Like most things in life, the more you write, the better you get. You discover your personal writing style, your voice. As you progress you hit some tricky issues. Should you always consign adverbs to the recycle bin or can you use them sparingly? What about clichés? You want to improve, so you check it out, see what the current thinking is. Then you find there’s actually a bigger problem. As if writing wasn’t difficult enough for the novice, the huge amount of conflicting information available doesn’t always make things any easier. Like the bible, writing advice reveals lots of contradictions. Take these examples: Continue reading
Do you write at a desk at home, or in a library or coffee shop? On a park bench, or on the beach? Do you snatch odd minutes when you’re at work, utilising your lunch and coffee breaks to scribble something down or work on a difficult plotline? Or do you write at set times, for a set amount of time, always in the same place? I have a notebook by my bed – I also have a pen with a light on the end, which I hoped would mean I could scribble away at the dead of night without disturbing my partner, but unfortunately the light’s on the wrong end so I only succeed in illuminating the ceiling – but these days, most of my writing is directly onto a screen, in my study at home and, apart from a collection of physical rather than virtual reference books, I try to maintain a relatively paperless office, and yet, and yet…… Continue reading
It always pleases me how often normal, everyday life can inform our writing, if we keep ourselves open and alert to the possibilities. You might think the following incident has little or nothing to do with writing, but bear with me.
Following on from last week’s post about alienating readers with difficult words, I had an interesting discussion with a member of my writing group about the referencing of popular culture in my WiP and pieces from other group members, and how this can have a similar effect to using unfamiliar words . Given that pop culture permeates our everyday lives at all levels of society, should we ignore it, or embrace it? Continue reading
I’ve always been a sucker for unfamiliar words and a few have come to my attention recently. The Reader’s Digest used to advise that it pays to increase your word power, but what can we actually do with this unwieldy vocabulary? Do we collect it in pristine notebooks – a brand new one every year – to pore over and learn by heart, before returning it to the obscurity it richly deserves? Or do we use it to liven up our prose and sprinkle through our writing like stardust? Continue reading
We’ve had some good sessions discussing plot in the writing group lately, which is useful as I’m midway through the first draft of my next novel. The outline, plot and its overarching narrative has been established, but the story needs a subplot or two to allow me to explore the characters’ personalities more deeply and examine their motivations. I also need to be clear on the story. A plot doesn’t make a story but for there to be a story, something’s got to happen. I was all set to share some thoughts last week. Then life got in the way.
They say that’s it’s a brave writer who exposes their work to the critiquing of a bunch of fellow writers. And those who do it face to face, in a writing group, must be especially heroic. I am one of these people. I’ve belonged to a local writing group ever since I started writing seriously. I don’t consider myself to be particularly heroic, in fact it takes a certain kind of masochism to lay oneself bare like this, but I do think that the advice I get from this disparate group of like-minded men and women has helped my writing career progress.
Writing groups take different forms. Some read out all their work and invite comments from members. We do things slightly differently – producing hard copies for everyone to take home and study properly. As well as storyline, we look at grammar and punctuation (we are very hot on the apostrophe), layout and presentation, none of which is evident when hearing a piece read out loud. Some groups don’t meet physically at all, getting together regularly online instead. Saves on rent, and you can have members on all seven continents. Horses for courses, I guess.
It’s not often that I’m at a loss for words but sometimes my imagination goes temporarily awol when I’m supposed to be creating a coherent piece of writing. Staring at that blank page can be daunting so I thought it might be handy if we revisited some tricks for waking your writing mojo.
Remember those six honest serving-men from Kipling’s Elephant’s Child: What? Where? Why? Who? When? How? They help us evaluate every situation and character and once we’ve got past the seemingly obvious questions about who the character is, what they are doing and how they come to be doing it, we can widen our scope and pose other questions that reveal different facets and characteristics and help us build up a character, a situation, maybe a story.
Last week’s writing group exercise explored the use of adjectives and adverbs. It was surprising how much trouble they caused. We could all remember examinations and other circumstances where we had to make up the word count with the spurious and often redundant use of the ad-words. We agreed that they could make our writing clear and interesting, but we also acknowledged that overuse could clutter our writing and make it confusing and less effective. And they certainly won’t improve bad writing.
No, I’m not suggesting actually going out and holding up your local post office or committing a murder. I mean, writing a crime story or even a novel, where you can let your imagination run riot. I couldn’t kill someone in real life – apart from the occasional parking ticket I’m usually a law-abiding individual. But in my head it’s quite a different story: I can visualise all kinds of lives lived on the other side of the law and all manner of grisly ends for a variety of people, some deserving, some not so much.
There are various forms of crime fiction and the choice of form and plot is huge. Should I write a police procedural, with a protagonist on the police force, like Peter James’ Roy Grace or Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne? Should it be a traditional whodunit, when we get to know the identity of the perpetrator at the end of the book, or perhaps the more modern inversion, where the crime and the identity of the perp is revealed at the start and the novel describes the attempts to solve the mystery.