WriteTip: Planning for Writing – Part 1

One thing I’ve learned from experience is that it’s vital that you plan before you begin writing a long piece of fiction. There’s nothing worse than coming to a point in a story and realising you have no idea where to go next!

Even discovery writers or “pantsers” usually do some kind of planning.

The simplest way to begin planning is to explore the 5 Ws:


This may seem simplistic but it is vital that you explore these avenues first.

Who is in the story?

You are writing a controlled assessment, not a novel. Keep things easy to manage by having as few characters as possible. If a character doesn’t add to your narrative then you don’t need it.

What is it about? What is the conflict?

Your controlled assessment will be about the topic that has been set, such as “beginnings and/or endings.” Usually the topic will give you a lot of freedom to invent but you must ensure your end product matches the brief.

More importantly, your story must have some kind of conflict. This doesn’t mean there has to be a fight! However, the main character in your story must face some kind of difficulty.

  • Internal Conflict – The character has a conflict within him or herself (EG: a struggle with a decision, worry about something he or she has to do).
  • Interpersonal Conflict – The character has a conflict with another person (EG: a child disagreeing with a parent’s instructions).
  • External Conflict – The character has a conflict with something within nature or society (EG: struggling to survive after an earthquake).

Where is it set?

This is a simple yet important point. You must be aware of where your narrative occurs as this will affect your choice of descriptive detail.

When is it set?

Avoid unusual settings such as changes in time period. It will be a lot more difficult to write a believable story set in Medieval times than in the modern world. Keep it simple!

Do think about what time of year your narrative is set in. This will help you to describe the weather or make references to holidays. A story set at Christmastime will have very different descriptive detail than one set at the height of summer.

Why does the conflict occur?

Conflict is vital to a successful narrative. However, what is also vital is the reason for the conflict. You must consider why the issue has occurred as this will impact on your plot and characters. The idea of a child disagreeing with a parent’s instructions can be explored in different ways. Is it because the child is being unreasonable? Or, could it be because the parent is irrationally afraid of something happening to the child? These two reasons for conflict would create very different stories.


Next time, we’ll look at planning using plot diagrams, as well as using narrative hooks!


Debut novel out NOW!

Rise of the Darkwitch – “a diverse world which is unlike much which I have read before.”

“A highly imaginative fantasy world with a tightly plotted and structured story which zips along to a satisfying conclusion and leaves you eager for the next instalment in the series.



10th September – 50 Days and Counting…


Saturday Reblog: Way back when to the start of my 50 days and counting to the release of Rise of the Darkwitch


Kicking off the countdown is a question that every writer loves to answer…

1. When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?

I realised I wanted to be writer when I hit puberty, around…

Source: 10th September – 50 Days and Counting…

WriteTip: Comma Use and Semi-Colons

A new feature for this week! In my day job, I’m an English teacher, and I’d like to share some of the finer details of the English language as I know it. I’m not going to laud myself as the be-all-end-all of writing, but I do know a thing or two, and I’ve made a career out of explaining it. I hope you find this in some way useful!

The Comma

One of the most confusing elements of English punctuation, the comma causes the biggest problem for many writers. However, things aren’t as difficult as they seem with our little curved friend. It all comes down to understanding clauses in sentences.


A clause is a part of a sentence. That previous sentence was a one clause sentence, whereas this one is a two clause sentence. How do you tell clauses apart from each other? Usually, you’re looking for the main clause (the part that makes sense solo – EG: “That sentence was a one clause sentence,” which makes sense as a standalone sentence) and the subordinate clause (the part that needs the other clause to qualify it – EG: “whereas this one is a two clause sentence,” as that doesn’t make sense as a standalone).

Where to Place a Comma

Commas are often placed to separate these clauses, helping to make complex sentences. You’ll notice I’ve used a lot of complex sentences in this post. That’s deliberate. Look at where my commas are. Read each clause on either side. You’ll easily see which ones are main clauses (make sense alone) and which ones are subordinate clauses (don’t make sense alone).

Of course, commas are also used in lists. That’s generally not an issue, as we learn this at a young age. Unfortunately, the adage of “use a comma when you need to take a breath” is also taught at a young age. This causes problems, especially the dreaded comma splice…

Comma Splicing

This is when you use a comma when you should use a full stop, or sometimes a connective. This is a very common error!

INCORRECT: The dog is wet, she was stuck out in the rain.

These clauses both make sense as solo sentences, therefore they should not be separated by a comma. They should be separated with a full stop, or in this case, connective.

CORRECT: The dog is wet. She was stuck out in the rain.


CORRECT: The dog is wet because she was stuck out in the rain.


The reason we can use a semi-colon in this case is that the two clauses are both short and about the same topic:

CORRECT: The dog is wet; she was stuck out in the rain.

Thus, instead of a connective, we can use a semi-colon in its place.

Happy New Year!

At last, 2017 is upon us! I am very glad to see the back of 2016, and I hope the door hit it on the way out.

I don’t usually do resolutions because I’m not sure that starting the year by putting yourself under pressure to perform is exactly the right thing to do. However, I do often have hopes and aspirations for the year ahead, so I’d like to talk briefly about what those are for me for 2017.

Firstly, I’m going to finish the second book of the Darkwitch trilogy. It’s going well so far, with a current first draft WIP word count at 48,284. I know where the story is going and how things will end at the finish of this book, and I know where we need to be at the end of the final book. But my aim for 2017 is to release the second book, and make Rise of the Darkwitch permafree!

Secondly, I’m going to opt out of KDP Select as of January 31st and open distribution of my book up to other retailers. I’ll be going Kobo and IngramSpark, to name but a few. So, I guess I need to figure out exactly how to do those things, too.

Thirdly, on a more personal note, I’m going to try and be less negative. Negativity follows me around like a cloud all the time, in my personal life and my professional life. I’m going to make a conceited effort NOT to constantly think the worst of everything. It’s time to look to the positives, no?

Whatever you want to achieve, go for it!

IndiePub Adventures: Publishing Paperbacks (and other headaches)

Blogging a few days early because this Sunday is Christmas day!

My paperback went live on 18th December, and I detailed my proofing and creation process in the last post. All seemed well…


…until my copy arrived.

Ah! There was a problem with the margins, which meant an issue with the size of the type. It became minuet! And in comparison to the margins, it looked so awful in comparison to the margins.


I knew there was an issue, so I went back to the drawing board with my margins. Turned out, one of them was out by a whole inch (!) where I’d typed 1.53 instead of 0.53. Doy. At least it was an easy fix, and the proof files are awaiting their check by CreateSpace now so the paperback can go back on sale.

I like my text to be bigger so it’s more accessible for readers with eye issues–a little like myself! Small text might make book production cheaper, but in my experience, it’s less enjoyable to read.

Other changes I made included making the text on the spine blue instead of white, but the contrast wasn’t stark enough, so I’ve lightened the blue considerably in the next proof. It looks much brighter in the photograph than it does in reality. I also added a little snowflake to represent Emmy’s powers in the novel.


Other non-proof related news include the fact that my t-shirt and business cards have arrived! Just waiting on my banner and flyers and I’ll be all set for Belfast Film and Comic Con in March 2017. Very exciting!

So that’s it from me for 2016! Next blog post will likely be in 2017. So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, have a great Kwanzaa, Yule, Saturnalia, Omisoka, and New Year–and whatever other holiday you may observe!

Stay safe, behave (within reason), and let’s hope that 2017 is a hell of a lot more positive.

Love, Ziv ❤

IndiePub Adventures – Formatting for Paperback

This week has been a very difficult one for me personally, but it has left me with plenty of time to get on with some of the less interesting parts of indie publishing: formatting the paperback. I’ll be using CreateSpace and referring to Microsoft Word, because at this point, that’s how I do my paperbacks.

An Introduction

Holy moly, if you can get someone to do this for you, DO IT! It is very difficult—not impossible, but difficult.

This post will walk you through the processes I’ve gone through to get from formatting the word document all the way through to the final print proof. Hopefully, it’ll be of some use to someone! I’ll only be looking at interior files, not covers. Covers are an entirely different story!

Choosing the Size

One of the first things you have to do is decide on the actual physical size of your paperback. One thing you will learn about me in this blog post is that I have a tendency to follow the BFI principle: brute force and ignorance. I do not always do research beforehand, and often find myself in a bit of a sticky mess. This time was no exception.

CreateSpace suggested to me that 6x9in was the most popular size, which may indeed be the truth! However, had I actually bothered to measure that, I would have realised it wasn’t right for my novel.

6x9in is the standard size for many non-fiction books and also hardback fiction books. Unless you’re writing one of these, I don’t suggest you use this size. It looks awkward and from the moment I saw it, I knew it didn’t “feel” right. Certainly not for the type of book I’m producing—a young adult fantasy novel.

My original proof next to a non-fiction book. Same size, just not the right one for my novel.

So, back to the drawing board I went to order my second proof. This time, I went for 5x8in, and this is a much more appropriate size!

It’s closer to the general paperback size than any of the others, and at nearly $5 a pop, PLUS shipping, I don’t want to experiment with any of the others. Thus, 5x8in it is.

Second proof beside the first Harry Potter in comparison – MUCH better choice of size!

Formatting the Margins

This is an extremely tedious task that takes a lot of patience. The issue that you’ll run up against is the guttering in the book (the fancy way of saying the insidey bit where the pages are bound and you can’t see the text). You really don’t want any of your words in the gutter, so it’s important to get it right.

To format your margins, you need to go to Layout > Margins > Custom Margins. There, you’ll be able to adjust each margin individually, which is really important! You can’t format all of your margins to exactly the same size, otherwise it won’t look right in print.


For my 5x8in, CreateSpace suggested a gutter of 0.625in as standard. When I formatted this, it didn’t look right. It was as if the gutter was too big, so I adjusted it a little to 0.55in and it looked a lot better on the online proof. Far less spare space, but still enough room for the gutter. Also, make sure your gutter is set to LEFT, not top.

CreateSpace interior viewer gives you a good idea of what your margins look like.

There are other margins to consider as well, of course. Your choices here will depend on how much space you want to have and how many words you’re trying to get on the page. The cost of a printed books is dependent on the amount of pages (duh), so if you want to reduce your page count without reducing your word count, change the size of your font and make your margins are small as possible.

Personally, I wanted to keep my words-per-page to about 250-300, because that’s pretty standard, and I don’t want the text to be too small. A lot of teenagers I teach are very put-off by small text in books. Thus, I didn’t want to bring the page count down too much by making the text too small.

My paperback comes in at 362 pages. It could be shorter if I made the margins bigger and the text smaller, but I don’t want to.

On the subject of pages, make sure you proof for unreasonably short pages. You may have to do a little bit of editing to reduce a paragraph to eliminate pages that only have one line, or perhaps one sentence on them!

The page on the left is completely wasted. I edited the paragraph before to fit it on the same page.

Chapter Divisions

It’s really important that you proof your chapter divisions very carefully. Every new chapter should be on a new page. I use Insert > Page Break to make sure this happens.

Mostly, chapters don’t start right at the top of the page. You need to decide how far down you want your chapter heading to be on the page. I usually set my font to Calibri 16, and then hit enter 6 times. That’s the line I write my ‘Chapter X’ heading on. I’ll then change my font size to 12, line spacing to 1.5, hit return, and type the name of my chapter (if I’m using chapter names).


One extremely important thing you MUST proof when you’re uploading to CreateSpace (or just looking through your Word document) is the chapter headings. You must consider:

1: Are they all consistently the same distance from the top of your page?

2: Are the fonts consistent?

3: Have there been any errors with your use of Insert > Page Break.

I often find that chapters shift and end up on the same page as the chapter previous. Alternatively, I end up with random blank pages in the middle of the book. You need to ensure you check every single chapter division.

Random blank page that needed to be removed.

Special Fonts

The signature font I use for my chapter headings and the title on my cover is a free for commercial use font called UnclassicQuill. This is not supported by CreateSpace, however, there’s a work around.

File > Options > Save, then tick the box that says ‘Embed fonts in file.’ That way, CreateSpace will be able to use them! A word of caution, though. If you’re using a special font, please read the terms and conditions and ensure it’s free for commercial use. If it’s not, you probably can’t use it if you’re making money from printed copies of your book.



If you can get someone to do this for you, DO! It is a lot of work, and takes a fair bit of tweaking. I’m pretty handy with computers and Word, but if you’re not, this might be a little difficult. However, if you want any additional help with your formatting, please feel free to get in contact with me! My email is ziv@zivgray.com.

Thanks, and good luck!

Week in Review – 20/11/16

Well, I wasn’t very good last week and I forgot to do my week in review. So today, a day late, I’m determined to write a post!

Last week was anti-bullying week, and as a result, I placed Rise of the Darkwitch up for free. I’m delighted to say I gave away 141 copies of the novel! I hope that at least one person enjoys it!

I’m also doing a final proof of my manuscript before the paperback becomes available. I’m disappointed with the amount of small errors I’ve found (missing letters or small words mostly) but I guess that’s what you get when you don’t pay an editor! It’s annoying, but it’s all a learning curve. On the plus side, the cover looks gorgeous in 5×8 size!

I’m hopeful that my free offer will generate one or two Amazon reviews (preferably positive ones!) and perhaps do something to boost sales in general. I’m not too worried about selling  lots of copies at the moment. I just hope I can sell a few!

In other news, draft one of book two is coming along well. I had a period of about 7 days where I didn’t write anything on the novel (but wrote about 5000 words of other stuff). I’m just shy of 24,000 words in total on book two now. It’s very rough and I know there’s a lot of work to do, but I’m glad to be powering through!

Marketing last week was all based around anti-bullying week. Now, I’m not sure exactly what to focus on! I’ve been tweeting in #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks, although I can’t say it’s opened any avenues of contact.

Hopefully this week will be better!

Solace in Stories: Anti-Bullying Week

The 14th-18th November is anti-bullying week in the UK. Today, I want to talk a little about how bullying is relevant to Rise of the Darkwitch – and also to let you know that it’s available on Kindle this week for free!

Working in schools, I’ve dealt with a lot of bullying issues. Some are simple issues. Some are much more complicated. The important thing, though, is that to the individual, each issue is important.

One of the things I wanted to explore in Rise of the Darkwitch was bullying, prejudice, and how to rise above it.

The character Emmy suffers great discrimination in her life, even from Madame Krodge, her guardian. Emmy looks different, and is treated like a demon. Shunned by everyone, she exists in a life where her only value is her medical knowledge-or so it seems.

Emmy suffers verbal and physical abuse, but her story isn’t all negative. Rise of the Darkwitch is the story of Emmy overcoming the adversity she faces, and coming to terms with who she is-and not needing to change.

That’s a message I think is important to send to young people suffering bullying.

You don’t need to change. The problems are with the bullies. That’s not much comfort when the bullying is ongoing, granted, but it is true.

If you’re experiencing bullying, here’s my advice: tell someone, walk away from the bullies, and while you wait for the problem to be sorted by teachers and other adults whose job it is to sort them, find solace in books.

Read and enjoy, and remember: you don’t need to change. Just like Emmy, you’re perfect just the way you are.