Ask Dennis – writing advice

Hello, I’m Dennis, the eponymous Mechanical Hamster. I do all the hard work around here while Gav swans about pretending to be a writer. I taught him everything he knows, which might not be a lot but it’s a start.

Anyway, Gav occasionally witters away at what ever random topic enters his overly-taxed human brain. I thought it would be a good idea to provide a small resource for budding writers out there. This is looking at the craft of writing, rather than the profession as that’s not my area of expertise.

To get started, here’s a few links to some advice that I’ve referred to over the years.

Ten Commandments Gav occasionally refers to

The original Turkey City Lexicon

An updated Turkey City Lexicon

Open University Writing Advice

Good Advice for Novices

My writing advice posts:



Creating a timeline



Character creation

Action Scenes

Language in Fantasy and Sci-fi

Story Length

Introducing Groups

Suspense and Horror

More Synopsis advice

Describing the Familiar


Criticism and Reviews

Sorry, the hamster hotline is not available at the moment. If you wish to contact Gav, please leave a comment below and he might reply…

Published on April 14, 2008 at 3:33 pm  Comments (23)  

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23 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. [...] Dennis has asked me to post a quick note to point you here. Published [...]

  2. Thank you for interesting read (again!) =)
    All articles highly appreciated

  3. [...] a Line Under Time Dennis has passed on this questions from the Ask Dennis page, from Dan. Thanks [...]

  4. [...] Thanks to those that have posted comments, and also the brave folks who have emailed the Ask Dennis hotline. This recent comment by Lost_Heretic leads me nicely on to a subject that’s been [...]

  5. [...] a question or comment regarding the new book, please post it as a comment or get in touch via the Ask Dennis email. Please look through the comments first to see if someone has already asked your [...]

  6. I would like to thank your for ‘Angels of Darkness’, which I got a chance to buy and read recently. I have read this book almost in one go!

    On the old BL forums there were long topics on ‘AoD’, I read them from start to end and was on incessant vigil for the second printing of ‘AoD’ ever since.

    I would like to say that every my expectation of ‘AoD’ was brilliantly met and even surpassed by it! Thank you very much!
    Gav – Thanks for the praise. I’m glad that the re-release of AoD has given you the opportunity to enjoy the book, as it has many other fans who missed out the first time around.

  7. Hi my name is Amy and I am a first time owner of a hamster!
    I have some questions to ask here..
    1. I think my hamster is a bit lonely and I don’t know if I should buy another girl hamster to keep her company my worries are will they both fight and will one kill the other?
    2.What is better a bared cage or a plastic cage like the make roskak do?
    Please write back to me if you can..
    bye, amy.

    Hi Amy. I’m afraid that the only hamster I have at the moment is of the mechanical kind, and I can only dispense writing advice with confidence. I would suggest the following websites might help:

  8. Thank you Dennis!
    You have been most helpful.

  9. Hi Gav,
    hi Dennis,

    I have been into Warhammer 40k for some time now and started to write some short stories (since 2005). Some of them I like very much and I want to send them to the BL. Do you have some advices (beside to ones written above) before doing that? Where should I send my stories to?

    Beside: Why are there so few Elder and Tau covering books. Is this strategy or are they to difficult to write about?



    • Hi there Astro,

      Black Library has moved away from its anthology competitions, to a process of ‘open submissions windows’. Nobody’s quite sure what that means, but keep an eye on the BL website, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of announcements when it’s time.

      Even though you already have stories written, you need to summarise each one into a one-page synopsis for the editors, and select a few hundred words as a writing sample. Editors of any publisher will rarely read a complete manuscript for a story or novel, despite what you might have seen in films and on TV. Pick a piece of text that you feel best showcases your writing, preferably with a mixture of description, action and dialogue.

      Best of luck.

      • Hi Gav,

        thanks for your advice. I will have an eye on the BL website.

        Still I have one question: Why are there so few Tau/Eldar stories? Wouldn’t it be cool to see an encouter between Eldar or Tau and some Space Marines. Perhaps a fight between the grey knights and some eldar farseer. Or a Tau force challenging a secret space marine outpost in the eastern fringe. Or – even better – some Tau force which is attacked by some nasty Dark Eldars.

  10. I believe that in the past novels with Xenos as protagonists were almost verboten. They were alien and supposed to be “alien”…something we as humans really wouldn’t understand.
    That’s obviously changed over the years. I imagine some authors would be more trusted with the Xenos mindset than others.
    Isn’t this more or less accurate? Or am I talking completely out my arse?


    • For the most part non-human viewpoints (excepting Space Marines!) have been avoided by BL. There’s always a tension between making a character truly alien in the way they think and act, and making them sympathetic (understood, not necessarily liked) to the reader. In many ways, Warhammer is ahead of 40K in this regard with several major non-human characters like Gotrek, Malus Darkblade, Thanquol, and of course the dwarfs books written by me and nick Kyme, as well as the Battle for Skull Pass novella. I understand that there’s quite a bit of expectation for Path of the Warrior, which is both exciting and frightening.

  11. I am an up and coming writer for the 40k Universe, and my questions were not really answered above (though they have already made me go back and rewrite several sections of my projects). My question is about where the current timeline for the 40k Universe is. I know that there was talk about a new Black Crusade occurring (or beginning, again, kind of lost on that) and I wanted to ask for a (or a couple) nugget/s of wisdom on perhaps writing about the beginning of this, or am I jumping to far ahead in the overall 40k timeline (I really do not want to work on these things and have them be rejected solely on the fact that I am not keeping with current events of the Universe). Any feedback would be much appreciated

    • Hi there,

      Rather than throw out an offhand reply here, I shall use your question as the basis of a new post, which I will endeavour to write next week… Short version: don’t worry about it.

      • Much appreciated, thank you very much. I am also currently writing a blog myself with chapters or extracts from what I am currently writing on, any way you think I could produce a larger viewing source? I don’t want to post the link here if I don’t have your permission, but I would like to know the best way to get a larger reading group.

  12. An open letter to Gav Thorpe & Black Library:

    Dear Black Library,

    I have just seen today’s Twitter update on the next limited edition novella. As excited as I am, I am stunned that you are limiting this to 1,500 units.

    Given the success of previous novellas and the massive frustration caused for thousands of Black Library fans by the website issues that arose with Promethean Sun and Aurelian I cannot seriously believe you are setting out to disappoint so many people.

    Surely a larger limited edition run would not only satisfy your customer base but also net you more money. With the hours of issues I suffered last time trying to pick up Aurelian another repeat may be the last straw for me with the Black Library.

    I am a huge fan of the BL’s work but with so many other great sci fi authors out there whose work is so much more easily available I honesty believe that you are hurting your own fan base with these marketing policies. I have already seen very negative posts in several threads about this release on the forums I visit. It shouldn’t be like this, people should be excited about upcoming releases not already disheartened that they won’t be able to get a copy.

    You just have to look on eBay to see copies of these limited edition novellas selling for almost three times the cover price. Every single one equates to a Black Library fan missing out.

    Please reconsider this policy and produce these novellas in a way that allows your fans to actually read them.

    Thank you

    ( a frustrated Black Library fan).

    • Given that the wider publishing industry (including large SF + F publishing houses) shows very little support to short fiction, including novellas, I think it is vital that BL can be sure that their release of anthologies and novella-length works turn a profit. Without going into the ins and outs, if that means they think that special LE novellas provide the best means for continuing to be able to produce less-than-novel-length titles they are a step ahead of most other publishers. Short fiction is still woefully neglected in physical print, and even e-publishing has really got a ways to go to show that it is viable for short fiction.

      Learning from the errors of the HH novella releases, I’m sure that if BL were confident of selling vastly more than 1500 copies of a particular novella, they would certainly like to sell more. On the other hand, any business would be wise to limit its exposure to overstocks and so while some may feel 1500 is too few, what about 1750, or 2000? With a single print run, which is what a LE means, you have to draw the line somewhere and it makes more sense to ensure that line is a little less than demand than a little over.

      As for the pricing policy, the arguments run counter to the protests against limited edition status. If the price were so prohibitve there would simply not be the interest in these titles and the limited run would not be an issue. LE Black Library novellas are a luxury pruchase – it’s not like utilities companies making massive profits selling you water, gas and elctricity is it? – so the consumer had the final say in whether they believe the product holds the value of the associated price tag. Lots of people may want the LE titles, but you don’t need to have any of them, even in continuity series like Horus Heresy. The same applies to ebay resells. If fans are desperate or shortsighted enough to pay stupid prices for these books, then hell mend ‘em, they get what they deserve. Ebay is an auction site, and the going rate is what the markert determines. If the market had any sense, it wouldn’t pay the overcosted amounts being asked and the resell value of the LE editions would collapse, making it pointless to over-purchase in the first place.

      I can’t agree with any argument that claims these titles are hurting the fan base – they are optional extras, like the LE versions of the Liber Chaotic books, or the short story compilations. If the alternative is that BL cannot financially justify producing novella-length works, in the long run that is a greater loss to the fans than having to wait a couple of years to read them in a non-LE format.

      My 5p…


  13. [...] finally, Gav Thorpes list of links to tips. See also Terrible Minds, a great blog full of ideas and tips. Rate this: Share [...]

  14. Hello Gav,

    my name is Miguel, and I’m in the adventure of making a podcast here, in Spain. We are trying to make contents not only about wargames, also about the hobby experience like painting, collecting and, of course, writting.

    You always has been a very appreciated author in Spain (we were really sad when you didn’t come to Games Day 08 in Barcelona), so, we want to know if will be possible to make you an interview in our program.

    If you are interested, please, tell us how we an contact you to talk about it and about the podcast (no free advertising, don’t worry :D)

    You can email us at

    Many thanks!!

    • Please get in touch via mechanicalhamster [at] gmail [dot] com and we’ll see what we can sort out.


  15. To Mr Thorpe,

    I’m leaving this reply prior to reading this article because I was hoping to, at some point, find an audience with you. I’m not much of a writer, I haven’t even completed a story yet but I would like some personal advise on something not covered in this detailed article.

    I look forward to reading it now at this late hour and hope you can find the time to respond to me.

    • You can contact me on mechanicalhamster [at] gmail [dot] com

      However, while I am happy to provide general advice – and might even use your question as inspiration for a post here – I’m not able to offer specific feedback on actual works, so please bear that in mind.



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