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12 top tips for wannabe writers

People often approach me and say, “Hey, Tim, you’re a hugely successful though inexplicably unpublished author; have you got any tips for us lowly writers who’ve yet to achieve your level of uncompromising genius?”

It’s flattering, sure. But, genuinely, I empathise. It might sound self-deprecating, but even I was once a snivelling novice like you.

So, to that end, I’ve compiled some of my favourite writing tips, for those writers who spend most of their time reading writing tips other than actually writing. Learn them… and write your masterpiece!

Continue reading 12 top tips for wannabe writers

Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel – [Book Review]

I’m the first to admit, some of my book reviews can be somewhat scathing (my treatment of Rogue Forces by Dale Brown and The Hook by Donald E Westlake come to mind). I think that’s because it’s often more fun to find fault than it is to fathom finesse, if you’ll excuse the alliteration. It’s certainly easier to pick holes.

That’s why this review of Station Eleven by Canadian author Emily St John Mandel is so difficult. If there’s one word I can use to describe it, it’s “effortless”.

Effortless in the sense that I was never obstructed by some forced narrative technique, or distracted by a clumsy phrase or metaphor. I was taken by the hand around this fictional world, the events of interest pointed out but never laboured over, and never was my hand squeezed too tight or my head shoved to examine something uninteresting. It was effortless storytelling.

That makes it difficult to analyse. It kind of washed over me, leaving an evocation of regret in its wake – for that seems to me the central theme.

Continue reading Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel – [Book Review]

Wool – Hugh Howey – [Book Review]

If Plato was still around today, it’s likely he would have been a big fan of science fiction. After all, he used fantastical constructs to explore the human condition, pioneering a unique exploration of individuals’ perception. That’s pretty sci-fi.

Plato Cave
Plato’s Cave

We can assume, too, his favourite sub-genre would have been dystopian sci-fi, if his Allegory of the Cave is anything to go by. In it, he imagines the plight of chained captives, held in position underground, their reality controlled by restricting their vision to view nothing but shadow puppets cast upon a wall by the light of an unseen fire behind them.

With no frame of reference or experience of the outside world, the shadows on the wall would constitute reality for those hapless captives. The sounds of the captors’ footsteps and voices would reverberate in the cave, Plato thought, and thus the illusion would be formed that the sounds were made by those very shadows. This was Plato’s dystopian vision – a populace imprisoned and manipulated by their overlords to such a degree that they knew nothing of it.

It is perception and the revelation of truth that drives dystopian fiction. At its best, it represents a functional, albeit oppressed, society, unaware of the shackles that bind its citizens: take for instance the controlled happiness of Brave New World; the Papa John’s clones in Cloud Atlas; the history-incinerating regime of Fahrenheit 451. Drama is drawn from characters finally noticing their prison, and rebelling against it.

Continue reading Wool – Hugh Howey – [Book Review]

The Oxford Comma? – Actually, you’re all wrong

Picture this scene of animosity:

Thug: “You should always use the Oxford comma – you ambiguous fool!”

Oaf: “No, you should never use the Oxford comma – you stifling puritan!”

All right, lads, calm down. Don’t fall out over it, yeah?

You might have heard this kind of altercation on “the streets”, as crazed grammar bandits spit their heated comma quarrels at each other with impunity.

But that’s not fair, is it? We don’t have to stand by as their wrath wafts over us, like a fog of fury, do we? No!

But what do we need to confront this dogmatic dispute? An opinion?

Actually, no – everyone you ever spoke to who had an opinion on the Oxford comma has been wrong. Dead wrong – yeah, that’s right: everyone.

“But Tim, how can that be?” I hear you ask, inaudibly. “Surely someone out there must have figured it out, right?”

Yeah!

<points thumbs at chest>

This guy.

Continue reading The Oxford Comma? – Actually, you’re all wrong

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley – [Book Review]

Authors! Remember all those writing tips you trawled through, hoping to find some secret formula to producing winning fiction? Remember all those RULES?

Rules like:

A killer first page – punch your reader square in the chops with an attention-grabbing, scene-setting, character-revealing, action masterpiece that straps their eyes open like a Clockwork Orange civilising machine.

The hero’s journey – have your protagonist endure a change, struggle against adversity, suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and at the last, prevail!

Deep POV – write from inside the character’s head, so the reader feels what the character feels; but don’t jump around from mind to mind or you’ll confuse your audience – whose thoughts are these?!

Dialogue tags?! Kindly remove all your naïve instances of “bemoaned” or “murmured” or “whispered” or “specified” or “enquired” or whatever other word you found in the Thesaurus under “said”. Dear oh dear…

AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT

Drag your adverbs from your writing and burn them in the street, thank you very much; and apologise to the Gods for your sacrilegious blasphemy. You may find it polite to flog your back with barb wire in penance, you fucking heathen.

Apologies. You read a lot of writing tips when you can’t bring yourself to actually write anything, because it makes you feel better. It almost feels like working – like you’re building up your power bar before re-entering the fray.

Continue reading Brave New World – Aldous Huxley – [Book Review]

Why your manuscript sucks – (and how to fix it)

A reader reclines, opens your book:

Harry kissed his kids goodbye at the breakfast table and rushed out the door, still pulling his jacket on as he stepped into the brisk morning air of leafy, peaceful Highgate. “See you later darling,” he called to his wife.

Another day to survive this lie.

His guilt tinted the world, made his shame sharper. The cigarette butt he’d discarded – smoking to obfuscate Patricia’s perfume – shone like a beacon in the grass. His car tyres twinkled with the white gravel of her Surrey driveway. Must get it cleaned.

As he unlocked the vehicle, his greatest fear rounded the street and confidently strode towards him: Patricia, out walking her Irish terrier, was in his fucking neighbourhood.

“Harry? But, what are you doing here? I thought you lived in Shoreditch?”

“I do, I was just, I left my car here, my friend, we had a poker game last night, here, I’m just picking up the car… what are you doing here?”

Sally came out of the house with the boys. His throat constricted. He couldn’t breathe. He desperately tugged the knot of his tie and…

Wait wait WAIT WAIT STOP

Continue reading Why your manuscript sucks – (and how to fix it)