Gain a FREE 'master class' in story writing success...
plus two free BIG 'how to' writing ideas manuals
Discover more than 70 professional tips to make your stories succeed like never before in this free 14-part Writers' Village mini-course.You will also receive two valuable gifts at once:

15 Wily Ways to Write Better Stories plus How to Win Writing Contests for Profit

To join the course without charge and acquire your two free books simply enter your name and email address:

The Wicked Writing Blog

Welcome to the home of writing award ideas and practical advice for story contest success. Fun and sheer tomfoolery are never far away. Feel free to add your comments. (To comment on a post, or see the comments there, simply click on its title.)


Write A Story In A Day (The Jack-in-The-Box Method)

October 2, 2015

You know the feeling. You try to write a story but your mind's as empty as a blown egg. Of course, you could take a plot off the shelf - almost any joke will do - and expand it into a piece of flash fiction. But you want to write a longer story, maybe a novel. You want a challenge to your skills. And your Muse is on vacation.

What's the answer?

Create a Jack-in-the-Box!

It will write you a story in as little as a day - or at least a good draft.

It's the exact process I used to write the eight short stories in my anthology The Cunning Man (61 five-star reviews across five Amazon sites). No story took me more than a day to draft. Editing? Yes, that took me longer.

But I never had to face a blank page each day and chew my nails.

Here's how my Jack-in-the-Box works. Maybe it will work for you too?

1. I carry a pack of file cards about with me at all times.

Why file cards and not a notebook? Because they are, uh, easier to file.

Whenever an idea occurs to me I jot it on a card.

True confession time: I steal a lot of ideas from other novels, as I'm sure you do. But I've learned to note their source. Very carefully. Ideas can't be copyrighted, nor can titles, but passages of text are often copyright, and I have no interest in being a plagiarist.

I reserve separate cards for different topics and when a card is full I file it in a red box under dividers: character notes, scene descriptions, scraps of dialogue, and the like.

Why don't I transfer those ideas to a computerized database, spreadsheet, Word file or Evernote? Or jot them there to start with? If I used a mobile device, I might do that. But I don't.

What's more, computerized notes don't exist. Have you noticed?

They're vapour. They vanish. But file cards are tangible. They're provocative. They leap out at me (quite literally, as you'll see).

And that's what inspires my ideas.

2. I organize my Jack-in-the Box.

I keep two boxes marked GLYPHS and TROPES.

A Glyph is my own whimsical term for a plot fragment.

For example, it might be an ingenious twist that, in the last scene, turns a story on its head. In a 'locked room' mystery a Glyph might be a secret device for locking a door from the inside when there's nobody in the room. Or it could be a plot thread. Perhaps two girls pass themselves off as identical twins when they're not related. Why?

Thereby hangs a tale...

A Trope is a form of words: character notes, descriptions, bits of quoted speech, witticisms, etc.

To use the metaphor of a carpet, Glyphs are the warp and Tropes are the weave.

Did I mention a carpet?

That's the next step. I pluck a few cards at random from the Glyph box and toss them on the carpet. On hands and knees, I shuffle the cards around until an interesting new pattern forms. Lo! It's the start of a plot.

You just can't do that on a computerized system, I find. Nor can you happily chance upon those pens, keys and coins that rolled beneath your sofa many aeons ago.

3. Now I play the 'what if' game.

My Glyph file may yield me, at random, three plot elements. Here are three I found in my box:
A. A poor woman in the 19th century pretends to be an heiress so she can acquire a rich husband and a fortune hunter pretends to be rich so he can marry the heiress. Both discover the awful truth about each other on their honeymoon.

That's a promising Glyph. It's worthy of de Maupassant! But it's not yet a plot.

B. A man is found murdered in a locked room but there's no way that a murderer could have entered or left the room. (Yes, I'm fond of impossible riddles like that.)

C. The narrator of the story - whom the reader thought was the impartial author, a person not involved in the tale - turns out to be the murderer. (I stole that one from Agatha Christie.)
How can I whip those fragments into a plot?

I play the 'what if' game.

What if... the disappointed couple learn to hate each other and each partner plots the other's death?

What if... the wife anticipates her husband's attempt? And she kills him with his own murder weapon, in a 'locked' room. (Period crime stories abound with clever gadgets inspired by Science.)

What if... the narrator of the story is revealed to be the woman herself? Is she making a death bed confession? Or is she writing the tale for her own amusement from a haven in Venezuela?

Add a few more 'what ifs' and I'll have a structured plot.

4. I draft that story very rapidly.

Then I test the structure. Does it work? Fine writing can come later.

When I'm satisfied, I open the Tropes box. It's full of fine writing. Arresting descriptions, memorable dialogue, sly jokes, character foibles...

Most of them are my own.

If they're not, I will not use them verbatim, but they'll inspire fresh ideas.

(True, not everyone keeps a box of Tropes but I enjoy playing with words. Doesn't every author?)

5. The story is written!

I print it out, preen, and throw it in a drawer. A month or three later I hook it out, wince, and edit it. At least three times.

BTW: Editing is best approached with a cold mind - like revenge. The time to do it is when you can barely remember the story and it has developed syntax errors, mistypings and absurdities all by itself.

6. Now I grow a Rose Bush.

Never heard of the Rose Bush? It's a method of extreme editing. I think I invented it, but I might be wrong.

I format the story in Word in tiny 8-point type, single spaced, justified left and right... in other words, everything you shouldn't do when presenting your work to a publisher.

I print the pages out and lay them sequentially across the carpet. I take three felt tip pens: red, orange and green.

If a paragraph seems - at first sight - tedious, long or over complicated I strike it through with a red pen. That means Cut, with extreme prejudice.

Paragraphs that simply need more work get the orange marker.

Those that do the job are stroked lovingly with a green pen.

Hence, a Rose Bush.

By the time I'm done, bright flowers and verdant leaves sprawl across the room. It's fun!

Of course, the point of miniaturizing the story, and presenting it as a visual object, is that it can be assessed at a glance as a structure. I feel detached from it. Ruthless. Off with its head!

My darlings are easier to murder.

All that can be summarized:
Write fast.
Write hot.
Edit slow.
Edit cool.
But I haven't yet done.

7. I consult my Significant Other.

Celia has been my sternest critic for thirty years. She believes in Tough Love. Her sweetest verdict on my work is a reluctant sigh. 'It flows.' More likely, she'll grunt 'It's boring.'

So it's back to the Rose Bush.

Moral: find someone who has no agenda to protect your feelings. (That probably rules out your local writing group.) Ideally, locate an impartial, well read person who resembles your target reader. Don't ask with a hopeful smile 'Do you like my story?' Ask 'What's wrong with it?'

If they're truthful, they'll say 'Everything. Let me count the ways...'

It's music to your ears. Back to the Rose Bush.

I concede you may find my strategy too primitive. A Jack-in-the-Box? A Rose Bush? File cards? Pens? They're all low tech. Don't all good authors today use IPads and operate their midget keypads with a sharpened toenail?


Such acrobatics will do for a tweet but they're not writer-friendly.

Nothing works better to provoke ideas, I find, than handling ideas physically. Pen. Paper. File cards.

There's nothing more tangible than a Jack-in-the-Box. Or surprising.

What methods have you found effective for organizing your ideas or plotting a story? Please leave a comment below. Every comment gets a fast thoughtful reply.

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, is the author of How Did The Auth
or Do That? It’s a how-to writing manual that shows you, step by step, how to write a great novel - while you’re enjoying the novel itself! It’s fun. It’s breathtakingly original. And it’s a unique new way to learn - quickly - how to write fiction that works.

Get it now at a special low launch price at: or

PS: When you obtain the ebook, email me your Amazon receipt. (My address is at the Contact tab top right.) I'll send you - by way of thanks - the pdf version. You can then print out the book, to study at your leisure, or read it on any computer.

Are You Too Young To Write A Great Story?

September 25, 2015

Is Twitter rotting our children's minds? Is it impossible to write quality fiction nowadays for young people? Should we abandon the attempt to communicate with anybody who was born since 1980? This post argues: Yes.

The quest is futile! We all knew it, in our old bones.

Instead, we should locate our stories in that place unknown to youngsters, the land where literature belongs.

Where is it? And how can our quest help us to write great stories? Please read on…

Caution: you may find this post...

Continue reading...

How To Create A Magic Machine That Writes Your Stories For You

September 18, 2015

The secret is out! New research has discovered the identity of the Muse, that quasi-divine genie that is supposed to possess an author at random intervals - and inspire him/her to write War & Peace or a particularly inventive tax return.

What is the Muse? The hidden structure of the author’s mind!

It’s probably located in the right or creative hemisphere of the brain. When the left or logical hemisphere is relaxed (or inebriated or waking from sleep) it rushes in and presents us with...

Continue reading...

Three Ways To Turn Your Lies Into A Literary Fortune

September 4, 2015

Can you ethically fake the truth? I don’t mean by writing ‘fiction’ - all storytellers do that, of course - but by inventing wholly fictive characters, quotations or events for your stories and then solemnly presenting them as fact?

You can! And it’s a proven strategy for literary success. Dare you try it?

The acclaimed British playwright Tom Stoppard recently confessed (The Times, 13 June 2015) that he made up a ‘real’ professor J. F. Slade (1989-1959) for his play Arcadia plus ...

Continue reading...

Seven Top Tips That Writing Tutors Will Never Tell You

August 21, 2015

If writing tutors know how to write, why don’t we see their names on best-seller lists? Why do they accept speaking gigs for $200 plus a free lunch? Or coach students, sometimes, for less than a jobbing gardener charges?

Why aren’t they sunning themselves in the Caribbean on their yacht?

Those are good questions.

You’d expect me to answer: because writing tutors don’t how to write. Wrong. Professional tutors (I can’t answer for the other kind) know their job. And that’s teaching...

Continue reading...

Is It Worth Being An Author? (Truly?)

August 14, 2015

It’s much harder to write a novel than people think. Because the words never come out the way they sounded in your head. And it takes a long time to get those words out. Many people want to write a novel, or even a long story, but most of them give up because it’s too hard. Let me pose the question that all writers fear - are the rewards really worth the hard work and endless rejections?

Here’s a dangerous game.

A long time ago, I went to a literary festival and asked a newly suc...

Continue reading...

Three Powerful Ways To Make Your Stories Credible

August 11, 2015

A fast way to tip readers out of our stories is to introduce an event that - although it’s important to the story - doesn’t appear to make sense. Or to have our characters do something 'out of character'. How can we avoid losing our readers? By foreshadowing those events or implausible character traits. Author Terry Odell gives us several practical ways to do it, with examples from her own successful novels.

Our characters can do amazing things. They can handle anything our plot throw...

Continue reading...
Win valuable cash prizes for your story in the Writers' Village short fiction contest

Details here.

Like to Guest Post for us?

Please read these guidelines.

To share any post here
click on the post title then click on one of the icons below.
(A Tip: you'll find a lot of social networks under the Red Cross.)

Recent Posts


a s byatt adwords agatha christie agents amazon article marketing bad writing bad writing award best sellers best-sellers body language book pricing book titles booker prize branding censorship characterisation characterization clichés closure competitions contests copy editor programs covers creative writing creativity crime critiques dan brown de detective dialogue dialogue adverb abuse distraction earl ebook ebooks editing facebook fantasy fear of failure fiction fictorial flash foreshadowing frauds freelancing ghost writers grammar guest posting harper lee harpercollins hilary mantel historical fiction historical romance hoaxes how to win humor humour indie publishers inspiration insults j k rowling jewish jokes kindle language libel ma creative writing man booker marketing metaphor mfa creative writing michael winner mills and boon motivation mummy porn mystery names narrative new college of the humanities novel writing of openers organization pace paypal phone tapping plausibility plot plotting point point of view political correctness prologues promotion publishers publishing punctuation reading groups rebekah brooks reichs rejection research revision romance scene hangers sci-fi science fiction self self publishing setting shakespeare social networks sponsorship story ideas structure student strike style subtext suspense symbols synopses theme titles umberto eco university holidays university strike vere view voice wikileaks wolf hall writers block writing award writing courses writing errors writing groups writing motivation writing programs writing retreats writing rules

John Yeoman

Dr John Yeoman, MA Oxon, MPhil, PhD Creative Writing, FSRS*  is a UK university tutor in the short story. He has 42 years experience as a successful commercial writer, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy.

He has published innumerable works of humour, some intended to be humorous.

* Founder, the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Semi-colon