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...]

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...]

The DPR of writing – Perseverance

Over my 20+ years of teaching creative writing, I’ve seen a lot of talented writers. There are usually a couple in every class, students whose writing I look forward to reading, and who actively welcome workshopping and feedback. And yet I have also learned that even the most talented may not have the perseverance to keep writing, no matter what. What does no matter what mean? Well, to me it means to keep writing despite rejections, obviously. When you are sending out stories and poems and … [Read more...]

Discipline and your writing

For many new writers, the idea of applying discipline to their writing is like applying a whip. Who can write under a whip, they protest. It would kill my inspiration! But sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike will eventually kill your writing career. (Notice I said career – if you want to write purely for enjoyment, go for it!) Any writer who has a list of publications will tell you that it can only be achieved by discipline. You may write one or two stories, a handful of poems, a … [Read more...]

Point of view: you are a camera

For this point of view, pretend you are a movie camera. You can only write what a camera would see/film (although you can use the five senses).  No going into any character’s thoughts and emotions. Everything must be shown externally in some way. There is an Ernest Hemingway story, Hills Like White Elephants, that is a good example of this POV. This is our example: George tipped his wine onto the white tablecloth. The red stain spread quickly, unlike blood. Jane had already run to the kitchen … [Read more...]

Second person – it’s all about “you”

When writing in second person, the pronoun used is you. Over and over. Whereas I in first person blends into the voice, you sticks out. Second person is tricky. It seems clever but is very difficult to pull off effectively. It works best in short stories, but there have been a couple of novels that have done well. I’d recommend a YA novel, Damage by A.M Jenkins, as a good example. Here is our sample in second person, where the you is George. Second person almost demands present tense, by the … [Read more...]

Third person: how close can you be?

There are several different terms for this POV but I use Third Person Intimate. It means that the story is told in third person (he or she) but is confined to one person’s POV. So I might have a story about Jane, George and Phillip but I tell the story through George’s POV only, using he, and cannot go into Jane or Phillip’s heads. E.g. George tipped his wine onto the white tablecloth. The red stain looked nothing like blood. Jane had already run to the kitchen for a cloth, but Phillip leaned … [Read more...]

Up close and personal: first person POV

This is the first in a short series on the different kinds of POV in writing, how they work and how you can use them to best effect. In simple terms, first person POV uses I, and the story is seen entirely through one character’s eyes, ears and emotions. So I might have a story about Jane, George and Phillip but I tell the story through George’s POV only, using I, and cannot go into Jane or Phillip’s heads. E.g. I tipped my wine onto the white tablecloth. I was right. The red stain … [Read more...]

Why is Point of View important?

For a long time, writers commonly used a point of view that we now most often call omniscient (also called eye of god or camera). It was the POV that saw everything, often in great detail, and rather than dwell on one character, took us into every major character in the story. There was a lot of setting, a lot of authorial intrusion (the author explaining stuff to the reader in various ways) and even times where the reader was directly addressed. More and more now, stories are told in … [Read more...]