Use “fate” as a plot device

‘So,’ George said, settling back in his chair. ‘Having seen all the candidates, what are your thoughts?’ Louise tapped her pen on the table.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘I thought Jules was a fairly good fit. Ingrid had the most impressive CV in terms of past experience. But I think we should go with David.’ George nodded.
‘I’d be tempted to agree,’ he said. ‘Despite not really being suitable for the position or having any of the relevant qualifications, I think David’s the right choice, mostly because it’s his destiny.’
‘Yes,’ said Louise, thoughtfully. ‘He doesn’t seem to know a lot about marketing per se, but getting this job would be the first step in his meteoric rise to power and eventual corruption in a personal plot arc that echoes, among other texts, Citizen Kane and the fall of Lucifer.’
‘I’d have to concur,’ said George. ‘He was bumbling and inarticulate in the interview, his CV is written on what looks like a paper hand-towel and he was unapologetically an hour late for his appointment, but I think he’s the guy for the job.’
‘What are you going to write on the form?’
‘I’ll just put “indefinable sense of narrative momentum.”’

Improve the online visibility of your fiction through the careful use of keywords

Fighting for breath, Britney Bin Laden sprinted away from the collapsing building with all the speed of a get rich quick scheme or celebrity nipple slip. A massive explosion tore seductively through the virgin wall behind her, a wall which was eighteen years old and ready for fun.
Yikes, thought Britney, this is certainly exclusive breaking news which might well affect current stock prices. Just then, a truck carrying cheap pharmaceutical goods veered off the road, narrowly missing her. That could have killed me, thought Britney, her life flashing before her eyes like a free bootleg movie download. There are so many things I regret. I wish I had won top prizes at an online Euro-Casino, or talked to more singles in my area.
‘Britney!’ someone shouted. She squinted through the smoke. It was her friend and lover, Jesus Michael Jackson-Obama-Sextape. ‘Are you okay?’ he said, offering her coupon codes for genuine software downloads.

Hate your characters

(With thanks to James Franco)

Frank Malaise sat slumped in the barber’s chair, reeking of sweat and onions. His folds of pale fat covered him like a quilt made of bacon rind, swaddling his weak frame just as, far beneath his rib cage, they swaddled his anaemic heart. One day that heart would give out and his funeral would be attended by every person whose life he had touched and whose love he had earned in his time on this planet – which is to say, no one.
‘Hey,’ he called across the barbershop. ‘I haven’t got all day here.’ This was true. His plans for the afternoon included poor-quality microwave meals and wallowing in his own ignorance. In response to this petulant demand for service, Sid the barber stalked across the room and stood behind Frank. He paused for a second, his scissor blades hovering near Frank’s neck.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, directionless hatred bubbling in the pit of his soul. Sid was a deeply unpleasant man, subject to misanthropic murderous rages that he liked to think of as his “purging” instincts. His wife, herself a morbidly obese and profoundly stupid human being, took perverse pleasure in adopting a chirpy, sing-song voice as she warned Sid that one of these days he would “flip his lid.” The truth was that one day he would, that blood would be spilled and that the world would be better for it. God, I hate people.

Refuse to leave the present tense

I sit at my desk and remember how, years ago, I wonder what my life will be like when I am fifty, which I am now. I’m imagining that I’m living in a big house, I remember as I sit in my one-bedroom apartment. Now I pour myself a drink and cast my mind back to a time when I’m full of hope and passion which is never to be extinguished, as it is now.
‘What am I doing?’ I mutter to myself, taking a sip of my drink. In my memory, I’m seven years old, sitting in the highest branches of a tree which is being planted a hundred years before I am born. Now, though, the tree is long dead. I’m chopping it down at the age of twenty and thinking about when it is supporting my weight at the age of seven. I look at my watch.
‘Late,’ I mutter to myself. It is eight; the retrospective is just starting, half an hour ago.

Give your characters distinctive idioms

‘Dae ye nae ken?’ spluttered Hamish, spilling whisky on his sporran. ‘I cannae be tha’ mush clerrer.' Bronco frowned at him.
‘Well, gee whizz,’ he said. ‘I’m havin’ the darndest time tryin’ a foller yer. Could’ya speak a liddle slower, pardner?’
‘Ah, tae hell with ye,’ muttered Hamish.
‘I believe what our Caledonian friend is attempting to convey,’ lisped Archibald over the rim of his teacup, ‘is that he is somewhat dissatisfied with the manner in which he is being addressed by your good self. Is that right, old chap?’
‘Aye,’ the red-haired drunkard grumbled. ‘An i’s no jus’ Yankie-boy, neither. Ye’s all a shoor o’ racists.’ Before he could elaborate, however, the conversation was interrupted by the late arrival of Ahmed.

Focus on one sense to the exclusion of the others

Before he even opened his eyes, Daniel could smell the metallic, oily scent of the machine guns pointing at him.
‘The prisoner is awake!’ shouted the nearest of the men. His breath smelled like onions and raw meat. Daniel blinked.
‘Where...’ he said, but before he could finish his question, a leather boot which stank of petrol hit the side of his head. He fell to the ground, which smelled of mud and, again, petrol.
‘Silence!’ screamed the guard, the tangy, faintly sweet odour of his sweat wafting into Daniel’s nostrils. Daniel was sure that, had any dogs been nearby, they could have smelled his fear. The whole situation reeked of danger. Then, on the wind, came the salty scent of the ocean and, with it, a faint whiff of hope.
‘Smell you later!’ shouted Daniel, making a run for the jet-ski.

Withhold key information to create tension

As her ears filled with white noise, Naomi stared at the ocean 30,000 feet beneath her and wished she had packed a parachute. Around her, clouds tumbled past in a blur of wind and white ozone. Far, far below, she could see the shimmering surface of the water – if she were to hit it at terminal velocity, she knew it would break every bone in her body. Of course, she would have passed out long before then, her vision narrowing to a bright dot, then shutting off completely as the blood rushed to her brain.
The roar of white noise grew louder. She had been in danger plenty of times over the last few months and near-death experiences had become a way of life, but nothing terrified her more than the prospect of plunging to her certain death in the unknowable emptiness of the mid-Pacific, thousands of miles from home.
Phew, she thought, removing her faulty headphones. It’s a good job I’m on a plane.

Use very specific reference points in your similes

Sarah gasped. The man standing before them was the closest thing to a giant she had ever seen. He was as tall as the birch tree at the bottom of the garden at 64 Kenton Street, Ruislip, West London and as wide as the bonnet of a 1989 Ford Festiva.
‘Explain yourself!’ thundered the giant, his voice as loud as the maximum volume setting on a Sony Trinitron KV-32S42 when tuned to white noise. ‘What are you children doing in my kingdom?’
‘Please, Sir,’ said Sarah, as nervous as Dave Anglesey of New Park Road, Melbourne waiting for his biopsy results at 8:30 on a Wednesday morning, ‘we didn’t mean to trespass, really we didn’t. It’s just that your castle is as strange and fascinating as the first and, to a lesser extent, second seasons of the cult early nineties television drama Twin Peaks, although, it has to be said, it lacks the consistently compelling quality and fractured narrative of that well-loved landmark in television history.’

Sacrifice motivation for the sake of plotting

‘So,’ said Doug. ‘We’ve found the evidence we needed. Should we get out of here and contact the authorities?’ Maggie shook her head.
‘No,’ she said. ‘Let’s have another look around. Maybe there’s something we’ve missed.’
‘Really?’ said Doug, frowning. ‘We’ve got the photos and the hard drive, we’ve miraculously evaded capture and we even solved the mystery of who your long-lost brother is. What else is there to do?’
‘Well,’ Maggie said, ‘I’m quite interested in the architectural features of this secret lair. Do you think those columns are Doric? We should go and look.’ Doug exhaled heavily.
‘Seriously? We have no reason to be here any more. Hanging around is just going to get us caught, leading to an admittedly nail-biting but basically unnecessary series of escape attempts.’ Maggie nodded, craning her neck to look at the ceiling.
‘Uh-huh. I hear what you’re saying. It won’t take long.’ She smiled. ‘Ooh, also, we should split up so we can cover more ground.’

Allow the rhyme scheme to dictate the content

This poem is for you, Rebecca –
I’m drawn to you like a pilgrim to Mecca,
Like a lighthouse lamp that’s all aflicker,
Like a record collector to the archives of Decca.
Your skin is pale and paper white
And I think you’re a lovely sight,
Much better than a building site;
A riot could your smile incite.
Your eyes are like two shining stars,
Or headlights on the front of cars,
Or spaceships exploding whilst orbiting Mars –
I hope you’re never infected with SARS.

Write as therapy

Julie marched into the office and slammed her bag down on the desk.
‘Right,’ she said. ‘There are going to be some changes around here now I’m in charge.’ Everyone looked up, surprised by the new authoritative tone in Julie’s voice and suddenly reassessing their view of her as a pushover who never stands up for herself.
‘What do you mean, changes?’ stammered Gordon, who now regretted ever having belittled Julie in front of that temp she liked despite her definitely telling him that she was going to ask him out.
‘For a start,’ said Julie, her voice pulsing with purposeful mastery and newfound confidence, ‘there’ll be no more talking about TV shows from the night before that I haven’t watched, okay?’
‘Okay,’ said José, the quiet and brooding but devastatingly handsome accounts manager. ‘It is really annoying when we do that and it makes you feel left out, which isn’t fair. Also, I love you and you’re not getting too old to have children and your mother doesn’t know what she’s talking about because if anything, your career is going from strength to strength.’
‘Thank you, José,’ said Julie, modestly.

Mix genres

Billy “Fast-Hands” Legume was not a man who enjoyed being made a fool of, but as he stood in the dusty town square, his hand hovering uncertainly over his holstered pistol, he couldn’t help but feel that someone somewhere was laughing at him. Under the town clock, on the far side of the square, the werewolf stretched in readiness, its haunches sinking low to the ground. Billy licked his parched lips. Now he had a chance to look at it, the creature struck him as strangely vulnerable, its soft brown eyes holding a spark of the compassion he imagined could one day blossom into something like love. Suddenly, the werewolf rose into the air, surrounded by the faint blue glow of quantum repulsor fields.
‘What the?’ Billy mumbled.
‘A minor setback, nothing more,’ said his manservant Bearsonly, brushing a speck of dust from his jacket. ‘We shall deal with the beast.’
Before they could do anything, however, the ground before them was torn asunder and a thunderous noise, like to the report of one thousand thousand cannons, announced the long-foretold rising of Kgathrhyxl, Lord of the Maelstrom.

Never let a good sentence end

In an act of aggression of the sort which was all too common in that particular day and age (albeit marginally on what could be termed the decline, although it was by no means clear that said decline would continue, given the social trends becoming increasingly common even at the very moment that Pete stood in the dim light of the moon, his chest heaving in a fight to regain the breath which had been so thoroughly knocked out of him by the exertions of the previous few minutes, waiting to see what reaction his presence elicited from the man who, until that evening, he would never have thought of as his nemesis, this being a role which he had not previously considered candidates for, although in retrospect there had been many possible contenders for the dubious honour of that title) Pete reached out, the length of his sinewy arm surprising even him as it snaked away from his body like a mid-level branch protruding from a deciduous tree, possibly an elm or oak, but a branch which also resembled, in the dim half-light of the evening in which Pete (and, presumably, the notional tree) stood, a large snake, and pushed – not merely with force sufficient to draw attention to the fact of his pushing (although this had been his original intention, before an unexpected rush of adrenaline had prompted him to metaphorically “shift gears” and pursue this alternative, more forceful, course of action) but with enough power to impress upon his opponent the very real possibility of physical combat and, he hoped, the likelihood of his (Pete’s) primacy in such a potential conflict – the centre (both geometrically and, he imagined, psychologically, given the location’s proximity to the vital cardiac organ hidden beneath bone, flesh, skin and, as he discovered, a fine sheen of cold perspiration) of Leo’s chest.