It was Saturday night. Ben pulled on his t-shirt then finished arranging his hair before he picked up the phone and called Bill.

“Woohoo. There’s only one word for it, woohoo. We need to go out. I’m really excited, Bill.”

“I keep telling you, don’t call me Bill. That’s too old. I’m William. Will…I…am.”

Ben knew how to wind up his mate. And he loved to. It still amused him even after 10 years at school together.

“Aww, come on Bill. It’s Saturday. Let’s go watch the girls dance and have a ball.”

“Ok, Ben, but I don’t have any money, and if we do go out, don’t call me Bill.”

“Sorry, Will…I…am. I got money. Let’s go spend it. I’m feeling all stressed from this week anyway. Let’s go paint the town.”

“Ok, ok, Ben. I give in. Let’s do it.”

Ben skipped around his room, unable to contain his excitement at the prospect of partying all night with his friends, chasing women, living it up and generally causing a riot. He knew they were in for a good night.


I’m a new author. I’ve never completed a novel, though I have started many. I’ve written and published dozens of short stories, but a novel, well that is hard work. Why is it so different? Well, I think it is down to plot and structure.

Short stories have characters, good characterisation, dialogue, descriptive passages, beats, interior dialogue, viewpoint, voice – all these different aspects of fiction writing. But they don’t need a lot of structure and their plots tend to be pretty simple.

So, embarking on a novel, what better book to get than:
‘Plot and Structure – techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish’ by James Scott Bell
If you are attempting to write a novel, you should buy this book. Preferably in paper form, not kindle. And don’t think you’ll be passing it on to a charity shop at some point, you won’t – you’ll need it, so you can scribble and highlight away as you wish.

One of the small items tucked away in the last chapter caught my eye recently.
It’s titled ‘Inverting the Rifle Rule’.

The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov had a famous rule that said if, in the first act, you show a rifle hanging on the wall of the room where the play is set, then the rifle must be used before the end of the play, preferably in the third act. This is really a rule of expectation – if you set something up, then you need to deliver on it.

Bell suggests that, as writers, we should think of the rule in reverse. If we are going to have someone shot in the third act, then we should plant the gun somewhere in the first act. This approach greatly enhances the plausibility of the plot, since the reader is not so surprised that certain events take place.

The classic example that Bell quotes is the James Bond stories. It is the role of Q to provide the gadgets for James Bond to escape from the various traps and tortures he has to undertake. We are acquainted with these gadgets early in the story, not knowing when or where they will be used. But then, when James is trapped and apparently going to be mortally wounded, we can find the escape mechanism plausible.

Most planting needs to be more subtle than this. In the novel I am working on, my protagonist is called Emma. At a point in the story Emma faces danger requiring her to fight another person. Fist fighting does not come naturally to most people, and Emma is a journalist, so it’s not exactly part of her everyday life. But I need her to win the fight.

Having read this section of Bell’s book, I now realise that I can have Emma learn self-defence skills at her gym in an evening class, or perhaps at a training course that the paper sends her on. This will add depth to Emma’s characterisation, give her the necessary skills to win a fight, and as an added bonus, I can use that scene at the gym or training course for another purpose too – for example, to meet someone who later becomes a firm friend.

So, think about your plants and place them carefully in the early parts of your stories.

I’ve blogged before about how to structure a short story and the 8 point arc. See this previous blog post. and I’ll continue to delve into this art of novel writing that has a fair bit of science to it as well.

Your thoughts?

To say he was in love with her would be too much, he never said that.

Brian was over six feet and blond, his long hair like a white streak of lightning down his back. He wore skinny t-shirts, blue denim jeans and sneakers every day, he had a wardrobe full of them. He was a happy person, soulful and fresh-faced.

He met Ruby at a party. It was yet another party at yet another friend of a friend, this time on a Tuesday night. At least he didn’t have a gig. Brian was usually the one getting all the attention from the girls, not just because of his looks but also his profession. Well, if you call it a profession. Brian was a guitar player in a rock and roll band. He could also play harmonica. How cool was that? The women flocked to him.
“Let the crown see the jewels.” His friend Paddy would say to him. (apologies to Paddy McGuiness ☺)

Ruby was different, her eyes, her looks and her attentive, sparkling personality. She fizzed. She didn’t chase, she just stood close and chatted with him with a confidence that flowed. He was intrigued.

She would never say where she came from, she didn’t talk about her past. She said she changed every day, she was free, unchained, and planned to stay that way. It was the only way to be. Of course, this made her all the more enchanting.

“There’s no time to lose, go grab your dreams before they slip away.” She smiled when she said it and he knew that he’d miss her.


It’s spring, the daffodils are starting to peek and golf is in the air. I have dusted off my golf clubs and given them a clean, paying particular attention to the seldom-used sweet spots. I’m not a good golfer, but it gets me out the house and is sociable. I play about a dozen times a year.

I started to think whether there’s any connection with my writing. Could the golf inspire my writing? Could my writing inspire my golf?

  1. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
    • No matter how bad you are at golf, if you get out there and play once a week or once every couple of weeks then by the end of the summer, you’ll be a better player. It’ll improve your fitness, health and flexibility. And you’ll feel good for the achievement. You’ll be able to measure your progress, your improvement.
    • No more to be said, you get it. Write often, write everyday. You’ll get better and you’ll feel good.
  2. There are techniques to learn
    • Golf lessons are helpful. I’ve taken a few over the years. They get you out of bad habits. They teach you how to hit the ball more cleanly.
    • There are techniques for writing too. I’m trying to write fiction. Writing courses help. Read articles, read books, practice your style, analyse your content and improve its structure. (See, thanks to Roz Morris, I didn’t put the apostrophe in its, that’s a simple improvement I’ve made ☺ )
  3. Hit the ball harder
    • One of my friends hits the ball harder than me. His ball goes further. It’s that simple. Easily explained but tricky to achieve.
    • When you write, try typing faster. You’ll get more written. I find that my writing brain is faster than my fingers. Is that the case with you? And I don’t just mean you should write faster WITH mistakes – I mean proper clean fault-free typing, WITHOUT the back-space key. That’s the hard bit. Just type faster properly and you’ll get more done.
  4. Join a club.
    • I have never joined a golf club. I can’t commit to the time and the cost, or I won’t commit. What does that say? Many people do make that commitment and their golf improves as a result.
    • I am in a couple of writing groups. They make me write, they help me to learn, they keep me honest. Join one, it really helps. It’s commitment.
  5. Equip yourself properly.
    • I need a new driver. Do I? Can I justify that? Would my golf really improve that much? Well, to a point, yes I think it can. The right gear is right for a reason. It doesn’t have to be that expensive, but it does have to be reasonable.
    • For my writing, I use Scrivener, plus a number of other bits of software I could make the subject of a separate blog. The right tools do help. If you want to use a paper notebook, make it a good one, with a good pen. Go on, spoil yourself, you’re worth it.
  6. Go in the right direction – keep the ball straight
    • The idea of golf is to hit the ball toward the pin, usually in as straight a line as possible, avoiding obstacles on the way. Heading off into the rough is not a good idea, and you can easily lose your ball completely.
    • How many times do you write off down a cul-de-sac? Have a plan, write with a purpose and direction. I like to try to do that, so as to avoid my writing rough and lose my plot. I hate wasting scenes. I think with practice that I should actually waste a bit more than I do (kill your darlings and all that) but overall, a goal helps. Aim for the pin.
  7. Putting
    • A good golfer practices his/her putting. Half your shots in a round of golf are on the green. It’s not all about hitting the ball a long way, sometimes it’s about the finesse of short-range accuracy.
    • For me, good writing has a healthy dose of close-up detail. As a reader, those details help me to build a picture of the scene. The flaking paint on a wall, the musty smell in an unventilated cellar, the tiny laughter lines around her mouth, the little inflexions of green in her blue eyes, the way he pushes his glasses back up his nose, anything that draws attention to the very smallest detail helps you visualise better.
  8. Take it seriously.
    • Even as a fun hobby, golf is more rewarding if taken seriously. Some will say that the whole ethos of golf is quite stuffy with the smartness of dress required and the etiquette around the course, but all this helps to make for better play.
    • If you’re a writer, be a writer. Tell people you are and don’t make excuses. I’m writing a novel. It’s not a grand design, or on my life’s wish-list: it’s real, underway and in the execution phase. If it’s to be good, I need to behave as a professional writer with the etiquette that requires.

What are your experiences with golf? Could they help your writing?


“Hello, is that Mary?”

“I can only just about hear you, Mary. The line’s not good and there’s a lot of noise here.”

“I’m at the station. Yes, that’s right, overnight. We all have to leave in the morning on the troop train. It’s taking us across to the coast, there’s a big army base there.”

“What? What did you say? Yes, that’s right. It’s my last night here. We fly out to Vietnam tomorrow night.”

“I know, I know. I love you too. I’m gonna miss you bad. I’m feelin’ pretty low already.”

“But I’ve got a surprise for you. I need to see you, babe. I need you here by my side for one more night. One last kiss over a cup of coffee in the cafe here.”

“What’s that? Of course you can come. There’s still time.”

“Yes, I know, I love you too, my darlin’. I’ve made you a reservation.”

“What? Of course you can come. There’s one more train tonight you can catch. I’ve got you a seat on it. It gets here by four thirty. It’s the last train.”

“Don’t hang around, babe. Come now. I must see you one more time, and you know what, I may not come back.”

“I know, I know. I shouldn’t think like that should I. But I can’t help it. I’m feelin’ pretty low. Come and cheer me up. Take the last train and you can be here by four thirty. I’ll be waiting at the station.”

“Now, I must hang up the phone. I can’t hear you above all this noise. Come see me.”

Continuing my Friday theme of posting fiction writing techniques, here is some more about the art and science of dialogue.
1. Dialogue is the first thing readers look for.When I am browsing in a bookstore and pick up a novel I am considering, I flick through the pages and see the pattern and density on the page, the paragraphing and the dialogue. Then I read a little and it tends to be the dialogue that I read first. It sets the tone for the novel.

So it is important to get dialogue right and I have studied the mechanics of dialogue from this great book: ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers’ by Renni Browne and Dave King.


2. Don’t over-explain
“You can’t be serious,” she said in astonishment.
This is lazy writing. The writing should be strong enough that the reader gets the fact she is astonished.
Resist the Urge to Explain. R.U.E.
Let the dialogue SHOW the emotion.
Don’t explain stuff in the narrative that you also explain in the dialogue – should be in one or the other.
Avoid all -ly adverbs attached to ‘said’, like grimly, swiftly, etc. You could occasionally use ‘softly’ if the person is whispering but that’s about it.


3. Speaker attributions
He said. She said.
That’s it. No more. Just use said.
Never use he growled, she snapped, he whined, etc.
Where possible, and it’s clear, leave out altogether.
Bad example:
“Give it to me,” she demanded.
“Here it is,” he offered.
“Is it loaded?” she enquired.
Just use SAID
Readers won’t even notice it.
Better to say ‘He said’ rather than ‘said he’ – more common practice these days.


4. Substitute beats for speaker attributions
This can be handy when there are three or more people in the scene.
You have to find a way to let the reader know who is talking, and there could be two or more ‘he’s’ or ‘she’s’ in the room.
Used sparingly, beats can be useful, but don’t use too often
What is a beat?
Example: Dudley stepped between them and help up his hands. “Now, look, you two.”
Beats are bits of action interspersed through a scene, such as a character walking to a window or removing his glasses and rubbing his eye.
Usually physical gestures but could be a short passage of interior dialogue.
They are used to help tie dialogue to setting and characters.
They provide little bits of imagery that guide readers’ imaginations.


5. Dashes and Ellipses
Use dashes to show an interruption of a sentence from one character by another character.
Use ellipses to show a trailing off, when a character runs out of a sentence but is un-interrupted.

6. Paragraphs
Start a new paragraph when you start a new speaker.


In summary, there are some simple rules to follow that really help your dialogue flow and make your writing more professional.

What are your experiences? Do you have advice for new writers about their use of dialogue?

“How much is it?”

“A dollar fifty each.”

Charlie pulled the three dollars from his pocket and passed them through a narrow slot in the window of the museum’s ticket office. It was the first time that he and Kate had visited and he’d spent days preparing, studying the guidebooks and reading up about the extensive range of species on show. He loved that kind of thing. Of course, his sister didn’t, but he wanted to do something to take her mind off things.

They had parked in the lot opposite the museum, the one that was developed from a green belt area a few years ago after much local protest. Kate’s husband, Bill, was the protest leader, always the green activist. He was the one who stood firm against the developers of the hotel, shopping and night club complex, calling it a tawdry replacement for the paradise there before.

“Come on, sis. Let’s go and look at the elms first.” Charlie stepped forward through the gate and tugged her by the hand.

“Ok, ok. I’ll be right there. It’s all kinda painful, you know.”

“It’s good for you. There’ll be trees everywhere. We can pin a little note on one, with Bill’s name on it. He’ll like that. I’ll take a pic.”

“What, and then I can take it to him when I next visit?” She said.

“Yep, that’s the idea. He’ll love it. He can pin it on his cell wall and remind himself of how the trees were before.”

Charlie walked on through the fabricated forest, holding his sister’s hand. He’d been staying with them that night when the cops came and took Bill away. The police car arrived in the night, its bright yellow colour like a beacon warning of the danger ahead. They slammed the screen door as they took him, with Kate wailing, “They’re taking away my old man. Come back.”

But it was no good, you can’t stop progress.

I’ve been studying dialogue. There are certain techniques that really help that I will explore over the next couple of blogs. Just to recap, Friday is all about writing skills and the Tuesday posts are short-stories derived from popular song lyrics.

So, this Friday and for the next couple of Fridays(I think), I will focus on dialogue as it relates to short-stories and novels. These comments stem from a whole host of Internet sites and blogs on the subject and also a fantastic book that I recommend called ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers’ by Renni Browne and Dave King. There are many useful chapters in this book that I will recap in future blogs.

What is the the purpose of dialogue?

Every piece of dialogue you include should be there for a reason:

  • To break up the narrative — you can use dialogue to balance out the other elements of fiction such as the description.
  • To advance the plot — character discussions can ultimately change the course of the plot, and this is a very effective way of showing that change.
  • To develop conflict — arguing characters creates conflict and dialogue can build the tension.
  • To present information — dialogue can be used as an alternative way to present the necessary facts.
  • To develop character — Dialogue can reveal the personality, age, intelligence and experience of a character.


Showing the development of a character is one of the more important aspects of dialogue. Rather than simply telling the reader that a character has changed and is, for example, no longer shy, it is more effective to write a piece of dialogue in a scene where that character demonstrates that he/she has overcome the shyness, perhaps by approaching a complete stranger.

Dialogue is a very effective way to convey personality, and it is important to think through the ways in which a person of that personality will speak or present himself/herself to an audience. Is he timid? Is she assertive? Critical? Kind? Irritated? Passive? Well educated?

I find that the first few interactions of a new character really set the scene for how that person will behave throughout the story. So it is important to start right, and I usually spend a little while experimenting with the character before placing them in the scene proper. I might write a short piece where the character is interviewed with a set of questions about his/her life and likes/dislikes. The way in which the character answers helps to get me in the way of thinking for that character.

There are many blogs and websites out there that help you to think through different behaviour patterns and characteristics and I will add a small compendium of them to this blog at some point soon.

Some rules about dialogue. (Of course, when I say rule…all rules are there to be broken…perhaps guidelines would be more appropriate.)

  • Take out the superfluous conversations and summarise to one sentence. We don’t want ramblings about the weather or what the person had for breakfast. (they can use twitter for that!).
  • Be consistent. We all repeat ourselves, or use slang in certain ways. It adds authenticity to add that to a character.
  • Generally people talk in short sentences. Save the literary expositions for the narrative.
  • Be more articulate on the page than would normally be said in a certain situation – use a bigger vocabulary than the person might have.
  • Be VERY sparing about using action as a dialogue tag – it can work occasionally but not too often.

I’ll blog next week with more rules about the mechanics of dialogue. Hope this is useful – it is to me!


Tom Pearce. Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare,
All along, down along, out along lee,
For I want for to go to Widdecombe Fair,
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon,
Harry Hawk, old uncle Tom Cobley and all, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

And when shall I see again my grey mare?
All along, down along, out along lee,
By Friday soon, or Saturday noon,
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon,
Harry Hawk, old uncle Tom Cobley and all, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

Then Friday came, and Saturday noon,
All along, down along, out along lee,
But Tom Pearce’s old mare hath not trotted home
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon,
Harry Hawk, old uncle Tom Cobley and all, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

So Tom Pearce he got up to the top o’ the hill
All along, down along, out along lee,
And he seed his old mare down a making her will
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon,
Harry Hawk, old uncle Tom Cobley and all, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

So Tom Pearce’s old mare, her took sick and died.
All along, down along, out along lee,
And Tom he sat down on a stone, and he cried
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon,
Harry Hawk, old uncle Tom Cobley and all, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

But this isn’t the end o’this shocking affair,
All along, down along, out along lee,
Nor, though they be dead of the horrid career
Of Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon,
Harry Hawk, old uncle Tom Cobley and all, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

When the wind whistles cold on the moor of a nightAll along, down along, out along lee,
Tom Pearce’s old mare doth appear ghastly white,
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon,
Harry Hawk, old uncle Tom Cobley and all, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

And all the long night be heard skirling and groans,
All along, down along, out along lee,
From Tom Pearce’s old mare in her rattling bones
And from Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon,
Harry Hawk, old uncle Tom Cobley and all, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.


This Dartmoor song is one of the best known folksongs in England and can be found all over the world. It is thought to have been first heard in the early 1800’s and the song first published either in 1880 by Mr W. Davies or in 1888 by Mr. W. F. Collier. However it was Sabine Baring Gould’s book – Songs of the West that brought it to fame when it was published in 1890. Some people will say the tune originated in Somerset  but we don’t talk about them. The 5th Devon Volunteers used a more up tempo version as their theme tune and even after they were merged into the Devonshire Regiment the tune was heard as the men went into battle during the Boer Wars. Exeter City football club used to play the song before every match, that is until they hit a losing streak and thought the song may have something to do with their losses.




  • What does the story line refer to? Clearly it is about a group of men who ask Tom Pearce if they can borrow his grey mare to get to Widdecombe Fair. The men agree that the horse will be returned by midday on Saturday by the latest. The designated time comes but the men and his horse don’t appear. Tom Pearce then sets out in search of them. When he reaches the top of Widdecombe Hill he sees his horse making its ‘will’ after which it falls sick and dies. Poor old Tom then sits down and sheds a tear or two for his departed horse. Finally the song suggests that “when the wind blows cold on the moor of a night,” the ghost of Tom Pearce’s grey mare appears to the accompaniment of “skirling and groans,” and the “rattle of bones.” Strangely enough there has never been a single sighting of the ghostly grey mare. In the unmentionable Wessex version events are similar except the mare is a bay coloured and Tom Pearce goes to the top of Bunthill (which is thought to be Bonehill) and is told that there had been a “terrible spill,” and that he found the “racketty crew.. ” “strewed all over the shop.” On the eve of Widecombe Fair the ghost of the horse appears in a cloud of blue light. In all possibility the men borrowed the mare to pull a gig as clearly it is impossible for eight men to ride a horse. Having had a busy time at the fair they got cydered up and overturned the gig on their way home which resulted in the death of the mare which roughly equates to the unmentionable Wessex version.
  • However, whilst recently reading a book on ‘spirit roads’ by Paul Devereux I came across a theory that would place the origins of the song way back in time and across to the European continent. In the book he discusses a paper that the noted folklorist Theo Brown wrote in which she contended that the concept of a spectral grey/white horse came from mainland Europe. It is suggested that the motif of the song was brought over to Dartmoor by German tinners who came across to work in the mines during the Elizabethan period. Some of these miners came from the Harz mountain region where there (along with many other European regions) was a tradition of der Schimmelreiter or the rider on a grey/white horse. The idea being that the grey horse was a guide to the Otherworld which would lead the souls of the departed into the venerated realms of the dead. Therefore in the contexts of Tom Pearce’s grey mare, the reason he, “sat down on a stone, and he cried” was because he realised that the grey horse’s death meant all future spirits were condemned to oblivion as they would have no spirit guide to take them to the Otherworld. The whole concept of the belief was that the grey mare represented an entity which hovered between life and death and acted as a, “boundary figure” without out which no human soul can be led into the life-after. It is this very concept that is a much later and darkly humorous invention that used the theory of the grey horse spirit guide as its motif.
  • There was both a Bill Brewer and a Tom Pearce living in the northern moorland village of Sticklepath. The Pearce family owned a large mill in the village, outside which was said to have been the stable where the grey mare was kept. There is also a grave in the nearby village of Spreyton where a Thomas Cobley or Cobleigh was buried in 1844. This however is not the Tom Cobley, this person is said to be his great nephew. Thomas Cobleigh was 82 when he died reputedly having inherited his Great Uncle Tom’s estate and who lived at Butsford. Tradition has it that the original Tom Cobley died in 1794 at Spreyton, nobody knows where his grave is. All the surnames are of true Devonshire stock, there are still plenty of Brewers, Stewers, Davys’ Pearces, Whiddons, Hawks and Gurneys to be found today.



When I started this blog at the beginning of January, I was a little sceptical. Yes, it may be good for writing practice, but if no-one else is reading it, then what’s the point?

Is it possible to be a writer without a reader? Well, of course it is, but I don’t want to be a writer just for that. The fun of writing is in the reading. I want to write stories that people will read.

So I listened to all the wonderful advice from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn and others, and I decided to set myself some goals and to write my novel in parallel with promoting my blog and myself. I’ve written plenty of short stories but never a novel and I know it is a massive project that will take some time. Close yourself off in a small room and write, distraction free. But where’s the reward in that? It’s not about the money, money, money. There’s no price tag, but you do need feedback.

There is huge motivation from readership and recognition. Pressure = Motivation.

So, I set my goals and I expected to labour away for six months or more, unseen in the vast webosphere that is life.

Rules of blogging, they say:

  1. Blog regularly. ✓ Twice a week like clockwork.
  2. Don’t worry about the format to start with. How bad is this template!
  3. Say something. Jury still out.
  4. Focus, focus, focus. I think I am. Friday is advice day. Tuesday is a bit of fun – a story from a song lyric.

Anyway, enough of that. The truly motivating and exciting news is that my blog has already been spotted by and the fantastic, very professional and inspiring Sam Blake (@writersamblake , who requested that my blog about the Hockney exhibition appear in their weekly newsletter. So, there I am with my nine lessons from Hockney, just below a photo of Sophie Hannah, a favourite author of mine. How cool is that?


Perhaps you can tell by now that I’m quite chuffed.

I’ve only been blogging a month or so. And tweeting of course, which is where @writesamblake found me – the twittersphere – that weird and amazing place to make contact with other writers.

So here’s my Friday advice. If you are thinking of writing a novel or a short story of two, and looking for motivation, here’s what you do:

  1. Start Twittering.
  2. Watch #amwriting and #writetip and some people who you regard as good. Follow them.
  3. Tweet a bit. What are you doing? – make sure you talk about your work, your writing. We don’t want to hear what you had for lunch. Don’t mix personal gossip with professional – this writing thing is a job now, not flippant fun. Be serious. Be creative.
  4. Start a blog – it is simpler than you think
  5. Oh, and write. Write a lot, write every day, and get going on your stories and novels.
  6. Someone will notice. I’ll follow you 🙂
  7. When people notice you, it makes you work harder and that’s a good thing.

Have fun and be lucky. That’s my Friday advice.

Thanks for listening today.