Posts

Showing posts from 2019

Verbs and Nouns Make For Better Writing

The strength of your writing comes from the choice of words you use. The general advice is that certain words help strengthen narrative, like verbs and nouns, while others, such as adjectives and adverbs, can weaken it. So why do verbs and nouns make for better writing? Nouns make up a large part of the English language – they denote things, people, animals, actions, places and even ideas. They are as versatile as they are useful because they have so many functions. Every sentence you write contains verbs and nouns, but because writers tend to rely too much on adjectives and adverbs, it often results in a lack of nouns and verbs in the narrative. There are several types of nouns: Proper, Common, Collective, Abstract, Countable and Uncountable nouns. A proper noun is a specific or unique name of a person, place or thing. Jupiter, New York and Samantha are proper nouns. Common nouns, on the other hand, refer to ordinary objects and things, names and places etc., for instance: Tom grabbed t…

Use Commas and Semicolons Effectively

Every writer at some point has probably asked themselves whether they should use a comma or a semi colon, as they are often seen as interchangeable. This is why the humble comma is abused, but both the semicolon and the comma provide different functions in your writing and shouldn’t be confused with one another. Commas are used to show a very short pause in sentences or to separate various objects in a sentence or several items in a list.Semi-colons, however, are used to separate two independent clauses that are closely related. They are also useful when listing ideas or phrases, just like commas do, which is why they may confuse writers. Effective writing is all about using words and punctuation to your advantage to produce the right effect. Commas in the right place can do this, especially when you want to create that momentary pause; a split second hesitation, for instance: Her expression folded, and with her eyes veiled, he could no longer read her. He wondered about the path ahead, t…

Working With Character Voice

Characters are an important element in any story. They have to be the perfect fit; the right personality and the right name etc., so that for the readers, the characters feel like real people. Every one of them is different, yet their stories and experiences are similar to our own. One thing that helps a story stand out isn’t just authorial voice – it’s character voice. Your characters are individuals with their own personalities, traits and flaws. They are their own people. They are not you. And they shouldn’t be anything like you. That’s where a lot of authors fall down. When they create their main characters, they often create them with themselves in mind, and too much of the writer’s personality creeps into their characters. That’s because it’s easier to write about us rather than go to all that trouble of characterising. While it’s not a bad thing to have some little snippets of our own personalities in our characters, remember that your protagonist isn’t you. The characters that yo…

Co-ordinating Conjunctions - Use Them to Your Advantage

There is a lot of mixed advice about using co-ordinating conjunctions such as ‘and’, but’, ‘or’, ‘so’, and ‘yet’ etc. Some people advise against their use in writing, while others advocate it. What advice should you follow? Which one is right? The simple truth is that there is absolutely nothing wrong using co-ordinating conjunctions to start a sentence. This writing myth may have evolved around rigid schoolteachers who taught children that such sentence constructions were not grammatically correct and thus perpetuated the idea that it’s wrong to use them. But it isn’t wrong. That’s because writing is all about balance rather than ‘right or wrongs’. For example, the general advice about adverbs is to cut down on their use and use nouns and verbs to strengthen your narrative. That doesn’t mean that every adverb must be eradicated. It just means to cut back on them to make the writing better. The same is true for adjective use or passive sentences etc. So there is no reason why conjuncti…

Creating a Sense of Time

One of the things I see when I edit other writers is the inability to control time. But what does that mean? The notion of time in a novel is different to time in the real world. That’s because, in fiction, we can play around with time. We can jump from point to point in any moment in time – sometimes we can cover whole generations. We can move forward or back, we manipulate time, but it has to be done properly. Without the right attention, the inability to control time can cause problems with pace and the reader could become confused as to when time is supposed to have passed, and when it doesn’t. The biggest problem is the writer’s tendency to rush the narrative, which means the sense of time is also rushed.For example, when one scene zips to the other without the slightest hint to the reader that three weeks have passed, then it blurs the transition of time and causes confusion. Has time actually passed?Is it the next day?Next week?When exactly? This lack of clarity can cloud the pass…

Storytelling Techniques - Getting the Most From Short Stories

Short stories are not always easy, simply because of the way they are constructed.There’s a lot to pack into something that may only be a few thousand words.But the fundamental difference between a novel and a short story, other than the length, is that a short story only captures a brief moment in your main character’s life, rather than a set timeline of events. That’s because novels can span years or even decades.A short story simply doesn’t have the room to focus on these things. It can only capture a few days in the life of your protagonist. This makes it easier to condense a lot of the fictional elements into a short time frame.The best short stories tend to have short time-spans – hours rather than days.It keeps the story tight, concise and focused. The structure of the short story is important – it consists of a single premise, a coupe of characters, a strong theme and it takes place in a short time frame. By their very nature, they are contained, so their structure is specifical…

Storytelling Techniques – Using Fact with Fiction

While fictional stories are just that – fictitious – there’s one thing they rely on in order to help them convince the reader that the story feels real, and that is facts. Whether it’s thriller, crime, romance or a historical novel – facts make a difference to the overall enjoyment of a book. It lends to its realism.
Facts provide extra layers to your description and dialogue; the more descriptive layers you have, the better experience for the reader. That doesn’t mean you have top overload the story with every single fact you can find, but rather it’s down to the subtle snippets of information you weave into the story. 
We’re always told to ‘write what we know’ – so if you’re a photographer, you could use this in a story, or perhaps you are a nurse, so your medical background knowledge is very handy or maybe you’re a mechanic and you make your protagonist a mechanic...it’s all knowledge and skills you can and should use, but sometimes what we know isn’t always accurate, and often with …

Storytelling Techniques - Description that Appeals to the Senses

Editors talk a lot about description in fiction, and one of the things I often see when editing other writers is the lack of description, or if there is some, it’s too weak to make the story as effective as it should. Writers tend to be very good at it, or pretty bad. Description shouldn’t be confused with narrative, which is the expositional bit of writing woven between the dialogue and the active descriptions. Any good story isn’t effective without great description – it’s a clever way to involve the reader, to help them imagine themselves within the story, with the characters, to show them action, drama, tension, atmosphere, mood and, importantly, emotion and conflict. It places the reader within that setting, that moment; it makes the story feel real. And the best way to do this is to write description that appeals to the reader’s senses, engages them, thrills them and takes them on an emotional journey. It’s sensory description. Well written description utilises the senses to cr…

Storytelling Techniques - Layered Conflict

Never underestimate the power of conflict. Without it, stories wouldn’t exist. No matter what the story is, your characters will disagree over things, dislike one another, argue, fight, hate antagonists, dislike themselves or situations they’re created or found themselves caught in, or disagree with things around them. This is exactly what happens in real life. Such conflict makes life interesting, exciting, crazy, frustrating and, at times, hard. That’s because conflict creates all manner of emotions, which forms an essential ingredient in fiction and pushes the story forward to its conclusion. Layered conflict is what it says – it’s a way for the writer to add layers of conflict throughout the story. This builds the drama and tension until the story reaches its conclusion.But conflict comes in different ways. Characters can come into conflict with other characters, they can come into conflict with their environment and they can come into conflict with themselves. Often writers think tha…

Storytelling techniques – Create Complications

One of the things that keep readers turning the page is the amount of tension, drama and conflict we create within a story. Every story relies on a certain amount of conflict, but part of creating all that drama is how we create complications for our characters. We don’t want our characters to have an easy time. In fact, we want the opposite. We want them to go through hell, we want them to suffer, we want to push them all the time, corner them and make their lives difficult. If they had it all their own way, there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell. That’s why we create complications for our characters to deal with. Because their story is not meant to be an easy ride. When we talk about complication – and creating them – we are referring to the escalating series of problems that take place in the story; the kind of things that make life difficult (but not impossible) for our characters. Lots of complications usually facilitate conflict. Don’t confuse complications with obstacles. They’r…

Storytelling Technique - When to Use Backstory

Backstory isn’t to be confused with flashback. Instead, when we refer to backstory, it means the characters’ background and history – things from their past that could have an influence on the present story. This could be anything, since every character will have a past, and it’s the stuff in the past that makes them the characters that appear in your story. On a more complex scale, the more the reader knows about your characters, the more they will care about them, but like flashback, backstory should be handled properly in order for it to be effective. The reason it’s confused with flashback is because backstory – by its very definition – is the past, and if it is introduced into a story, it has to be handled correctly so as not to alter the forward momentum of the present story or interrupt the flow. Many writers make the mistake of introducing backstory from the opening chapter in the mistaken belief that the reader should know everything about the characters, their lives and their …