Tag Archives: writingtips

Head hopping – that most derided of narrative blunders

When I was about six years old, one thing scared me above all others – watching my brother play Aliens on the Commodore 64. It was terrifying, and I remember it vividly to this day. Sure, the graphics don’t exactly cut the mustard these days, but in 1988, it was the stuff of nightmares.

Two things about that game got me hiding behind furniture. The first was the sound of the motion tracker beeping quietly when an alien was nearby, rising to a continuous klaxon when one was in sight, as my brother panicked to move the cross-hair over the attacking monster.

But whenever I mustered the courage to have a go myself, it was the game’s central mechanic that got my skin tingling with fear. The player takes control of Ripley and the marines Hicks, Gorman, Vasquez, as well as the android Bishop and heartless corporate stooge Burke, all at the same time. Not that the characters had specific traits. They were just conduits for terror.

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People often approach me and say, “Hey, Tim, you’re a hugely successful though inexplicably unpublished author; have you got any tips for us lowly writers who’ve yet to achieve your level of uncompromising genius?”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

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Dialogue tags, action beats and punctuation – a quick guide

Among the most debated topics in the writing community – aside from the Oxford comma, of course – is the humble dialogue tag. I’m not going to say which method I prefer, because I like a mixture. But I am going to show you how to punctuate them properly – I’m a sub-editor by trade, after all.

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Dead ends – and how to rescue your characters from them

Sometimes, we writers can be a heinous bunch. We give birth to our characters, write life into them, give them hopes and dreams, and send them out into a world that we loveingly created just for them; only to dash their hopes, torment their dreams and torture them hideously until they are forced to change in order to cope.

The problem comes when we’re too mean to them. It’s not uncommon for a writer to lead their characters into a trap from which it appears impossible to escape. Then what?

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A man of few words – use facts to fix your fiction fatigue

I started a writing journal back in October to help me keep track of my productivity. Every time I sit down to write, I note the hour I start, the session’s duration, how many words I get down, the calculated new total, what chapter I’m on and any interesting notes therein.

This affords me a few boons: using the data, I’m able to figure out when I’m most productive, in order to concentrate on those sessions; but it also provides a neat motivational tool. Humans respond well to numerical targets and records, we’re interested in personal bests and incrementally pushing ourselves further and further, so being able to make a graph like this one can only be a good thing…

Word-count

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Scribophile – can it make you a more mature writer?

Writing is an art form.

(That may sound pretentious, but I’m setting up an analogy here, so roll with it.)

Storytelling should be evocative, on some emotional level, whether that emotion be excitement, empathy, poignancy or panic. Its value is in how it makes you feel.

But, like all art forms, storytelling requires two things: creativity and skill. You can be the greatest wordsmith in the world, but without emotional content, you’re just writing a thesis.

In the same breath, you can have the greatest story stewing in your brain, but without the means to convey it, that’s where it should stay.

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Cliffhangers: are they for your characters, or your readers?

I’m currently reading dystopian sci-fi page-turner Wool by Hugh Howey. I’ll post the review once I’m through, but one aspect of its narrative structure struck me and I wanted to discuss it; namely, its cliffhangers.

My own work, Citadel, is written in third-person deep point-of-view, which means I refer to the character I’m following in the third person, but the narration stays in her head, describes the events she sees and notices the things only she would notice.

But like many writers, I move the perspective around between my characters, staying with one for a full chapter, then moving to another for the next, just as Howey does in Wool.

The problem is, sometimes there can be AN EVENT that affects everyone, or A TRUTH that people discover separately, at different times. This creates a dilemma: by the time your second character becomes aware of something, the reader already knows it. You cannot elicit the same reader response (surprise) more than once.

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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]

Inappropriate metaphors are like Jesus playing ukelele – vivid but unconvincing

I have an odd relationship with metaphors. If someone asks me to come up with one on the spot, my mind freezes, becomes unresponsive. I see an endlessly flipping sand timer, and while I wait for my stupid fat head to reboot, I’m standing there open-mouthed with a text cursor blinking endlessly behind my eyes.

But then, if I’m actually trying to explain something – like my mind going blank – it’s pretty easy to convey that particular feeling with metaphor, in this case using the frustration we all encounter with an ageing PC.

Abstract thoughts can be expressed much more clearly with a metaphor, that’s why we use them. But overuse can be tedious – you don’t have to describe every thought, action and scene in some verbose simile. In fact you positively shouldn’t.

Really tight writing uses narrator-appropriate metaphors. Similarly, bad writing spoils the experience with narrator-inappropriate metaphors.

What do I mean by that?

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