7 lessons from books made into movie adaptations

Hi friends and authors,  a reviewer of my novel said it would make a great film. I was flattered, but being a first book, I didn’t take it seriously. Like everything, these things get filed until we are given a reminder. Today it came from Bridget at NowNovel. Makes interesting reading. I hope you enjoy the tips, just in case you believe you have written a movie… 

good luck, Glennis

7 lessons from books made into movie adaptations. books made into movie adaptations – lessons

Many authors who have had books made into movie adaptations have become multi-millionaires almost overnight. Why are some books primed for screen adaptation from the start? They share in common strong high concepts, great structure, visual flair and more. Read 7 lessons from books adapted for screen that will help you make your novel blockbuster material:

1. Brainstorm a strong central idea or high concept

2. Work at your story’s structure for good plot

3. Make your fictional world visual and vivid

4. Tap into universal story themes

5. Make your prose lean and effective

6. Write dialogue that gets books made into movies

7. Think for the silver screen: Show more than tell

Let’s explore each of these tips with examples from books adapted for film:

1. Brainstorm a strong central idea or high concept

Movie-ready books have good central ideas and high concepts. A ‘high concept’ in film and television means a striking, easily communicated idea or premise. Even though adapting Harry Potter for film made financial sense (given its massive audience), Rowling’s central idea for the first novel is already cinematic:

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!’ (via Bloomsbury)

Let’s examine the components of what makes this a movie-ready high concept:

There’s a hook or inciting event.The first sentence tells a crucial, curiosity-inducing event – mysterious letters arriving – that sets the story in motion.

We see a central character’s starting point and are promised exciting change. From the starting point of Harry’s life at 4 Privet Drive, we know an ‘incredible adventure’ will happen and have hints for why it will be exciting (Harry discovers he’s a wizard).

We learn the initial settings (and are promised a progression from ordinary to extraordinary setting).We know the story will take us from the ordinary suburban setting of ‘Privet Drive’ to ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’.

There are small secondary character introductions. Not only do we know something about Harry (he finds out he’s a wizard on his 11th birthday) but we also learn of his ‘grisly’ aunt and uncle and the ‘beetle-eyed giant of a man’, Hagrid.

The central idea easily communicates just enough details of setting, character, and change to get us intrigued. Make sure your own central idea also gives a general, beguiling glimpse into your story.

2. Work at your story’s structure for good plot

Books made into movie adaptations are typically well paced and structured. They grip readers’ attention and pull them into their worlds, leaving screenwriters less work to do when adapting.

Let’s start with a list of books made into movies more than once:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (15 adaptations)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (11 adaptations including miniseries)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (23 film, 13 TV)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (22 for film and TV, including Italian, Japanese and Bollywood adaptations)

Each of the books in the list above is well-structured. Anna Karenina is divided into eight parts, already a satisfying division for a miniseries adaptation

Part 1 sets up the main intrigues of the epic saga. The title character’s brother, Stiva, has cheated on his wife and the family is in turmoil, just when Anna visits Moscow. At the same time, Stiva’s old friend Kostantin Levin (‘Kostya’) is arriving to propose to Stiva’s wife’s youngest sister, Kitty. Kitty in turn is being pursued by a handsome young count, Vronksy.

If you summarized part 1 in a word, it would be ‘arrivals’. Tolstoy uses part 1 to establish the criss-crossing desires of the characters living or arriving in Moscow and sets his characters (with their different objectives) on a collision course.

This creates multiples situations of suspense and curiosity from the outset. By the end of part 1, we have an idea of multiple characters’ goals as well as competition between them (such as Kostya and Vronksy’s competition for Kitty’s affections).

Set up your story’s opening so it draws readers into your characters’ arcs from the outset. A strong hook and structured plot prime a story for screen adaptation.

3. Make your fictional world visual and vivid

What do novels adapted for film and TV such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings cycle and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series have in common? Besides genre (in this instance) and gripping plot, both offer readers rich, finely mapped and imagined worlds. Worlds of vivid imagery and striking contrasts. Consider the contrast betwen Tolkien’s description of The Shire (the Hobbits’ peaceful homeland), and the dangerous Mordor:

Frodo’s uncle Bilbo describing the Shire:

‘I want to see the wild country again before I die, and the Mountains; but [Frodo] is still in love with the Shire, with woods and fields and little rivers.’

Elsewhere, Tolkien also describes the Shire’s landscape and mood:

‘The Shire had seldom seen so fair a summer, or so rich an autumn: the trees were laden with apples, honey was dripping in the combs, and the corn was tall and full.’

Compare to Tolkien’s description of Frodo first laying eyes upon Sauron’s fortress in Mordor:

‘Darkness lay there under the Sun. Fire glowed amid the smoke. Mount Doom was burning, and a great reek rising. Then at last his gaze was held: wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant, he saw it: Barad-dûr, Fortress of Sauron. All hope left him.’

Compare the apple-laden trees of the shire to the ‘great reek’ and the ‘wall upon wall’ of Mordor’s hope-destroying ‘mountain of iron’. Vivid descriptions such as these make writing visual and immersive. They thus give visual screenplay authors plenty to work with.

4. Tap into universal story themes

Like the best novels, great screenplays connect with diverse audiences because they evoke universal story themes we can relate to. Common universal themes include:

Strength in adversity

The power (or danger) of love

The perils of (insert negative character attribute here, e.g. pride, jealousy, infidelity)

Ordinary heroism

The importance of friendship

Strength in adversity stories like Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (adapted by Ang Li) give us a David vs Goliath story. We cheer on the small protagonist who faces vast odds. The David of the story is a skinny castaway who must survive against the book’s Goliaths – the Pacific Ocean and the Tiger he’s marooned with on a boat.

This universal theme is a favourite in film adaptations because viewers and readers alike enjoy the suspense, the tension and release, when underdogs face incredible odds.

When you’re brainstorming the central idea for a book, think about the themes you could explore. If we look at the central idea given in the Harry Potter synopsis above, we see universal themes. ‘Ordinary heroism’ is the most obvious, since an eleven-year-old finds out he is actually a wizard who (it emerges) must fulfill a crucial yet dangerous role.

Although the themes of your story might only occur to you when your first draft is finished, keeping ‘theme’ in mind as a concept when you start will remind you to develop your themes and broader ideas.

5. Make your prose lean and effective

If we examine the prose of books made into movies, we see it’s often lean and gets to the point fast. Stephen King’s The Shining, for example (famously adapted by director Stanley Kubrick) cuts straight to dialogue, as Jack is offered the position of winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel:

‘Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.

Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting.’

This opening is gold for filmmakers. The opening lines are rich with description. They’d give all parties from actors (the speed of Ullman’s movements) to hair and make-up (‘the part in his hair was exact’) and wardrobe (‘his dark suit was sober but comforting’) details to work with. We get everything we need to picture the scene. Aim for this level of efficiency and cut away inessential guff.

In a screenplay, the screenwriter has to make many decisions for what to cut and what to keep (many weren’t happy with Kubrick’s choices for The Shining). Aim for precise prose that would make a screenwriter’s task easy.

6. Write dialogue that gets books made into movies

In film, a voice-over (except in more experimental movies) doesn’t tell viewers what characters think, feel or want constantly. We see these elements through action, expression, and dialogue in particular.

As we’ve said before, great dialogue (in books and film):

Sounds like real speech when read aloud – slang, interruptions, and all

Communicates important details about characters: Their personalities, goals and desires

Gives each character their own voice

Consider this extract of dialogue from Tennessee Williams’ famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche DuBois has come to visit her married sister, Stella Kowalski, in New Orleans:

Blanche: No coke, honey, not with my nerves tonight! Where- where- where is – ?

Stella: Stanley [Stella’s husband]? Bowling! He loves it. They’re having a – found some soda! – tournament …

Blanche: Just water, baby, to chase it! Now don’t get worried, your sister hasn’t turned into a drunkard, she’s just all shaken up and hot and tired and dirty! You sit down, now, and explain this place to me! What are you doing in a place like this?

Stella: Now, Blanche –

Blanche: Oh, I’m not going to be hypocritical, I’m going to be honestly critical about it! Never, never, never in my worst dreams could I picture- Only Poe! Only Mr. Edgar Allan Poe! – could do it justice! Out there I suppose is the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir! [She laughs.]

The dialogue is effective. We see Blanche’s ‘Southern belle’ persona, as she calls Stella ‘honey’ and ‘baby’. Stella’s speech, by contrast, is more plain. We also see Blanche’s personality as she criticizes Stella’s home. Blanche lacks tact and self-awareness. The dialogue characterizes each sister precisely.

A play condenses characters’ movements, actions and speech into a few acts. This is why reading play scripts can also help you to create fully-realized characters.

What helps books get made into movies

7. Think for the silver screen: Show more than tell

Many aspiring authors are sick of hearing the words ‘show, don’t tell.’ It’s true, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, that sometimes telling is necessary.

Good balance between showing and telling makes books readier for the screen. Compare these two examples:

‘Entering the house, she smelt something awful. She felt fear but kept walking to the end of the corridor. The door at the end, on the left, was stiff and she was hesitant to push it open. When she did, she couldn’t believe what she saw.’

This is telling. If we show a little more:

‘The stench in the house was repugnant, of rot and decay. Pinching her nose closed she crept down the corridor, stopping to listen every few feet. Dimly, a door on the left was just visible. Pushing it, she found it stiff. She paused, pushed harder, but leaped backwards when she saw what lay beyond.’

The second example is stronger. We see rather than hear about the character. Actions (creeping, leaping) are also stronger, contributing to mood.

See how Emily Brontë shows her characters’ gestures clearly in Wuthering Heights: It already has a cinematic quality:

‘‘You see, sir, I am come, according to promise!’ I exclaimed, assuming the cheerful; ‘and I fear I shall be weather-bound for half an hour, if you can afford me shelter during that space.’

‘Half an hour?’ he said, shaking the white flakes from his clothes; ‘I wonder you should select the thick of a snow-storm to ramble about in.’

The narrator Lockwood has been walking in the snow but the snowstorm worsens and he attempts to take shelter at the character Heathcliff’s cottage on the moors. The description ‘shaking the white flakes from his clothes’, woven naturally into the dialogue, shows an element of setting, blending dialogue and scene setting together.

This type of showing creates a vivid world, giving the sort of detail that a screenwriter could include for unity of setting, dialogue and action.

Join Now Novel to brainstorm a strong, film-worthy central idea, and get helpful feedback from your online community.

6 surefire ways to promote your novel

Hi fellow authors,

Today I’m sharing a blog on Promotion, by Sandra Beckwith from Bookbuzz. It is another informative article from a respected and helpful lady.

The biggest mistake most novelists make when promoting their books is believing that it’s all about book reviews. Wrong. Book reviews are valuable and securing them should be on any author or publisher’s book promotion to-do list, but your novel deserves more widespread, long-term, and ongoing exposure than it can get through reviews alone. It deserves to be talked about month after month – as long as the book is available for purchase. 
Here are six tips for helping you see the publicity and promotion value in your fiction so that you generate the ongoing buzz your book deserves: 

1. Find the nonfiction nuggets in your manuscript and use them to create newsworthy material for relevant media outlets. 

Is your heroine a jilted wife starting over in the workforce as – let’s say – an account executive at a high-flying packaging design firm who finds love with her client at a consumer products company? You’ve got publicity opportunities with the packaging and marketing trade magazines. Is she a radio jock? The female morning drive time personalities would love to interview you by phone. 

What about locations, products, or services in your novel? A story set in a national park or a convenience store gives you news pegs for exposure in the relevant trade magazines. A character’s obsession with a little known beverage brand could get your book into that company’s employee newsletter. If you’re writing your novel now, work in some nonfiction nuggets you can capitalize on later. 

2. Use your content to identify promotion allies. 

Is your protagonist an athlete in a wheelchair? Connect with groups such as the National Wheelchair Basketball Association or the National Wheelchair Softball Association. What about the professions of the people in your book? Does it feature a secretary? Contact the Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals. There’s an association for just about every profession. 

But don’t just send them a note that says, “I’ve written a book your members will love.” Send a copy of the book with a letter outlining promotional possibilities and what’s in it for them. You might offer to speak at their national meeting, do a Q&A for their member publication, or offer a discount to members. 

3. Leverage what you uncovered while writing your book. 

Did you learn about a period in history or a specific region? Use this knowledge as a springboard for publicity. The author of a historical romance novel set in New York’s Hudson River Valley, for example, can write and distribute a news release announcing the top romantic and historical attractions in that region or pitch a local newspaper or regional magazine on an article about the area’s most romantic date destinations. Your goal is to be quoted as an expert source because this would require using your book title as one of your credentials. 

4. Support your book with a good Web site designed by a professional. 

Your Web site has to be as good as your writing. It also has to contain information that convinces us that your books are worth buying and reading. It doesn’t have to be slick, but it does need to be very well-written, attractive, useful, and enticing. We will assess your ability to tell a good story by your ability to communicate on your Web site, so the writing is crucial. 

5. Get social.

 Focus on one or two social networking sites – Facebook now has more users than MySpace – and master the most effective and appropriate ways to use them to promote your book before spreading yourself too thin on several sites. Once you understand how the process works, expand to others and use new technology tools and resources such as those at TweetDeck and to streamline your information sharing across your networks. 

6. Share the love. 

Help us connect with you by blogging about your writing process and experiences. Get excerpts up on your Web site and read portions to us via podcasts so we can get a feel for your writing and decide if the story is appealing. Give us enough online – on your Web site, blog, and through podcast download sites such as iTunes – to convince us we’d like your book. 

There’s no question that promoting fiction is harder than promoting nonfiction – but because of that, it’s also more rewarding. 

You have permission to reprint the article with this required author credit: 

Sandra Beckwith offers a free book publicity and promotion e-zine at and teaches the “Book Publicity 101: How to Build Book Buzz” e-course. 

10 Writing Issues that Your Grammar Checker is Missing

Hello fellow writers,

It’s fifty years since I finished my schooling, and unbeknown to me, I missed important writing principles.  I currently use Autocrit to identify and correct writing issues in my manuscripts, having become a life time member and following their tuition courses. Today’s post I am featuring another excellent writing programme, that, like Autocrit, can be tried free on their websites. It is Writing Pro. 

Today’s blog from Writing Pro, explains 10 issues your grammar checker is missing. May it enlighten you in the same way these apps have me.   Glennis

Grammar checkers in word processing programs are wonderful tools to help you catch pesky spelling and minor grammar issues like using the correct form of to, two, or too. But merely running your software’s grammar checker may leave your work open to glaring problems you might not catch.

Editing software like ProWritingAid checks for writing issues that go far beyond mere grammar problems.

Here are 10 writing issues that your word processor’s grammar checker is missing.

1. Adverbs.

Too many adverbs modify or prop up weak words. Use an editing tool to highlight every adverb in your text. Is it necessary, or can you replace it with a stronger word or phrase?

2. Slow pacing.

You want readers to keep moving through your work, so use an editing tool to check how much introspection or backstory you’re including. It slows down your reader, and too much can get boring.

3. Overused words.

You may not notice as you write, but words like could, might, knew and felt slip into your work, taking away some of its power. An editing tool will point out those words that are clunky, non-specific, or that tell rather than show.

4. Sentence lengths.

Do you vary your sentence lengths? Short sentences move readers quickly. Longer sentences allow you to expound on your meaning more fully, keeping readers in the moment and engaged. Too many long sentences or short sentences are boring, though. An editing tool will create a visual representation of your text so that you can see whether you have enough variety.

5. Active verbs.

Verbs keep your work moving forward. Passive verbs leave your readers wondering who’s performing the action in your sentence. Hidden verbs use a weak verb and turn strong verbs into nouns. For example, why say “the issue was discussed” (passive) or “the committee held a discussion about the issue” (hidden verb) when you could say it clearly with “the committee discussed the issue”? An editing tool will highlight both passive and hidden verbs for you.

6. Sticky sentences.

Glue words are common words in the English language that leave empty spaces in your sentences. Words like an, of, if, to, the and about 200 more can be cut down to make your meaning clearer. “She was able to use the key on her key ring to open the door to the storeroom to find the supply of paper stock she needed for class” should be rewritten to “She unlocked the storeroom door and found the paper stock she needed for class.”

7. Cliches.

Everyone knows that clichés are taboo, but the sneaky devils can creep into writing without your knowledge when you’re in the writing flow. Use the editing tool to find any clichés and replace them with original, fresh wording.

8. Redundancies.

Watch out for redundancies in your writing. Who hasn’t written about “frozen ice,” but ice is always frozen, right? “First began” and “gathered together” are other common redundancies that can creep into your writing.

9. Inconsistencies.

Pay attention to inconsistencies in spelling in your work. An editing tool will highlight if you use American spellings like color and neighbor, and the British spelling of labour in another. Also watch out for inconsistencies in capitalizing and hyphenating words.

10. Vague wording.

Vague wording doesn’t get your meaning across clearly. To say you will give someone “some” money doesn’t mean nearly as much as if you say you will give them “$100”. Similarly, if you say you “improved” your attendance record, it’s much less clear than if you say your attendance record rose from 67% to 97%. Be specific.


These are some of the common writing faux-pas that grammar checkers don’t catch, but can leave those reading your work wondering about your writing ability. You want your work to be clear and concise, with every word making an impact.

Use ProWritingAid to uncover the above issues before you send it off to your editor.

Your editor, publisher, and—more importantly—readers will thank you for it.

Try ProWritingAid for free now

How to choose good themes for stories: 5 tips

Hello fellow writers. 

Today we read more tips from Bridget at NowNovel, as she guides us through good story themes.  Even though I have my theme, upon editing, the ability to go deeper, and draw out the contrasting emotions and struggles is kind of fun. And essential.  Happy writing. Glennis

How to choose good themes for stories: 5 tips
Good themes for stories – how to choose | Now Novel

A theme, ‘an idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature’, explores an insightful topic or subject. Through the ways authors treat themes such as ‘love’, ‘alienation’, ‘hope’ and more, we learn and grow through their characters’ experiences of these themes. How do you choose good themes for stories?

1: Think about common themes for stories in your genre

2: Match themes with characters’ personalities and goals

3: Write up a list of themes and potential sub-themes

4: Examine how great authors have treated similar ideas

5: Deepen your treatment of themes after your first draft
Let’s explore each of these ideas further:

1: Think about common themes for stories in your genre

Each genre of writing has core common themes. Romance, for example, typically has themes relating to human relationships since this is its focus. Common themes in romance fiction include:

Love and power – the popular Fifty Shades series explores power in both the non-sexual and sexual aspects of a relationship, for example

Commitment – what it means to choose another person romantically

Obsession – Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train is a good example of a novel that explores romantic obsession and its dangers, as it follows a character stalking her ex-husband

Gender relations – much romance explores the way people in relationships behave according to (or refuse) society’s gender expectations

As you can see, there are many themes you could explore in a romance. You might explore how two lovers navigate their gender differences and the baggage attached to this. Your story could, like a Nicholas Sparks novel, show the ingredients required for commitment to last – perseverance, self-knowledge, faith, desire and more.

Consider how themes differ between fantasy and romance. Although there is often overlap (if there is a love interest), fantasy novels often include themes of:

Heroism – what do ordinary people need to commit extraordinary deeds?

Friendship – how can allies defeat evil where solo attempts fail?

Power (and its social and personal cost or danger) – fantasy novels, from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter, often explore the strife that results when individuals seek excess power. This theme is also developed in magic and magical abilities, as characters typically pay a price for their powers

List common themes in your genre when you create an outline. It will remind you of your diverse story theme options.

Sign up to Now Novel for guided prompts on story themes

2: Match themes with characters’ personalities and goals

Reflect on characters you’ve sketched when you plan themes. Say, for example, you have a character who, like Tolkien’s Gollum, is treacherous and jealous. The theme of jealousy (specifically, its pitfalls) would then be something to develop through this character’s arc.

Indeed, through The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings cycle, we see how Gollum’s lust for the One Ring and its powers transforms him. He changes from a ‘Stoor Hobbit’ to an eerie, cave-dwelling husk of his former self. Gollum’s goal – to obtain and keep the ring at all costs – drives him to murder. Tolkien shows how giving in to jealousy and other base emotions can rob a person of their humanity.

To choose good themes according to characters’ goals:

List each character’s core goals. In a romance, for example, it might be a character’s desire to ‘settle down’ with a romantic partner.

Then list themes that come with these goals (in the case of ‘settling down’, commitment and its pleasures and pitfalls, for example).

Think of other themes that might be interesting to explore in parallel. For example, if your character’s greatest goal is to find a long-term lover, themes could include the risks of placing your hopes and dreams in another person.

Thinking about themes and characters together will help you create character arcs on interesting ‘universal themes’. Universal themes are the enduring ideas about human experience that multiple stories illustrate in their individual ways. Ideas such as ‘love takes work’ or ‘power corrupts’.

3: Write up a list of themes and potential sub-themes

Once you have the central idea of your story or novel, write up a list of possible themes and sub-themes. For example, take the central idea of Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis: ‘A travelling salesman wakes up to discover he has turned into a vermin-like critter.’ From this premise, the primary themes could (and do) include:

Alienation or estrangement. How might such an extreme change affect personal relationships? We see Gregor Samsa’s family struggling to live with the sudden creature in their midst

Sympathy and its limits or conditions. How will a person’s extreme transformation affect people’s sympathies? How reliant is our care on the other person being familiar to us rather than strange?

The link between mind and body. How might a radical change in form change someone’s mind, their wants, needs and desires? Kafka explores this (we see Gregor the vermin seeking out closed, private spaces at first)

Taking each of the above broader themes, we can list sub-themes for each. Sub-themes for ‘alienation’, for example could include:

Our need for social interaction. What results when others find us repulsive suddenly? At first, Gregor is afraid of frightening his family and hides. Yet as he adjusts to his new appearance, he becomes bolder. When he starts to climb the walls, his mother sees him and passes out. This leads to conflict

How to resolve alienation. Beginning with Gregor’s alienation, we see him trying to reconcile the change with his immediate environment. We also see the dramatic consequences that result when his father throws apples at him, seriously injuring Gregor

4: Examine how established authors have treated similar ideas

An excellent way to increase your skill at developing story themes is to examine how other authors have treated similar ideas. Other classic examples of fiction exploring alienation include Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Albert Camus’ The Stranger.

In Dostoevsky novel, Rodion Raskolnikov grows alienated from family and friends after he commits murder. Reintegration into society becomes impossible for the already-alienated character from the moment of the murder. Dostoevsky explores the related themes of guilt and madness, as the former drives Rodion to the latter.

In Albert Camus’ L’etranger (translated in English as The Stranger), we also see the links between alienation and criminality.

The central character, Meursault, shows indifference to surrounding society. At the start of the novel, Meursault expresses no emotion at his mother’s funeral. After Meursault shoots and kills his friend’s girlfriend’s brother, he is tried for the killing. In the trial, the prosecutor notes Meursault’s inability to cry at the funeral. This is treated as proof of his guilt and ‘monstrous’ nature. Camus thus explores the cost of alienation, of being unable to obey society’s most basic rules.

Both authors explore alienation and the worst case scenarios that can result. In a criminal context, both characters must do penance for their crimes.

In Rodion’s case, his conscience demands responsibility. Meursault differs, because his guilt is known but he expresses no remorse. In Meursault’s case, pressure to express remorse and to take responsibility for his crime comes from others.

The different roots of alienation in these two characters mean we get two very different examinations of the theme, though both characters essentially commit murder.

As you read fiction, be alert to these details, the similarities and differences in how authors treat common, universal themes. It will help you develop your themes with similar skill.

Story theme ideas – popular theme pairings

5: Deepen your treatment of themes after the first draft

Examining theme from the start of a first draft isn’t for everyone, of course. Pantsers often prefer to not think too deeply about the connecting parts of a story at first. They often prefer to find (and create) links between scenes, characters and themes in later revisions.

Whether you tend to plan your themes ahead of time or watch them emerge as you draft, do think about theme when you revise.

In Crime and Punishment, for example, one could imagine a first draft where Rodion’s crime is the sole focus of the story. Yet in the novel, Dostoevsky also tells the story of Katerina Marmeladova. Katerina, a tuberculosis-stricken and impoverished widow, is proud and haughty, having come from a wealthy family.

We see a parallel alienation to Rodion’s own in how Katerina holds herself above others. Yet Katerina does so out of pride, often reminding others of her wealthier youth. Katerina and Rodion thus show two opposite sources of alienation. In Rodion’s case, the primary driver of his estrangement from others is shame. In Katerina’s case, it is pride.

This character parallel and the multiple ways Dostoevsky examines alienation makes the story richer. We see how alienation can have similar root sources (poverty and the exclusion that can result). Yet we also see the dissimilar character responses (shame and pride) that both lead to alienation.

When you revise your story or novel, think about how characters can show other sides of your themes. If, for example, a primary relationship explores the theme of ‘commitment’ , consider a secondary character arc that demonstrates negatively what can tear commitment apart (infidelity, for example, or lack of trust). These contrasts and echoes enrich a novel, giving us multiple angles on the same story themes.

A Great Key to Building Your Story: Things Are Never as They Appear

Hi fellow writers. Today I am posting another of my favourite writing coaches, Mary Carroll Moore. Here she explains an excellent and important aspect when building our stories. Today as I have been writing, I have kept this in mind, as my main characters showed their weaknesses, revealed through their actions and mindsets. I can’t wait to develop them to the conclusion I have for them.

A Great Key to Building Your Story: Things Are Never as They Appear

I got some of the best writing advice this week: In a good story, things are never as they appear.  

At first, I debated this advice: Why not tell the truth in story? I try to be honest in my daily life, so why would I be otherwise in my books? Nonfiction writers, you always tell the truth, so keep debating the idea. But fiction and memoir writers, listen up. There’s something to this.

Consider that story often starts with false ideas, an unstable status quo, or agreements that are worn out and need replacing. In my classes, we look at something called the “false agreement” that characters embrace at the beginning of their narrative. Each character might have their own false agreement, unique to their journey in the story. In my current novel, one of the narrators believes that she can conquer all odds by herself, without help. This is a false agreement because the story continually puts her into situations where she can’t go it alone. Readers can see this belief, or agreement she’s made with herself, isn’t going to last. But the character is blind to that. By the end, the character must acknowledge that the agreement isn’t working. She must reinvent herself and her agreements. That makes up her narrative arc–the progress of this change.

I like to look at each of my main players to be sure the false agreement is in place, so they can have someplace to grow towards.

Then I thought of this writing advice in another way: the writer knows where the story is going to end up. What needs to happen by the last page. But if we lay all the steps out in a straight and predictable line, the story feels just that: predictable. So the writer’s goal might also be to continually sidetrack the reader–create false ideas that might be true, but turn out not to be. In thrillers, these are sometimes called “red herrings.” They appear to be a bonefide clue, but they are eventually disproved.  

Then I thought of dialogue. Skilled dialogue contains something called “subtext,” which is the undercurrent, what’s not being said. In a way, good dialogue also follows this idea of “things are not what they appear.” If characters speak the truth every time you have a scene with dialogue, there’s little tension. It’s like the straight and predictable path of truthful story. Tension comes from incongruence, the difference between what’s said and what’s really meant.  

I began to research well-loved novels and memoirs. White Oleander by Janet Fitch offers the young narrator’s false belief that she can manage her crazy mother and have a safe childhood. It creates such tension, even in the opening scene where the mother walks the edge of a rooftop while the daughter watches.  

The Glass Castle, a well-known memoir by Jeannette Walls, is about another young narrator who also lives in a crazy family and carries, for much of the story, the false agreement is that they live a normal life.  

In both cases, the reader can see this is nowhere near normal. But we read on because we wonder if we’re right, and if we are, how the narrator will reconcile this disconnect.

In All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a large-scale false agreement exists between two countries at war. When two young people become allies, despite the war, it busts the belief that war always trumps humanity. They save each other at the end, disproving that false agreement, at least in a small way.

The trick to making this work is in two steps:

1. Create a strong false agreement to start your story.

2. Plan clues that make us readers uncertain about where it’s going to go.  

Good writing doesn’t predict the end. It’s anticipated but not expected, as one of my favorite teachers used to say. Readers track the hints and clues you plant, letting us know the false agreement isn’t going to hold up, but we want to be carried along with high tension, not really sure of where you will land up by the last page.

Your weekly writing exercise is to consider the two steps above. Ask yourself, what is your story’s (or your narrator’s) false agreement. Then, how does it slowly get dismantled by the end. If you already have these two steps in place, track backwards from the last page and note how you plant the clues–be sure you aren’t making the end too predictable, evolve too fast, or sidetrack into different false agreements.  

This takes focus and discipline, as a writer, but the end result is a satisfied reader.        

Steps to Success with Your Short Story Submission

Hi fellow authors. I haven’t posted before about one of my writing helpers. Before my manuscript goes to my writing coach, I submit it to the editing package, Autocrit. How I wish I had used it persistently when I sent my first novel to the publisher. I’m ashamed of the errors, which is why it is being re written at the moment. 

May you find the post informative,  cheers Glennis

Short Story Submission: 5 Steps to Success
5 Steps to Success with Your Short Story Submission

Rejection often comes part and parcel with any short story submission. Sad but true.

But how can you start to make rejection less of a soul-crushing norm (the kind that makes you want to run and hide the moment you hit “Send”) and more of a random, but tolerable, hazard of the profession?

Let’s face it: It’s easy to get caught up in hype or despair over your latest work. With your short opus complete, the search for suitable markets begins — and lo and behold, you’ve found yourself a candidate!

And the temptation is just to jump in and take the shot regardless of what the publisher is specifically looking for. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get… right?


Here are a few simple steps — all of which are essential for your success — you should take when making your short story submission to publishers.

1. Research the Publisher

The first thing you should do is thoroughly research the outlet you’re submitting to. Buy previous editions of their magazine or anthologies and get familiar with the tones, styles and stories they publish. If your voice or content simply doesn’t fit amongst those, it’s likely they won’t consider you for inclusion.

If you do feel at home, you’ve just notched up one gold star and moved one step closer to making a sale.

Nothing gets a publisher more riled up than having their time wasted by a completely incompatible short story submission. If they generally publish hard sci-fi, sending your latest whimsical childhood character piece isn’t likely to be a good idea. Know the market.

Submitting work that the outlet has no defined connection to is a waste of both your time and theirs — and may result in them blacklisting you from future publications. Don’t do that to yourself when it’s entirely possible you could create something of interest for them later down the line.

2. REALLY Read the Guidelines

It bears repeating: Read the publisher’s guidelines. Really read the publisher’s guidelines.

It’s a very short trip to rejection city if you demonstrate you have so little care for a) your work and b) the publisher’s wishes that you couldn’t take the time to ensure you’re conforming to their submission requirements.

Guidelines are there for a reason — to standardise the submission review process and lessen the burden on the publisher. Anything you do to make that burden greater will not reflect well upon you or your work — and they aren’t going to feel good about giving you money for stressing them out.

3. Keep Your Bio Short and Sharp

If the publisher’s guidelines ask you to include a bio, do so — but keep it short and factual. Have you won awards? Been published elsewhere? Great — mention it.

But don’t go off on a fluffy tangent about your hopes and dreams, the song of your creative muse or how your spirit animal influences the words that flow from your fingertips like the grace of an unseen deity.

Keep your ego in check and stick to the point. As much as it may sting, your potential publisher cares about your work and your credentials, not whether you see yourself as a universe of wonders housed within a mortal shell.

4. Stick to Standard Formats

Remember what we said about guidelines? If you see any formatting requirements in there, make sure you stick to them before making your short story submission. If you don’t see any formatting requirements, stick to standard manuscript format.

As with flaunting guidelines, little will see your manuscript consigned to the trash faster than random layout choices, poor spacing and a cavalcade of crazy, “creative” fonts.

Keep it clean, keep it simple… keep it standard.

5. Pre-Edit Your Work

Unless you’re insanely talented, your first draft isn’t going to make the grade. Take the time to self-edit your work (or even have it professionally edited) before you consider submitting to markets.

Be as certain as you can be that your story is lean and mean — after all, you don’t have a huge word count within which to tell a fully rounded story, so every sentence is of critical importance.

Keep your dialogue tags simple, root out clichés and ensure your writing is pacy and varied.

All these things, and more, can be accomplished with AutoCrit. Much more than your standard grammar checker or basic line-editing tool, AutoCrit analyzes your text in a multitude of ways to help you edit like a pro and produce writing that publishers will bite your hand off to print.

If you want to turn your stories into the gripping, impactful experiences they should be — to go the extra mile and present the best possible work you can — why not give AutoCrit a try for less than $1 per day.

Your publishers — and your readers — will commend you for it.

Autocrit Secret Formula to Publishing a Best-Selling Novel

Literary Agents Reject 99% of Manuscripts…

But yours doesn’t have to be one of them. Discover how to make the leap from slush pile to bookshelf with this valuable resource from AutoCrit.