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 (38)  

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  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.




  16. Hi there Mr Thorpe,

    I am not sure if you will see this or have any interest in replying but I wanted to know what would be the best approach tap your brain for warhammer fantasy setting information/clarification/insight.

    Now this is neither pressing or of any grave importance, its simply me attempting to scratch a intellectual itch. I am of course posting under the assumption that such a topic is still one you feverishly enjoy, as your seeming enthusiasm for the subject oozes from the articles and work of yours I have read previously, if of course your interest has somewhat quelled or you simply feel this is a poor use of your time feel free to tell me to sod off :p

    Thanks for reading


    • Hi Crimsonsun,

      You can either ask here if you don’t mind it being public, contact me on my Facebook page , or email me via mechanicalhamster (at) gmail (dot) com


      • Hi Again,

        Thanks for the rapid response! :D, Public is fine by me as its completely lacking in any importance :p!

        Now I am sure as soon as I finish writing this (Ps – I am a prone to waffling and write way too much…) I will remember a hole host of questions I wished to ask but I will start with the big one. Who claims Elven Souls (Asur, Asrai, & Druchii) when they die?

        Now let me explain a little, I had been under the impression that Elven Souls were collected and kept by Morai-Heg, unless the Elf devoted itself to another God (Khaine for Witch Elves or Hoeth for sword mages for example) which would normally be one of the Cadai for Asur or one of the Cytharai for Druchii unless of someone/thing had found a way to capture or consume the soul before it departs the physical realms.

        Then in the 8th edition dark elf book it states, Dark Elven souls are the property of Slaanesh, who will consume any elven soul that is unprotected, while the dark elves could protect themselves from his thirst it would dull there senses and lessen there enjoyments so they refuse…. Now I had always (20+ years of warhammer knowledge) assumed that this was for 40K and the settings were properly divided following 3rd edition? Is this correct? Is it a change to the lore for some unknown reason (as it seriously reduces the individuality of the settings – which IMO are GW’s greatest asset). It left me bamboozled!

        Two quick questions in addition: Firstly what is an Elves natural life span, it’s never been listed outside of wfrp 1st edition, which was clearly invalidated by the Eleven history. (I think I worked out multiple Asur are 2-3000 years old currently, obviously the Witch king and Morathi are 5000-6000 years old, Shadowblade is young at a 1000 years old…

        Third Question: In the 4th Edition Undead book the night of the Restless dead was the 3rd resurrection of Nagash, where he took bodily form 1666 years following his defeat by sigmar (A story that makes my skin crawl actually) he has not been defeated since then but in resent books, background Nagash is supposed to be lacking bodily form still – Leaving me utterly confused to the status of my personal fav Warhammer setting character. Also on Nagash is he a Demi god, a God or a Immortal mortal?

        Fourth one (Sorry I keep thinking of new ones) What would happen if Nagash Succeeds in closing the Polar Warp games what would happen to magic, and the Vortexes etc..

        Finally… Can you explain the Hex Wraith background so I understand it… For it details them as Morrs agents to hunt down those who would seek to avoid his kingdom… so why the hell are they in a Vampire Counts army?

        MANY MANY Thanks for your input as you can likely tell I am somewhat of a fan of the fantasy setting and while various editions of the rules may or may not be to my preference I have always loved the setting (with the exception I am sorry to say as I know you had a hand in it, of the conclusion to the Storm of Chaos)..



      • In my personal opinion the Slaanesh angle is overplayed in the latest books, and conflates the High Elves with 40K Eldar too much, esecially since the previous direction I had been asked to take removed all mention of Slaanesh in the cults of pleasure. There’s an inherent inconsistency between the existence of the Chaos Gods and worship of elven gods – the elven gods are dead, they know they are dead, they were destroyed by Chaos. hat said, I think it’s important to remember the difference between belief and reality. The reality is that all elven souls will end up in the Realm of Chaos unless captured by some other means. That’s what happens to spirit-stuff, but whether the elves believe it goes to an underworld, is taken by Morai-heg, is all speculation on their part.

        The version in my head when I was writing The Sundering and working on the Dark Elves army book expanding the pantheon was that there was an underworld like Hades where Elven souls went (riffing on the classic civilisation theme behind elven society) and that this was ruled over by the goddess Ereth Khial, the gate guarded by her son in Cerberus fashion. Morai-heg is a creature of fate, determining when the thread of life is cut, but that doesn’t put her in charge of the dead. The Dark Elf connection is tenuous at best, and flies in the face of the Cut of Slaanesh being a disliked but acknowledged part of their society.

        I think that Warhammer elves typically live 1,000 to 1,500 years, which can be extended considerably by exposure to magic or deliberate sorcery, becoming a demi-god, that sort of thing. I think it’s a mistake to describe Shadowblade as 1,000 years old and young. When I wrote Shadow King I had a vague idea that coming-of-age occurs in the mid-thirties. Young would be anywhere up to two or three hundred years old.

        I would say Nagash has become a demi-god of Undeath, moving away from the mortal plane, akin to a daemon prince but trapped in a more aetheric state rather than in the Realm of Chaos. I’ve also noted the shift away from physical remains to a more amorphous spirit. We’ll have to see if any more background is forthcoming.

        In my view, Nagash closing the polar gate would be self-defeating – it is the source of the energy that sustains the Undead and allows Nagash to exist.

        I wasn’t responsible for the background of Hex Wraiths so I can’t comment on any details.




  17. Thanks for your replies,

    Regarding Nagash we will find out very soon as pre-orders go up on the 23rd I believe, along with the End of Times campaign setting. Personally I am not big on the current edition but this news has me spinning in delight. If you can’t tell my two main Armies are Dark Elves and Undead…

    Elf Age makes sense like that it was/has been just contradictory bits like Shadow Blade being young at 1000 that confused me. I love the Image of Morag-heg being a blind Witch with the cauldron very Macbeth or Clash of the Titian’s that’s a great way of putting her into context 😀

    I am still missing something somewhere, obviously I understand that what Elves/people believe may or may not be reality but if all spirit stuff goes to the realms of chaos, where do the more active gods of humanity fit in, like Morr or Sigmar. Now I know Divine magic is actually a different way of harnessing the winds and gods of order, neutrality and Chaos can and sometimes do utilise Daemonic entities to carry out there work but I thought the Chaos Realm was essentially there Realm of reality that due to the polar gate collapse is entering the Warhammer world, but other Divine Entities had there own planes of reality still apart from both. Of course I could be completely wrong! 😀

    I also did not realise all the Elven Gods were dead, I was sure Khaine was alive and in the current Dark Elf book it mentions Both Hekarti and Atharti as taking a queen interest in the affairs of mortals, with Atharti being jealous of her twin sisters sway. There is also some bits about Atharti turning High Priestesses of Hekarti into Medusa for punishment when they used there magic to enhance their beauty, as well as because it lessened her sisters sway.

    Regarding Khaine it clearly states he is alive and growing bored, requiring his servants to go to greater lengths to provide him with appropriate acts of devotion. Isha and Khronos are said to be alive in the Wood Elf book, with Orion and Ariel being their respective earthly avatars and the Everqueen being Isha’s high priestess (I think its more complex than that but thats a basic version).

    Finally the Dark Elf book also mentions Nethu the Keeper, who protects the gods of the underworld (hades – as you say, it seems the current theme is VERY greek myth based) with the aid of a legion of Dark Pegasi until the time of Rhana Dhandra which is the final battle of the Gods….

    Sorry for being difficult… crimsonsun


  18. Hi there, sorry to bother you, I was just wondering if I might ask you a question about Warhammer High Elves Fluff. If you don’t want too that’s fine, I know my question is trivial, but I found this site so I thought I’d just try and see if I can ask you a question. Thanks for your time either way.


    • Always happy to field questions. Please bear in mind that I haven’t had any input on the elves background (in a GW studio sense) for several years now, but I will try my best to answer.



      • Oh, thank you very much, I really appreciate this. My question is more about the recent End Times: Khaine fluff although I suppose it does also touch on earlier fluff.

        My question is simply whether Alarielle genuinely cares more for Malekith, who ordered her mother assassinated and helped plot Aliathra’s death, then she does for Tyrion? In the books of Warhammer I have read Alarielle was always very much in love with Tyrion so I was just wondering whether that’s now non-canonical. I’d hate to think it’s just because I’m a girl but the part where Alarielle is willing to kill Tyrion for and serve the man who helped murder their daughter really made me feel…sad I guess, I’m not sure.

        I’m supposing you probably don’t often get questions concerning romantic relationships in Warhammer (weird), once again I feel like a freakin stereotype for asking, but I have to admit I always liked reading about Alarielle and Tyrion’s relationship. So I was wondering does this mean now that canonically Alarielle loves Malekith more than she loved Tyrion? With them getting married and all at the end? Or does she do it even though she wishes she didn’t have too?

        Thanks so much for your time


      • I consider Alarielle’s marriage and relationship with Malekith to be of an entirely pragmatic nature. Just as Everqueens and Phoenix Kings have been ritually joined since the time of Bel Shanaar, so Alarielle places her duty to elven people before any personal considerations she may have. It is Alarielle’s dedication to her people that comes before her feelings of grief and loss. Malekith has no love for either, or for anyone for that matter. Romance has nothing to do with the arrangement. Whether her sacrifice is worthwhile only the future will tell.



        PS I think questions of romance are as pertinent in Warhammer as anywhere else. Characters are driven by their relationships with others and their surroundings, to ignore matters of the heart would be very strange.


  19. Ah, thank you, I’m glad you didn’t find the question too weird then, I was a afraid you might, but I guess I’m just nervous like that. I am truly glad to hear that Alarielle doesn’t have feelings for Malekith, truly, it helps my feel a little bit better about the whole situation even if I do have to admit that I still feel kinda down about Tyrion and Alarielle’s relationship going the way it did. But that’s my problem, thanks so much for your time and effort, I really appreciate it.

    Good luck with all future endeavours

    PS. I’m glad you feel romance is pertinent, I always liked the way love was a motivating factor for Tyrion and Alarielle (well…I’m not so sure about her anymore) it was nice and something which helped make the character relatable.


  20. I am sorry to bother again, really sorry, but if you have time (and when it suits you) might I impose on your time once more for a question?

    It isn’t anything major, I would just like your opinion on something, and thought maybe you could help me gain some measure of closure on the matter.

    But I’ve pestered you before so I understand if you don’t have time. If it does help I can email it to you instead.

    Thanks for your time, stay well


  21. Hello Mr. Thorpe, I’m sorry to interrupt, I don’t know if what I’m doing is right but there are some questions that I would really like to ask, and I don’t know who better to ask then you. If you do not mind, this is really going to make my day happy.

    My questions:
    1.) Who is guy on the cover of ‘Master of Sanctity’? I cannot tell if it’s Asmodai or Sapphon.
    2.) What is the history of ‘Corswain’? When, how and why was he created? I first saw him appear in the short story ‘Savage Weapons’ in the Age of Darkness anthology. He seemed like a nobody back then, but now he is becoming one of the top players. Basically what can you tell me about him, what he has done and what he will do, things that don’t appear in the novels (or won’t appear yet). That is, of course, if it isn’t spoiling anything. Personally I have a feeling that he will become of the first Supreme Grand Master.

    Thanks a lot Mr. Thorpe, answer only if you wish to, and in whatever time you want. I would like to ask more about ‘The Unforgiven’ but then you’d say “I can’t say, all in good times.”

    Thank you again.


    • Hi,

      1)I think it’s more likely an non-specific interrogator chaplain, but if I had to choose I would say Sapphon.

      2) I love it when this sort of character development happens in the real world as much as in the setting. There isn’t much else to say about Corswain other than what is in the stories – that’s the beauty of having a character that isn’t from the extant background. He will be featured again in future stories, rest assured. I’m assuming that you’ve listened to ‘Holder of the Keys’?

      3) The Unforgiven will feature Azrael as a viewpoint character and… let’s just say the title of the trilogy, ‘Legacy of Caliban’ isn’t just something I plucked out of the air.




      • Thank you so much Mr. Thorpe

        And yes, I have listened to ‘Holder of the Keys’ that’s why I had the feeling Corswain might be the first Supreme Grand Master. “Paladin Pure Blade, Houndlord, Dread Corswain.”

        So excited for ‘The Unforgiven’, I just hope that whatever you are writing would really shock us readers. And the Dark Angels could really do with some big fighting against a Chaos Space marine legion, ‘Ravenwing’s fight scenes at the end was too little’. Not that it matters, whatever you write is going to amazing.

        Thank you again.


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