Give ’em a hard time!

Linda’s Blog May 28th 2020

Rarely, if ever, in life does everything go smoothly all the time. If it did, then our stories would be so boring. Life and stories are all about how we cope with adversity: problems, challenges, barriers, troubles, difficulties, setbacks. There may well be a happy ending, but only after the protagonist overcomes the problems.

A character’s true personality only comes out when they face adversity. You must give your protagonist challenges so the reader can see how they react, what they are made of, who they really are.barriers

The problems your character faces do not, necessarily, have to be major challenges. You can leave those to James Bond – bombs, guns, fires, car chases. Real-life problems tend to be on a smaller scale but can still bother your protagonist.

I’ve had a couple of THOSE days recently: nothing earth-shattering, but a series of difficulties that I just had to deal with and carry on – something I’m sure we’ve all experienced. The plastic connector sheared off the hose reel, the dishwasher broke two glasses (my faulty stacking, probably), I kept get putting on hold by our local hospital, I mislaid my credit card (found later), I cut out a pattern piece the wrong way round and didn’t have enough fabric to cut another … I’ll stop there and you can fill in your own!

The more pressure you put on a character, the more they reveal about themselves and the more your readers will be able to identify with them. And the problems your character faces should be connected to what they want, their goal.

So, you should let your readers know, as early as possible in your story:

  • What your protagonist wants
  • Why they want it
  • What is standing in their way (problems)
  • What are the consequences should they fail (ie what’s at stake)

If you include these four elements early on, you will hook your readers into empathising with your main character and then keep their interest going, either throughout the next 1000 words or the next 36 chapters. For the longer stories, problems will be repeated, probably several times over, and the stakes will be upped to increase tension and suspense.

Whether it’s bombs or broken glasses, make sure you make your protagonist work for their happy ending.

Have a good week – problem-free, hopefully.

Happy Writing.

Linda

Let me repeat that!

Linda’s blog May 18th

 Apologies – two days late. 

Following on from last week’s foray into editing, I thought I’d address another aspect this week – that of repetition.

When it’s intentional and well-written, repetition can add enormously to your writing voice and style. But used accidentally, it can be annoying to the reader, stop the flow of the piece and, basically, shows that the author hasn’t taken the time and trouble to check through their writing. Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve often read stories where the characters are well-drawn and the plot keeps me reading but I am put off when the same word – noun, verb, adjective – is used not just twice but repeatedly so.

There are several ways around this problem and the one I recommend is:

  • READ IT OUT ALOUDGiving a speech

I don’t mean mumble it as you read it through. I mean sit or stand up and read it as though you had an audience, as a performance. This way, not only will you pick up repetitions, but it’s more than likely you will hear badly-constructed sentences, see typographical errors, spot grammar and spelling mistakes and, hopefully, pick up on plot holes.

  • A SECOND OPINION

A different pair of eyes is always a good idea when you reach the editing stage. It’s all too easy for the author to read what they thought they had written, what they had intended to write, not seeing what is actually there. If another person is happy to read your work out loud, then you’ll have a double-check.

  • A SOFTWARE PROGRAMME

There are computer programmes available that will analyse your writing and produce a report that tells you how often you’ve used certain words. I’ve found one free programme that is easy to install and use: textfixer.com. Once installed, go to Text Tools, then Word Frequency Counter. Copy and paste your story into the box, press the button and you’ll get a list of your most commonly used words.

If you already know which words you use too often and need to find them, then Microsoft Word has a facility to do this. Remember my editor who discovered my too-frequent use of ‘but’? I could then use MS Word’s Find facility to go through deleting or altering.

Those are my suggestions for the accidental use of repetition. The deliberate use of repetition is to be encouraged, in the right place, and in the right way. Repetition of words or phrases can be used to

  • create emphasis,
  • direct the reader’s attention to a particular sentence,
  • aid in persuading the reader to take particular note of something,
  • create a rhythm and mood to your writing.

There are quite a number of figures of speech relating to repetition. Here are a few of the most common:

  1. Alliteration

The same letter or sound at the beginning of successive or nearby words. Two of the best-known examples are Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers and Veni, vidi, vici. And Shakespeare was fond of alliteration: From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.

  1. Anaphora

The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. Charles Dickens’ opening to A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity …

Winston Churchill’s speech: … we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields …

  1. Antimetabole

Where words from the first half of a sentence are repeated, in reverse, at the end of the sentence. Socrates: East to live, not live to eat. John F.Kennedy: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

  1. Assonance

Two or more words, close together, with the repetition of their vowel sounds. Pink Floyd: Hear the lark and harken to the barking of the dark fox gone to ground.

  1. Epistrophe

Repetition of a word at the end of successive clauses or sentences. Lyndon B Johnson: There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no northern problem. There is only an American problem. 1 Corinthians 13: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.

  1. Polysyndeton

Repetition of conjunctions in a list for emphasis eg For breakfast he ate bacon and egg and sausages and beans and black pudding and mushrooms and beans and toast!

At the risk of repeating myself, always check your writing for unintentional repetitions but also have a go at using repetition to enhance your writing style.

Have a good week.

Happy Writing.

Linda

 

Weed your writing!

Linda’s Blog

May 11thGoosegrass

I would imagine I’m not alone in saying that I’ve done a fair bit of gardening in the past few weeks. The weather’s been great, and we’ve been at home – perfect timing. But as I struggle to get rid of the goosegrass (a menace) and clumps of grass growing where they shouldn’t, I realise that I’m not going to be complimented on my weeding. Lovely display of flowers or beautiful lawn are the comments that may be forthcoming. However, no-one’s going to say Well done on clearing all those weeds; that border looks so much better.

So, what has my weeding to do with writing, you might be asking.

I think there’s a parallel between tidying the garden and editing your writing. It’s the little things that matter, that you will know about, but your reader won’t. Once they’ve gone, those little things, your writing will be so much better. Your readers will read a piece that flows better, without knowing why, and my family might admire my borders, not knowing how much goosegrass has gone 😊

Two of the “little things” are adjectives and adverbs.

Adjectives: I can remember being taught how to use adjectives at school – yes, that long ago. Then being told not to use them as a journalist. And then thinking I could use them again when I started writing stories. NO. The right adjective is perfect. But adjectives just for the sake of using them, thinking it will brighten up your nouns? Definitely NO.

In 1880, Mark Twain wrote: When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them, then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice. (or weed, ed)

Adverbs: It’s all too easy to add adverbs to verbs. It doesn’t take much thinking about, does it? You come up with the verb and then add the adverb to say what you mean. NO. Adverbs weaken verbs. Far better to use a strong verb than a weaker verb and one of those awful ..ly words. He walked slowly. She spoke quietly. NO. Say what you mean. He strolled. She whispered.

If you are using an adverb, you have got the verb wrong.  Kingsley Amis

Surely: the adverb of a man without an argument. Edward St Aubyn

One of my personal writing ‘weeds’ is the word but. When I was short-listed in the Wilbur Smith competition, I was fortunate to have my novel edited by literary consultant David Llewellyn. He started taking out the buts and then asked me to do the rest. I took out 833, leaving 1362: not too bad out of 115,000 words. That experience, though, has made me stop every time I’m about to type that word.

Lanhydrock
Sadly, not mine. This is one of the loveliest gardens I’ve seen: Lanhydrock House, a National Trust property in Cornwall. Not a weed in sight.

So, try to find out what your writing ‘weeds’ are and get rid of them.

Happy writing, stay safe, and enjoy your gardens or parks.

Linda

 

Linda’s Blog

May 4th

Just thought I’d write about SARCASM and IRONY this week. Can’t think what brought those to mind. But I have read a few blogs and comments that disagree with each other as to what the two words mean and how they are used in the English language.

This is how I see it:

IRONY : a figure of speech in which a situation or event is deliberately contrary to what is expected; often used for humorous or emphatic effect.

Examples of irony:
A police station is robbed.
A marriage guidance counsellor gets divorced.
A financial advisor loses all his money.
A car parked in front of a No Parking sign.
Abraham Lincoln; The ballot is stronger than the bullet.
Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice: She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me.
Shakespeare’s Juliet, speaking of Romeo: Go ask his name: if he be married, my grave is like to be my wedding bed.

(The three examples above are examples of ironic foreshadowing, when something is commented upon with the assumption that it will never happen)

SARCASM : is a bitter or wounding remark, deliberately made, that means the opposite to what is said or written. Sarcasm is always intended to be hurtful, mocking or cynical.

Examples:
When someone says something that is obvious: Oh, Sherlock! I’d never have thought of that.
When someone is wearing old, tattered clothes at a posh do: I see you dressed for the occasion.
When someone makes a mistake, or trips. Oh, well done!

If you want one of your characters to be fond of sarcasm, be careful: sarcasm rarely works well on the page (or in press conferences). That’s because you cannot be sure that your audience will recognise the sarcasm. On paper, it looks like a plain statement, unless you add he said sarcastically (or explain that’s what you were doing).

*          *          *

I had a great Zoom meeting with one of my writing classes last week. There were only four of us and, due to technical difficulties, one had to join in on the phone for part of the time. It was really good to see everyone again, to read such entertaining and different pieces, and to share our critiques. I think we all felt it was going to encourage us to keep writing during lock-down. Thank you for arranging it, B. Looking forward to the next one.

*          *          *

Thank you for your response to my request last week for what gets you writing. Quite a number said they respond well to pictures, particularly of people. They have something in front of then to focus on, to decide what that person wants. And the other idea that came up a few times was sitting in a café watching passers-by, imagining who they were, where they were going, what they wanted. Unfortunately, it’s not something we can do too much of at the moment but when we can, definitely something to try.

In the meantime, please keep safe and healthy, and carry on writing.

best wishes

Linda

Linda’s Blog

April 27th

Stephen King’s assertion that Writing is a lonely job is probably something that many of us have experienced. We may meet up in groups, go to classes, courses, retreats and festivals. But when it comes to sitting down and actually writing, we’re on our own. And it can be hard.

I believe one of the most important elements of a writer’s life is to have a

WRITING BUDDY.

This is someone who:

  • knows what it is like to be a writer – the trials and tribulations, the highs and the lows;
  • is always positive about your writing. They will offer honest critical feedback, always in a constructive way.
  • is sympathetic when your writing is not going well;
  • is supportive when you need encouragement;
  • is great to celebrate success with;
  • is a help with technical matters, like line spacing, margins, setting up Zoom;
  • knows not to yatter on when you say you’re in the middle of writing;
  • knows that, occasionally, you need to talk through non-writing matters;
  • shares news of competitions, agents, publishers, courses etc;
  • genuinely wants you to succeed.

You don’t have to stick to a single WRITING BUDDY. You are perfectly entitled to have more than one! I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had many writing friends, some for more than twenty years. They offer me different perspectives, different styles, different conversations and a whole lot of encouragement. To all of them, and you know who you are, a huge THANK YOU.

If you have anything you’d like to add to the list above, please do get in touch.

*                            *                                  *

I’d like your help with another writing matter this week. I’m currently putting together a book of my writing class handouts and I’d like to include 365 writing prompts! I’m getting there. But I’d love to know what other writers find the most useful as prompts.

One of my favourites is to write for five minutes on any subject whatever, but without using the letter “e”. It makes me really consider every single word and after five minutes, I’m ready to get back to my “real” writing!

So, please, do send me your favourite prompts. I promise you’ll be acknowledged when the book is published.

Have a good writing week.
best wishes

Linda

Linda’s Blog

April 20th

I’ve been really impressed this week with what writers I know have been doing during this lock-down. One has been setting herself a target of two or three submissions a month, such as competitions, and so far is sticking to it. Another has been getting on with chapters of a novel. A third is writing a series of amusing and informative articles about two or three-day trips that he’s made to English cities over the past few months. He takes photos and makes notes, hand-writes them into beautiful notebooks that will be forever a great memento and writes an article that will be made into a self-published travel book.

               Great ideas and what a good way to keep busy and motivated whilst stuck at home. But, conversely, I know of writers who are finding it difficult to get down to their writing. There’s the old adage If you want something done, give it to a busy person. And the opposite is that if you have all the time in the world, it is sometimes hard to get going!

               That’s particularly true if you have responsibility for other people – either youngsters or the elderly. They come first and writing has to take second place.

               I’ve found it easier if I set aside a particular time for my writing, and at the moment that is first thing in the morning, before the rest of the household is awake. If I’ve had a good night’s sleep, then I’m fresh and raring to go. I also find it helps to make a few notes the night before so I already know what I’m going to be writing about.  

               If you have a particular time or routine with your writing, do let me know.

Something I’m sure we’re all aware of in recent weeks is the number of wonderful characters that have come to the fore because of COVID 19. Captain Tom Moore has attracted more than £23 million in donations since he started doing laps of his garden. I bet he never dreamed he’d be number one in the pop charts with a song with Michael Ball!Eight year old

The one that had me in tears of admiration: 8-year-old Nahla Bartlett-Vanderpuye who makes protective visors for her local hospital on her home 3-D printer. If you put that in a novel, who would believe it!

Happy Writing!

Free writing courses

I thought this week I’d pull together some of the free writing courses that are available online.

The Open University runs hundreds of free courses under their Open Learn scheme.

You study at your own pace and if you sign up (no cost), you can qualify for a certificate on completion. Currently, they are running:

Start writing fiction; Writing what you know; and (advanced) Creative writing and critical reading. 

Click here

I have studied creative writing with the Open University so I have no hesitation in recommending the above.

 

I’ve signed up for weekly prompts from agents Curtis Brown. You can join at any time and if you want feedback, you’ll have to pay! Click here

Other free courses I’ve found are these, but I have no personal experience.

Udemy.com
Coursera.org (American)
Tckpublishing.com (American)
Creative-writing-now.com (only one course free but others are very reasonably priced)

If you do try any of these, I’d love to hear how you get on and, if you’re agreeable, pass on your feedback on this website.

And just to mention the sad passing of Tim Brooke Taylor – what a great talent to get people laughing.

Have a good and safe week.

Linda 

 

Let’s Get Writing!

Linda’s Blog April 2020

A warm welcome to writers everywhere.

Welcome back to those who’ve been here before, and hello to those who’ve just found the site!

Many of us are having to stay at home during the Coronavirus pandemic, so I thought it might be a good time to revive my website, to give writers something to read, plus suggestions for prompts and exercises.

I will admit that part of my motivation came from that lovely lad Joe Wicks who’s running a free exercise class for children on YouTube in the mornings at 9am Monday to Friday: PE with Joe. I just about managed the three-minute warm-up before discovering he does a ten-minute workout for us oldies after the kids’ session, at 9.30am. Much more suitable! He’s even carried on despite breaking a bone in his hand, not exercising but a slight accident with his bike.

So, I shall try to put up a new post here every week, with a prompt or two and the occasional article about writing. And if you’d like to read about what I’m working on, do have a look on the This is Me page.

I’ve just been reading that many independent bookshops have closed, so too Waterstones and Foyles, although they are maintaining their online services, and W H Smith have closed 60 per cent of their shops. Amazon have stopped selling third-party books.

Perhaps now is the time for YOU to really get writing!

This could be a good time to:

  • Take stock of your writing: Why do you want to write? What do you want to write? What’s stopping you? Writing down the answers to those questions could help focus your mind on what is really important to you.
  • Have a look through your writing files (I have some going back to typewritten manuscripts!) Do you have unfinished short stories? Notes for a novel? Ideas for flash fiction? If you’re in the mood to get organised, you could sort them all out and decide which ones might be worth a new look.
  • Have a go at the prompts for this week. Click here.
  • Read my article on Writers and Libel here.

I plan to post every Monday; it would be great if YOU could join me. If you’d like notifications of new blogs, please fill in your e-mail address to the right and then press the Follow button.

Please do send me feedback, questions, ideas via Leave a Comment.

Happy Writing.

Linda