We’re lucky enough to have another fantastic guest post today, this one’s by Lil Chase – author of Boy’s For Beginners which publishes today in the UK.
Writing Words of Wisdom
I started writing BOYS FOR BEGINNERS when I was ten. Although it was a very commendable attempt at a novel, it would never have been published. It just wasn’t well written. Luckily, good writing can be taught.
Over the years I have read many books about creative writing, attended many classes, been involved with writers’ groups, even graduated with a degree in it. I’ve learnt so much, but here is a list of the five things I consciously bear in mind every time I write.
- Show, don’t tell
When a friend says, ‘I met a wonderful man last night. He was nice, handsome and funny!’ your internal response is likely to be, ‘this man might be wonderful, nice, handsome and funny, but he might not. I’ll wait until I meet him before I decide.’ However, if the friend had said, ‘I met a man last night when he was taking his elderly grandmother to the theatre. He told this joke that went…’ Then she’d shown you a photo of a tall man, with broad shoulders, blue eyes and dark hair. You would most likely think, ‘what a nice, handsome, funny man. He sounds wonderful!’
Showing rather than telling is a surprisingly hard skill to master. I try to think of my novel as a film: describing the image on the screen, not telling the reader what’s happening in the plot.
There’s a lot to read about show, don’t tell, but I really understood it when I read Helen Corner’s advice. (www.cornerstones.co.uk)
- Second draft equals first draft minus 10%
Anyone who has read Steven King’s book ON WRITIN will have heard this rule, and it’s one I stick to without exception. I did it with this blog post.
Actually, I think it’s more like 15% (for me). My first draft of Boys For Beginners, which I edited just a little on the way, was 60,206. When it was sent out to publishers it was 47,976 words. A whopping 21% shorter! But there is not a word that was cut that didn’t need to go. I’m a little embarrassed that I could have overshot by such a huge amount.
The reason for the huge discrepancy is the word count is covered in point number 3.
- Left Brain / Right Brain
Medical bods have proved that the right side of your brain is the creative side and the left is the analytical side. When your juices are flowing and you’re ‘in the zone’, that’s your right brain at work. When you tell yourself that you can’t write. ‘You’re no good.’ ‘This isn’t funny.’ ‘No one will get that.’ That’s your left brain. It doesn’t help with motivation.
It’s difficult to be friends with the left brain, but it has its uses. The right brain is for writing and the left side is for editing.
In BECOMING A WRITER Dorothea Brande advises that you keep the left brain functions and the right brain functions as far apart as possible. I write (preferably in the morning) and don’t think too much about what I’m putting down. Then I come back (preferably in the afternoon) and edit what I’ve done.
It’s often best to leave the manuscript for at least two weeks and come back, armed with your left brain, to edit it.
- Say it straight
I was lucky enough to have Anne Karpfe as the supervisor for my dissertation at university. We were going through the final chapter line by line and I had written: ‘Autumn is cleansing. One forgets that what will grow back will be just the same as it was last year, so the death of the old plants seems more exciting to me than the re-growth of the new ones in spring.’ and she said, ‘What did you mean when you wrote that sentence?’ I explained, ‘I get more excited seeing leaves fall than seeing new ones grow in spring. Autumn literally gets rid of the dead wood.’ She replied, ‘Well why don’t you just say that?’
Too often writers get bogged down in poetry and clever word play. When it works it’s superb, but when it doesn’t it simply trips the reader up and pulls them out of the story. Make it easy on the reader and speak plainly.
- Read STORY by Robert Mckee
There are so many useful writing tips in Robert Mckee’s book that it’s hard to pick just one. Read it.
He gives a specific piece of advice about dialogue: People rarely say exactly what they are feeling. And if your character is British, he’ll never say what he’s feeling. Rather than concentrating on what your characters are saying, it’s the subtext that is all important. What is underneath the words? For example, Mr Collins in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE talks endlessly about the wonderful Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but what he’s really doing is showing everyone how important he is because he knows her.
Last words: When I tell people I am a writer they often say that that they would like to be a writer, or they have a great idea for a story but haven’t dared to write it yet. Writing is hard work; it takes time and practice and criticism and occasionally humiliation. But you won’t get there if you don’t try. So the last piece of advice comes from me (and my Nike sponsors): Just Do It!
Find out more about Lil and Boys For Beginners at: