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List of commonly confused words in English

This is the final instalment in our list of commonly confused words in English.

In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. False cognates are pairs of words in the same or different languages that are similar in form and meaning but have different roots. That is, they appear to be, or are sometimes considered, cognates, when in fact they are unrelated.

•metre / meter
Meter is a device for measuring something (as in gas meter). It is not to be confused with metre, a unit of length in the metric system and of rhythm in poetry. In American English both words are spelt meter.

•minute / minute
The only way to know if minute is a noun, a verb or an adjective is the context in which it appears in writing or in print, or in the pronunciation of the speaker if he is actually speaking. Compare the following: I’ll be there in a minute (noun). The secretary will minute what is said (verb). He examined everything in minute detail (adjective). The accent is placed on the first syllable for the noun and verb, and on the second syllable for the adjective.

•moot / mute
These words can be used as nouns, adjectives or verbs, have quite different meanings and are pronounced differently. Moot (as in ‘boot’) most frequently appears in its adjectival form, as in a moot point (i.e. a debatable point). Mute has to do with silence and is pronounced ‘myooht’.

•pitiable / pitiful
Pitiable means deserving of pity (e.g. illness had reduced him to a pitiable figure). Pitiful means showing or feeling pity. Note that pitiful is often incorrectly used to mean contemptible (e.g. his small contribution was pitiful).

•premier / premiere
These words derive from the same Latin root. Premier (noun or adjective) is first in order or time. Premiere (noun) is the first public performance of a play or film

•principal / principle
These words have several meanings but the meanings we use most often are principal, meaning chief. This is used as a noun and verb (as in principal of a school or the principal reason) Principle is only a noun (e.g. a man of principle).

•prostate / prostrate
Prostate is a word you hear more frequently when you get to my age, especially when it is coupled with the words gland or cancer. Prostrate, on the other hand, means lying face down, or prone, but is often confused with the dreaded p-word. Prostrate is also often used mistakenly when supine (lying face up) is intended.

•racist / racialist
Race relations are delicate matters and their vocabulary is correspondingly complex and shifting. The definition of both words is now identical and interchangeable although it wasn’t always so. The newer word racist indicates a slightly greater degree of contempt than racialist on the part of the user.

•referee / umpire
Umpires and referees are technically the same thing – sports officials who ensure that a particular game is played fairly and to the rules. However, different sporting codes have chosen to name these officials either an umpire (tennis, cricket, baseball, American football) or a referee (rugby, soccer, basketball and boxing). So follow convention. But remember that in some sports, such as tennis, the role of a referee has evolved to become the final arbiter of umpiring decisions.

•revue / review
Review as both a noun and a verb can be used in several contexts including military, legal and academic. To avoid confusion it is better to steer clear of the spelling review for anything to do with a theatrical performance. The only context for revue (noun) is theatrical.

•sarcasm / irony
These two nouns should not be confused with each other. Sarcasm is the use of intentionally bitter and wounding remarks made in a direct fashion. Irony can be bitter but it is indirect, and may be light-hearted. It usually says the opposite of what is really meant (e.g. saying someone is a genius when he has made a basic blunder). Usually tone of voice indicates the speaker has an ironical intention.

•sensuous / sensual
If you are a careful writer you will think before deciding which word to use. Sensual describes a person who is excessively inclined to the gratification of the senses, especially in sexual activities. Sensuous also has to do with the senses but lacks a sexual connotation

•smelled / smelt
How do we spell the past tense and the past participle of smell? I am never sure. Smelled is certainly not incorrect but smelt has now become the preferred spelling. So go with the flow.

•social / sociable
Sociable has to do with companionship (friendly, enjoying the company of others), social with the community or society (e.g. social club, social worker).

•stationary / stationery
Stationary (adjective) means not moving and stationery (noun) refers to writing materials.

•urban / urbane
The adjective urban means of a town or city (e.g. the urban population) and urbane, also an adjective, means courteous, elegant or refined.

•use / usage
These two words do not have the same meaning. Use is the act of using (e.g. it will be put to good use) and usage is the manner of using (e.g. with careful usage it will last several years). Usage refers to the way in which words are used. The Concise Dictionary of Correct English states: “What is standard practice in a language is governed by what is habitual, i.e. usage.”

•uninterested / disinterested
Disinterested (impartial) is not to be confused with uninterested (lacking interest). A judge should be interested and disinterested in what the accused says.

This list of commonly confused words in English, is not the entire list but will go a long way to helping you work out what the various words mean. Please have a look at words often confused and misused and commonly confused words to complete our list.


John DorringtonJohn Dorrington (27)

John is a freelance copy-writer, editor and proof-reader, and has written four books. He has edited several novels and factual books, although much of his work involves editing students’ academic dissertations, including several Master’s and Doctoral theses. He is a graduate of the University of Cape Town where he studied English and History



Commonly confused words

Commonly confused words in the English language

Commonly confused words in the English language can cause a lot of consternation. They either look similar, sound similar or, sometimes, look and sound similar but they have completely different meanings.

Other words look and sound very different but have similar meanings and, sometimes the difference is very subtle. If you are lucky enough to have studied Latin and Greek, it is quite easy to work out the root of the word but for those that are not so lucky we have compiled a list of commonly confused words for you.

• delusion / illusion
A delusion is a permanent and misguided impression, a belief that what is false is true (e.g. a delusion that he is the emperor Napoleon). A delusion cannot be removed by any appeal to reason. On the other hand an illusion is something that seems to exist, or seems true to the senses (e.g. the happy illusions of childhood). An illusion is usually harmless and often pleasant. In a very few contexts the words can be used interchangeably.

• dependant / dependent
This causes some confusion. Remember to use the noun dependant for a person, such as a child, who relies on another for support. Dependant always refers to a person. For the adjectival form use dependent (followed by ‘on’) meaning reliant on, or contingent on (e.g. we are dependent on good weather for our school outing). In American English independent is used in all forms of the word.

• economic / economical
I will never forget the difference because many years ago in a school essay I got this wrong. Economic is the adjectival form of economy or economics (e.g. economic recovery). Economical means using something as cheaply as possible or thrifty (e.g. it is economical to buy in bulk).

• egotist / egoist
These words are often confused although they are not interchangeable. They are derived from the Latin ego (‘I’). An egotist is an arrogant, boastful person with an excessive sense of self-importance, inclined to use the words ‘I’ or ‘me’ too frequently. Egoist is much more subtle. Egoism is a doctrine in philosophy or ethics in which self-interest is the root of moral conduct. You can be an egoist without being an egotist.

• emigrate / immigrate
Emigrate (from the Latin e + migrare to migrate out) is to leave the country of your birth, and immigrate is to enter another with the intention of remaining permanently. Remember that people are emigrants from the country they leave and immigrants in the country they settle.

• envy / jealousy
These words are similar in meaning and both have different shades of meaning. Envy is the feeling of discontentment aroused when others possess the thing you desire. Jealousy is a stronger emotion and incorporates hostile feelings towards a rival you fear might take something you already have. A good example is feeling envy because your friend has a new sports car but jealousy when he takes your girlfriend for a ride.

• farther / further
These are comparatives of far, and their superlatives are farthest or furthest. Both refer to distance but you should use further when referring to time or extent (e.g. until further notice; make further enquiries). Further may also be used as a verb (e.g. to further one’s plans).

• fewer / less
Less is used when referring to mass, volume, extent or quantity (e.g. less water, less sand) and fewer when referring to numbers (e.g. fewer spectators, fewer cars). As a general rule use less with a singular noun and fewer with a plural noun.

• flagrant / blatant
Originally these words did not have the same meaning, although now they are almost synonyms. Blatant is anything that is offensive or shocking in an obviously conspicuous way. Flagrant comes from a Latin word meaning to burn. It refers to anything that is conspicuously scandalous or outrageous. It has a more forceful meaning than blatant. Examples are a blatant lie and a flagrant violation of civil liberty.

• fortunate / fortuitous
These two words do not mean the same thing. Fortuitous comes from the Latin fortuitus which means by chance. Fortunate is derived from fortunatus and means bringing some lucky or unexpected advantage, such as a tax refund. It has nothing to do with chance.

• gaff / gaffe
A gaffe is a blunder whereas gaff can have several meanings: a barbed spear, a pole with a hook, a spar or boom aboard a sailing vessel etc.

• historic / historical
Historic refers to an event noted in history, memorable, famous (e.g. a historic victory). Historical has to do with history (e.g. a historical novel).

• homonyms and homophones
Homonyms are words that are pronounced alike but have different meanings (e.g. too and two) and homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings (e.g. son and sun).

• illegal / unlawful
There is a slight and very confusing semantic difference between these two concepts, but for the most part they are synonymous. Illegal refers to something that is expressly forbidden by enacted law (e.g. it is illegal to own a gun) whereas unlawful goes against what is generally allowed and has connotations of morality (e.g. unlawful pleasures).

• impractical / impracticable
These are virtually synonymous. Impractical is an adjective describing someone who is incapable of dealing sensibly with useful things, including plans, ideas and concepts (e.g. an impractical person). Impracticable is very similar in meaning but refers to something incapable of being carried out (e.g. an impracticable scheme).

• introspective / introverted
In psychology these terms have very precise meanings but in general usage introspective concerns examining one’s own thoughts and feelings, while introverted refers to concentrating or directing one’s mind, feelings and emotions on oneself.

• licence / license
These words are pronounced in the same way but licence is the noun and license the verb. Compare advice / advise; practice / practise etc. British English, which we in South Africa follow, makes this distinction but in American English both noun and verb are spelt license.

• lie / lay
Lie, in the sense of being at rest, is far too often confused with lay. Lie is an intransitive verb (it has no object e.g. I won’t take it lying down – never laying down) and lay is transitive (it takes an object e.g. lay a carpet).

• lightning / lightening
Lightning is a flash of bright light in the sky during a thunderstorm and should be differentiated from lightening which means lessening the load to make it less heavy. The latter can be used literally and figuratively.

• loath / loth / loathe
The th in loath and loth is pronounced as in birth and the words mean disinclined, whereas loathe means feeling hatred and the pronunciation is as in clothe. There is no reason for the existence of loth so I suggest you avoid it.

Well that’s all for now with the commonly confused words and words that are often confused and misused. Do look out for the final installment in this three part series.


John DorringtonJohn Dorrington (27)

John is a freelance copy-writer, editor and proof-reader, and has written four books. He has edited several novels and factual books, although much of his work involves editing students’ academic dissertations, including several Master’s and Doctoral theses. He is a graduate of the University of Cape Town where he studied English and History



Words often confused and misused

Words often confused and misused in the English language are usually words that sound similar but can mean something entirely different. So to help you out we have compiled this list of twenty groups of words that are often confused and misused:

• adapt / adopt
Adapt means alter or make suitable for a purpose and adopt means accept or take (an idea etc.) from someone else.

• affect / effect
These words have several meanings but those that are most confused are the verbs. Affect is to have an effect on someone or something (e.g. paralysis affected his limbs) and effect is to bring about or accomplish something (e.g. giving up smoking may effect an improvement in your health). Effect can be a noun and a verb, but affect is only a verb.

• aggravate / irritate
Aggravate means to increase the gravity of a condition already serious. It should not be confused with irritate, which is to annoy or cause anger, displeasure, impatience etc.

• air / heir
These are homophones, words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings. They are usually spelt differently. Although air has several meanings we usually take it as the gaseous substance we breathe. An heir, on the other hand, is a person who inherits or is entitled to inherit.

• aisle / isle
These are also homophones. An aisle is a passage between rows of seats. Isle is a small island. In both words the‘s’ is silent.

• all right / alright
Before checking this I wasn’t sure if one could use alright and all right interchangeably. A Concise Dictionary of Correct English says “alright is always wrong.” Other dictionaries disapprove of it but grudgingly accept that it is gaining legitimacy. You decide for yourself but I will stick with what my old English teacher at school told us: “The spelling a-l-r-i-g-h-t is a barbarism.”

• amoral / immoral
Amoral is a word coined by Robert Louis Stevenson which means unconcerned with morals, or having no sense of right or wrong. It is not judgmental. Immoral also has to do with right and wrong but certainly is judgmental. Here the ‘immoral’ person knows the difference.

• avenge / revenge
Avenge (verb) is to punish a wrongdoing with the purpose of seeing justice done (e.g. he avenged his brother’s murder). Revenge (noun or verb) is more personal and is concerned with retaliation by inflicting harm.

• bathos / pathos
Bathos is an anti-climax or disappointment. Pathos is a quality that raises pity or sadness. Both words are of Greek origin.

• between I / between me
Saying between you and I is a common error and is always wrong. All prepositions are followed by the accusative case (direct object). Similarly, to say they beat John and I at tennis is wrong because beat is a transitive verb (takes an object). While we’re at it you should never say in between. Between is sufficient.

• blond / blonde
Both mean fair-haired, blond for males and blonde for females. In all other cases use blond.

• canvas / canvass
Canvas, the cloth, should not be confused with the noun or verb canvass, which has to do with the ascertainment of opinion (e.g. to canvass for votes).

• capture / captivate
Second-language English speakers may have difficulty with this one. Although capture is used to describe downloading data on a computer its more common meaning is to take captive, in the sense of capturing prisoners. Captivate is figurative, in the sense of an actor captivating an audience by his irresistible acting skills and leaving them spellbound.

• careen / career
The noun, verb or adjective career is derived from the Latin carrus (car). It has several shades of meaning e.g. a diplomatic career, a career woman or the car careered off the road. Careen is unrelated and comes from the Latin carina (keel of a ship). It means to cause a boat or small ship to heel over so that repair or maintenance work can be done. Why, in American English, it has come to mean lurch, sway, seesaw or stagger drunkenly (as a car careening off the road) can only be guessed at. Remember that this meaning of careen is for North American use only.

• childish / childlike
Being childish is to display the behaviour and immaturity of a child. Being childlike is to resemble a child in innocence, trust and naivety.

• classic / classical
As adjectives both mean of the first class. Classic denotes something of historical value and serving as a standard of excellence. Classical usually refers to the works of art, literature, architecture and ideals of ancient Greece and Rome.

• contagious / infectious
When applied to disease this word, derived from the Latin for touch or to have contact, means spread by physical contact. Infectious, on the other hand, refers to a disease transmitted by air or water. The distinction is important.

• contemptible / contemptuous
Contemptible is deserving of scorn, ridicule or contempt. It refers to the person or thing the contempt is aimed at. Contemptuous refers to the person or thing feeling or showing the contempt. (E.g. that contemptible hooligan makes me feel contemptuous.)

• council / counsel
It is important that you differentiate between these two spellings. A council is an assembly of people (e.g. municipal council) whereas counsel is advice (e.g. take my counsel). Note that a councillor is someone in local government and a counsellor is someone who gives advice (e.g. marriage-guidance counsellor).

• compare / contrast
These are similar in meaning and both are followed by ‘with’. Compare lays stress on the similarities between two things while contrast emphasises the differences. An exception is compare to, which means liken to.

• compliment / complement
As a verb or a noun compliment has to do with showing esteem or admiration (e.g. paying a pretty compliment). Complement deals with making something complete or the full number required to make it complete (e.g. when all the crew members of a ship are on board, the ship has a full complement). These words are often confused.

• continual / continuous
Continual: always going on, very frequent, never coming to an end. Continuous: connected, unbroken, uninterrupted (e.g. water may flow continuously but a tap drips continually).

The English language can be very confusing, especially if you are not a native English speaker, and we hope that this list of words often confused and misused words will help you on your way to becoming a better writer. Please also have a look at commonly confused words in English and commonly confused words to complete our list.


John DorringtonJohn Dorrington (27)

John is a freelance copy-writer, editor and proof-reader, and has written four books. He has edited several novels and factual books, although much of his work involves editing students’ academic dissertations, including several Master’s and Doctoral theses. He is a graduate of the University of Cape Town where he studied English and History



How to craft a character and plot that fit together seamlessly

Character and plot in a piece of fiction are inseparable. So if you are planning to write a novel you will need to find not only a plot but also the sort of characters that will suit that plot.

So what exactly is a plot? In simple words a plot (or storyline) is a literary term which outlines the series of events that constitutes a particular story. But that is by no means the full story. A plot is far more than merely a starting point and a logical conclusion. If that was all it involved it would be very boring.

Perhaps a fuller description is: a sequence of events determined by the actions and reactions of the characters; these actions and reactions create a chain of causes and effects; and how these events and the various characters relate to one another.

Right, so that sounds fine. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Each element of a plot must come from something in an earlier part of the story. So you need to create sufficient dramatic impetus to carry readers through to the end of the story by creating a series of mini-climaxes that builds up to the main climax. Or, in other words, you get your hero into trouble and keep him there until the resolution in the final chapter.

A plot pulls together all the characters, settings and voice with a major dramatic and pressing question. This question is usually fairly straightforward and is answered by the end of the story.

Consider the character and plot in the following novels and see what questions the reader wants answered:

• In Pride and Prejudice, the question posed by Jane Austen is whether the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet will accept the proud Mr Darcy
• The question in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is whether Robert Jordan will escape his apparent fate by surviving his military mission in the Spanish Civil war
• In Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë’s dark novel of revenge, the reader wonders if Heathcliff will ever find inner peace after the death of his beloved Catherine
• In J.D. Salinger’s classic The Catcher in the Rye we wonder if the adolescent Holden Caulfield will ever grow up and find his true identity
• In Thomas Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd the question is whether Gabriel Oak will finally win his true love, Bathsheba
• In Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands will Davies and Carruthers get to the bottom of the Kaiser’s plot to invade Britain and thwart the intrigues of the renegade former English naval officer?

Look at any well-written novel and you will see that the main reason we keep reading is because of the suspense the major dramatic question creates. We can’t wait to find out the answer. This is called the denouement, the part where all is revealed.

But let’s leave the plot for the moment, although we agree that character and plot are intertwined, and move on to characterisation.

In fictional narrative writing the literary element known as characterisation deals with the art of creating characters. Characterisation may be portrayed by means of a description of the characters as well as through their actions, speech, thoughts and interaction with other characters.

Characters lead the readers through the story, helping them understand plots and themes. Characterisation allows the reader to empathise with the protagonist and the secondary characters by bringing them to life. Dialogue is a very important part of characterisation because it allows the reader to gain a better insight into their thought processes. It also helps to move the story along.

‘Character’ includes moral qualities and ethical standards or principles – or lack thereof – and is a combination of all the features and traits that form a particular character’s nature or personality.Writers make use of different types of characters to fulfil the different roles in the story.

Here are examples of how character and plot go together:

• Characters are described as either dynamic (those who undergo a developmental change in the story) or static (those who remain the same).
• Dynamic and static characters must not be confused with flat (two-dimensional) or round (complex personality) characters.
• Major (or central) characters are essential in that the plot revolves around them.
• Minor characters complement the major characters and help move events forward.
• The protagonist is the central person in a story. He/she need not necessarily have admirable qualities (e.g. an anti-hero).
• A character who represents a particular class or group of people is known as a type. Allied to this is the stereotypical stock character. Literature is full of them: the wicked schemer Iago in Othello; the miser Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; or even the absent-minded genius Professor Calculus in the Tintin comic series.
Note that the above characteristics are not necessarily mutually exclusive and many of them may be combined at the same time.

To sum up, it doesn’t matter how good your plot is if your characterisation is poor. So make sure character and plot fit together like a hand in a glove.


John DorringtonJohn Dorrington (27)

John is a freelance copy-writer, editor and proof-reader, and has written four books. He has edited several novels and factual books, although much of his work involves editing students’ academic dissertations, including several Master’s and Doctoral theses. He is a graduate of the University of Cape Town where he studied English and History



How to write a first draft

How to write a first draft is not really something that can be taught as each writer is unique and what works for one writer will not work for another. So to help you I have put together 15 simple rules for completing your first draft in record time:

1) Commit to a particular time of day

The choice is yours but early in the morning is best, and stick to that every day, no matter what happens
If you have a full time job you might have to get up at the crack of dawn or, even better, take some leave and just get the job done.

2) Skip over problem areas

You can skip over any parts that really don’t make sense right now, but try to get the main points of the plot on the page or you could end up with nothing. You need to see if your story is going to work.

3) Don’t worry about quality

Concentrate on the story and don’t worry about editing your work. Punctuation and spelling can be sorted out later on.

4) Don’t think too much

If you take your time and think about every word you will not be able to get your ideas down

5) Know what problem, or problems your protagonist will face.

All stories are about how someone solves a problem. Often there is more than one problem that can’t be avoided and you need to decide on the internal and external battles your main character will face.

6) Know how your protagonist looks at life

Decide on how your protagonist reacts to what life throws at him. In other words how does he relate to the world and the people in it?

7) Come up with ideas for minor characters

Have a basic feel for the minor characters and decide which one is to be the antagonist

8) Flesh out minor characters later

Names, ages and all the other nitty-gritty can come later on, for the time being just let it flow.

9) Extra research and characterization

Characterization and motivation can be fixed in later edits, once you have got the basic story down, and you have more time to do research

10) Decide on what the moral (lesson) of the story is

Every story has a lesson. The protagonist needs to be changed somehow at the end of the story. Don’t leave this decision right until the end.

11) Know where your story is going

If you know how your story is going to end you will be able to work out how to get there. If you don’t follow this important piece of advice you may end up with a convoluted story that is difficult to edit.

12) Ask “why” and not “what”

Stories are not about “what” happens, they are about “why” it happens.

13) Use the five senses

What your characters see, smell, hear, touch, and taste will draw the reader into the story and make it more real. Although the first draft is not about going into too much detail, focussing on the senses will help create the imaginary world that your characters live in.

14) Decide on your theme or genre

The theme will decide the underlying feel of the story and will influence the way that you write so this is extremely important. Another way to look at this is that books fall into different genres such as love story, adventure, thriller and so on.

15) Shut your inner critic up

I have written about how to wake up the writer in you and to do this you need to stop that nagging voice that criticises you as you write. Just tell yourself that this is the first draft and it really doesn’t matter if it isn’t a master piece and this will help you to shut your inner critic up.

Now that you know how to write a first draft of your book you can put some time aside and do it. Oh and my one last piece of advice is to put the first draft away for a week or two and let it percolate. When you come back to it you should know exactly how to correct any problem areas.


Tricia DorringtonTricia Dorrington (9)

Tricia has been writing content for websites for many years and, as the editor of this site, attends to the posting of all content, together with the online marketing of the business.



Plot planning or adding to your plot idea

Plot planning, or adding to your initial idea, is an important part of writing a book as just having a good idea for a story is not going to grab the attention of the reader.

Let’s first look at what a story is and here I am using one of the definitions from the Longman Dictionary of the English Language It states that a story is an account of incidents or events. That’s it! So we can all write a story, but adding to the idea and plot planning are what make a story gripping, amusing, heart-warming or any of the dozens of adjectives that you could use to describe a story.

So what does a story need to make it attractive to editors, publishers and finally the reader?

The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote of his theories in Poetics in about 335BC and his ideas still stand to this day. I have tried to read up on his theories and they are, quite frankly, too complicated for words, so I would rather put forward this quotation from his writing which, to me, sums up the main ingredient of a story. “Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is striving and reaching out for his goals.”

Adding to your idea or plot planning

Some of what is required for a story has already been covered in our article creative writing ideas, so now you need to plan your plot further by adding many situations where the protagonist is reaching out for goals but is thwarted by conflicts which escalate to a point where the reader cannot put the book down, and finally a resolution is reached.

Put simply, a story should either be about the transformation of a situation or a character, and should have an initial problem, an escalation of conflict, and a resolution.

Now remember that you need to keep the reader in the story throughout, but grabbing the reader’s attention right at the beginning is certainly of the utmost importance. This is especially so these days when one can go online and read the first chapter of many books before buying.

Once you have caught the attention of the reader you need to set the scene, mood and tone of the story and introduce the protagonist and minor characters, deciding which of the minor characters is to be the antagonist.

When thinking about your protagonist (main character) ask yourself why the reader should care about this person. Remember that if they don’t care about the main character they won’t care about your story either.

So you need to paint a picture of the main character and his or her life, and add oodles of tension which is created by describing unfulfilled desires. Now bring in the minor character or characters who usually serve as the antagonist and provide the setbacks and crisis that initiate the action.

The more tension you create as the story unfolds the better, as that is what holds the reader’s attention and keeps him or her turning the pages. In our article on creative writing we covered all the different genres of books that you can write, and it would depend on which genre you are writing as to what the crisis is that alters your character’s world.

• Adventure could involve a journey to a new land
• Children’s books may involve moving to a new school
• Myth, fantasy and science fiction, often involve a prophecy or revelation that the main character is destined for great things
• Crime fiction involves a crisis that could be a new and seemingly unsolvable case
• Romance involves a crisis of the heart such as going through a divorce.

In each case, though, you need to emotionally engage the reader in the main character’s life which, at the end of the story, will never be the same again.

Plot planning and introducing crisis into the protagonist’s life:

• Begin the story by allowing your main character to have what is most desired and then take it away
• Deny your main character what is most desired and then have him strive for it throughout the story.

Readers often enjoy stories that have many interwoven plots and it has become popular to move backwards and forwards in time as well. I personally avoid these stories like the plague as I find them very confusing. After all I read for relaxation and don’t wish to concentrate too much when reading a book!

You do need at least two crises that interweave throughout the narrative, and these are often an internal struggle and an external struggle that need to be surmounted. The consequences of not unraveling these problems need to escalate as the story moves on and draws the reader in to the story until the climax is reached. This climax usually involves the protagonist making a discovery that will change his life or, at the very least, the way he looks at life.

So to recap when plot planning you should:

• Paint a portrait of the protagonist’s life so that the reader can picture his world
• Make the reader care about what happens to the main character
• Provide one or more crisis or struggle to be solved, or goal to be reached
• Raise the stakes as the character battles to come to terms with the challenges
• End the story in an unexpected way that shows a transformation of the main character’s life.

Well that’s it for plot planning and adding to your idea. I hope that this article has helped you in some way and, should you need any further advice, don’t hesitate to contact us.


Tricia DorringtonTricia Dorrington (9)

Tricia has been writing content for websites for many years and, as the editor of this site, attends to the posting of all content, together with the online marketing of the business.



A book editor will get right inside your book and make it shine.

A book editor will get right inside your book, look at it from every angle and make it shine. Another thing is that a book editor is essential simply because no publisher or printer will touch a manuscript unless it has been carefully checked. That is the bottom line.

But another way of looking at it is that people are generally blind to their own shortcomings and failings, although these same people are usually pretty quick to see the exact same defects in others. Most likely this can be attributed to human nature.

Now it’s a fact of life that many authors, no doubt also being human, are not immune to this trait. They often judge their writing less harshly than it deserves, and with less of a critical eye. They are inclined to be subjective, and refuse to accept that their manuscript is crying out for some serious editing – as any impartial, less subjective person can see. Few authors are their own harshest critics – especially first-time authors. Yet no manuscript exists that cannot be improved, however good it may be.

A book editor steps in to create order in a book

That is where the book editor steps in to create order out of potential chaos. Professional book editors have usually spent many years – often many decades – honing their skills. They know what to do and what to look for in a manuscript, what pitfalls to avoid, and how to rectify an author’s mistakes. Having a second pair of eyes, as it were, they offer a different and unbiased perspective and can quickly spot what the author has missed, or ambiguities and repetitions that the author is completely unaware of.

Remember, there is no manuscript that cannot be improved – no matter how good it is. And first-time authors are advised to swallow their pride and cultivate a good working relationship with his or her book editor. It’s worth it – for the sake of the book.

So if you have written a book and need a book editor to take a look at it you can contact John and he will be only to happy to give you a quote.


John DorringtonJohn Dorrington (27)

John is a freelance copy-writer, editor and proof-reader, and has written four books. He has edited several novels and factual books, although much of his work involves editing students’ academic dissertations, including several Master’s and Doctoral theses. He is a graduate of the University of Cape Town where he studied English and History

Handling quoted speech or dialogue of characters

The quoted speech or dialogue of characters is an important part of narrative writing and when a new or inexperienced author sets off on his or her first attempt at writing a work of fiction, one of the areas that often provides some difficulty is writing the quoted or direct speech of their characters.

Quoted speech is an integral part of any narrative writing and there are plenty of rules or guidelines governing it, among other things the rules relating to punctuation and capitalization.

This is all well and good but in this blog I want to focus on what the characters say, and in particular how they say it. The important thing to remember is that the characters must always remain in character. For example a reader wouldn’t expect the local vicar to speak like a gangster, or a deep-sea fisherman to speak like an Oxford don.

As far as possible, authors should write as their characters would speak. And here I refer only to the direct or quoted speech of their characters. With all due respect to gangsters and fishermen, it is highly unlikely that they would say something like: “I would appreciate it if you would be so kind as to return the money, which you stole from me, as soon as you are able to do so.” It is also highly unlikely that our deep-sea fisherman would say: “We should haul in the nets as quickly as possible as there is a storm brewing and we should return to harbour before any mishap befalls us.”

If I were to imagine a gangster such as Al Capone or a grizzled old fisherman I know how I would write their dialogues. How would you write it?

The point is: stick to your characterization when writing quoted speech. And if you aren’t sure, read it out aloud to another person, or have that person read it aloud to you – and then maybe you will see that it doesn’t quite ring true.


John DorringtonJohn Dorrington (27)

John is a freelance copy-writer, editor and proof-reader, and has written four books. He has edited several novels and factual books, although much of his work involves editing students’ academic dissertations, including several Master’s and Doctoral theses. He is a graduate of the University of Cape Town where he studied English and History

Creative writing ideas and how to use images as a prompt

Creative writing ideas, or in other words the story or plot, are not always easy to come up with and can be a huge stumbling block for an aspiring writer. There are many ways of coming up with a plot but I have found that the one that works for me every time is to browse through one of the sites that sells royalty free images. The one that I prefer is Fotalia but there are many sites where you can find images that are not very expensive should you need to buy them, and that you can use for various projects.

Take the image that I have included in this article on creative writing. If I wanted to write a fantasy or a children’s book, or even a love story, I know that I would be able to get my creative juices flowing by looking at this gorgeous image with its many possibilities. If I look at this image the story is just about jumping out of the pages of the book at me!
I first learnt about using this sort of creative writing prompt when I did a course on writing for children and I found that it really helped me, so let’s talk about how to go about this.

Using a graphic as a prompt for creative writing ideas

• Look at your picture and come up with a main character and one or two minor characters (for our purposes the main character is male and the minor characters are female)
• Decide what the goal or motive is of your main character (usually, but not always, the protagonist)
• What is the conflict that prevents the main character from reaching his goals
• What will happen if he doesn’t get what he wants
• Decide what the goal or motive is of your minor characters
• One of your minor characters will probably be an antagonist-decide on how you are going to handle this
• When the minor characters pursue their goals how does it affect the goals of the main character
• Remember that the goals are what drive the story forward and you need to be clear about what they are
• What is the main climax of the story
• Each chapter should have a mini climax that comes towards the end of the chapter and makes the reader eager to see what happens
• Does the main character succeed or fail in his endeavours
• How is he changed by the outcome of the story

How to craft motivations for creative writing ideas

Asking questions will help you craft the scenes and decide on the motivation of your characters so keep asking yourself the following two questions over and over until you have the basis of a plot:

• What if? (crafts scenes)
• Why? (decides on motivations)

Once you have come up with a myriad of creative writing ideas you should put your work away for a few days. Now I’m not saying that you should forget about it. Just put it to one side and let it work away in your subconscious. When you return to it you should be able to pick out the creative writing ideas that you want to keep and put the others aside for another project.


Tricia DorringtonTricia Dorrington (9)

Tricia has been writing content for websites for many years and, as the editor of this site, attends to the posting of all content, together with the online marketing of the business.

Wake up the writer in you

There are many different ways to wake up the writer in you, and a Google search will provide countless tips for creative writers on all aspects of writing, from getting started to pointers on grammar and style and advice on how to end a story. But what about the characters in the book you’re planning to write? How do you go about creating them?

Characterisation is an important literary device used for creating the characters in a story. Characters may be introduced to the reader through their appearance, deeds, speech or thoughts. These characteristics can be conveyed directly (first person) or indirectly (third person).

Bring your characters to life

Many years ago, before the days of the Internet, one of our English lecturers at university gave us a valuable tip. He advised us that when studying a play, a book or any other literary work it was always a good idea to bring the characters to life by imagining real people playing the parts, and suggested visualising movie stars when doing this. For example, in the play we happened to be studying at the time, he said Peter Sellers would have been perfect for one of the characters, bumbling his way through the part, and (a very young) Goldie Hawn would have been ideal in the role of the dizzy blonde. That was a long time ago!

Of course you don’t have to imagine your favourite film actors. Real-life people you happen to know, even only vaguely, can work just as well. But what does this have to do with writing? Nothing at all, except that the same principle would hold true if you wanted to wake up the writer in you and make a start on the characterisation in your new novel – something you have long been pondering about. Visualising real-life characters as the protagonists in your writing can be useful, but you shouldn’t make it too obvious that the characters you are describing can be too easily identified in real life.

Use your imagination as a writer

Creative writers develop their characters by using many methods, but in every instance imagination is the key – at least to some degree. The physical appearance of characters is relatively easy to describe, but what about their personality, character traits and other intangible qualities? Not quite so easy. But still you can use what you imagine to be the traits or character flaws of your favourite movie stars or the people you know and place your newly constructed imaginary character in a fictional situation of your own making.

You could also base your characters on those you’ve read about in books, or on a combination of several different real or fictional people. The possibilities are endless. Give free rein to your imagination and let it add extra dimensions to your characters, but keep it within the bounds of realism.

A work in progress

Characterisation is a vital element of creative writing. By describing the protagonists’ appearance, behaviour, actions, interests and mannerisms it helps to make the narrative more convincing and interesting. It helps the reader understand their actions and thought processes, get to know them better and possibly induce him to admire and identify with them – or just the opposite. Remember that characterisation never stops – it’s a work in progress.

As your characters’ creator you should always remember their traits and foibles. They can’t appear to be too erratic. Avoid making your characters too perfect – it makes them highly improbable. They should appear to be as life-like as possible, in what they look like and in what they say, think and do. Backstories – their personal histories – are often frowned upon, although they can work if used well. But introduce this facet of your characters at the right time and in the right place.

As in real life, we usually get to know people over a long period of time. So too in your writing as your characterisation develops.

Keep it real when writing

You may borrow the general personality of a fictional character you’ve read about, but make the necessary changes after doing your homework. Real people have weaknesses and strengths, flaws and good qualities. With a bit of imagination you can also make your characters seem like real people – warts and all. And don’t forget to give them real-sounding names. Good characterisation gives readers a better sense of characters’ personalities and complexities, making them appear more life-like and credible.

Points to consider

To make your fictional characters seem real consider the following:

• Personality and mannerisms
• Physical appearance
• Thought processes
• Dialogue to reveal and develop personality
• Careful choice of name.

By keeping these points in mind and using your imagination, you should find it easier to wake up the writer in you and improve your characterisation development.


John DorringtonJohn Dorrington (27)

John is a freelance copy-writer, editor and proof-reader, and has written four books. He has edited several novels and factual books, although much of his work involves editing students’ academic dissertations, including several Master’s and Doctoral theses. He is a graduate of the University of Cape Town where he studied English and History