Month: January 2022

Verisimilitude – or keeping it real #writingtips #amwriting

Verisimilitude – what a fabulous word!

It means, according to Oxford Dictionaries, the appearance of being true or real. It’s incredibibly important when writing fiction.

Writing is always a balancing act. You want to transport your reader, to take them on a journey, possibly have them experience things that they wouldn’t normally experience through your characters. So why the need for realism, for truth? After all, this is fiction right?

Well, yes, it is, and in a way, writing fiction is lying. We writers of fiction spend our days lying. But as anyone who has ever successfully lied to their parents about where they were the night before, or to their teacher about where their homework is, or to their boss about how they were really sick the day before and just couldn’t possibly have made it to work, the secret of a good lie is that it rings true.

Fiction is just like that. You are methodically, carefully and imaginatively building a world for your characters. A world that doesn’t exist. The appearance of truth is essential to help build that world, that lie. One wrong move, one wrong word, and the illusion collapses.

So how do you ensure that you keep the ‘reality’ of your fictional world intact? Here are the pitfalls to avoid:

  • Something unusual happening in your fictional world that you haven’t prepared your reader for
  • A character that notices something they wouldn’t notice in real life, says something they wouldn’t say, or does something they wouldn’t do
  • In fantasy, a character not using a skill that you have given them when they should do so
  • Unrealistic dialogue that is used to convey information 
  • In historical fiction particularly, an object, custom, behaviour that didn’t exist or wouldn’t have happened in the time in which your novel is set
  • Continuity. This is as important in fiction as it is in films. For example, if your character has his hands handcuffed behind his back, don’t have them in front of him two minutes later (as with Nash’s handcuffs in Reservoir Dogs).

Much of writing is about building believable and compelling worlds, but those worlds must follow a logic that the reader can relate to, understand, and around which you can create interesting and dynamic stories. 

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

‘Scabby Queen’ by Kirsten Innes #TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview

Three days before her fifty-first birthday Clio Campbell – one-hit wonder, political activist, lifelong love and one-night-stand – kills herself in her friend Ruth’s spare bedroom. And, as practical as she is, Ruth doesn’t know what to do.

As the news spreads around Clio’s collaborators and comrades, lovers and enemies, the story of her glamorous, chaotic life spreads with it – from the Scottish Highlands to the Genoa G8 protests, from an anarchist squat in Brixton to Top of the Pops. Sifting through half a century of memories and unanswered questions, everyone who thought they know her is forced to ask: who was Clio Campbell?

There’s no question that this is an extremely well-written book, and that that the author is incredibly talented. 

In Clio, Innes has created such a complex character, difficult to like, hard to understand, and someone who makes you question your own motivations and reasons for your friendships and for allowing certain people into your life.

Throughout her life Clio attracts people who admire her, to the point of adulation, and who put up with her sometimes terrible behaviour. Clio uses people, but she is also used by them, and we learn, as the novel progresses, why she is like she is, and we learn too what motivates her.

What’s really clever about this book is that we never hear from Clio herself, we are never in her point of view, we only know her through what others think about her, their experiences of her. They bring their own baggage to their relationships with her. 

I did find it quite difficult to get into the novel, and found the changes in point of view and timeline quite hard to follow at first. But I soon got into it and, once I became familiar with the characters and the different plotlines, the book genuinely became hard to put down.

A highly recommended read.

Point of View #writingtips #amwriting

It’s so important to get point of view correct – and very easy to get it wrong.

Writing in first person presents action through the eyes of the narrator. While this can open up effective means of further immersing your readers, it also presents the challenge of remembering what your narrator should and shouldn’t, could or couldn’t, know. 

Unless they have reason otherwise, either within the context of the narrative – they have been informed, have heard about something, were there – or because of their structural omniscience, something you can choose to implement, your narrator should only narrate scenes in which they’re present, and shouldn’t express the thoughts and feelings of other characters.

Third person writing is the most commonly used point of view and can be either e a singular viewpoint (third person limited) or can be written in multiple viewpoints (third person omniscient).  With the former, the narration follows one character’s experiences, thoughts and emotions. With the latter, the writer presents lots of characters viewpoints, thoughts and feelings. 

When using multiple points of view, be wary of a few things. Most narratives can’t cope with more than three or four points of view, so try to stay within this range. Also, be careful where you switch. If you start a scene with Fred, don’t finish it with Anna! Additionally, if you start a book from Fred’s point of view and write a number of chapters from this point of view, it can be a difficult matter to then switch. You need a good reason to do so, and you need to make sure that you do it carefully.

It’s important that you know your characters well, so that you can write authentically from their point of view. 

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

Writing Action Scenes #writingtips #amwriting

Action scenes don’t necessarily mean huge battles, violence, gunfights or crime. While this might be the case in Hollywood blockbusters, action scenes are important in your fiction – they create drama, interest, allow characters to develop and move your plot forward.

An action scene can involve something as seemingly simple as an unexpected phone call or a surprise visitor. What’s important is to carry your reader along with the action -and to write scenes that move your characters forward, building tension and giving your characters opportunities to develop and grow.

Here are a few tips for writing effective action scenes:

  • Have events happen in real time. This helps your reader feel involved in the scene and brings them closer to a character
  • Use physical movements but don’t describe every single action in great detail
  • Have your character make quick decisions and react quickly to the situation/event
  • Minimise dialogue especially if it creates a pause in the action
  • Choose the verbs you use carefully for maximum effect
  • If you’re having trouble visualising the actions involved in the scene act it out! (It helps if you can get someone else to join in!)
  • Read other writers and see how they write successful or unsuccessful action scenes. What didn’t work can be as important as what did work
  • Keep it real. Unless you’re writing fantasy where anything is physically possibly, keep the scenes within the bounds of reality (see acting it out above!)

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

Using ‘passed’ and ‘past’ correctly #writingtips #amwriting

Following on from my post explaining the differences between ‘lying’ and ‘laying’, another very common issue I find when I’m editing is confusion when using ‘passed’ and ‘past’.

Passed is the past tense of the verb ‘to pass’. It’s used to describe things that have already happened. It’s also the past participle of ‘to pass’ so it’s used for the passive voice (the law was passed) and perfect tenses (thirty years have passed by so quickly).

The definitions of ‘to pass’ are:

  • To move or make something move (the cars passed along the street)
  • To go by someone or something (we passed the supermarket on the way to the meeting)
  • To give something to someone (he passed me the salt)
  • To go by (time has passed so quickly)
  • To be successful in something (I just passed my driving test)
  • To approve a law (the law was passed)

Passed is only ever a verb form.

Past, however, has lots of different functions – it is an adjective, a noun and a preposition.

As a noun:

  • The time before the present moment (we didn’t use that method in the past)
  • The history of a place or person (he never talks about his past)

As an adjective:

  • Gone by in time or no longer existing (his best years are past)
  • Happening before and leading up to the time of speaking or writing (he’s really grown in the past year)

As a preposition:

  • From one side of something to the other (he ran past her and into the house)
  • Telling the time (it’s past midnight)
  • Further than a specific point (I can see past the harbour and out over the sea)

As an adverb:

  • To move from one side so as to move from one side of something or someone to the other (she saw a car going past) 
  • time going by (a year went past before she saw him again) 

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

How to Write Dialogue #writingtips #amwriting

Dialogue is a hugely important part of writing fiction. It can move the action forward, reveal character, emotions and motivations, and can help show a reader a character’s back story. Good dialogue will draw your reader into the story. The good news? It’s not that difficult to achieve.

Listen

Writing excellent, realistic and informative dialogue begins with listening. Pay attention to how people actually speak to each other. Listen out for elements such as turn taking, pauses, figures of speech, contractions etc. This last one is really important. If you listen to people you will notice that hardly anyone says ‘would have’ or ‘did not’, for example. What they will say is ‘would’ve’ and ‘didn’t’. Make sure you use these contractions in your dialogue. Nothing sounds quite as unrealistic as someone saying:

‘I did not go for a walk. I could have but it was raining.’

What they will say is:

‘I didn’t go for a walk. I could’ve done, but it was raining.’

(OK, so that’s not exactly the most enthralling thing I’ve ever written, but you get the point.)

Say it

Whenever you write dialogue read it out loud. If you can, get someone to read it with you. It’s not until you actually hear the words spoken, that you can tell how natural it is, if it flows, if it works. Incidentally, I tend to read all of my own writing out loud. This really helps to pick out errors, repetitions and sentence structure issues (I do often get funny looks from the dogs).

Leave out the boring bits

While dialogue needs to be realistic, it can’t be exactly the same as real speech. If you listen to an actual conversation, you will notice lots of pauses, lots of sounds that aren’t actual words (ums and errs etc.) and lots of ‘fillers’ that are completely irrelevant. Your dialogue has a purpose, and while it should be ‘real’ it should also achieve something. Get rid of anything that doesn’t add to the story.

Beware dialogue tags

In a previous life I worked in a school. I spent a lot of time teaching children to avoid using the word’ ‘said’ in their writing. In fact, I have spent whole sessions putting together lists of alternative dialogue tags. Now I spend a lot of time editing these same tags out of manuscripts. The problem is that exciting, exotic dialogue tags only draw your reader’s attention away from what is actually being said. They detract from the story. And, if your writing is peppered with words like ‘exclaimed’, ‘bellowed’, ‘croaked’ etc., it looks like you’re trying too hard to come up with something different each time. Which you probably are. Stick to ‘said’ and ‘asked’ for the most part. Your reader shouldn’t have to be ‘told’ how your character is speaking, they should gather that from the words, the actions, the situation etc.

Break it up

While dialogue is exciting and adds variety, you don’t want line after line of dialogue. Break it up with some action. Actions can also work in place of dreaded dialogue tags. For example:

 ‘Did Ted drop off the package?’ asked Linda.

‘I don’t know,’ said Sophie.

‘For goodness sake,’ Linda sighed. ‘I asked you to remind him.’

can be transformed into:

 Linda burst into the office.

‘Did Ted drop off the package?’

‘I don’t know.’ Sophie glanced up from the screen, her lips pursed.

Linda flung her bag onto the desk.

‘For goodness sake! I asked you to remind him.’

It’s completely clear here who is talking. Also, there is a sense of where the action is taking place, an idea of what the characters are doing and how they’re feeling.

Avoid exposition

Be very careful to ensure that readers do not feel that dialogue is being used simply to let them (the reader) know certain facts. Let the reader ascertain things from what your character is saying. Trust your reader – don’t force feed them details.

Read

Anyone who is serious about writing needs to read. A lot. And reading someone else’s work can help a great deal when it comes to writing dialogue. When you come across dialogue that works really well, work out how the writer did that. And when dialogue doesn’t work, again, work out what went wrong. You’ll then know what to do and what not to do when it comes to your own work.

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English.

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

WRITING TIP – LYING/LAYING #amwriting #writingtips

A very quick tip today – regarding one of the most common errors I see in the manuscripts I edit, confusion over the verbs ‘lie’ and ‘lay’.

These words are probably the ones that are used incorrectly the most in the writing projects I’ve worked on. If you get confused about the correct forms to use, it might be worth keeping a note close to your work space – even a post-it stuck to your computer screen.

It works like this:

‘Lie’ is an intransitive verb – it doesn’t require an object; it means ‘to recline’.

Its principal parts are:

‘lay’ (past tense – and probably the cause of most of the confusion)

‘Lain’ (past participle)

‘Lying’ (present participle)

Jane lay down on the bed for a nap half an hour ago.

She had lain in bed all day.

Jane was lying on the bed. She had been lying there all day long.

‘Lay’ is a transitive verb – it requires an object; it means ‘to place’ or ‘to put’.

Its principal parts are:

‘laid’ (past tense)

‘laid’ (past participle)

‘laying’ (present participle)

 The chicken laid an egg.

The chicken had laid an egg.

The chicken was laying an egg.

If you lay a book on a desk, it is now lying there NOT laying there.

When you go on holiday, you may spend time lying on the beach NOT laying on the beach (unless you are a chicken and you’re laying an egg on the beach).

If you lie down on the sofa to watch TV, you might spend the evening lying there – you DO NOT lay on the sofa and spend the evening laying there, unless, again, you are a chicken.

If there is an egg on the ground, it is lying there. If the chicken is involved, she may be laying the egg on the ground.

To add a bit more confusion, ‘lie’ also means to tell an untruth. Its past participle and past tense form is ‘lied’ and its present participle form is ‘lying’.

She had lied too often.

He lied to me.

Stop lying to me.

He was lying to me.

A word of caution – don’t always trust the spelling and grammar check – it sometimes gets confused too!

Happy writing!

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

How to Handle Feedback #writingtips #writinganovel #amwriting

One of the most difficult things to deal with when writing a novel is getting feedback, whether this is from a friend, a beta reader or an editor. Honestly – it can be completely terrifying. I know this from experience having written two books myself. The first experience I had of getting feedback on a piece of fiction was when I began studying for a Masters in Creative Writing. A huge part of the course was the workshop. We took it in turns to send a few chapters of our WIPs to everyone in the group and then a week or so later we would gather (online) to discuss that writing. The first time it was my turn I actually felt physically sick. I was terrified that the other students would hate my work, that they would destroy it. So, as an editor, I do completely understand how nerve-wracking it is to get that feedback. And sometimes it’s not only terrifying, it’s also confusing, especially when two or more of your readers or editors have completely different opinions about your work. So how do you deal with feedback?

Feedback from Beta Readers

So you’ve sent out your manuscript to five beta readers and you have five conflicting opinions about it. What should you do?

First, step back and coolly asses your betas. Whose opinion do you really trust? If one of them is your mum, then she’s probably not the one to go with.

Then go with your gut – you know if someone’s comments ring true, if something makes you think, ‘Oh yeah. That’s a good point.’ You need to be honest with yourself.

Look for common threads. If three of your betas hate the same thing, but one loves it, then it’s probably safe to go with the majority.

Feedback from Editors

Again, take a step back. Yes, that’s difficult; your work is so personal to you, so much a part of you. But feedback is vital to improve your craft. So put the process into perspective. Your editor is (hopefully) trying to help you. Their criticisms (if they’re any good) should be constructive. Trust me, when I give feedback on a manuscript, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, or upset you or belittle you. But it would do you no good whatsoever if I wasn’t honest. I want to help you. So bear that in mind and try to be objective when you look at feedback.

Make sure you understand what your editor is trying to tell you. If you don’t understand their comments or you need some clarification, then ask. Personally, I feel that if a writer comes back to me about a point I’ve raised, then it’s my job to address their concerns. Just because I’ve finished the edit, it doesn’t mean I can no longer answer questions or provide feedback. A caveat though – don’t take advantage of your editor’s good nature; ask a question, accept the answer, but don’t expect a long-running dialogue. And don’t argue either – you’ve asked me for my professional opinion, I’ve given it and I’ve given my reasons for that opinion. It serves no purpose if you don’t agree for us to have back and forth emails about it.

Remember – you own the story. You don’t have to do what your editor says. It’s entirely up to you. But do remember that your editor is not your enemy. We don’t sit there trying to pick faults – we want to help you make your manuscript the best it can be. So if we say something you don’t agree with, take a deep breath, read the criticism again and really think about it. Does your editor have a point?

Happy writing!

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

‘Fault Lines’ by Tsveti Nacheva #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT #BookReview

I read ‘Fault Lines’ for Rosie’s book review team.

When the unthinkable happens…

When her best friend disappears from a party at a haunted house attraction, Laurie Arbo fears the worst. Ashley would not just up and leave. As days turn into weeks, it becomes clear that she is not coming back. But without a body, proving that a crime has been committed—let alone unmasking the culprit—is a tall order.

The truth should come first.

All eyes are on Ashley’s boyfriend, who is being cagey. But Laurie’s own partner, Nate, is keeping secrets too. On that fateful night, his clothes were covered in blood, which he swears wasn’t Ashley’s. Refusing to accept the man she loves might be a murderer, Laurie decides to believe him. Yet, unable to put the past behind them, they drift apart.

But what if it’s ugly?

Seven years later, while working on a TV documentary about a local family drama, she reconnects with Nate, and the pieces start falling together. As Laurie draws closer to learning what happened that night, she realizes the truth might be the one thing she doesn’t want to uncover.

I really enjoyed this novel. The characters are very well-written, the writing flows well, and there’s enough intrigue and twists and turns to keep you turning the page. 

Laurie’s best friend vanishes after a Halloween party out in the backwoods of Canada. Laurie, having gone to bed drunk, can’t remember the night clearly, but what she does remember is that her boyfriend Nate’s clothes were covered in blood – surely he can’t have anything to do with Ashley’s disappearance?

They split up, but years later, Laurie’s work takes her back to her past, and she’s finally forced to confront the truth.

As the story unfolds, our ideas about the characters and their motivations unfold too, and they reveal things about themselves that add to the intrigue of the story. That said, I did feel that Erin was a bit of a missed opportunity – I was expecting more from her and her potential didn’t feel realised.

Laurie, though, is a great character; it’s very easy to believe in her and the way she behaves and to sympathise with her. Her confusion and her emotions are so well portrayed. 

The settings work very well too, and there’s a very creepy and threatening feel to the narrative.

One of the strengths of the novel for me was the smaller storyline around Ashley’s mum and her frustration and fear around her daughter’s disappearance. She’s another really well-written and fully realised character.

There are a few issues with tense, however, with lots of switches from past to present that don’t really work, and some of the dialogue feels rather formal. 

But overall this is a very well-written and enjoyable novel.

BEATING WRITER’S BLOCK #writingtips #amwriting

Writer’s block – we’ve all heard of it, and lots of us have experienced it, whether it’s just that horrible half an hour of looking at a blank piece of paper or empty screen while our brains refuse to perform, or the more serious, crippling months or even years of inability to create that has afflicted some of the greatest writers. I know there have been times when I have tackled a huge pile of ironing, or walked the dog in the rain rather than face writing another chapter, or starting an article (or even a blog post), and the longer I’ve left it, the worse it has got.

Writer’s block can be caused by many things. For many, it often stems from a fear that their writing isn’t good enough, and that no one will want to read it anyway. Or perhaps you’re feeling guilty about devoting a day to working on your next novel rather than writing something you’re actually getting paid to produce. Then there are all the other little niggling responsibilities. But remember, writing is important because it’s important to you. So next time you’re faced with a blank page, rather than go for the usual avoidance tactics of cleaning the skirting boards or reading random articles online in the name of research, try one of these:

Write anything. Set a stopwatch for five minutes and make yourself write until the buzzer goes. It doesn’t matter what it is; just the physical action of writing something down can be enough to get your writing going again

Let yourself be terrible. Sometimes we can’t write because we feel our writing isn’t good enough. But when you are at the beginning of the writing process that doesn’t matter. Your first draft doesn’t have to be a prize-winner. Just write, whether or not it’s rubbish (chances are, some of it won’t be). You’ll be going back and re-drafting and editing over and over again. It doesn’t matter if what you write now actually is awful – it’s the finished manuscript that matters. As Margaret Attwood once said; ‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.’

Move on If you’re stuck in a scene or you can’t quite resolve something, move on to another scene. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t witting chronologically. You can write the ending first if you want to, or the middle, or a scene two thirds through. It doesn’t matter – no one’s watching! You can come back and fill in the gaps later. And writing a different scene might help ‘unblock’ whatever problem it was that you had previously.

Exercise your brain. There are literally hundreds of writing exercises and prompts available online. Use one to kick start your writing. Try Mslexia for lots of helpful writing advice and exercises. And there are plenty of prompts on the Writer’s Digest site.

Exercise your body. Walk the dog or go for a run. Sometimes being away from the house doing something physical can be enough to unblock your brain. Leave your phone behind and look and listen to what’s around you.

Plan your time. If you can, make sure you’re writing when you’re most creative and productive, whether it’s last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Try and keep an hour clear at those times to devote to your writing, even it if means getting up earlier or going to bed a bit later.

Set a target. Even if it’s only a couple of hundred words a day, or thirty minutes a day, make sure you write. Don’t worry how good or bad it is – just write for those minutes or write those many words. As Kingsley Amis once famously said: ‘The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair.’

Give yourself a break. It may be that you’re trying to do too much, that you’re tired and stressed. It’s hard to be creative at times like these. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a week away from writing to catch up on all those other little nagging tasks that spring to mind when you’re trying to write. Guilt about spending time writing can cripple creativity, and its all very well telling yourself that writing is important too – we all have other things in our lives that can’t just be ignored. Get these done, and then you can sit down to write without worrying. And the time away may be enough to cure your writer’s block.

Happy writing!

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.