Creating a character #2 – Origins

When we think about ourselves, we’re made up of everything that has ever happened to us, plus our family background, our culture, religion, our view of the world and much more. So are our characters. You might ask why you have to bother knowing your character’s life story and who their family is/was. Some writers prefer to write their way into a character’s life and make it up as they go along. But once you create a history for your character, once you know where they came from, you will find … [Read more...]

Redrafting your life writing – key elements

Once you have done a lot of writing and drawn out a wealth of material, the next stage is to think about how to form it into a story. While it’s in its raw form, what you have is a repository of memories particular to you. If you want to create something that others will enjoy reading, these are the elements you need: 1. Structure, pacing and tension – where will these come from? How will you start your story? Not with explanation, which is boring, but with some kind of action. What is the … [Read more...]

7 tips for overcoming life writing blocks

While we might recognize the blocks that stop us writing material from life, we need some practical strategies to get past them. Some methods are practical, some are “sneaky”! Apply whatever works for you. 1. Write each story as fully as you can. In other words, don’t try to censor yourself before you even start. That leads to stops and starts, lack of flow and giving in to doubts. Write everything – literally. Every single detail you can remember or conjure up, including using the five … [Read more...]

The keys to successful life writing

There has been a huge growth in life writing and memoirs over the past decade. Suddenly it’s not just the famous who are worth reading about. People who have done amazing things or suffered horrific life experiences have written their stories (sometimes with help) and published them. Readership has also grown. Why do readers love life writing? We love stories. Many people love fiction more than “real life”, but still, a story is a story. We love to feel we are not alone, and we like to read … [Read more...]

Life writing – scary or liberating?

Recently I’ve been teaching a workshop on life writing, so I thought I would share the main points here – both for participants and anyone else who is interested. When we talk about life writing, it can encompass autobiographical, biographical, oral history and memoir, but it means you are drawing on real life. This might be memories, diaries, photographs, interviews – but the key to life writing is, I think, its emotional depth. This is what makes it scary. Especially if you are writing … [Read more...]

5 tips for using your own life in fiction

There are a number of “rules” that writers are told, and one of the most common is “Write what you know”. To counter this, we are also told “Make things up – use your imagination”. Along with those is “Anything can be researched” and “There’s nothing that will help your novel more than actually visiting the place where it’s set”. I’m sure there are many science fiction and fantasy writers who are totally on the side of “make it up”, and there are as many others who insist you only write what you … [Read more...]

The DPR of Writing – Resilience

What does resilience mean when it comes to writing, and building a successful writing career? Is it something that only a few have? Or can we learn it, increase it, expand it? I'd say resilience is at least as important as perseverance, and it is related, but it's different. The dictionary defines resilience as the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune - or in terms of a material, what enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent or compressed or … [Read more...]

The DPR of a Successful Writing Career – Discipline

One of the hardest things to get to grips with, if you want to make writing a career (as in get published) rather than a fun or satisfying hobby, is the discipline required. Author Bryce Courtenay is famous for using the term ‘bum glue’. Quite simply, you have to glue your backside to the chair and write, and do the same again to revise. And revise. No matter how long it takes you or how difficult it seems. It’s easy to turn excuses and procrastination into a block. The blank page can be … [Read more...]

The key to getting published

How would you feel if someone told you you were unlikely to ever see your work published? Would you give up now? Or would you say, I'm going to write anyway because I love writing? Or would you say, I'm going to write and be published no matter how long it takes? The answer to the question, if you were able to give it honestly, might contain the key to your writing life. Many people write for pleasure with no thought of publication. Emails, letters, diaries, journals, family stories, things … [Read more...]

Omniscient: encompassing or head-hopping?

Omniscient used to be the standard. It’s also known as eye of God, because the reader gets to see inside everyone’s heads and emotions. It also allows for a lot of description and detail. Back in the 1800s, it meant pages and pages of setting and description, but these days they’d be considered info dumps. It is tempting to load ominiscient POV with every single thing, but you need to choose carefully what will best serve your story. You also have to avoid head-hopping. Once you establish you … [Read more...]