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...

<< Older Posts

>> Newer Posts


Posted on September 16, 2011

OK, so back to plotting. You now have a hero and, for the story to work, that hero has to be in empathy with the reader, and to undergo some sort of journey. In other words, he (or, of course, she) goes from A to B. Where, though, is A?

Perhaps it is more advisable to phrase the question as ‘where, though is A’?

‘A’ can be anything – a place, an idea, a person, an animal, a scent… In A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, Marcel Proust famously begins the whole 7-volume cycle with a single smell…

The point is that is a place for you, the author, to start writing; that is far more important than it being a place for the reader to start reading.

Getting started is the hardest thing a writer has to do

Tags: getting the story started


Posted on September 14, 2011

Don’t, whatever else you believe, think that publishers are the friends of the author. Your friends are the readers – no one else is. Not other writers – they’re as keen to see you fail as you are to see them do likewise – and most certainly not those who whisper into your ear about how keen they are to see your book in the shops. When you sign your contract with the publishing company, it might not be in your own blood, but it is very much like a contract with the denizens of hell.

Publishers make money by publishing books.

That sounds as if it should be to your advantage, but publishers do not care whose books they publish, or when, or how much they publicise them… If they have a limited marketing budget and they think they will make more money out of publicising another book at the expense of yours, then there is nothing you can do. If they think likewise about delaying the publication of your book because they have another which they think will make them more money, your book will be delayed…

My first book was only published 18 months after they had purchased it; the soft back edition was delayed a further year because it didn’t suit their schedule.

Writers are merely the resource that publishers look to exploit.

Tags: exploitation, publishers


Posted on September 14, 2011

Very few of us read exactly what we have written, word for word, extracting the precise meaning of the words as if seeing them for the first time. Similarly very few of us write exactly what we think we’re writing; we miss out words, we duplicate common words, we substitute homonyms. Because of these inevitable facts of literary life, Editing is essential.

As soon as you’ve written something, reread it, checking for misspellings, words left out (very common) and for mis-sense (does it actually say what you thought it does, is it capable of misinterpretation because the punctuation is unclear or the reader can lose track of who is doing what?). Then carry on writing, but go back to that passage in a week or two and reread again, making the same checks. Then, when the story or novel is written, do once more.

I guarantee on each occasion you will fresh errors.

I also guarantee that when someone else reads it, they will spot mistakes you have missed. This is why we need editors.

Tags: editing, editors, spelling errors


Posted on September 12, 2011

First person present tense is as immediate as it gets. The reader is being talked to directly; there is someone with them in the room and that person is forming with the reader an immediate bond. They may be shouting, whispering or talking normally; they may be angry, happy, sad or mad and, if the writer is skilled, the reader will be right there, right in the midst of the plot.

It is a way of writing, of course, that is most often used for describing dreams or for trying to conjure a dreamlike state (see my novel DECOHERENCE .

Tags: decoherence, dreamlike, First person present


Posted on September 10, 2011

Ah, pity the poor apostrophe, friend to few and in fear of its life. People claim that it is unnecessary and confusing, that no one wants it. I could not disagree more. Properly used, it does what good punctuation should do, it eliminates confusion and improves comprehension . There are two main situations in which it should be used:

1. To tell the reader that two or more words have been joined together (do not becomes don’t, will not becomes won’t.

2. The second is to inform the reader that a word is a possessive (‘s at the end) and not a pleural (just s at the end. The only exception to this is its which is the possessive form of it.

You DON’T need an apostrophe in any other situation. None. Ever.

Tags: Apostrophes, punctuation


Posted on September 8, 2011

Adverbs – verb adjectives (often but not exclusively or inclusively ending in ‘-ly’) – are like marshmallows. They can sweeten the text and make it more palatable, but too many leads a feeling of nausea. More often than not (and especially when writing dialogue) no adverb is required at all; if you do you use them, sprinkle them about sparingly and look for other ways to say the same thing – for instance, he said carefully can be written as He said with care and “I hate you,” she shouted angrily can be written as “I hate you.”. There was anger in her voice.


Tags: Adverbs, Writing Style


Posted on September 7, 2011

So you have constructed a hero (protagonist) that you are happy with and, you can only hope, will appeal to your readers. What then? Essentially, during the course of the story, the commonest plot involves that hero going on a jouney. By ‘journey’ I do not mean a physical journey of going from A to B (although that may be part of the plot), I mean a spiritual journey; the hero is changed in some way by the events of the story. There has been an interaction between the hero and the storyline and the result is a figure who is altered. It may be for the better, it may be for the worse; it doesn’t matter. If the reader empathises with your hero, then they will feel affected. You, the author, will have moved your reader. This is a wonderful feeling.

There are other ways to ‘use’ the hero, but this is the most satisfying.

Tags: fiction, Plots, plotting


Posted on September 6, 2011

You can be the best author in the world – as in, a writer of words, a composer of the most descriptive prose – but unless the plot is any good, then you may as well become a poet. Plotting isn’t easy; I find it very hard indeed – which is a problem, since most of my books have been crime thrillers (where the plot is of paramount importance). I don’t do it very well, but maybe my experience can help you. I hope that I can give you a few easy rules to assist you in your writing.

Firstly, it’s important that the reader likes the central character(s). He or she is known technically as the protagonist and there has been great intellectual debate about whether there can be only one such in a narrative. Publishers look at the likely readership of a book and they want your hero to appeal to them. Thus, for a science fiction novel, they want the hero to appeal more to men, and less to those who have little interest in the fantastic, the unrealistic or the impossible. Few sf books have sixty year old women who like soap operas as the protagonist.

However, I would say to you, the most important person who has to like the hero is YOU.

Forget the sodding publishers.

Tags: fiction, Plots, plotting


Posted on September 5, 2011

Everyone thinks that what they write is good, maybe even brilliant – everyone is an undiscovered Cervantes, or Camus, or Tolstoy – and possibly you are. I would wager though that even these literary giants wrote stuff that was a little below par, every now and then; I would even go so far as to suggest that on the odd occasion, they wrote complete and utter garbage. How, then, to tell what is good and what is not? How to be objective about something that is a matter of opinion?

The way I do it is to finish a passage, then re-read it, correcting any obvious blunders. Then put it to one side for at least a week, preferably two; perhaps even more. Forget about it. Carry on writing, but don’t look at that particular passage.

Then, when you have forgotten what you were trying to say and how you were trying to say it, pick up the manuscript and read it through.

This is the Cringe Test. If you can read it through and not cringe internally, if you read it and it resembles the stuff you’ve read all your life, if you don’t think that whoever wrote it should have both their hands crushed under a steam roller, than it’s passed the Cringe Test. That doesn’t mean it’s good, though; it just means it’s not total rubbish.

Tags: Cringe Test, how good a writer are you?


Posted on September 4, 2011

Most books are divided into chapters – some are divided first into parts, and then subdivided into chapters – but why? What purpose does this serve? My first novel – A Feast of Carrion – had not chapters, merely breaks in the narrative; no one complained about that, although after the success of Dan Brown I was pressurised into copying his style and writing in short chapters.

There is some logic to this – given the ever decreasing attention span of the human species – but, as so often in writing, it is a matter of common sense. The purpose of the chapter is analagous to that of the scene in drama; it is to change the perspective (and therefore refresh the reader) and, imperatively, to move the plot forward. It is the plot that must be uppermost in the writer’s mind – they must be plot-driven and used for no other reason; chapter breaks inserted for no good reason result in a disjointed narrative. Like commercial breaks in TV programs, they shouldn’t be intrusive.

As to whether or not they should be captioned, that depends on personal choice.

Tags: chapter breaks, plot driven

<< Older Posts

>> Newer Posts