Pick the words to suit the mood

While we are encouraged to ‘show, don’t tell’ and build pace and mood into our dialogue, sometimes there is just insufficient action and dialogue to satisfy the requirements. The narrator is then called upon to fulfil the obligation of creating an environment for the characters and building those characters by the way in which he selects the vocabulary and pace. We affect pace by long and short words, by long and short sentences or phrases, that is blatantly obvious, but we can make those words and sentences do more work, when it is appropriate, by adopting the language of our characters, the words we imagine they would use and the manner in which they would use them. For example, if we wanted a working class girl to be using her lipstick, we may well use the word lippy, where for someone of a supposedly higher status we may use lip READ MORE

A way to drop description

Of course, you can’t. Description gives a situation context. It locates your characters and story in a time and place. If you want it can describe the mood, what those characters are wearing, how they feel. It’s the typical scenario for the omniscient, third-person narrator. ‘He fumed. His eyes glared and he felt the buttons on his shirt would rip off as the rage raced through his body.’ The narrator does all the work, all the heavy lifting, so the reader can follow blindly and effortlessly. But to me that it like going to the theatre and seeing actors tucked safely away within the proscenium arch, on the stage but remote from us. How much better to have a thrust stage, like at the Globe or theatre in the round where the actors are among you almost. You get sucked in and deeply involved. One way, and perhaps the easiest READ MORE

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t throw it away!

Unless you have the most massive ego, you will inevitably be displeased by some things you write, especially early in your apprenticeship. The first law of ‘Write Club’ (I honestly can’t believe I wrote that, hohum) is never throw anything away. There are a few very valid reasons for that. One – we are often our own worst critics. Sometimes, because of inexperience, we just don’t believe we can write anything worthwhile and, therefore, all that we write is rubbish. This is not true. It is true that confidence plays a big part in everything we do. Bad cooks believe they can’t cook. My father believed he couldn’t knock a nail in straight. These are just practical skills, like much of writing, and they can be acquired. We can all put a capital letter at the start of a sentence and a full stop (period) at the end. We mustn’t READ MORE

Something from nothing

Write, write, write, write, write. If you’re alone, write while the kettle boils. On a bus or train, write some more. Coffee, lunch or tea break, write something else. The only way to become a fluent write is to do lots of it. It doesn’t have to be part of anything specific. It’s not likely to be part of you master work. While the kettle boils, what do you think about? Your plans for the day, your dreams of the night before, something on the news. How’s your foot, what’s it thinking? On the train or bus, how you’d like to go and tell that person that you don’t have to shout when you are on the phone and why, oh why, did they have to play that music? The music… did it remind you of a particular event, person or emotion. There’s dew on the grass, you can’t find READ MORE

Where to begin

There’s an easy answer – anywhere you like. Sadly inspiration doesn’t come to us neatly packaged. We can’t open a box and find a set of instructions that will turn out to be a perfect, flat-pack novel. We must be prepared for a word or phrase, for a character in the street, a moment of anger or sadness, anything that plants the seed of an idea in our heads. And we mustn’t lose it. Make a note of everything and store it. A notebook is good, the act of writing appears to file it away in the brain ready to be used in the future. You won’t remember it the next day (though it will pop up if you need it) which is why  the notebook is beneficial. It will also allow you to flick through your ideas and see if any of them resonate and could become something more READ MORE

Sentence length helps with pace

Listen to the people around you and watch television. When we argue aggressively we tend to use short sentences. The words are thrown together in outbursts without a huge amount of consideration. When we are having a discussion, we build in more pauses so that we can assemble our thoughts before we utter them. Angry speech is more staccato, the words also tend be shorter so that they can be spat out or flung with ferocity. Very often the words will finish with ‘it’ or ‘ick’ or some other hard ending. The discussion will have longer words that are selected to be appropriate and accurate. They are delivered more slowly so that they sink in and can have more effect. In dialogue we could see these as the two extremes, but there is no reason why short sentences can’t work in other scenarios. ‘Please, please. Don’t go,’ is short and READ MORE