Posts Tagged ‘techniques’

I have found my writing mind wandering rather a lot over the last few days, seeking out the perfect words to start a story.

It comes, of course, from studying the importance of language and the need to find the right word.

I don’t have a story, as such: what I want is an opening line.  A selection of sounds that creates a rhythm, a selection of ideas which form a substance.  A selection that say exactly what I want them to say.

But I am torn, because I know this urge to just write has to be contained in some way: I jump into writing with no plan too often and struggle to build a back story to support my beginning.

So I am going to try a new writing exercise, an experiment in control.  I am going to work at writing a great sentence, honing it and moulding it until it is exactly what I want – and then I will put it aside and start on another one.  And then another, and another and so on. But I will not use them; instead they will sit, ready and waiting, for my planning and shaping to be done.

It feels odd and slightly ridiculous to want to find a perfect sentence and risk never using it, but that isn’t the point of the exercise.

No, the point is that all sentences deserve that level of attention – and still they might never make it into a story.  Meanwhile I will get into the habit of working harder at seeking out the exact word I need, and checking for the sound of my work, in all aspects of my writing.

I am really excited to see what I can produce!

Happy writing,





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I am continuing my work on setting for another week as I lost some time over the last few days and need to finish off some half-thought ideas.

One of these is about the emotional response a character will have to a place, and how this can be conveyed.  I did a couple of writing exercises on this recently but I wasn’t happy with the outcome and know I need to improve in this area.

We all have emotional responses to places, and our characters should be just the same.  The response could be completely logical – a sense of happiness where they met their partner, a feeling of dread from their old school hall imagining sitting their exams.  Perhaps a sense of desolation when walking through a cemetery towards a funeral.

But there are also illogical or unexplained feelings: feeling at home in an empty house they are viewing, or of loss as they stand in ancient ruins. Feeling frightened, nervous, or overwhelmed: allowing your character’s fight or flight reflex take over.

It is my job as a writer to build these feelings into a story in a way that is relevant, meaningful, and subtle: no-one wants the subtext slapping them in the face every few pages!

They have to be integral to the experience of that specific character in that specific place and are a reflection of the world as seen by your character.

In fact, you need to know the related backstory e.g. she feels nervous on busses because one of her earliest memories was of falling down the stairs of a double decker; he feels sad in the old shed because his grandfather used to take him fishing and it’s full of his grandfather’s old fishing rods which haven’t been used since his heart attack.

I know what I need to do and I am going to put my attention to it this week. People are strange, as The Doors told us.  By using setting and emotion more effectively I can explain why!

Happy writing,





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The Road Less Travelled

I was all set to talk about the road less travelled and so on this week, but it was a bit unclear exactly where I was going with it and it was all a bit philosophical!  So instead I thought I’d talk about walkways…

I love it when the trees get their green on and winter’s bleak grey sticks become the scaffolding for emerald-tinted tunnels. There is something romantic about them, to me; walking through them you are in another world.

This sense of walking into another world is something we discussed in my second writing course: tunnels, gates, passages, doorways and so on are a common literary tool to get the reader from one mindset, one world, to another.

Some examples literally take you into a different reality, such as the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe opening a portal into Narnia, or the brick wall that opens into Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  It is a device used in more realist books too – the mountain pass into Kukuanaland in King Solomon’s Mines for example.

The idea that there’s something ‘Out There’, something hazily shimmering just beyond the horizon, is engaging for me as a reader, and is enjoyable to explore as a writer.  The idea of otherness is enticing and having a physical change between here and there summarises every difference through a simple technique.

But even before I thought of the world as a palette with which to paint another reality, I loved these tunnels of trees.  The possibilities they seemed to offer me, the chance to see the vibrancy of nature, feel the muted sunlight through the leaves, and wonder what I would find at the end all fed into my sense of wonder.

Looking at the world as a writer and trying to find the literary possibilities in things is all very well, but sometimes we all just need to admire and enjoy the beauty around us for what it is, not what we could write about it.

Even writers deserve a break now and then!

Have a great few days, I’ll be back on Sunday,






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After Thursday’s decision, I’ve started my research and planning for my alternative book 2. This involves me reading a number of books about writing.

Although I enjoy writing and find it extremely fulfilling and engaging, it is also a serious academic subject in many ways.

The more advice and techniques I can read about, hear about, absorb and utilise, the stronger my writing will become.  That’s the theory anyway.  So I invest in guides and theories and exercise-filled textbooks, like any good student.

But – and this is the big question – how do you know if the book you read about books is actually any good?  Just as we’ve all read novels we think are badly written and poorly constructed, who can say whether a non-fiction will be badly put-together or, basically, a load of rubbish?

You can’t trust the reviews: people can pay others to give their books reviews, you know, and my internal cynic can’t put this information to one side.  You can’t really glean anything from the write-up in terms of quality or tone of advice.  All you can do is bite the bullet and buy.  Or download.  Or borrow.

But no writer I know wants to borrow all their advisory tomes.  They want them to read and re-read, to flip through when they (or their characters) have an existential crisis.  They want to hold them like life rafts when their plot is going southwards.

So what do you do?  Well, what I do is this: I buy advice on specialisms.  I mucked up my plotting – so I have a book to read about plotting and structure.  I am attempting a specific genre – so I buy a book about writing in that genre.  I want to think outside the box – I buy a book with lots of different inspiration-expanding exercises in it.

Are all the books giving good advice?  Not necessarily, but they all teach me something I didn’t know so they all have value in that sense.

One thing that has really helped me is thinking about how I would study a piece of writing – remembering the elements we were taught to identify, such as themes, motifs, imagery and so on.  The things that give books depth and identity are the same things we need to consider in our own work.  That is not to say we should write artificially, adding unnecessary elements – more that we should consider why these things worked for a particular story, and if they would work in our own.

So, as writers, we need to be both readers, and students; both producers and researchers.  Without that we can miss a fracture-point in our work which will be its undoing.  Sadly I missed that in my woods novel; I hope to fix it in the future but for now will have to learn my lesson and move on.

In other news – book 16 of the 100 best novels is ‘The Scarlet Letter’; I read it as a teenager and in all honesty I don’t think I enjoyed it that much.  It seemed rather staid to someone living in the modern age, and perhaps it’s worth revisiting as an adult with a greater sense of history.  It is interesting to me that my perception of certain books has turned 180 degrees since my teens – whereas others I love consistently!

Also – I was reading an article about copyright regarding Sherlock Holmes and associated characters.  I won’t go into my views on copyright which are convoluted and changeable, but it is a reminder that our work outlives us, as writers – so protect it!

And finally – I’ve just booked to go away on a retreat again, which I am very much looking forward to doing.  I am hoping to start writing the new novel then; so I’d best get on with my research!

Happy writing,



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