Keeping Things Consistent

Consistency when writing a novel—actually, when writing anything—is an essential ingredient to creating a strong story. Your writers might get a little frustrated if you spend half the story telling them that your protagonist’s bedroom is the second door on the right and then suddenly start saying it’s the third door on the right, or perhaps you mentioned they have blue eyes at the beginning of your novel and somewhere during your story they suddenly change to green eyes. These little things may not seem like much, but when you write a novel you create a world that the reader gets drawn into, somewhere they can totally immerse themselves, and when you introduce inconsistencies into your story, it takes away from your world and severs, or at least tarnishes, the link your reader has to it. 

 

Some of you might be thinking you’d never let a silly mistake such as a character’s eyes changing colour slip into your story, but you’d be surprised. Writing a novel generally takes months, even years, and during that time you can forget little pieces of the story you’ve written, such as what your character’s favourite colour is, but these are the types of things your readers will pick up on, as some of the more voracious ones might devour your book in a day or two, keeping careful track of every part of your world, noticing the slightest inconsistency. This makes editing for inconsistencies very important. Some areas to pay close attention to include:

 

Characters:

Ensure that details about your characters, such as the spelling of their name and their appearance, remain consistent. Also ensure their actions match their personality. For example, if you have a very timid character who is terrified of getting into trouble at school, it would be very out of character for them to skip class with their friends, unless a rational was provided, such as an FBI agent showed up and told them they needed to come with them because their parents were really secret agents who were now missing. Far-fetched, yes, but hopefully you get the idea.

 

Point of View (POV):

This is the point of view of who is telling the story. There is first person (I, me); second person (you)—very rare; and third person (he, she). The POV can be told from one character’s POV (limited), or it can be told from multiple characters’ POV (rotating). Whichever you choose, you have to make sure you stick with it. You can’t start off in first person and then later change to third person, just as you can’t start a story with a rotating POV and then change to limited—unless, of course, all the other characters meet an untimely end.

 

Setting:

This one is pretty self-explanatory: if your character happens to have a garden that grows sunflowers, they can’t suddenly change to daisies. Just as if your character happens to have a messy bedroom with clothes strewn everywhere, they can’t suddenly have a neat bedroom with not a single thing out of place—unless someone cleaned it, of course.

 

Style:

Style relates to how you tell a story: word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, spelling, punctuation etc. Pay close attention to word choice, spelling, and punctuation. These tend to be the areas that most writers succumb to inconsistencies. For example, if you refer to a lounge as a lounge, keep referring to it as a lounge, avoid suddenly calling it a sofa or a couch—avoid thesaurus syndrome. If you decide to use Australian spelling over American spelling, make sure you stick to Australian spelling—don’t let words such as realize or honor slip in there. As for punctuation, well, there are plenty of instances when you can use punctuation marks based on your own choice of style. For example, using the Oxford comma (an optional comma that comes before the word ‘and’ or ‘or’ at the end of a list). If you decide not to use the Oxford comma, then make sure you keep consistent with that choice throughout, and visa versa. It’s the same with using a comma before ‘too’ when it ends a sentence. If you choose to use this optional comma, then ensure you use it throughout your novel and not sporadically.

 

A few other areas to consider when checking for consistency in style include numbers: keeping consistent with whether you spell numbers or use numerals—the general rule is to spell out numbers up to a hundred and then use numerals after that. Capitalisation is another area to pay close attention to: if you capitalise particular words such as breeds of animals and plants, then make sure you capitalise them throughout your entire story.

 

Now you can see just how easy it is to let inconsistencies slip by. One thing I would suggest, particularly when remaining consistent with style, is to write a list of your stylistic choices, such as using a comma before ‘too’ when it ends a sentence, or how you spell particular words that might have multiple spellings, such as ‘gray’ and ‘grey’ or ‘among’ and ‘amongst’. I’d also suggest keeping a list of setting descriptions and characters’ appearances—something your trusty character development worksheet can help you with. Keeping a list of these types of things will offer a helpful guide as you work your way through your story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing the Right Verb

Verbs are an essential part of any sentence, but not all verbs are created equal; there are two categories of verbs: weak and strong. Strong verbs should always be chosen over weak verbs. Strong verbs hold the power to grab the reader’s attention and convey exactly what is happening: creating mood and imagery in just a few words. Weak verbs, on the other hand… well, in a word, they’re boring and will be lucky to even pique the reader’s interest. Let’s look at some examples so you can see just how important choosing strong verbs over weak verbs is.

Jacob was walking across the road when a car horn sounded. He turned his head. A car was coming towards him. He ran off the road before it could hit him.

Did anyone else fall asleep while reading that? I’ve highlighted all the weak verbs so you can see who the culprits are making this scene so boring. These verbs barely tell the reader anything about what’s happening. How fast is the car going? How close is it to hitting Jacob? There’s also a lack of tension because of this—the reader can’t determine if Jacob is in danger of being hit or not. Now let’s replace those weak verbs with strong ones:

Jacob was strolling across the road when a car horn blasted. He whipped his head around. A car was zooming towards him. He lunged off the road before it could plough into him.

Okay, now we’ve got some more detail. By using action verbs, the reader now knows that the car was speeding towards Jacob and that he only had seconds to get off the road, which is why he had to lunge instead of run.

Let’s try another example, starting with weak verbs:

Jasmine hung off the edge of a cliff. Her feet moved around, trying to find a rock to rest on so she could pull herself up, but there was nothing. “Katie!” she called to her sister, who was a few feet away, her back turned. “Katie, the rope broke. Help me!”

            Katie turned around. “Jasmine!” She ran to her, taking her sister’s arms and pulling her to safety.

Despite the fact Jasmine is hanging off the edge of a cliff, potentially about to plummet to her death, there’s a lack of tension. She’s ‘moving’ her legs around trying to find purchase, making it seem as though she’s used to dangling off cliffs, which seems to be confirmed when she ‘calls’ to her sister rather than screams, terrified she could lose her grip at any moment. Even her sister appears slightly disinterested when she ‘turns’ around. Let’s get a bit of tension and momentum going in this scene by using strong verbs:

Jasmine dangled off the edge of a cliff. Her feet scrambled around, trying to gain purchase on a rock so she could heave herself up, but there was nothing. “Katie!” she screamed to her sister, who was a few feet away, her back turned. “Katie, the rope broke. Help me!” 

            Katie whirled around. “Jasmine!” She flew to her, gripping her sister’s arms and hauling her to safety. 

Again, the strong verbs convey the tension of the scene. If you want your writing bursting with life and painting scenes so vivid that readers feel as though they’ve been yanked into your book, then avoid weak verbs as much as possible. These include words such as walked, sat, stood, and turned, to name a few. Instead of using these ‘boring’ verbs, go to a thesaurus and find ones that convey the action you require.

Sarah, Editor at Aurora House

Shh! Show, Don’t Tell

If you’ve ever taken a writing course or read a book on how to write a novel, you would have been told ‘show, don’t tell’ at least once—perhaps several hundred times. But what exactly does it mean? Telling is when you tell the reader facts: what’s happening, how someone feels, even what’s about to happen next—spoiler alert. Showing, on the other hand, is when the writer draws an image so the reader can follow the writer into the scene they’re describing and experience everything as the characters do.

Showing Versus Telling

To get a better understanding of the difference between showing and telling and why it’s better to show than tell let’s look at some examples.

Telling:

Cameron finished typing his report. He was exhausted. He pushed to his feet, deciding he should have some dinner. Suddenly, he heard a window shatter down the hall, followed by footsteps. Cameron was terrified. Someone was in his house.  

This scene gets the basics across—someone’s broken into Cameron’s house—but it doesn’t let readers experience the scene for themselves, rather they’re being told what’s happened and how Cameron is feeling about it.  

Showing:

Cameron snapped his laptop shut and leaned back in his chair, yawning. He’d had enough of typing reports for one day. He patted his growling stomach. Suppose I should make some dinner. He pushed to his feet, about to move towards the door when the tinkle of shattering glass froze him in place, followed by the thud of boots. Cameron gulped, his heart pounding. Someone’s in the house!    

This scene is no longer stagnant. Now the reader can experience what Cameron is experiencing: his exhaustion as he leans back in his chair, yawning; his hunger as his stomach growls; and his fear when he hears those footsteps. It’s as if the reader is with him in that scene, their heart pounding just as fast as his.   

Let’s look at another example.

Telling:

Daniel stared at the cornflakes his mum had put in front of him. He was pretty sure the milk was off because it smelt awful. There was no way he was going to eat them so he pushed the bowl onto the floor.  

Showing:

Daniel cringed at the cornflakes his mum had put in front of him, the sour stench of curdled milk oozing up his nostrils. He swallowed down the urge to vomit and flung the bowl away, splattering cornflakes and milk all over the floor.

Again, the reader gets to step into Daniel’s world and experience things as he does, such as the sour smell of curdled milk and just how disgusted he is with it.

Is Telling Always Wrong?

While showing is preferable to telling, there’s no rule that one must always show and never tell; in fact, doing so might get a little tiresome. For example, if you’ve just ‘shown’ readers an action scene involving your character then it’s not necessary to then follow up with a blow by blow account when the character recaps the event to someone else. In this kind of situation, it’s better to ‘tell’ by saying something along the lines of I filled the others in on everything that had happened. Another scenario where telling would be acceptable is if your character is on their way somewhere. Unless something essential to the story happens during their travel to wherever they’re going, such as finding a stray pearl on the sidewalk that has some crucial part to the story, there’s no need to show readers the path the character took. Instead, tell the readers that the character went to wherever they did: I jogged to the library.    

Tips for Showing over Telling

If you’re having trouble showing the reader what’s happening then take a plunge into your narrative. See what your characters are seeing—perhaps a stack of unopened bills on the counter that could indicate whoever lives there is financially challenged. Does your character smell anything such as rotting food, or hear anything such as a dripping tap? How does your character feel? Are they angry? Sad? Happy? How are they conveying how they feel? If they’re angry perhaps they’re clenching their fists or gritting their teeth. Or maybe they’re tearing up all the unopened bills. Showing these kind of emotions and painting an image of the scene is what will yank the reader into the world you’ve created.

Sarah, Editor at Aurora House

Shh! Show, Don't Tell

If you’ve ever taken a writing course or read a book on how to write a novel, you would have been told ‘show, don’t tell’ at least once—perhaps several hundred times. But what exactly does it mean? Telling is when you tell the reader facts: what’s happening, how someone feels, even what’s about to happen next—spoiler alert. Showing, on the other hand, is when the writer draws an image so the reader can follow the writer into the scene they’re describing and experience everything as the characters do.
Showing Versus Telling
To get a better understanding of the difference between showing and telling and why it’s better to show than tell let’s look at some examples.
Telling:
Cameron finished typing his report. He was exhausted. He pushed to his feet, deciding he should have some dinner. Suddenly, he heard a window shatter down the hall, followed by footsteps. Cameron was terrified. Someone was in his house.  
This scene gets the basics across—someone’s broken into Cameron’s house—but it doesn’t let readers experience the scene for themselves, rather they’re being told what’s happened and how Cameron is feeling about it.  
Showing:
Cameron snapped his laptop shut and leaned back in his chair, yawning. He’d had enough of typing reports for one day. He patted his growling stomach. Suppose I should make some dinner. He pushed to his feet, about to move towards the door when the tinkle of shattering glass froze him in place, followed by the thud of boots. Cameron gulped, his heart pounding. Someone’s in the house!    
This scene is no longer stagnant. Now the reader can experience what Cameron is experiencing: his exhaustion as he leans back in his chair, yawning; his hunger as his stomach growls; and his fear when he hears those footsteps. It’s as if the reader is with him in that scene, their heart pounding just as fast as his.   
Let’s look at another example.
Telling:
Daniel stared at the cornflakes his mum had put in front of him. He was pretty sure the milk was off because it smelt awful. There was no way he was going to eat them so he pushed the bowl onto the floor.  
Showing:
Daniel cringed at the cornflakes his mum had put in front of him, the sour stench of curdled milk oozing up his nostrils. He swallowed down the urge to vomit and flung the bowl away, splattering cornflakes and milk all over the floor.
Again, the reader gets to step into Daniel’s world and experience things as he does, such as the sour smell of curdled milk and just how disgusted he is with it.
Is Telling Always Wrong?
While showing is preferable to telling, there’s no rule that one must always show and never tell; in fact, doing so might get a little tiresome. For example, if you’ve just ‘shown’ readers an action scene involving your character then it’s not necessary to then follow up with a blow by blow account when the character recaps the event to someone else. In this kind of situation, it’s better to ‘tell’ by saying something along the lines of I filled the others in on everything that had happened. Another scenario where telling would be acceptable is if your character is on their way somewhere. Unless something essential to the story happens during their travel to wherever they’re going, such as finding a stray pearl on the sidewalk that has some crucial part to the story, there’s no need to show readers the path the character took. Instead, tell the readers that the character went to wherever they did: I jogged to the library.    
Tips for Showing over Telling
If you’re having trouble showing the reader what’s happening then take a plunge into your narrative. See what your characters are seeing—perhaps a stack of unopened bills on the counter that could indicate whoever lives there is financially challenged. Does your character smell anything such as rotting food, or hear anything such as a dripping tap? How does your character feel? Are they angry? Sad? Happy? How are they conveying how they feel? If they’re angry perhaps they’re clenching their fists or gritting their teeth. Or maybe they’re tearing up all the unopened bills. Showing these kind of emotions and painting an image of the scene is what will yank the reader into the world you’ve created.
Sarah, Editor at Aurora House

Setting the Scene

 

Setting is one of the key ingredients to creating a novel that readers can immerse themselves in. Without settings, your characters would be aimlessly wandering around on blank pages talking to each other. The reader wouldn’t be able to experience the world the characters were in; they’d be more or less locked out.

Avoid white space

White space is basically having no setting. The characters may be talking, for example, but there is no description about where the conversation is happening:

Jasmine met Liam to talk about their school project.

‘Should we get started on our Ancient History assignment?’ Jasmine asked.

            ‘Sounds good.’

            They sat down.

A very boring example, I know, but hopefully you see my point about white space. The reader doesn’t know where Jasmine has met Liam; the reader doesn’t even know where they’ve sat down. It’s as if the characters are surrounded by nothing but white space. It’s an easy problem to fix, just add in titbits of description:

Jasmine met Liam at his house to talk about their school project, where he led Jasmine into the backyard.

‘Should we get started on our Ancient History assignment?’ Jasmine asked.

            ‘Sounds good.’

            They sat down on the grass.

Yes, it’s a very basic description of the setting, but now that the reader knows the characters are in Liam’s backyard, their imagination can fill in the rest about what the setting looks like.

Try not to be a minimalist

The example above falls into the minimalist category, and sometimes that’s all you need, but there are settings—generally the ones where the protagonist hangs out the most—that should be a little bit more detailed. Let’s see if we can flesh out the example from above to make it even more detailed:

Jasmine wandered up the bitumen driveway to Liam’s two-storey brick house to talk about their school project. She wiped her feet on the ‘welcome’ mat neatly placed in front of the door before knocking.

            The door swung inwards and Liam greeted her before ushering her through to the backyard. Ivy slithered along the wooden fence bordering the yard and an oak tree stretched its branches over the grassy ground, scattering its brown leaves.

            ‘Should we get started on our Ancient History assignment?’ Jasmine asked.

            ‘Sounds good.’

            They sat down under the oak tree.

Adding in a few extra details about how something looks really helps add more life to the setting. So whether you’re describing a dinner or a night at the movies, just sprinkle in a few extra titbits. Instead of saying your character ate dinner, tell the reader what they ate: mac and cheese perhaps? And if your character is at the movies, tell the reader what the seats are like. Are they so soft your character gets swallowed by them? Or are they hard and uncomfortable? Is your character’s seat behind someone tall who is blocking their view? Are the lights dimmed when your character walks in? But try not to get too caught up in all the details. Just focus on a few points. 

Don’t overdo it

Sometimes writers go a little over board with their settings and describe everything from what the restaurant’s toilets look like to what everyone in the restaurant is eating. While this definitely creates a realistic setting, it also bogs the reader down and they may lose track of the actual storyline, or might simply fall asleep. Let’s see what happens to our example when we really focus on the setting:

Jasmine wandered up the bitumen driveway to Liam’s house to talk about their school project. Pebbles lay scattered on the driveway, along with twigs that ranged from the length of Jasmine’s arm to the length of her pinky finger. There were plenty of leaves lying around too, most of them with brown dots tarnishing their green shade, a few even had holes in them.

            Jasmine was so busy staring at the leaves she almost bumped into Liam’s door. There was a coir mat out front with ‘welcome’ written in big black letters across it. The mat was stained with years of dirt rubbed off from feet and shoes. There were several pairs of shoes neatly placed on either side of the mat: pink glittering gumboots that would fit a toddler, black thongs in a size 12, red strappy high heels that were so high Jasmine thought she’d break her neck if she tried them on, not that they would fit her, since they were a size 8.

            Jasmine knocked on the door, which she guessed was probably oak. She glanced at the neighbouring houses. The one to the right had a blue tin roof and solar panels, and a garden of roses stretching up a pebble path to the door. The one to the left had a standard tile roof, where Jasmine could see a few frisbees, not to mention plenty of branches and leaves caught in the gutters.

            The door swung inwards with a slight creak and Liam greeted her before ushering her to the backyard. Ivy slithered along the wooden fence bordering the yard, which was probably 200 square feet. An oak tree stretched its branches over the grassy ground, scattering its brown leaves.

            ‘Should we get started on our Ancient History assignment?’ Jasmine asked.

            ‘Sounds good.’

            They sat down on a patch of grass under the oak tree, where Jasmine examined a fallen leaf with a crisscross pattern on it.

I could have made it even more detailed than that, adding in a description of Liam’s house, inside and outside, as well as the other houses on the street. But none of those things are important to this scene. When trying to decide how much description to give a setting, just think about what’s important. Does the reader need to know what the leaves and twigs on the driveway look like? Probably not, but you could mention there are scattered leaves if you wanted to. Does the reader need to know what the neighbouring houses look like? Not unless they’re taking a stroll down the street later for architectural ideas. Does the reader need to know what size shoes are outside? Doubtful, but mentioning the neatly placed shoes would be fine since it adds more colour to the setting.

A good rule to follow when describing a setting is to keep it under five lines. If you have a more intricate description that is longer than five lines, break it up with dialogue or internal narrative.

Use the five senses

One way to really bring a setting to life is to use a combination of the five senses: sight, touch, taste, sound, smell. So instead of just focusing on sight, you can add something about how a particular place smells, or the sounds that the character can hear. Adding these elements will draw a reader into the story even more. Let’s try and use all five in our example:

Jasmine wandered up the bitumen driveway to Liam’s two-storey brick house to talk about their school project. The sweet smell of baking cookies wafted from the house as Jasmine wiped her feet on the ‘welcome’ mat neatly placed in front of the door. Jasmine knocked, the door’s polished wood smooth against her knuckles.

            The door swung inwards with a creak and Liam greeted her with a chocolate chip cookie. It was still warm when Jasmine took it, and the chocolate chips were gooey and melted as she bit into it, the cookies buttery goodness making her sigh in content.

            Liam ushered her through to the backyard, where Jasmine could hear giggling children running around next door. Ivy slithered along the wooden fence bordering the yard and an oak tree stretched its branches over the grassy ground, scattering its brown leaves.

            ‘Should we get started on our Ancient History assignment?’ Jasmine asked.

            ‘Sounds good.’

            They sat down under the oak tree, the fallen leaves scratching against Jasmine’s bare legs.

You don’t have to add in the five senses for every description, but peppering them throughout your story will really help bring your settings to life.

Sarah, Editor at Aurora House

Active Voice Versus Passive Voice

As a writer you’ve probably been told at one point or another to use active voice and avoid passive voice—perhaps it was even a teacher’s comment added at the end of a high school essay. If you’re anything like I was before I studied grammar, you probably scratched your head and thought what the heck is passive voice? It’s pretty hard to avoid doing something when you have no idea what you’re supposed to be avoiding. My aim in this blog is to help you understand what active and passive voice are so you can avoid the common mistake many novice writers make: overusing passive voice.

What is Active Voice?

Active voice is where the subject of a sentence performs the verb. A straightforward example of this is I love you. ‘I’ is the subject as it is performing the action verb ‘love’ on the object ‘you’.

Now maybe I’ve confused you with my references to subjects and objects, so here’s a quick definition:

Subject: The person or thing doing something (performing the verb).

Object: The person or thing having something done to them/it (receiving the verb).

Let’s look at another example: the writer wrote a novel. Here the subject is ‘the writer’ as they are performing the verb ‘wrote’, and ‘the novel’ is the object as it is the thing being written (the thing receiving the verb).

What is Passive Voice?

Passive voice occurs when the verb acts upon the subject instead of the object. In other words, the object gets promoted to subject. If you re-wrote the above examples in passive voice, they would look like this: you are loved by me; the novel was written by the writer. In these two sentences, the subjects ‘the writer’ and ‘me’ are now being acted upon instead of performing the acting.

Confused? It’s okay if you are, let’s try and make it simpler. If you’re having trouble identifying the subject and object in a sentence just ask the following three questions. Firstly find your verb by asking what action is being performed? Next find your subject by asking who or what is performing the action? Lastly find your object by asking who or what is having the action performed on them? Let’s try asking these questions with the following example: the pot was grown in by the flower. What action is being performed? Growing—‘grown’, this is the verb. Who or what is growing? ‘The flower’, this is the subject. Who or what is the flower growing in? ‘The pot’, this is the object. If the subject comes after the verb, it’s generally a good guess that your sentence is in passive voice. To change it to active voice, simply swap the subject and object: the flower grew in the pot.

One thing to remember with passive voice is that sometimes the subject is omitted from the sentence—a very common trend among politicians when they don’t want to accept blame. An example would be mistakes were made. This sentence doesn’t tell us who made the mistakes. To change it to active you would need to add a subject: the mayor made mistakes.

Is Passive Voice Always Wrong?

No, not at all. The problem with passive voice is that it can be vague, awkward, and just plain wordy. I think most people can agree that I love cake is much neater and more concise than the cake is loved by me. With that said, there are circumstances where passive voice works better than active voice. Sometimes in a sentence you’ll want to draw your readers’ attention to the object rather than the subject, such as in this example: shots were fired. Here the emphasis is placed on the shots being fired; this emphasis would be somewhat lost if the sentence was written in active voice: someone fired shots.   

Now that you’re all experts on active and passive voice, you’ll be able to avoid wordy, obscure sentences and save passive voice as a stylistic tool for emphasising the object of a sentence.

Sarah, Editor at Aurora House

How to Bring Your Characters to Life

Some people may try and tell you that creating characters for your novel is as easy as selecting an age, gender, hair colour, and goal. But it’s not that simple. If you want your characters to compel readers to care about them enough to read your entire novel, then you have to do a lot better than create a few generic character features. You have to imbue your characters with enough life that they reach out of your novel and yank readers into their world, taking them on an adventure they’ll never forget. Here are four tips to help you achieve this:

Avoid cliché characters

A cliché character is someone who fills a certain stereotype. The Knight in Shining Armour is an example of a cliché character. This type of character is strong, brave, ridiculously good-looking, and runs around saving Damsels in Distress—another type of cliché character. He is also incredibly boring and predictable. Now I’m not saying that your story can’t have a good-hearted knight in it. But if it does, you need to break free of the Knight in Shining Armour stereotype by adding a twist. For example, instead of your knight being fearless, he could be terrified of water because when he was a boy his father tried to drown him along with his mother. Or maybe he’s a knight who doesn’t believe in violence. Small details like this add more depth to your character.

Show don’t tell

Yes, I know, that phrase is repeated on a daily basis to writers, but it’s great advice for bringing your characters to life. Instead of telling readers that your protagonist is hot-tempered and hates ice-cream, show them. Have your protagonist toss an ice-cream cone on the ground in disgust before kicking over the ice-cream vendor’s cart. Showing readers what your character is liker rather than telling them will help readers see them as people rather than as words on paper.

Give each of your characters a defining feature and mannerisms

Generally in novels, there are a wide range of characters whom readers are expected to keep track of. If you’re giving each character a standard description of hair and eye colour, then your readers will probably see your characters as a blur, struggling to differentiate each one. To avoid this, you should give your characters a defining feature, an attribution that sets them apart such as always smelling like jasmine, having oily lank hair, or having an obsession with wearing diamante headbands. Once you’ve worked out your character’s defining feature, you should consider what mannerisms they have. Why are mannerisms important? Because everyone has mannerisms—little habits they’ve developed over the years such as twirling their hair when they’re thinking. These little details really help make your characters more realistic. Some examples of mannerisms include: tilting head slightly to the right when listening to someone talk, fiddling with necklace when nervous, smacking lips together when eating etc.

Give your characters a life story

This is where the magic happens. This is where characters transform from words on paper into three-dimensional people. If you do this part correctly, you’ll know because your characters will outgrow you. They will cut themselves free from your pen and tell you what’s going to happen from now on, instead of the other way around—much like a defiant teenager who’s had enough of you controlling their life.

So how do you do this? By asking questions, lots and lots and lots of questions. The basic questions to start with are what is your goal? Why is this your goal? What’s holding you back from achieving your goal? These questions establish the basic foundation of a character; they reveal the character’s purpose and their motivation behind it. While these questions are enough to create a character, they’re not enough to bring a character to life. For that you need to ask more personal questions; you need to imagine your character has an entire life outside of your story and find out what happens in that life. Ask questions such as what are your flaws? What is your happiest childhood memory? What is your biggest regret? What’s your favourite hobby? What are your pet peeves? And for each question you ask, you should always ask why, because it provides the motive and tells you more about your character. For example, if your character answered that their favourite hobby is painting, you can assume they’re creative. But if you ask them why it’s their favourite hobby, they might answer that it’s because their mother was a painter before she died, and that painting offers a connection to her. So instead of your character just being creative, you learn that they had a close relationship with their mother and painting is a way for them to try and re-access it. These little defining details are really what bring a character to life.

A great way to flesh out your characters and uncover their life story is to fill out a character development worksheet. This way instead of you coming up with questions, you can just answer the ones provided for you. A simple Internet search will provide plenty of character development worksheets. Not every question will apply to your character, so only answer the ones that are applicable. 

Sarah, Editor at Aurora House

How to Battle through Writer’s Block

You’ve woken up, eaten breakfast, and have sat down in front of your laptop. You open the file titled Best Selling Novel and push open the door in your mind that grants you access to the fictional world you’ve spent the past few months creating. You poise your fingers above your laptop’s keyboard, ready to glimpse what happens next in your story. But fog swirls around you when you step through the door, concealing your view. You stumble forward, calling your characters’ names. But only silence greets you.

This horrifying scenario is known as Writer’s Block, and symptoms include:

  • Staring at a blank Word document for extended periods of time
  • Banging your fists against your keyboard
  • Frequent trips to the kitchen and bathroom (aka procrastination)
  • Slamming your laptop shut
  • Yelling
  • And, in severe cases, crying

Now having Writer’s Block is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s generally guaranteed that you’ll suffer from Writer’s Block at least once in your life—okay, probably more like several hundred times. One day, after spending weeks pouring words onto paper, you’re going to sit down and find that you’ve got absolutely nothing to write. Not a single word. Your mind is a complete blank. But don’t worry, there are ways to re-trigger your muse and gain access back into the world you created.

1. Walk away

Staring at a laptop screen and willing words to appear may work, but it will most likely give you a headache—or make you want to toss your laptop over the balcony so you don’t have to stare at that blinking cursor in Word, which you’re pretty sure is mocking you. It’s better to walk away and do something else, because your subconscious mind is an amazing thing and will continue working on bypassing your Writer’s Block while you go for a run, clean the house, or even just sleep. If your subconscious manages to succeed in spying the next section of your novel, it’ll send you a memo—also known as a light bulb blinking to life above your head.

2. Grab a pen and paper

If you’ve been typing your novel on a laptop, I recommend changing to pen and paper. There is something freeing about scribbling in a notebook. Probably that you can write without Word being a Grammar Nazi and underlining every second word in red or green, making your feel like you never should have graduated Year 1 English. Instead you can focus purely on the story and avoid being distracted by highlighted spelling and grammar errors—things you can correct later.

There’s also the added bonus that you can sit down and write anywhere when you’ve got pen and paper, like the beach or an isolated cabin in the woods, and you never have to worry about your pen’s battery dying like you do with a laptop.

 

3. Try free writing

Free writing is basically where you write and write and write and write. Don’t panic, there is a time limit on how long you have to write for. I generally find 10 minutes is a good time to start with. All you have to do is set a timer, focus on your story, and keep your pen moving until the timer runs out.

It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write something. If your mind is a complete blank when the timer starts, then write my mind is a complete blank over and over again until something else pops into your head—hopefully the next chapter in your novel. But if the best you can come up with is Charlotte likes ice cream sundaes sprinkled with chocolate flakes that’s fine. Set the timer for another 10 minutes, and you’ll probably find your mind is a lot clearer, enough to squeeze out one sentence that triggers a tidal wave of words to shatter your Writer’s Block.

Now before you run off to start free writing, there are a few rules:

  1. Keep writing until the timer runs out.
  2. Do not correct any spelling or grammatical errors you make—throw out basic English rules for this exercise. No one will read what you write but you, so don’t be embarrassed.
  3. Do not re-read anything you’ve written until the timer runs out.
  4. Have fun. Free writing is all about letting go and unleashing your subconscious.

I know sometimes it feels as though Writer’s Block will never pass, and that you’ll have to move your novel into a folder marked Dead Projects, but I promise it will. One day a vortex will open in the sky and suck up the fog surrounding you, revealing the fictional world you created as well as your characters. You just have to be patient.

How to Battle through Writer's Block

You’ve woken up, eaten breakfast, and have sat down in front of your laptop. You open the file titled Best Selling Novel and push open the door in your mind that grants you access to the fictional world you’ve spent the past few months creating. You poise your fingers above your laptop’s keyboard, ready to glimpse what happens next in your story. But fog swirls around you when you step through the door, concealing your view. You stumble forward, calling your characters’ names. But only silence greets you.
This horrifying scenario is known as Writer’s Block, and symptoms include:

  • Staring at a blank Word document for extended periods of time
  • Banging your fists against your keyboard
  • Frequent trips to the kitchen and bathroom (aka procrastination)
  • Slamming your laptop shut
  • Yelling
  • And, in severe cases, crying

Now having Writer’s Block is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s generally guaranteed that you’ll suffer from Writer’s Block at least once in your life—okay, probably more like several hundred times. One day, after spending weeks pouring words onto paper, you’re going to sit down and find that you’ve got absolutely nothing to write. Not a single word. Your mind is a complete blank. But don’t worry, there are ways to re-trigger your muse and gain access back into the world you created.

  1. Walk away

Staring at a laptop screen and willing words to appear may work, but it will most likely give you a headache—or make you want to toss your laptop over the balcony so you don’t have to stare at that blinking cursor in Word, which you’re pretty sure is mocking you. It’s better to walk away and do something else, because your subconscious mind is an amazing thing and will continue working on bypassing your Writer’s Block while you go for a run, clean the house, or even just sleep. If your subconscious manages to succeed in spying the next section of your novel, it’ll send you a memo—also known as a light bulb blinking to life above your head.
 

  1. Grab a pen and paper

If you’ve been typing your novel on a laptop, I recommend changing to pen and paper. There is something freeing about scribbling in a notebook. Probably that you can write without Word being a Grammar Nazi and underlining every second word in red or green, making your feel like you never should have graduated Year 1 English. Instead you can focus purely on the story and avoid being distracted by highlighted spelling and grammar errors—things you can correct later.
There’s also the added bonus that you can sit down and write anywhere when you’ve got pen and paper, like the beach or an isolated cabin in the woods, and you never have to worry about your pen’s battery dying like you do with a laptop.
 

  1. Try free writing

Free writing is basically where you write and write and write and write. Don’t panic, there is a time limit on how long you have to write for. I generally find 10 minutes is a good time to start with. All you have to do is set a timer, focus on your story, and keep your pen moving until the timer runs out.
It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write something. If your mind is a complete blank when the timer starts, then write my mind is a complete blank over and over again until something else pops into your head—hopefully the next chapter in your novel. But if the best you can come up with is Charlotte likes ice cream sundaes sprinkled with chocolate flakes that’s fine. Set the timer for another 10 minutes, and you’ll probably find your mind is a lot clearer, enough to squeeze out one sentence that triggers a tidal wave of words to shatter your Writer’s Block.
Now before you run off to start free writing, there are a few rules:

  1. Keep writing until the timer runs out.
  2. Do not correct any spelling or grammatical errors you make—throw out basic English rules for this exercise. No one will read what you write but you, so don’t be embarrassed.
  3. Do not re-read anything you’ve written until the timer runs out.
  4. Have fun. Free writing is all about letting go and unleashing your subconscious.

I know sometimes it feels as though Writer’s Block will never pass, and that you’ll have to move your novel into a folder marked Dead Projects, but I promise it will. One day a vortex will open in the sky and suck up the fog surrounding you, revealing the fictional world you created as well as your characters. You just have to be patient.

The Importance of a Manuscript Assessment

Let me guess, you’ve just finished writing your novel after spending the past year pouring your soul into it—writing it, then editing it again, and again, and again. You think it’s perfect, an absolute masterpiece that will be hailed alongside the works of Agatha Christie and J.K. Rowling. There’s nothing left to do now but publish it, right? Wrong. A writer can’t objectively edit their own work because they’re too close to it, and are blind to their own flaws. This is where a manuscript assessment comes in.

What is a manuscript assessment?

A manuscript assessment (also known as a critique, appraisal, or a structural report) is where a professional editor/assessor reads your manuscript as a whole, paying close attention to your story’s structure, character development, plot development, pace, setting, consistency etc. The assessor will give you a written report on what’s working and what needs improvement. Basically, it’s instructions on how to make your novel the best it can be.

What about family and friends?

Perhaps you think your manuscript is perfect and doesn’t need an assessment because your family and friends have read it and told you you’re a writing genius. Well, I hate to break it to you, but family and friends are unreliable sources. This is mainly because they probably don’t want to hurt your feelings, but also because, unless they’re an editor, they haven’t been trained to read a manuscript critically. This means they may miss things such as characters who lack depth, or overuse of passive voice—the types of things that generally determine whether a manuscript is ‘just okay’ or ‘totally addictive’.

What about copyeditors and proofreaders?

Maybe you’re paying to have your book published, and the publishing package you’ve purchased includes a copyedit and proofread of your manuscript, which you think is enough. Yes, having your manuscript edited is a crucial step, but it’s not the same as an assessment. A copyeditor and proofreader’s job is to focus on strengthening your sentences and correcting grammatical issues. In other words, they look at the manuscript piece by piece rather than as a whole, so you’ll have polished sentences, but your story might have pacing issues and plot holes.

What if my work really is perfect?

Some of you might still be reading this and thinking you’re the exception. You know your work is perfect and think paying an assessor will be a waste of money because your report will come back with one sentence: “This is an absolute masterpiece; don’t change a thing”. Well, the cold, hard truth is that that never happens. No work is ever perfect. I admit to being arrogant once and thinking my manuscript was perfect. I sent it off to an assessor expecting to receive an email back telling me how good my manuscript was, and that the assessor had forwarded it on to every literary agent and publisher they knew.

That wasn’t the case.

My world crumbled when I received my assessment. My manuscript was bathed in red ink and my report was seven pages long, informing me that my characters were flat and my world needed more development—plus there were about a hundred other issues that I needed to address. I was crushed. I’d worked so hard on my manuscript, it just couldn’t be true that it still needed so much work. Once I recovered from my shock, I re-read my assessment and it was as if the assessor had gifted me with new eyes. I suddenly saw all the flaws they were talking about, and I couldn’t believe I’d missed them. How had I been so blind? That’s what a manuscript assessment does: it gives you fresh eyes, so you suddenly see that your protagonist has no depth, or that your plot has no direction, or even that the island your story is set on was growing coconut trees at the start, and halfway through your story they changed to palm trees.

Assessments are for serious writers

At the end of the day, the choice is yours if you want to pay for a manuscript assessment. But if you’re really serious about being a writer, then an assessment is worth every penny. You’ll not only get instructions on how to make your manuscript the best it can be, you’ll also discover what your writing flaws are such as overuse of passive voice, wordy sentences, telling rather than showing etc. Once you know what your writing flaws are, you’ll be able to avoid them and become a better writer.

If you decide to have an assessment performed on your manuscript, Aurora House offers this service. Information can be found here https://aurorahouse.com.au/publishing/manuscript-assessment/. If you’re still not sure about paying for an assessment, Aurora House also offers an assessment of your manuscript’s first two chapters, or 5000 words, which will help you decide if you should pursue a full assessment. This service costs $80, and you will need to submit a synopsis, plus the contents (all chapter titles), and word count. If you would like more information about manuscript assessments, please contact Aurora House through the contact page: https://aurorahouse.com.au/contact-us/.