Building a Story House

under construction signage on laptop keyboard
Photo by Fernando Arcos on 

There are many analogies for writing a book. I always liken it to building a house.

A house needs strong foundations. For a writer our foundation is our plot. It has to be solid enough to support a story from the beginning to the end.

A building needs a well-built structure to stand on the foundations – the walls and the roof.  This sustains the building, protecting it from the elements and hostile invaders. A book needs a carefully planned structure too. A writer needs to think about whether the book will be divided into various parts or whether it will rely solely on chapters, will there be a prologue and an epilogue, who will tell the story and will it be in the first person or third person.

The house builder needs to give careful thought to where the doors and windows are placed for maximum effect, the doors need to give easy access to and from the dwelling, the windows might focus on a wonderful view or concentrate on bringing lots of light into the rooms within. For writers, our doors and windows are the opening of a story, the highpoints that drive the narrative forward, the unexpected plot twists that surprise and delight readers and finally the ending.

To make a house a home, it needs subdividing into rooms that work individually but also as a whole with the rest of the house. In writing, our rooms are our scenes. Every scene should have a purpose, if possible more than one. If they don’t then they are merely padding and have no place in the finished book.

Once a builder has all the basics in place they can start to decorate by adding colour to the walls and coverings to the floors followed by the furniture.

story house 1For a writer they can only start to decorate and add the furniture once the plot is nailed down and the structure is complete. That’s when the editing starts. Imagine having to emulsion a mansion, room by room, day after day until the whole building is complete. That’s how editing a novel should be. At first it seems like a massive task, a never-ending task, but sure enough once you start working through the chapters, as a builder would work through the various rooms, you start to see progress.


And, just as with a building, once one edit is finished it is time to start the next. A builder would add skirting boards and cornices. We do another run through to make our words flow even better than they did before and then another and another.

Once a building is finished there is usually a long snagging list – little imperfections that have been overlooked. Writers need snagging lists too. A read through as a reader rather than as an editor can highlight these, a section where the pace sags, an inconsistency regarding names, a lack of tension. This is where our beta readers come into their own.

story house 2

Once a building’s snagging list has been resolved it’s time for the builder to hand over the keys to the new owners who proudly move in and hang pictures on the walls and curtains at the windows.

Writers too can enjoy these moments. The final polishing of a manuscript is always immensely satisfying, the writing equivalent of plumping the cushions on the sofa.

Building a house is a long-term project as is writing a book.

So, the next time you embark on a new book picture yourself digging the foundations of your new story house. When the going gets tough, as it always does for home builders and writers alike, picture where you will be when the work has been completed.

Trust the process and trust yourself. In a year or maybe less you will be standing inside your beautiful creation, plumping the cushions ready to put your story house on the market for sale.

Happy writing!


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Confident Beginnings

Confidence is a tricky thing, isn’t it? Like Goldilocks people can have too little or too much. Either ends of the scale are limiting and not particularly attractive but getting it just right? That’s the hard bit.

Colin’s Fridge and The Three Milks by Alasdair courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

I recently watched a documentary where psychologists were monitoring young children in a play and school environment. Two children stood out and seemed to strike up what, on the face of it, was an unlikely friendship. One was overconfident, a thrill seeker who sought out danger and constantly pushed boundaries. The other was a boy who excelled at maths but who was generally frightened by life and shied away from anything he perceived as dangerous. These two boys, despite their obvious differences in personality, seemed to gel.

Friendship by Tomvdh1 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

When the psychologists put up ‘Danger – Keep Out’ signs and taped off one of the children’s favourite pieces of play apparatus – a play house reached by a ladder – the thrill seeker immediately wanted to investigate and go into the play house to see what the danger was. The nervous child hung back. So upset at the prospect of his friend doing something that was forbidden, the nervous boy told him that two adults were coming his way, even though no adults were in the area. The thrill seeker reluctantly left the equipment alone and the nervous boy had, in his eyes, protected his friend from danger. One had regulated the other’s actions.

Yin and yang
Yin and Yang by Rolf Dietrich Brecher courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Later, these same boys were confronted with a tarantula spider in a case. When the handler asked if the children would like to hold the spider, the thrill seeker was one of the first to put up his hand. The nervous boy, seated next to him, had already professed a fear of spiders. He hung back and moved away but was still fascinated enough to watch his friend handle the spider and allow her to walk over the back of his hand.

A few minutes later after another couple of children had handled the spider, the nervous boy asked if he too could have a go. At first, he was still too scared to hold his hands flat on the table to allow the spider to crawl over them and was seeking assurance from the handler that the spider would not bite or claw him. Once that assurance had been given, he had a go. Wonderfully, his thrill seeker buddy put his hand flat on the table first and the nervous boy put his on top of his friend’s and the spider then walked over both of their hands.

The nervous boy was delighted that he had faced and conquered a fear and the thrill seeker was pleased that he had coaxed his friend to try something new.

Though very different I could imagine this unlikely pair growing up to be firm friends for life. Operating at either extreme of the confidence scale, you could see how they could help to pull each other further into the middle ground of ‘just right’ thus enriching each other’s lives immensely.

Friendship by Alex Isse Neutron courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain 1.0

For those of us who do not have a friend at the other end of the confidence scale to help push, guide or protect us, we have to learn the hard way by life’s experiences. That’s why older people are a lot less bothered what others think of them than their younger counterparts. They have learned that in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter all that much.

Confident beginnings are wonderful but for the rest of us it’s not where you start but where you finish that’s important.

Forgive Yourself

I recently blogged about the Beauty of Forgiveness.

That blog spoke about the need to let go of anger and bitterness because nursing old hurts and grievances reverberates negatively within us and ultimately hurts us far more than the original hurt perpetrated against us.

This week I want to talk about forgiveness again but this time a different aspect – forgiving yourself.

We all have instances in our lives where we wish we had said or done something at a particular time but, for whatever reason, we did not. The guilt associated with missed opportunities particularly involving loved ones who are no longer here can be sharp. We know if they were here they would tell us not to worry about it and yet we still beat ourselves up.

Negative Emotions
Emotions Explained by GollyGForce courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

I am not a person who generally holds grudges or nurses bad feelings. I am quick to forgive and yet I do not tend to offer myself the same compassion for my own misdemeanours and transgressions.

And May They Rise Up #compassion by Leigh Blackall courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

This is because I hold myself to impossibly high standards. I always expect to excel and should I fall short, I berate myself about it:- I’m not good enough, I didn’t work hard enough etc.,

The trouble is I always reach for the stars and because I am only human, I am consequently setting myself up to fail more often than not. Why is it I always think I can cram so many things into a limited number of hours and wind up feeling tired and dispirited when I haven’t ticked everything off my stuff to do list for instance? Sound familiar?

So I have decided to make a concerted effort not to be so hard on myself in the future, to be a little bit more compassionate and kind to myself as well  as to others. We all fail and make mistakes. It’s how we learn to become better people.

Forgiving myself for such mistakes is a small step but an important one.

Begin Again
Buddha Quote by Hartwig HKD courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

Money isn’t everything

In Colchester, Essex the hunt is on to find the holder of a lottery ticket worth £8 million. They have until 13th March 2017 to claim their prize.

Lottery by K J Payne courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s a life changing sum of money but there have been plenty of instances of lottery winners who thought their dreams had come true only to see that dream turn into a nightmare because money isn’t everything and a large sum of money can bring with it a complex set of problems alongside the flying champagne corks and I’m not talking about whether you should buy a yacht or a sports car or both.

Sunseeker v Baja by Lets Go Out Bournemouth courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

Squabbles amongst families and rising tensions between husbands and wives are the stories that hit the headlines months and years after the champagne has gone flat. It isn’t the money itself that tears people apart rather it has a way of exacerbating the fault lines that already existed in a relationship before the potent mix of lots of money got added to the pot.

It’s good to aim high. It’s lovely to have dreams. Just make sure your foundations are solid before you start reaching for the stars or have them handed to you on a plate.

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Tell the people you care about that you love them.
  3. Show that love in what you do not just in what you say.
  4. Take pleasure from the simple things in life – a leaf caught on the breeze, a beautiful sunset, a roaring fire.
  5. Cherish happy times.
  6. Look for the good in people.
  7. Give second chances to yourself and to others.
  8. Smile even if your heart is breaking
  9. Practice random acts of kindness.
  10. Remember that somewhere inside all of us there is a clock ticking so don’t waste precious moments on those who don’t deserve your time.
  11. Never be afraid to live, laugh or love.
  12. Don’t strive to be happy because happiness is ephemeral. Strive for contentment instead.
Contentment by Mario courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0



A few years ago my Dad put up a bird house in the garden. It had a little front step and a beautiful roof made of twigs and I couldn’t imagine how any prospective little bird parents could not fall in love with it and move in.

Sadly, the years went by and although the little bird house got several visits from curious birds sticking their heads inside they ultimately decided it wasn’t for them. Perhaps it was a problem with the neighbourhood – too close to the trellis and thus vulnerable from attack from cats or too close to the trees. Whatever the reason, the little bird house remained vacant and available to let.

No Cats Allowed Birdhouse by Mechanoid Dolly courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Over the years it started to look a little weathered and worn but that just added to its character. It still had a good roof and was water tight. I still lived in hope that one spring the right little bird family would move in.

That was until this spring. I have mentioned the doves that frequent my garden in previous posts (you may recall their forlorn attempt to nest in the satellite dish). Well, they returned and took an interest in my little bird house. This despite the fact they could barely get their heads inside the entrance.

I watched over a fateful weekend as they carefully began to deconstruct my little bird house. The roof took the worst as they dismantled it twig by twig and carefully carried these up into one of my trees to build their nest.  I could only watch from the house and smile as they worked so hard to tear apart one house to build another better suited to their needs (perhaps they had been watching one of those home makeover shows on tv).

Once they were done my pretty little bird house was not so pretty anymore.  It is what they would call in the property trade a doer-uper.  I did get a little blue tit come to investigate. He seemed to find great delight in hopping through the front door and exiting via the roof.  Needless to say, he did not move his family in.

A Doer-Uper
What you might call a doer-uper! Ellie Holmes Author

Ultimately, the little bird house served its purpose just not in the way I intended.

The moral of this tale? As much as we want something to be a certain way in life, it is not always within our control to make it happen. Sometimes we just have to accept things are the way they are.

Sea by Moyan Brenn courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

The Writer’s Waiting Game – Part One

If you want to be a writer, you need to practice patience. You’re going to need it. Lots of it.

Patience by Craig Sunter courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

Anyone who has been through the mill of submission to agents or trad publishers will know the routine of a rush of activity in the lead up to submission, followed by a strange mix of excitement and terror when you actually post your manuscript or press send.

Brace Yourselves by Miranda Wood courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

Then comes a few days of fevered anticipation as you check the post/inbox on an hourly basis. The logic being that your manuscript when it arrives at its destination is going to scream such quality that someone important will drop everything else they were doing to read it immediately and respond with similar alacrity.

When those first few days pass, the enthusiasm levels take a dip. You remind yourself that the people you are submitting to are busy people. You’ll give them a week. But a week turns into two. Then a month. Make that six weeks?! Slowly the horror begins to dawn on you that you may never hear back.

Calendar by Dafne Cholet courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

Was the package lost in the post? Was the email lost in the hell of internet limbo or worse languishing unloved in a spam folder somewhere? You resolve to find out whether it safely arrived but that usually opens up a whole new round of playing the waiting game.

waiting 4
Tapping a Pencil by Rennett Stowe courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

Sometimes you’ve waited so long that by the time a form letter/email arrives thanking you but telling you that your manuscript was not for them you are almost relieved. At least you can stop wondering now.

Waiting is intrinsic to writing so you’d better get used to it and find ways to cope with it because even though the advent of email may have speeded up some things the wheels of publishing still turn pretty slowly.

Tumbleweed by Judit Klein courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0

Think indie publishers are exempt from the waiting game? You’d be wrong. More on that in The Writer’s Waiting Game Part Two next week.

The Flower Seller Cover and Blurb
Have love and loyalty gone out of fashion? The Flower Seller by Ellie Holmes available from Amazon now

The Waiting Game

The Waiting Game
The Waiting Game by John T. Howard courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

They say that patience is a virtue but it’s a hard one to cultivate. Waiting for something can be incredibly frustrating particularly if you are not sure of the outcome once you get there. Counting down to a big event such as departing on your summer break or the lead up to Christmas can bring its own stresses and strains. As we rush about to get all our plans in place, you wonder if the extra work these events entail makes them worthwhile. Hopefully the break is a positive one and you return ready to build up to the next big event.

Waiting for something you care about or that is important is tough. I fought cancer nine years ago. Form me the hardest part was waiting for test results and as anyone who has had cancer knows you undergo a whole lot of tests at the point of diagnosis, during the treatment and when you are in remission. I well remember having to psych myself up to attend for each test just wishing they could magically produce the result on the same day so the stress of waiting didn’t gnaw away at me in the meantime. When I was in remission I had to go for a blood test on a Friday and didn’t get the results until the Monday. Those were the weekends from hell while I tried to keep myself occupied with inconsequential things. For me it made a bad situation so much worse.

Waiting 2
Waiting by David Amsler courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

As you might have gathered, I’m not a patient person but I am trying to bring my impatience down a few notches. I’m trying to remind myself that the world won’t end tomorrow if my package doesn’t get delivered on time or that meeting I had scheduled is junked or the release date for my favourite TV series gets put back. Getting impatient about things you cannot change is ultimately futile. It will only serve to raise your blood pressure and being the health conscious person I now am that is never a good thing.

The Cuppa Waiting
The Cuppa Waiting by Jan courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

I am proud to report that I have recently been displaying a huge amount of patience as I waited for the blackberries in my garden to ripen. I have watched them carefully for many weeks from their humble beginnings to the green berries and finally as they started to darken. The hot weather we have recently enjoyed has brought them on a treat and this weekend the moment had come to pick the first modest crop. They were delicious and there are more to come. If I had picked them too early they would not have been anywhere near as tasty. There’s a lesson in life in there somewhere. I just need the patience to heed it.

Blackberries by Phil Long courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0