Copy editing your own work

Style sheet for copyediting Doing your own copy editing would have to be one of the most fraught jobs! It's because we very often see what we expect to see, rather than what is actually on the page. When you have revised your story or novel or article 10 times, you stop "seeing" the actual words and punctuation, and instead "hear" the text. It's a bit like having it read aloud to you. Hard to explain but you probably know what I mean. Because you have given your work to someone and they said, … [Read more...]

The undeniable value of “being there”

Historical research is tricky. For a start, no matter how much you try to research place, language, food, clothing, money and surroundings, you will never actually be there. You can't go back 100 or 300 or 1000 years to know what it was really like. Even the best historians are making educated guesses. But as a historical writer, you know that details are important, and they are what brings your story alive for your readers. Yes, characters and plot are important, but the social restrictions and … [Read more...]

What is this writer showing you? (Ian Rankin)

This is from "Standing in Another Man's Grave" by Ian Rankin. Rebus is late for a meeting with his boss, Cowan. As you read this, think about the tiny details. What are they telling you? What is the dialogue telling you? He shook himself free of his overcoat and let it drip across the floor of the office to the hook on the far wall. "Thanks for taking the trouble," Cowan said. "Apologies, Danny." "Daniel," Cowan corrected him. "Sorry, Dan." Cowan was seated on one of the desks, … [Read more...]

Use deadlines to help you

Over the past few months, I’ve returned to study (although when it comes to writing, I feel like that never stops – I’m always learning something new, or sometimes I have to relearn an element of craft that I have “forgotten” about). Along with study come deadlines, for getting to class, completing homework and, most importantly, submitting work for grading. One of the things that I found so useful while doing my MFAC at Hamline was the monthly deadlines for packets of work – usually an essay … [Read more...]

Picture Book Insight: Writer Meredith Costain

Every now and then I will post an in-depth Q&A with a writer. The aim of this is to investigate the writing process and hopefully provide insights that are both inspiring and helpful. Meredith Costain is first, and gives us some great responses. 1. Where do your best picture book ideas come from? How do you develop them into texts (and how do you know when it's not working)? Ideas present themselves all the time. A snatch of conversation. A funny thing a child or pet does. Words and … [Read more...]

Creating a writing routine

Every year, thousands of writers vow that from the 1st of January, they will be more disciplined and they will write every day. Or write 5000 words a week. Or finish that novel draft by 30 June. New Year's resolutions for writers are no different than resolutions to get fit or lose weight or stop eating chocolate. You feel extremely motivated for a few days or a couple of weeks, and then something happens and you don't write for a few days and immediately you label yourself … [Read more...]

10 steps to develop your idea into a picture book

It’s rare that we come up with a whole picture book text in one try. Usually what we have is an idea that interests or excites us, but we’re not sure where to take it next. Is it really that original? Is it even a story yet? Mostly the answer to both of those questions is NO. But if you go about developing your idea and adding more things to it, you may well end up with something far, far better. One idea is OK, another idea that crashes into it and creates sparks is what you’re after. Often … [Read more...]

Pick apart published pages #1

Now and then I come across books where the standard of writing is so poor that no matter how intriguing the story is, I cannot get past the writing errors. I decided it was time to stop complaining and pick apart some sample pages to work out where the key problems were, and provide some thoughts for myself that might also be useful for you (especially if you are writing fiction). I'm going to do the close commenting first and then tell you the title and author at the end! Today's novel is … [Read more...]

Your characters’ backstories – common issues

One of the key pieces of advice we receive when writing a novel (or a screenplay) is to know our characters’ backstories. It’s good advice because without a deep understanding of what has happened to a character before he or she shows up in our novel, we won’t have a grip on something vital – motivation. Everything that has happened to a person in their life goes into making who they are right now. In ten years’ time, something new might have changed them, such the death of a child. We all … [Read more...]

Choosing Point of View

Over many years of teaching fiction writing, I've debated with myself over where and when in the semester to teach point of view. After character? At the end just before theme? Somewhere in the middle, maybe just before dialogue? I've discussed it with other teachers. The impulse is to teach it first, because which point of view you choose to tell your story in dictates so many other things.  It influences description and setting, for example. A first person narrator is only going to notice and … [Read more...]