Novel Writing

The Importance of Empathy when Writing Fiction

You can’t write a book unless you are empathetic. 

I bet some of you adamantly disagree with that statement. Of course, you can write an instruction manual or perhaps Non-fiction, but can you write fiction without empathy? I don’t think so.

The Oxford English dictionary described empathy as –

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

What have feelings got to do with writing fiction? Well, if you think about it, quite a lot.

The old saying goes “write what you know”, but as I’m sure you’ll be relieved to find out, most thriller novelists don’t know what it feels like to murdered in an alley. They haven’t been in a high-speed car chase, and they certainly haven’t lived the life of a serial killer. So how are they able to write about these topics?

They have empathy.

Many people think that this is a wishy-washy, bleeding-heart characteristic that isn’t of any real value unless you are a counsellor or a priest. Empathy is actually incredibly useful in many situations, especially in fiction writing. You can imagine and understand how your characters would feel in a situation you have never been in.

So next time you read a novel about violent murders or abuse, don’t panic, you are only reading the result of the writer’s empathy, not psychopathic tendencies. If you are a writer, I would advise one of the best ways to create authentic characters, is to learn to empathise with as many people as you can. It will transform your prose.


Novel Writing

5 Tips for New Writers

So, you’ve decided to write a novel. You have your story burning a hole in your chest, and you can’t wait to get it down on paper. Setting the pen to the notepad, or the fingers to the keys, you set off with speed and passion. Before long, however, you find that this isn’t as easy as you thought it would be. Shame fills you as you realise that you aren’t nearly as good as you hoped you would be. Don’t worry, it happened to me, and it happens to us all. 

Here are a few tips I have picked up from my first ten months or so of writing, I hope they help. Keep going, you’ve got this.

Read as much as you can

The chances are, that if you want to write a book, you love to read. The temptation to stop reading when you are writing is immense. You may find yourself comparing yourself to others and feeling inadequate, or you may even analyse technique so much that you lose the magic of getting lost in a story.

Don’t do this! Read for pleasure and forget about writing. You will absorb technique and form subconsciously so don’t stress about analysing things too deeply. Enjoy reading, and keep doing it. N.B. this is a tip which Stephen King gives in his fantastic book “On Writing”.


Don’t panic about getting everything right. You will make mistakes. Big ones. Just write, keep writing, and make mistakes as you go. If you wait until you feel you are getting everything right before beginning your first draft you will NEVER begin.

Have some fun, forget about grammar (until you come to edit), forget what’s good and bad practice and just let the words flow. Let the crazy in your mind come out and run with it.

Change things up

If you start something and halfway through you realise that you’ve written it in the wrong tense, or your main character isn’t working, stop. Just stop and restart. There is no shame in leaving a pile of unfinished drafts behind you or rewriting a story ten times before you actually decide how it ends.

You will learn so much in your first few months writing, as I have done. You will find you’ve been making huge mistakes all the way through. Wisdom says to go back and change things.

Let your imagination go wild

Play with your characters, put them in the most dramatic and unlikely scenarios, just for fun. I’m not saying this will make an excellent book, although perhaps it would, but it will spark a passion in you for pushing boundaries. Who knows? Maybe the next great idea for a novel comes out of letting your imagination run free. Be silly, have fun, and enjoy yourself.

Be bold

Don’t be afraid to write what you mean. The best writing is not timid, it is deliberate. Don’t say “James opened the door angrily and shouted” when you could say “James wrenched the door open and bellowed.” Don’t say “He replied sadly” when you could say “His lip started to tremble as he answered, and a tear slid down his cheek.”. When you are bold, you use forceful verbs instead of adverbs, and you describe the physical traits emotion rather than just telling us it is there. This technique makes for excellent prose.

These are my own, humble, opinions, and I’m sure others will have many more tips and advice. I would love to hear from anyone else who would like to impart some wisdom, I am always on the hunt for it!




Grammar · Novel Writing

Subordinate Clauses Darling

If you stopped by last week, you’d know we had a delightful time discussing Main Clauses, the cornerstones of complete sentences. Today, we will be focusing on the delights that are subordinate or dependent clauses. 

Subordinate clauses are the peppercorn sauce on your steak, the brandy butter on your Christmas Pudding, and the vanilla syrup in your latte. They are the little extras that bring joy to your taste buds, but just don’t work as a meal in themselves. I’m not ashamed to say that as a twenty-seven-year-old woman I recently ate Fruit Pastilles, Quality Street, and Terry’s Chocolate Orange segments all day long with no “proper” food alongside them. To say I felt unwell would be an understatement, and not because I ate too much but because what I ate had no substance.

Subordinate clauses are like that, they are the added extra that makes writing sparkle, but on their own, they just don’t work.

Here’s an excerpt from my work in progress, I’ll highlight the main and subordinate clauses for you.

The night air tickles my cheeks as we walk home from the hospital, and I turn to look at Annie, wrapped up in the grey, checked winter coat that she loves.

Main Clauses

  • We walk home from the hospital
  • I turn to look at Annie
  • Annie is wrapped up in a coat

Subordinate Clauses

  • Night air tickles
  • The coat is grey with a checked pattern
  • She loves the coat

There is flavour added by the subordinate clauses that would have been lost without them, we know that the night is cold, that Annie is wearing a grey check coat and that she loves it. If we had just used main clauses, we would have lost detail and interest, but if we just used subordinate clauses we wouldn’t care about the temperature or what coat she is wearing because we wouldn’t understand why it is relevant.

It’s the balance of main and subordinate clauses that makes our writing interesting, and many of us do this without even noticing it.


Novel Writing

Writing Two Books at the Same Time

I am bored of writing my first novel. Shock horror, how dare I, I’m obviously not made to be a writer! That’s how I imagined I would feel if I ever became tired of my first story. To me, the thought of having two books simultaneously taking up space in my head was akin to cheating on my husband. Just plain wrong.

At first, I saw my novel as my baby, something I would love and nurture, protect, and devote myself to until it was done and ready to fly the nest. I couldn’t imagine leaving my baby crying in the cot for weeks on end, with no love, no food, no nurturing.

Well, it turns out that my novel is more of an orchid. Sure, it needs sunlight, water, attention, pruning. It doesn’t, however, need constant attention, it likes to be left alone, to grow and to settle, to become beautiful. So I’ve started planting another little “novel orchid” in my head every now and then, plan a main character here, grow a plot point here, sprinkle some intrigue over there. 

It keeps the creative part of my brain happy while the perfectionist, grammar-obsessed part of my brain can tend to the original story. In short, I’m happy, more productive and enjoying writing a whole lot more.

I wonder, does anyone else find novel writing a strange balance of generating fresh ideas and beating old ones into submission? If so I’d love to hear from you, please, comment away!

Grammar · Novel Writing

Introducing the Main Clause

Hello, lovely people of the Grammar loving (or hating) variety. I hope you are well? Good? Great. Please, may I have the honour of introducing you to my esteemed friend the Main Clause? Yes? Fantastic, let’s begin.

Without Mr. Main Clause nothing in my life would make sense, he is a standup guy, in fact, if you take him out of a long sentence he’ll just stand alone as a new sentence all by himself. Other clauses are lost without him, oh yes, he is a leader my Mr. Main Clause. The foundation of every sentence I have ever written.

Here are the main facts we need to know about Main Clauses –

  • They make sense independently of any other clause
  • Other subordinate or dependent clauses (more on these later) need main clauses to make sense
  • Main clauses are the only types of clauses that can make up one sentence without any other types of clauses within them (my goodness what a mouthful).
  • A paragraph made up of only main clauses generally sounds abrupt, staccato, and, well, rubbish

Let’s identify a couple of main clauses from my work in progress

She tenses as a contraction sweeps through her body, her painted red fingernails digging into my arms, imprinting small half moon shapes in my flesh.

  • A contraction (subject) sweeps (verb) through her
  • Fingernails (subject) dig (verb) into my arm

I could have written this with only main clauses, but where is the fun in that?

Main Clauses are the structures that we hang the details, subtleties, and descriptions from within our prose. Nothing would make sense, and everything would crumble without them. Come back next week to read about subordinate and dependent clauses.


Novel Writing

Show, Don’t Tell

It didn’t take long after starting to write my novel for me to come across the phrase “Show, Don’t tell.” As the go-to piece of advice for new and aspiring writers, I’m sure most of you have heard it as well. Why is it such popular advice? Well, because it is damn good advice!

You know that feeling of being completely submerged in a story? Where you are completely and utterly involved in the scene, and feel you understand all the nuance and subtleties going on in the story? That spark which makes reading addictive? That comes from showing rather than telling.

Experienced writers avoid telling the reader something that they could show them instead.

You could tell a reader that your main character has recently been in a fight or you could describe the colour of their bruises.

You could explain that someone is an alcoholic or your could describe the stale smell of alcohol on their clothes and the red spider veins littering their nose.

You could say that someone walked through the forest or you could describe the sound of the autumn leaves crunching underfoot and the towering trees that span for miles in all directions.

Which versions sound better to you?

It takes more effort, more imagination and more patience but the results are worth it. No one wants to read a flat, lifeless story where they are told what to think. We want to feel, smell, touch and experience a story, we want to be given a chance to live it, not just read about it.


Grammar · Novel Writing

How many Clauses does it take to Make a Sentence?

In last weeks Grammar Bootcamp, we looked at clauses and learned a simple definition of them. 

Clause = Subject + Verb

Easy peasy! Today we will look into clauses within sentences, and how there is no set number of clauses within a sentence.

One Clause Sentences

Some sentences are made up of one clause; they are the simple sentences that I wouldn’t recommend you use too often in your novels as they can make your writing choppy and annoying. However, when used well, they can add drama and flavour to your work. Here’s an example of a hook from my current work in progress.

Then he shot her, dead.

The subject of this clause is the person “he” is describing, and the verb is “shot.” My subject has shot someone and killed them (I’m writing a thriller can you tell?).

Multiple Clause Sentences

Sentences with multiple clauses are what we use to make up the majority of our writing. Let me show you why with another excerpt from my work in progress.

 I release the lock, and she tumbles through the door, almost knocking me to the ground.

Here we have three clauses –

  1. The lock (subject) is released (verb)
  2. She (subject) tumbles (verb)
  3. She (subject) almost knocks someone over (verb – or at least a verb describing what almost happened)

How boring will this passage sound if I rewrite it with a single clause per sentence?

I release the lock. She tumbles through the door. She almost knocks me to the ground.

I don’t know about you, but I think the original version reads better than the one clause per sentence version. 

So, as aspiring authors do we need to know the definition of clauses to write great fiction? No, not at all, but I think that in understanding the meaning of a clause I can see the beauty and variation that they bring to my writing.



Autocrit – A review

I have recently started using a piece of software called Autocrit. This nifty program analyses your novel and highlights any areas of your manuscript which an editor would usually pick up as bad practice. Autocrit’s website states this –

AutoCrit is an online manuscript editing tool enabling fiction writers to quickly and effectively self-edit their work anytime, anywhere.

When you import your document into the browser-based application (yes that’s right – there’s nothing to download) you are able to analyse the text on the following features.


  • Pacing and Momentum
  • Dialogue
  • Strong Writing
  • Word Choice
  • Repetition
  • Compare to Fiction
  • Readability

It is a very helpful for picking up bad writing habits, for example, it has shown me that I use a lot of “Passive Voice Indicators” which it will highlight for me so that I can rewrite the sentence if I choose to. It will also show you if you are repeating a particular phrase or word, which is invaluable when self-editing. You can analyse the whole manuscript or by individual chapter.

I cannot imagine that Autocrit will ever be able to replace a human editor, not by a long shot, but for anyone looking to polish their writing before showing it to an editor this could be a real eye opener. It is certainly helping me to hone my writing skills and identify my weaknesses.

NaNoWriMo · Novel Writing

I failed NaNoWriMo

I failed NaNoWriMo. I wonder how many people are in the same boat as me. For those of you who completed NaNoWriMo, congratulations! What an incredible achievement. For many people, the draw of NaNoWriMo comes because it is such a challenge to actually complete. Writing 50,000 words in the month of November is a huge feat of endurance, inspiration and dedication.
Does this mean that if we have failed the challenge that we have no hope of becoming published authors? Does it mean that we do not have what it takes? No. I will say it again, no, it does not. It only means we couldn’t, at that particular stage in our novels, write tens of thousands of words in a month.
I, myself, reached 43,000 words before I gave up with a few days left in the contest. I chose not to finish for one simple reason. I didn’t like what I was writing. My descriptions were generic and boring, I had long ago decided to change my point of view, and I was merely getting down words. I stopped enjoying what I was writing because I have so much left to learn. I am not ready to write thousands of words a day because I am still learning how to write a few words well.
Possibly next year, or the year after, I might be ready, but then again I might not. I’m not going to give myself a hard time for this because I learnt so much about how I work as a writer in the process. If you have also “failed” NaNoWriMo I would say to you that it isn’t that important. Is it a fantastic achievement to have made? Yes, undoubtedly. Is it a necessary step to becoming an accomplished writer? I don’t think so. For anyone else out there who is feeling down in the dumps about the NaNoWriMo, I hope this post helps you to see that what really counts in learning to write, is to keep on keeping on and not giving up, for a lifetime and not a month.