Last week I met up with my friend, Flo, for a blether in a local coffee shop. Mid-afternoon, the place was emptyish, and we bagged the comfy window seats so we could people-watch as we chatted, sipped our lattes and munched on pumpkin muffins. Flo's likes to interrogate me about my writing, and here's the gist of our conversation.


Flo: You must be so excited. A new book coming out.
Me: It's always a mixture of nervous anticipation and dread. 

Flo: (giving me the side-eye) Well, if you can’t or won’t tell me the title of your new book, are you going to tell me what genre it’s in and what’s it about?

Me: The genre is—

Flo: (interrupting - she interrupts a lot) I bet it’s your usual vampire-next-door or another space adventure for a hard-done-by heroine.

Me: You mean urban fantasy or science-fiction?

Flo: Or did you write another romcom? I loved your Serendipity Game.

Me: (smirking) It’s a tragedy. And, by the way, the audiobook of The Serendipity Game is free on right now Do you know anyone who enjoys a drama-filled romcom? 

Flo: Actually, Renee would. I'll let her know. But why would you write a tragedy? Don’t people have enough problems without reading about made-up catastrophes?

Me: When an idea moves in, I have to go with it. But it’ll be marketed as a psychological suspense.

Flo: Yeah, that’s better. I love a thriller.

Me: Not a thriller, suspense.

Flo: (rolling her eyes) Don’t tell me the difference. I don’t care. 

Me: (determined to educate Flo about the subtleties of genre) Thrillers have more external action. Suspense focuses on one character’s internal struggle and the outcome isn’t so obvious.

Flo: Not sure I’ll remember that. Okay, no title reveal. I get it. What’s it about?

Me: It’s set in a fictional town in Massachusetts and focuses on the dark secrets a couple keep from each other.

Flo: Ooh! Dark secrets, eh? This is a new genre for you, right? Teagan Kearney adds psychological thriller to her skill set. Good one.

Me: Not Teagan Kearney. I decided that a new start in a new genre using a new publishing route deserved a new name. So, I’ve shortened Teagan Kearney to G.N. Kearney. I’ll continue to publish my urban fantasy/sci-fi books as Teagan Kearney and, by the way, I’m currently working on a second series that takes place in the same universe as the Saoirse Saga. I’ll use G.N. Kearney for further psychological suspense/thrillers.

Flo: Why not T.G.N. Kearney?

Me: Three initials? Nope, not going there.

Flo: Hey, did you say new publishing route? You're not self-publishing this one? 

Me: No. Level Best Books, an independent US-based publishing company offered me a contract. They specialize in crime and detective novels.

Flo: Oh, Teagan. (Her big shiny eyes get bigger and shinier.) I'm so pleased for you. How many agents and publishers did you try before Level Best Books offered you a contract?

Me: Too many. If I didn’t love writing stories, I might have given up, though I did get some lovely encouraging refusals.

Flo: Serendipity Game was your last book, and you published that in 2020, right? So, this nameless novel took you three years to write? Why?

Me: Writing, editing and formatting the books, then creating covers as well as marketing on social media and advertising became overwhelming. So, I took a break - think Rip Van Winkle not R.I.P. - from the selling side of the business. 

I also completed a Faber & Faber online course and the first year of an M.A. in Creative Writing.

Flo: And you got your mojo back, eh?

Me: Yep. Focusing on the writing without worrying about sales stats and reviews paid off in terms of satisfaction in the creative process.

Flo: To be clear, here. You felt better and wrote a tragedy?

Me: Yep.

Flo: Do you think this is the one? (She makes air quotes as she says, ‘the one’. Flo’s big on air quotes.)

Me: Only if readers enjoy it.

Flo: Release date?

Me: Early to mid-October. Though that's not set in concrete, 'cos stuff happens when you least expect it. But, as long no new world crisis occurs between now and then, hopefully, that's when you'll see me do my happy dance.

Flo: (her phone buzzes) Oh, sorry, honey. I gotta go. Gemma’s got dance class. See you same time, same place, next week? But promise me you'll tell me the name of the new book, okay?

Me: Wouldn’t miss it for the world. (We give each other a big squishy hug)


I haven't blogged for a while, but there'll be a short flurry of posts coming in the next month or so as the date of the book release approaches. Please, check back to find out more about the dark secrets in my new novel and to find out the title, cover reveal and other important dates.

Stay safe and well,
Best wishes,
Teagan/G.N. Kearney.

P.S. Don't forget to check out my freebies page! 😊

If You Think It, You Can Write It: The Third and Final Act

Chapter 10: The Third Act

You have written a novel which draws the reader through the first and second acts with an intriguing plot and enough suspense to keep them engaged. People stay hooked, wanting to know what happens because they are invested in the character's dilemma. When you reach the Second Plot Point (SPP) the narrative changes direction again. The SPP, where your principal character receives a last piece of information or an event occurs, is an alert signal that the climax is approaching. 

A general rule is don’t introduce any important players after the SPP. The storyline has a forward momentum, and you shouldn’t be throwing curve balls at the audience and distracting them from the main event that’s about to happen. The SPP occurs around 75-80% into the story, after which the protagonist prepares a strategy for the final encounter. 

The Climax

You may be eager to get on with writing the defining dramatic scenes that are playing out in your head, but allow time and space for the climax to unfold, to develop and expand—don’t rush this section. 
Take a deep breath and pause. The critical highpoint should take at least one, if not two, chapters. Picture the ultimate confrontation as a slow-motion sequence and explore it fully. The climax in action & adventure/fantasy will frequently be a battle of opposing forces; in crime and mystery, the injustice is corrected; and in romance, the misunderstandings are resolved. This is where the pieces of the puzzle you’ve been laying out slot together. You do not want to zip through this, and leave people feeling cheated. 

The Denouement

The denouement comes after the climax when your protagonist has overcome the challenges they faced. For example, the film High Noon doesn’t end when the bad guy hits the ground after the shootout on Main Street. The tale concludes when Marshall Will Kane climbs aboard a wagon, and he and his wife depart. But after the principal conflict is settled, you have to tie up minor subplots and any loose ends quickly because, if your audience is anything like me, they know it’s over and are already thinking about the next read. A satisfactory denouement should let the reader breathe out in relief and deliver that extra bit of fulfillment—like coffee and mints following dessert.

Open or Closed Endings 

One of a novelist’s many tasks is to provide closure to a series of events which, in theory, began before a book started and continues after it finishes. In a closed ending, there is no confusion about what happens subsequently. Cinderella marries the prince and they will live happily ever after. This type of conclusion fulfils expectations, and readers can put down the book, satisfied that all is well—and this is what they enjoy.

An open ending is one which confers a sense of satisfaction, yet still leaves some aspects unresolved. Leaving questions unanswered—where does the hero go afterward?—can result in a story that lingers in the imagination for longer. People may speculate about the ramifications of the closing moments you’ve given them, besides wondering what happens next.

Today’s audiences are also accustomed to true-to-life outcomes with the possibility of a more emotionally complicated finale. At the end of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield’s future isn’t clear. Has he recovered from his breakdown? Has he come to terms with his brother’s death? What is his attitude toward his new school? We aren’t presented with these answers, and it's left up to readers to hope he has a better future. (As a side note: this tale starts and terminates in the same location—the sanitorium where Holden went after his collapse—creating an interesting cycle.) 

Novels have the potential to influence people and, whether the ending is open or closed, the real test is the life the story takes on in readers’ imaginations after they close your book. These posts are meant to be a map showing you how to get to a destintion and, like any journey, the type of transport you use, the passengers you take with you, the stops you make along the way are your decision alone. Even if there are many others making the same journey, as each individual is unique, so are the stories waiting inside you to be written.



1. Think about the last few books (or the last book) you read and analyze the endings. Were they open or closed? Did you like the way the story ended? Did you have any questions afterward?

2. Define which kind of ending you envision for your story and outline an alternative ending. If you prefer a closed ending then think about the effects on the characters (and readers) if you wrote an open ending. If you prefer an open ending, then see how that changes with a closed ending. 


This chapter brings us to the end of Part One, and you now have an understanding of the basic techniques used in creating stories. However, there is plenty more to come in Part Two, where you can increase and put into practice your knowledge of the craft of writing fiction.

Photo: Burst on Unsplash

My dear friend, Dee, very kindly asked me for an interview for her website where she promotes indieauthors. Click the link and check it out!

Stay well, stay safe and keep reading!
Best wishes,













If You Think It, You Can Write It: Act Two


Chapter 9: Act Two

The second act is the longest section in a novel, and it's where your protagonist, having passed the first plot point and entered into a new situation, meets increasingly difficult challenges. There is one important point during act two which is crucial to moving your narrative forward: the midpoint. 

The Midpoint

Depending on the length of your first act (longer or shorter), the midpoint will occur somewhere around the middle of act two. Up till now, events have been happening to the protagonist, causing a shift in their lives, but the midpoint is where they begin to fight back, take control and become proactive.

The midpoint in The Martian comes when Mark Watney finds out the supplies he’s expecting are delayed, forcing him to take responsibility for staying alive until his provisions arrive.

In Ender’s Game, the midpoint change comes when Ender finishes his training and finds himself in charge of a group of low-achieving students. Instead of being told what to do, he has to take charge, command and train them. 

Instead of ducking and diving to avoid the threats coming their way, these characters stand up and decide they will take charge of resolving their dilemma. 

The Saggy Middle 

When we open a novel and step out of our own lives into the fictional life of another, I’m sure that you, like me, have certain expectations. However, if after a great beginning, that fictional life becomes monotonous, we close the book and find a new one that fires our imagination. 

Act two, where your plot builds, subplots weave in and out, writers can find themselves bogged down in those selfsame subplots or following plot threads that lead nowhere. This is known as the saggy middle. One way to stop readers falling asleep during this section is to use variety. 

Although the dramatic arc is depicted as a line of rising tension, varying the pace in your scenes and chapters increases the drama. Instead of running straight up the mountain, you can rachet up the reader’s involvement by taking two steps up, then one step back, or one step forward and pause to catch your breath. Each forward movement takes you higher than before, but dashing up a mountain not only leaves you exhausted but you miss what’s around you as you climb. By creating variety in the pacing of your scenes you allow your reader to catch up with where you’re taking them. 

A scene is a prolonged moment, resembling real time on the page, and scenes are divided into two basic categories—dramatic and static. Yet this isn’t as simple as alternating car chase/fight/screaming argument scenes with writing shopping lists or lazing on a beach.

There are multiple ways to create drama in a scene that on the surface appears calm but which is actually filled with conflict. If your heroine is sipping tea with the wife of the man she’s having an affair with, a writer can find plenty of opportunity for drama. Does the wife know? How much inner conflict will be revealed? Two elegantly attired women, false smiles for the benefit of onlookers, yet talking in low voices as one confronts the other doesn't have active phsycial movement but is filled with tension. Make them best friends or sisters and you have the potential for a real battle. Static scenes can be used to delve into suppressed emotions or hidden conflicts, and they’re excellent opportunities to show, rather than tell, the reader what’s happening.

However, these apparently quieter scenes aren’t merely gap fillers between the dramatic action. They provide contrast and prevent a spill into the melodrama that non-stop action presents. Characters and readers alike need to catch their breath. Static scenes offer respite, a change of pace and a chance to provide details that would be difficult to place elsewhere; they also provide space for conflicts to build. Nevertheless, they’re not frozen tableaux and shouldn’t stall the forward momentum of the narrative.

When you combine a series of increasingly intense actions with more private moments of equally important revelations, you can approach and pass the midpoint, bringing your audience with you. The end of act two takes you to the second plot point, which signifies the beginning of act three—the climax and the resolution of your story. 


Exercise 1. Using the book you’re currently reading or another you finished recently, figure out the midpoint, its effect on the protagonist and how it changes the story going forward.

Exercise 2. Using your own story, think about the midpoint: have you created a situation for your main character that will result in a different attitude toward his situation, one where she/he must now take responsibility for how they will deal with the problems facing them? If not, spend some time figuring out how you can adapt what you've written 
(or write a new scene) to give your story a midpoint transformation. 

Exercise 3. Consider what kind of scene you prefer to read
—one where action takes place or where the tension is less tangible and more descriptive. Examine your own work and see if there’s a dominance of one or the other. 

Exercise 4. Using different colored highlighter pens (or font color), take a few chapters, color your scenes accordingly (red for dramatic, green for static) to create a visual depiction and study the balance between the two. This exercise lets you know where you might need to make changes to achieve a good rhythm between drama and stasis. 

Stay well, stay safe and keep writing—no matter what!
Best wishes,

The Martian by Andy Weir: 2011 (self-published); February 2014 (Crown)

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, 1985, Tor Books.

Photo by Simon Hattinga Verschure, Unsplash.




If You Think It, You Can Write It: The First Act


There are many things which go into producing a book, irrespective of whether it's a digital or print version, but most important of all is the story itself. The glossiest of covers, the most enticing of book descriptions and the smartest marketing campaigns will not hide the fact there is something lacking inside the covers.

I'm not talking about how to be inspired or how to stimulate your imagination—the universe has an infinite number of sources—but we are getting deeper into the nuts and bolts of the craft side of writing. So, lets get on with it...

Chapter 8: The First Act 

If you think of your novel as dining out at a restaurant (an outing which you may or may not have planned), imagine you have eaten the apéritif (the hook) and you are about to dive into the main course. In terms of writing, you are about to embark on a journey of dramatic incidents that will escalate until you reach the climax and resolution of your book.

The plot is the backbone, the spine of your tale, and is made up of a chain of events, also known as plot points. There are plenty of events going on in a novel, although they are not all equal; some have more impact than others because they alter the forward movement of the narrative.

The first act has two happenings of note: the inciting incident and the first plot point (FPP). The FPP is the more important of the pair.

As you lead your characters through their difficulties and successes, bear in mind that drama comes in different guises: a disgusted look that leaves a woman wondering what she did to upset her lover can be as significant as someone finding out their best friend is having as affair with their wife or the first attack of an invading army.

The Inciting Incident 

You have introduced your heroine/hero, and acquainted readers with their circumstances. The inciting incident is the first chance to up the ante. As a rough guide, the inciting incident occurs around the ten percent mark.

In the fairy tale of Cinderella, the inciting incident is when the Prince sends every eligible young lady in the land an invitation to the ball as he is looking for a wife: everyone in the house, including Cinders, is excited. In The Hunger Games, it is when Katniss’s sister is chosen for the reaping. By the time the inciting incident takes place, we have already learned quite a bit about both these personalities, their background and the daily challenges they face.

The inciting incident has an impact on your character but doesn’t yet change their lives or set them on a fresh path. It’s advisable to give some space between the inciting incident and the FPP to allow both the principal character and the reader to absorb what is happening. People get caught up and wonder what comes next, so you have the opportunity to build on that expectation.

Some writers have the inciting incident happen before the book starts or leave very little space between it and the FPP. The rule for writing is do what works for you, although when you start out, it’s worthwhile to learn the rules before breaking them.

The First Plot Point 

If the chain of events is written in normal print, the plot points are highlighted in bold. The FPP, which happens around the twenty-five percent mark, brings the first act to an end.

The FPP in Cinderella is when her step-mother tells her she can’t go to the ball. Cinders decides she wants to go more than anything she has ever wanted and must overcome a series of obstacles in order to succeed. In The Hunger Games, the FPP occurs when Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place, changing her life and opening up the way to death or victory.

The FPP fulfils several functions apart from initiating a new direction for the protagonist: it introduces the major conflict, indicates the challenges, heightens the investment in winning and mentions the price of failure.

Note the word introduces, because you are showing reasons why people should continue reading by sketching out the general development of your story arc and offering views of challenges (internal and external) they will face. The audience understands and can identify with the central character’s goals and recognize there is a story to be told. As she/he commits to seeing through the challenge, so does the reader.

You can think of the inciting incident as an event that relates to the individual and the FPP as relating to the dramatic arc. The inciting incident touches your protagonist, but the FPP results in a shift from their life before and propels them toward an alternative course of action.

In fiction, action includes thoughts, emotions and observations as well as physical movement. It can be range from remembering something relevant to charging into battle, but it has to transform the status quo.

By now your character is living in your reader’s imagination and they’ll continue to read because, otherwise, they're quitting the table before the end of the meal; and who wants to miss out on dessert?


Exercise 1: Using the book you are currently reading, identify the inciting incident and the first plot point. Choose a fairy tale or another book and do the same.

Exercise 2: Analyze the first act of your novel, scrutinize your inciting incident and FPP, see how you can improve on what you have written and make changes if you need to.


Stay well, stay safe and keep writing— no matter what!
Best wishes,






Interview with Monica Nash: Narrator of The Serendipity Game Audiobook:

I'm delighted that the audiobook edition of The Serendipity Game is now available to listen to and enjoy!

The Serendipity Game is a romantic comedy and here's the blurb: 
When Casey meets Jake sparks fly. But Casey has no idea that Jake’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Elena, is using her to extract more than the pre-nuptial agreement from Jake. While Jake and Casey spend time together, Elena changes her mind about the divorce and plans to eliminate her competition. A drama-packed, entertaining romcom that will have you rooting for the feisty Casey and praying for her HEA.

The audiobook is available at Audible:
Also from iBooks at the Apple Store 

Monica Nash is the brilliant actor who narrated and produced The Serendipity Game audiobook. She is a graduate of the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Monica is a pleasure to work with and I cannot believe I had the good luck to have one of my books narrated by her. Thank you, Monica! 

Interview with Monica Nash

1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

I was born in Reading and grew up in Berkshire where my parents taught at a boarding school. I come from a large family and was very fond of climbing trees, cycling and playing endless games with my sister and our large collection of dolls. For the most part I enjoyed school, particularly English, Art and History.

2. Did you always want to be an actress and what drew you to the performing arts as a career?

 I was always in school plays and loved performing in general as a child, but for years my great passion was ballet. I loved the music and the costumes, but most of all I loved the storytelling. It was as a teenager that acting took over as my primary interest. I knew then that I wanted to act professionally, and never seriously considered any other career.

3. When did you first perform and where did you train?

As an undergraduate studying English at the University of Bristol, I was heavily involved in the drama and music scenes. Later, I went to Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, where I studied for two years. My first professional acting jobs were in 2014.

4. Who are your influences? 

I have drawn inspiration from many people over the years, from family members to school teachers. My greatest professional influences have been certain members of staff at drama school, and, more generally, actors ranging from Samantha Morton to Emma Thompson to Joyce Grenfell. I am influenced by any great piece of theatre that I see.

5. What do you do to prepare?

It depends on the project but generally speaking I jump straight in with the script, and do any research that needs to be done as I go along.

6. What are your strengths as an actor and how do they contribute to the style that makes you unique?

I have always been confident with language, and my English degree has been an enormous help to me. I am good at spotting the rhythm of a line and knowing how to deliver it effectively. This is useful in both comedic and serious roles, and I always try to be a performer who can pass seamlessly between comedy and drama at the drop of a hat.

7. What fears/anxieties do you have about your work?

Actors always worry that they are not getting enough auditions, and I am no exception! In this line of work, financial stability is never guaranteed, so that is sometimes a concern. I am also worried about the way this industry has historically treated women, although I do think that it is improving.

8. What has been your greatest accomplishment as an actor and what impact did that success have on you?

My greatest achievement is that I am still working and making my living in this industry six years in! Probably my greatest specific achievement was successfully learning to walk on stilts, from scratch, in only six days, for a theatre role. It definitely made me more confident about learning new skills and gave me more faith in myself that I could rise to a challenge.

9. How does recording an audiobook stretch you as an actor and what was the biggest challenge you faced in recording The Serendipity Game?

Recording audiobooks is unlike any other form of performing since you do it alone without fellow cast members to inspire you and buoy you up. ‘The Serendipity Game’ in particular has a large cast of characters. Flitting seamlessly from one voice to another was probably the greatest challenge.

10. What did you like about Casey in The Serendipity Game?

Casey has had a difficult childhood and has come out of it as a very independent and spirited woman. She is loyal to her friends and stands up for herself. These were all great aspects to bring to her character.

11. If you had the chance to perform any role in any play or film, who would you choose and why?

There are far too many to choose from, but it’s probably a toss up between Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady’ and Cruella de Vil in ‘101 Dalmatians’. Eliza is a richly comic part but also a nuanced character who goes on an incredible character journey, of a kind which is hugely rewarding to play. Cruella is a straightforward, larger than life, insane, bloodthirsty villain (with fantastic costumes) – who doesn’t love playing one of those?

12. Who do you look up to?

I love the work of directors like Josie Rourke, Emma Rice and Vicky Featherstone. The actor I most look up to, in terms of her range, emotional clarity and career choices, is Lesley Manville.

13. What is your next project?

I am working on another audiobook called ‘Hello’, a psychological thriller, and I am in rehearsals for an outdoor concert performance of Sondheim’s musical ‘Into the Woods’, playing Cinderella.

14. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

Still acting! Hopefully with a rich and varied CV, having made many more wonderful friends.

15. What do you do when you’re not performing or recording audiobooks?

I have done various other non-acting jobs over the years. At the moment I am doing some online tutoring, as well as writing and performing some comedy pieces for a podcast. Outside of work, I sing with a chamber choir called Vivamus, spend time with my family and friends, drink copious amounts of tea, and see as much great theatre as I can.

16. What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?

Probably a longish walk ending up at the pub followed by watching a movie on the sofa with friends.

If you want to find out more about Monica you can contact her via her website:

If You Think It, You Can Write It!: The Hook

When I decided at the beginning of the year to share what I've learned about writing and publishing a first novel, I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep to the schedule I gave myself. But I have and I'm really pleased to poston time, which surprises me even morea chapter that can be one of the most challenging, apart from your characters, plot and setting that is. This being the case, I invite you to read on...

Chapter 7: The Hook

The start of a story where you introduce the protagonist and the setting, referred to as the exposition, is the door you open for readers to step through and sample what kind of world you’re taking them to. You have a few minutes to tempt them if you don’t want them to leave and move on to the next author. The hook is a challenging event, an appealing description, a compelling character, something that grabs the reader’s interest, inviting them to continue. As the first act can take up to 15 to 25 percent of your narrative, you will also have space to provide some relevant background information and key events from their past.

When a reader begins a book, she/he puts aside their normal understanding of the world—known as suspension of belief—and you want them to know where they are without delay, so the initial sentences should plant clear clues for the reader to orient themselves in the world they’ve entered. You present the protagonist, showing the audience a glimpse of who they are and a problem they encounter in their day-to-day existence.

Eight-year old Jimmy kicked his heels against the wall behind him and chewed his lip as he took in the chaos erupting around him. The first recess in a new school was never fun.
The first sentence tells us Jimmy is nervous. The second lets us know this isn’t the first time he’s been in this situation and his expectations are low.

The train picks up speed as it leaves Stuttgart. He grew up here, amid long shady streets footed in ancient cobblestones and gardens bright-spotted with afternoon light, but it is no longer the place Anton knew when he was young. (1)
The location and mood—reflective and melancholy—is clear as the character remembers the past and compares it to the present. The chapter heading, Fatherland, September 1942, lets us know this is Nazi Germany.

My working relationship with Lucifer began on a rainy Monday. I’d just settled down to a long afternoon of watching the holovid soaps and doing a little divination, spreading the cards and runes out on the hank of blue silk I’d laid out, when there was a bashing on my door that shook the walls
. (2)
Here the speaker is at home, relaxing when an ominous (door bashing and walls shaking) visitor arrives. Although a bright sunshiny day might have given a greater contrast to the action taking place, the choice of ‘rainy’ (gray, overcast) foreshadows the trouble that’s arrived on the doorstep.

All three indicate mood and describe the setting, and we are well equipped to venture farther into this new dimension as we know who, where and when.

In Medias Res

Another method of pulling people in is to start in medias res, (from the Latin) which literally means ‘into the middle of things’. This term comes from the Roman writer Horace who, when defining the perfect poet in Poetic Arts, stated: Nor does he begin the Trojan War from the egg, but always he hurries to the action, and snatches the listener into the middle of things.

In medias res sidesteps exposition which is later given in another way, generally through straightforward accounts of the past or flashbacks or dialogue. With in medias res you open with a bang but slow down afterward to fill in the blanks. Instead of 1, 2, 3 you do 3, 1, 2 or 3, 2, 1—whatever works in your particular tale. Movies often open with an action scene as film directors aim to grab the audience’s notice straightaway.

None of the heat and bright luster of the mid-afternoon sun bathing the city of Tropolis reached Lower Level Park Four of the multi-storied downtown parking lot. The erratic flickering of the fluorescent light bulbs created uneasy shadows, and the air was rank with the stink of old seaweed, rotten cabbage and sewage stirred into the mix. It was a stench that slunk along the ground like a dense November fog off the river—the stench of goblin.
       As the elevator door slid shut behind them, JB turned first to Nikki, indicating she should go to the right and block the exit ramp. He signed he would head in a diagonal line toward their quarry before sending Gemma straight ahead. They padded off with guns raised, making little noise as they eased closer to their objective. A dark indistinct shape blurred across the back wall.
This is the opening scene of Sorcerous Deeds, the second in my Adept Solutions series of urban fantasy novellas about a private detective agency. Here JB and his team are tackling a bounty hunting job.

They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here. They are seventeen miles from a town which has ninety miles between it and any other. Hiding places will be plentiful in the Convent, but there is time and the day has just begun.
Although we haven’t yet met the ‘they’ in question, the introductory sentence grabs attention, making it impossible not to read on further to find out what occurs next. This is the opening paragraph of Toni Morrison’s Paradise and a masterclass example of in medias res.

‘It’s official,’ Harley said. ‘They killed the Berliner two nights ago. You’re the last.’ Thereafter a pause: ‘I’m sorry.’
     Yesterday evening this was. We were in the upstairs library of his Earl’s Court house, him standing at a tense tilt between stone hearth and oxblood couch, me in the window seat with a tumbler of forty-five-year-old Macallan and Camel Filter, staring out at dark London’s fast-falling snow. The room smelled of tangerines and leather and the fire’s pine logs. Forty-eight hours on I was still sluggish from the Curse. Wolf drains from the wrists and shoulders last. In spite of what I’d just heard I thought: Madeline can give me a massage later, warm jasmine oil and the long-nailed magnolia hands I don’t love and never will. 
     “What are you going to do?” Harley said. (4)
This opening is from Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf where we learn of Jacob Marlowe’s dramatic situation at the same time he does. We’re also made aware of his world-weary character as despite this shocking news his thoughts turn to easing the aftereffects of his recent werewolf shift rather than how to combat his upcoming demise.

Learning point: Chekhov’s Gun
Chekhov’s gun refers to an example the writer Anton Chekhov gave where there is a gun on the mantelpiece. However, if no one ever uses this gun, it misleads the reader into giving it importance it doesn’t possess, and a sense of confusion when it’s never used. Everything you include should relate to the story you are telling.
For example, don’t let little Jimmy go up to Mabel and ask can he join in her game if, later on, she has no relevant role to play. Readers become invested in what happens to your character(s). Chekhov's message is, don’t lead people down dead-ends.

Whichever way you choose, if you’ve done your work, your audience is connecting with your character, you’ve drawn them into the world you’ve created and they will continue to follow your hero’s journey.

Exercise 1: Think about how you can improve your opening sentences. Whether you start with exposition or in medias res, write an alternative opening to the method you already used.
Exercise 2: Look at the book you’re currently reading and analyze what choice the author made. If you have an ereader, go through half a dozen books or so doing the same. Think about your reaction to what you read, what you like, what impresses you and and what you can learn. has a good list of books starting in media res. You can check out any that interest you by going to Amazon and using the ‘Look inside’ feature.

Stay well, stay safe and keep writing—no matter what!
Best wishes,


(1) The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawkins, 2018, Lake Union Publishing, Seattle.
(2) Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow, 2005, Hachette Digital, London.
(3) Paradise by Toni Morrison, 1997, Vintage Books, New York.
(4) The Last Werewolf by Duncan Glen, 2011, Cannongate Books, Edinburgh.

Photo: Eric Ding on Unsplash.

If You Think It, You Can Write It!: Pantster or Planner

Before I begin Part Two, where the focus will be on structure, I’m taking a brief step to the side, so to speak, because how you approach this endeavor is something that needs consideration. Hence a chapter about this topic before going any further seems appropriate.
Pantster* or Planner
Knowledge of your protagonist's strengths and flaws has grown and you have given some thought to the antagonist and supporting cast. So what next? Maybe you have an idea of how your story starts—someone is falling out of an airplane/off a mountain, looking over their shoulder at the sound of footsteps behind them—you’re having flashes about the storyline, perhaps even the ending? Various scenes are popping into your brain, and you’re itching to be off. Not everything is clear but you’re ready to dive in because the excitement you’re experiencing demands you put what is in your head down on the page/screen now!

Press pause for a second.
The Pantster
For the pantster the journey is writing the novel, and the destination is a complete first draft.
Think of it like this: you decide to go for a day trip to a beach you’ve not visited before. You’re going via the scenic route because, while you have a goal and a rough notion of the route, you’ve also resolved to enjoy the trip. Grabbing your purse/wallet, phone, off you go; you can pull in at a service station for snacks and gas and at any place you choose to appreciate the view. You have no idea of the exact route or how long the voyage will be, but that doesn’t bother you.
The pantster doesn’t use a structured framework, and there are many successful novelists who write using this technique because it allows them to run with ideas as they arise. They relish not knowing where the adventure will take them, the freedom and sense of being connected to their creativity. They can change direction and go where inspiration leads them. The process is spontaneous and they feel closely in touch with their imagination.

The Planner:
In this context planning is preparation, but writing the story is the destination.
Having decided to make your trip, you’re excited but delay it until the next day because you want to find the shortest route and prepare a picnic for lunch. The goal is to have more time at the destination.
Outlining chapters and scenes is a path into the narrative that enables planners to know their characters and their history in more depth. An outline is a tool that maps out the main character’s journey, helps identify weak spots in the storyline and gives a comprehensive overview.
When planners begin their novel, having scrutinized character motivations and plot points, making sure they work, they can devote themselves to writing without having to stop or backtrack (there’ll be enough of that in the editing!). Once the inventive wheels are turning, a map can provide as much detail as you choose, freeing you to concentrate on writing because you already know what will happen.
Nevertheless, simply because you have a blueprint, nothing, other than your own reluctance, prevents a change in direction whenever you feel a character or the plot requires it. Nothing is set in concrete.
IMHO the difference between the approaches are not as dissimilar as they initially appear. I see the two styles as short-term and long-term planning. Both methods require patience: pantsters because they may discover they haven’t figured out all the angles of getting from point A to point B and can spend time with characters, storylines and scenes that, ultimately, contribute nothing significant; planners because taking the time to outline means restraining the impulse to immerse themselves in the thrill of writing that first draft for a while longer.


When I started my first novel, I pounded out the version I had in my head, but arrived at a place when I could see where I wanted to get to, yet it was as if I had to cross a fast-flowing river but no bridge existed. I had to pause and figure out how to bridge that gap then went on to the finish. These days, I plan from the beginning to the end, defining chapters, scenes and emotions. But that doesn’t mean I don’t change my opinion about some aspects once I'm writinghowever, I generally find the major plot points and the protagonist's journey are sorted. 

Ideas for stories can appear fully formed or as small seeds which need nourishment, and we either seize hold of them or let them go. Writing is a process which brings ideas to life through the creation of characters and events, and no creative activity can be reduced to one all-encompassing formula. 

An excellent motto is do whatever works for you. The more you write, the more you learn what suits you and, whether that’s pantsing, planning or a combination of both in varying degrees, that is absolutely fine. 


This month’s homework is reading (and thinking about the pros and cons of each method). 

1: This is an overview of various famous authors’ outlines. Most of these were done before the digital revolution, but the point is having a visual overview serves a purpose.

2: James Patterson is a master planner. You can watch the video or read the transcript. Whether you read his novels or not, you can learn from this revealing insight into a successful writer’s method.

3.  Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method of Designing a Novel is extremely detailed, but it’s well worth taking the time to read what he has to say. 

Stay well and stay safe.
Sending lots of positive thoughts and prayers your way.
Until next month, best wishes

*Pantster: derived from the phrase ‘flying by the seat of your pants,’ i.e. to decide a course of action as you go along.

Photo: Nordwood-themes-EZSm8xRjnX0-unsplash


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