Smooth transitions can help your story flow

Do you feel you need to account for every moment and movement in a scene? I’ve found a lot of new writers do.

But look at this extract from Emily Bitto’s beautiful novel The Strays. The young protagonist has just moved back into her parents’ house after a traumatic experience. She wakes after a deep sleep:

I saw that my suitcase had been brought into my room, and I got up, my head throbbing, and changed my clothes.

My mother was in the kitchen.

‘You slept a long time. You must have needed it.’

What an elegant transition. The writer doesn’t need to tell us that she goes into the kitchen after she dresses, it’s clear – and cleaner – without it.

Here’s the rest of the scene:

‘Where is everyone?’

‘Gone to church.’

‘What time is it?’

‘Almost eleven. Are you hungry?’

I nodded and found myself abruptly in my new life.


In early drafts it’s likely that you will include more detail than is needed. This is perfectly understandable; you are still working out what’s going on and what’s important. But as you review your work, keep an eye out for where you can pare back information to allow the key elements to shine, and to let the story flow.

Good luck intrepid writer, and enjoy the adventure.



The magic of reading and how head hopping can break the spell

I’ve just finished reading a book in which about 90% of the story was from the point of view of the central character, Jo, (limited third person narrator) then every now and then it would slip into the mind of someone else (omniscient narrator).

I’d be right there with Jo as she was struggling to navigate her relationships with her moody teenage daughter or her new man, then the narrator would tell me what her daughter or lover, or even a minor character, was thinking, and the spell was broken. I became aware of the writer’s presence and Jo became a character rather than a person whose journey I was sharing.

If I were the editor of this book, first I would lavish it with praise for its fresh energetic voice, its rounded characters and its magnificent sense of place, then I would gently ask the author why she chose to tell us what was going on in other characters’ minds, rather than hinting at it through their actions.

The contract a writer enters into with a reader is a delicate one. Your reader agrees to believe in the characters you have invented, and you promise to take them on a journey with those characters. For the magic to happen, you need to trust your reader (and the power of your writing) to find their way and make the connections, just as the reader has trusted you to tell them the story in the first place.

It’s tempting to direct your readers every step of the way, but the reading experience can be so much more powerful if you melt into the background and allow your reader to become fully immersed in the story and the characters’ experiences.

Good luck intrepid writer, keep making the magic.


Same sex marriage survey and the semicolon

When I posted this on facebook the night of the marriage survey results, I got a number of responses from friends agreeing with the sentiment (we have the lefty gen X ambivalence to marriage) but my favourite comment was ‘nice use of the semicolon’.

I thought so too, so I was secretly glad he noticed.

I could have separated the two statements with a comma, or made them two separate sentences, but neither of these were quite right, I needed the subtle power of the semicolon to show the relationship of these two observations. This is when a semicolon is at the height of its powers, separating and joining at the same time. It keeps things close, but not too close.

As The Style Manual says:

… although the semicolon is often neglected, it is a very useful punctuation mark and, properly employed, can bring elegance and variety to your writing.

‘Properly employed’ in this context means that:

  1. it’s used to separate clauses, not phrases or single words
  2. the clauses on either side are of equal weight, maybe even symbiotic.

Even though writing fashion is shifting towards lighter punctuation, I think there will always be a place for this lovely little mark that does so much with so little.

Of all the things to come out of Wednesday’s postal vote survey result, I bet you never thought one of them would be an ode to the semicolon.

Two-minute tip: check your spell check settings

If your document has uppercase headings, check they are not going to be overlooked by spell check (which happened to me this week … eek!).

Here’s an example (strangely close to my real-life experience, but words have been changed to protect the innocent).


Settings are found in the spelling and grammar dialogue box under options.


And here’s the culprit.


As you probably know, spell check is a handy but fickle friend – useful for a final sweep but not to be totally relied upon, especially if the settings are not quite right.

Journey of a book

Every book has a different journey from idea to shelf, but I’m sure there are some commonalities.

When Nichola Scurry, an author I worked with over a couple of years,  asked me to speak at the launch of her debut novel, I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew a lot about her book but not much about her journey writing it, except that it had started off as a sort of memoir, and that she wanted to self publish. So I took that idea and made up the rest.

Here’s what I said (with the preface that it was an imagined journey). I wonder if some of it resonates with you.

A woman sits at her writing desk, looking through what she’s written over the last few months, heart hammering. She’s just had a little thrill of an idea. She wonders if what started as a sort of memoir to share with family, could actually become a novel.

She’s never written a novel before, but she’s read plenty. How hard can it be?

A woman sits with her writing group, heart hammering. She’s about to workshop for the first time. Maybe they’ll hate it. Maybe they’ll say it’s rubbish. It probably is rubbish. Yesterday she thought it was quite good, but today she’s almost definitely certain it’s rubbish.

They don’t hate it. They like bits, offer ideas, see potential that she hadn’t noticed. She gets a little thrill, maybe this is going to work out after all.

So… many more workshops, quite a few drafts and an unspecified number of years later, it’s done. It’s a novel.

Time for an editor. She sends it off, heart hammering. Maybe it’s rubbish. It probably is rubbish. Yesterday she thought it was quite good, but today she’s almost definitely certain it’s rubbish.

The editor doesn’t think it’s rubbish. But she does think it needs work. There’s more work? My god, will this ever end?

So… she works her way through the editor’s assessment, slashing and burning precious scenes that apparently ‘aren’t adding to the story’ (editors are such sadists), reworking story lines, rewriting chapters.

She workshops new material with the editor, writes some more, edits some more, writes edits writes edits writes edits. My god will this ever end?

Well apparently it does end. Because here we are. After a round of copyediting and reviewing the editor’s suggestions,

a round of proofreading,


cover design,

getting an ISBN and CIP,

finding a printer,

setting up online distribution,

developing a social media author profile,

arranging a book launch,

publicising the book launch,

making sure that she doesn’t forget to invite anyone to the book launch,

getting weary self and boxes of books to the book launch…

well actually… it’s not the end at all.

It’s the beginning.

The beginning of Dot’s story being out there, on bedside tables, on trams and trains, at cafés, on the beach, in holiday suitcases.

It’s been a long journey, no doubt with its ups and downs, but she made it.

Dot’s out of your hands now Nic, and she’s about to make her way into people’s hearts. She’s a great character with a funny and poignant story, and I know people are going to enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed editing it.


It’s an exciting journey, with ups and downs and downs and ups, but ultimately ups. Keep writing, scheming and dreaming intrepid writer, and may your book find its rightful place on many people’s bookshelves and bedside tables.


This week I’m in love with … this passage about memory by Hannah Kent

It’s a silent memory, and one, like the others, I can’t quite trust. Memories shift like loose snow in a wind, or are a chorale of ghosts talking over one another.

Hannah Kent, Burial Rights

No wonder this book won so many hearts as well as awards. What an astonishing debut novel. If you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean. If you’ve not, put it on your list.

Fancy reading a sample chapter of her new book The Good People? (Yes please!) Here’s a link.