Make the most of formatting

‘So,’ she said, peering suspiciously inside the bag. ‘This is the merchandise we talked about?’
The salesman nodded. ‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘It’s all there. Every last bit.’
‘And if I take it?’ she asked. ‘What then?’
He shrugged. ‘Then it’s yours,’ he said. ‘What happens after that is up to you.’ She scanned his face for clues, but saw nothing. She hesitated. What should she do? There was no guarantee that what she thought was in the bag was actually what was in the bag. BUT WAS THAT A CHANCE SHE COULD TAKE? So much rested on this. So much.
And you’ll be discreet?’ she said. He smiled.

Lump all the dialogue and narrative together

The thing is, I can’t see this working. I patted the side of the machine and shook my head. Why not? Well, we don’t have enough fuel for a start. That shouldn’t be a problem. I pointed towards the furniture. I know you did, but we’re not going to burn it just because you pointed to it. So this was how he was going to play it. Please don’t refer to me in the third person when I’m standing right here; it’s rude. Oh, sorry. So, what do we do? I thought for a moment. What do you mean you thought for a moment? You thought for a moment just now, or a while ago? This is confusing. I know. How are we supposed to tell who’s talking at any given moment? We can’t really. Like just then – you answered your own question, but it sounded like I answered it. I stopped to think for a moment. I know, so did I. No, I didn’t actually say that out loud, that was just... I stopped to think for a moment. I know, you said that already. I stopped to think for a moment. What’s the matter, cat got your tongue? No, I was just stopping to think for a moment. Oh, okay. You know what? Some aspects of modernism are hard to pull off, it turns out. I nodded. Me too.

ROMANCE WEEK #5: Force a happy ending

Arianna, having fallen in love at first glance, made sacrifices to pursue her passion and encountered obstacles to her happiness, was just about to sink into despair when something remarkable and completely unexpected happened.
In an instant, she overcame her irrational fear of trained animals and felt the circus-related allergies to canvas, face-paint and straw simply melt away. Despite her lifelong disdain for circuses, she suddenly found herself fascinated by their transgressive liminality and ready to abandon her hugely successful academic career to revel in their chaotic energy. Also, she renounced her commitment to celibacy despite its strong philosophical underpinnings.
Just as she was undergoing this series of remarkable yet highly convenient revelations, she heard a strangled kind of grunt and looked up to see the bearded lady being crushed beneath a tiger which had been carelessly dropped on her by a strong-man. In a heartbeat, she was at Alfonzo’s side.
‘How terrible for you,’ she whispered, stroking the top of his curly wig. He looked up at her and she saw the flash of true love in his ocean-blue eyes.
‘Allo,’ he said, and she knew that they would be happy for many, many years.

ROMANCE WEEK #4: Convey sensuality

With thanks to Daniel M

She watched as Alfonzo’s hands snaked up the bearded interloper’s back, caressing her like a seahorse caresses his young after carrying them for their two-to-four-week gestation period, because it’s male seahorses that get pregnant, not female ones.
She choked back tears as he stroked the harlot’s long, luxurious beard. How she wished that was her beard he was stroking. Of course, she did not have a beard, being a professor of theology rather than a circus performer. But he could stroke her other body hair, couldn’t he? Her sensibly bobbed brown locks, her barely visible downy upper-lip hair, the wispy tufts under her arms and finally – she barely dared imagine – her delicate and mysterious hoo-ha. Just thinking the word gave her a thrill. It had an earthy sensuality to it, a deep and primal power that spoke to the very fabric of her nature. Hoo-ha. She trembled silently. Hoo-ha.

ROMANCE WEEK #3: Create artificial barriers to your couple’s happiness

Doubtless her colleagues would think her mad. After all, she was not only a renowned philosophical and religious thinker, but had been devoutly celibate for some twenty years now. She had written her doctoral thesis on the notion of the carnivalesque, dismissing circuses as a culturally bankrupt dead-end of the carnival tradition. To make things worse, she was violently allergic to straw, canvas and face-paint and had an irrational fear of trained animals of all kinds.
By the time she reached the procession, she was breathless with both exertion and the passion that boiled in her loins. She approached the diminutive figure who had become her entire world, ready to fall at his feet and declare her love, only to be stopped short. She had reached him just in time to see him engaging in a passionate embrace with a clearly besotted bearded lady.

ROMANCE WEEK #2: Make their love believable

In an instant, she burned for him. His brightly painted face, his mismatched clothes, his trick lapel flower – oh, how she yearned to be squirted by that flower. She watched him as he walked, his enormous shoes flapping against the ground and honking with each step. He was masterful – commanding, even. She felt as if she was being pulled into his orbit, as if her soul was tracing a circle around him like the one formed by the hooped waist of his comically oversized trousers. How she longed to cradle that lopsided face in her hands, to kiss that shining red nose.
She hurriedly stuffed philosophical treatises into her desk and locked the lid with trembling hands. Her article on the dichotomy of free will would have to wait – she had no choice now but to run away and join the circus.

ROMANCE WEEK #1: Create an unlikely pairing

Arianna Milieux, the most widely respected female theologian of her era, stared out of the window and considered the nature of divinity. She watched a leaf fall slowly from one of the tall trees on the boulevard outside. The way it fell – drifting first one way, then the other, but falling, always falling – put her in mind of what her colleague Luc had been saying over lunch the previous day regarding the Miltonic conception of virtue and the inherent incompleteness of man.
She was just reaching for a pen when something bright caught her eye. Between the trees, on a street perpendicular to the boulevard, she could see the garish colours of a circus convoy. Slowly, it revealed itself to her, emerging from the trees and onto the main thoroughfare. The elephants caught her attention immediately, their upraised trunks leading the procession. Behind them was an open platform of a vehicle, in the manner of a carnival float, containing a troupe of acrobats who leapt and tumbled even as they travelled. What really took her breath away, though, was the sight of the man who walked behind this acrobatic spectacle, calmly pacing along the boulevard as if he owned the city and everything in it.
Even from a distance, she could see the piercing blue of his eyes, the firm set of his jaw, the sheer size of his bright red shoes as they flapped around below his barely three-foot frame. She knew him by reputation, but had never before seen him in person – this could only be Alfonzo, the shortest clown in all of Europe.

Get overexcited about finishing your first draft

The rain was more insistent now, falling in sheets across the landscape. It ran down his neck and inside his coat, the rivulets of cold water flowing over his skin. He didn’t mind. It was good to feel something, anything, after all this time. He lay a hand on the rough stone.
‘Goodbye, old friend.’ With that, he slowly turned away from the grave and began the long walk home. And... BOOM! We are outta here! 160,000 words and this book is toast. See ya for the sequel, suckers...

Eliminate words increase urgency

Suddenly awake sitting bed, Clive blinked sleep eyes. Time? Looked clock cursed breath. Late work third time week. Trouble. Yanking trousers legs stumbled doorway nearly fell stairs. Grabbed phone punched numbers.
‘Sorry. Car broken down waiting repair.’ Listened boss. Swallowed. ‘No. Car engine seized. Oil.’ Waited awkward silence. ‘Hour? Half hour. Sorry.’
Slammed phone swore. Opened fridge cold pizza last night. TV black white film. Plane runway.
‘Start beautiful friendship.’ Fade.

Write when you’re hungry

Bertha looked up. The building in front of her was the shape of a baguette standing on its end and the colour of mushroom soup. She walked towards the imposing front door and raised her ham-coloured hand to knock on the frosted (translucent, not frosted like a cake is frosted) glass. It made a noise like dropping a can of baked beans on a tiled floor.
‘Hello?’ she said. The building was as silent as refrigerated milk. She waited for a few seconds, then a few more, until she had been waiting for roughly the amount of time it takes to toast a muffin. There was no reply, much in the same way there is no reply if you phone a takeaway restaurant on a night when they’re not open. She tutted under her breath, making the same noise as a bubble popping on the surface of a thick tomato and basil sauce which has been brought to the boil.
I’m terribly sorry, you’ll have to excuse me.

Struggle with moral dilemmas

I hesitated, my finger resting on the button.
‘So,’ I said, ‘pressing this button will kill everyone in the building. Is that what you’re saying?’
‘That’s right,’ crackled the voice on the radio. ‘Cyanide gas will be released, doors and windows will be sealed and the only person to walk out of there alive will be you.’
‘What about the orphans?’ I asked.
‘Each one of them will die a painful, lingering death,’ said the voice. ‘They trusted you and they’re relying on you to save them, but pushing that button will kill each and every one of them.’
‘I understand,’ I said. ‘But am I right in thinking that pushing the button...’
‘Is the only way to get your shoes back, yes,’ said the voice. I shook my head.
‘It’s impossible,’ I said. ‘I can’t decide.’ The thought of being responsible for the carnage that pushing the button would cause made me feel sick to my stomach. I wasn’t a killer, I told myself, hoping it was true. I was a good person. This thing – this terrible thing I was being asked to do – seemed impossible. Unthinkable. On the other hand, they had been very comfortable shoes. ‘Damn you for making me choose,’ I sobbed.

Punish your characters indirectly

‘Well, if you say it’s okay...’ said Ben, taking the bottle. ‘I guess it couldn’t hurt to just try it.’
‘Yeah, it’s cool,’ said Dex, waving a hand. ‘You’ll be old enough soon anyway. Why not get a head-start?’ He grinned and flicked a speck of dust off his leather jacket.
‘Well, okay,’ said Ben, raising the bottle to his mouth. He tipped his head back and tasted the bitter, fiery liquid on his tongue. Before he could even swallow, though, there was a huge, resounding crash from outside. The two boys looked at each other. Dex slowly turned to the window and looked out. Ben saw the colour drain from his face.
‘Laser wasps!’ he shouted, diving to the ground. Ben ran to the window. Sure enough, the swarm of twenty-foot-long robotic laser wasps was tearing through the city, leaving a swathe of destruction in their wake. Full of guilt and remorse, he dropped the bottle. Unfortunately, it was already too late.

Use Microsoft Word’s “autosummarize” feature to compress a year's work into under 100 words

Slowly, it opened slowly. At last, the door opened.
and falling
Just imagine, he thought. Dear readers,
Dash whispered. Fine, thought Glowingly. Maggie shook her head.
‘Change, Charlotte, change!’
‘Change? If in doubt, initiate sex
Gilgo said, throwing his hands in the air. Olaf laughed. Geoff laughed. (LAUGHS)
KALI: Right.
Archie, Archie, Archie. My old fruit. ‘Never you mind. Pete shook his head. Oh well, he thought. Edward shook his head.
The old man nodded sagely.
Edward nodded grimly.
Maybe if he waited until... What was staying his hand?

Make excuses for your plot holes

You may be wondering, dear reader, how Hwinhaw the Donkey King managed to be waiting for me in the temple when I got there, having last been seen with three broken legs in the City of the Sands. The truth is, I do not know. Perhaps this is one of the many mysteries of the hidden gem which the Grey Ladies talked of. The hidden gem itself – lost for thousands of years – somehow appeared in my saddlebag when I faced the trial of waters, as you will remember. This is another great mystery which perhaps it is best not to enquire into.
As my faithful servant Flimpton said when we arrived home (I do not remember how he escaped the pit of knives, but he did): some things are beyond our knowledge, Mr Pinkling, and will forever be so. For my part, I merely congratulated him on having somehow regained the power of speech since last I saw him and then sloped off to bed for a well-deserved sleep. Suffice it to say, my bed had returned entirely to its normal form and the troubled dreams which had started this whole sorry affair did not recur, the power of prophecy having left me as inexplicably as it had arrived.

Coin baffling aphorisms

More than anything, I remember the smell of the streets back then – a brackish funk my mother used to call the “potato waltz.” She was full of pithy phrases like that, with one for every occasion. Mealtimes were “dingo rose gardens,” holes in our socks were “delving bolsheviks” and if one of us kids came home with a cut or bruise we couldn’t hide, she would tell us: “there’s no leaf falls as fast as Princess Mulch, and none so riverish as Spanish Dan.” We took that kind of thing to heart – it didn’t put us off fighting, but it sure as hell made us want to win.
If I’m honest as a shoe can be, I think some of my mother’s way of talking – the way they all talked in the old country, I suppose – rubbed off on me like mustard on a Major. To this day, I still call bullfrogs “purple postmen” and scissors “papier-mâché Art Garfunkels.” I still greet people by asking how their cousins are spinning and if anyone crosses me, they can expect an outburst of shuffling autocratic seedbeds and flamingo dovetails. It’s just my way, I guess. Like they say, to each according to his own and to all a good night.