Monday, 24 November 2014

The Parts Readers Tend to Skip

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One of Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for writing was “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Excellent advice that makes very good sense, only exactly which parts are those?

On the surface it would seem obvious—the boring stuff, the longwinded explanations and unnecessary interludes, right? We all know what he meant. But when it comes to recognising the skip-worthy in our own stories it’s never quite so clear cut.

Scenes that are really going nowhere and have no purpose being in the story aren’t too hard to spot, but the bits that are just bland or that we’ve convinced ourselves have to be there for the story to make sense, they can slip through draft after draft.

So how do you spot the skippable parts and skip them before the reader gets a chance to?

Monday, 17 November 2014

The One Piece of Writing Advice

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There is a lot of advice out there for writers. Rules, guidelines, tips. Most of it has some merit, but if you were to follow every little suggestion it would be very constricting and frankly would rob you of a lot of the fun of writing.

But if you were only willing to follow one piece of advice, what would it be? Is there one piece of advice that trumps all others?

The sensible and reasonable answer is that it depends. It depends on what kind of writer you are, what your personal strength and weaknesses happen to be, what your goals are. Each writer is different, each writer may require a different blah, blah, blah. 

And that is all very true, but putting all sense and reason to one side, I say yes, there is one piece of advice which if you follow, ignoring all others, will still improve your writing immeasurably (or measurably if you happen to be particularly adept at measuring things).

Monday, 10 November 2014

Kids, Impress Your English Teacher!

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My 10 year old nephew asked me if I knew of a book that taught kids how to write a story. It would be nice if this was because he already wanted to be a writer, but my nephew has no love for writing. He enjoys reading and watching movies, but when it comes to writing something himself, he’d much rather stick his face in an iPad (for several hours).

However, his English teacher keeps giving him story-writing assignments, which he finds a chore. In addition to which, there are other kids in his class who can spit out a story rat-a-tat-tat

He would also like to be able to write a good story quickly and without having to spend ages staring at a wall. 

I’m not aware of any “how to write fiction” books specifically aimed at children. So, instead, I sat him down and attempted to walk him through the basics of what makes a story a story by having him come up with something on the spot.

Monday, 3 November 2014

What Is Your Story Missing?

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Let’s say you’re familiar with most of the basic guidelines when it comes to writing fiction. You know none of these suggestions guarantees a good story, but you try to apply them as much as possible. Can’t hurt right?

So you have a sympathetic main character with a clear goal, obstacles in the way, high stakes, an action-packed opening, a minimum of adverbs, active characters and you keep it all moving at a breakneck pace.

But when you show this tightly constructed thrill-ride to people whose judgement you trust, you don’t get the reaction you were hoping for. They don’t hate it, in fact they have lots of nice things to say about it, but it just doesn’t grab them.

They like the genre, have no problem understanding what happens and why, and certainly there are bestselling books out there with similar premises and characters so this sort of story definitely can work, and yet... it just doesn’t.

What is the missing ingredient? And what’s the best way to make sure it isn’t missing from your story?
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