Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Quaity writing

It must be something to do with the time of year but we have had a very quiet start to our new quarterly short story competition.
However, even though we have not had many stories in, those that have arrived have underlined the quality which we routinely attract.
When we started the competition, there were all sorts of philosophies underlying what we set out to do. A major belief was that we could help to showcase some very fine, if relatively, unknown writers.
Our hope was, and is, that one of our winners would use their success to raise their profile and perhaps even secure work or acceptances elsewhere. Certainly, our experience suggests that to have happened, which gives us great pleasure.
You can enter at

John Dean

Powerful writing

Ever noticed how some writers have an uncanny ability to play with your emotions? Within a few pages, you can go from shaking with excitement to crying your eyes out to flying into a rage.

Taking the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride is essential in novels and short stories Maybe you want to impress them, get them excited, make them cautious, get them angry. The better a job you do at making them feel, the more influential you are as a writer.

So don’t be frightened to broach tough subjects and challenge your reader.
John Dean

Friday, 22 August 2014

Creating real characters in fiction

A lot of my teaching focuses on characters. They are, after all, our major tools as writers.

So how do you create them? Here’s some thoughts:
* Maybe base them on people you know but beware of the law. Don’t lift your local vicar wholesale and turn him/her into a cold-blooded killer! Make your characters composites of several people

*Describe their physical characteristics You can do it one bit or slot descriptions in as you go. Describe their clothing etc but move beyond simple facts, try to capture their demeanour. How do they speak? Brusque, garrulous? How do they walk? Don’t overdo it, though, too much description slows down stories. I often think a line or two will suffice

* Visualise the person, think of small things which make them stand out

* Describe their views, their emotions, their thoughts

* Maybe come up with something that makes them different. A hobby, an odd phrase that they keep using

* If this is a major character get to know them particularly well. How do they react to things? Make sure they are strong enough to carry the story on their shoulders. And we must care about them - not necessarily like but care.

*Take care with minor characters as well as major, they’re important, not cardboard cut-outs.

Above all, ask yourself are your characters REAL?

John Dean

Bill Bryson on storytelling

Some newcomers to our competition may not be aware that our supporters include the best-selling writer Bill Bryson OBE.
Bill has supported our Global Short Story Competition since it started more than six years ago. I thought that it would be interesting to remind ourselves of his take on storytelling.
Bill, who as you can see from the picture was at the time Chancellor of Durham University in the North East of England where we are based, said when he agreed to support us: “From as far back as I can remember, I have been blissfully enchanted by the art of storytelling. I once read that the skill of a great writer or storyteller is the ability to capture the reader and seduce them into accompanying you on your journey – a journey which so often is loaded with personal experiences, prejudices and imagination. This is a maxim that I have often thought of but at times found so difficult to fulfil.
“The demise of our traditional communities and the compromises of modern family life mean that for many the telling or re-telling of stories is a forgotten craft as the demand for multimedia experiences and the mind-numbing repackaging of tired tales continues to rise.
“It is wonderful, therefore, to hear that a competition has been developed to showcase new creative talent and, in, turn create a community of writers and story-makers across the globe.”
You can enter the competition here at - the latest quarterly one closes at the end of October.

John Dean

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Common mistakes made by writers

Since we’re on the subject of getting things wrong today, worth checking out the following article on common mistakes made by writers.
My choice for biggest mistake? Write for yourself not the reader. Remember the reader and everything else slots into place. What do they need to understand the story? What don’t they need? Have they been overwhelmed with unnecessary detail or starved of the crucial facts which allow them to understand what is happening? Are you boring them because your story is too slow?
You can find the article on

John Dean

Breaking the rules in fiction.

OK, let’s talk about grammar (no, not the old lady sitting in the corner of the room smelling of aniseed but words, our tools).

Want to hack an editor off? Then litter your manuscript with poor grammar, split infinitives, wrong spellings. If your story is outstanding, the editor may put up with the problems, if it’s touch and go on acceptance then they could tip the balance against you.

But does it matter? A friend of mine, knowing how pinicktey I am on spelling, showed me a passage in which every word was spelled incorrectly and yet the meaning was clear due to word shape. ‘Why does spelling matter?’ he asked. I think it does, as does good punctuation. But grammar? Not so sure.

All this comes to mind when I read a thought-provoking article on the excellent Guardian website.

In it, Steven Pinker argues that some rules are there to be broken. He says: “Among the many challenges of writing is dealing with rules of correct usage: whether to worry about split infinitives, fused participles and the meanings of words such as fortuitous, decimate and comprise. Supposedly, a writer has to choose between two radically different approaches to these rules. Prescriptivists prescribe how language ought to be used. They uphold standards of excellence and a respect for the best of our civilisation and are a bulwark against relativism, vulgar populism and the dumbing down of literate culture.

“Descriptivists describe how language actually is used. They believe that the rules of correct usage are nothing more than the secret handshake of the ruling class, designed to keep the masses in their place. Language is an organic product of human creativity, say the Descriptivists, and people should be allowed to write however they please.

“It's a catchy dichotomy, but a false one. Anyone who has read an inept student paper, a bad Google translation or an interview with George W Bush, can appreciate that standards of usage are desirable in many arenas of communication. They can lubricate comprehension, reduce misunderstanding, provide a stable platform for the development of style and grace and signal that a writer has exercised care in crafting a passage. But this does not mean that every pet peeve, bit of grammatical folklore, or dimly remembered lesson from Miss Thistlebottom’s classroom is worth keeping.”

I agree. A single word sentence, for example, is not grammatical in the pure sense but, boy, can be effective. A long sentence may be grammatically correct but it can strangle pace. All grammatical rules are there to be bent or broken, I would contend.
You can read Steven’s guide to breaking the rules at

So what rules do you break and why? You can join the debate at our Facebook page on

John Dean

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Seeking a reaction in your reader

A reminder that key to good writing is making the experience feel real for the reader, You need to evoke a reaction in your reader and this is done through triggers, using your reader’s associations to evoke a reaction. How do you do that?

Well, why not start by playing on:

Their memories

Their connections to places and people

Their prejudices and preconceptions?

Their response to weather conditions - snow, rain, heat etc

Their deeply felt fears and phobias?

All this came to mind in one of our entries to the latest Global Short Story Competition which did it beautifully. You can enter at

John Dean

Writing with pace

Pace is crucial for writers. Readers are busy people. That means you need to write with pace to engage them.

Simply put, the more ‘story’ you have the faster the ‘pace’. It is about picking out what really matters. It means examining everything in your story, and asking if you need it?

For example, find those parts that are passive in the story - description that is unnecessary, dialogue that does little, and hit the delete button. Or certainly, cut it back.

Readers like a little exposition, a little back-story and a little character development but, if you have too much, you will send your reader to sleep and every time your story picks up pace you will slow it back down. Focus on story and you’ll keep your reader awake at night, turning your pages.

John Dean

The landscape as character

Often when we create characters, the role of the landscape as a character is overlooked, but it can be very effective when done well.
Landscape, and the effect of the weather on it, can be a character which is used in a symbolic way to create a mood or reflect the mood of a story or the mindset of a character.
For instance, I write about a city that seems dark, which helps create a dark mood for my crime novels. Hafton is a character in itself.
So think darkness, think weather, think temperature, think geography (dark streets, deep waters etc) and you may come up with a place that is as much a character as any human being in your story.
If you want to see how to do it, read The Tempest or Macbeth by Shakespeare. I tell you, that lad’s going to be big one day…

John Dean

Monday, 18 August 2014

Writing for theatre

I was discussing writing for the theatre with another writer the other day. Here are some thoughts on getting it right

The power of words is crucial when writing for theatre, as is a technical understanding of the staging process. Writers need to do the following:
* Think where the person was before entering the stage and where he/she goes to eg if he/she has come in from the cold remember to write cold references of actions (stamping feet etc )

* The writer needs to consider what the characters are doing as well as saying - a walk across a stage can take a long time as can a passage of speech. Find something for them do, making tea, putting the kettle on etc. It gives the scene more movement and avoids problems for actors who feel all they can do is stand like a plank and spout their lines

* Think how long words take to say and how they will play in an audience. An intimate aside in a small room can fall flat in a large theatre

* Comedy needs to big and bold, drama can be more subtle and considered (the actor can be more introspective, address the audience, reveal much about what they are thinking)

* Dialogue is crucial. The actor will make much of the business etc up themselves but they need guidance and that comes from the words.

A recap of dialogue rules:
A lot of the time, we do not speak in correct sentences/We often use short sharp phrases

We assume the listener knows a lot about us

Dialogue can impart information but we try to make that information interesting, lacing it with humour, personal interpretation etc

We can tell a lot about a person in a short snap of conversation - a few words of dialogue can say a lot about a character.

Dialogue needs to be crisp (and humour needs to hit the gag and move on, good comedy relies on timing and pace)

Needs to be in character

Must take the story on

Be not packed with extraneous information.

If you need to slot in information, find a way of doing it subtly

John Dean

Friday, 15 August 2014

Having a chuckle (but not too many of them)

The use of words is something dear to all our hearts. They are, after all, our tools and we should polish them with the care taken by an artisan when polishing a chisel.
I once came across a web page published by the Now York Times saying that the titles of every British book published in English in and around the 19th Century — 1,681,161 of them — were electronically scoured by American researchers for key words and phrases that might offer fresh insight into the minds of the Victorians.
The article reckoned that among words cropping up regularly were “God” “love,” “work,” “science” and “industrial”.
Makes you wonder which words we use a lot or maybe too often. I do know there are some words I use too often in my writing - murmured, chuckled to name but two - and my favourite poet Barry MacSweeney, with whom I used to work on an evening newspaper, had a thing about the word ‘argent’. And I know another writer who slips the word ‘obsidian’ into every piece she ever produced

John Dean

Quarterly writing competition launched

Hi everyone
A reminder that the team behind the Global Short Story Competition has announced that it has gone quarterly.
Begun more than six years ago, the competition has until now run on a monthly basis but has switched to one which runs for three months at a time, with the new one running from August 1 to October 31, 2014.
The prizes continue to be £100 for the first prize and a £25 prize for highly commended writers. The entry fee remains £5.
The competition, which has topped £11,000 in prize money handed out, has had entries from more than 60 countries over the years.
Each competition is judged by Fiona Cooper, an author in North-East England, where the competition’s organisers Inscribe Media are also based.
It was becoming a little too challenging to sustain the competition on a monthly basis but we think writers will respond to the idea of a quarterly one that continues to seek out and showcase the very best of new talent worldwide.
The competition, which has been supported by best-selling author Bill Bryson since it was established six and a half years ago, can be entered at

John Dean

Honours go to writers from Canada and France in competition

Judge Fiona Cooper has selected her winners for the June Global Short Story Competition and writers from Canada and France have taken the honours.
The £100 first place prize goes to Robert Smith, of Ontario, Canada, for Move Over Sherlock of which Fiona says: “This story is an engaging look at the world through the eyes of someone who feels himself to be an outsider. It is difficult to convey this viewpoint successfully but the writer has done just this. the sense of self is succinctly and wittily maintained. The perceived difficulties of one with ADD are turned on their head by one who actually lives with it, and he comes across as a believable and quirky individual who is actually streets ahead of those who worry about him. Excellent.”
Our highly commended runner up is Gillian Brown, of Peyriac de Mer, Languedoc-Roussillon, France, who wins £25. Fiona says of Do Re Mi : “The vagaries of living in the shadow of a famous parent are well documented and in this story Joanna tries to deal with it as best she can. Trying to please a parent is an endless task and when that parent has been phenomenally talented, and is now dead, one would expect Joanna to somehow crumble. However, she finally acknowledges the nature of her own talent and embraces it with gusto and finds herself joyfully closer to her adored mother simply by being herself.”
The writers on the shortlist are:
Keith Newton, Ontario, Canada
Emily Franke, Eartham, West Sussex, England
Chris Murray, Manchester, England
Deborah Walter, Johannesburg, South Africa
Lizzie Horton
Winning stories will be posted on Well done to our successful writers. You can enter the latest competition at the same address.

John Dean










Thursday, 14 August 2014

Triggering a reaction in your reader

Continuing my recurrent theme of evoking reactions in your reader, I think that good writing is about triggers - words, phrases, images, places, sensations - that reach deep into the readers mind.
That reaction will be based on something the reader has actually experienced, or maybe something that the reader dreads ever having to experience. It is why horror and ghost stories work so well.
Yes, you are messing about with the readers head, yes, you may be forcing them to confront difficult truths, but isnt that sometimes what writing is about?
If every story, every book, was about sugary-sweet people in lovely situations, then writing could never really move the reader as it should.
So, yes, writing can, on occasion, make the reader feel uneasy, uncomfortable, scared even, but, lets be honest, isnt that sometimes the way we feel in our daily lives anyway? Its simply art reflecting reality.

John Dean

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Competition up and running

A reminder that the team behind the Global Short Story Competition has announced that it has gone quarterly.

Begun more than six years ago, the competition has until now run on a monthly basis but has switched to one which runs for three months at a time, with the new one running from August 1 to October 31, 2014.

The prizes continue to be £100 for the first prize and a £25 prize for highly commended writers. The entry fee remains £5.

The competition, which has topped £11,000 in prize money handed out, has had entries from more than 60 countries over the years.

Each competition is judged by Fiona Cooper, an author in North-East England, where the competition’s organisers Inscribe Media are also based.

Competition administrator John Dean said: “It was becoming a little too challenging to sustain the competition on a monthly basis but we think writers will respond to the idea of a quarterly one that continues to seek out and showcase the very best of new talent worldwide.”
The competition, which has been supported by best-selling author Bill Bryson since it was established six and a half years ago, can be entered at

* There is plenty of time to enter Inscribe Media’s latest free flash fiction competition at its Facebook page at or accessed through




Hearing voices

Whether you are setting out to write a short story or a novel, you need to decide on the voice that will tell the story. Here are some questions to consider before you start writing.
Do you want to use a third-person observer whom we never identify - the nebulous narrator? The advantage of being a third person narrator is that you can be everywhere at once and see things which the main character knows nothing about.
Or do you write first person? The disadvantage is that the first person can only comment on what he or she sees and knows and can only narrate on one moment in time and place, However, using ‘I’ can be a more relaxed, informal, more intimate form of writing.
Whoever you are, what is the role of the storyteller? Are they there simply to tell a damn good yarn, or to comment, to judge, to trail events which will happen, to introduce issues and concepts, in short to lead the reader into a way of thinking?
In my novels, I go for the nebulous third person narrator and let the reader jump to their own conclusions through the words and actions of the characters.

John Dean

Monday, 11 August 2014

Mentoring and online writing courses

We know that writing can be a lonely pastime so we have created an online mentoring service which allows you to gain feedback on your work and discuss issues of concern in your writing either with a published writer or other members of a group.

Our aim is to help aspiring writers to improve their technique and improve their chances of being successful, either in competitions or admissions to book and magazine publishers.

Membership will provide all-year-round mentoring in which you will be given help and feedback with your writing as well as the opportunity of taking part in a series of themed-courses.

There is no official certificate of qualification at the end of the course but we hope you will have gained immeasurably as a writer.

The mentoring will be led by crime novelist John Dean, whose twelfth novel is due out next year and who is the administrator of the Global Short Story Competition.

As the scheme grows, we will also bring in other experienced writers to pass on their experience.

We are passionate about writing and our desire is to help writers around the world. We believe that this service will help achieve that.
If you wish to find out more, you can click on the link across the top of or email John at

Writing novels

We concentrate on short stories in this blog but, as a novelist, how to write longer pieces is a subject close to my heart (I am due to teach a college-based novel writing class in Darlington, NE England, starting in October).

So, if you are thinking of writing a novel then a few general comments would be handy. Start by asking some key questions:
1 Why do you want to write it - does the story work better, does it sustain a novel?

2 Can you really do it? This is a long slog.

3. You have to sustain a story over many pages so you need a decent idea.

4 Can you sell it? Has it been done before? Is your idea a new one or are you able to re-tell an old story in a new and fresh way?

5 Who will tell your story? Third person - can see everything all the times - or first person - allows for a certain informality but restricted to what happens around them?

If you decide to go ahead, my advice is always:

1 Write a detailed synopsis first: map out your story. I do it chapter by chapter. I very rarely stick to it but it gets my mind focused. I find it also helps to be able to summarise a novel in a single line

2 You need to develop various plotlines to sustain a novel. Novels can work with one single story but the best ones tends to have sub-plots involving other characters

3 The same rules of writing apply as with short stories - yes, you have more space to play with but the writing still needs to be tight and controlled even though a novel allows you the scope to develop themes and people. The best writing is simple and uncluttered
4 You need a strong sense of place and strong characters, which goes back to my belief that there are three points to the writing triangle - story, sense of place, sense of people. Get them right and the rest flows from it
5 As the story develops, there has to be a pace, a sense of things happening, so the reader does not get chance to become bored.

John Dean

Good opening lines in crime fiction

Quite a few stories that we see entered into the Global Short Story Competition are on a crime theme.
Like all stories, whether they be novels or short stories, they need a good opening line and I came upon the excellent Detectives Beyond Borders site which asked its readers for good openings.
The suggestions included:
“Inspector Salvo Montalbano could immediately tell that it was not going to be his day the moment he opened the shutters of his bedroom window." Andrea Camilleri, The Voice of the Violin;
"Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write." Ruth Rendell, A Judgement in Stone
"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon." James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss
"Five weeks after Kirsten Waller’s body was found in a clifftop cottage in Cornwall, Grace Hobden cleared away the lunch, checked to make sure her three children were playing on the climbing frame at the bottom of the garden, then went indoors to murder her husband. “ Joanna Hines, The Murder Bird
Me? Well, this is the start to the first crime novel I had published - A Flicker in the Night. Given that the idea of an opening is to grab the reader by the throat, I hope it did its job.
“There are some faces that never fade from the memory, some crimes so vile that they can never be forgotten and some men whose names simply cannot be forgotten. Not now. Not ever. Reginald Morris is one such man.”
If you want to find out more about Detectives Beyond Borders, visit

John Dean

The little touches that make the difference

As a writer, I love the little touches that authors introduce into their work - the acute observations of a room, the way a place smells, the way a person walks, what they are doing as they talk. They are important for helping the reader become involved in your story.

I know some writers would argue that you can get away without them, that the story is all and everything else slows it down, but my view is that these kind of details are important.

I think they are particularly useful in a short story because you do not have a lot of space to play with and you are constantly seeking shortcuts to get your ideas over.

That is where the little things come in handy: if your character says something to another person who then turns away and does not reply, busying themselves clearing the dirty dishes from the table instead, then in just a few lines you can speak volumes.

John Dean

Indian writing

I was delighted to see another entry from India come in recently. Few countries can point to such a rich and vibrant storytelling tradition.

Many countries can track their storytelling traditions back to ancient times but what makes India special is the way so many different influences interweaved with each other, even from early times, to provide a melting pot of creativity.

Yes, many other countries can point to similar ancient histories but India’s position on important trade routes meant that, from very early on, it was a very diverse culture and had a strong sense of the wider world.

Storytelling has always been an important way in which diverse cultures find a voice and, if you look at the history of Indian storytelling, there has long been a beguiling mix of history, religion, myth and fantasy. The result has been truly fabulous stories.

Of course, modern Indian writers seek to reflect their views of modern life but they are also influenced - consciously and sub-consciously - by that rich tradition. You can see that in the way many of the country’s writers draw on the past in their stories.

Here at the Global Short Story Competition, we always welcome the arrival of entries from India because they invariably provide inventive ways of telling stories. Indeed, we would love to receive more entries from India and the other countries in that part of the world.

John Dean

Canadian entry

Eleven days gone in our quarterly Global Short Story Competition and we were delighted to receive an entry from Canada.
In the early days of the competition, we had quite a few stories from Canada but it has tailed off a bit in recent times. Hopefully, this one will be the first of many because Canada has a terrific story writing heritage.
You can enter at

John Dean

Getting the tension right

I read a lot of short stories and key with those that work is the author’s ability to create and retain tension.
So how do you do that? Here’s some thoughts:

1 Put the reader in the situation. What does it feel like to be there?

2 Use the things at your disposal - the senses, is it cold, is it creepy, is your character affected by this: is a brave character suddenly scared, is a cool character panicky?

3 Create a sense of immediacy. Focus on people and their feelings in order to make the reader feel as if he or she is there.

4 Create word pictures. Use imagery to write visually.

5 Keep it simple - do not overdo it, not too flowery, nothing that will slow things down

6 Use dialogue to set the pace. Good dialogue carries dramatic impact, advances the story and develops character

7 Tension builds so write in spikes - tension, relax, tension relax. As your story comes to an end, build the tension to a crescendo.
John Dean

Judges praise young writers

Regular readers of my blogs will know that I greatly admire young writers - it is how we all started out, after all.
Well, The Wicked Young Writers’ Award has just announced its winners for 2014 at a ceremony at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, home of the award-winning musical Wicked.
The winning and highly commended entries included stories and poems about bullying, love, dementia and memory loss and the traumatic effects of war, selected from more than 5,000 entries submitted by individuals and schools all across the UK and Northern Ireland.
The long-running West End show launched the award in 2010 to recognise excellence in writing, encourage creativity and help develop writing talent in young Prizes were presented by Michael Morpurgo, best-selling author of War Horse and Chair Judge of the Award, who Michael Morpurgo said: “All these talented young writers have allowed their imagination to live and breathe. They haven’t been afraid to tell their stories and speak their poems down and to express themselves with originality and flair.”
Wicked's Executive Producer Michael McCabe said: “We've been inspired and excited by the creative skills and extraordinary pieces that we’ve received this year.”
The overall winners of the awards were named as:
5-7 Winner: :Liya Khan, age 6 from Birmingham, A Dinosaur Who Ate My Homework

Runner-up: Oscar Williams, age 6 from Northwood, The Bully, The Magic Potion and the Shadow.

8-10 Co-Winner: Susanna Tredinnick, age 10 from Harpenden. The Most Annoying Thing About My Little Brother.

Co-Winner: Caitlin Wilkins, age 10 from Windlesham, Surrey, The Lost Coin.

11-14 Winner: Rhian Hutchings, age 14 from Pontardawe, Wales, Solomon's Bank

15-17 Co-Winner: Freya Carter, age 15 from Sheffield, Seven for a Secret

Co-Winner: Zainab Abbass, age 15 from Sheffield, I'm Glad You're Not Here

18-25 Winner: Chris Pritchard, age 23, from Gloucester, I'll be your Tom if you'll be my Marilyn.
You can find out more at

John Dean

Friday, 8 August 2014

Seven plots? Well, it's twenty one and counting

Further to my previous blog on ideas, I am interested in the concept that there are seven basic plots in literature and that all stories derive from them. Trouble is, no one seems to be able to agree on what they are! When I researched this, I came up with one theory that they are:

overcoming the monster;

rags to riches;

the quest;

voyage and return;




Another site came up with a series of ideas based around Man versus - Man versus the environment, Man versus technology, Man versus - you get the idea.

As for me, my stories are variances of basic themes -

the power of revenge,

the power of families and their secrets,

the power of money,

the power of ambition,

the power of love,

the power of blind faith,

the power of failed society.

John Dean

Where do your ideas come from?

Writer Neil Gaiman once said: “You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it. You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if...? “
So the question is where do your ideas come from?
You can tell us about your inspiration on our Facebook page at

John Dean

Thursday, 7 August 2014

20,000 up

Our writing blog has topped 20,000 reads- thank you to everyone who visits it.

John Dean

Mood in fiction

Given that sense of place, a theme of some of my recent blogs, is crucial for creating mood in fiction, it is worth considering that there is a fine balance to consider; too much description slows a story, too little does not give the reader the chance to feel they are in the place with the characters. It is crucial that if you write about a place that the reader can see it.
You have choices to achieve that: do you write rich and vivid prose to paint a word picture or do you keep it minimalist - describe a tree in a park and we all see a different tree and a different park? Perhaps we only need to say it is a tree in a park? Some would argue that.
I always think, however, that you hone in on two or three main aspects of a place. An example, I live in a narrow street of three-storey town houses. It always feels like a canyon to me and when asked to describe it to people I always say it’s a canyon which is in shadow even when the sun shines. Not bothered about the number of houses, exactly what they look like, I reckon those two facts will be enough to give them a strong sense of what our street is like.
When selecting those things on which to hone in, consider
1 Physical characteristics - what does it look like, any quirks which bring it to life?
2 Use your reader’s senses - what does the place smell, taste, sound like?
3 What does it feel like to be there? I know the narrator needs to be separate but I do think the narrator can give a clue - The hall was old and musty. Musty is the narrator interpreting what the place feels like.
Oh, and remember weather - driving rain creates a different feel to an arid dry heat. If I read a story where the sun is shining and there is a delightful breeze I feel different to a story where the rain is driving against the windowpane and darkness has come early.

John Dean

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

How many words should I write?

All writing is about every word doing its job but that becomes an even more pronounced skill when you are writing something short, like a poem or a story.

We do receive entries into the Global Short Story Competition which are not 2,000 words long but 200 words instead - and that is an art form in itself.

The length means that the writers had to make every word do its job and discard every word, every thought, every element of the story that slowed it down. Those stories were stripped to their basics.

Did they lose anything for that? Not really. They may have left the reader to work out a lot, think through what they were being told and where it was happening, but many of them remained powerful pieces of writing for all that.

So when people send in requests asking how long their story should be, we always remind them that our top limit is 2,000 words (for ease of reading by our judge) but as to the bottom limit? Well, it is how many words you need to tell the story. That’s the true of storytelling and always will be.

John Dean

A compelling voice

One of the best ways to start a story is to instantly introduce the reader to a character who addresses us directly in a voice that is distinctive and compelling. What do I mean? Try this: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” — J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The voice is distinctive, you are challenged and want to learn more about this person. It was the same with the story over the weekend, creating a character that talked directly to the reader.

And if the character is talking to the reader, the writer has a great platform on which to work.
You can enter our latest competition at

John Dean

Mentoring and online writing courses

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 online writing courses as well.
You can find out more at
You can also access our free downloadable writing guide at,uk and find loads of free tips on our blog here.
John Dean

Monday, 4 August 2014

Getting the triangle right

Further to my previous blog about sense of place not being enough on its own, I think that good story writing depends on many things but can be boiled down to three factors, the triangle.
At the top is the narrative, a strong story, plenty of pace, a tale that enthrals the readers.
At one bottom corner is a sense of place, a strong sense of where the action is taking place.
At the other corner is a sense of being, the creation of characters strong and interesting enough to carry the story.
Get the triangle right and the rest flows from it.

John Dean

When sense of place is not enough

I tried reading a book by a much-lauded Scandinavian author a few weeks ago (not my usual fare of crime fiction). Her novel has been much praised by some big names and in the opening pages the sense of place (snow, ice, biting winds) was brilliant.
Trouble is, nothing happened and, increasingly bored, I put the book down after 30 pages and will not go back.
Maybe I am shallow/impatient but it does show that sense of place is crucial but in itself is not enough.

John Dean

Friday, 1 August 2014

A place to write

Looking for a place to take your writing group for a few creative days away from it all?
Then check out

John Dean

A slice of life

A short story is a slice of life. As such, it works best if you narrow the time frame and geographical location of the piece. One plot, two or three characters and no more than two or three locations fit best into a short story.

John Dean

Getting it right from the off

Here’s some thoughts on starting short stories.

The first cardinal rule of opening lines is that they should possess most of the individual elements that make up the story. An opening paragraph should have a distinctive voice, a point of view, a rudimentary plot and some hint of characterisation. By the end of the first paragraph, we should also know the setting and conflict, unless there is a particular reason to withhold this information.

You might be tempted to begin your narrative before the action starts, such as when a character wakes up to what will eventually be a dramatic day. Far better to begin at the first moment of something interesting happening, though, which is more likely to grab the reader‘s interest.

If you feel compelled to begin a story with dialogue, keep in mind that you’re thrusting your readers directly into a story in which it’s easy to lose them early on. So keep the dialogue to a minimum. One way around this is to begin with a single line of dialogue and then to offer some context before proceeding with the rest of the conversation.

Sometimes a story evolves so significantly during the writing that an opening line, no matter how brilliant, no longer applies to the story that follows. The only way to know this is to reconsider the opening sentence once the final draft is complete. Often a new opening is called for.

John Dean

Promoting Australian talent

We know that a lot of Australian writers read this blog and we regularly receive their entries to the Global Short Story Competition so it’s worth a few words on how we promote some of the brightest talent Down Under.
The overall quality of our Australian entries is testament, I think, to the emphasis placed on creative writing in that country. During our work promoting this competition, we have come across a number of excellent writing centres in Australia, which clearly help local writers in every way they can.
What is notable about Australian entries is the writers’ strong sense of place and how to use it to create atmosphere, allied to strong characterisation.
Many of our Australian entries have also exhibited a very clear understanding of how a short story works: how to write in mini episodes, how a short story can sometimes cover but a fleeting moment in time, how it needs to have pace and balance so that it gives you enough information but not too much.
Short story writing is an art form in itself and Australian writers, through their success in our competition (winners, commendeds and shortlistings) have shown that they know how to get it right. We celebrate Australian writing in three of our ebooks:
Global Shorts - an anthology of short stories taken from the early years of the Global Short Competition, including Australian writers

Vegemite Whiskers - a selection of some of the finest writing from Australian authors who have entered the Global Short Story Competition

Cyber Rules by Myra King. The novel by Australian writer Myra tells the story of a farmer’s wife in isolated rural Australia. Caught up on the addictive side of the Internet, she holds a secret which may prove to be deadly.

More details on our home page at

John Dean

First quarterly story competiton starts

A reminder that the team behind the Global Short Story Competition has announced that it is going quarterly from today.

Begun more than six years ago, the competition has until now run on a monthly basis but has switched to one which runs for three months at a time, with the new one running from August 1 to October 31, 2014.

The prizes continue to be £100 for the first prize and a £25 prize for highly commended writers. The entry fee remains £5.

The competition, which has topped £11,000 in prize money handed out, has had entries from more than 60 countries over the years.

Each competition is judged by Fiona Cooper, an author in North-East England, where the competition’s organisers Inscribe Media are also based.

Competition administrator John Dean said: “It was becoming a little too challenging to sustain the competition on a monthly basis but we think writers will respond to the idea of a quarterly one that continues to seek out and showcase the very best of new talent worldwide.”
The competition, which has been supported by best-selling author Bill Bryson since it was established six and a half years ago, can be entered at

* There is plenty of time to enter Inscribe Media’s latest free flash fiction competition at its Facebook page at or accessed through

John Dean