Tag Archives: writing tips

My Top Tips For Writing a Time Slip Novel By Kim Fleet


My Top Tips For Writing a Time Slip Novel By Kim Fleet

Source: My Top Tips For Writing a Time Slip Novel By Kim Fleet

A time-slip novel contains two or more stories, each set in a different time period, told in parallel with each other. In my latest novel, Holy Blood, one story line is in contemporary Cheltenham, the other in the Elizabethan Cotswolds. Writing time-slip brings its own joys (exploring new characters and situations) and challenges (double the research), so here are some tips to keep you time travelling painlessly.


Decide which is the main story: it helps you to plan your story arc and focus on the main themes of the novel. It also helps to keep characters under control – especially the bolshy ones who think it’s all about them.

Question everything. First ideas aren’t always best, and I rely on my secret weapon, the question, ‘What if?’ when I’m planning and writing a book to ensure I’ve explored all possibilities and chosen the ones that I think will work best. I ask myself, ‘What if this was set in the war? What if this character was a girl, not a boy?’

Use at least three sources for your research. I use the internet for initial research, but I always cross-check using reputable books. It’s a great excuse to get absorbed in the past. Visiting locations can help you pick up details you wouldn’t get from books.

Don’t overdo the historical details by shoehorning everything you’ve researched into the book as it makes the narrative stodgy. If you can keep the sense of the time in your mind while you write, somehow it comes out on the page.

Ensure the stories in the two time periods link up by having situations, objects or places that appear in each. Ideally, both story lines should resolve each other, even better!

Mind your language. Slightly more formal speech and the occasional thee or thou is enough to remind the reader we’re in the past. Under no circumstances use ‘Hey nonny’.

Avoid anachronisms by checking your facts rigorously and remember that not everyone uses an invention the moment it comes out. Words change their meaning, fall out of fashion, and new words come in.

Use coloured pens and index cards, allocating one card for each scene in the book, and different colours to indicate time periods. When you set them out in order you can easily see where you spend too long in one time period and need to break things up.

Use cliff hangers. One of the joys of writing time-slip is that you get a double whammy by ending a chapter on a cliff hanger and by changing time period. It makes the pace very fast.

Get your crayons out and map the connections between all your characters. A character with only one link needs to be given more to do, or be amalgamated with another ‘thin’ character. The density of connections shows where you need an extra sub-plot.


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Guidelines | Ploughshares

Ploughshares logo


Emerging Writer’s Contest

Deadline is May 22, 2017

The Emerging Writer’s Contest is open to writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry who have yet to publish or self-publish a book. The winner in each genre will be awarded $2,000. Read past winners of the contest here. To submit to the Emerging Writer’s Contest, please visit our submission manager.

The 2017 contest judges are Garth Greenwell (fiction), Meghan Daum (nonfiction), and Natalie Diaz (poetry).

The winning story, essay, and poems from the 2017 contest will be published in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Ploughshares, and each writer will receive $2,000 and two copies of the issue in which their work appears.

You are eligible if you:

  • Have yet to publish a book (including chapbooks, eBooks, translations, books in other languages/countries, and self-published works).
  • Have no book forthcoming before April 15, 2018.
  • Are not affiliated with Ploughshares or Emerson College as a contributing author, volunteer screener, blogger, intern, student, staff member, or faculty member.
  • Will not have a relationship with Emerson before April 15, 2018 (example: if there is a chance you will attend the Emerson MFA program in the coming year or if your work has been accepted for publication for an upcoming issue).

The contest opens March 1, 2017 at noon EST and has been extended to May 22, 2017 at noon EST. We will announce winners in mid-September, 2017.

Fiction and Nonfiction: Under 6,000 words
Poetry: 3-5 pages

Submit one entry per year via our online submission manager.

  • No entries via email or mail will be considered for the contest.
  • Submitted work must be original and previously unpublished in any form.
  • For poetry, we will be reading both for the strongest individual poem and the general level of work, and may choose to publish one, some, or all of the winner’s submitted poems.
  • Cover letters are not necessary. All identifying information will be removed from submissions.

Entry Fee
Entry to the contest requires a $24 fee, which is waived if the submitter is a current subscriber. The fee is:

  • Payable by Visa or MasterCard through the online submission system.
  • Includes a 1-year subscription to Ploughshares (beginning with the Spring 2017 issue and ending with the Winter 2017-18 issue).
  • Includes free submissions to the 2017 reading period

Current subscribers—through the Winter 2017-18 issue—may submit for free.*

*If you are a current subscriber, you will still be prompted to checkout, but you will not be required to enter your credit card information and will not be charged.

To submit to the Emerging Writer’s Contest, please visit our submission manager.

Source: Guidelines | Ploughshares

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Writing tip Wednesday: “Say what?”

What you say (or write) says something about you or your characters.

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Writing tip Wednesday: “Advice on Short Story”

Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice on Short Stories

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Kurt Vonnegut
    (1922 – 2007)

    Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

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Author Padgett Powell offers writing tips

For Padgett Powell, the Word of South literary festival was something of a homecoming.

Source: Author Padgett Powell offers writing tips

For Padgett Powell, the Word of South literary festival was something of a homecoming.

The award-winning novelist and author grew up in the capital city.

“I went to Hartsfield Elementary. We lived on Gadsden Street and then we moved over to Indian Head Acres,“ he said.

Before his reading Sunday, Powell trekked through his old neighborhoods.

“Nothing’s changed in the Wahalaw Nene house… It’s got some siding on it. You know, it looks crappy…Nothing’s changed,” he said.

After the personal journey, he unintentionally inspired the crowd at the literary festival at Cascades Park.

It is unintentional because he does not view himself as anything but a man set on making sense.

He has taught writing for 34 years at the University of Florida. On April 9, he read to an audience of about thirty hosted by the Midtown Reader.

There was continuous laughter throughout the reading.

“It should not be an ordeal. It shouldn’t be painful. It should be fun,” Powell said afterward. “What it comes down to is this: make up some good s—. You just write a sentence and another one.”

From his decades of teaching, Powell said his chief lesson can be summed up in two words on a blackboard: “Make sense.”

“That’ll do it. That’s it.”

But his students don’t always believe it’s that simple.

“They don’t think that’s really what happens. Or, they don’t think that’s really what’s supposed to happen. ‘The sense I have to make isn’t very good, so I can make it better if people don’t grasp it, if people don’t understand it.’ The mystery of nonsense.”

He is careful about what kind of autobiographical information he includes in his work.

“Mistakes are made using too much biography,” he warned. “You don’t write your life and change some names. For several reasons, one of which is it’s impossible to actually get it right. You’d kill yourself trying to get it right. How your heart actually got broken, you’re not going to be able to explain that to someone by reconstructing what happened.”

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7 Strategies for Revising Your Novel | WritersDigest.com

7 Strategies for Revising Your Novel

Source: 7 Strategies for Revising Your Novel | WritersDigest.com

You’ve done it: typed The End. Those two wonderful words mark your graduation from always-wanted-to-write-a-novel to someone-who-did. Congratulations. Other ideas might be cooking away in the back of your brain, making you eager to start a new project. Often, this is where the spirit wanes as new writers lose momentum for the old manuscript. Because, you didn’t finish, did you? You only finished the draft. Now you have to focus on revising your novel.

Here’s the bad news (and there’s no good news): The rewrite is tougher than the draft. The draft is infatuation. The right rewrite strengthens your fiction into something that lasts to publication and gains a significant readership.

You know this task needs triage, so you won’t copyedit too soon. You line edit for tone, consistency and language, but you want more ways to improve.

Boost your novel-polishing skills with these seven strategies.

  1. Embrace the doubt.

Those murky feelings that cloud your mind when contemplating the massive task of revision? Welcome those doubts, that hesitation. A skeptical eye confers an appropriate attitude for rewriting. Every word in every sentence must carry its weight, either revealing character or advancing the story. Now be brave enough to cut or improve weak writing.

  1. Go back-to-front when possible.

Let’s say your plan for one brief session is a specific checkpoint. You’re verifying that sensory detail engages every scene, or perhaps you just want to note how many pages are in each chapter to ensure there aren’t twenty-five chapters of about fifteen pages while one chapter sprawls to thirty-five pages. If the revision item does not have to be done starting on page one and working to the last page, flip it and work backwards. This strategy prevents paging through in a direction that can distract you into an unintended sentence-by-sentence reread. The danger of that accidental read is that it risks dulling your reaction to the prose and worse, lets you fall in love with some passages while neglecting others.

  1. Structure your novel.

It’s not too late. Whether you’re a pantser, pantser-outliner hybrid, or an outliner, your finished draft can benefit from a new, careful outline. Note what questions and stakes the protagonist faces. How does he change in the end? What about the secondary cast?

Off the top of your head, do you know how many chapters are in your book? How does each chapter start and end? Where are the key actions and turning points found? How many scenes shape each chapter? Bracket each scene on a hard copy to reveal whether too much exposition lurks between the scenes. Is the climax close enough to the end that the bulk of the tale is composed of an uphill climb? Is the denouement placed to allow a satisfying, thoughtful resolution?

Gleaning the structure is a terrific exercise in critical examination. Graph and bullet point the features as though deconstructing someone else’s novel. This is not a time for emotional attachment to the piece; just factually note everything that displays the arc of the story, then see what surprises you or doesn’t fit.

  1. Revisit characterization.

With an accurate structure in hand, revisit your character construction while remembering the point of every passage. Did you use particularity in their descriptions? Is the reader shown what motivates every main character?

Crack open the draft to any chunk of dialogue. How obvious is it which of your well-crafted characters is speaking based on the sentences within the quotes? (Ah, yes, that’s just how a pilot/mad scientist/cowgirl would say such a thing.)

Perhaps your setting approaches the standing of character. Lovely, but don’t let the prose get flabby or insignificant—this is an opportunity for imaginative choices.

  1. Task your computer.

Various software programs highlight potential weak spots such as poor grammar and punctuation, or an overuse of modifiers, but any word processing program can be employed to help electronically. Do you have a pet phrase? Use the search function to find those repeats, then fix them. If you gave a person a verbal tic (perhaps she says “Nah” instead of “No”), do a quick find for the special term to ensure it’s not overused. And if another character displays the same tic, make it intentional, not an author slip.

When creating another hard copy to hand edit, select a different font for the second printing. Because of the different spacing, switching from Times New Roman to Courier can help freshen your eyes to the words.

  1. Listen to it.

Hopefully, you read aloud when revising, but you can do more. When my publisher sent author copies of my debut novel’s audio version, I reveled in that first experience of listening to a voice-acting pro read Orchids and Stone. However, I had heard it before, read by my computer.

There are good programs available—I use Natural Reader, which offers a free trial—that lets you listen to any document. This computer-generated reading will be flat, but the robotic affect is a good thing, because your writing must stand on its own, without inflection to carry the drama and dialogue. Chances are you’ll keep putting the program on pause and clicking back to the document to make edits.

Unintended alliterations, assonance and consonance borne in every sentence and surrounding paragraph are much more apparent when voiced. You might marvel over having missed some of these now-obvious editorial problems in print or on the monitor. You’ll hear repetitions that you didn’t see.

Good reading programs allow you to select the speed and gender of the speaker. After a significant rewrite, choose the other gender for the computer’s reading voice, then listen to the entire manuscript a second time. Chances are, you’ll still discover small improvements to make.

  1. Continue to study the craft.

While your polished draft gets some drawer time or is out with beta readers, reread diverse books on writing, studying instruction on revision. Let Robert Olen Butler admonish you to avoid abstraction, interpretation and izing (don’t generalize, summarize or analyze). Pay attention when David Morrell asks if you really want to publish that sentence in that form. Listen to Sol Stein’s warning about tunnel revision—the mistake of only tweaking small ticket items on a rewriting pass while missing the big picture and exposing your pages to excessive front-to-back reading, which makes your editing eye grow cold.

Improving your knowledge of the craft will improve your rewriting skills.

Here’s the deal: new writers often mire themselves and their work in the world of the unpublished due to a lack of self-editing their way to a polished manuscript. The only hope your draft has of becoming a well-read novel is you, and how much effort you put into the rewrite. Go all in.


Lisa Preston. Preston is the author of Orchids and Stone as well as several nonfiction books on animal care. Her experiences as a mountain climber, fire-department paramedic, and police sergeant are channeled into fiction that is suspenseful, fast paced, and well acquainted with human drama. She has lived in Arizona, California, and Alaska and now makes her home in western Washington. Visit her at lisapreston.com and on Facebook at facebook.com/lisa.preston.3152.

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J.K. Rowling Just Gave The Best Advice Any Aspiring Writer Will Ever Receive

“Just because it didn’t find an audience, that doesn’t mean it’s bad work.”

Source: J.K. Rowling Just Gave The Best Advice Any Aspiring Writer Will Ever Receive

She went on to explain that, even if a particular piece of work doesn’t find an audience, the things you learn while creating it will be invaluable to you in the future.


And that just because something doesn’t find commercial (or critical) success, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be proud of it!


“Once you’ve done it, you’ll know you can do it again,” she wrote. “So do not ever quit out of fear of rejection.”

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