First a catch-up on various happenings during November.
Writing advice: I faced a dilemma this week which got me thinking writing-wise!
I’ve recently been going down to a local swimming pool early each morning, hoping to avoid the rush. One morning, there was just one person in the pool so I had the choice of all the lanes. Should I choose fast, slow or “other”? I was tempted by the fast lane but I knew as soon as I got going, some fit, young, lithe and very fast male would be getting in my way!
So I chose the slow lane and then comfortably fitted around the other two people who eventually joined me. Yes, the fast, young…… male did turn up and proceeded to splash us all from the fast lane!
But it made me wonder about the use of the terms slow and fast. In comparison to what? If Ian Thorpe were to choose to swim slowly, he’d still be a hundred times faster than me.
If you describe something in your writing as beautiful, remember that is a totally subjective word ie it means something to the person (or character) who’s writing but possibly not the same to the reader. Instead of using such a word, why not try to describe what makes that person beautiful eg their smile, the light in their eyes, their caring attitude. Note I didn’t mention hair, lips, bone structure, makeup or figure – that sort of beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder!
Similarly with comparative adjectives and adverbs. An elderly person might well be moving more slowly than a younger adult but probably at a similar speed to a toddler. One exam question might be hard for one pupil but easy for another. It will very much depend on the circumstances of your character and how they relate to the other characters or events around them.
Prompts: Write your Christmas/winter/snow stories now and keep them for next year’s competitions.
Tips: I thought I’d pass on some Google tips from the company that looks after my computer. They send me regular emails about safety, viruses, hacks, backing up and all the things we know we should be doing! These aren’t necessarily writing-related but I just thought they could be helpful.
I hope you all have a most enjoyable festive time and that you receive some really good “writing” gifts – we writers can never have too many notebooks!
And if you have a spare ten minutes in between all the activities, why not start thinking of your Writing Resolutions for 2018? I’ll have some ideas for you next month.
What we can learn from television drama
There’s been a wealth of good drama on television over the past few months and in one of my classes recently, we discussed what we’d enjoyed but, more importantly, why. We tried to discount the great acting, scenery and film techniques to concentrate on the writing.
I was once told by a theatre director that good actors can always work well with good material but even good actors have a hard time with bad writing!
So the points we came up with included:
What I’ve also discovered:
Must get back to the writing!
I’m starting NaNoWriMo today! Really just to get back into the habit of writing after a bit of a break over the summer. I’ve sorted a plot for a 50,000-word novel, done character profiles and although there’s a little bit of historical research that I’ll probably need to do afterwards, I think I’m ready 🙂 I’ll let you know how I get on next month!
Below you’ll find Writing Tips; my Book Recommendation; Writing Prompts and an article on verbs.
It’s so easy to miss little mistakes and repetitions when editing and proof-reading.
This month’s book recommendation Two good friends of mine have co-written a novel and it’s just been published. It’s called QUOTA and is a thriller set in 2035 when Britain’s population has got too big for its resources. The Ministry of Life decrees how many years each family is allowed, to divide amongst its members.
This story really makes you think what might happen if the world’s population really does get out of control. Who will be the people making the decisions as to how we all survive, who lives and who dies?
Kate Appleby has just lost her husband in an accident on their farm. She receives the dreaded letter at his funeral, informing her that their life QUOTAS have been re-assessed. She’s desperate for help and has to choose between two men: a Ministry of Life official who was a colleague at university and a man who needs a kidney for his dying son.
You can buy a copy of QUOTA, paperback or Kindle version, here.
Pictures this month are from the wonderful Sculpture Park at Churt near Farnham in Surrey.
Or, study one of pictures and just see what ideas spring to mind.
This month’s Article on Creative Writing: Active and Passive verbs
Have you ever read through a piece or your own writing, or anyone else’s for that matter, and thought it a bit dull, a bit flat, even boring? One of the first things you might want to check is how many PASSIVE verbs you are using.
An ACTIVE verb is where the subject of the sentence is the person or thing that is doing the verb
eg She threw the coat away. The teacher shouted at the boys. My husband painted the lounge. Ice covered the pond.
A PASSIVE verb is where the subject of the sentence is the object of the verb
eg The coat was thrown away. The boys were shouted at by the teacher. The lounge was painted by my husband. The pond was covered by ice.
Passive verbs tend to distance your readers from the action and slow the story down. They can also sound rather bureaucratic and impersonal:
eg Your complaint has been investigated (Active: We have investigated your complaint); enquiries have been made (Active: we have made enquiries);
the letter will be signed by your manager (Active: Your manager will sign the letter)
There are also HIDDEN PASSIVE verbs that we probably use too much and don’t recognize them as such. These usually involve the verb to be
eg There was a bird singing in the garden. Active: A bird was singing in the garden.
There were two men fighting in the street. Active: Two men were fighting in the street.
I’m not at all advocating that you should NEVER use the passive voice but as a general rule, the fewer passive sentences the better. Don’t worry – you don’t have to count them! Microsoft Word has a wizard that will do that for you. With all the different versions of MS Word around, I can’t tell you exactly where this wizard will be fund – sorry! But you can try going to Review on the blue bar at the top of a Word document; then Spelling and Grammar; then Options; then Grammar and more settings; scroll down the list and click on Passive voice and click OK.
If this doesn’t work with your version, you might have Help button where you can type in Check passive voice or use a search engine.
And if you also check the box marked Readability statistics, this will show you the breakdown of your writing, like this:
Suggestion: check one of your pieces of writing: a short story, article or a chapter of a novel. See how many passive sentences you have and whether changing them to active verbs will improve the flow.
Have a good November!
OCTOBER 1st and for me, it really is time to get back writing. I took the summer off. Sometimes, if you just have too many things on your mind and too busy a schedule, the sensible thing is to concentrate on the priorities and return to writing when the time is right.
But where did the summer go? True, we’re still having the occasional brilliantly sunny and warm day. But there’s definitely an autumnal feel to the air. Trees are changing colour, leaves cover my garden and the nights are really closing in so early.
But, to quote the Bible and singer Pete Seeger, To everything there is a season and now is the time to:
I thought that last one might make you sit up! I’m not suggesting you enter the official competition to write 50,000 words in November. If you’re in the habit of writing a thousand or more words a day, then go for it! But some members of my writing groups do their own NaNoWriMo – setting themselves the target of writing 200 words (and upwards) every day of the month. If you have a writing buddy who’s game for the experience, exchange your 200 words each day by 6pm. By the end of the month, you’ll have 6,000 words – two or more short stories perhaps.
Writer’s Forum magazine always includes a ready-made chart for you: pin it up by your computer and fill in each day what you’ve been working on. Remember, planning, plotting and research count too!
ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY? Some of you may remember that phrase from the BBC radio programme Listen with Mother which started back in the 1950s. What I’m asking now is Are you sitting comfortably while you are writing? So many of us use laptops, tablets and phones for our writing nowadays and, I’m guessing, rarely sit at a desk to do so. The trouble is, at some point in the future our bodies will start suffering. Lower back, neck, arm and wrist problems are the most common outcomes of continued poor posture.
1.Your back should be in an upright position, firmly supported by your chair back and/or cushions
2.Your keyboard should allow you to type with your forearms parallel to the floor
3.Your screen should, ideally, be an arm’s length away
4.Your middle of your screen should be at eye level; any lower and your neck will suffer.
I can already hear some of you saying “but I can’t have my laptop an arm’s length away and at eye level – I won’t be able to use the keyboard!” Too true. One answer is to have a separate keyboard and put your laptop on a sturdy pile of books to reach the right height. I bought a spare keyboard the other day – for all of £6.
So there really is no excuse. If you KNOW you are going to be using your laptop constantly for more than half an hour, I really do recommend you take a look at how to improve your work station. Then, if you’re sitting comfortably, you can begin.
The photo here shows how I’ve set up my work station at home: my monitor is on a shelf, an arm’s length away from my chair and I have raised the back of my keyboard very simply with a piece of wood which I find makes typing easier.
I’m delighted that my local Tesco’s has recently started a BOOK SWAP TABLE. Anyone can put books on the table and if you want to take one, you put a £1 in the charity collection tin. If you don’t already recycle your paperbacks, this is a good way of sharing and finding new authors. I’ve noticed quite a few A-level English Lit texts, complete with annotations! plus a few Classics, old children’s books, chick-lit and recipe books. But I’ve also discovered one writer new to me that I shall certainly follow up – R J Ellory. A Quiet Belief in Angels was that rare combination – a thriller that was really beautifully written.
WEBSITES AND COMPETITIONS
Here’s an article that I found interesting :
Ten Important Things Writers Often Omit from their scenes.
And a few competitions to keep you busy:
The Ruth Rendell Short Story competition: Click here
Words with Jam Short Story competition: Click here
The Poetry Society’s annual competition: Click here
This one closes at the end of October
A dozen ideas to get the creative juices flowing:
So, a new season, lots to do, I’m sitting comfortably ……
has been up and running for a year now and I’d like to thank all of you who have been in touch with comments, feedback, questions and suggestions. I haven’t been able to develop the website as much as I’d originally planned, due to family circumstances. So now, after a year, it’s time for a revamp.
For the foreseeable future, everything new will be here on the front page – blog, writing tips, prompts and recommendations. That way you can keep in touch once a month and see at a glance what’s there.
I’d very much like to add your comments to the site so I hereby make it a resolution to get in touch with my web design company to find out how to do just that!
I’ll keep the past year’s articles, prompts etc for a while and then they’ll disappear. I might put them and others into a handy-sized booklet – I’ll let you know if that materialises in the next year.
Are you a 500-words-a-day person or does it happen in fits and starts? I’ve been a bit of both over the past few months but one thing I’ve discovered is if I don’t write something every day, I don’t feel right. Something is missing and I haven’t had a good day. When I get back to it on a regular basis, I sleep so much better!
I’ve had to take a break from my classes in the past few months and talking to a couple of my writers recently, they say they’ve missed them – thank you – because they’ve got out of the writing habit and they need some ideas! I also think it’s because the groups themselves provide not only enjoyable social get-togethers but a collective motivation to write. All my groups are extremely supportive of each other’s writing, rather than competitive, and I feel this too is of immense benefit for everyone, me included.
Writing is so often a solo activity (I don’t like to say lonely because you should have all your characters keeping you company) that having one or more writing buddies you see regularly can provide a most welcome balance.
I’m still sending my novel out to agents, publishers and competitions but I’ve stopped writing the sequel. I came to a full-stop and decided to have a change. I feel sure I will return to it sometime, because I frequently think of my main character and what she could get up to next! In the meantime, I went back to an historical novel set in Ireland and finished it. Really happy with having done that but I’ve put it away and will leave it for a couple of months before looking at it with fresh eyes for the first edit. I’ve also written a radio play but the BBC WritersRoom isn’t accepting drama submissions until the end of the year so I’ve time for editing. And I’m currently in the early stages of planning a new novel. This one, unusually for me, will be contemporary so I won’t have to bury myself in books about life in the Middle East 2000 years ago!
I know writers of each camp who swear their method is the only way they can write. Non-planners just hate the thought of looking further ahead than the next page; planners can’t bear not knowing where they are going.
I’m definitely a planner and I have to know the major plot points of my story before I can start writing. I then use tables and charts for a variety of purposes:
But I know some of my writing friends find using charts like this far too clinical. “It’s like writing to a formula,” they say. They actually LIKE not knowing what it going to happen until the very moment they start typing.
Certainly there are pros and cons for each way of working but we are individuals and what works for me, may not for someone else. Do let me know how you work – it might inspire another writer to try a different technique once in a while.
If you run your own websites or create newsletters, you probably have a job finding copyright free images to use. Here’s a list of websites that offer such a service. But, please, check each one carefully before you use their pix.
For instance, if you go to the Bing website, you will need to go to the Filter button and then choose the category you want to find which images are totally free.
Don’t take any chances: I know of someone who used a photo from a website, thinking that no-one would notice. She was quickly contacted by the company owning the photo, telling her to take it down or risk legal action. You have been warned!
Regular readers will know I am a HUGE fan of historical novelist Philippa Gregory so it’ll be no surprise to hear that I am deeply ensconced in her latest book The Last Tudor. Right from the first page I was hooked and although I’m familiar with the famous historical characters, it’s the way in which Gregory makes them so real, their emotions ones that I recognise and can empathise with. She packs in a lot of historical facts too but always THROUGH the characters, showing not telling. A writing lesson on every page!
I’ve just had the pleasure of helping to judge a short story competition, run jointly by our local arts forum and the local writing group, prizes donated by our local MP. My job was to select the top ten, from which a panel of three decided on the top three prize winners. I enjoyed doing this, partly because the word count was just 500 words : a good enough length for plot and characterisation, and short enough to prevent (hopefully) too much description, too much backstory and too many tangents.
Did they succeed? On the whole, yes! The good stories really stood out for me and these were the features they shared:
I was particularly impressed with the many different ways in which the writers interpreted the theme. Quite a few delved into history, taking true stories or legends and giving them a new slant – very inventive. But there were quite a few, I have to say, where I was struggling to remember what the theme was.
It was extremely hard getting the entries down to just ten: I really wanted to hand over 15, but I couldn’t. So I read them all through for a fourth time, choosing the ones in which I felt there wasn’t a wasted word. Even in 500 words, there were quite a few entries that contained descriptions or backstory that were not, really, necessary. And finally, it was down to the voice – that elusive element that only comes with practice, practice and more practice.
The top three were named in June and I’m pleased that they all appeared in my personal top five!
My hints for competitions:
ps Please do send your comments through the Contacts page. I’m working on how to get them on this page so we can share!
My BLOG is an interview with debut children’s author – Jennifer Killick;
my WRITING ARTICLE is about using concrete and abstract nouns;
I’ve ten WRITING PROMPTS for you; and more COMPETITIONS to enter.
Do let me know what you think – of any of them!
I know I waxed lyrical about a book and an author last month (Jeffery Deaver’s The Steel Kiss) but I’m going to wax lyrical about another author and book this month: Jennifer Killick’s debut novel for children Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink.
Jennifer is one of my really good writing friends whom I met on the Creative Writing MA course at Brunel University five years ago. She’s been kind enough to spare me some time in the week after her launch to answer some questions.
How did you feel at the end of your launch day? My launch was a manic, nerve-wracking, exciting blur. I was so touched by how many people supported me, that the feeling I had at the end of the evening was like being in the middle of a big, warm, loving hug.
How long has it taken to first thinking of the Alex Sparrow idea to that launch? A rather horrifying-when-you-look-back-on-it six and a half years!
What were the highs and lows during that time? There were many lows, and lots of them carried over long stretches of time. The agent rejections were tough, along with the realisation that I would have to rewrite the whole story (several times!) Having a publisher really interested and close to signing me, only to decide not to take me on after all was also dreadful. At one point, I lost all confidence and stopped enjoying writing. That was the worst. Meeting Imogen Cooper of the Golden Egg Academy was life-changing. Receiving the email from my agent, Kirsty McLachlan, to say she would love to represent me was a joyful moment. And of course receiving my offer from Firefly made me dance around the house in disbelief and delight.
You have two children and three step-children. When and where do you find time to write? I can’t get out much so I write at home whenever I can fit it in. My youngest goes to nursery two mornings a week, so I get a lot done then. And once he’s in bed in the evening, my laptop is straight out. If I’m first drafting, I often get up at 4am to write before everyone else gets up. The kids come first, always, but every bit of spare time I can snatch, I use for writing. And of course, even when I’m not typing, my mind is hard at work.
Do you have any advice for would-be novelists? Other than being prepared to work hard and being ridiculously stubborn and determined, even when it seems as though all hope is lost, I think advice for writers should be cautiously given. Everyone’s technique is different, and everyone’s path to publication is different, so advice that’s too prescriptive can be disheartening. It’s good to find out how other writers work, so you can try things out if you want to, but what works for them might not work for you. The thing that I have found most invaluable on my writing journey has been my writing friends – people who understand the process and who have my back. People to share work, failures and successes with, and who make the tricky journey easier or more enjoyable. I couldn’t cope without them.
Thank you, Jennifer. And I’m sure everyone wishes you every success with your book. Happy Writing for the sequel! Jennifer’s book is on Amazon.
Have a good month’s writing!