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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.)


Five Fast Ways To Fix A Story That ‘Goes Wrong’

July 31, 2015

Have you ever panicked when drafting your story?

The tale that was conceived as a perfect whole has gone seriously wrong. A major plot line has collapsed or characters refuse to behave as scripted. Worse, the concept itself appears so trite and unoriginal that there appears nothing for it but to toss the whole wretched thing away and start again.

Six months of work down the shredder...

Don’t panic! Here are five typical challenges you’re likely to meet in your first draft, and how to fix them:

1. The Runaway Plot.

Your story logic has become implausible. If your characters are now doing this, they couldn’t have done that three chapters earlier. Or vice versa.


Probably, every novelist has had that dilemma. J K Rowling admits "Halfway through writing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I realised there was a serious fault with the plot ... I've had some of my blackest moments with this book ... One chapter I rewrote 13 times, though no-one who has read it can spot which one or know the pain it caused me”. (Glasgow Herald, July 2000)

Quick Fix: Before you consign that chapter to history, see if you can change something earlier in the story that makes it appear logical. Then weave the chapter back into the story line.

If an episode surprised you, the author, it will certainly surprise a reader. That’s a freshness you might want to retain.

2. The Patchwork Quilt.

Your scenes are a mess. They’re written the way you planned them, and there is a pattern behind the sequence, but they appear to be all over the place.

Quick Fix: Go back to each scene and drop in some transitional links. A throwaway exchange of dialogue can often do it. For example:
“I wonder how the cabin survived that bad storm, John?”|”We’d better take a look.”|“Next month?”|“Yeah, I reckon the mosquitoes will have gone by then.”
When the next scene opens abruptly at the mountain cabin, four weeks later, the reader is not confused. The transition is seamless.

An inexperienced writer will try to rewrite everything. A seasoned author will just cut - or drop in - a few lines and the continuity slips back into place.

3. Hopeless Scenes.

You work all week on an episode and discover it’s a digression. Pointless. Irredeemable.

Quick Fix: Cut it, of course. But save it in an Outtakes file. Chances are, you can reuse some of that material elsewhere.

The same applies to Fine Language. Maybe you’ve written a beautiful line of description or characterization. “Her voice was as soft as doves on a distant hill.” Poetic? No. Pretentious. But it might work if an affected character mutters it to himself, or writes it in a letter or diary.

People are allowed to be pretentious when talking, ostensibly, to themselves.

4. The Aberrant Character.

Your main players develop interesting but unexpected quirks. Maybe they conflict with the reader’s image of the character. They don’t ring true.

Quick Fix: If your character throws a surprise at the reader, foreshadow it with a brief Characterising Incident earlier in the story.

For example, your protagonist - a tough, veteran cop - has to explore an abandoned mine shaft. He panics. That’s out of character. So present an incident earlier when he refuses to enter an elevator and takes the stairs instead. He explains weakly to his colleagues “I need the exercise”. But one nudges the other. “Jim has claustrophobia.”

The incident seems inconsequential but, when Jim panics later in the mine, the reader can understand why.

5. The Peril of Plagiarism.

You’ve stumbled on a highly original plot idea. It’s topical. It has ‘best seller’ written all over it. You’ve half finished the story when you read a novel, already published, that’s based on the self-same idea.

No, you didn’t steal that idea. But if you submit your novel now, reviewers will cry “Plagiarism!” Won’t they?

Quick Fix: Go back and twist that plot idea radically. Present it in an entirely different way.

Probably, nobody will compare the two novels or notice the similarity of themes. And if they do? No matter. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. (Otherwise, only one novel would be allowed in the world with the theme of a vampire lover. Or a hard-boiled detective with a heart of gold. Or… well, you get the idea.)

Just make sure you don’t inadvertently echo any of the names, phrases or other forms of words used in the other novel!

The simplest way to avoid many of these problems is to write a detailed synopsis in advance. You’ll need one anyway when the time comes to submit your work to an agent or publisher. Save yourself a lot of agony by preparing the synopsis before you draft a novel or long story.

Use the synopsis to test the plot logic in every episode. The transitions. The plausibility of the characters. Then draft the story around your plan. You’ll know at once when the story’s going off-script.

That said, it’s a military axiom that no plan ever survives its first engagement with the enemy.

Rowling plans every novel in detail. “Before I start writing seriously I spend two months re-visiting the plan and making absolutely sure I know what I am doing.” (BBC interview, March 2004) Yet she still came unstuck with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Maybe the characters took over?

If that happens to you, rejoice! Chances are, your story has developed a new vitality. You just have to whip those mischievous characters back into the plot…

Have you ever spent a lot of time writing a story that went wrong? Did you fix it? If so, how? Leave a comment and share your thoughts! A reply is guaranteed.

How Harper Lee Used Symbols To Power Her Novels

July 23, 2015

Have you read Harper Lee’s latest novel (in fact, the first one she wrote), Go Set A Watchman? It has kicked up a storm. Why? Because - like her classic To Kill A Mocking Bird - it invokes the power of symbols.

It presses people’s buttons. You’ll either love or hate what it implies but you can’t ignore it. Her symbols stir us at a primeval level.

And that’s how books become classics.

Can you imbed symbols in your stories to give them a classic power? Writing coach Renee Vaughn tells...

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The Inciting Incident: 7 Tips For Starting Your Story With a Bang

July 17, 2015

Do your friends or family yawn when you show them your latest work of fiction? Are you struggling to start your story in a way that your readers never forget?

Do you want to light a fuse in your story so that your readers just have to read on and discover how the tale turns out?

Writing coach Bryan Collins shows us how to write a story that our readers can’t put down.

I’ve spent the last few months rewriting a collection of short-stories, and I’ve faced all of these problems.

I won’...

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How To Write A Best Seller While Losing Weight. Results Guaranteed

July 10, 2015

Here is the ultimate way to write a best seller while losing weight - or gaining weight, if you wish - healthily and predictably. It’s based on my own private experiments across 14 months in which I (a) lost three stone and (b) published four top-rated Amazon novels. Results are guaranteed.

Guaranteed? If my plan doesn’t work, just hand it back to me and keep your weight.

First, let’s understand what ‘losing weight’ is all about. Effective diets rely upon calorie intake. Take ...

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Want to up your writing game? Here's a novel way!

July 3, 2015

Most serious writers have joined a writing group at some time, meeting on-line or face-to-face. But have you ever thought of forming a book reading group - to improve your story writing skills?

It's another thing entirely.

A book reading club will not only open your eyes to what your fellow writers think about your work. More usefully, it will show you what your
readers are looking for! Novelist Anna Castle tells us how to do it.

It’s a familiar lament: writers don’t read enough. I ca...

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Seven Sneaky Ways To Bring Your Dialogue Alive

June 19, 2015

When was the last time you were inspired to write a story - or create a character - from a snatch of dialogue you overheard? Or you discovered some useful writing device by listening to what people in real life truly say or do?

If you're a writer, I'll wager it was yesterday. Wasn't it? It wasn't? Get out your notebook!

Here are seven sneaky- and enjoyable - ways to do it. And (let it be whispered) you might even be able to set your next lunch expenses against tax....

I sit in a pub. Mine ...

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Deep Travel: How To Write From The Heart And Win Readers

June 12, 2015

A good story is often inspired by a powerful experience, one that changed the author’s mind, their very way of looking at the world. A
great story may change the reader’s life as well.

Author PJ Reece tells us how he stumbled on the technique of Deep Travel by living through a pungent, true event. It showed him how to write compelling fiction, from the heart. Could we not do the same?

From Africa I flew to India. 

I would return home through Asia, circumnavigate the globe, prove the w...

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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