Plot your Novel In One Morning

It’s back!

Doing NanoWriMo in November but don’t have a plot yet?
Need a bit of time dedicated to thinking about your book with helpful advice on hand?
Going to the RNA York Tea and want to make a day of it?
We have just the thing for you.

The Plot Your Novel in a Morning workshop is happening 9.30am – 12 noon, on the 3rd of September at Miller’s Yard in York.

Date: Saturday 3rd September 2022
Cost: £35 (£30 if you book before the end of July).
Venue: The Loft, Miller’s Yard, Gillygate, York, YO31 7EB.
Time: 9.30 – 12
What to bring: Pen and paper and ideas.

To book or for more information email or

We ran this course for a couple of years (before Covid!) and some of the books plotted in the room are now on bookshelves!
Come and join the fun. There will be biscuits.

Writing and marketing books on sale!

This post is now out of date. A Royal Wedding was reissued under the new title Christmas At The Palace.

THIS SALE IS NOW OVER. But I’ve left the post up because these books are all really, really useful. I’ve read them all now.

Do you want to write romance novels (and make money from them?)

Here’s a selection of romance writing and marketing books which are on special offer this week. All the books are at least half price – all are £1.99 or below. These books are all written by romance authors and will teach you how to write romance that sells … and how to sell it!

The sale runs until the 15th of March – Get the whole bundle.

Book cover image How to Write Romantic comedy

How to Write Romantic Comedy by Jane Lovering and Rhoda Baxter

Want to write rom coms but don’t know how to go at the comedy part? This is an easy to follow guide on how to write funny fiction, from two bestselling rom com writers.

21 Ways to write a Commercial Novel by Jane Holland and Victoria Lamb

There is no set way to write a novel – but here are 21 good examples of how bestselling writers do it! Lots of tips in this one.

Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance

This book is already a classic. Liz Fielding shares lessons learned from writing many, many, many books. (This book is free for a short time).

How to Write Short Romance Kindle Books by Nina Harrington

This book is a great resource if you’re planning to self publish. Nina’s guides all always packed full of good advice and have no filler.

Pitch Power - discover what makes your book irresistable

Pitch Power by Kate Harrison

Want to pitch to agents? Or write sales copy for your books? You need this book. From an author who used to pitch TV shows for a living.

Marketing the Romance by Liam Livings

You’ve written a book … now what? This book teaches you how to find your audience and market your book to them. It will help you to write a proper marketing plan for your book.

The sale has now ended.

Want a magic button to get ALL six books in one go? Here you are:

After the draft -time to edit your book

Did you do NaNoWriMo? Did you hit your target? Brilliant! Well done.

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo. My kids are still small and disappearing into my room to write for hours on end seems a terribly indulgent thing to do right now. I take the slow and steady plod approach because it fits well with my life. Either way seems to work. The important thing is getting the writing done. 

Anyway, the point is, you’ve written a whole novel. Take some time out to celebrate – not many people make it this far.  Go out. Watch telly. Remind your friends you exist. Woo hoo! 

The next thing to do… is ignore it for a few weeks. This gives you a bit of distance. You can combine that with more celebrating, if you like (I would). Once you’ve got past THAT, then you need to edit.

Your first draft might be a little rough. Don’t panic. It’s allowed to be. The purpose of the first draft was to get words down on a page. Once you have words, you can edit them. You can’t edit a blank page.2016-04-24-15-46-06

First fix structure. If you didn’t do any plotting at the start (some don’t), now is the time to deal with it. Go through the novel and make a list of scenes. Put them on Post-It notes or index cards, if you like. I make a list on a couple of sheets of A4. Do what works for you.

Look at it from a story arc point of view. Are the scenes in the right order? Do things happen logically? Does the tension rise throughout Act 2? Can you increase the tension by moving a scene from here to there? Do two characters sound exactly the same – can you combine them? Move stuff around and see if it works.

Now do the same for the character arc. Make sure the way your character changes as the story progresses is also logical. Hopefully, it will be.

Cut out the deadwood. A long time ago, an editor told me that a scene has to do at least three things in order to justify keeping it. One of those was ‘tickle the senses’. Working on the assumption that ALL scenes should be doing that to some extent, let’s see what else a scene can do to earn its keep.

  • Introduce a new character
  • Introduce a new setting
  • Change setting (transitions of time or place)
  • Set a mood
  • Show a new facet or a change in a character
  • Reveal something key to plot
  • Establish motivation for something that comes later
  • Heighten mood or build suspense
  • Provide comic relief or humour
  • Move the action forward  (internal or external arc)

Basically, if it isn’t relevant to your plot, the scene has to go.

What if your scenes don’t do three things? See if you have combine a couple of scenes or tweak it a bit until it does. You need to be fairly brutal with this. If you can take the scene out and not leave a hole in the overall story, then it has no place in your book. Around half of the books that I critique are well written, but suffer from a surfeit of irrelevant scenes. Often, once these books have been ‘tightened up’ they go on to find publishing contracts.

Keep a folder for these scenes that you’ve cut. You will probably find a lovely turn of phrase or a snippet of description that you can use elsewhere.

Once you’ve done the ‘big picture’ editing, you should end up with only relevant scenes. Have another look at it and check if anything else needs to be moved around or added.

Edit for consistency. Read through the story as it is now. It might be very different to your original draft (or it might not). Catch typing errors as you go. Note down when you need to add or change things so that the story makes sense. Go through your notes and make changes. If your character has suddenly changed their name, go through and fix it. If there’s a huge hole in the plot, work out how to fill it in. If you need to plant a clue in chapter three in order to make something less like a coincidence in chapter seventeen, go do it. Often all that is required is a sentence or two.

By the end of this stage, your book should read coherently, with no extra flabby bits.

Edit for language. Is your writing as good at the sentence level as it can be? It is worth bearing in mind what you are trying to achieve. I write genre fiction, where the hand of the author has to be invisible, so that there is nothing in between the page and the images in the reader’s mind. An easy read can be very difficult to write. On the other hand, if you’re writing literary fiction, your writing needs to transcend the mundane. People are looking for brilliance. The perfect description, the right word. No killing your darlings here. A difficult read can also be difficult to write.

A really good way to make sure your writing flows the way you want it to, is to read it out loud. You might feel like an idiot doing this, but it works wonders for catching clunky sentences.

Use beta readers. Once all this is done, it’s time to send the book to a beta reader. This is a reader whom you trust to give you honest feedback. You’re looking for things like ‘this bit doesn’t make sense’ or ‘where did X character disappear to?’ or even ‘this bit is really boring’. It will feel harsh, because you thought your book was done to perfection. Stick with it. Let the feedback sink in for a few days, then go sort it out. You’ll know when they’re right.

A word of caution with beta readers. When you and your beta readers are all just starting out, it’s better to have two or three people read your draft. If more than one person identifies a problem with a section (even if they highlight different problems), then that section needs to be changed. Some people will tell you exactly what to change – take advice, but remember that ultimately it’s your book and only make changes that feel right to you.

If you get feedback from a professional editor/book doctor/ published novelist, pay extra attention to their comments. They will have seen a lot of books and will be able to spot the mistakes all beginners make.

Now, you’re nearly done. Read it through one more time to check for typos and syntax errors. Better still, bribe someone else to do it. By now you’ll be sick to death of this book. The idea of reading it again will make you feel ill. It’s not the book you started out with. It’s a terrible mangled wreck of your beautiful idea. But… your beta readers like it and you know in your heart that it’s the best it can be. It’s probably ready to send out to agents or publishers.

While you’re waiting to hear back, you can start work on your next book.

Tips on writing dialogue

It’s time for another creative writing column in the Beverley Guardian. With the excitement of the Tour De Yorkshire, the column didn’t make it into the website, so here’s the whole text. This month, it’s all about dialogue.



Well written dialogue is a joy to read. It gives your characters voice and livens up writing like nothing else.

Basics first. I’m sure you know that quotation marks frame the dialogue at the start and the end. Have a look at some of the books you own and you’ll notice that there are house styles about whether the dialogue has double quotes or single quotes and whether or not it’s indented. These conventions differ from publisher to publisher, so don’t fret over them. Just pick whatever feels most comfortable to you and stick to it.

“Dialogue that is followed by an attribution ends with a comma,” said Adam.

The line of dialogue and the attribution are all part of the same sentence, so the dialogue ends with a comma (not a full stop). If Adam has more to say, open quotation marks again and go for it.

“This bit of dialogue ends with a comma,” said Adam. “If I have more to say, I can just keep talking.”


While we’re talking about punctuation, conventionally, a short dash suggests someone was interrupted.

“And then I started rambling on a bit and-”

“Get to the point.”


An ellipsis (three dots, and only three dots, in a row) suggests that someone tailed off…


There is nothing more annoying than reading a conversation and not knowing which character is speaking. How do you show the reader who is speaking? Here are a few more conventions.

Start a new line of text each time the speaker changes. This is a fairly obvious one.

The easiest way to let the reader know who is speaking is to attribute dialogue. ‘Said’ is a very useful dialogue tag. It is so commonplace that the reader’s mind skims quickly over it. ‘Saidisms’ are when you use descriptive dialogue tags. They have their place, but too many descriptive tags in a row gets annoying. Used sparingly, they can have great impact. For example, if you have a lot of ‘ she said’s and suddenly there’s a ‘she whispered’ the change in tone in immediately obvious.

You can use the dialogue tag to moderate the pace of what is being said. A judiciously placed ‘he said’ will give you a pause that’s slightly longer than usual and provides a natural sounding break in the character’s speech.

Combining action with the dialogue is another handy way to show who’s speaking. The reader will automatically assume that the person who did the last action is the one who is speaking.

Jess sighed. “This is another good way to add a pause.”

(Notice that the action and the dialogue are separate sentences, so dialogue ends with a full stop.)


Interspersing dialogue with action is also a very useful technique for moving people around and keeping your writing ‘active’. People rarely sit still when they talk. They’re usually doing something else at the same time, or at the very least, fidgeting. Using little bits of action stops the dialogue from sounding forced. Better still, you can use the small gestures that the characters make to show how the character is feeling.

“I went to the shops today.” She picked at the sleeve of her jumper, avoiding eye contact.

Listen to how people talk – they speed up, they slow down, the interrupt each other, they pepper the conversation with their favourite phrases. No two voices speak with exactly the same rhythm and cadence. Ideally, each character should have a voice unique to them, so that when your characters speak, you should be able to tell who’s speaking even without the dialogue tags.

What if there’s a long exchange – like an argument? You can leave off the speech attributions for a short exchange and rely on the reader to keep track of the to and fro of conversation, but most people tend to lose track after four to six of these exchanges. Just add an attribution or and action to help place who is speaking.

Dialogue is a great way to impart useful bits of plot information, but take care to make it realistic and relevant. A big chunk of exposition dropped into a character’s speech is immediately noticeable, especially if they say something like “You know my brother in law, who’s name is Jerry. He’s a bit of a greedy pig and I don’t like him”. Better to split it up so that all that information comes up in the conversation.

“Then Jerry came in,” said Fran.

Liz frowned. “Jerry?”

“My brother in law.”

“The one who ate about half your birthday cake last year?”

Jenny pulled a face. “Yes. That’s the one.”


Use subtext. People rarely say exactly what they mean. They give evade questions, or give half responses or just lie. Use your dialogue to introduce tension – either between characters or within the character themselves. When what they say and the way they behave don’t match, the reader will immediately pick up that something is wrong.

In real life, people pause a lot and make place-holder noises like ‘um’ and ‘er’. When writing fiction, you tend to leave these pauses and noises out (they’re pretty dull) unless you have a good reason for keeping them in. If you character suddenly starts pausing and saying ‘um’, the reader will interpret it as ‘they’re hiding something’.

How do you know if your dialogue sounds realistic? The best way to check is to read it out loud. Better still, get someone else to read it out loud for you – they won’t know exactly how it was meant to sound, so they will be guided by the way you’ve written and punctuated it. If it sounds wrong to you, or worse, if they have to go back and read it again before it makes sense, then it’s time to do some editing.


Have you got any interesting tips on dialogue? Where do you go to eavesdrop on conversations?


Plot – three act story structure in a nutshell

3 act story struct

My column for the Beverley Guardian usually goes online a few days after it comes out in print, but this one seems to have slipped through the net. It’s about three act story structure and I’m recreating it below. I struggled with plot/structure when I started out, so I read lots and lots of books on it. I still do because it’s fascinating (… I really need to get out more).

Plot: Three act story structure

Have a look at the books that have been bestsellers over the last few years – Harry Potter, Gone Girl, Fifty Shades, anything by James Patterson or Dan Brown. What do they all have in common? It’s not genre or writing style. No, the thing that makes them stand out is that they all have a cracking story.  The story is the thing that drives you to keep on reading long after you should have gone to sleep. What makes a book great is when it makes the reader care about what happens next.

You may be lucky enough to have a story that came to you fully formed with enough tension to keep people hooked from page one to the end. This rarely happens. For the rest of us, there’s plot. If the  story is a beautiful creature, plot is the skeleton that gives it shape.

The first thing to realise about story is that it’s not the same as real life. It’s less boring. Real life is a messy, haphazard collection of events. When you’re telling a story, you only need to show the bits that are relevant to that story. There’s a reason characters in books rarely go to the toilet or have to go buy cornflakes. Your novel has no place for the boring necessities of life (unless they are relevant to the story).

There are many, many models of story structure. If you want to look into it, I recommend Story by Robert McKee, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (both aimed at screenwriters, but what they say is just as relevant to novelists) or Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. Or indeed ‘Novel writing for Dummies’. They all say the same things, in slightly different ways. The old fashioned phrase for it is ‘3 act story structure’. Otherwise known as having a Beginning, a Middle and End.

We all know that stories need to have a beginning, a middle and an end. But what does that actually mean? All novels are about change. The protagonist undergoes some sort of journey in the course of the book. This is the core of your story.

Get a piece of paper, on the left edge write down how things are for the main character at the start of the book. On the right edge, write down how things are at the end.  What’s changed? Your story is about the events that led to that change.

The beginning (Act 1) allows you to show the reader how things are at the start. It’s where you establish character, setting and maybe the main conflict (E.g. there’s a kid called Luke Skywalker, he’s bored and craves adventure and there’s a war against the empire that needs a hero). This section is usually quite short.

Human beings are naturally resistant to change, so something needs to happen to force the protagonist to change the status quo. (e.g. Luke Skywalker finds an SOS message). This starts the move into the middle (Act 2). There’s an impetus to change, but the main character can still turn back and go back to the comfort of what was familiar. The next event pushes the character firmly over the threshold and then bricks up the door behind them. This point of no return commits the character to the journey. There is no turning back (Luke’s Uncle and Aunt are killed and his home destroyed). You have now reached the middle.

The Middle is the biggest part of the story and often the hardest part of fill out. You know the start. You know the end. How the heck do you fill in all those words in between the two? I’ll talk about tension and saggy middles in a later column.

Go back to your piece of paper. Write down a few events that happen. Plot points, if you like. How do these plot points move the story along? Move the sequence of the events around so that they increase in difficulty the closer they get to the end. This will help give you rising tension as the story progresses. Look at the last challenge your protagonist has to face. Can you make it more difficult? What’s the worst that can happen? Write that down.

Each event/plot point should push the protagonist to make changes that will take them further along their journey. What the actual events in the plot are will vary – it could be training to be a Jedi, or opening a bakery, or working out puzzles to find the arc of the covenant – it doesn’t matter, so long as it’s relevant to your story. Eventually, your protagonist will reach a point where they have to make a choice. They have to either commit to change or fail. Often, this is the point where things at their worst. Romance novelists call this the ‘black moment’. It’s when the main character is so low that death (literal or metaphorical) hangs over them. In order to save themselves they have to embrace the change. Use the Force, take a leap of faith, learn to trust. The new, stronger protagonist can now punch their way out of whatever trouble they’re in and propel the story on towards the end.

It is possible for the character to decide not to change. This works too, so long as there is a moment of decision. Whatever was wrong at the start of the story will still be wrong, but the main character returns to it with new understanding (or dies).

The end, like the beginning, is short. It allows you to tie up the loose threads of the story.  It also allows you to ease the tension down from the crisis point so that the reader is left feeling satisfied by the end, rather than stressed. This is not to say that your story has to have an upbeat end. A good tragedy can be just as satisfying as a happy ending.


The next column is on conflict. I’ll post it as soon as it goes online. If you have any suggestions for what to tackle in future columns, let me know in the comments below.

(And if you fancy talking to me in person, I’m doing a course in York in May …hint, hint).