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Showing posts from January, 2012

Why you shouldn’t always give the reader what they want

At the risk of sounding contrary, this is actually good advice. But what does it mean? And aren’t writers supposed to give the reader what they want, rather than the other way around?

Well, no, not always.

You need to give the reader what they want in terms of delivering the complete story – watertight plot, rounded and believable characters, background and pacing, lots of conflict and tension, atmosphere and emotion etc - but when a writer deliberately doesn’t give the reader what they want, it’s because they are teasing the reader and prompting them to want to know more. 

The story is a two-way connection between you, the writer, and your reader. You lay the foundations and paint the background, you indulge them with information and description, but they also have to do some of the work too by trying to figure out what might happen next, what the characters might do and how the story might end etc. That’s precisely what keeps the reader turning the page.

The true art of writing i…

Dialogue versus Description

Dialogue versus description – or in simple terms – how much of each should you aim for in your fiction?

This is a common question asked by many writers, and more often than not, if you ask a question like this you will get a hundred different answers, simply because there are no absolutes in fiction. Some people say lots of description is preferable, others say lots of dialogue is better. This can leave writers understandably confused.

The one thing to remember is that fiction is about balance. The dialogue to description ratio doesn’t have to be an exact science, but a healthy amount of both is better than a story that relies heavily on one and not the other, which may leave the whole thing lacking. This then begs the question - why does there need to be a balance?

Dialogue and description depend on each other; they co-exist, rather like strawberries and cream. One without the other just isn’t the same and sometimes it doesn’t work so well.

One element imparts vital information a…

Do too many characters spoil the story?

Often I’m asked how many characters are too many for a story, but the honest answer would be to assess the story or novel and make an informed decision on how many characters are central to the story. In truth, there is no definitive right or wrong. Some novels have many characters, like the Harry Potter novels, and Lord of the Rings, while others have a bare minimum.

Firstly, too few characters are not necessarily a bad thing. Many novels have just a few main and secondary characters and they work well because the main focus is constantly on them throughout the novel. That means there aren’t less important characters stealing some of that limelight, and thus fewer subplots to write and to keep an eye on.

In short stories it’s somewhat different – the fewer the characters, the better. That’s because you may only have between 1000 and 10,000 words to tell the story and having too many characters may complicate the whole thing and make it difficult for the reader to keep track of t…

The Importance of Feedback

This is a subject previously touched upon, but it deserves another look.

The process of feedback is very important for a writer, whether the feedback is negative or positive; it still forms an integral part of a writer’s journey and their ability to learn.

It can be daunting letting someone else read your work, because you are not entirely sure whether they will a) understand it, b) dislike it or c) like it. 

Handing over work for feedback is the act of opening yourself up for the worst criticism, but by letting others read your work, you are inviting their opinion, their response, and without it, or indeed constructive critique, you will be unable to grow as a writer.

One of the most important reasons for feedback is to enable others to see errors in your story which are not always apparent to you, they will tell you if the story works, they will comment on your characters and description, they will tell you of it all makes sense and so on. 

This process allows you to understand your…

Passive Voice

This is a subject previously touched upon, but still causes problems for writers.

Passive voice is one of those things that give all writers a headache from time to time, because sometimes it’s needed and sometimes it isn’t, but knowing when to correctly use passive voice causes the confusion.

Firstly, the use of passive voice isn’t always grammatically incorrect. This creates uncertainty for writers, who believe it’s a writing no-no, but there are times when passive voice is actually required, and preferred.

But what exactly is passive voice?

Passive voice is produced by using an auxiliary verb (e.g. to be), which is used with a past participle. If you are not sure of the verb forms of to be, they are - is, are, am, was, were, have been, has been, had been, will be, will have been and being.

A past participle is a form of the verb that usually, though not exclusively, ends in ‘-ed’. Verbs are either active or passive.

In passive voice, the target of the action takes the subject pos…