Writing is fun; good writing is phenomenal fun. I am offering the benefit of ten years' experience in which I've managed to get 12 novels published. You can be successful too...
Posted on November 1, 2011
What a dangerous tool is the spell checker. Curiously, it purports to check the spelling (and grammar) of a piece of writing whilst, of itself, being a bastardisation of language; surely, Mr Gates, you meant 'spelling checker'?
Be that as it may, we all use them and very good they can be. No longer is it enough to be good at spelling, now one has to be good at typing too, and very few of us are perfect at both. Mistakes abound in typed text, not matter how carefully constructed; before I publish this post, I will run the spell checker and it will tell me where I have gone wrong. No, actually, it will tell me where the programming 'thinks' (in the loosest sense of that word) I have gone wrong.
Please don't make the mistake of assuming that the spell checker is always right, though. Almost certainly, your vocabulary is greater than that of the program; fine, look at the words it tells you are wrong, but don't immediately think it is right and you are wrong. Make sure that the dictionary is set to the correct language (different varieties of English use very different spellings for the same word). Make sure that, if you add words to the program's vocabulary, they are spelt correctly; stick a wrongly spelled word into the vocab and that's it, you'll never realise for ever more that you're getting wrong.
I won't even start going into the grammar checker in this post.
Tags: Pitfalls of Spelling Checkers
Posted on October 28, 2011
'So' 'as', 'since' and 'yet' can all be tricky and merely offering definitions in order to clarify their uses usually only serves to confuse. For instance, the word 'so' can be used as an adverb (in 8 different ways), an adjective (in 2), a conjunction (in 2), a pronoun and as an interjection (So! You're here at last.)
The only way to become comfortable with them (and therefore to allow your reader to become comfortable) is to read, read, read again, and then write, write and write some more. Make sure as many people as possible read what you write, too - friends, family, colleagues. Writing is fundamentally achieved only by practice and apprenticeship.
Tags: Small words, writing practice, apprenticeship
Posted on October 27, 2011
English is claimed to be richest language that there has ever been; this is a claim that I suspect is sometimes made by people who little knowledge of languages other than this one, but English is certainly diverse and wonderful. It is verdant soil for writing.
One of the pitfalls to avoid when writing is repetition. It gives the impression of a poor vocabulary and, whilst the reader does not want to bamboozled by the author <a href="http://www.keithmccarthy.org/2011/10/17/47-difficult-words/" title="47. DIFFICULT WORDS" target="_blank"></a>, I think they do want to learn and want to think that the writer has thought about the text and has an ability to weave a spell. Yet it is all too easy to repeat words, if not in the same sentence, then in adjacent ones; the same word repeated twice in a paragraph may also jar. Hence, it is important to use synonyms - different words that mean the same thing.
Be careful, though. It is said, and this time I think I agree, that there are no perfect synonyms in English. There are subtle differences that those unfamiliar with the language may miss. It is always worth asking an experienced user of English to read your text.
Tags: synonyms, the richest language, English
Posted on October 17, 2011
I have been criticised for using words that are obscure. Indeed, I usually get a list of words from the editor at the publisher, along with suggested (easier) alternatives. I can see their point; no reader will persist if he or she has no idea what is being said, or if they have to look up words in a dictionary every two minutes. However, this simplification can go – perhaps has gone – too far. The odd tricky word does not put people off; readers actually like being stretched, and their vocabulary extended (providing they don’t get out of breath).
English is a rich and diverse language. I like exploring it. It can be fun.
Tags: difficult words, Diverse, rich
Posted on October 16, 2011
I wish I could write good short stories. I have written several, had about ten published, but few of them are what I regard as decent; two have been collected in the anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski , but I don’t think they’re particularly outstanding. A short story is a thing of unique beauty, much as a miniature is in painting; it requires different skills to writing a novel.
Short stories are hard. In a relatively low number of words, the writer must create the world and its atmosphere, introduce the protagonist and other main characters, create a conflict and lead the reader through to a resolution; all this must be done without appearing to rush.
Short stories gobble up ideas, and ideas are precious; they’re precious in any sort of fiction, doubly so in crime fiction. I don’t have many good ideas, and it always seems a waste to use them in short stories if they might help to make the next novel better (perhaps as a subplot).
Nevertheless, one of my dreams is to write the perfect short story, one that is elegant and refined, and one that leaves the reader satisfied.
Tags: elegance, Mammoth Book of British Crime, Short stories
Posted on October 15, 2011
There are some authors who can sell large quantities of a book merely by their name but, for the rest of us, the odds are greatly in favour of the potential reader never having heard of you. When people go into bookstores, how do they choose a book, then? Well, the title and the cover are often all they have to go on. More of the title in a later post, but the cover is known by publishers to be very important in the psychology of buying. The predominant colour (blue, I believe, is regarded as most likely to induce a sale), the text type and size, the illustration… All these feed into the thoughts of a potential buyer or reader.
Thereafter, if the buyer is tempted, he or she will read the blurb (again, more of which later), but the most important thing, because it is the first thing, in enticing someone to buy your book is that cover.
How unfortunate, then, that you – the author – has no contractual control over that cover. You have no right to veto it, or to design it and then insist that the publisher use it. You may be shown the cover that they have decided to use, but it is purely a courtesy; tell them that you don’t like it, and they are obliged to take no notice.
It is yet another example of the impotence of authors in how their work reaches the readers.
Tags: The importance of book covers, the impotence of authors
Posted on October 13, 2011
The start of a story has a lot of work to do. It makes the introduction between the reader and the world that the writer is creating. Consider, though, that reader. He or she has a lot of other things to think about, a great many other things that demand attention. You, the author, have to make that reader want to stay with you and that, especially if the reader is unacquainted with you, is very tricky.
You see, you have to provide enough detail about your world to make it real, yet not too much to bore the reader. You have to intrigue your audience, but not make them feel lost. You have to introduce your characters, but in a way that does not confuse them.
Most stories start with a lot of description of place and character; the trick is to make it interesting, to keep the reader believing and wanting more of what you have to give. Make the reader afraid to put the book down.
Easier said than done, though.
Tags: keep the reader wanting more, Starting a story
Posted on October 12, 2011
Going to be pedantic now, which is part of the fun of writing English. Just because ‘there’ is apparently singular, it isn’t always followed by ‘is’; sometimes, it’s followed by (‘takes’ is the technical term) the word ‘are’.
Try these out for size, then:
There’s two of them.
Is that right?
Well, no, it isn’t. It should be, There are two of them.
How do I know? Well turn it around. Which sounds better? Two of them is there? Or Two of them are there?
pedantic, I know, but it bothers the hell out of me.
Tags: 'there are', 'there is', Pedantry
Posted on October 11, 2011
And is a conjunction, the simplest of its kind. You will know that its job is to join together nouns or verbs, or phrases or sentences. When joining sentences is to improve flow and that all-important rhythm . Thus,’kicked the ball’ and ‘He then ran after it’ are 2 perfectly grammatical sentences, but they come at the reader like bullets. However, ‘John kicked the ball and then ran after it’ sounds a little more sophisticated, a little less as if it’s been written by a six-year old.
There are numerous other conjunctions, of which more later. For now, three points about using the word, ‘and’.
1. You may have been told never to end a sentence with a conjunction. This is not always true, but in the case of ‘and’, it self-evidently is.
2. It is perfectly acceptable to start a sentence with ‘and’ (or, indeed, with many other conjunctional words), but do it only occasionally, preferably do it only at the start of a paragraph (or in speech) and do it as a rhetorical trick (by which I mean breaking the rules of grammar to make a point).
3. You may have been told never to use a word ‘and’ with a comma. This is generally true, but not always so. The sentence, ‘John kicked the ball and having done so ran after it’ reads better as, ‘John kicked the ball and, having done so, ran after it’.
This is a long post for a short word, but it’s the shortest words that are the most difficult to use.
Tags: 'And', conjunctions, joining words
Posted on October 10, 2011
There is a distressing tendency (there are many such tendencies, but this one distresses me muchly) to use the word ‘hopefully’ into a sentence, meaning ‘it is to be hoped’. For instance, ‘Hopefully, we will arrive by six tonight’. What that sentence actually says is, ‘We will arrive by six tonight, in a hopeful manner’.
Hopefully is an ADVERB; this is a word that describes an action, that is offers a description of the action implied by the verb. Adverbs usually (but no exclusively) end ‘-ly’; their first part is usually an adjective. Thus ‘hopefully’ is derived from the adjective ‘hopeful’ The suffix ‘-ly’ means ‘in the manner of being’, and the meaning of the word as a whole is ‘in the manner of being hopeful’ or ‘in a hopeful manner’.
Language changes all the time, and English is especially plastic, but
Tags: Misuse of 'hopefully'