Apply E.M. Forster's Five Elements to make your writing more balanced.

In Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster identifies five key elements of a novel: story, plot, people, pattern, and rhythm. The balance of these elements helps determine the overall “feel” of both non-fiction and fiction writing. Develop the habit of tracking how you are applying each of the five elements to ensure that your work is balanced and communicates the right message. At regular intervals in your writing process (e.g., every 5,000 words, twice a week, etc.), revisit these five elements and write down how you are applying them in your work.

Download the Five Elements worksheet (PDF)


How writers write

(A resource by Joseph Grammer, 6994 words to date.)

Habits! We all want them (even if we think we’re free spirits). Each author has her or his own process for putting pen to paper, so I thought it would be helpful to check out a few habits of some well-known writers.

Vladimir Nabokov

The legend himself, creator of such mind-tickling books as Lolita and Ada. The Russian émigré wrote standing up and jotted his sentences down on 3x5 index cards, which let him mix up the narrative as needed. Interesting that his poet in Pale Fire did the same thing… Anyway, check out his interview in The Paris Review.

Plus, there’s the health benefits of standing.

Jennifer Egan

The Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist tends to write her fiction in an Ikea chair and edit behind a desk. First drafts are on legal pads, with the notable exception of a chapter in A Visit From the Goon Squad that is told entirely in PowerPoint slides. She says, “A first draft takes about 10% of the total writing time, but in terms of importance it’s probably 50%.” Each of her 3-4 drafts reflects “20 rewrites of each individual part.” She shoots for 5-7 pages a day of original material. Read the rest.

Truman Capote

The eccentric master behind In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s took a horizontal approach to writing—he wrote lying down on a couch or bed. Cigarettes, coffee, and sherry were kept close at hand for creative stimulation of the chemical kind. Mr. Capote wrote two drafts in pencil longhand and a third draft on the typewriter, supine-style. Want to know what happens if you lie down all day and write?

David Foster Wallace

The loquacious and searing DFW called himself a “Five Draft Man”. Two handwritten drafts, two typed, and the final product. Hard to imagine the total word count he racked up while composing Infinite Jest

Haruki Murakami

Japan’s bestselling author is a model of self-discipline. Here’s an excerpt from his Paris Review interview:
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation.
What a badass. I’m tempted to say something to the effect of ‘Holy Hard-Boiled Wonderland!’, but that would be awful. (See: paralipsis) (Also see his interview).

Interested in more authors’ writerly habits?

Check out Write To Done’s article.

Now write, writers! Idiosyncratically, conventionally, quickly, slowly—whatever. Just stick letters to pages.

Need some inspiration?

Here are all recent public snippets written in Twords.
But I was also convinced that my dad really had no idea. He had to be a pawn in all this that was just being used and compensated to ask no further questions. But what I had seen was just soo out of this world, I had to investigate. Seeing those wormholes created and sucking anything close to them into it, I knew I had to go through. I had no idea what was on the other side though. I didn't know if it would be a regular world like mine or a place where everything was drastically different, or where the evil guys were in charge of everything. As I continued heading in the general direction of north, I adjusted my backpack shifting the weight around for comfortability. I had tried to pack essentials. But not knowing what to expect meant I didn't know what I would need. First aid kit, went in first, then a few bottles of water. I did bring an extra pair of clothes and one of those keep warm tarps for hikers. I had my sharp pocket knife and a lighter in my pockets. I had a few packs of crackers and beef jerky. I had a compass just in case the sky was different and I didn't recognize the stars. Duct tape was also shoved in as a last thought, cause everyone knows, it holds the world together. It could prove useful in trying to save it. As it was nearing the time buses would be out I pulled my hood up and tried to keep to less popular streets. I didn't need any of my parent's friends informing them of my whereabouts too early. That would ruin everything and if I was right, quite possibly, end the world.
Doubt suddenly filled me. Why did I think I could save everyone? Why did I think that I was the only one who had noticed the weird stuff? For all I knew, some government agency was already on this and I would just mess everything up and get in the way at the worst time. Somebody else had to know what was going on and was doing something to fix it right? But what if there was nobody else who had noticed? Nobody else curious enough to investigate seemingly normal events? My resolve strengthened. For that reason alone I had to do something. But was going through the hole a good idea? Should I just tell mom and dad what I had seen? Would they really believe you? I asked myself silently. I couldn't risk it. I couldn't risk them thinking this was just another phase or I was acting out again. I turned a corner on my back and slid to a stop outside a chain link fence. I looked around but there were no houses in this part of town, mostly abandoned storefronts and warehouses. This one had a large lot with a fence for storing the trucks that once used to deliver from here. After making sure nobody was watching, I circled the fence until I saw the hole big enough for me and my bike to get through. I had debated leaving it outside the hole but that might make it too easy for them to find me. So I decided to bring it in and hide it in the warehouse where I could retrieve it later should I return and the world still is intact. I made my way across the broken asphalt and into the warehouse. I found a dark corner in which to stick my bike where nobody would notice it unless they stumbled into the dark corner. Then I made my way to where my father had been instructed to leave one of his cases this morning.
I found a place upstairs on the upper level to hide and sat down to wait. I checked my watch as I settled in. I had timed it just right, if he wasn't late, which he rarely was, he would arrive in just under 5 minutes. I made sure I could see but couldn't be seen from where I was at and tried to calm my nervous heartbeat. I had just succeeded in doing so when the sound I heard made all my work in vain. Somebody was opening the warehouse doors down below me. I waited patiently for my dad to walk into the room where I could see him. After a minute or so, he did. He walked into the large room and walked all the way across to the other wall. He set down a silver case by the stairs and pushed a button on it. After standing up and walking back the way he came, he stopped mid room and turned around looking up thoughtfully. I scooted further into the shadows, but I could tell he wasn't looking in my direct direction. Shaking his head, and glancing once back at the case, he continued out the way he came and I heard the door slam down metallically. I waited a few minutes before walking towards the stairs where the case was.

AT- Mom clicked on the black light that I had retrofitted in my overhead light and was her normal cheery self way too early in the morning, "Rise and Shine, May Flowers." She had called me that for as long as I could remember. I grunted in reply. She laughed and went to wake my older sister Lisa. I didn't move from the covers until I heard her talking to my sister. I had been dressed for an hour now. I had about 45 minutes until my bus would come, and about 50 minutes after that before anyone would notice I was absent. But that should be plenty of time. I put my journal back in my nightstand drawer. Checked my backpack again that I had everything I could think of. I wasn't sure if this was gonna work, but I wanted to be prepared. I had to save the world.
I was wearing all black but that was far from unusual for me so anybody who spotted me wouldn't think that was odd, just odd I wasn't in school. I went over the plan in my head. I would sneak out the window while everyone was occupied. Ride my bike to the spot I thought it would occur. Travel through it. I had items that once I went though hopefully would prove my story to anybody I met and thought could help me. I checked my watch. In about two more minutes the coast should be clear, nobody would be anywhere near the backyard windows. I swung my backpack on and pulled the straps tight. As quietly as I could I slid the window up and held it while I climbed through. I was very careful not to let it slam shut after I was out of the house. I walked to the edge of the roof and turned around. Grabbing the top of the trellis, I lowered myself slowly onto it and began climbing down. Close to the bottom, I jumped trying to avoid the rose bush and its treacherous thorns. I grabbed my bike which I had left in the backyard last night and snuck through the bushes loosely encircling the yard. Once on the pavement of the alleyway, I got on my bike and started heading north. I few streets of suburbs over and we were practically in the country. I had a hunch that whatever They had my father doing, he was oblivious having never stayed behind to see the results of his instructions. I, however, being the curious child that I am, had to. I had to know if somebody was gonna pick up the case he left behind or was it gonna explode? I had at first assumed they were bombs and so used to make sure to be a safe distance away. But as things, buildings didn't explode I would creep closer each time in order to try and figure it out. I finally saw one such case from about 40 feet away. A white light silently expanded from the case and then it got larger and larger till it was the size of a small pony. The case was swallowed in the light. I sat stunned the first time, just watching. Nothing came in or out of it that first time. It stayed open for about an hour and then just slowly and silently sank back into itself. But the case never reappeared. The space where it had been, was just empty. The next time it happened outside. And I saw a butterfly disappear into it. Just vanish. I sat there that time for a long time thinking and wondering what it meant. I was already convinced my father didn't know. He couldn't. I had tried for months to get more information out of him or get him to find out more information about what he was doing. But he said his job was to be the middle man for delivery of things that had to be left in a very specific place and then someone would come and pick it up. I shook my head knowing the truth but also knowing that I couldn't tell him what I had seen or how I had followed him without telling on myself. If he believed I was being sneaky, he wouldn't believe me though. And Dad was the type of person who already didn't like being wrong in any sense of the word. I did research on his company and the parent company of his company the way our teacher in internet research class had showed us and I couldn't find very many reliable sources talking about them. I was convinced something wasn't right.

My room was nothing like I expected. Even in my own world, my room wasn't like your average ten year old girls room. I hated pink. I hated frills and lace. My walls at Home were purple, the walls in this room were black. Everything was black. My comforter which at Home was purple, green, and blue and matched my rug, was black. I had book shelves similar to my shelves at home but instead of being covered with piles upon piles of books and comics, they were covered with weird sculptures. I walked slowly towards the bookshelf over my bed and picked one of the grotesque looking figures up for better study. Mom just stood and watched me take it all in. The figure was no animal I had ever seen or read about in my world. It made me wonder if things like this were present in this world. I turned towards her and she noticed the confusion on my face. "I'm guessing you aren't a sculptor where you come from? May here, is very artistic. She creates these creatures from her own imagination." She smiled as I looked relieved. "I was starting to worry that maybe this world is much different than my own. I don't sculpt. I write and read." She nodded. "I take it you're not quite used to all this black either huh?" I shook my head. "Lisa is supposed to be the goth one." I glanced around the room. "This is nothing like my room where I come from."
"Well, May here does still write but more just for personal use. She keeps her journal in that drawer there." She pointed to the nightstand by the bed, so I pulled open the drawer and found a composition book decorated with my name and doodles. I sat down on the bed not knowing if I should open it. Technically it was mine, but technically I hadn't written it so they were not my thoughts. Mom interrupted my thinking by sitting next to me on the bed. "Having a moral dilemma?" She asked knowingly. "I think it's okay for you to read this even though you didn't write it because it's for a good reason and you wouldn't be here to spill the secrets anyway if we can get you Home. I won't tell if you won't tell." We chuckled together. Opening the journal on my lap, I read the first entry dated a few years ago when I was 7," Dear Journal, Mom and Dad gave me this journal today to write my thoughts in since I finished my old one they had got me when the baby died. :-( I still feel sad when I think about it. But now I have a new one and I'm putting my old one in storage to look at years from now when I have my own family. I just wanted to mark this day I got my 2nd one. Bye for now!" I smiled. That sounded like my voice to me. Even though I knew I didn't write this book, it really did feel like it was mine and it was me. I leafed through until I reached the blank pages and then backtracked to my, well May's, last entry. I frowned looking down at the page. The writing was dark and heavy-handed on the page. It also looked like it had gotten wet in spots. Parts were hard to read. I held it up closer to my face and tried to make it out. "Dear Journal, I can't believe [-------------] I just want to end it all. I hate every[--------------] stop crying. I think I have to leave. If not, I could be in danger. [--------------] what to do. Dad has no idea, but he would be devasted and I don't think he would [------------] working for the bad guys. [-----------------] trust anyone. I have to get out of here. Maybe [-----------------] other side. If I can find, [--------------], I'll be gone by sunrise. Maybe, I can fix everything." I put the book back down in my lap and took a deep breath. Mom's voice startled me as she asked if there was anything helpful in there. I turned to look at her, shrugging, "I'm not sure, but when May disappeared did you read this?" She nodded, "Yes, but I didn't understand so it wasn't helpful. I was hoping since you're you, you would have better luck. You might have more insight into what is going on... what it all means? I'm sure once I have all the clues then it will make more sense. But right now, I'm puzzled."

I thought I was about to hit the floor. I couldn't speak, I couldn't warn her I was about to fall, but somehow, instinctively, her arms came out and she caught me right when my knees buckled and I was on the way down. "May!" She looked alarmed. "Come on, we'll figure this out more at home." She started to stand me up, but I shook my head not finding my voice right away. Tilting her head at me, she waited. I think she was good at that. I kept shaking my head and managed to whisper, "What if I can't get back after I leave?" "Get back?" I nodded this time, "Get back to.... the grandparent's basement I remember...?" She nodded slowly and my heart fell. Maybe she didn't really believe me. "I promise you May, if magic or science brought you here from another," pausing, she looked for the right word, "reality..., then we will find a way through science or magic to get you back there if you wish." She appeared thoughtful, "But, that makes me wonder, is May who remembers this house still in this reality, or did she somehow make it to yours?" She looked at me. I shook my head, "I have no idea, I didn't even think about that." "Seems we have a lot of questions we'll have to work on. But I really think we could do this better from home. Lisa is there. And your dad will be home in a few hours." She grabbed my hand, "we can check in your room over here for clues." I nodded. I had no better ideas. But I did want to see what my room looked like.
Mom locked the house up and led me out to her purple mom van, that I had never seen before. We drove almost an hour downhill towards the city. I was deep in thought, debating in my head if I wouldn't like better to remain in a world where my Mom was still alive. But this elicited guilt for the other May if she was indeed trapped in my world without the only mother she had ever known and pretty much without a father. I wondered what Lidy and my Lisa were doing and if they were worried about me or if they had found the other May. Was she pretending to be me or did she tell them? I just wanted to figure out what happened and then if I could get back, I knew I would go. I would miss my Mom but I couldn't leave the other May stranded without hers, even if I didn't think it was fair one of us had her and the other didn't. When we pulled up in the driveway of a huge house I didn't recognize, Mom shut off the car and said softly, "Well, here we are." She smiled at me, a smile that thank goodness I remembered. "So, do we tell them?" I asked uncertainly. She shook her head at me, "For now, would it be okay if it was just our secret? Until we find out more information. We don't want them putting us both in the looney bin..." I giggled. "I think that's a good idea." She took my hand and squeezed it. "You don't have to say much of anything, they won't find it unusual." I nodded and smiled at her. She turned and we opened our doors. The front door was opened by a man in a suit who greeted mom as Madame Leslie. My eyes widened but I said nothing even as he turned to me and said, "Good to see your safe miss." He shut the door behind us and walked off into another part of the house. Mom turned to me. "Well what first, your room, or your sister?" "My room," I spoke without hesitation, not yet ready to see Lisa who was not Lisa and who might not share the same bond that I did with my sister. Mom nodded knowingly and gestured for me to lead the way up the huge curved stairs in the front hall. At the top, I stood looking at landing that led off in 3 directions, straight ahead, to the left, and to the right. Mom wrapped her arm around me and we walked to the right all the way down the long hall. Rounding a corner at the end, was a door decorated with my name in big wooden purple letters. We opened the door and walked in together.

"May? Mayyyy" I was being shaken awake gently. I opened my eyes. Had I really fallen asleep? My face felt stiff from dry tears. "Mom?" I looked at her. It really was my mother looking back at me. "I can't believe you're alive..." I whispered. She tilted her head and said, "Honey, why wouldn't I be? Are you okay? How did you get in here? The doors were still locked..." Her voice trailed off as she saw me staring at her in pure awe. I reached up and touched her face, ran my fingers back to her ponytail of curls. She looked down at my clothes touching them between her fingers. "I've never seen these before..." She grasped my face in her hands and stared at me intently. "May? You're my daughter, but... there's something different about you." She rose up off the floor. "Come on, can you stand up? Are you hurt?" She reached a hand out and I grabbed it. "I'm okay. I can stand." She led me to the living room which also had sheets over the furniture and gently slid it off so we could sit down. As we sat she held my hands between us and waited in silence just studying my face. I started to tear up and she rubbed my hands with hers. "You're supposed to be dead. Mom, you died when Lidy was born. And why is she not in that picture upstairs? Where are Pops and Mawmaw? When did they get this house? This is all wrong." I whispered and then sobbed. While her eyes widened, she gave no other hint that anything was wrong. My supposed to be dead mother leaned forward and hugged me tightly. She smelled just like I always remembered she had, a mixture of her lavendar perfume and the oils she used in her beautiful hair. I sank into that smell. I found so much comfort in that smell. I never wanted to be without it again. Slowly, my chest stopped heaving and my tears stopped flowing.
She held me by my shoulders and said softly, "We're gonna take this slow, baby girl. First, how did you get into this house?" I looked down at my hands and started fiddling nervously. "I don't think you're going to believe me." I glanced up and she smiled at me. "Try me anyway." "Mom..." I took a deep breath, "I was playing hide and seek with my sisters in the basement of Pops house but it wasn't this house. I hide in the chest in the basement and... Mom when I came out, I was in this house in the basement. I don't know what happened, but I swear that's how it happened." I pleaded with her needing her to believe me. She didn't act like I said anything out of the ordinary. She simply stood up and walked out the room to the hall where the basement door was. "Would you like to show me?" I gulped and nodded. I felt weird, almost guilty, like what if the chest was gone and she didn't believe me? What if the chest was gone and it had gone back without me and now I was stuck here for good? Did I want to stay with my supposed to be dead mother? Wait... WHAT IF I WAS DEAD TOO? I slowly walked towards her while all these thoughts ran through my head. As if she sensed my anxieties, she grabbed my hand. "I always hated walking down in Mawmaw's cellars. She wasn't big on cleaning them and spiders always seemed to fall in my hair." She smiled at me. I gave a small smile back. And we stepped towards the door together. She led the way into the basement and even flicked on a light switch that I didn't know was there before we started. The basement steps lit up and I saw they were a lot sturdy than I first thought from the wobble and shake. She noted my footprints on the stairs as we went down. I wondered if she thought maybe I had broke in through the basement instead. But she didn't ask. We reached the bottom and she held her hand out gesturing for me to lead the way. I walked over towards the bookshelves and found the chest just where I had left it still lying open. I stood next to it looking down at it wistfully. She walked up beside me and said, "Interesting." Turning to me, she continued. "So May, what are your sisters names?" I turned towards her, looking confused I'm sure, as she continued, "Well really, I know them. I want to see something." I hesitantly said quietly, "Lisa April and Lidia June. My name is Laura May. But..." I trailed off, but she continued. "But you wanted to be different and so we called you May. But... never told anyone what first name I had picked out for your baby sister..." I tilted my head at her, "You told us right before you died what you chose for her. And we honored that." She shook her head. "May, Lidia June, died. Two days after I gave birth to her, before we left the hospital. The nurse messed up... " She stopped and composed herself. Waving her hand around at the house she said, "It's how we got Mawmaw and Pops this house, our house, and sent you two older girls to private school." She sniffed not being able to completely hold back the tears. "Mawmaw and Pops were able to retire early and travel like they always wanted to. That's how..." she looked at me, "that's how they died. Plane crash on the way to Australia, 2 almost 3 years ago..." I must have staggered, swooned, fainted; whatever you wanted to call it, my mom caught me.