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What Makes a Good Writer?

There is no definitive answer to this question, but we can say that many elements work together to make a good writer.

Writing isn’t just about knowing how to spell and put words in order, or how to tell a good tale. It isn’t about how many creative writing degrees you have either, because if you don’t have the raw talent to begin with, then your writing will just remain average.

If anything, a good writer has the ability to entertain us, to bring out our emotions, to make us empathise, to make us understand and to take us on a journey. That’s because writing is an art form; it takes a great deal of creativity and passion, as well as practical application, to achieve this. I must point out that having a creative writing degree of some sort does not qualify you to automatic publication. The truth is, and this will sound harsh, while it helps you understand the techniques of creative writing, it doesn’t teach you the talent of writing. Rather like painting and drawing, the ability to w…

Why is Reading Important for Writing?

So, you have to like reading in order to like writing...

Well, no, that’s not always the case. Some people hate reading, but love writing, while others read as much as they can and love writing.  But why is reading important to any writer? What difference would it make, if any? 

Reading novels can make quite a difference, in fact.  Although reading novels isn’t a necessity, it certainly helps if you’re a committed writer with the aim to publish your novels/stories. Even if you dislike reading, by reading a wide range of fiction novels, not just the genre you plan to write, or what you are used to writing, really does widen your skills as a writer. Reading different genres gives you an appreciation of styles and voices and the unique ways that writers approach their work.

Whether you choose the classics or contemporary authors to read, there is a lot you can learn from them. Consider them as teachers; they can show us everything we need to know about the basics of fiction writing, so …

Creating Four Dimensional Characters

Four-dimensional characters? Is that possible?

When we talk about four-dimensional characters, we are talking not in terms of physics and mathematics, but rather metaphysics. Rather than science, we are dealing with personalities and emotions, their being in the world you’ve created for them.

We tend to think of our fictional characters as real people, and more often than not, our characters are drawn from, or based on, real people. Our job is to make our characters seem real to those who read our stories.

We’ve all heard that characters should be three dimensional – that the three dimensions should encompass length, width and depth. This means they would have height, weight and a personality, but the fourth dimension brings something else entirely.


First and Second Dimensions

Width and depth - These dimensions encompass the physical aspects of your characters, how tall or short they are, what weight they are, what they look like generally, what their skin colour is and so on. These…

Using the Senses

How often do you use the senses when writing? Probably not enough. The senses are the most amazing tool available to a writer, yet the most underused. This is probably down to simple forgetfulness. We tend to overlook some of the senses when we describe scenes, but by including them, we can enrich our writing.

The most important tool in creative writing is observation. When you want to convey any scene, you highlight the colours, the people, situations and everything else around you by bringing the narrative to life. More importantly, you will be using the five senses to convey to the reader a sense of belonging to your writing.

Observation brings in the five senses:

• What can you hear?
• What can you taste?
• What can you touch?
• What can you smell?
• What can you see?

Using these senses is important when constructing your prose. Your reader will want to see and feel the scene – that means the background, the people, the actual setting. They will want to smell the scene – what odo…

Too much use of the word 'was'

How many of us have used ‘was’ far too much in our narrative? Look back through your stories and you will see that it occurs more often than is necessary, which seems crazy because it seems such an innocuous, inoffensive word, but too much use of it can be detrimental to your narrative. This is because it has a tendency to slow overall sentence rhythm and stutter the flow of writing, making it appear clunky and contrived.

Of course, it must be said, we all do it. It’s a matter of habit, but bad habits can be just as bad as using bad grammar.

So why does this word limit narrative, and why?

To begin with, it acts like a barrier between you and your reader by limiting how you apply yourself descriptively. Your role as writer is to transport the reader into the story through description, dialogue and narrative. How effective these are together is down to you as a writer. Sentence structure plays an important role in linking these three elements. Even more important are the words to cho…

Finding 'Voice' in Creative Writing

First, what exactly is ‘voice’?

Novice writers sometimes worry about ‘voice’ and what it means. Voice is the word we use to describe a style of writing that is distinct and individual from everyone else. It describes how you write, the descriptions you use, the words you choose to express yourself, the structure and pattern of your sentences and paragraphs, the characterisations and how your characters express themselves, and the overall style of your story that defines your voice.

Think about how you talk. Your voice has pitch, emotion, subtlety, variation, accent, tone and so on. Your writing voice isn’t that different to these elements.

New writers also have a tendency to become frustrated by not having that voice to begin with. They can be impatient, little realising that voice doesn’t appear overnight. That is because they have not yet developed their own style. Writing is like any new skill that we learn. The more you write, the more your style and voice becomes apparent. If you…

Contemporary fiction v Literary

Which one are you?


Well, first you have to define the genres. Literary is almost always character driven and relies on characters to tell the story rather than the plot doing all the work. Literary is another way of describing ‘high end writing’, the literati. The prose tends to be either archaic, overly beautiful or a mix between the two. Nevertheless, literary stories can be a joy to read. They can be exquisite, poetic, powerfully descriptive, alluring and seductive in their very fabric.

Contemporary novels are mostly plot driven and concentrate on modern day dilemmas. They are usually action-packed and fast paced and have a broad base appeal to almost everyone, coupled with compelling stories to tell. These include many genres like thriller, crime, mystery, science fiction, adventure, westerns and so on. Contemporary novels (or commercial to be more precise) are about how many sales it can generate.  Commercial fictions sells.

Literary fiction could be classed as a genre in its ow…

Blog Plot v Character driven stories

Writers often ask me which type they should attempt to write, however, I always answer that the approach to writing is always subjective. In other words, it really is up to the writer, but on the whole, it depends on what kind of story you’re trying to tell because there is a distinction between the two. One kind may be more suited to the type of genre you are writing for.

New writers may not be aware of such distinctions, and may not know the differences between the two forms.

The most important thing to remember is that neither of these elements is right or wrong. Not all novels are 100% plot driven or 100% character driven. For the most part, they have a mix of both character and plot driven elements. How they balance is entirely up to the writer.

What is a Plot driven story?

A plot driven story concentrates almost entirely on the events or situations within the story and it focuses on how the characters influence those events or situations, usually through action. The story is not…

Excuses Not to Write...

All writers do it – we come up with all sorts of excuses not to write. For every reason you can’t there’s also another reason why you should. How else will you accomplish anything?

Why we do this depends on many factors. Sometimes it’s because we lose flair and give up, perhaps it’s because we can’t find inspiration and then stagnation sets in, or it’s simply that we’ve grown bored with writing completely and we can’t be bothered to write anything worthwhile.

We make excuses because it’s easy. Sometimes we allow them to fester until our lack of writing becomes a long-term problem – in the end, nothing gets done.

The most often used excuses not to write are:

• Procrastination
• Lack of motivation
• Writers Block
• Writing laziness
• Boredom
• Fear of rejection
• Life
• Indifference

Procrastination is a way of canny avoidance. That novel needs finishing but the goings on in EastEnders or CSI diverts your waning attention. You need to write a story, but instead you decide to take the d…

Self-Doubt - Why It Stifles Success

I’m rubbish; I’ll never be a writer.’  Not if you don’t do something about it.

We’ve all had these negative thoughts, thinking we’re simply not good enough to reach the glorious echelons of the Literati. Most writers have suffered this at some point and it usually manifests when fear of rejection overrides logic because it’s easy to doubt your own abilities when comparing themselves to others and thereby decline their own talent in the process.

When you begin to doubt everything that you write, it becomes a problem.

So you’ve written your novel, or your short story or article, but you're not going to send it to an agent/publisher/magazine because you think it's not quite good enough, despite the time and effort you’ve put into it, regardless of how good or bad it might actually be. You’ll spend another week or so editing, and still it won’t be good enough. You ask yourself: Is it any good? Who will want to read it? Will anyone be interested in what I have to say?

Let’s be r…

Rejection

The Dreaded Rejection


Every writer can vouch for rejection. Every writer will experience this.

Rejection is emotive, it produces feelings of hurt. Writers take it personally, but you have to understand that it’s the piece of writing that was rejected, not you as a writer. There could be dozens of reasons for rejection. It doesn’t mean you’re rubbish and should instantly give up.

Writers do what comes naturally: they equate rejection with failure. It’s hard not to. Weeks, months or even years of hard work has been arbitrarily dismissed, leaving you with questions such as ‘Am I a bad writer?’, ‘Was my story that bad?’ and ‘Why am I a failure?’

The simple answer to those questions is, not necessarily. If you were lucky enough to get feedback with your rejection, that means you may have to tweak it and make changes in order to improve. If you don’t get any feedback with a rejection then don’t feel obliged to take your masterpiece and rip it to shreds in the belief that it’s rubbish and n…

How to tackle editing...Part 2

Part 2 - The Remaining Drafts


You’ve done the first draft and filtered out the grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. Now you have to look out for the less obvious things, the more detailed and technical factors. This is the primary work.

Again, it’s wise to put aside your story or MS for a while, then return to it with fresh eyes for the second or third, fourth or even tenth draft. This time, not only should you be on the lookout for the grammar and spelling/punctuation errors you may have missed first time around, but also you should be looking deeper into your story for less obvious errors.

Does your story start at the right moment? It should start at the heart of the action, or a defining moment in your protagonist’s life. Does it have a hook to keep the reader interested? Does it have a great opening line or paragraph? If it doesn’t, then you need to address that. A story should grab the reader's attention from the very first paragraph. Once hooked, you need to keep that…

How to tackle editing...

How to Edit – Part 1


Knowing how to edit your work is an essential part of writing. Not only do you need an editor’s eye to evaluate what you’ve written, you also need to be objective with yourself. Not easy, especially when you’ve spent so long writing your masterpiece and you’re emotionally attached, but unfortunately it’s a necessity in order to reach that level for an editor to accept your work. You do have to be hard on yourself sometimes so that you can take your story from ordinary to extraordinary.

Actual physical writing is a small proportion of what a writer does. The hard work comes afterward, during editing, which is all about making your work much better. This is where true investment and a willingness to re-write mark an amateur from a professional.

The best preparation for the editing process is to leave the finished work for a while, let your mind relax from creativity and writing. The idea of this is to detach yourself from the story you’ve worked on for so long and t…

Revealing Characters through Dialogue

When we speak we reveal a little something of ourselves. Your characters should do the same. Dialogue is an effective way of demonstrating who your character is by revealing their personality through what they say and how they say it, but fictional dialogue is different from everyday real life.

Think of real life dialogue. It’s full of interruptions, breaks, repetition and superfluous and irrelevant information. Lots of ums and ahs and a bucket full of different slang words. Most everyday conversations are, in reality, pretty dull and mundane, but the difference with real life dialogue and fictional dialogue is that with fictional dialogue you have to cut out the mundane, the waffle and the boring bits and get to the very essence of your characters and story. Readers are not interested in what your character had for dinner last Thursday, or that the garden needs doing, or the car needs washing…

Readers want information, immediacy and action.

Dialogue changes the flow of the narrative;…

Metaphor and Symbolism in Fiction

Metaphor v Simile

Why use metaphor, similes or symbolism in fiction? Because they are just some of the useful tools available to a writer to add extra dimension to their work, to make it interesting, more palpable and more entertaining.

A metaphor is an analogy, a figure of speech, to convey an idea or object. It compares dissimilar things without using ‘as’ or ‘like’

This shouldn’t be confused with similes, which are used to convey something that is very much like, whereas metaphors state that something is.

With metaphors, you don’t have to write ‘like’ or ‘as’.

For example:

‘His eyes were fireflies’. (Metaphor)

‘His eyes were like fireflies’. (Simile)

Both examples tell us the character’s eyes glittered or glowed like fireflies in the dusk, because the fireflies are used as an analogy.

‘John was a tank’. (Metaphor)

‘John was like a tank’. (Simile)

Both of these tell us that John is very strong and stocky. Used correctly they can add a bit of flair to the narrative, but if used po…