Approaching the Editing Cave… wherein lies the Holy Grail of your Novel


I’m writing this article because a lot of you out there wanted to know the answer to this seemingly complicated question:

“What do I do with my manuscript now I’ve done the first step in the novel editing process, that is I’ve magically analysed what shape my story is in the form of:
the scene-by-scene breakdown
and the outline of the hero’s journey story beats in a four act structure – so what next? What do I do when I’ve got these notes in my sweaty little hands?”

This question is related to the rewrite. Because as we all know, once the words are on the page they have a strange way of ignoring the best planned novel and move around without you knowing whilst you’re lost in the writing zone and they trick you into telling their story instead of the one you thought you were writing.
So, once you’ve done the scene breakdown and four act structure with story beats you wonder what the hell your original story even looked like on a bright summer’s day in her signature red shoes?
Has this ever happened to you? Most writers hit this story wall like dolphins swimming into a net at some point. Weird but totally true as a direct lived and shared experience known to writers as the muse or sometimes just – sitting down and typing for long periods of time with an animal on your lap and the smell of jam in your hair. The story you come out with is not the one that appeared like a vision from the holy source of all true inspiration out of the sunset one night while you were drunk.

But why go to all this story analysis bother?
Why not just trust the story to unfold during the close edit as you correct the spelling and sharpen your narrative voice in one single editing sweep?
In order to re-write your novel effectively you need to analyse whether it’s working as a story first.
If it doesn’t there’s no point spending months polishing your sentences until they glow in the dark.
If your story doesn’t give the reader some kind of human, emotional, tribal bonding connection thing. It won’t work. Or maybe you just need to sharpen that frightening yet exhilarating empathic alienation sort of satisfaction thing you got going on in the form of a purposeful character doing dramatic action things in some shape or other, otherwise it won’t work.
And without a meaningful theme however simple, it’s not working. Not even if you are a talented experimental writer with the mystical creative writing gift of Sappho.

So, the very, absolutely, untiringly and very, very first thing you must do in order to make your re-write a clean and easy experience is to look at it from a great height.
We thought we’d give this guidance to writers we meet during the two hour face to face session we run after completing a story edit. However, what we’ve found is that there is so much to talk about when it comes to story structure, plot, setting and characters of the novel in question that we often don’t have time to cover this immensely important aspect of the writing process.
It’s what comes next.
By the way, just as an aside. I’m indulging in the joy of the occasional possibly outrageously delicious and sickly adverb as part of my own writing pleasure – so please don’t be offended if you see them sprinkled affectionately throughout. It’s just a game I’m playing with words right now. Tomorrow I will mostly be working on clean, sharp Hemingway prose. But for now, bring on the flashy yet tantalising adverb parade.

Once you’ve been through your manuscript making notes on each scene and noting where the classic story beats fall, what next?

Well, try this. Make a hard copy. Read it aloud. Seriously. Like in that film you saw once and you’re not sure if you dreamed it or not. See your words on the page and make notes all over them.
This session creates focus and works for you to get in touch with your work, so make the next most important thing to do is to print out your book. You need to be shuffling hard copy by now. It helps to steady the mind as you dive back into the novel you’ve spent a few months or more obsessed with, to feel the heft of it in your hand.
Like a new lover it’s been on your mind a lot. Sometimes it’s woken you up in the middle of the night with a new bit or conversation that made you laugh in the dark, a new character or a flash of insight and a deeper understanding of who your characters really are…
But now you have to go back into it with a clean eye, an analytical eye. The editing eye is the Raven’s viewpoint, watching and ever watching from the highest branch of the editing tree.
When you wrote the first draft your eye was more like the Dog, yomping through the long grass of your original story ideas. Now you have to switch from Dog to Raven viewpoint character types if you like. It can be a struggle to make such a radical change of perspective on your work in progress. You must look hard with a detached eye, look hard and find where bits are missing, where the colours are weak, the design inelegant.
The inelegant story will not please its reader. The story edit brings a swaggering yet rather beautiful dandy with a sharp eye for detail to the table of your inner writing self. He’s the one with the background in the craft of writing a novel. He follows it’s signposts, the four act structure, story beats and character development.
He’s old school but he works. He’s absorbed all that stuff you read once about how to structure a story and write a plot arc.
And for some reason it only becomes clear what shape that story creature really is once you’ve written the first draft and made the time to read it closely through whilst making notes imagining you’re dressed in floppy white shirts and tight yet comfortable trousers all the way through.

Settle into the Editing Cave
This slow, elegant, distant and intellectual Raven-eyed dandy kind of way of approaching a story is the next stage. You are inside the story cave.
This is when you spread papers round the room and become a recluse. You turn detective and work out what really happened in your story as you wrote it. You put the two pieces of your writing self together. There’s the arty bit that stayed up late and did some great sentences as well as the aforementioned elegant yet deeply analytical self, and you just have to put them to work together.
You begin to question whether your timeline works throughout the whole story. You soar above your novel from a great height. Do you need to strengthen the dramatic action in some scenes?
And yet in other scenes you may now see how you have to find a way to highlight your main protagonist’s emotional reaction to events that happen.
Both of the above adjustments; namely strengthening dramatic action or conflict however low-key, in scenes, or changing them by increasing the emotional reactions of characters to increase tension – however subtle they might be are the key to what you do next.
Re-write the parts of each scene which need adjusting.

This is the holy grail – the bit you’ve been wanting to do all along.  This is the bit where your writing is good just because you’ve really paid attention to shaping the work and it’s beginning to show.
That is the work of the next re-write.
Especially when it comes to the last few chapters. They tend to need the most work. Roll up your sleeves and be prepared for this task. The last few chapters or scenes of most first drafts are often rushed, excited and exhausted like the writer at this point in the writing process. Now you can take your time and in doing so take control of the emotional highs and lows of the novel.
After re-working every scene from a global point of view when it comes to the world of your novel in this fashion, you move into tinkering with and polishing the structure of the story itself.
More on that later!
Editing is good because: Re-writing is writing but much better.

Try this: Actually enjoy the cave of editing. Make it comfortable and wear your pyjamas or a bikini whilst  in it as much as you can.
J & J x

Creating Characters With Believable Desires Who Will Drive a Story To Glory!!!!

write your novel in a year


I wish to Heaven I was married,” she said resentfully as she attacked the yams with loathing. “I’m tired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do. I’m tired of acting like I don’t eat more than a bird, and walking when I want to run and saying I feel faint after a waltz, when I could dance for two days and never get tired. I’m tired of saying, ‘How wonderful you are!’ to fool men who haven’t got one-half the sense I’ve got, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t know anything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they’re doing it… I can’t eat another bite.” Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

The excerpt above tells the reader everything he needs to know about the character of Scarlett O’Hara.

She’s feisty, bright, energetic, extravert, restless, under-stimulated and driven.


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An Invitation to Write A Big Load of Words!

write your novel in a year


Welcome Writing Geeks!

You are cordially invited to Write A Big Load Of Words [WABLOW] day with us tomorrow, Saturday 22nd March 2014.


Dress code: Pajamas, a golden boob tube and micro shorts, old pullovers and tracksuit bottoms, dressing gown only or, depending on the weather, a ball gown and trilby.

 Refreshments: Several flasks of gin, coffee, tea, absinthe or sugary liquid of your choice. Chips, tahini, hotdogs, salad and dips, ice cream, blueberry crumble and custard. That sort of thing.

 Entertainment: A series of uplifting writing related quotes and the kind of personal motivation writers need when they roll up their sleeves in order to get the words on the page and WABLOW.

Please play the music of your choice and feel free to dance after every 500 words in order to increase blood flow to the brain and typing fingers. Tell your family and…

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Secret Tips For Novelists #1- Why your Main Character’s Lowest Point is your Writer’s Sweet Spot

write your novel in a year

Writers all get the first drafts of their novels down in their own way. Some just start writing and use their first draft as an exploration to actually find out what their story is (these writers are often referred to as ‘pantsers’, i.e. those who write by the seat of their pants). At the other end of the spectrum are the plotters; those who make meticulous detailed plans, worked out on spreadsheets, pie charts, flow charts, blueprints, mind maps and Venn diagrams.

We have to discover our best way of working for ourselves.

However (dot dot dot)

At some stage or another we all have to turn our first draft into a final one. So whether you’ve got a huge flabby sprawl to whip into shape, or a really quite toned form already, before you send it Out There, you need to check that your story works for a reader…

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Kick-starting the Writing Heart: How Character Development Helps Overcome Writer’s Block…

Hitting The Writer’s Wall…

 stone wall

A common experience for novelists during the marathon of getting the words down on the page is hitting the wall. It can happen at any time. Some people call it writer’s block. It feels like the words have dissipated like oxygen from a long distance runners lungs. The adrenaline rush that carried you so far has crashed. Like a cartoon coyote you fall to the ground and the writing stops dead.

I’m not talking about those times when you’re so busy it’s hard to stick to your writing schedule.

This is about the days when you sit at the page and nothing happens. Nothing. Not one word. You play a game, write emails, watch cats playing piano on Youtube… You can do anything except write. It’s like you’ve lost your story. It breaks your heart. You’re dry. It’ the saddest, most gut-wrenching feeling in the world for a wordsmith.

This is the main reason why so many people give up writing a full-length novel. A project that takes so much time, intelligence and passion can appear to die in whisper of disappointment.


It’s a syndrome I’ve observed so often in writers in my classes over the years.  I searched for a cause and found out it’s not a Stopping Point.  It’s a Stop-and-Feel point.  Two very different things.

This is why I’ve developed a method to re-hydrate the writer within! There’s a kind of liquid, creative vitamin, muse-infusion that will kick-start the novelist’s writing heart.


Kick-starting the Writing Heart

 Basically, the answer is that you’ve fallen down because you’ve fallen out of love with your story people – yes, even the villains. So you have to re-ignite the fire. And in the end, the fire burns in the characters you’ve created.

I often teach my students that the plot is the mind of story, theme is the soul and character is the heart.  All three of these have to be functioning or the story dies. 

Because theme and plot are based more on cognitive functioning you can think your solving any writing problems with these two.  But character is different.  Character must be intriguing, fascinating and engaging in order to write about them. 

You’ve got to love them or hate them or preferably feel a bit of both for them.  Most of all they’ve got to be good value.  By that I mean they must deserve their place roaming around in your imagination rent free for such a long time.


Get closer to them. Get to know them better than your own family. Find out more about them. Breathe life into them and the story lives again, the words flow, the impulse to follow a scene through to the end returns.


Here are a few exercises to make this happen:

  • Write a scene in which your MC is behaving in a way that on one else can understand.  You know why they’re doing this, but the minor character[s] around them don’t.  Make it really difficult for your MC to function.  Feel how much it hurts to be misunderstood.  Ratchet up the tension. Use setting to enhance the difficulties.  Use all the senses.
  • Write a piece of dialogue from your MC’s past where she discovers a terrible secret she’ll have to carry for the rest of her life. 
  • Write your MC’s obituary.  Write it first from the point of view of your antagonist.  Then from the point of view of her closest ally.
  • Write about your MC’s first heartbreak.  Make it happen in the most humiliating way possible.  Feel his pain.

You may not use these scenes in your story but they’ll get you closer to your MC. 

Remember, if you can re-kindle the relationship between you and your characters and the writing will follow like the night the day.

It’s the heart of writing.  J x

Write Your Novel in a Year is Now Available All Online!

write your novel in a year

postcard image contrast

I remember the exact date I decided to I was going to be a writer. I jotted this down in my journal: “Today I resolve to take writing seriously, to keep going and never stop, to learn everything I can and make it as a writer…” James Scott Bell

Here At Last! The All New All Online Write Your Novel in a Year Course

We’re happy to announce that due to popular demand the new All Online version of our Write Your Novel in a Yearcourse is now fully operational. Thank you to everyone around the world who has persuaded us to launch this exciting new project.

 This will run from June 2014 – June 2015.

We are taking bookings from today.

Places, as always, are limited. We like to focus on our students and give them a high level of individual teaching, feedback, support and book…

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Novelist’s Quote of the Week…


Book cover of the novel, Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik.  A great story, a cult novel and a fascinating film.

Introduction to the Quote: Writing is Not Natural…

The purpose of studying the craft of writing is not to clip your creative wings. Poets study form, artists study perspective, dancers study movements, actors study stagecraft and musicians study theory of music. They discuss, analyse and practice methods developed and honed by those who went before. Generally speaking it makes them better at what they do.

Of course it’s possible to acquire the knack of writing a novel that works using the technique of trial and error.

This is sometimes called drafting or writing for year after year in a frenzy of despair, wondering why it doesn’t work, tearing out your hair, throwing away hundreds of thousands of words and making mistake after mistake, receiving rejection after rejection [you can tell I’ve been through this] until in exasperation and madness you finally find out what a story actually is and how to translate it into the symbols we call the written word.

A story essentially is a story. It has structure, form, tonal qualities and reader expectations. For centuries bards and storytellers were revered for their art. In the Celtic Druidic tradition they studied for years at a bardic college. In most cultures stories were handed down through generations and all the teller had to do was remember it, embellish a little and put on a good performance for the audience.

Nowadays, readers expect a novel to be a newly minted story every time. They invest time and energy into reading something created by someone who knows how to shape thoughts into words on the page. Writing creatively is quite new in the evolution of the human species. It isn’t natural. It isn’t the spoken word. And it isn’t a memory test.

This week’s quote is taken from Larry Brooks’ new book Story Physics. It’s a great nubbin of advice about one of the most crucial elements in the study of novel writing. Reading. Oh, and watching films because they are stories too. By the way, this advice works the same for pantsers as well as plotters. Understanding what a story is – is the ultimate craft of the novelist.

The universal story itself is your muse, your foundation, your wings and your passion.

I think the most illuminating, clarifying and empowering thing writers can do to improve their craft is to read or see and then analyse stories in all genres. Break them down into their component parts and milestones with a view toward seeing what makes them tick, and behold the power of story architecture at work. Again, once you know it, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. It’ll be there in every story you read or view going forward…”

Larry Brooks.

Thanks Larry.  J x

Act One – How to Write a Good Beginning…

Here’s a great way to outline the first quarter of your story. J

write your novel in a year

Act One – The Orphan

Once upon a time, in a land far away there was a King and a Queen and they had three beautiful daughters… but the most beautiful of all was Psyche.

Adapted from Greek myth, The Tale of Eros and Psych

The Archetypal Pattern of Act One

The archetypal pattern of act one is based around the Call to Adventure. Without it there would be no story. In order to Cross the First Threshold your protagonist must be summoned by circumstance and encouraged by Meeting the Mentor.

So those are the three main scenes or pressure points of Act One.

  1. Call to Adventure – does your MC accept or refuse the call?
  2. Meeting the Mentor – the mentor might be a single individual or simply someone or something wearing the ‘mask of the mentor.
  3. Crossing the First Threshold – remember the importance of contrast in…

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Creating a Magnificent Act 4 – This is The End…

Act 4 – This is THE END and it Has to be Magnificent



Act 4 – The Martyr

Act 4 is often called ‘The Martyr’ because your main character must sacrifice something precious to them in order to get what they deserve.


This happens during the part of your novel called ‘The Climax’, a section of the story so massively important it often unfolds over many scenes. However one key scene will bring everything else in your story together in a cataclysmic moment of final conflict.


Martha Alderson calls it one of the most important ‘energetic markers’ of story, where tension mounts to a crescendo and your main character shows us who she really is, what she’s really made of.


What is the CLIMAX and how can you write a Magnificent One?

In many ways the climax is the main scene of the book. Everything else comes together here. Your protagonist’s transformation [for good or ill]. The main conflict with the antagonist. The plot with all its twists and winding ways ends up here in a crashing waterfall of action.

In many ways I’ve come to the conclusion that it helps the writer to plan this scene first, before they write a single word. It’s the destination. The final countdown. The alchemical story process in its explosive completion.


Has your main character become a hero or a monster? It can go both ways. He might not have become a better person through all his trails during the first three acts. You, the writer, must decide.


Analyse Stories you Love

I recommend taking a close look at stories you enjoy and untangling the climax scene. It might be a quiet refusal or all-out war. Perhaps the main protagonist has learned to fight or maybe he now knows when to back down gracefully.


In the novel Jane Eyre, the main character, Jane, has learned how to balance her heart with her need to be respected and loved.


Also, she has become an independent woman who does not need a man to provide for her financially. Her choices are no longer fraught with the dangers of poverty. Therefore, when she sees Rochester, blind and broken, among the burned ruins of Thornfield House, she comes to him as an equal. She chooses to be his life partner in this spirit of personal transformation.


SACRIFICE is the Word!

But why, you may ask, is Act 4 known as the martyr? Well, let’s have another look at Jane Eyre. What does she lose in order to live her life with Rochester?


The answer is that she’s been offered an alternative life with St John. A life which will bring her great respect. As the wife of a missionary, she’ll be able to teach and live as a good woman by society’s standards. All her sins will be washed away.


So Jane is caught between two equally compelling and concrete choices. The crazy, passionate Rochester. Or the stoic, upstanding St John.


In the end, she chooses passion over societal demands. Hurrah!


How to Create a Brilliant Climax:

Think about your Climax scene. Have you got two clear concrete choices for your hero to be torn between? Make it hard. Test them.


Make sure your Climax is linked to your theme. Jane Eyre is a story of a woman’s struggle for equality, love and respect as an intelligent individual.


Make sure your Climax is linked to your protagonist’s emotional journey. What do they deserve to get? Have they changed enough to get it?


And then force them to give up something they desire greatly in order to fulfil the rules of poetic justice.


Remember: Poetic Justice Rules.

Here’s a mindmap to help to work through some Act 4 ideas.  An outline is only ever a working model.  It can change any time!  But work it through anyway.




Writing a novel is like releasing a baby turtle…

Why is writing a novel like releasing a baby turtle into the ocean?

Because it’s a long trip into dangerous watersturtle release 6.

Small flippers are a reminder that every writer starts a new story idea, novel or book of poems, both weak  and vulnerable as they crawl towards the ocean of time and words ahead of them.

Art comes first – the crazy days of fevered writing, writing wild, freeing the writer within a magic window of time appears so you do the kind of writing you always dreamed of, the kind you do instead of getting dressed, instead of eating the kind where you dive in because the work has grown in you first and then allows you to go swimming down to the depths of itself, putting one word in front of the other, hour after hour.

How do you prepare for this moment?

Free writing on a regular basis is the best way. Writing for five minutes or more without thinking too much, without censoring yourself, your thoughts, images, ideas or judgments.  This stream of consciousness style of writing whatever floats through your head at that moment of writing, if practiced on a regular basis can help improve your writing on all levels.

It’s a ticket to riding the star-ship across the dimensions of your incredible mind and get into the zone of the imagination.  The more you go there the easier it gets. Your muse has your number and you have hers.  In fact, you’re so close you’re practically related.  She’s connected to your everyday life. And that’s how you fall in love with writing.

And it’s also how to get fast at writing.  Like the baby turtles.  At first it’s a harsh world full of predators, currents, storms and fishing nets the size of wandering islands.

But once these delicate creatures grow into huge great full grown leather-backs with the force, power and weight to get a hefty speed going.

The Writer Grows through Free Writing

In the same way, the writer grows through free writing.  Think of it as a portal to the weird dimension of imagination, the wild zone of creative thinking.   This is where art is born.  Creative writing is ignited and fueled by art.

To build a highway to this soulful inner playground, writing freely and fully. In your writer’s notebook, sketch a map of the words that speak your individual language – your personal dialect, framework, visions, dreams, beliefs and fears.   Surf the wave of your inner bard.  Hitch a ride on the wild horse of your poet self.

Whether you’re composing an email, text, song, haiku or 160,000 word novel – the voice you find in free writing is your unique signature on the page. Play around with metaphors, similes and twist cliches until they squeak like a chicken in the grip of a python.

Your true writer’s voice.  The individual spark of creativity lurking inside; elusive, sensitive and wild.  Approach with caution.  Writing this way can seriously improve your writing.