Articles about writing

Section breaks … and the Dinkus

Dinkus picA single piece of fiction writing may contain changes in any of the following:

  • the point of view
  • the setting
  • the time

Every time you change one of these (in a short story or a single chapter), you should give the reader an indication that a change is about to happen. This is usually done by putting in an extra blank line between the relevant paragraphs, and starting the new paragraph justified left (ie at the left-hand margin, not indented).

Some websites recommend using an ornamental device to separate such different sections. These can include

  • three asterisks centred    * * *    which is known as a dinkus;
  • the hash sign centred    #
  • any other flourish eg    ~    

If your story is being submitted to another agency for possible publication, they will be responsible for using their house style for section changes.Gregory page

In Philippa Gregory’s books, the breaks are very clear and highly formatted, using the Tudor Rose symbol, a headline and (for letters) italics.

However, it is not recommended that you include your own images. This will be regarded as amateurish. Let the professional designers do their job. Blank lines are standard for an original manuscript.

Some authors (and editors) prefer changes in pov, setting or time to be marked by separate chapters. This makes it clearer to the reader that something has changed, but it still pays to reinforce the change in the first paragraph of the new chapter. If it’s a new point of view character, then name that new character as soon as possible, by having them the subject of the first sentence.

Similarly, time changes and new settings can also be indicated in the opening sentence of a new chapter. Our job is to help the reader!

Pathetic Fallacy

This is when human emotion is attributed to nature, particularly the weather. They can take the form of metaphors or similes. They can be used to set the mood for a scene or to highlight the emotional state of a person.

The sun smiled on us all day.
This is a metaphor as the sun is being likened to a person smiling.

Other examples are:
The angry sea; mournful birdsong; the weeping willow; a gentle sky;

Examples from literature:
(1) I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills

One of the most familiar lines of poetry, by William Wordsworth. This is a simile (using as) and it is Pathetic Fallacy because it involves feelings and nature. Clouds are often described as scudding or fluffy, but lonely is unusual because it is an emotion more usually associated with solitary human beings.

(2) Shakespeare, as you might expect, used pathetic fallacy. In this extract from Romeo and Juliet, the moon is said to show the human emotions of envy and grief.

ROMEO: But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.

(3) Charles Dickens uses Pathetic Fallacy in his description of Ebeneezer Scrooge at the beginning of A Christmas Carol. Scrooge’s character is described as no wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.

(4) In modern times, Pathetic Fallacy is used in popular songs, films and advertising. Here’s part of the Beatles’ song While My Guitar Gently Weeps:

I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps

The term Pathetic Fallacy was coined by the English writer and artist John Ruskin in 1856. The word pathetic comes from the Latin pathos meaning feeling and fallacy, also from Latin, meaning deceitful or false. Put together, they mean that to assign human feelings to nonhuman things is a falsehood. In Ruskin’s time they were a term of criticism. Now they are used just to describe a figure of speech. The meanings of both words have changed since then but the phrase remains in literary use.

Pathetic fallacy is a particular type of Personification applied to nature. Personification gives any human attributes to inanimate objects and abstract ideas eg the wind whispered through the trees; the flowers danced in the breeze. The non-human elements (wind and flowers) are being given human attributes (whispered and danced) but not feelings.

Make your readers care

The readers of your fiction MUST care about your main character as soon as possible, otherwise, why should they carry on reading? You, as the writer, must create an empathy between them.

Among writers, there is a common cliché : Write what you know. I don’t usually subscribe to such a saying for two reasons: 1) It is too easy to introduce jargon that readers will not undestand if you write about something that you are an expert in and 2) your fictitious worlds can be so much bigger if you do some research.

But where your experiences can really count is when you are creating your main character’s feelings and emotions – they are the same as yours. Even a protagonist in the first century will feel jealousy like you may have done, will feel sadness when someone dies, will feel joy when a baby is born. Use your own memories of these events to enhance your character’s.

As a writer, your aim must be to create a protagonist your reader can care about.

Characters are brought to life by the way in which they deal with conflict. Conflict sets a character in motion, forces them to make choices and act in ways that reveal things about themselves.

If your reader CARES about your protagonist, they will follow the struggles and barriers the character has to overcome and at the conclusion, they will feel the same joy or satisfaction the character does, reinforcing why they cared for them in the first place.

Take a minute to jot down what YOU care about. Your list might be on the lines of:

  • family,
  • friends,
  • health,
  • the future,
  • getting old,
  • knife crime,
  • flooding,
  • the homeless.

Your protagonist will have similar concerns, whatever age or sex they are, whatever time they live in and wherever they live. Use YOUR experiences, emotions and feelings to bring them to life so that your readers will recognise them and care.

Fiction and the Laws of Libel

Libel is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as:

“A published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation.”“A false and typically malicious statement about a person.”“A thing that brings undeserved discredit on a person by misrepresentation.”

 Libel covers books, other printed material, internet, radio and television, drama and fiction.

A person can sue for libel if something published:

  • exposes them to hatred, ridicule or contempt;
  • causes them to be shunned or avoided;
  • generally lowers them in the eyes of society;
  • discredits them in their trade, business or profession.

Almost uniquely in English law, in libel cases the burden of proof lies with the author or publisher and not the complainant. The person the author has targeted does not have to prove that they are wrong.


  • You cannot defend a libel by saying it was a quote from someone else.
  • You cannot defend a libel by including the disclaimer “All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

In England and Wales, you cannot libel a dead person. In other countries, you can. See the story below.

Heather Morris, the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, has been threatened with legal action in the US by the stepson of Cecilia Kovachova around whom Morris’s second novel is thought to be based.

TattooistCilka’s Journey, which was published in October 2019 in the UK and the US, follows The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which was based on the story of the Slovakian Jew Lale Sokolov. He told Morris how he fell in love with a woman he tattooed while he was in the concentration camp. The sequel Cilka’s Journey is marketed as “based on the true story of Cilka Klein” (the fictional name for Kovachova) with Morris said to have drawn on “first-hand testimony through conversations with survivors, and through extensive research in Slovakia”.

But George Kovach, the stepson of Cecilia Kovachova, accuses the writer of sullying his stepmother’s name with “‘hurtful, devastating lies” for commercial gains. In particular, he disputes she was ever “a sex slave” as is portrayed in the book (In Morris’s story, Cilka Klein has a sexual relationship with the head of the camp, SS-Obersturmführer Schwarzhuber), adding she “did not do any of the things that have been written by Morris”.Cilka Journey

In her defence, Morris says, “I’ve said from the start, all I’m doing is telling the story that Lale told me.”

Kovach’s lawyer believes they have established the right to bring the case to court in the US, using Slovakian law, which allows relatives to file for reputational damage to a person even after they have died.

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