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...

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Posted on October 3, 2011

You don’t need me to tell you that a passive form of a verb is effectively the opposite of the active form; instead of the verb taking the form of doing, it takes the form of is done to. The consequence of this is that the word order changes and no longer does the subject precede the verb; now it comes after, in contrast to sentences with an active verb .

So what?

It is your job, your duty almost, to make what you write interesting; if you don’t, no one will read it and you’ve wasted your time. A narrative written entirely in the active mode will become boring; occasional use of the passive breaks the monotony. Not too much, though. The passive mode is like proper seasoning of food – too much spoils the food, too little and it is tasteless.

Tags: interest, Passive mode, seasoning the text


Posted on October 2, 2011

Perhaps the simplest sentence is composed of three words; subject-verb-object. Somebody/something performs an action on somebody/something. It’s easy, but it’s worth dwelling a moment on it, just because it is so easy; it is the basic building block of narrative; if a bricklayer does not understand bricks, he is in danger of building a the wall incorrectly.

English is a language in which word order defines meaning, as opposed to the dead language, Latin, in which word order was of no importance. Thus, in English, the sentence ‘Kate hits Jake’ has a completely different meaning to the sentence ‘Jake hits Kate’. In Latin, this would not necessarily have been so because ‘Jake hitting’ would have had a different ending to ‘Jake being hit’.

In English, the word before the verb is ALWAYS the ‘doer’, the word following the verb is the ‘done to’, providing the verb is active (as opposed to passive – of which more later.


Tags: active verbs, Basic sentence structure


Posted on September 30, 2011

So, having told you how important names are, where can you get them from? I find making them up is almost impossible, I suspect for the same reasons I discussed in the previous post ; if we can think of a name then it will have connotations for us, and these will colour the character – in effect we will write the character in a different, and perhaps counterproductive, way. We need names that are, to us writers,’clean’.

Because I’m a doctor, I tend to use names from the medical world – operations, syndromes, pathological stains, pieces of surgical equipment. In fact John Eisenmenger, the main protagonist of most of my novels is named a syndrome congenital cardiac anomalies. For my Lance Elliot novels, I tend to raid passenger and crew lists from the Titanic . Others use the telephone book, or the surnames football or cricket or ice hockey players.

A word of warning. Make sure that if you use the full name of someone they are dead, lest you be sued for libel.

Tags: Eisenmenger, lance elliot, libel, Names


Posted on September 29, 2011

The curious phenomenon of nominative determinism – the concept that the name of a person determines their character or behaviour or profession – is enticing and, it would so often seem, proved in everyday life. Yet it is difficult to believe that it is anything other than superstition. In the world of the story, however, it is undoubtedly a strong force when it comes to naming characters.

Would the spy novels of Ian Flemming have become quite so popular if his protagonist had been called, not ‘James Bond’, but ‘Ezekiel Honeydew’? Would we laud Charles Dickens as a great novelist if his first book had been called ‘The Jones Papers’? I sincerely doubt it. Names carry connotations for us all. Some of those connotations are personal (because of our own experiences) and some are universal to a culture. I cannot say whether this is true of all societies, but certainly in the one that I know, the name of a character triggers associations within the readers’ minds. Always remember that, when struggling to come up with characters’ names.


Tags: characters' names, connotations


Posted on September 28, 2011

So why are you writing your story? Is it to make a political or social point? Is it to change society, to highlight a wrong (perhaps a miscarriage of justice) or maybe even just attract a partner? Is there, in other words, a deeper meaning for your story, one that is more fundamental than a mere narrative?

There may well be. Nothing wrong with that, and plenty right with it.

A word of caution, though.


A Day in the Life Ivan Denisovitch is a powerful blow against the communist way of doing things not because it highlights the cruelty, corruption and sheer ineptitude of the system, but because it does so throught brilliant writing and careful plotting; because the prose is simple and has a gentle, lulling rhythm, and because Solzhenitsyn makes you care about the characters, make you feel that you are in the labour camp, that you are experiencing subzero temperatures and eating nothing but thin gruel.

Never forget, whatever your reasons for writing, that you must be a storyteller first and last.

Tags: getting the message across, The story comes first


Posted on September 28, 2011

One man’s grammar is another man’s illiteracy. There is no absolutist principle when it comes to the use of commas, periods, hyphens, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, etc, except ONE. If your use of these subtle marks means that what you have written is incomprehensible or, worse, is capable of misinterpretation by the reader, then your use of grammar is POOR. At base, this is all these strange little marks are intended to do; to reduce the risk that what is said is incorrectly understood or not understood at all. All the many other criticisms that are levelled at writers’ grammar are usually just down to personal preference, publishing house style or plain snobbishness. It is not, for instance, a mortal sin to put a comma before the word ‘and’, although some would have it so; indeed I would regard it as occasionally necessary because of the overarching need for clarity.

The writer has always to think of what he or she is trying to say and whether the words on the screen or paper convey the correct meaning.

Tags: Clarity, Grammar, snobbery


Posted on September 21, 2011

So what is the point of the paragraph?

Well, it makes the text less forbidding, I suppose. A slab of uninterrupted prose is a depressing, even awful thing to contemplate; the last thing a writer wants to do is to put the reader off.

The paragraph breaks the narrative into easily digested chunks, but don’t take it too far. Paragraphs that are constantly too short (God forbid, even composed of one sentence time after time) give an impression not of a coherent text but of a series of staccato thoughts; there is no rhythm and, as I have written before, rhythm is all .

A paragraph should be composed of sentences that encompass an idea, or a point of view; some will be long, other will be short (I have nothing against paragraphs that are one sentence long, or even one word long, as long as they are not all that’s on offer).

Paragraphs are about ideas and views. Remember that, and your writing will be easier to read.



Posted on September 19, 2011

I can’t draw and I certainly can’t paint, so maybe the concept that I am about to put forward is complete b******s, but it is my belief that there are similarities between the techniques that are used in drawing and writing. Both start with an idea of an idea, a concept of something; certainly, for me, what precise shape that ‘something’ will take is unknown to me, at least to the conscious part of my mind.

I imagine that the process of drawing involves then the rough sketching of that idea, so that the whole area (be it just a page of paper or a ten metre canvas) is covered; some areas might have more detail (some may even be finished but others are really only a few pencil lines. This, I see as analogous to writing the first draft.

The remainder of the process involves going through the drawing centimetre by centimetre (reading and re-reading the text) adding details or maybe subtracting them; perhaps even changing large parts of what you have previously done.

In both processes, it is a question of building something from nothing, first by broad strokes, and then by finer and finer ones, until the maker is satisfied.

Tags: details, writing and drawing


Posted on September 18, 2011

You can attend as many creative writing courses, subscribe to a hundred distance learning courses, go to dozens of seminars and discussion groups, and participate in every internet forum about writing that there is, but it won’t do you a single jot of good, if you don’t READ. All writers have done a lot of reading; it’s the best way to learn how other people write, how many styles there are, how to involve the reader, and (most importantly) what NOT to write.

Tags: a must for writers, Reading


Posted on September 17, 2011

You’re busy. I know that. We’re all busy; many of this sorry race of ours are just busy just keeping alive, but I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you are blessed enough not be in that situation. Even so, writing is time-consuming, so where can you find the time?

The point about writing is that it is only 10% actually writing; the other 90% is thinking. You can think anywhere – on the bus, before you go to sleep at night, when you awake, on the toilet…

Use those moments to think about the plot, the characters, what you have just written, what you intend to write. The more you think about your story, the more realistic your created world will become.

Tags: realism, thinking about writing

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