it sounds unlikely) then they’ll realise the effect they’re having. In the meantime, I’d recommend just taking one copy of your work saying your printer was low on ink – or better still, taking a laptop and read from that – so that there are no spare copies for the ladies to take home. They could still steal your ideas by writing down notes but wouldn’t have your actual writing (unless they wrote quickly). If you’re seeing your actual words in print then that’s a whole different issue. That would be plagiarism and you would have the right to sue. Your writing group would be your witnesses. Start dating (and copyrighting e.g. (C) Cathy (Surname) on every sheet). If there’s time in your next session you could lead a discussion about copyright (by talking about your “friend”) and see what the others think of it. Hopefully, the offenders will be in a minority and with such passionate objections from everyone else there, it’ll make them realising that what they’re doing is not only (potentially) illegal but it’s also immoral. Good luck, Cathy, and do let me know how you get on.
- 15 Oct 2014: Anna asked, “How imperative do you think it is to describe characters, particularly in short stories or flash fiction? I have read a number of traditionally published books that do very little(if any) description but I heard a talk by a short story writer who reckons that if you leave the visualization to the reader you are being lazy. There is the notion of “the viewers share” in painting so do writers not leave some things as the readers’ share?”
My reply was… I give very little description in my short stories and not a huge amount in my novels. There are ways of doing so, i.e. ‘show’ rather than tell e.g. they’re tall by helping someone shorter get something off a high shelf. Lee Child says little about Jack Reacher yet there was an uproar when Tom Cruise was cast as Jack in the film because readers imagined him to be tall and blond. You give some indication of age by their name (although names do come around generation after generation), the language they use / words they choose, how they react to others. The ideal is to lead the reader to be able to picture the character with them (the reader) filling in other details themselves. Two people will see a character quite differently, especially if they both know someone in real life who shares the same name. It’s the same with description of places and why some are disappointed by the film versions because of the way they’ve pictured the book.
Graham Smith added, “I try to draw a vague outline of main characters by seeing them through the eyes of others. I find there’s great fun in giving minor characters a really distinctive feature like big ears or a glass eye. but not saying anything more about them.”
And Lindsay Bamfield said: I give very little description unless some physical aspect is necessary to the character or plot. (I do believe there were several mentions of Jack Reacher being 6′ 5″ and it was integral to his character so Tom Cruise playing him was quite ludicrous.)
- 25 March 2015: Bea asked, “I’ve just finished university (well, last year!) and I’m an aspiring writer. It’s all I really want to do, and so I have got myself a bureau job for money but concentrating most of my time on writing. I’m 22, and have been writing on my blog and print/online publications for a few years. I’m ready for things to get a little more serious, and I was looking for some general advice… The place to find paid content writer jobs, your opinion on whether or not I’m too young to submit to agents etc. I’m confident, but also nervous and advice from someone like yourself would be invaluable!”.
My reply was… You’re absolutely not too young, especially as you say you’ve been writing for years so you have far more practice than a lot of older writers. I usually give the example of Mary Wesley who had her first novel published when she was 74. Many of my students are retired (60+) and say they’ve always wanted to write but haven’t had the time. You haven’t waited so big kudos for you. :) I have a Submission info. section which lists (including a few subpages by genre) of outlets. I also have tips on Pitching to an Agent and Writing a synopsis, as well as over 100 writing and editing tips on Writing Tips. I’ve also just created an Online Content Writing page which may help. Do let me know how you get on (as well as any sites you write for so I can add them to this new page).
2 April 2015: Mystic Storm asked on Facebook: “Do you know if novum publishing is any good?”
My reply was… I don’t know them personally and they’re not listed on the brilliant resource http://pred-ed.com/pebn.ht. I googled them for you and found the following: http://asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2013/7/Novum-Publishing-gmbh/SHP_ADJ_225574.aspx which concludes “We told United Publisher not to claim that their service was free of charge if respondents needed to pay costs and not to suggest that they were based in the UK if that was not the case.” Looking at the Novum website there’s no mention of costs which makes me suspicious. They mention about contacting them for more details for free (i.e. they’ll provide the information for free) but no mention of costs thereafter. Whoever you go with, you should haven’t to pay to have your book published. Traditional publishers and smaller presses should work on commission only. Self-publishing can be different but the big boys including Amazon KDP and Amazon’s CreateSpace publish authors’ eBooks and paperbacks respectively also work on commission (apart from charging for proof copies and you’ll be told how much upfront. Generally, publishing companies that charge are vanity publishers (AuthorHouse is one of the main ones) so – in theory – gone are the days where you have 1,000 copies of your book in your spare room. If you get offered a contract from a traditional publisher (i.e. where there are no upfront costs) you can then become a member of The Society of Authors (c. £90pa) – there are probably equivalents outside of the UK – and get as much free legal advice as you need. It’s well worth it.
Do you have a question that isn’t covered above? If so, feel free to leave a comment below or you can email me.