Book Recipes: How to Write a Psychological Thriller

Time for another book recipe! This one’s on how to write a psychological thriller and the most important thing you need to know is that you can’t trust ANYONE.

 

Ingredients:

  • One relatable female protagonist with an edgy flaw
  • A setting your characters can’t easily escape from
  • A selection of suspects/potential victims from the following list:
    • Frenemy
    • Jealous ex
    • Suspiciously clingy
    • Seemingly perfect overachiever
    • Bad boy
    • Domineering boss
  • Power shortages
  • A good dollop of non-specific mistrust
  • Terrible decisions
  • MURRRDERRRRR

 

Method:

  1. Your relatable female protagonist has been invited to a setting with no easily-discernible escape route. Oh boy!
  2. Meet your cast of friends/suspects/victims. Have a lovely time getting to know them all before they start to die.
  3. Introduce your protagonist’s edgy flaw that means that a) you can’t believe everything she says or b) she can’t go to the police in case anything happens. BUT THAT’S NO BIG DEAL BECAUSE NOTHING’S GOING TO HAPPEN, RIGHT GUYS?
giphy nah
Seems unlikely. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Your protagonist receives a vaguely threatening message from an anonymous creepo. It’s probably nothing.
  2. Establish some tensions within the group. Sure do hope those tensions don’t boil over into –
  3. Huh, that’s weird. All the lights have gone out for some reason.
  4. Oh no, one of your suspects/potential victims has disappeared! What could possibly have happened to them.
  5. Have a little search party just to 100% clarify for the reader that victim number one hasn’t just popped off to the shops or something.
  6. Uh-oh, protagonist has received another scary message! I’m sure it’s fine.
  7. Just in case it wasn’t absolutely clear that there’s a creepo about, start leaving threatening stuff about the place for the protagonists and her mates to find. You know, anonymous notes, animal skulls, dolls with scribbled-out eyes – that kind of thing.
  8. Try and escape. This is just for form’s sake, we all know they aren’t going to get anywhere.
  9. Share a tender moment with one of the suspects/victims. It’s nice to think that people can bond in the midst of all this –
  10. MURRRDERRRRRR.
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Things are starting to get pretty tense! Receive another anonymous message that leads the protagonist to discover the body of Victim No. 2.
  2. The group splits off into factions, Lord of the Flies style, because the Internet is down and there’s nothing else to do.
  3. Aaaaand someone else is dead. Woops.
  4. Someone discovers that the protagonist has been receiving anonymous messages and accuses them of being the murderer! Everyone is convinced, because it’s step seventeen and we need a climactic ending.
  5. Our protagonist runs off to try and avoid getting self-defence murdered and runs into the real murderer – Victim No. 1, whose body was never found!
  6. They explain that it was all a plot orchestrated to kill the protagonist for reasons, helpfully going through all the steps in their plan in an extremely thorough monologue.
  7. Fight and defeat the murderer! Fortunately for you, their detailed monologue was overheard by literally everyone else and our protagonist gets off scot-free.

THE END. Serve to someone you really trust. They’d never betray you.

 

Tips:

  • Phones should only work as and when it’s convenient for the plot. Last-minute recording device to tape the murderer’s monologue? Absolutely. But calling the police when someone actually goes missing? Pssshhh, don’t be silly.
  • Don’t forget the tragic backstory!
  • Give your protagonist a job that either a) gives her license to be extremely nosy or b) gives her a lot of free time to pursue plot-related stuff. Doctors don’t have time to solve mysteries, they’re too busy.
  • A good way to make everyone look suspicious is to splash the word ‘seemingly’ everywhere you can reach.
suspicious-gif-18
Or is it… (image: gifimage.net)
  • Your setting should be remote, but also have a certain amount of glamour to it. It’ll make the pre-murder scenes more fun to read about and it’ll look nice on the book cover.
  • You must accept that all of your characters’ decisions – especially your protagonist’s – are going to make absolutely no sense.
  • Make sure your protagonist’s flaw is the right kind of edgy. You’re allowed to be PG-13 in this one, so it’d be OK to go with something relating to drugs or sex, but don’t take it too far or it’ll turn into a misery memoir.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Jane staggered into the living room, tights laddered, hair and glitter plastered to the side of her face, still carrying her heels in one hand. She was not sure what time it was, exactly, but it was definitely too early. She kicked aside a couple of empty tequila bottles and collapsed onto the sofa, accidentally puncturing Bella’s blow-up doll with one of her heels. It was only the first night of Bella’s hen do, but she did not intend to waste any time.

The living room – so pristine and elegant last night – was a mess. The floor was littered with empty bottles, cigarette butts, crisps that had been trodden into the hardwood floors and assorted bits of equipment for ‘grown-up smoking’, as she had never been able to stop calling it. Everything was covered in a fine layer of glitter – including the window. Jane had to squint to see the savagely beautiful mountain scenery, and there was no hope of catching a glimpse of the island’s one and only beach. The luxury mountain cabin on a private island was certainly a beautiful place for a hen do, but right now all that meant to Jane was that a literal ocean was between her and the nearest kebab van.

Still, she thought, at least she was the first one up. She was probably responsible for most of the glitter, and it couldn’t hurt to try and scrape some of it off before –

“Oh. There you are.”

Ah. The second one up, then.

Lily stood in the doorway, dressed in tasteful running gear and with her sleek blonde hair in a ponytail. She wrinkled her perfect nose at the sight of Jane, sitting in the midst of the debris.

“Have you seen Bella?” she asked, rolling her shoulders back and forth. “We were supposed to go for a run this morning.”

“Probably still hungover,” said Jane, lurching to her feet and stubbing her toe on a tequila bottle. “Want me to wake her?”

“No point now,” said Lily, rotating her arms like a windmill, “I’ve already been down the mountain, twice around the bay, and then to the docks and back. And in seven minutes, too – I’m really feeling all that chardonnay from last night. Did you know the boat’s not coming until Tuesday, by the way?”

“What?”

“Honestly, Janey,” came a voice from the doorway, “what are you like? Do try to keep up.”

Mimi, Jane’s best friend since childhood, had slouched into the room, closely followed by Bella’s friend Stella.

“Morning,” said Jane, tipping the deflated blow-up doll off the sofa.

Afternoon, you mean,” said Mimi, throwing herself into a chair. “Poor old Janey! You do look awful. You ought to take it easy, you know.”

Stella flitted around the living room, piling up empty bottles. “Is Bella up yet? We can’t let her see the state of this place! Her uncle’s boss’s friend let her use it as a personal favour, and if we don’t keep it clean she’ll get into terrible trouble!”

Jane staggered off into the kitchen to find some bin bags, and ended up throwing up in the sink. Stella squealed.

“You vomited! That’s disgusting! I can’t believe you would…you would befoul Bella’s uncle’s boss’s friend’s home like this –”

Lily rolled her eyes and did squats against the kitchen counter. “Oh, leave her be, Estelle. Bella won’t mind. All she needs is something to eat. Here, Jane, I’ll make you a kale and quinoa smoothie. Sebastian makes them for me all the time, they’re a real pick-me-up.”

Jane, who had seen pictures of Lily’s fiancé, suspected that anything would feel like a pick-me-up when it was served by someone who looked like Sebastian. She threw up again and started rinsing the glitter out of the sink.

“You don’t want a smoothie, do you, Janey?” said Mimi. “You want a big, fat, greasy burger, slathered in oily cheese, dripping with –”

Jane threw up again.

“Stop it!” squeaked Stella, “stop messing up Bella’s uncle’s friend’s –”

“Give it a rest!” snapped Lily, who was now doing pull-ups from a light fitting. “Why do you care so much about all this, anyway?”

Stella’s eyes filled with tears. “I…I just think B-Bella’s really sp-special…”

Lily dropped down from the light fitting and started doing star jumps. “All right, all right. There’s no need to get upset. Why don’t you make Bella a cup of tea and the girls and I will start straightening the place up a bit.”

Stella sniffed, nodded, and stuck the kettle on. Lily started picking up empty bottles and putting them into a binbag, touching her toes every time she bent down, Mimi started wiping up the glitter, and Jane sat outside with the deflated blow-up doll. The fresh air was making her feel a bit better.

She went to put the blow-up doll and Lily’s bag of empty bottles in the bin when she saw something that stopped her in her tracks. Painted above the bins in blood-red letters were the words ‘HELLO JANEY’. A naked china doll with all its hair cut off sat on top of one of the bins, a wide smile drawn on its sad face in permanent marker.

Jane stared at it for a moment – the doll seemed oddly familiar – and then threw up, spectacularly. She was entirely too hungover to deal with this nonsense now. She’d go inside, have a cup of tea and maybe a few crackers, and think about this when she’d got all the glitter out of her hair.

A shriek came from inside the house. Jane ran back inside, clapping a hand over her mouth, just in case.

Stella was standing in the door to Bella’s bedroom. It was empty.

“Guys!” she yelled, tears streaming down her face, “Bella’s missing!”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)
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Game of Thrones: Ten Predictions for Season Eight

We interrupt your regular programming to GEEK OUT. No writing advice or musings this week – it’s time to get nerdy. The final season of Game of Thrones is coming up and just like with season seven, I’m going to have a stab at predicting what’s going to happen.

Let’s jump right in!

for-the-night-is-dark-and-full-of-spoilers
Just gonna leave the spoiler warning here. (image: memegenerator.com)

 

  1. Jon will sacrifice himself

I feel like this one doesn’t need much explaining, because Jon Snow – curly-haired darling of the North – is about two steps away from sacrificing himself at any given point. It’s kind of his thing. The show seems to be setting him up for an epic duel with the Night’s King, so I think that’s probably how he’s going to do it.

 

  1. Dany will go full Mad Queen

Quick recap for those of you that don’t have time for a binge-watch: Danaerys Targaryen is the daughter of the famed Mad King – an insane despot whose penchant for burning people alive eventually cost him his throne and the downfall of the Targaryen dynasty. Speaking of the rest of the Targaryens, they have a strong family history of mental instability, so there’s a decent chance that our girl Dany has inherited this too.

The show has been setting this up for a while now. Aside from the very regular reminders about how bad the Mad King was, several characters have openly discussed the possibility that Dany might follow in her father’s footsteps. As I said in my previous predictions post, the Mad King didn’t start out mad – just like Dany, he seemed brilliant at first, but then got worse as he got older and after a couple of key events pushed him over the edge. We’ve already seen Dany burn people alive – remember poor old Dickon –

giphy snigger
Heh heh heh. (image: giphy.com)

– and that was followed by a scene where Tyrion and Varys discussed Dany’s similarities to her father. She’s already found it much easier to just set people on fire than to resort to more conventional military strategies, so who’s to say that a serious setback – such as discovering that a certain broody Northerner actually has a better claim to the Targaryen throne than her – won’t send her down this path?

If that doesn’t convince you, then look at how Game of Thrones treats its characters’ overall story arcs. As a general rule of thumb, most of the characters start out wanting something, have a serious setback, and reassess their goals and dreams as a result. If they don’t have that moment, they’re usually the ones that get killed off – look at poor Robb Stark, for example. Dany hasn’t really experienced a moment like that, where she’s had to seriously question what she wants. She decided early on in the story that she was going to retake the Iron Throne and so far, everything she’s done to further that end has, by and large, worked. This makes me think that there’s a nasty twist planned for her story arc and that when it ends, Danaerys won’t be sitting on the Iron Throne.

 

  1. All of Dany’s dragons will end up dead

It’ll save money on CGI.

I’m kidding, but I do think that Drogon and Rhaegal are goners. Realistically, giving Dany two dragons (RIP Viserion) would make things too easy for her, so in order to keep the stakes balanced I don’t think Dany’s lizard-y friends are going to be around for that much longer. I expect they’ll come in handy in the battle against the White Walkers but I doubt they’ll survive it.

 

  1. Jaime will kill Cersei, then die

After the end of season seven, there’s a massive rift between Jaime and Cersei. She is staying in King’s Landing as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and he has betrayed her and gone to fight the undead – despite the fact that Cersei is pregnant with his baby. Regardless of that, I think that this split is going to end very badly for both of them.

This has its roots in both the show and the books – namely in the ‘valonquar’ prophecy that we geeks have been discussing for some time. To summarise: Maggy the Frog predicted that Cersei’s children would all die before her, and then she would be strangled by the ‘valonquar’ – which is High Valyrian for little brother. In the books, Cersei suspects Tyrion will play this role, which goes a long way to explaining their terrible relationship. However, as the eldest sibling, Cersei has two little brothers.

This would also tie into Jaime’s character arc too. Over the course of the show it’s become clear that Jaime is on a long and rather wobbly redemption arc. He started off as a fairly out-and-out villain, but as the series progressed he’s become a more complicated hero. Much has been made of his backstory, too, where it was revealed that his reputation as the Kingslayer only came about through necessity – if he hadn’t killed the Mad King, then the Mad King would have burned the capital city of King’s Landing, and everyone in it. However, he’s still done bad things, and when it’s all over I don’t think he’ll be waltzing off into the sunset for a happily ever after with Brienne.

tenor tormund
GET IN THERE TORMUND (image: tenor.com)

Cersei has already been giving off some pretty strong ‘Mad Queen’ vibes after indirectly causing her son’s death and blowing up part of her own city, so perhaps Jaime will find himself in the position of Kingslayer once again. The show really likes to remind us that Jaime and Cersei came into the world together – perhaps they’re going to leave it together too.

 

  1. Cleganebowl

I JUST WANT THEM TO FIGHT LET ME HAVE THIS

 

  1. Bran will possess a wight

This is actually one of my predictions from season seven, so I won’t go into too much detail – skip down to prediction number eight for the part where I show my working. I still think there’s a decent chance that this might happen, though, and not just because it’d look really cool. The show has gone to great pains to impress the extent of Bran’s powers onto the viewer, but we’ve yet to see him use them on a grand scale. If Bran can do this, he might be able to control multiple wights and turn them on the Night’s King’s own army – and that would just be sweet.

 

  1. The White Walkers will not be defeated – a truce will be necessary

The White Walkers and their army of wights are a massive threat. Even Dany’s three dragons could only put a dent in their army in season seven – and now, one of those dragons is all zombified. Add to that the fact that the Night’s King can resurrect the dead and turn them into his soldiers, and you’ve got a nigh-on unstoppable army. I don’t think one pitched battle is going to do it.

That’s not to say that the White Walkers are going to win, though – it’d be a really unsatisfying ending to the story. But the show has also made it clear that the White Walkers aren’t just mindless zombies. They are capable of wanting things and honouring agreements – just look at Craster sacrificing his sons to guarantee his own safety. There’s also more than a few hints that the Starks might have intermarried with the White Walkers at some point in the very distant past (check out this video if you want more detail on that). This is significant, because in Game of Thrones one of the surest ways to cement a truce is with a marriage.

Of course, none of this applies to the wights, who are mindless zombies that only the Walkers can control. But this ties into prediction one and my friend Claire’s theory – perhaps Jon will be the one to sacrifice himself so that this truce can happen and the Night’s King will retreat. Perhaps he’ll even become the new Night’s King. Who knows?

 

  1. Something will come out of the crypts at Winterfell

There’s been all sorts of hints in both the books and the show that the crypts at Winterfell contain hidden secrets. Parts of them are completely inaccessible and there’s all sorts of rumours about what could be hidden inside. I reckon this season, we’re going to find out, as so far the crypts have shown up in both the teaser and the show’s first official trailer.

I think this could go in two different ways. The first is that they find something in the crypts that will help the living – like dragon eggs, which were rumoured to be hidden there, or something that could be used to prove Jon’s true parentage. The second is that whatever’s down there will help the dead – whether that’s just something that the Night’s King wants or a spooky spooky monster that he’ll wake up.

 

  1. A beloved dead character will come back as a wight

This is exactly the sort of really nasty surprise which Game of Thrones just loves to spring on the viewers. Given that the Night’s King can resurrect the dead, I think we’ll definitely see a few familiar zombie faces when he descends on the living. My money is on Stannis or Hodor – not counting Viserion the dragon, of course.

 

  1. Samwell Tarly will survive and be revealed as ‘the author’ of the history of the series

I think this would be a really nice way to round off the series. We’ve already had a few scenes where it’s been hinted that Sam might record the events of Game of Thrones and it’d be a nice nod to Bilbo Baggins recording his own adventures at the end of The Hobbit. All Sam needs is a catchy title…

GoT book set
HMMM WHAT COULD THAT BE (image: theworks.com)

 

And now, just to make things interesting…

WILD CARD: The Starks will be remembered as the villains in years to come

Let’s lay out the facts here:

  • Ned Stark: Started the War of the Five Kings by meddling in Robert Baratheon’s succession. Revealing Cersei’s incest wasn’t a bad thing, but if he’d acted quickly and decisively he might have a) survived and b) overseen a smooth transition of power rather than sparking off a civil war.
  • Catelyn Stark: Made the War of the Five Kings worse by a) capturing Tyrion Lannister and b) letting Jaime Lannister go, which eventually led to the decimation of the North’s fighting men.
  • Robb Stark: Fought a protracted war in the Riverlands, laying waste to a vast swathe of the realm when they should have been preparing for winter. People starved because of his actions. Also broke his oath, which is not a good thing in Westeros
  • Sansa Stark: Largely seen as King Joffrey’s ‘poisoner’ after the Purple Wedding. Covered up her involvement in the murder of her aunt. Had her uncle by marriage executed in front of everyone, with no real evidence to back up her charges. (He deserved it though.)
  • Arya Stark: HOO BOY. Literal assassin. Wiped out an entire house (who also kind of deserved it). Carries around a bag of dead people’s magic faces. I MEAN.
  • Bran Stark: Terrifying mind powers. Literally drove the person he depends on mad through time and space (RIP Hodor). Can totally possess people, animals, and hopefully also zombies. Supervillain in the making.
  • Rickon Stark: …okay fine.
Screen-Shot-2017-09-03-at-11.37.43-AM
The rest of you are NOT OFF THE HOOK (image: fanfest.com)

When you look at what the Starks have done it’s clear that they’ve been making some pretty bad decisions – both for themselves and for the people they rule. They have basically spent the series creating a bunch of really messy drama which has distracted everybody from the much more important task at hand – preparing for winter and the coming of the White Walkers. Under their leadership, the North lost the vast majority of its fighting men, the Riverlands were all but destroyed, two noble houses (who sort of deserved it) have been completely wiped out, the Night’s Watch was deprived of men and supplies, and a massive civil war has wrecked the country. Now the North is facing the worst winter it’s ever seen and nobody is prepared for it, and this is directly because the Starks weren’t there. I expect that how the Starks get remembered will depend on what they do in this final season, but I doubt they’ll be remembered kindly.

 

And there you have it! My ten best guesses for what’ll happen on the next season of Game of Thrones, plus one rubbish guess thrown in. Let’s see how this plays out.

Book Recipes: How to Write a Children’s Adventure Story

Time for another book recipe! This one’s on children’s adventure stories so pull your socks up and get ready to go exploring. Gosh!

 

Ingredients:

  • A ragtag band of plucky kids. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The swot
    • The girly girl
    • The coward
    • The tomboy
    • The fighty one
    • ‘I’m the oldest, so I’m the leader’
  • A very vague piece of local history about treasure
  • One disinterested parent or guardian
  • A loyal animal sidekick
  • One dastardly villain, complete with bumbling henchmen
  • School holidays
  • A total lack of adult supervision
  • Good fresh air

 

Method:

  1. Your plucky protagonist has been packed off to Aunt Negligent’s house for the summer holidays.
  2. Assemble your group of equally plucky children and animal sidekick. Run along and play in the fresh country air, isn’t it bracing?
  3. Frolic outside for a bit and uncover your piece of vague treasure-related local history. Gosh!
  4. But what’s this? You have come across the dastardly villain and you just know he’s up to no good.
giphy nosferatu
But he seemed so normal! (image: giphy.com)
  1. Don’t bother the adults with this information, sweetie, the grown-ups are talking.
  2. Go exploring. Bring snacks.
  3. You’ve found something which relates to your vague local treasure story, golly! The old story just might be true after all…
  4. Have some side-shenanigans with a kid you don’t like, because we’ve got to get a whole novel out of this and we’re only on step eight.
  5. Uh-oh, the dastardly villain is hanging around again! He says some vaguely sinister things but your loyal animal sidekick frightens him off.
  6. Steal some food for a midnight feast!
  7. Play outside some more.
giphy skipping
YAAAAAAAAYYYYY (image: tumblr.com)
  1. But wait! You’ve found something which proves that the treasure is real and coincidentally tells you where to find it! Cripes!
  2. In a sudden shock move, your designated responsible adult tells you that you must stay inside, for reasons. How will you find the treasure now?
  3. Via a secret passageway, of course!
  4. Discover the treasure. Hurrah! Now you can afford to go to university!
  5. Oh no! The dastardly villain has captured the most useless member of your group! Whatever will you do?
  6. Hand over the treasure, dejectedly, as the villain gloats for a bit.
  7. But wait! The animal sidekick has gone for help, and/or untied you and your friends somehow! Good old pet of your choice.
  8. Finally, the police arrive and arrest the dastardly villain. They ruffle your hair, call you a scamp, and let you keep the treasure if you promise to be good.
  9. Go home for a slap-up feast.

THE END. Serve with lashings of ginger beer.

 

Tips:

  • Your designated parent or guardian should only ever behave like a responsible adult when it is convenient to the plot. The rest of the time, they are there to make dinner, provide clean clothes and disbelieve everything your plucky protagonist says.
  • It’s always sunny, unless your characters need to stay inside for plot reasons.
  • If an adult doesn’t immediately drop everything they’re doing to answer your protagonist’s questions, they are quite clearly a villain and cannot be trusted.
  • Keep the danger level at ‘mild peril’ and all injuries to bruises and minor scrapes.
  • There’s no need to go into detail about your villain’s motivations. Just give him a sinister accent and leave it at that.
giphy dastardly
Or a sinister moustache. (image: giphy.com)
  • Make liberal use of the words ‘jolly’, ‘gosh’, ‘ripper’, ‘cripes’, and ‘golly’.
  • Choose your animal sidekick carefully. They must be cute, intelligent enough to carry messages when you get captured, and scary enough to drive off the villain. Dogs are a reliable choice, as are birds and some monkeys, but a slug will fail on all three counts.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

“Well,” said Pip, checking the map again, “it looks like this should be the place.”

All four children crowded round the old map. It was difficult to read, because it was really very old, and had some funny brown staining in the top-right corner. They had followed the map all afternoon, stopping only for one quick scones-and-lemonade break, paying special attention to the twists and turns of the trail. But the path had led them to the remains of old Creepstone Manor, which had been there for years, and nothing exciting had ever happened there.

Jonty snatched the map out of Pip’s hand. “Creepstone Manor isn’t even marked on here. You’ve read it wrong, Pip.”

Pip drew herself up to her full height. “I most certainly have not!”

“You have. We’ve already looked for the treasure here and we didn’t find anything!”

“Well, excuse me if you didn’t look properly the first time…”

The argument was cut short by a low, soft growl. It came from Tarquin, Pip’s beloved Sabre-Toothed Tiger. Tarquin had been a present from Uncle Victor, who was a very clever man who worked in a laboratory. Pip didn’t quite know how Uncle Victor had found Tarquin, but she didn’t let that worry her.

Gladys cast a worried look at the sky. It was starting to grow cloudy and none of them had brought their mackintoshes. “Perhaps we should go back,” she said. “You know what Mr Slythe said, it’s not safe out here after dark.”

Pip threw an arm around Tarquin. “You know Mr Slythe only said that to stop us getting to Captain Vaguebeard’s treasure first. Besides, Tarquin won’t let anything hurt us. Will you, boy?”

“Grar,” said Tarquin.

Charlie took the map from Jonty, adjusting his glasses. “I say,” he said, “when was old Vaguebeard supposed to have buried his treasure?”

Pip sighed. They had all heard the story before. Captain Vaguebeard, scourge of some of the seas, had come to their sleepy coastal village and buried mountains of treasure three hundred years ago. The treasure had never been found, largely owing to the very imprecise directions he gave to his first mate.

“You know that, Charlie,” said Pip, “it’s three hundred years ago. You made us look it up this morning.”

“Well,” said Charlie, pointing at a piece of rubble, “it looks like Creepstone Manor was built two hundred years ago. And if you look at the forest –” He pointed. “ – and the cliffs – ” He pointed again. “ – then it looks like we might be in the right place after all.”

“Good show, old man!” said Jonty, clapping Charlie on the shoulder. Gladys grinned and Pip let out a whoop of victory. Tarquin sat and watched Charlie’s pointing finger, licking his enormous chops.

“Well then,” said Pip, “let’s jolly well find some treasure!”

The children looked all over the ruins of Creepstone Manor. Gladys picked her way through the old kitchen, trying not to get her dress dirty. Jonty climbed on top of the tallest pile of rubbish and stared around impressively. Charlie peered at hunks of rock and started pacing around the site, counting to himself. Pip followed Tarquin, who was snuffling his way through the ruins. He had an excellent sense of smell. He also had very good night vision. His only drawback as a pet was his occasional tendency to maul people – that and the fact that he always got into her tuck box.

Tarquin stopped, sniffing intently. “Mrowl,” he went.

“Chaps!” yelled Pip, “Tarquin’s found something!”

They all piled over to Tarquin, who was pawing at something on the ground. Pip soon saw what he had found – the outline of an enormous trapdoor.

“Cripes, this is heavy! Help me shift some of this rubble,” Pip said, straining at the lump of rock. They all worked together and very soon, they had moved several chunks of masonry away from the rickety old trapdoor. They heaved it open and peered inside.

“Gosh,” breathed Charlie, “this must be older than Creepstone Manor! Look, the passage leads into some kind of cave. It must have been here before the manor was built…”

“Maybe old Vaguebeard put his treasure down there!” said Pip, excitedly.

Obviously not,” said Jonty, “and if he did it probably wouldn’t even be here. I bet you that passage goes right down to the cliffs – all the treasure would’ve been washed out to sea.”

Tarquin started growling again and Jonty went quiet. Pip stroked Tarquin’s fur and decided to write another thank-you letter to Uncle Victor.

“It’s awfully dark,” said Gladys. “Do we really have to go down there?”

“Of course we do,” said Pip, “it’ll lead us to the treasure.”

“But we don’t know how far the drop goes,” said Gladys. “There might be sharp rocks at the bottom, or seawater, and we might break something. And how will we get back up again? There’s no ladder, or rope, and there’s no-one nearby who might hear us calling for help and –”

“Don’t talk rot,” Pip said. “We’ve got Tarquin.”

“Yes, but Tarquin hasn’t got a stepladder…”

Pip ignored her. It would be an adventure. “Come on everyone. We’re going in.”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Everyone’s a Critic: How to Take and Apply Useful Criticism

I believe in two things: that Sour Cream and Onion is the best flavour of Pringles and that constructive criticism is the most useful thing a writer can receive. I will go to the barricades for both of these opinions but for now, let’s put the crisps aside.

tenor crisps
Haha I’m NEVER letting go of those bad boys (image: tenor.com)

There comes a point in every writer’s trajectory where you want to start sharing your work with other people. People reach this point in a variety of different ways – you might have some nagging doubts, or you might be considering sending something out on submission, or you might just want an objective opinion – but sooner or later everyone ends up getting there. But when it’s time to start asking other people what they think of your work, you’re opening yourself up to criticism. Let’s face it, it’s not usually a nice experience to send something out into the world and have a bunch of people tell you that it’s not working. It can be a real blow to a fledgling writer’s confidence. But there’s nothing like good criticism for improving your technical skills as a writer – it all depends on how you apply it.

GOOD THING I’M HERE TO TELL YOU HOW TO DO THAT, RIGHT GUYS???

The first thing to clarify is what counts as good (i.e. helpful) criticism and what doesn’t. Not all types of criticism are helpful, and it’s important to learn which criticism you should pay attention to and which criticism you can ignore. Everybody is going to have an opinion about the things you write, but you won’t be able to turn everybody’s opinion into a teachable moment.

giphy teacher
Just look at how much energy that takes. (image: giphy.com)

The basic rule of thumb I use is that the more detail, the better. Look at it like this: if somebody tells you that they thought your story was great, what has that actually told you about the way that you write? They enjoyed it, and maybe it’s boosted your confidence, but could you identify your strengths as a writer from that comment alone? No. Whereas if somebody told you that they were really invested in the relationship between two characters, or they really thought your final confrontation scene was really exciting, that tells you a lot more – you’ve identified two different parts of your writing that other people think you’re good at.

This is really important for negative criticism, too. Anyone who says “yeah, this was rubbish” isn’t going to be able to help you grow as a writer. However, people who take the time to break down the parts of your writing that aren’t working – even if it’s just identifying them by name and not going into further detail – are going to be much more useful. Basically, if you can find a critiquing partner who is willing to use the PEE method (that’s Point, Evidence, Explanation, what did you think it was) then they’re gold dust and you should treasure them forever.

Even more important is getting yourself into the right frame of mind to receive criticism. The first thing you have to accept is that if you put stuff out into the real world – whether that’s asking your friends to read through a manuscript, putting your fanfiction online, or actually starting the process of getting your book published – then you have to confront the possibility that not everyone is going to like it. People have a right to share their opinions, after all – it’s a big part of the literary tradition.

There’s two things you need to do here. The first: brace yourself. I’ve never met a writer who has only ever received positive feedback and I work in publishing, so I talk to writers pretty much every day. You’re going to hear some stuff which might knock your confidence, and even if it’s the helpful criticism I discussed above it still might hurt to hear it. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that good criticism is not an attack – and interestingly, this can apply to some really hilarious literary reviews as well. Scathing put-downs are meant for the reader, not the writer, so try not to take these to heart. Even with your loins successfully girded, it can still be pretty disheartening, so just remember that it’s completely OK to put off reading criticism of your stuff if you feel you aren’t in the right frame of mind to hear it. You’ll have to pay attention to it eventually, so don’t put it off forever, but if you’ve had a bad day it’s completely fine to just mooch about with a cup of tea instead of listening to someone list all the ways you’re doing it wrong. If you feel you don’t have the energy to stop yourself getting resentful, maybe just have a quick nap instead.

giphy dont wanna
It’s the modern way. (image: giphy.com)

The second thing you need to accept is this: you can’t please everybody. It is quite literally impossible to write a book that everyone and their mother is going to love. People have different tastes, different expectations, and what will work for one audience will not work for another. That’s completely fine. Most audiences – whether they’re readers, moviegoers or telly-watchers – can usually pick up on pandering, and you don’t want people to come away from your book feeling like it’s been designed by committee. Keep an open mind to what people are saying, sure, but you have to accept that you can’t please everyone. It’d be exhausting.

So. You have successfully sorted the helpful criticism from the kinds you can ignore. Your mind is open, your loins are girded, and you have listened to the criticism you have received. How, then, do you apply it?

The first thing I always do is to go over the criticism again and try and see where it’s come from. Are there any points in the story that I can think of (just off the top of my head) where I could see this criticism applying? Most of the time, the answer’s yes. Then, I go through the whole story again, bearing the criticism in mind, and see if I can identify a few more places where the criticism is justified. The important thing is to look at your work with an objective eye – you’ve got to see what’s actually there, rather than what you hoped you’d written down. If you can put some time between finishing your first draft and your critical read-through, this will really help.

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OK not that long. (image: imgur.com)

The next step is to consider the type of criticism you’ve received. Different problems require different solutions, and writing advice is no exception. There’s a few broad areas that keep popping up in most writing advice, and they all need to be fixed in different ways:

  • Setting: If your critiquing partner is telling you your setting isn’t working there’s two things you can do: background research and working it into the story. It’s important to bear in mind that setting isn’t just a description of the scenery – it’s food, it’s clothing, it’s speech patterns, it’s jobs. It’s everywhere. For example, if your characters are having a scene in a mine, you should know what is being mined, who did the mining, whether it’s still being used, how many people are working there. How many details you work into the story is up to you, but you need to know the answers to these questions even if you don’t spell it out for the reader.
  • Plot holes: Every editor’s nightmare. If your critiquing partner has found a plot hole then you need to patch it up. Depending on the size and seriousness of the plot hole you may want to rewrite sections completely, but I’d only recommend this if you’ve got a plot hole that completely wrecks the internal logic of your story. If you don’t agree that it is a plot hole, that’s fine, but you need to make sure that comes across to the reader. Even if you have an airtight justification and it makes total sense to you, you have to make sure that’s clear.
  • Characters: If your critiquing partner is telling you that your characters aren’t believable you’ve got a serious problem. Most readers will accept outlandish situations if characters react to them in believable ways, but if they don’t, then suspension of disbelief goes right out the window. There’s two broad-strokes ways to fix this: background information (that, like with settings, doesn’t always need to be conveyed to the reader) and keeping them consistent. Always bear their motivations in mind and make sure they match up to their actions, and you’ll be on the right track.
  • Pacing: This is making sure that your story moves along at the right speed at the right moments. Make sure background information is being delivered at the right time – you shouldn’t be giving your reader a bunch of basic background information about a character right before the big climax, for example. Look at sentence length and structure, keep an eye on what information is being conveyed, and you’ll soon be able to spot the parts where you’re going wrong.
  • Beginnings and endings: The alpha and omega of writing criticism – literally, because I make great They’re some of the most important parts of a story: your beginning draws the reader in, and your ending sends them on their way. Both should be memorable in different ways. There’s a few different things to bear in mind here, such as genre conventions, pacing, and character arcs, so it can be quite tricky to get these right.

Fortunately, there’s loads of very detailed online resources to help you get the tools you need to fix any issues with your writing. I’ve even done a few blog posts on some of these myself, but even though my writing advice is obviously the bestest and most attractive writing advice, I’d recommend casting your net a little wider and looking at a wide range of resources. Here’s a few I’ve used in the past:

Online resources aren’t going to cut it on their own, though. I’ve very rarely found a blog post that I can read that will magically turn me into a better writer (and I definitely haven’t written one). This is where writing exercises come in. If your critiquing partner has identified a few consistent weak spots, such as setting or character, then try a couple of short writing exercises that focus on these. It can be helpful to try working on something completely new  when you’re trying to work on your weaknesses as a writer. It’s like warming up before a big sports thing – you need to make sure all the right muscles have been loosened up before you really go for it.

A much more fun way of working on your weak spots is to read stuff by writers who make them their strengths, and see if you can spot them in action. If you have trouble with believable worldbuilding, why not read some Tolkien? If you have trouble with providing a satisfying end to your detective story, why not read some Conan Doyle or Christie? As you read, try and identify the parts where your chosen writer is showing off their skills – there’s nothing like a masterclass to show you how it’s done.

It’s a lot of stuff. Brushing up on your weaknesses as a writer can be very time-consuming, but it’s time well spent. When you’ve done all your writing exercises, read around your weaknesses and used all the resources you can shake a stick at, you’ll have a much stronger grasp of what you need to do to make your writing work. Come back to your original project when you feel like you have a stronger grasp on what you need to improve on, and you’ll smash it.

Criticism can be very hard to hear. But sometimes the most difficult writing advice is the one you need to hear the most. If you have a critiquing partner whose advice you trust and you keep an open mind, it can be one of the best things you can receive as a writer. With a little time and effort spent working on your weaknesses, good criticism can completely transform the way you work as a writer. You’ll never be able to please everyone, of course, but you’ll have improved your skills – and that in itself is valuable.

giphy pup
And with the Learning Puppy’s blessing, you may go forth into the world and write. (image: giphy.com)

Book Recipes: How to Write a Historical Murder Mystery

I’m back and what better way to celebrate the new year than by going back to an old one. Make sure you’ve had your jabs, we’re going time travelling!

 

Ingredients:

  • One suspiciously ahead-of-their-time detective
  • A team of loyal assistants who can be shuffled into the following categories:
    • Dependable muscle
    • Slightly shady rogue
    • Science one
  • A noble patron who is kind of the boss but can’t say ‘turn in your badge’ because badges haven’t been invented yet
  • Urchins
  • A sinister yet attractive lady
  • Someone who will describe things as ‘most irregular’
  • About a dozen people who are there to show how backwards history can be
  • A couple of well-known historical figures for our detective to chat to
  • One historical backdrop, complete with smells
  • MURRRDERRRR

 

Method:

  1. Unroll your historical backdrop behind our detective. Allow the reader to experience the sights and many, many smells of The Past.
  2. But oh no, what’s this? A crime?
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUNNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Our noble patron tells the detective to solve the murder. We don’t know why they’re in charge of murder-solving, but they are, and they have a special office for it.
  2. Our detective assembles his trusty crew. Time to investigate!
  3. Go to the crime scene and look around, but y’know, historically. This basically means you will have to bribe everyone to tell you stuff and that the crime scene will be in an absolute state.
  4. A sinister yet attractive lady turns up. She almost certainly has a Secret, but it’s okay because secrets are hot.
  5. Introduce your detective to some historical figures. One of them will have an original character attached to them in some way but they definitely won’t become important at around step eighteen, why do you ask?
  6. Find a Clue and celebrate in the manner most appropriate to the time period.
  7. Our detective has seen a suspicious character. Better follow them past a bunch of super-famous historical landmarks.
  8. The Clue has led our detective to another important place! Go there and investigate.
  9. Have a chat with another historical figure to pass the time. The sinister yet attractive lady is there, so make sure you look cool.
  10. Oh look, another Clue! But this one links with the first Clue in a way that’s really weird, what could it meeeaaannnn?
  11. Receive a talking-to from the patron. Drop hints that the king is displeased.
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Hopefully it’s not this one. (image: theguardian.com)
  1. Examine the Clues. Get the science friend to basically recreate a procedure from modern forensics and at last, a break in the case!
  2. But wait! The sinister yet attractive lady has been attacked by ruffians! We must save her, as this completely proves her innocence and was definitely not staged.
  3. Start feeling all tender and squishy. Perhaps our detective could give up this detective business that he’s only just invented and settle –
  4. HAHA IT WAS A TRAP YOU’VE BEEN BETRAYED
  5. Turns out the sinister yet attractive lady has been in cahoots with the original character from step seven all along. It was them who DONE THE MURDER. Now the detective has been locked up or something while they carry out the final stage of their plan. How will you ever cope with the betrayal?
  6. Escape and foil their dastardly plan, that’s how.
  7. Gather everyone including your patron into one room so you can explain how you solved the murder. Receive a tip from your patron, mope a little about what might have been, but then go back home with your detective pals for some period-accurate snacks.

THE END. Serve with torn edges and stained with a used teabag.

 

Tips:

  • Choose your time period carefully. You want a nice big window between the invention of cities and the invention of a modern police force.
  • Make sure your background is really, really gross. Bonus points for every passing character with syphilis.
  • Spend at least the first fifty pages just pootling round, showing your readers the sights. They definitely won’t get bored!
giphy table
GET TO THE MURDER DAMMIT (image: giphy.com)
  • Have at least one character addressed as ‘my liege’.
  • Not sure how to solve a mystery without modern methods? That’s fine! Just make your character use modern methods, but y’know, historically. Have all the other characters describe their methods as ‘unconventional’ and all your bases are covered.
  • Anyone who coughs is a goner.
  • Pay particular attention to language. Don’t say ‘hello’, say ‘good morrow’. Don’t wear ‘trousers’, wear ‘breeches’ or ‘hose’. Swear all you like, it’s authentic, but never, ever do it in front of a lady. You animal.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

William Fleetwood strode through the workroom doors and threw his handkerchief down on the alchemist’s table. It landed with a clatter. “There,” he said. “Best I could do, I’m afraid.”

Mortimer Banks put on his magnifying spectacles and opened the handkerchief up with a pair of tweezers. Wrapped up in the lace-edged cotton were about a dozen nuggets of misshapen metal. Mortimer poked one, experimentally.

“And they’ve not been contaminated?”

Fleetwood sat down heavily and got out his pipe. “It’s a clean hanky, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Mortimer took off his spectacles and gave him a look. “You know perfectly well that is not what I meant.”

Fleetwood took a puff on his pipe and tried to keep his temper. He took off his long, curly wig, scratched his head and propped his feet up on the tea-chest. “They’re as clean as they can be, considering where I found them.”

Mortimer went pale at the memory. The misshapen metal had been found stuffed into the mouth of Colonel Victor Timothy Gonnairgh – or rather, into the mouth of his corpse. Fleetwood thought Mortimer was being unnecessarily squeamish. After all, he’d given them a wipe.

“I hope you at least wore gloves,” muttered Mortimer, turning back to the metal. “There are the prints of many fingers here…show me your hands.”

Fleetwood held out his hand. Mortimer peered at them and made a disparaging noise.

“Yes,” he said, “I can clearly see the prints of your fingers, but there are others…if only there were some sort of base in which to store all this data. With some sort of searchable engine, the task would take but a moment…”

“Have you such an engine?”

“Regrettably not. Perhaps if my first laboratory had not been burned by that ogre Cromwell and his men – ” They both paused to spit extravagantly. “ – then I might have been equal to the task. Alas, I shall have to make do with what Lord Fitzffortescue affords me.”

“Cheer up, old man,” said Fleetwood, puffing on his pipe again.

“Hmm.”

Mortimer turned back to his bench and started boiling something in a beaker. He started dropping the lumps of metal into the beaker one by one, and then taking them back out again. “Did the maidservant say anything useful?”

“Not a jot,” said Fleetwood. “Dreadfully upset, wonderful employer, the usual. I happened to mention Cromwell –” They spat. “ – and she turned quite pale, but I couldn’t get anything out of her. Nothing that would satisfy Lord Fitzffortescue, anyway.”

Fleetwood’s patron, Lord Fitzffortescue, was a demanding man who took orders only from the king, having helped him back to power after the fall of Cromwell (Fleetwood spat again, just to be sure). He had charged Fleetwood with solving Gonnairgh’s murder, quickly, quietly, and with minimal bribes.

“Of course she didn’t,” said Mortimer, “not if you blundered in there like you always do. You know, sometimes I think that approach might work well if you had a partner with you – someone who might be able to play some kind of ‘good’ role, while you assume the ‘bad’…”

“A partner, Master Fleetwood?” came a low, female voice.

Fleetwood scrambled to his feet, dropped his pipe and rammed his wig on his head. He turned around and saw Lady Evelyn Hyde smiling in the doorway. With her gown of gold brocade and her shiny auburn hair, she looked very out of place in the cramped, spit-splattered laboratory.

“Lady Hyde! How may I –”

Do call me Evelyn. I hear you’ve been attending to the late Colonel Gonnairgh.”

Fleetwood tried to look regretful and sombre, but also still tall and manly. “It is my sad duty.”

“You must be very brave to look upon such dreadful things.”

“Yes, well.”

Lady Evelyn smiled at him and came closer, brushing past Mortimer’s workbench. “I must say, I would feel very safe if I knew that you were my protector.”

Fleetwood coughed on purpose to make his voice sound deeper. “Would you?”

“Oh yes…”

Just then, Mortimer sprang to his feet, shouting. His beaker was fizzing frantically and giving off a strange, noxious gas. He pointed at Lady Evelyn. “She put something in my beaker!”

She stepped back. “How do you – I mean, what do you mean?”

Mortimer jabbed a finger at the beaker. “You’ve added acid to this! Look, the metal’s all dissolving!”

Lady Evelyn fluttered her eyelashes. “Dear Master Banks, I am sure that I, a mere woman, would never even carry such – what did you call it? Ah-sid?”

Fleetwood sprang to her defence. “See? Of course she didn’t do that, Mortimer, she’s a lady. Why would she even have any acid?”

Lady Evelyn frowned prettily. “Is it a kind of ribbon? I do so love ribbons.”

“She did!” Mortimer wailed, “I know she did!”

“Perhaps it is best if I leave you to your deductions,” said Lady Evelyn, swiftly pocketing a handful of papers. “You simply must tell me what you find out, dear Master Fleetwood. I should be very glad to hear it.”

She left. Fleetwood watched her go with a dreamy smile on his face while Mortimer muttered at his bench. When he started paying attention again he noticed that he was short fifty guineas and three pewter mugs.

“What I wouldn’t give for some surveillance in this place,” Mortimer muttered, “perhaps in some kind of circuitry that could be closed to the public…”

Fleetwood laughed. “Oh, Mortimer,” he said, “what will you think of next?”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

And They All Lived Happily Ever After: The Art of a Good Ending

There’s nothing quite like a good ending. It can be one of the most satisfying parts of a story, but it’s also one of the most difficult things to get right. It can make or break a story. I’ve lost count of the amount of books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen where I’ve come away thinking ‘it was all fine, up until the ending’.

So how do you get it right?

giphy shrug house
I mean, I could just end this blog post here. (image: giphy.com)

First, I think it’s important to consider the kind of things people expect from an ending. There’s a handful of things that keep popping up regardless of the type of story they’re in: the resolution of character arcs, the final confrontation, the big reveal. They don’t always have to be big, world-changing things, but the events of the story have to come to a head in some way. A good ending will have been building up naturally through the course of the story, thereby building anticipation for the climax throughout the plot. This can be obvious – for example, everybody knew that the Harry Potter series would end with Harry fighting Voldemort – or more subtle, like in murder mysteries where the clues are spread throughout the story but only brought together at the end.

Of course, some types of stories lend themselves to certain kinds of endings. This largely comes down to genre or structure. In a romance story, for example, people will expect the couple to get together at the end, whereas in a murder mystery, people will expect the case to be solved. Equally, if you use any kind of numerical structuring device to tell your story – for example, getting three wishes, spending seven years at a magical boarding school, or having to complete a task in a certain time limit – then people are going to expect the story to end when the last wish is made, or in the final five minutes of your deadline.

giphy typing
Just like writing my essays. (image: giphy.com)

Having these kinds of expectations can be really helpful as a writer. It’s a good framework to build your story around, and can help with both the pacing and plotting of the story as a whole as well as the ending. If your story ends with the couple getting together, then that dictates the shape of the rest of your story – as readers, we have to see them reach that point. A ‘ticking clock’ is also a really useful structural device: as well as providing a race-against-time ending, it also helps you build tension throughout the whole story. These two types of expectations tend to merge in crime novels. The conventions of the genre dictate that the murderer must be revealed at the end, and this affects the structure of the book. A good crime author will have planted the clues as to who the real murderer is throughout the book, but will have mixed them in with so many red herrings that the reveal is still a surprise.

It goes without saying that this is hella difficult.

Having these kinds of expectations about the way a story is going to end is something of a double-edged sword. It makes it easier for the writer to know where their story needs to go in order to reach that point, but readers are also aware of those expectations. It’s extremely hard to hit all the points you need without making a story seem formulaic. In some genres, readers are so aware of the conventions that it affects the way they view the story. The most obvious example of this is in murder-mystery novels. The first law of mystery novels is that it’s never the official suspect. Even if you build a strong case for that character being the murderer as a writer, the reader will discount them automatically because everyone is so aware of the genre.

butler
I did a blog post about this and everything. (image: rainybayart.com)

Of course, this can lead to a lot of fun too. Subverting readers’ expectations can be really fun, both as a writer and a reader. But it’s extremely difficult to pull this off and still have a satisfying ending. If you wrote a murder mystery where the murderer was never caught or discovered by anyone, you’d have a very tough time making sure that this was presented in a way that left the reader feeling satisfied when they turned the final page. The proof is in the pudding – if you can pull it off, it’ll work, but if you can’t, then you’re going to have some really irritated readers on your hands.

But what do you do when you’re writing something that doesn’t have an easy ending? While there are some stories that lend themselves to ending in a certain way, there are plenty of others that don’t. Your protagonist might have defeated their nemesis and completed their quest, but is that really the end of their story? Where do you draw the line?

For me, it’s just as important for a writer to know when to end a story as to know how to end a story. There’s been a real case of sequel-itis in the stories we tell each other lately, and it’s really driving me nuts. You’ll read a book or watch a movie with a really satisfying ending, and six months later a sequel is announced.

giphy restraint
I am trying so hard not to throw some very specific shade. (image: giphy.com)

I get the appeal of this from an authorial standpoint, but I have to say I can’t really think many times where this has actually worked. If an author has put a lot of time and effort into creating a world that they really love, of course they’d want to come back to it. A lot of writers will leave ‘back doors’ into their work – little plot threads that haven’t quite been resolved, just in case they want to come back to them in a fresh book. Sometimes, this can work really well, but it’s sad to say that most of the time it doesn’t. Continuing a story after you’ve properly written an ending is difficult, and sometimes it can undermine what has already gone before. If you story originally ended with your characters saving the world, anything they do after that is going to seem like a bit of an anti-climax. If you make them save the world again, it cheapens their efforts in the original story – an apocalypse should only come around the once if you want it to retain its dramatic effect. It can be really difficult to set something aside, but it’s far better to do that and write a really good ending than to just keep going until people lose interest.

Endings are hard. They’re something that a writer needs to consider in multiple different ways. Long before you pick up your pen, you should know how the story is going to end. You should also consider how people are going to expect the story to end, and decide whether you want to play up to those expectations or not. But the most important thing is that once you’ve decided on your ending, stick to it. Commit. A good ending will be building up all the way through a story, and carrying on after it’s finished will only cheapen it. It’s far better to go out with a bang than a whimper.

giphy explosion
Heh heh heh. (image: giphy.com)

And that’s it for 2018! No more blog posts until the New Year. I’ll be back in January with a bunch more opinions – see you then!

Book Recipes: How to Write a Christmas Romance

Time for another book recipe! Let’s get in the festive mood and write a Christmas romance. Put on a Christmas jumper and mull everything you own and we’ll get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One feisty career-gal heroine
  • One smouldering hero
  • An adorably small hometown
  • Buckets of schmaltz
  • Pointless low-stakes drama
  • A big-city nemesis
  • Santa hats
  • Supportive relatives who say meaningful things in the background
  • One pointless Christmas tradition designed to get people to couple up
  • Snow

 

Method:

  1. Our feisty career-gal heroine has to go home to her adorable hometown for the holidays. Not to worry, she’ll be right back in the New Year and nothing will have changed, at all.
  2. Arrive in the adorable hometown. Look at it, it’s so cute! Everyone’s wearing Christmas jumpers and baking apple pies. D’aawwww.
  3. Angst about how life in the big city is better.
  4. Introduce your smouldering hero. He’s from Hometown, he always has his sleeves rolled up and he’s always seen leaning against a truck.
  5. Have some forced comedy about how city people are rubbish at everything, ever. Bonus points if you can work in some melodramatic squealing.
  6. Ugh, the hero and the heroine have to work together, for Christmas reasons. It’ll be lame, they don’t have anything in common.
  7. But wait, what’s this? Looks like…romantic tension…
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUHHH (image: giphy.com)
  1. Go for a walk in the snow and think about life and stuff.
  2. The heroine has decided she’s definitely not going to make out with Smoulders McGee. Nope. No way. She’s going to go back to the big city and forget all about –
  3. Make out with Smoulders McGee.
  4. The heroine gets a call from the big-city nemesis. Now she’s conflicted! Mope, you’ll feel better.
  5. Talk about your feelings with a supportive relative. They mention that, for Christmas reasons, whoever you make out with on Christmas Eve will be your forever-husband, or something, but let’s not pay attention to that until step twenty.
  6. The hero and heroine bond over Christmas things and start feeling all squishy.
  7. But uh-oh, who’s this? It’s the big-city nemesis, here to ruin everything!
giphy dastardly
Seen here in their file photo. (image: giphy.com)
  1. With their big-city powers, the nemesis engineers some sort of terrible Christmas misunderstanding! Oh no! Whatever will happen now?
  2. The heroine goes back to the big city, mopily, because love is dead and so is Christmas.
  3. But now she’s in the big city, everything seems rubbish. There’s not even any pie. She decides to go back home, for non man-related reasons, natch.
  4. But who should be waiting for her at the airport but good ol’ Smoulders, here to clear up that misunderstanding!
  5. Have a conversation like adults and work out the nemesis did the thing. Have some sort of hilarious Christmas-themed revenge.
  6. Go back home to Hometown with Smoulders, just in time for Christmas. Make out, fulfil the family tradition, get married, have babies etc.

THE END. Serve so sweet that you can feel the saccharine coating your teeth.

 

Tips:

  • Your big-city nemesis can be basically anyone in a suit. Evil fiancé? That’s fine. Evil boss? That’s also fine. Slenderman? I’ll allow it, he’s dressed for the office.
  • It is vitally important to the plot that you have at least three scenes in front of a roaring fire.
  • Everyone must wear a cosy Christmas jumper at all times.
  • Your family Christmas tradition doesn’t have to make sense or to be an actual Christmas tradition. Just wedge in whatever suits the plot.
  • If you have an opportunity to get your hero and heroine snowed in at a remote cabin in the woods where they have to spend the night, then take it, by God! What is this, Amateur Hour?
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This is BASIC STUFF GODDAMMIT (image: giphy.com)
  • Bonus points if you include a cute child who helps our couple get together! That’s what Christmas is really all about.
  • It’s always important to remember that country = good, town = bad. Also, in the city snow gets manky really quickly, so therefore the entire place MUST BE GROSS.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

Piper Sterling pulled her hair into a ponytail and sighed. “Do you really need me to action this, Mom? You know I’ve got to prepare that presentation for Mr Dartleyman.”

Piper’s mother gave her a warm smile. “Of course I need you, honey. No-one else makes Christmas cookies like you. I remember when you were a little girl, you used to put on your grandmother’s apron and say to me, ‘Follow your dreams, Mommy, especially when they lead to cookies!’ Oh, it was the cutest thing! Do you know, when you –”

Piper rolled her eyes and put on her grandmother’s lucky apron over her suit. There was no stopping her mother when she was telling one of her stories. She acquired flour, eggs, sugar and butter by closing the deal with the fridge and let her mother talk about the lucky apron some more. Family legend had it that if an unmarried woman wore the apron on Christmas Eve she’d meet her true love and share a Christmas kiss. Piper didn’t believe it. Who’d want to kiss someone wearing something so unflattering?

“ – but you’ve always been such a good girl,” her mother was saying. “Anyway, I’m heading out for just a minute, but Brick’ll be along in a moment so you won’t be by yourself. Mommy loves you, sweetie.”

“Mom, I’m twenty-eight, I don’t need a – Brick?”

“Bye sweetie!”

Her mother closed the door. Piper shrugged, and looked around for an assistant who could turn on the oven and start preparing her baking tray, but her mother didn’t even have an intern. That was typical of her hometown. There was only one sushi place, nowhere could produce a decent kale smoothie and every time she tried to order her signature double-turmeric yak-butter vegan mocha latte, the barista would smile and say ‘Oh, honey, you always did have a sense of humour!’ The sooner she got back to the city, the better.

Let her mother send her friends round for a visit; she wasn’t going to be here all that long. They probably just wanted to gawp at her shoulder pads and killer heels and listen to her talk about mergers. A few more days – just until Christmas was over – and then she’d be back in Cityville in her penthouse apartment. If she went home early, she’d have enough time to really polish her presentation, and then Mr Dartleyman would have to give her that promotion…

“Mrs Sterling? I brought the – oh. Hey.”

Piper looked up, hands covered in dough, and felt the world shrink itself down to the kitchen.

Standing in the doorway was one of the best-looking men she had ever seen in her literal entire life. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with brown hair and eyes and blindingly white teeth. His checked shirt was rolled up at the sleeves, revealing a pair of forearms that should’ve come with a ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Content’ warning. And here she was, wearing a ratty old apron patterned with dancing reindeer. And there was flour on her nose. She edged out from underneath the mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.

“You must be Piper,” said the stranger, ruffling the snow out of his hair. “I’m Brick Campbell. Your mom said there was some wood needed chopping?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Piper said, trying to wipe off the flour. It didn’t budge and she started to panic. Flour on her suit jacket could lead to some serious decruitment. “I can do it.”

Brick raised his eyebrows. “No offence, but you don’t exactly look the type.”

“Well I am.”

“Really? They got much call for swinging axes in the big city?”

“…sure. All the time. In fact, I’m the head of chainsaw consultancy at Company Enterprise Holdings Inc.”

He leaned on the kitchen table and grinned at her. Another bunch of mistletoe was hanging over his face. “Is that so?”

Piper squeezed the dough and pretended it was his face. It didn’t work, he was too pretty. “Look,” she snapped, “I might seem like a big-city hotshot but I know where the pointy end of the axe needs to go. Into the wood.”

“Well…yeah, but –”

“Am I wrong?”

“That’s not really the – ”

Piper groaned and flicked the last of the dough off her hands. She was very careful not to pass under any more mistletoe as she went to the fridge and acquired some chocolate chips, dynamically. But when she turned back Brick was there, smiling at her, underneath a ceiling that was green with the damn stuff.

“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” he said. “Let me help you with that.”

He took the chocolate chips from her hands, their fingers touched and the world went pink and fuzzy. Oh no, Piper thought. Business school hadn’t said anything about this.

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

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Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)