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Posted on September 3, 2011

I find plotting is the hardest thing about writing, but the most difficult thing about the actual of writing the story is dialogue, and the most difficult thing about that is describing how the characters talk, and making sure that the reader follows who is talking when. I tend to use a few rules to help me make things easier for the reader, and to help me ensure that the dialogue isn’t too clunky.

Firstly, make the word ‘said’ your standard term for describing how someone speaks, but don’t over use it. If you have established that it is a duologue (only 2 people), then you don’t need to follow the line of dialogue with anything textual for several lines, unless you want to add description.

Secondly, use terms such as ‘shouted’, ‘hissed’, ‘whispered’, ‘uttered’, ‘sighed’ etc sparingly. They have a place in adding colour but overuse of them makes your narrative garish.

Thirdly, never use the term ‘ejaculated’, unless you’re writing a comic story and, even then, think hard about it; this applies to both meanings of the word.

Fourthly, don’t just write lines of dialogue followed by ‘x said’ (or whatever). Mix things up by putting ‘x said’ first, or forget using it at all, so that there is a line of dialogue followed by a sentence or phrase such as, ‘A smile crossed her face’. This will be an anchor point for the reader about who is speaking without overusing speech-related verbs.

Tags: Writing dialogue


Posted on August 30, 2011

It is said that Shakespeare made up 1500 neologisms or new words. Dickens, in contrast, can claim only one that is in current vogue – ‘boredom’ Many would place Shakespeare above Dickens in the writing pantheon and perhaps partly for this playfulness. There is a certain degree of pleasure in taking a word and ‘bending’ it to new uses, or in rediscovering old ones, or in mutating it slightly.

Entire novels have famously been written using this technique be warned, though. Unless it’s done well – and for a reason – such techniques risk alienating the reader.

Tags: Neologisms, new words, playing, shakespeare, Style


Posted on August 28, 2011

Writing fiction is, of course, about suspending disbelief; but how is that achieved? The answer is most definitely NOT cramming the text with tedious levels of excruciating detail until the reader buckles and begs for mercy. There is no point in trying to convince the reader that he or she is being shown the ‘real world’ by relying over-meticulous research down to the level of the exact height in feet and inches of the Eiffel Tower or what the exact population of Singapore was on January 20th, 1997. You’ll bore most of them, and just incite the rest to prove you wrong.

Less is more applies in writing just as much as it does in real life. In fact, there is something to be said for putting in the minimum of detail – in effect, an impressionistic style of writing.

Writing fiction is about creating an internally consistent world. That world has to be three (or four) dimensional, be populated by people who do things with motives that the reader can comprehend, have an understandable time line and make the reader feel that they have been witness to – and participant in – a journey of some kind.

Tags: consistency, Readability


Posted on August 26, 2011

Writing in this way has the advantage of allowing the reader and writer to become intimately ‘bonded’ so that the reader really cares for the narrator (in effect, actually feels that the story is about him or herself). You are effectively inviting the reader to read a diary or journal, the most intimate document there is.

This supposes, of course, that the narrator presents himself or herself as likeable to the reader, so you may be limiting the demographic of your readership, but that is probably true of whichever style of narration you choose.

The huge advantage of this style is that the degree of empathy it engenders can make it an almost mesmerising style

The disadvantage that it makes multiple viewpoints of the action of the plot problematic, thus potentially leading to boredom. There are ways around this – for instance, ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker – but they end up, in my opinion, clunky and forced. It needn’t be a problem, though, providing the reader finds the story and character interesting – look no further than Oliver Twist .

You just have to write in a sympathetic manner – portray youself as you really are.

Tags: first person, Writing Style


Posted on August 25, 2011

The primary purpose of punctuation is to make sure that the reader doesn’t misunderstand what the writer is trying to say. However, a secondary purpose is to help with the RHYTHM of the piece. Whilst too few commas may lead to confusion, too many interrupts the flow.

Another thing to consider is the use of semi-colons and colons; these are punctuation marks that are falling out of use, but which (when used well) add to the richness of the text.

Always remember that, as so often in writing, there are few absolutes and that bending the rules can be both rewarding and releasing. Good use of punctuation adds value to your writing.

Tags: Punctuation, style, value


Posted on August 24, 2011

In real life, people talk in cliches all the time; that’s almost a definition. You are bombarded with them, and not just in conversation; in any news bulletin, I guarantee that if you listen carefully, you will hear at least one every five minutes. They occur with a similar frequency in newspapers.

In your book, it is entirely reasonable to use them when writing dialogue, providing the cliche is appropriate for the character. In the narrative, it’s a different matter, of course.

Don’t, though, believe the lie that they must never be used. Your prose will become tortuous and unnatural if you live by that rule. So what to do?

Three rules of thumb:

1. Don’t overuse them

2. Don’t use the ones that are ‘in vogue’ in the newspapers and magazines, or on the internet

3. If you decide to use them, subvert them slightly (as in ‘rules of thumb’ above.

Tags: content style


Posted on August 23, 2011

In the first place, write anything. Just write, because the best way to learn how to write is to write, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Simple as. Reading this won’t make you a brilliant writer; nor will correspondence courses, no matter how much they charge you. No creative writing course in the universe can act as a substitute for just blooding writing lots and lots.

Tags: Just bloody write


Posted on August 23, 2011

A word of advice on using exclamation marks.


If you feel the need, think about it very hard and then go and lie down. Then return to your manuscript and put in a period (full stop).

Tags: Writing Style Punctuation


Posted on August 22, 2011

Books are written most commonly as third person past tense, but they may be written as first person past tense; less commonly they are third or first person present tense. Each of these combinations brings with it limitations and possibilities.


Third person past is the default.  The writer is taking the position of an omniscient overseer, able to view the actions and motives of each and every character.  This is a useful ability, ensuring that the reader is constantly there when important things happen; it is the literary equivalent of a film or television production and, if used well, it ensures that the plot does not become monotonous or one-dimensional, but there are dangers.


The first is that in every scene it is essential to write it FROM ONLY ONE CHARACTER’S VIEWPOINT – in other words, don’t suddenly change viewpoint in the middle of the scene.  It is jarring and amateur.


The second is that the prose must match the character whose viewpoint you are taking.  Don’t use clever polysyllabic words if the character is ignorant or stupid.  Clearly one cannot match completely the narrative and the character’s intellectual limitations, but a certain degree of matching between the two is a nice stylistic touch.


The third is that it is important to make sure that the text is clear about who says what and to whom; use pronouns, of course, but use characters’ names at regular intervals so that there is no confusion in the reader’s mind.


I’ll come on to first person narratives and those in the present tense in a later post.

Tags: Writing Clarity


Posted on August 21, 2011

Okay, let’s start.

Poetry has rhyme and rhythm; prose doesn’t rhyme, but don’t believe that is doesn’t have rhythm, because it does. In fact, the more it has the easier it is to read.

The rhythm changes from paragraph to paragraph, sometimes quite abruptly and sometimes very slowly and subtly, but it’s always there, and the skilled author uses it as one of the tools to draw in and manipulate the reader. It’s as important as the content, as the words, as the images you are trying to convey.


Prose without rhythm is as boring as the telephone directory.


So how does the writer go about putting rhythm into the words and sentences?  Well, an obvious way is to change the sentence length; short, simple sentences, perhaps with only a single main verb, if repeated throughout the paragraph, imply urgency or increasing tension, but only if the reader has become used to rather longer sentences.


If you use a more complex sentence – one, say, that has subphrases within it – make sure that the individual parts of it are more or less equal in length, so that there is a constant ‘beat’ in the reader’s head as they travel through the sentence.


You are trying to mesmerise the reader.  Nothing more or less.

Tags: style, rhythm

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