Wednesday, September 28

How To Write A Choose Your Own Adventure Novel, Part 3: Keeping A Reader's Interest

Have you ever wanted to write a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) story? I have! But I had no idea how to begin. I'd never written something with the unique branching structure these stories have. Though, one would think, it can't be that hard. Right? (Yep. I have a feeling that falls into the category of famous last words.)

(How to Write a Choose Your Own Adventure Novel, Part 1)

I had been planning to dive into the technical side of the branching structure today—how many nodes (/narrative blocks) should I include, what shape should the decision tree be, what kind of choices should be presented? How many choices should there be? And so on.—and I will! But there's just too much material to cover in one post, so I'll pick this discussion up again next time.

Today, let's concentrate on the branching nature of a CYOA story and how to capture, and hold, a reader's interest. By the way, a terrific article that influenced my thinking about CYOA stories—and which has informed many of the points I make below—is "Writing Tips: how to write a choose your own adventure story," by Len Morse. [1]

CYOA Stories: How to Entertain Readers

Here are three tips on how to keep your audience's interest:

1. Don't make it too simple, have your plotlines intersect.

In a choose your own adventure story the branching nature is an essential element of the story. It's part of the fun! A CYOA story isn't meant to be read once then put aside. Readers want to finish and then go back and try alternate routes.

This means that if your story doesn't provide an interesting enough structure, a tempting structure to explore, that they'll be disappointed. For example, you want to use a structure where various timelines occasionally intersect. For example [1]:

See also [2]:

I'm not going to say too much more about this right now since I'll be revisiting the unique structure of a CYOA story in my next post.

2. Think about the stakes.

Briefly, the stakes of a story are the possible consequences of a course of action. What will happen if the protagonist achieves her goal? What will happen if she doesn't? Stakes generate conflict and, therefore, suspense.

I've written a blog post about stakes and their importance so, rather than re-writing that post here, if you'd like to read more about this and see an example of how stakes generate suspense, head over to "Stakes: How To Make Goals Matter."

In CYOA stories (and this applies to any genre story) the goal of the writer is to entertain the reader. If we can give our readers an epiphany concerning life the universe and everything while we're at it, then great! But, primarily, we want to entertain them.

Mix up the stakes. This part is common sense, but I'm going to say it anyway. Stakes should vary. Readers don't want every choice to be life or death and they don't want every choice to be unimportant (often humourous choices are trivial, or seem trivial). It's good to have a mix. Even if you're writing a serious end-of-the-world supernatural horror CYOA, throwing in a bit of humor is a good thing. (Think of Breaking Bad.)

Have stakes follow structure. One thing to keep in mind when creating these branching choices is the protagonist's overriding goal. It is often more effective to have a greater percentage of trivial stakes in the beginning and have most of the stakes toward the end be more weighty.

If you look at the structure of a story this makes sense. The beginning of a story is slower. You have to introduce the characters and the setting. This takes time and, although you can definitely include action, it's not as action packed, not as intense. And, of course, it couldn't be because reader's aren't yet invested in the characters. If you put the protagonist's life in danger too early your readers might shrug and think, "Who cares?"

In the final act (this is true whether one uses a three or four act structure) all the characters have been introduced and (quite likely) we're somewhat familiar with the setting. Now there is nothing to do but pit the antagonist against our protagonist. As a result this part of the story generally moves quite quickly.

3. The number of choices.

If any of you have played a D&D game, this will be familiar to you. You've just begun playing and you walk up to another  character. After some text that orients you in the situation—who they are and who they are to you (to you personally, as well as to folks like you). In D&D certain classes and races react in certain ways to each other. One class looks down on another, etc. So, anyway, after the setup your character meets someone. You have a choice: be the rebel badass by giving her zingy (or belligerent) one-liners. You could be conciliatory or you could try and fight her.

But at base, a choice involves at least two choices. That said, I've noticed that many choices I've come across in games involve three choices:

First choice: An option.

Second choice: The opposite of the first choice.

Third choice: Something completely different.

For instance: 1) Fight. 2) Flee. 3) Negotiate.

4. Drop hints about what lies on the other side.

Let's say the protagonist is standing in front of portals. Maybe two portals, maybe three. Perhaps—writers gone wild!—even four. But let's say there's only two. Sometimes you want to give your readers a clue about what lies on the other side of the portal.

And then of course you can set up your own kind of language, your own meaning. For instance, if two portals appear before your character you could have a red gem before one and a blue gem before another (Yes, I'm thinking about the Matrix!). That could give your readers a hint about what lies beyond.

Part of the beauty of this is that the writer can lie to (er, I mean misdirect) readers.

For instance, the person who placed the gems wants to fool you. They've reversed them so, now, the blue gem would lead to enlightenment and the red pill would be reality as normal.

Obviously that's just an example, and perhaps not the best one! Perhaps you can think of a better one. If you do, tell us! Leave a comment.

Next installment: How to Write a CYOA Novel, Part Four.

Want to have all this information in one place? Get How to Write a CYOA Story! Right now it's only $0.99.


1. "Writing Tips: how to write a choose your own adventure story," by Len Morse.
2. This seems to be from what is an analysis essay assignment. Here's the link to the assignment, and here are links to the maps (first, second).
3. This is from the article: ETEC540: Text Technologies.

Monday, September 26

C.S. Lewis: Writing Advice

C.S. Lewis: Writing Advice

To say that C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, while true, doesn't begin to cover the enormity of my debt to him.

When I was a child he was the writer. I read the seven Chronicles of Narnia books in a gasp, one a day. My parents didn't see me for a week!

Mom would knock on my door and try to lure me out of my room every once in awhile—her efforts were NOT rewarded. But that's okay. She was a reader too and C.S. Lewis was on her 'approved writers' list. And she knew there were only seven books!

Today I was going to continue my series on how to create a Choose Your Own Adventure story (see here and here), but I'm not going to do that. Something happened on the weekend that I'm still reacting to and, as a result, I have the attention span of a gnat and the emotional stability of ... hmmm, well, say, of someone watching "The Fault is in Our Stars" for the 10th consecutive time!

Instead, I'm going to write about C.S. Lewis' advice to writers. For me, this is a bit like hugging a favorite blanket. I loved Lewis' work as a child; his novels are exemplars of what I consider interesting, absorbing, well-written stories.

C.S. Lewis' Writing Advice:

C.S. Lewis gave many different kinds of writing advice over the years. What I share, below, is his advice as it relates to language use. This advice comes from a wonderful blog post over at, Writing Advice from C.S. Lewis.

1. Clarity is King

C.S. Lewis writes,

"Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else."

A similar piece of writing advice, one that Stephen King often gives, is to kill your darlings. In other words, remove those bits of text that don't do anything to further the story but which the writer is inordinately attached to. This is advice to ruthlessly de-clutter our writing in an effort to make our story as streamlined, as clear (and therefore as compelling) as we possibly can.

King follows the rule of thumb to reduce his manuscript word count by 10% before he submits it. Excellent advice, and not just for fiction writing.

2. Be direct. Forceful.

C.S. Lewis writes,

"Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them."

In other words: use language like an athlete training for a big race. Make your sentence a sprint, make your scene a five minute mile.

What does the athlete want? Often the goal is either to win the race or beat their own best time. A writer's goal is similar. We want our books, our stories, to reach the number one spot on the bestseller lists or, failing that, we want our work-in-process to be the very best we've ever written. The way to do this is, I would argue, similar in both cases: be intentional. As you write, hone your skill. Try out new things. Do you feel most comfortable writing in the third person? Try it from the first person! Do you write best using the past tense? Then try writing from the present tense. Do you normally write from one point of view? Next time, try alternating points of view. And so on.

Words and paragraphs are tools a writer uses to create and communicate meaning. Be ruthless. Pair down your words, hone the meaning and in so doing you will expose the story.

3. Favor concrete nouns over abstract ones.

C.S. Lewis writes,

"Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean 'More people died' don’t say 'Mortality rose.'"

Again, clarity is king.

4. Don't let fear drive you to use adverbs.

C.S. Lewis writes,

"Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was 'terrible,' describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was 'delightful'; make us say 'delightful' when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers 'Please will you do my job for me.'"

I know this post is about C.S. Lewis' writing advice and yet I keep turning to Stephen King (if you haven't read On Writing you really, really, should), but what Lewis says here is very close to what King says in On Writing BUT Lewis' comment is more explanatory. I'll give you a quote from On Writing and then I'll say a few words about how Lewis' advice helps explain what King is on about. I'm devoting time to this because I've often been puzzled by King's assertion of the link between fear/timidity and adverb use). King writes:

"Adverbs, you will remember from your own version of Business English, are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. With the passive voice, the writer usually expresses fear of not being taken seriously; it is the voice of little boys wearing shoepolish mustaches and little girls clumping around in Mommy’s high heels. With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

"Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?"

Lewis is talking about adjectives while King is talking about adverbs (at least those that end in -ly), but I think the point each writer is trying to make is, essentially (ack!), the same.

When we write things like, "She jumped up and down. It was delightful," it IS like we're giving our readers stage direction. We're telling them what they should see in their mind's eye, we are telling them what they should feel. We say: This event is delightful, that is how you, Dear Reader, will think of it.

But, of course, that's telling not showing. As Lewis says, we're sloughing off the job of picturing this to the reader. Why? We do this because of fear. We do this because we're scared that, otherwise, our writing won't be able to communicate the meaning we want to express, the thought we want to express. Fearful and perhaps a bit embarrassed, we reach for an adjective or adverb that will tell the reader how they should feel, rather than using language, using our writing, to drag them into the world of the story and the mind of the narrator.

(Stephen King: What is writing? Telepathy, of course!)

5. Use the right word for the right job.

C.S. Lewis writes,

"Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."

This is KISS: Keep it simple, silly. Again, go for precision. Choose simple words that cleanly and clearly express your meaning.

If you would like to read about C.S. Lewis' daily routine, here's a blog post about just that over on C.S. Lewis's Ideal Daily Routine.

My hope is that you will find something in this post that inspires you to continue writing strong, fearless, prose. (That's also my hope for myself!)

Just as athletes must train, so writers need to hone their craft. I like to use short writing exercises to try out new things (for example, to write in a different tense or from a different perspective). Here is a list of writing prompts if you'd like to try it out.

That's it! I'll talk to you again on Wednesday. Until then, good writing!

By the way, if you love listening to audiobooks (I do!) as well as radio plays (I do!) here is the best of both: the Chronicles of Narnia turned into a radio play! The best part is that you get it for free if you subscribe to Audible.

(Yes, that's an affiliate link, but this is a product I would love to buy and so don't hesitate to recommend. Also, clicking this link won't increase the price you pay for the product, but Amazon will put a small amount of money in my account, and every little bit helps to sustain this blog. If you'd like to contribute in another way, I also have a Patreon page.) Thanks!

Friday, September 23

Bloggers: 10 Sites With Public Domain, High Resolution, Images

Bloggers: 10 Sites With Public Domain, High Resolution, Images

I was just reading another terrific post by Joanna Penn: 7 Mistakes You're Making With Your Author Blog And How To Fix Them. All her points hit the spot but one of them ... I felt like she was writing to me. Well, perhaps not the person I am today, but the one I was a few years ago: I didn't use enough images in my blog posts. (Maybe I still don't!)

I sympathize with folks who shy away from using images. On the one hand it is vitally important to use photos in posts. I can tell you from experience, it makes a huge difference in terms of discoverability. But it is time consuming.

Images Need To Have A Licence

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but it must be said: it's crucial that for any picture used, one needs to be crystal clear about how it is licenced. It can be tempting to use one of the many gorgeous pictures that comes up in Google Images. But don't do it, it's a trap!

So, where can one get appropriately licenced images? The first images I used were from the Creative Commons over at Flickr. Flickr has developed a friendly, vibrant, community of photographers and I had a lot of fun getting to know some of the artists whose work I used on a regular basis.

Creative Commons Images Require Attribution

Images with a Creative Commons licence require that you credit the creator. To which I say, "Of course!" That's a no-brainer and I was thrilled to do it. That's how I got to know many of the photographers over at flickr, they tracked me down and left wonderful comments on my blog.

On the other hand, putting in the attribution, getting it right, embedding all the links, takes time. If you're anything like me, there just aren't enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to get done. And, hey, sleeping would be nice!

So, lately, I've been using public domain photos for my blog. But this raised another problem: it was difficult to find decent, high resolution, photographs. Then I stumbled across a Wikipedia article (Public domain image resources) that listed dozens of sites offering public domain photos.

Images Should Have Metadata

I say "should," but of course it's up to you. I've found, though, that tagging images with metadata helps readers discover my blog. For example, the other day I googled "short story structure" and was knock-me-down-with-a-feather surprised when one of the images from my blog came up! When I clicked "visit page" it took me right to my blog article! Now, I'm not sure anyone ever actually came to my blog that way, but every little bit helps. What I do is try to remember to take time to fill in the "title" field and the "alt" field with information that accurately describes the article I'm placing the picture in.

The Upshot: All This Takes Time

It is undeniably important to have photos on one's blog, not just because it helps your blog become discovered, but because it makes blog posts look more polished. That said, it can be an enormous drain on one's time. First one has to find appropriately licenced photos, then one needs to embed them in one's blog article (I usually have to resize them first), then tag them with appropriate metadata. That can take a lot of time, it used to take me an extra 20 or 30 minutes per post.

Two Solutions: Word Swag & Public Domain Photos

Word Swag

An app that has saved me massive amounts of time is Word Swag. Yes, that's an affiliate link, but the ONLY reason I'm recommending that app as opposed to another is because I use it daily and love it. It is a very simple app, there aren't a lot of bells and whistles. But, for me, that's part of its appeal. I pick a photo, slap on some text, choose a layout for the text, tweak the colors and that's it! It saves me a ton of time because—frustratingly!—Word Swag can make images look far better than I can and in a fraction of the time. I've used Canva and love it but, for me, Word Swag is easier. There is no learning curve and it just does what I want it to do. That said, if another solution is working for you, stay with it! Don't waste your valuable time exploring solutions to a problem you don't have.

Public Domain Photos

I mentioned, above, that I came across a list of sites that host public domain photos. Here are a few of my favorites:

If you don't already use photos for your blog, try it out. See how it feels, see whether it makes a difference in your traffic. See whether you look at your blog, at your blog posts, differently. (Personally I think a blog post with a nice high resolution photograph just looks great!) But, in the final analysis, it's all about what works for you. Try things out, experiment, find out what you like; then you can make a reasonable, informed, decision.

That's it! I'd love to hear whether you use images on your blog and whether you've found they make a difference in terms of traffic or reader engagement.

Over the weekend I'll post a writing prompt, so head over there or follow me on Twitter if you want a quick writing workout.

Have an awesome weekend and I'll talk to you again on Monday. In the meantime, good writing!

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Wednesday, September 21

How To Write A Choose Your Own Adventure Novel, Part Two

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post, How to Write a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) story. It's one of my favorite posts because I love CYOA stories. I mean, who wouldn't? They're a cross between a book and a game!

Anyway, I've always wanted to expand on that first post and, today, decided there is no time like the present. If you haven't read my previous post, and don't have time right now, here's a list of what that post covered:

  • What a CYOA story is.
  • A way of thinking about the plot in a CYOA story.
  • The overall structure of a CYOA story.
  • The structure of each block or scene in a CYOA story.
  • What kind of endings a CYOA story might have.
  • What kind of characters to include.
  • Whether a CYOA story should have a subplot.
  • Pros and cons of writing a CYOA story.
  • Today I want to expand on one of the themes I touched on back then: the structure of each block or scene in a CYOA story. Next time I'll discuss in more detail the unique overall structure of a CYOA story.

Enough preamble, let's get started!

The Narrative Blocks of a Choose Your Own Adventure Story

Novels are composed of scenes and sequels.

Let's talk about scenes. Just like a story, each scene has a beginning, a middle and an end. In the beginning we establish the characters and setting, in the middle conflict is generated by characters who strive to achieve their goals and inevitably fall short. At the end of the scene, though there is a resolution of sorts, often the hero will fall short of reaching his scene goal.

So that's a scene. What is a sequel? I'll let Jim Butcher explain this. On his Livejournal, he writes:
Sequels are what happens as an aftermath to a scene. They do several specific things:

1) Allow a character to react emotionally to a scene's outcome.

2) Allow a character to review facts and work through the logical options of his situation.

3) They allow a character to ponder probable outcomes to various choices.

4) They allow a character to make a CHOICE--IE, to set themselves a new GOAL for the next SCENE.

Do you see how neat that is? Do you see how simply that works out?

1) Scene--Denied!

2) Sequel--Damn it! Think about it! That's so crazy it just might work!--New Goal!

3) Next Scene!

Repeat until end of book.


When I write a scene, I use index cards, one card per scene. The cards themselves can be physical index cards—I've outlined that way many times!—but, of course, there's an app for that these days. I use the Index Card app. In any case, here is the information I put on the cards:

1. GOAL: What does the main character want?

For each main character in the scene, list her goal for that scene. Each character's goal should be concrete and specific enough to take a picture of. Note: each character's goal should tie into their overall story goal.

2. STAKES: What does the character have to win or lose?

For each main character in the scene, if the character achieves her goal, what will she win? Conversely, if the character loses, what will she lose? Whatever it is, make it concrete, make it something you could take a picture of.

3. WHO: Who is in the scene?

Make a list of all the characters in the scene and then, for each of them, go through these questions:

What is this character's goal?
Does the character achieve her goal?
If the character doesn't achieve her goal, what does she lose?
If the character does achieve the goal how does her life change? What does she win?

4. WHAT: What happens in the scene?

Summarize what happens in the scene in one or two sentences.

5. WHERE: Where does the action in the scene take place?

  • Is the setting vivid? Memorable?
  • Does the setting present the main character with a challenge?
  • Is the setting unusual? Suprising? Unexpected? Remarkable? (Think of Fangorn Forest in the Lord of the Rings.)
  • Does the setting help you showcase the characters strengths and weaknesses?
  • Does the setting have special significance to any of the characters?
  • Does the setting tie in with the theme?

Note: Not all these questions will be relevant for each setting.

6. WHEN: When does the action in the scene take place?

Does the action take place inside or outside? Is it day or night? What time is it? What date is it?

7. URGENCY: Why does the main character have to attain their goal now?

Why must the protagonist attain their goal? What is pushing them, and the action of the story, forward?

Often—perhaps too often!—this is taken care of by a ticking clock of some kind. This doesn't have to literally be a ticking clock (though sometimes it is). Perhaps one of the characters is ill and requires treatment, or perhaps (as with Sherlock Holmes) the main character is simply bored.

8. OPPOSITION: Urgency is a force pushing forward (—>) where Opposition is a force pushing backward (<—).

Urgency and Opposition both act on the main character, and perhaps other characters, but definitely the main character.

For example:

Urgency: The main character is ill and must receive treatment soon or they will die.

Opposition: The nearest hospital is over a day's walk away and the character requires treatment within the next couple of hours.

Resolution: The character collapses but is found by a hiker who happens to have a satellite phone.

Urgency: Sherlock Holmes is bored. If he doesn't get an interesting case soon, he will start shooting up Mrs Hudson's walls.

Opposition: John Watson, or perhaps Mycroft Holmes, wants Sherlock to do something ordinary and uninteresting.

Resolution: Someone comes to Sherlock with an interesting case.

For more about structuring a scene see: Using Index Cards to Outline a Novel.


Sequels help orient the reader in the overall story and are great for revealing character. Let's face it, we read not just because we're interested in what will happen next, we read because we're interested in the characters, in what is happening to them. That's why we care, that's what pulls us through a book.

Making readers care about your characters is essential to good storytelling. If we can do that then we will have devoted readers. Mastering the sequel is the key to this.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. What are the elements of a sequel? Here's Jim Butcher again:
Here's the basic structure to a sequel. [...]:





And it MUST happen in THAT ORDER.
Let's go over this point by point:

1. Emotional reaction.

Sequels are all about reaction. At the beginning of the sequel we see the character reacting to whatever happened at the end of the scene. Recall that at the end of the previous scene the character underwent a stressful experience—most likely a setback—and now we get to see how they react to it. This, right here, is a large part of character development. How we react to major setbacks reveals character. This is true in real life and it's equally true in literature.

2. Review, Logic & Reason.

The character has had their emotional reaction, now they need to think about what happened. The character goes over exactly what happened and they seek to understand it. Why did it happen? The character seeks to understand their failure.

3. Anticipation and Planning.

The character turns from looking backward to looking forward. Given that this happened in the past, what is likely to happen in the future? Given that the antagonist whipped my hide just now, how can I change my tactics so that doesn't happen again? Part of the anticipation phase is thinking of various things that could happen, various possible futures, possible paths the protagonist could take. The protagonist thinks about each of these possibilities and how he or she could respond.

4. Choice.

Now it is time for the protagonist to choose which path to take. He has had his emotional reaction. He has calmed down and thought about it calmly. He has thought about various things the antagonist could do next and how he might counter it. Now it is time to choose among these possibilities and finalize the plan. This gives the protagonist a new goal and leads into the next scene.

Next installment: How to Write a CYOA Novel, Part Three.

Want to have all this information in one place? Get How to Write a CYOA Story! Right now it's only $0.99 on Amazon.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I'm recommending, Elements of Fiction Writing: Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell. From the blurb: "Ramp up the tension and keep your readers hooked! Inside you'll find everything you need to know to spice up your story, move your plot forward, and keep your readers turning pages. Expert thriller author and writing instructor James Scott Bell shows you how to craft scenes, create characters, and develop storylines that harness conflict and suspense to carry your story from the first word to the last."


This has been a blog post about how to write a CYOA story, but what I've said, above, is true for any story. Next time I will dive into the unique aspects of CYOA stories and examine their structure. Also, I'll talk about how to approach scenes and sequels given the branching nature of a CYOA story.

That's it! Tomorrow I'll post a writing prompt on my Wordpress site (I tweet them as well), so head over there if you'd like to do a quick writing warmup! Otherwise, I'll talk to you again on Monday. Have a great weekend and, in the meantime, good writing!

Monday, September 19

Submit Your Work: 7 Paying Markets

Submit Your Work: 7 Paying Markets

Even if you practice the art and craft of writing for the pure fun of it, it's always nice to get paid! In light of this I thought I'd do something a bit different and list a few paying markets that are (at the time this was written) accepting submissions.

Be sure to examine submission guidelines closely before sending off your work, and read a few of the short stories/articles published by the market to get a feel for what the magazine wants. Good luck!

(The following markets were taken from the extensive market listing over at

Fiction Markets 



Submission Guidelines: 

What they're looking for:
"We are always looking for thoughtful, well written fiction. Our definition of what constitutes science fiction, horror and fantasy is extremely broad and we love to see material which pushes at the boundaries or crosses between genres." 
Payment: 0.06 cents per word. Prefer stories between 2,500 and 8,000 words.


If you get accepted by Analog, 99.99% of other science fiction writers will be green with envy. It is, along with Asimov's, one of the best markets in the world for science fiction.


Submission Guidelines: 

What they're looking for:
"Basically, we publish science fiction stories. That is, stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley's Frankenstein without the science and you'll see what I mean. No story!"

"The science can be physical, sociological, psychological. The technology can be anything from electronic engineering to biogenetic engineering. But the stories must be strong and realistic, with believable people (who needn't be human) doing believable things–no matter how fantastic the background might be."
Payment: Between 6 and 9 cents per word. 

Andromeda Spaceways 


Submission Guidelines:

What they're looking for:
"We accept science fiction, fantasy and supernatural horror works up to 10,000 words in length."

  • Short Fiction: 1 cent/word (AUD) with a AUD$20 minimum and $100 maximum per piece.
  • Poetry, and Flash Fiction (under 1000 words): AUD$10 per piece.
  • Non-fiction: AUD$10 for articles of 1000 words or greater.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies 


Submission Guidelines:

What they're looking for:
"Beneath Ceaseless Skies publishes “literary adventure fantasy”: stories with a secondary-world setting and some traditional or classic fantasy feel, but written with a literary approach."

"We strongly prefer under 11,000 words. We will consider stories over that length, but the longer a story is, the better it must be."
Payment: 6 cents per word.

Non-Fiction Markets 

A List Apart 


Submission Guidelines:

What they're looking for:
  • Features: 1,500 to 2,000 words. Pays $200 per article. 
  • Articles: 600 to 1,500 words. Pays $100 per article. 
  • Mini-Articles: 500 to 600 words. Pays $50 per article. 

Alaska Parent 


Submission Guidelines:

What they're looking for:

  • Features: 800 to 1,200 words. 
  • Short Features: 500 to 800 words. 
  • Tips: 150 to 600 words. 


  • Original articles: $40 to $200
  • Reprints: $25 to $40



Submission Guidelines:

What they're looking for: Articles about apps.

Payment: Around $60 per article. See submission guidelines for details.

Want more writing markets? I've mentioned, but there is also The Submission Grinder. It's free and has information on over 1,500 markets.

That's it! I've been thinking about doing a series on various markets writers can sell their work to, both fiction and nonfiction, so let me know if you want more posts like this.

Tomorrow I'll post a writing prompt over on my new site, so check that out if you want a writing workout. Otherwise I'll talk to you again on Wednesday. Till then, good writing!

Friday, September 16

Creating a Three Dimensional Character

Creating a Three Dimensional Character

Three dimensional characters are interesting. Readers care about them. So the question is: What makes a character three dimensional?

Robert Mckee, in his wonderful tome, "Story," talks about how giving characters opposing qualities helps breathe life into them.

One way to make a character three dimensional is to give them diametrically conflicting characteristics. And, of course, the best way to do this is to show and not tell. Which raises the question: if a character is, say, both generous and selfish how do we show this?

Showing opposing characteristics:

1. People. Have the protagonist interact with different people. With one person they are, for example, bold and outgoing, with another they are shy and retiring.
2. Setting. Either have one character interact with two different settings, or have two characters who have opposite characteristics interact with the same environment.
3. Time. Look at a character at different times. (This is, I think, the most common way of exploring character.)

How to show opposing characteristics:

1. Using other fictional people to develop character.

In real life I wouldn't act one way to a friend and the next second act the complete opposite way. For instance, I wouldn't give a friend—or anyone!—a big bearhug and then slap their face. That behavior wouldn't even make sense.

Obviously, our characters shouldn't behave that way either. If we want to use our character's interactions with other, fictional, people to bring out diametrically opposed aspects of their personality then we craft other characters to specifically tease these characteristics out.

For instance, with one character—perhaps a character who is absent-minded (they’re always dropping things, forgetting where they left their glasses, their keys, etc.)—the protagonist is snippy and short. But with another character, perhaps one that is polished and who comes from a wealthy family, the protagonist goes to great lengths to be pleasant. This tells the reader much more than if we either just showed one side of the protagonist or told the reader the character in question was a snob.

2. Using setting to show character.

Think of a haunted house. The dark hallways, the creaking floorboards, the mysterious groans as the house settles. You turn a corner and a sticky cobweb stretches across your face and ... what’s that? Something cold and slimy presses against your cheek. You scream and fling it off you, not really wanting to know what it was, but you can’t help it, you’re curious. You look at the object lying before you. It’s long and thin, slightly curved and covered in what looks like oil. It's a severed human finger! (Cue screaming violins.)

So there we have a setting. Now let's look at how that setting can help us with characterization.

Let's say Character A is naturally skittish and doesn't like dark old houses with ominously creaking floorboards. How would this character behave in the setting described above? I think that, like Gus on Psych, he would scream and run. (At least, that’s what I’d do!).

But what would a character like Indiana Jones do if confronted with a severed finger in the way described? I think Indy would look at it dispassionately, wonder who the finger used to belong to, then step over it. This shows us that Indy is the kind of person who has seen (and possibly done) it all. Nothing phases him. As was the case in Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is even more effective when you pair someone like Character A with Indy (as they in fact did).

Then, to show that Indy isn't just a calloused adventurer, that he is human, throw a few snakes in with him. That's right! The animal he is truly scared of. This shows us that Indy is both brave and timid, and we've demonstrated this simply by changing the environment. (The idea is to tailor the setting, the environment, to bring out these aspects of character.)

When we use a setting to show who our characters are as opposed to telling our readers who they are, not only do we avoid boring exposition, but we create movement, action and, ultimately, (hopefully!) interest.

3. Character change over time.

The most common way to exhibit opposite traits in a character is to do it over a span of time.

We’re all familiar with this. The protagonist starts his journey as, say, a cringing milquetoast and, over the course of the story, gains confidence in his abilities, in himself. At the climax, he courageously faces the very scary antagonist and defeats her.

This is also what we mean by a character arc.

That's it for today! I'll post writing exercises on my new site ( Saturday and Sunday and share them in my Twitter feed. Then on Monday I'll be back here with a new blog post. Until then, good writing!

Other articles you might be interested in:

The Key to Making a Character Multidimensional: Pairs of Opposites
Characterization Or Plot: Which Is Most Important To Readers?
Tags & Traits: Characterization And Building Empathy

Wednesday, September 14

Writing Advice: The Wisdom of the Web

Writing Advice: The Wisdom of the Web

Today I want to share some of what I'm calling the Wisdom of the Web. There are many wonderful writing blogs out there with wonderfully helpful content. Today I'd like to share three blog posts I thought contained excellent advice.

1. The 5 Most Common Mistakes Writers Make When Seeking Book Reviews, by Gisela Hausmann.

This is from C.S. Lakin over at Live, Write, Thrive.

Top Amazon reviewer Gisela Hausmann gives advice on how to approach a reviewer with a request to review your book. This is a daunting task since top Amazon reviewers receive more than 200 requests per week!

According to Hausmann, here are a few mistakes to avoid:

  • Make sure your request does not read like a form letter. You're a writer, let your distinct voice shine through. Think of your email more as an audition than as a solicitation.
  • Focus on how your book is different from other books in your genre.
  • Do your research. Discover what the reviewer likes to read. Study their Amazon Profile.
  • Keep your email brief, 150 words or less.
  • Be persistent. Don't give up! Just because a top reviewer doesn't agree to review your book right off the bat doesn't mean they're not interested in your work. They can only review so many books!

2. Five Tips For Creating Intrigue,

Here are a few tips on how to keep readers reading:

  • Begin in the middle of the action.
  • Tell each chapter from a different character's point of view.
  • Vary the format of your novel. Try including letters, journal entries or emails.
  • Have varied sub-plots. (e.g., tragedy vs comedy, etc.)

3. 25 Things I Want to Say to So-Called "Aspiring" Writers, by Chuck Wendig

a. Chuck Wendig says, Drop the 'aspiring' in 'aspiring writer.' If you write then, dang it all, you're a writer!

b. Writer's write. Don't aspire. Do!

c. Push through the bad days. Every writer has bad days. A professional writer shuts out the nagging voices of negativity and writes.

d. Develop your own voice. Some writers find it natural to write from a 1st person perspective, others prefer a 3rd person perspective. Some writers find it natural to write science fiction, others mystery stories. Some writers find it natural to write in past tense, others in present tense, and so on. The only way you'll know which kind of writer you are is if you plant your butt in a chair and write.

e. Finish what you write.

f. Learn the rules so you can break them.

g. Writing is a skill and like any skill—bricklaying for example—it can (and must!) be learned.

h. Read voraciously. Read critically.

i. Don't be discouraged when your work doesn't sell. If you keep at it you'll get better.

j. Talking about writing is not writing. Thinking about writing is not writing. Reading about writing is not writing.

k. Get used to rejection. Chuck Wendig writes, "You need a leathery carapace. A chitinous exoskeleton. Writing is a hard-knock career where you invite a bevy of slings and arrows into your face and heart. It is what it is." Amen.

l. Write! Chuck Wendig writes, "You’re a writer. You can make anything up that you want. It may not be lucrative. It may not pay your mortgage. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about what’s going on between you and the blank page before you. It’s just you and the story. If you love it and you want to write it, then wire your trap shut and write it. And write it well. Expect nothing beyond this — expect no reward, expect no victory parade — but embrace the satisfaction it gives you to do your thing."

Let me add my own point here:

m. Invest in yourself and use an editor. Most of us don't know a professional writer who can look over our work and give us feedback. The next best thing is enlisting the help of the best editor you can afford. But don't send your editor all 80,000 words of your first novel! Find an editor who will take a 10 page outline of your book along with the first chapter. That way, if you end up having to start over from scratch it's much less work for your editor and much less expensive for you. Most importantly, you'll save time. And in the end, time is our most valuable resource.

That's it! I hope you found something of use in these points. If you did, please let me know! If you didn't, please talk to me. Tell me what your goals are as well as what is keeping you from meeting those goals. You can use the comments, below, or email me (karenwoodwardmail (at) gmail (dot) com). I would love to hear from you!

Talk to you again on Friday. In the meantime, good writing!

Monday, September 12

Short Stories And Their Structure

Short Stories And Their Structure

Do you ever re-read your old blog posts? That's what I've been doing (and, inexplicably, I've been doing it while re-watching Dr. Who). I just finished reading—or, rather, rereading, "Short Story Structures: Several Ways of Structuring Short Fiction." It seems like I wrote that an age ago, but it's only (only!) been four years. And, believe it or not, I remember writing that post like it was yesterday.

In the years since, I've written many short stories—though I must confess these days I write more nonfiction than fiction. Still, though, I have formed a more definite idea of what the structure of a short story is. That said, I believe these things can be idiosyncratic. The kind of short story structure that appeals to me, that fits my writing style like a glove, that feels right or comfortable, might not be the one that feels natural to you. And that's fine. That's great! Take what feels right to you, what makes sense to you, and change or ignore the rest.

So, for what it's worth, here's what I currently think of as the archetypal short story structure. (It is very close to Sarah A. Hoyt's story structure, the one she outlined in her post: The Structure of A Short Story).

1) In the first couple of lines introduce your audience to the most startling interesting/puzzling/desperate thing about your main character's immediate situation.

In a full length novel we have more time to introduce the protagonist and her situation, but when we have only 1,000 words the story structure becomes condensed and every word counts.

Let's look at a few examples of terrific openers for short stories.

a) Stephen King, "Autopsy Room Four"

"It's so dark that for a while—just how long I don't know—I think I'm still unconscious. Then, slowly, it comes to me that unconscious people don't have a sensation of movement through the dark, accompanied by a faint, rhythmic sound that can only be a squeaky wheel."

b) Ernest Hemingway, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"

"It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened."

c) Raymond King Commings, "The World Beyond"

"The old woman was dying. There could be no doubt of it now."

d) Stephen King, "The Monkey"

"When Hal Shellburn saw it, when his son Dennis pulled it out of a mouldering Ralston-Purina carton that had been pushed far back under one attic eave, such a feeling of horror and dismay rose in him that for one moment he thought he surely must scream."

2) In the remainder of the first paragraph give your readers a good idea of your character's problem. At the same time, flesh out the setting and your protagonist's character.

If you're thinking that's a tall order, you're right. But short stories have to get moving quickly. The character's problem is the story hook. I think of this as the engine of the story, as what propels the events of the story forward.

Here's an example from Stephen King's "Autopsy Room Four" (I promise it doesn't include any grisly bits!) King writes:

And I can feel contact, from the top of my head to the balls of my heels. I can smell something that might be rubber or vinyl. This is not unconsciousness, and there is something too ... too what? Too rational about these sensations for it to be a dream.
Then what is it?
Who am I?
And what's happening to me?
The squeaky wheel quits its stupid rhythm and I stop moving. There is a crackle around me from the rubbersmelling stuff.
A voice: "Which one did they say?"
A pause.
Second voice: "Four, I think. Yeah, four."

What is the character's problem? The protagonist of our story is not dead and yet he is being wheeled into an autopsy room. We understand the protagonist's problem—he's not dead, but if something doesn't happen to prevent the autopsy he will be soon. That's a grizzly, and immediate, problem!

3) From the first paragraph up to Act Two. Develop the character's Ordinary World, specifically The Problem the protagonist is enmeshed in. (25%)

In a full length book, and in some longer short stories, the problem you develop in the first quarter of the story isn't the protagonist's main problem. The main problem, I'll call this the Story Problem, is introduced after the precursor problem is wrapped up (This wrapping up will require a few try-fail cycles).

On the other hand, in a short story of under 2,000 words or so I think it's best to give the protagonist the same goal throughout.

Story Goal: The goal the protagonist pursues from Act Two on.
Story Problem: What is keeping the protagonist from achieving the Story Goal.

Around the quarter mark of the story everything changes. If the protagonist had a preliminary goal, she now realizes that the forces which were keeping her from fulfilling that goal weren't what she thought they were. Now the protagonist adopts the Story Goal, acknowledges the Story Problem and enters the Special World of the adventure. From now to the end solving the Story Problem will be her focus.

4) Have the protagonist try to solve the Story Problem and fail. (25 to 50%)

I know it's a movie and not a short story, and I know I should probably update my movie references, but this movie is my all-time-favorite action-adventure story. Yes, I'm talking about Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark. That movie had terrific try-fail cycles. Indiana Jones has acquired the headpiece of the Staff of Ra, the artifact he needed to discover the exact location of the Well of Souls—and now wants to appropriate the Ark.

(For more information about try-fail cycles: Try-Fail Cycles and the Gap.)

First the antagonist René Belloq steals the Ark and seals Indy and his love interest, Marion, into the Well of Souls. Of course the Well is teeming with snakes (Indy hates snakes). Indy uses his torch to keep the snakes at bay, but the torches are burning down. Then Indiana realizes he could use one of the giant statues to knock down a wall and escape the snakes. But the next room is filled with skeletons. And so on. It's a terrific sequence!

That's the idea. Put the protagonist and those she loves in dire peril, have them grasp at straws trying to get themselves out of the fix. Your characters don't have time to think, they're reacting, going on instinct, and in that pressure cooker of adversity their character is revealed.

5) The middle of the story marks a sea-change in the protagonist. She switches from passive to active, from ignorance to knowledge. (50%)

I used to characterize the middle of the story primarily as the place where a showdown occurs between the antagonist and protagonist. And this often does happen.

But over the years I've come to view the midpoint as the place where the hero's view of the world—both the Special World of the adventure and the Ordinary World—changes. This change is permanent. There's no going back. The information, the knowledge, she acquires at the midpoint indelibly marks her. As a result it changes the story. It twists the plot.

Also, often this change takes place as a result of confronting the antagonist, the Big Bad, of the story. The antagonist gloats, boasts, to the protagonist. He lets her know just how impossible reaching her goal is. Perhaps he laughs at her, letting her know he thinks her attempts to effect change are pathetic.

The protagonist now understands that, despite all her planning, she can't achieve her goal, at least not the way she was approaching things. What she thought she knew about the world, about her opponent, was deeply flawed.

The situation looks impossible. Still, though, the hero gets away with her life, so that's something. (Although sometimes one of her allies, possibly her helper or her mentor gives up their life for her escape.)

(List of archetypes: Archetypal Characters.)

Perhaps the hero's allies help the protagonist pick up the pieces. Or perhaps, briefly, the protagonist gives up hope. Sometimes it takes the intervention—and possibly death—of one of the hero's allies to get her to take up the fight again.

6) The hero forms a plan. (60%)

Having regained her will to fight, the hero forms a cunning plan. Of course, as we will see, this plan goes disastrously wrong! But she will adapt with the help of her allies.

7) Three trials culminating in the Dark Night of the Soul (65% to 90%)

As I've said, everyone has their own way of thinking of these things, but to my mind the middle of the third act—here I'm thinking in terms of four acts—contains three events, each of them a major setback to the hero's plans, and each one more devastating than the last. The final setback is known as the Dark Night of the Soul and it completely scuttles the hero's plan.

This is the lowest part of the story. It seems impossible the hero could win. In terms of stakes, we knew all along what would happen if the hero failed, but now we discover that things are so much worse than we'd previously thought. Not only is the hero beaten, they are (apparently) obliterated.

Note: If you're writing a short story of less than 2000 words you might want to collapse these three events into one.

The Dark Night of the Soul generally comes before the hero's 'ah-ha' moment. There's something she realizes and this allows her to change her perspective. Her worldview shifts. She sees a possibility, a way out. It's a slim chance, but at this point in the story she has given up everything. The worst has happened, or at least been set in motion. She has one—exceedingly improbable—chance to save things.

And, of course, it's up to you, the writer, to determine whether she does in fact pull it off.

8) Climax and resolution.

The protagonist confronts the antagonist. Perhaps at first the antagonist is disdainful. He feels he has thoroughly beaten the protagonist and she no longer presents an interesting challenge.

Then the the protagonist draws on the lessons she has leant in the Special World, on her new skills. This gives her a fighting chance. But, as I said, it's your story. Does she win? Does she beat the antagonist and achieve the Story Goal? Or does she fall victim? Perhaps, in the end, she chooses to sacrifice herself for what she sees as a greater good.

The thing to keep in mind is that the climax, although it is a confrontation between protagonist and antagonist, is all about their opposing goals. The question is: will the protagonist achieve her goal?

The antagonist generally wants the same thing as the protagonist, but the two work at cross purposes. For example, both Indiana Jones and Dr. René Belloq wanted the ark but they wanted to do vastly different things with it. Indiana Jones wanted to take it back to the States and put it in a museum where scholars could study it while Belloq wanted to give the ark to Hitler in exchange for wealth and power.

9) Aftermath.

One doesn't have to spend a lot of time on this part, but I think it's important to show the aftereffects of the protagonist's confrontation with the antagonist. Show the hero back in the Ordinary World (if she survives the climax). How has her life and the lives of her allies, the lives of those in her tribe, changed because of her journey, her struggle?

That's it!

Other articles you might like:

A Story Structure In Three Acts
How To Write A Horror Story
Scenes, Sequels, Sequences and Acts

Friday, September 9

The Phenomenon of James Patterson’s Book Sales

James Patterson's success is astonishing.

  • Patterson has written, or co-written, 147 novels. Of these, 114 were New York Times Best Sellers.
  • 67 of Patterson's best selling books have made it to the top spot on the New York Times Best Sellers list. At the moment, Patterson holds the Guinness World Record for the number of New York Times bestselling books written by a single author. 
  • Patterson's novels account for 1 in 17 of all hardcover novels sold in the United States.
  • In the past few years, Patterson has sold more novels than Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined.
  • From 2008 he has been the most borrowed author in Britain’s libraries.
  • Patterson has sold about 305 million copies of his books worldwide.

But perhaps the thing that startled me the most was that, in 1976, while Patterson was still a copywriter, he wrote his first book: The Thomas Berryman Number. In 1977, that book went on to win the Edgar Allan Poe award for Best First Novel. To read more about James Patterson, click here.

So, let’s get down to it: James Patterson has been insanely successful writing books that sell well. In the following I want to look at what we can learn from Patterson's practice and how we can apply those insights to our own work.

James Patterson's Work

I’ve begun many of Patterson’s books, but only finished one: Honeymoon. I finished that one because Patterson used it as an example to talk about his writing methods.

His writing, his style of writing just isn’t my cup of tea, but I have an enormous amount of respect for his work ethic and the success he has achieved over the course of his life.

So, how does he do it? (By the way, the quotations from James Patterson, below, are from World's Best-Selling Author James Patterson On How To Write An Unputdownable Story)

1. Be a very good storyteller.

It was Elmore Leonard who wrote, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Good advice.

Patterson says:
"I used to live across the street from Alexander Haig, and if I told you a story that I went out to get the paper and Haig was laying in the driveway, and then I went on for 20 minutes describing the architecture on the street and the way the palm trees were, you'd feel like "Stop with the description—what's going on with Haig?" I tend to write stories the way you'd tell them. I think it'd be tragic if everybody wrote that way. But that's my style. I read books by a lot of great writers. I think I'm an okay writer, but a very good storyteller."

Here's what I take from this:

  • Leave out the boring bits.
  • Write a story like you would tell it to a friend.
  • Concentrate on telling a great story, not being a great writer.
  • Find your story, your voice, and be true to it.

2. Give readers an intimate connection with your characters.

Patterson says:
"I try to put myself in every scene that I'm writing. I try to be there. I try to put the kind of detail in stories that will make people experience what the characters are experiencing, within reason."
I wrote about the importance of making the story intimate a few days ago, only I used Stephen King's masterpiece of horror, "The Shining" as an example (see: []).

Now, of course, both men are VERY different writers. Stephen King demonstrates a level of skill with his craft few can match. But, just going from what both men have said about their work, it seems that Patterson is driven by—in this area at least—one of the same concerns as King.

And that makes sense. After all, this is a point about storytelling, not just writing.

My take away:

3. Keep chapters short.

James Patterson's books tend to have short chapters. I did some calculations and, from the four books I looked at, the average chapter length was about 640 words. That's only about three manuscript pages!

My take away:

  • Pay attention to the average chapter lengths in your genre. From what I've found, chapters in Science Fiction novels—as well as Romance novels—tend to be around 3,000 words long. On the other hand, thrillers often have chapters of around 700 words.

4. Outline.

Outlining saves time. I know not everyone outlines; there are pantsers and there are plotters, and that's okay.

Patterson creates a fairly extensive outline; each chapter is summed up in about a paragraph of text. He says:

"Each chapter will have about a paragraph devoted to it. But you're gonna get the scene, and you're gonna get the sense of what makes the scene work."

Let's say the paragraph is 100 words long. If the chapter itself is only 700 words long, then the outline represents about 14% of the chapter's content!

My take away:

  • Having an outline enables you to see logical problems in your story before you sit down to write it.
  • It's better to send off a detailed outline to your editor and give them the chance to troubleshoot potential structural issues before you write 80,000 words (and find out you have to re-write 20,000 of them!).

5. Have an ideal reader.

Patterson says:

"I try to pretend that there's somebody across from me and I'm telling them a story and I don't want them to get up until I'm finished."

Stephen King uses an ideal reader as well, for King it's his wife, Tabitha King. He tries to write prose that will make her laugh, or cry, or chuckle. That is, to write prose that will evoke her emotions. A very similar idea to Pattersons.

My take away:

  • When you write, write to someone, write to your Idea Reader. This person could be made up or it could be someone you know.
  • If you use a flesh-and-blood Ideal Reader they should be someone who likes to read the sort of thing you write. Otherwise, things can get messy.

When I notice that two remarkably successful writers—successful in terms of books sold—do similar things even though their writing styles could not be more different, I try to incorporate those insights into my own writing practice.

That's it! I'll talk to you again on Monday. Between now and then I'll tweet a couple of writing prompts—I find them useful and thought I'd share!

Till then, good writing!

Wednesday, September 7

Review: Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

I began reading The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins in part because it was compared favorably to Gillian Flynn's spellbinding novel, Gone Girl, and partly because many of the reviews I read described the story as Hitchcockian. When I was a kid I loved watching Alfred Hitchcock's movies with my dad. He loved those movies like some love fine wine. My affection for Hitchcock's movies soon mirrored his own, so I was looking forward to reading this book.

And I was not disappointed!

By now I'm sure you're familiar with the plot. The protagonist, Rachel Watson, has been fired from her job for alienating a client because she was drunk, and yet she continues to take the train into London every workday, often taking advantage of the journey to drink herself into oblivion.

On her way to and from London the train passes the house where Rachel used to live with her ex-husband, Tom. Tom has married Anna, the woman for whom he left Rachel, and they have a child.

To distract herself from the painful reality of her life, Rachel fantasizes about another couple who live just down the street from Tom and Anna. In her imagination they are a lovely couple, upstanding citizens and very much in love. Their lives are perfect, they are perfect. This is the life she wanted, the life (or something like it) she believes she once had with her ex-husband Tom.

Of course the rest of the book systematically, relentlessly, painfully, dismantles her fantasy and forces Rachel to let go of her illusions and face the reality of her life with Tom. Somewhere along Rachel's path of self-revelation a killer is exposed in a rather delicious twist (I won't spoil it!).

My thoughts on Girl on the Train:

Rachel is about as likable as she is reliable, which is to say not much. She has her share of glaring faults—as do we all—but her life is melting down around her and, in her own confused and confusing way, she tries to grope her way through.

Strangely, I ended up relating to Rachel in part because of her unreliability as a narrator. What I found appealing was the way Paula Hawkins deftly prises apart two reasons for Rachel's unreliability. Often Rachel is unreliable because she tries to live in a fantasy but she is also occasionally unreliable because she honestly believes—and has more-or-less good reason to believe—something that is not true.

Part of the task Hawkins sets the reader is teasing those threads apart.

All in all, a wonderful—and wonderfully addictive—read.

I'm giving Girl on the Train 4.5 stars out of 5 because some (many?) of Rachel's actions appear bizarre or unmotivated. Sure one can say, Well, she's melting down, she wasn't in her right mind, but that's the thing. In real life that sort of reason might work, but this is a story. It is (in my humble opinion) supposed to make sense.

But, still, this was a wonderful book and a mesmerizing read. Highly recommended.

That's it for today! I'm trying out a new blogging schedule where I post something Monday, Wednesday and Friday. (Do you prefer only two posts a week? Three? Four? Five? Six? Seven? More? Please let me know!) So, I'll talk to you again on Friday. Till then, good writing!

Other articles you might like: 

How To Write A Murderously Good Mystery
Three Ways To Create Suspense
Generating Suspense Through Conflict