Skip navigation

As a writer, I’ve always said that the difference between someone who writes and someone that doesn’t is having the time to sit down and begin tapping at the keyboard or scribbling down in a notebook. When I mean someone who doesn’t, I mean, of course, someone who wants to, but never seems to get around to it. It’s that old story of the person that feels they could write a book, if only they didn’t have to work, or pick up the kids, make dinner, tidy the house or save the world. It’s dedication to the cause at the end of the day. We could sit here and argue about having ‘natural talent’ for ages, whatever that is. Yes, I would put myself in the department headed: ‘Always been a writer in one way or another’ and perhaps if I meet other writers and we swap life stories, we’ll see a lot of similarities in how our writing evolved, but there’s more to it than that. You have to be at the desk everyday to understand, typing away, feeling that buzz.

Well, there we are, either at Two PM, after work at six or whatever time works for you, but there we are; hammering away at the keyboard, trying to create a world where we want to live for a few hours that day. We are God, aren’t we? Just for those precious minutes, deciding the fate of our heroes or heroines. Isn’t it somehow sweet and sad when we reach a moment when we take away a character’s life? They were alive for us, enjoying their little bit of prose, and then bang, they have gone. Like in life, we feel that emptiness for a while…just for a little while. And you have to wonder, what will the reader feel? Will they mourn for a moment? Will they cry at that terrible moment. If you’ve found an audience, maybe even a test audience, then you might have found out. I wrote a novel a while ago about a TV writer that had fallen in love with someone when he was young and eventually meets them when he becomes an adult. I wrote my heart out and put a big moment in the book where the hero faces great loss. When I wrote that particular scene in the book, I wanted it to be a heart wrenching bit- I wanted the reader to shed a tear. Quite a while after finishing the book, I gave it to a friend of mine to read, who had enjoyed another of my books. I did not tell her much about the story and just left her to read it. When she gave me back the book, she slapped me on the shoulder, playfully annoyed that I hadn’t warned her that the story would make her cry.

There is no better feeling than knowing that what you had set out to achieve in your writing has come to fruition. Getting feed back is important. If you can get your writing to someone who doesn’t know you, a friend of a friend of a friend, then you’ll get more of an honest appraisal. If you’re even luckier, you might know someone who is incredibly honest, even very blunt. I have such a friend, and when you can satisfy them, then you know you’re onto something good. Of course, it can work the opposite way, and you might end up realising your dream work is truly awful. But at least you found out.

So, we sit ourselves down at our desk, or our space to write, and we begin our story. Hopefully, you will have thought about the story for quite a while before you started it, and will know where it is going and who the characters are. Slowly you will begin to build up speed and soon feel that excited rush of blood, knowing what you are writing is good. Don’t get too excited, because a lot of what you write will be rubbish. You and I know that it the truth. I’m writing a book at the moment, and I know for sure that some of what I get down is awful. But I keep on writing, ignoring my own cringing when I read back something quite badly written. And of course, there will be bad grammar (no, not an evil Grandmother), and you will spell things wrong. Well, if you are me you will. Break instead of Brake or other such stupid errors. But, take heart, for I have seen similar mistakes in many books I’ve bought from bookshops.

Beginnings- that is the tricky part (well, one of them). These days you find that you have to jump out at your reader and shout ‘boo!’ or at least begin the first page with a dead body. Well, maybe not a dead body, but something shocking. Think of all those ancient books, with weak women and heroic men that began more like this:

In the summer of 1897, I was a young man with a degree of talent, which I had set forth to become the most famous of actors that ever set their boots on the London stage…

You know the sort of thing. And now you’re expected to write like this:

I turned the corner and saw the corpse sprawled across the carpet, her eyes open and the gun a few feet from the door. Who did it? Who killed her? It was me.

Okay, maybe that was a bit too Mike Hammer, but you get the point. I’ve written a historical thriller set in Victorian London, which someone is reading over for me at the moment, but the problem with that book was where to start and how to start. I’m still unsure about it. The book is told from the point of view of a reporter arriving in London to report on the dark, hellish London that he finds in 1888, but how do you approach it? I began by him telling the reader who he was and why he was there, but these days, surely we should start with action, shouldn’t we? Some people read it, feeling that it starts where it should, others say it needs to be sharper, diving into the story. It’s difficult. I like to get as many opinions as I can, write them down, put them in a box, put lighter fluid on them, set fire to the box and throw them into the sea. No, not really. I just see what the general feeling is and go with it. At the end of the day, you’re the boss.

I think it is necessary to grab the readers attention. But don’t slap them in the face- wouldn’t that be great? Interactive books, where a hand comes out and slaps the reader? No, okay, maybe not. Just lead them in, make them want to read on. Don’t give away too much and you can also ‘hide the gun’. Have you heard that before? Or you could ‘light the fuse’. Basically you put something in the first chapter that is a major clue to what the story is about. It’s there in plain sight, but well hidden at the same time. Eventually the reader will get to a certain point in the book and think back to the first part of your book and go: “oh yeah!” I did it with Murderson.

Well, that’s probably enough on writing for now. Join me again next time for more writing tips. Not that you need them, you’re great.