Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Festive greetings

Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year from the team at Inscribe Media.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Jobs for your characters

When creating characters, it is worth remembering that they have jobs and should be regarded in that way. Understanding their roles helps bring stories to life and gives them depth.
Beyond the standard definitions of protagonist (the main character) and antagonist (the main character or force that opposes the protagonist) there are four basic character types (the Americans claim seven but that’s over-egging things in my view):

Dynamic/Round Character - a well-drawn, rounded character who changes during the course of a story or novel. Sometimes a dynamic character is called a developing character

Foil - a character that is used to enhance another character through contrast

Static (or flat or stock) Character – a character that remains primarily the same throughout a story or novel

Confidante- someone in whom the central character confides, thus revealing the main character’s personality, thoughts, and intentions

They do overlap in some way - a flat character could be a foil as well – but you could not have a character that is both static and dynamic.
The terms are useful for understanding a character and his place within the story but  in the end, it is not about how a character can be named and classified.
I do not believe writing should be hide-bound by theory. Nevertheless, as a writer, it’s all about understanding the job characters do. It is also about recognising characters who do not do a job.
Example: in a recent novel, I had a climactic scene in a hospital but it was too long and loose because I had two characters who did not have a job - they provided information already supplied by others, created an atmosphere already created. They were in the way - taking them out gave the scene real pace and drama.

John Dean

Young people turn to graphic novel to tackle exploitation

A group of young people has created a graphic novel that will help alert others in North Yorkshire to the risks of child sexual exploitation.
The graphic novel – a comic dealing with mature themes – is entitled Web of Lies and tells the story of Kelly, a 14-year-old, who is flattered when an older boy starts to pay attention to her. But the relationship spirals out of control as her boyfriend reveals a dark, controlling side.
It has been created by members of Safe and Sound, a group of young people who meet at Trax Centre in Harrogate with North Yorkshire County Council youth worker Sara Atkins, North Yorkshire Prevention Service, and commissioned by the North Yorkshire Safeguarding Children Board as part of North Yorkshire’s child sexual exploitation multi-agency strategy.
The group discusses issues of personal safety and risky behaviour for young people in the Harrogate area. Combining their knowledge, research and consultation with other young people, they then design visual material that is not only appealing to young people but also has strong messages about staying safe.
Safe and Sound has previously been involved with an ITV Fixers campaign on the dangers of posting photographs on the internet and members have helped to organise two young people’s personal safety events in York.
They have also produced a previous graphic novel, It Started With A Kiss, which focused on domestic abuse and was used as a teaching tool in schools.
A spokesperson for the group said: “Exploitation in the early stages is difficult to recognise and young people need to notice the signs as early as possible, manage the risks and keep themselves safe. We were especially keen to help young people to understand the grooming process and the lengths that abusers will go to to gain full control of a young person.
“We wanted to create something different and more thought provoking; something that would help young people to recognise the signs of an exploitive relationship and the damaging and devastating effect that this can have, not just on themselves but also their friends and families.”
To write the story, the group undertook workshops, watched DVDs and spoke to a victim. The characters and the storyboard were designed, the story was split into scenes and these were photographed on location in Filey and Harrogate with the help of a photographer. One member of the group, Jack Lowerson, drew the more graphic scenes.
The novel will be used as part of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons in schools and the group is now working on a school resource to use with the novel. Students will be able to take a copy of the novel home to read and refer back to if necessary.  The novel will also be used to support group work and one-to-one work with young people in statutory and voluntary settings across the county.
Members of the group are Beth Grace, Jack Lowerson, Alice McAvoy, Jamie Sockett, Owen Gregory, Sarah Embleton, Summer Godfrey, Elizabeth Myles, Chloe Newbould, Jack Hobson, Cian Yates-Lowe and Heather Schofield.

The picture shows: Members of the Safe and Sound group at the launch of Web of Lies: (back, from left) Cian Yates-Lowe, Heather Schofield and Owen Gregory, (front) Elizabeth Myles and Jack Lowerson. With them (from left) are artist Ross Anderson, Paul Carswell, Children and Young People’s Services divisional manager (west); Pete Dwyer, corporate director of Children and Young People’s Services; Sara Atkins, Professor Nick Frost, NYSCB independent chair; and Dallas Frank, safeguarding children board manager

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

So who can you trust?

I recently taught a course part of which focused on the unreliable narrator, a character who tells a story that the reader cannot take at face value. Now, I am working on a novel using a similar approach, which is proving great fun.
The technique has been used for many centuries but only became known as such in the 1960s. Sometimes, the narrator is unreliable by the nature of the character, such terrible people that they cannot tell their stories objectively and resort instead to lies and deceit.
There is another type of unreliable narrator. This narrator is unreliable due to having incomplete or incorrect information, although initially neither the narrator nor the readers is aware of this.
Or the unreliable narrator may simply be deluded, suffering perhaps from an illness which clouds judgement (dementia is becoming a popular theme for many writers).
All are terrific techniques but there are dangers. For a start, readers do not always understand that a narrator is unreliable. To counter that, the unreliability of the narrator can be gradually revealed as part of the resolution. It is important to plant clues along the way to ensure that the reader understands and perceives the situation in a way that the narrator does not.
How can a writer do this? There are a number of ways, including showing the reactions of other characters, thereby telling the reader that all is not as it seems.
Although usually, the unreliability of the narrator is gradually revealed, some writers opt for a revelation at the end which shocks the reader.

John Dean

The origin of ideas

I am interested in where writers’ ideas come from.
One of my big messages in my teaching is that writing has two sides -  technical (most writers can string words together in a competent fashion) and added value - the emotions, images, the concepts, that make what would be otherwise 'competent' writing jump off the page.
So where does that added value come from? Strong characters will provide it, yes, vivid description, of course, but also the power of the idea. Come up with a strong idea and it will take you a long way because the reader keeps thinking ‘that’s clever.’
So the question is where do your ideas come from? 

You can give your experience over at our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/inscribemedia

John Dean

Top writing tips

The great Ernest Hemingway had four tips for good writing. They were:
* Use short sentences - keeps the pace moving
* Use short first paragraphs - keeps the reader turning the page
* Use vigorous English - makes the stories live by infusing them with passion
* Be positive - telling people what is rather than what is not ie instead of saying that something is ‘inexpensive’ say it’s ‘economical’.
My four (not that I am comparing myself to the great man!) would be:
* Do not write for yourself, always write for the reader.
* Be disciplined - you may wish to pack lots of information in but does the reader need it?
* You may not have put enough information in - you can imagine where a scene is set but have you given the reader the information they need? You may have drawn a character but can your readers see them?
* Be brutal - if you have overwritten, chop out the fat.
The question is ‘what would your four top tips be?’
I have started a discussion at www.facebook.com/inscribemedia
John Dean

Monday, 14 December 2015

Getting your short story right

 Short story writing is a real art form. Here are some thoughts on how to get it right.
Have a clear theme. What is the story about? That doesn't mean what is the plot line but what do you want to say? Get this right and your story will have more resonance in the minds of your readers.
Focus. The best stories are the ones that follow a narrow subject line. Keep it simple, otherwise you end up with a novel!
An effective short story often covers a very short time span. It may be one single event that proves pivotal in the life of the character, and that event will illustrate the theme. If you go for a long period of time, make it pass quickly ie ‘The next year...’
Don't have too many characters. Each new character will bring a new dimension to the story, and for an effective short story too many diverse dimensions will dilute the theme.
Write in episodes - short chapters in effect.
Make every word count. There is no room for unnecessary expansion in a short story. If each word is not working towards putting across the theme, delete it.

John Dean

What makes for good crime fiction?

So what makes for good crime fiction? Well, for a start you should:

* Create a strong sense of place - the reader must be able to visualise where the action happens
* Create strong characters - do not stray into cliché, make our investigators real people. Your hero must not be perfect, he or she must be flawed but be careful about writing in too many flaws
* If you create a sidekick, make sure they have a job to do - passing on information, allowing your main character to react so we learn more about them etc
* Make the villain real not some clichéd villain from the movies. The best thing is for them to have appeared earlier in the story so the reader knows them. Give them a good reason to commit the crime - secrets, secrets, always secrets
* Grab the reader from the start. Here is an extract from an interview with the author Nick Brownlee explaining how to do it:
Q The opening scene of Bait features a character being gutted alive on a fishing boat. Was it always in your mind to start the book with such a gory scene?
A I have been a journalist for the best part of 20 years, much of that time writing stories for tabloid newspapers. The first lesson you are taught is that you must grab the reader’s attention with the very first paragraph, because by the third they will have lost interest in the story. It’s the same with commercial fiction – especially if you are an unknown author. In order to get published, Bait had to leap out of an agent’s slush pile and then make a publisher look twice. I needed an opening that would catch the eye. Hopefully it will have the same effect on the casual reader.”

* Even with a short story, it is worth mapping out a synopsis because crime stories are be definition complicated and you need to get it right
*  Keep the story moving - nothing holds a reader better than tension creates as the pace develops. Keep it driving on relentlessly
* Think about your ending - surprise the reader, have some drama, a chase, a fight, a killing, a dramatic revelation
* Feel free to makes us think - maybe you want to cast light on human nature, or perhaps a problem in society, Do not preach but feel free to let that idea come through in your story

I am running an online crime fiction course – do get in touch at deangriss@btinternet.com if you wish to find out more


John Dean

Places still available on course

I still have plenty of places for my creative writing Spring 2016 term courses at the Friends’ Meeting House in Skinnergate, Darlington.
The adult learning courses deal with all aspects of creative writing, focusing primarily on prose, including short stories, novels and occasional forays into the world of stage, theatre, radio and poetry. Each course is different and each session runs between 7 and 9pm.   
The courses start: Spring Term 2016 (10 weeks)
Tuesday January 12
Wednesday January 13
Fee £46 (Concessions £37)
More information is available from John on 01325 463813 or email deangriss@btinternet.com

John Dean

Friday, 11 December 2015

Writing to music

Those who have read my blogs before will know that one of the things that interests me about writing is ambience and how authors create it.
I always write to music. Favourite artists for writing? The Irish band Clannad trigger something deep in me, as does some Mike Oldfield stuff, particularly Tubular Bells.
My current novel (proceeding slowly!) is inspired by a line in Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel, a song so haunting that it gets my mind working, in particular in this case the image of an old rowing boat on a small lake.
While researching this, I came across a blog by Indra Sena, who said: “Music just might be the perfect muse.  Music can relax or invigorate you. The lyrics often refer to timeless themes, much the way writing does. Instruments can also express a wide variety of emotional nuance. Anger, sorrow, joy and despair are all common emotions music seeks to express. You can use music to bring you into these states of feeling and infuse your writing with rich emotion.”

John Dean

Online crime fiction course under way

I am already working with several authors on my online Crime Fiction Course. The course, which runs in eight parts and can begin at a time and date to suit the student, will help writers to improve their technique and improve their chances of being successful, either in competitions or submissions to publishers.
The course features:
• Personal attention
• Exercises and practical work
• Discussions by email
• Because the tutor is on line, you can do the work at time and pace that suits you
Themes to be included are:
An examination of where ideas come from - what triggers ideas in writers?
Once you have the idea, how do you develop it? The course will look at the art of  plotting
How can you use places and landscapes to aid your story telling?
How do you pick characters to do the job? What are their functions in storytelling? This will include a look at creating villains
How conflict can be used to develop stories that assume a life of their own
That all important start to your story - how do you grab the reader right from the off?
Writing with pace - how do you produce a narrative that keeps your reader turning the page?
Pulling it all together - how to produce the finished piece of work.
Editing - how to make those changes that make all the difference.
Pitching to publishers and agents
The course costs £75. For further details you can contact me at deangriss@btinternet.com
John Dean

Thursday, 10 December 2015

KIlling off your favourites

Following on my recent blog on conflict in fiction, it reminded me of a conversation with a very good writer, who said: “I do not like making horrible things happen to my characters.“
I can understand that entirely: yes, I have hurt my beloved main characters but could I hurt them really seriously or even kill them off? Probably not.
But perhaps I am wrong because conflict is central to writing and that can mean really bad things happening to really good people.
Why? Because stories need things to happen and it is through seeing characters in conflict that we see them at their truest. 
You can also develop a character through conflict ie the meek little parlour maid becomes the towering heroine of the story.
In addition, conflict can evoke a strong reaction in a reader and make for good drama - and if that is happening, then writing becomes easier.

John Dean

Want to have your say on the craft of writing?

Want to have your say on the craft of writing? Why not visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/inscribemedia

Writing arguments in fiction

Talking of conflict in fiction as I did in my previous blog, writing an argument occasionally becomes necessary. The thing to remember about writing arguments is that they’re not at all like real life confrontations.”

Here are some thoughts:

They shouldn’t have repetitive elements. Unlike real arguments which go in circles for ages

They shouldn’t be boring Written arguments are there to take the plot along. They should reveal something about a relationship between two people and/or give the reader information

Remember how the rules of conversation work

* A lot of the time, we do not speak in correct sentences/we often use short sharp phrases

* Keep your dialogue crisp - we can tell a lot about a person in a short snap of conversation

* We interrupt a lot

* We assume a lot. Not Your brother has been murdered.

What, my brother Brian?

Yes, thats him. Your only brother. The younger one. With the red hair. Keep it realistic.

* * Do not pack dialogue with extraneous information

And above all, make sure that every word justifies its place on the page.

John Dean

Man/woman against .... (complete as applicable)

I blog quite a lot about the importance of conflict in fiction but what type of conflict you use varies from genre to genre.
Romance novels, for instance, require the primary conflict to involve two people struggling with a romantic relationship, mysteries require a conflict where a crime or disappearance must be solved and what makes a thriller is a high stakes conflict, the risk of harm or death to the protagonist and/or those he/she cares about.
The conflict in science fiction can include issues like the morality of creating artificial life or cloning whereas fantasy is about good versus evil. Then there is dystopian fiction where the conflict is with the nightmarish world around the characters.
More ‘literary’ stories (although quite what that means I am not sure, all stories are literary) revolve around the internal conflict and how the character deals with it.
Whatever your genre, it’s conflict that brings your stories to life.

John Dean

Is the age of the novella upon us?

Following my recent post on the length of a short story and my comment that, if your story grows and grows, maybe you are writing a novel, I should perhaps have added novella, which is a form making a welcome return because they work really well as e-books.
I have been researching the world of short novels and it seems to me that their time could be upon us once more. Folks are happy to read 30,000 words of story on their hand-helds - particularly on holiday when a book that can be finished in a day or two is welcome.
So what exactly is a novella? Well, it’s an extended short story in many ways, constructed in episodes but written in a tight and clipped way to guarantee pace.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction defined the novella as having a word count of between 17,500 and 40,000. Other definitions start as low as 10,000 words.
Why are novellas so effective as a genre? Well, if you usually write novels that run to 60,000-70,000 words novellas demand cutting back big-time. An eight page scenes becomes two pages, a, 800 word passage of dialogue becomes 200, if that. It’s the mantra I teach to the many writers with whom I work across the world - does your story need those words, can they come out, will the story really suffer if they do?
John Dean

How short is short?

If you are struggling with a short story that is growing and growing like topsy, it is worth remembering that a short story is a slice of life. As such, you should narrow the time frame and geographical location of the piece. One plot, two or three characters and no more than two main locations should fit into a short story. If this is too tight a fit perhaps you should be writing a novel!

John Dean

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Preparing your manuscript for agents or publishers

Appearance is important when submitting manuscripts to publishers - a tatty, dog-eared effort does not get the reader well intentioned to your work. So how do you submit a book-length manuscript? Here are some tips:

The manuscript should be neatly and clearly typed. Make sure your printer is producing clean copy, without smudges


Print double spaced on one side of the paper only. Double spacing and adequate margins leave room for copy editing by the publisher


The title page should contain the following information: title of the work, your name and your address


Start each new chapter on a new page, give the chapter number and title (if any), and space before beginning the text.


Number each page consecutively throughout the manuscript. Do not begin each new chapter at page 1


Do not staple pages together - the publisher needs to be able to read it. Better go for rubber bands


You may make minor corrections to a manuscript by printing neatly and legibly in ink but any page with more than two or three corrections should be re-typed


When you submit a manuscript, provide some general information such as whether you've been published before and something about your background


Enclose a self addressed, stamped envelope, but be aware that publishers are under no obligation to return manuscripts


Submit an outline of the story. An outline of two pages should give the publisher a clear idea of what the book is about.


Good luck!


John Dean


Mentoring support for writers



A reminder that, in addition to the various free things we do, one of the paid-for services we offer is one supporting writers.

Why should you hire a professional writing mentor, though? Isn’t it enough to attend a class/workshop or a writing group? Or ask a friend or relative to comment?

Well, it depends what you want and need and bespoke mentoring from Inscribe Media can help some writers, providing the experience and expertise to -

• understand your work

• nurture you and your writing

• let you retain control of your ideas and your writing

* provide expert, specific advice about what is working and what isn’t.

We focus on major issues, such as how your story hangs together, what your characters are doing or could be doing, what is hurting your story’s momentum, what story elements are not pulling their weight.

We identify the differences between good and great and point out your writing strengths, so you become confident about what not to change.

We also give suggestions and help you establish good processes and writing goals and suggest markets for your work.

If long-term mentoring does not appeal, we run short writing courses as well.

You can find out more at http://www.inscribemedia.co.uk/writing-courses---bespoke-mentoring.html

You can also access our free downloadable writing guide at www.inscribemedia.co,uk and find loads of free tips on our blog here.


John Dean

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

How to write ghost stories

As darkness falls ever earlier here in the English winter, my thoughts turn  to ghost stories and how to write them.   
In “Some Remarks on Ghost Stories" (1929), the great M R James identifies five key features of the ghost story:

·         The pretence of truth (The fact that you believe, that it could happen, so your reader might believe it)

·         "A pleasing terror"  (Your readers want to be frightened)

·         No gratuitous bloodshed or sex (Self-explanatory: sometimes a hint of gore is more effective)

·         No "explanation of the machinery (Don’t explain how it happened, just that it did)

·         Setting - (Create a sense of place, the reader needs to be there)

I would add that this is about subtlety, this is about making the ordinary scary - my grandmother was not scary but she would be if she walked into my living room because she had been dead 20 years

Bear these hints in mind:

* You have to understand the psychology of the reader, what scares them? With me it’s mirrors and open curtains at night

* Good ghost stories begin with normality, and gradually things develop

* Put people we do not expect in places we do not expect them - I am not scary but if you went home and found me staring at you from your front garden I would be!

* Less is very much more when it comes to writing ghost stories. You are teasing the reader - drop hints in gradually, build the tension. Hint at something horrible to come

* Use weather  and time of day- as long as you do not overdo it, fog, rain, creaking doors and dead of night can be very effective

 * Take heed of the words of the writer Susan Hill, who said: “The ghost story is a test of the writer’s ability to create atmosphere. When I was planning The Woman in Black, I made a list of essential ingredients of the classic ghost story and after “a ghost” came “atmosphere” – under that heading came “weather” and “place”. Haunted houses? Yes, and for house read “mansion”, preferably old, isolated and in a dark and dismal spot. An ancient chapel, abbey ruins – haunted cloisters are especially frightening. A house with a forest behind it, or a brooding cliff, a cataract, a moor across which the night winds howl – all are a gift to the writer wanting atmosphere. Not all ghosts are Goths and a Gothic tale need not include a ghostly apparition.”

* Think about the impact of media - what scared once does not scare now, in a world of ‘Saw’ we are less scared - except by what goes in our heads. So get inside our heads!


John Dean

Your chance to vote for the best short story

Voting is under way for the Costa Short Story prize.
The overall winner of the 2015 Costa Book of the Year will receive £30,000 and will be selected and announced at the Costa Book Awards ceremony in central London on Tuesday 26th January 2016. The winner of the Costa Short Story Award, voted for by the public, will also be announced at the ceremony.
The shortlisted six stories for the Costa Short Story Award, now in its fourth year, along with voting arrangements, are on the Costa Book Awards website, www.costabookawards.com

A question of tenses

Occasionally, in my teaching I come across a rarity, namely telling the story through a second person viewpoint.

We are all familiar with first person (I have had a really good day) and third person (she had had a really good day) but many writers will be unaware about second person. When first asked about it by a student some years ago, I had to go and look it up to get the technical definition just right.

In short, in second person point of view, the narrator tells the story using ‘you‘ as in ‘You pick up the phone because you feel scared‘. Footballers, those great bastions of language, tend to use it quite a lot (‘In games like this, you go out on the field and leap like a salmon sandwich and nod the ball into the old onion bag.’) If that’s not a mixed metaphor.

So which one to choose? Well, often the first-person narrative is used as a way to directly convey deeply internal, otherwise unspoken, thoughts. It allows story to directly revolve round one person and can allow the character to be further developed through his/her own style in telling the story. That style is often chatty and informal, always deeply personal.

There are drawbacks: in third person you can tell the reader what is round the corner to create tension; you can’t do that in first person because the character simply does not know. That is third person’s biggest advantage; the way it allows the narrator to be all-seeing. And yes, it can also be used to delve deep into the character’s mind but many writers feel happier doing that with first person.

So where does second person fit in? Well, it is rarely used but it can be very effective in that it directly challenges the reader to step into the story by use of the word’ you’. If they feel so challenged then that will make the story so much more real.


John Dean

Monday, 7 December 2015

Creative writing course in Darlington

Creative writing tutor John Dean is taking bookings for the Spring 2016 term of his popular courses at the Friends’ Meeting House in Skinnergate, Darlington, Co Durham.
The adult learning courses deal with all aspects of creative writing, focusing primarily on prose, including short stories, novels and other forms of writing as well as occasional forays into the world of stage, theatre and radio.

Each course is different and deals with everything from characterisation to plotting, creating strong sense of place to how to edit. Each session runs between 7 and 9pm.  

John said: “The courses have proved very popular over the years and many class members have enjoyed success with their writing, breaking into print and winning competitions.

“It’s not all about getting into print, though. Many of the students attend out of the sheer pleasure of writing. From experienced authors to beginners, these courses help people to explore their creativity.”
The courses start:
Spring Term 2016 (10 weeks)

Tuesday First session Jan 12

Half term no class Feb 16

Final session March 22

Wednesday First session Jan 13

Half term no class Feb 17

Final session March 23

Fee £46 (Concessions £37)

More information is available from John on 01325 463813 or email deangriss@btinternet.com

What is the future of the book?

If you key the words ‘The future of the book’ into the Internet, you get loads of mentions, indicating that there is a very real debate going on out there. We thought it would be a good idea to ask the question of yourselves via our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/inscribemedia

Here’s some questions for starters:

* My Dad (a retired librarian) always said that the hardcopy book will survive. Is he right? And if so, will folks read them or put them on shelves and point to them as museum pieces?

 * What about the e-book? Do you want to read books on hand-held e-readers? And if you don’t, what about the generations to follow? Where and how will they read?

* The traditionalists might argue that all this e-book malarkey is an awful thing but if the kids read books on e-readers isn’t it actually offering hope for the future?

* Will the e-book last or will folks read blogs like this in twenty years and give a knowing smile while saying: ‘How strange were these people!’

* What will happen to our libraries? Already under pressure from budget cuts (in the UK for sure) can they move quickly enough to accommodate the advent of the e-reader?

* Whizz time forward to 2050 - you fancy reading the book from your favourite author. What will it look like? Will it be hardcopy book, will it be on a hand-held reader, will it, a la the paintings in Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books, have moving pages in which the scenes are enacted in front of your eyes?

In short, what is the future of the book?

John Dean

Friday, 4 December 2015

Snow Birds is out!

Check out Roger Barnes’ latest novel at


Terrific reviews for Harry's Torment

Check out the terrific reviews of Harry’s Torment by Mike Beck


Terrific reviews for Cyber Rules

Check out the terrific reviews of Cyber Rules by Myra King at