Follow these guidelines to create a compelling synopsis for agents and editors

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Chances are, if you want to submit your novel to an agent or publisher, you’re going to have to write a synopsis. For many writers, this seemingly simple task generates a dread and foreboding equalled only by the prospect of a full tax audit. It’s out of all proportion to its modest word count. I mean, you’ve just poured out your heart in 100,000 words — how hard can another 1000 be?

Well, pretty damn hard, I guess. There’s no simple trick to it, and because you’re trying to interest someone in a book they haven’t read — or even…

7 tips to help you avoid accidentally becoming a writer

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I’ve come to the conclusion that being a writer is too easy. It must be, if the current freelancing rates are anything to go by. I took a stroll through some of the popular content mills the other day — just for curiosity’s sake — and saw jobs posted that were paying less than $100 to “ghostwrite” a novel. If people can write a novel to order for $100, it must be way easier than I’ve been making it for myself all these years.

So, to find myself a new career, I’ve created a checklist of things I need to…

4 tips to help you write more convincing characters

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Most of the writers I know — including me — are obsessed with people. They’re endlessly fascinated by how and why people do the things they do.

Which is just as well, because you can’t have fiction without people and you can’t have a story without characters. Do you find yourself secretly examining the motivations of the people around you and wondering why they’ve said or done the things they say and do? I do, though I try not to show it.

It’s pretty easy to create a character, but it’s not so simple to create a believable character. I…

Ever had the weird feeling that you’re actually in your story?

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Have you ever thought about what you’re actually doing when you sit down to write?

It seems to me that the act of writing is a very strange business indeed. Essentially, what we’re doing is fantasizing — making up events and people and various interactions — and then recording those fantasies for other people to read about later. Pretty weird, when you think about it like that, huh? Still, weird goes with the writer’s territory, I guess.

But it’s not just a weird activity. It also provokes — requires, in fact — a very strange state of consciousness. Now, I…

Ruthless editing is crucial . . . but not at the cost of your creativity

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We’re not talking actual homicide here, let’s get that straight from the outset. Writers may be a weird bunch, but I don’t think running amok with an axe is going to improve our craft. I’m pretty sure of it.

No, we’re talking about cutting the overwriting in our own work — and our frequent inability to spot it in the first place. …

Is writing a compulsion, an obsession . . . or do we not have a choice?

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According to Ernest Hemingway, writing is easy. “All you do,” he said, “is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I guess that sums up the pain and anguish of the tortured writer. However, we’re not all alcoholic bullfighting pugilists, and every writing session isn’t a bloodbath. But I’ve had plenty of days when I’ve sat down at that metaphorical typewriter and had to almost wring the words literally from my brain like dirty water from a dishcloth.

And on days like that (and sometimes on good days too) I ask myself that thorny question: why do we do it…

Here’s why “showing” helps create an emotional response

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Yes, I know. This old chestnut again. You’ve heard it all before, of course. Every tutor on every writing course, every online guru, every self-help book you’ve ever put back on the shelf. “Show don’t tell!” they all shout.

But why is showing (usually) better than telling?

Well, like most things in art, it all boils down to emotions and feelings. Let’s take a look at how “showing” relates to your characters and their emotions — because that’s at the core of all good writing. In general, fiction seeks to provoke an emotional response in the reader. …

Try these simple techniques to kickstart your creativity

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It’s become very fashionable of late to assert that writer’s block doesn’t exist. It’s an excuse. It’s really laziness. Or fear of failure. Or perfectionism gone mad. Or a romantic notion writers tell themselves because they have to Suffer for Their Art.

But, let me tell you, I’m not lazy, fearful, or romantic (just ask my wife). Writer’s block is all too real. I know, because I struggled with it for more than two years, during which time I was completely unable to string two sentences together.

Whenever I sat down at my typewriter (yes it was that long ago…

These 3 techniques work for the best in the business — so why not try them yourself?

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Starting a story is easy, right? You begin at the beginning and stop when you reach the end. Nothing to it.

Except it’s not quite that straightforward, is it? I should know, because I’ve written some real snorters in my time — and commissioning editors have sometimes been selfless in pointing out my crimes against literature.

So don’t despair if your current opening doesn’t set the world on fire — or even raise a smoky fizzle. A little self-awareness can fix most problems. When you come to edit your first draft, pay particular attention to how it begins. If it…

An urban fable

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I don’t know how long I’d been running, but my throat was raw with ragged breath and my heart was straining against my ribs like a caged bird. I didn’t dare stop and turn, didn’t dare look to see if they were still after me. The stench of the biggest man was still clinging to my clothes and hair, the greasy smell of cheap wine and white cider barely masking the reek of his unwashed flesh. …

Paul Fairbairn

Editor and bestselling author of horror/thriller/sf novels. Failed rock god and world-class procrastinator. And lion tamer. Visit me at

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