Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Let’s Get Visceral

A visceral reaction is the physical feeling that often accompanies an emotional response to an experience or event. Think about the last time you were excited about something – the way your fingers and toes tingled and you felt a little bit light headed. That is a visceral response.

Visceral responses are great tools in the ‘show, don’t tell’ toolbox. You show your character being afraid (She looked over the edge of the cliff and her stomach clenched) rather than telling the reader she’s frightened (She looked over the edge of the cliff and felt afraid). There also a great way of showing the reader, hey this is real. This character feels things just as you’d expect them to if they were real.

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Posted in Tips for Young Writers

What if You Don’t Agree with Your Teacher

If you’ve stuck with me for any time you know my views on the importance of education. Here I talk about the importance of picking the right course for you, here I discuss how education is not a luxury but a necessity and here I talk about the importance of finding someone who pushes you.

But, what if you are doing a course or making the most of you English class, but there’s something that your teacher/instructor has said that you don’t agree with? It’s easy to resolve a disagreement about cold, hard, facts – once a student pulled me up on the hierarchy of courts in Australia, so we Googled it – but what about method and the craft of writing?

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Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Don’t Look Away

I want you to look at this picture:

serena

Maybe you’ve seen it before, maybe this is the first time. Maybe you’re apathetic about it, maybe it brings out strong emotions in you. Maybe you think it’s offensive, maybe you think it’s fine.  You don’t have to share these thoughts and feelings. I have my own thoughts on the cartoon which I’m happy to share in the comments, but they aren’t the point this post.

I want you to look at this cartoon because when something is controversial, as this was last week, we’re often told not to look. By looking, discussing, researching, people warn us that we’re ‘giving air’ to unsavoury thoughts and ideas. But as writers we must look. Especially when something is controversial. Especially when something engenders strong emotion. Because we are in the business of human emotion and action and thought. We are in the business of distilling real life and its components into something that readers can take meaning and understanding from.

A while ago I read a blog discussing Veronica Roth’s books. I wish I could find the blog post now, but I can’t. If I do find it, I will provide a link because it was an interesting discussion and also because it would be hypocritical of me not to. The crux of the discussion was that Carve the Mark was racist. Having not read the book, I don’t have an opinion on whether it is racist or not however, I took issue with a line in the blog post which said (I’m paraphrasing), “…if you haven’t read the book, don’t go out and buy it. Take the word of those offended by it that it is racist…”

No.

We must not do this. Not as people, not as citizens, and not as writers. It is true, just because you don’t find something offensive doesn’t mean it’s not but it’s equally true that just because you find something offensive, doesn’t mean it is. It’s a circular argument.

The ‘take our word for it’ approach to the truth is dangerous. It champions dominant voices and it fosters inequality and lack of mutual understanding. In short, it closes minds and no writer, regardless of your experience or ambition, should have a closed mind. You can’t understand life and people, and represent those understandings, if you refuse to look things in the face and form your own opinions.

There’s a danger in our technologically-connected world of becoming part of a hive-mind. Of only having access to ideas that are deemed acceptable and of only sharing thoughts that are within the dominant ideology. But as writers, we ought to resist this. We have a privileged position of being able to represent the essence of the world for our readers, of being able to discuss and raise questions about important ideas. And to do our jobs properly, we need to think for ourselves. After you’ve looked into something, you may form the same opinion as everyone else – but it will be an opinion formed you’ve formed yourself and therein lies the difference.

Everyone has an opinion

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Why Can’t You Write Something Happy?

I’m quite an emotional person. And I tend to empathise strongly with others. Which means that watching the news, viewing certain movies and reading certain books can be a draining experience. I’ve always struggled with war-movies and, since having children, anything in which a child gets hurt sends me over the edge. And yet, my husband often asks me, why can’t you write something happy?

  • Because Happy is Boring

Go on. Name a story that’s happy all the time? Even with Disneyfication I bet you can’t. Cinderella – reduced to slavery by her step-family. The Little Mermaid – misunderstood by her father and forced to do a deal with (essentially) the devil. Toy Story – overcome by jealousy, Woody attempts to murder Buzz.

Without conflict there is no story and conflict is not a happy thing. Don’t get me wrong, there are levels of conflict. Not all stories begin with rape, murder and theft. But for the characters in a story, all conflict is difficult and emotional.

  • Because We are not Always Happy

Depressed is an overused word. I have a depression and anxiety disorder and there is a clear difference between when I am depressed (an unshakable sense of unhappiness that persists regardless of what’s happening in my life) and when I’m sad (a feeling which is quite often a response to what’s happening around me ie. a death in the family). Often when people say they’re depressed they mean they’re sad – and that is normal and natural and perfectly fine.

We want to be happy all the time and we want the people we love to be happy all the time, but constant happiness is unattainable. For us and our characters. Sometimes the characters I write are unhappy, sometimes they’re hurt and sometimes they hurt others. For fiction to work, whether it’s contemporary realism, Sci-Fi or Fantasy, there has to be a reflection of real life and, in real life, sometimes we cry. And sometimes we ugly-cry.

uglycry

  • Because There Will be a Happy Ending

Let’s go back to war-movies. I think the last one I watched was Saving Private Ryan and I wept. If I remember correctly, it was the most graphically real depiction of war to be found in a movie at that time. Of course, now, war-movies are incredibly graphic and incredibly violent every time and I can’t watch them. Because war is real. I know that what I’m watching on the screen is actually happening somewhere and I’m old enough to know that war has no easy fix. There is, often, no happy ending.

But for the most part, in a novel, there is a happy ending. The whole point of reading a book is to see the protagonist try and fail and try and succeed. Unless you read and write tragedies, you’re guaranteed a good outcome. There may be losses along the way (have you read Little Women? It’s a classic for a reason. Have a box of tissues handy) but ultimately, the protagonist will succeed. And, not only will they succeed, they will be strong for having gone through the conflict.

shakespeare

 

 

So, my darling husband, if you should read this, know – this is why I can’t write a happy story. And, why I don’t read happy stories. Because the joy is in the conflict, in relating to the character’s world and in experiencing success with them at the end.

 

So, what about you? Do you write happy stories?

Everyone has an opinion

Posted in Tips for Young Writers

Education is NOT a Luxury

When I decided that I was really going to make writing a career I realised that I needed to do some study. I was a SAHM with a baby and I’d already tried my hand at writing a couple of novels, one which was never finished and one which never made it past a first draft. Up until this point I honestly believed that ‘real’ authors were able to write a book, fully formed and perfect, in one go. That being an author meant that you were just able to create a story.

With this in mind, I did a deal with myself. If I won a writing competition, I would use the prize money to do a writing course. This makes as much sense as saying, if I pass my drivers test I’ll take some lessons. But I felt that I had to prove that I deserved to do the course, that I had to show that I was going to be good enough to be a writer, before I could learn how to be a writer. I didn’t want to waste time and money on myself.

Which is CRAZY!

I believe in the power of education with almost evangelical zeal and to have convinced myself that I didn’t deserve to study the craft I hoped to make a career in is both bizarre and a sad reflection of my view of my self-worth. I cannot encourage you enough to embrace opportunities for study.

Here’s my tips:

1)Look for blogs and websites which are aimed at helping writers improve their skills. Not only are these free resources, but you can comment and therefore ask for clarification and further explanation. There’s many great sites out there, my favourites being Writer’s Digest, Helping Writers Become Authors, and Writers in the Storm (which is my all time favourite writing blog).

2)Read books about writing. If you’re not ready to part with your money then head to the library. There seems to be no end to the books you can get to make you a better writer, everything from story structure and plotting to character development to how to sell your book. Take note of books mentioned on the blogs and websites you use and search for them, they can be invaluable.

3)Enroll in a writing course. Yes, you will have to pay for this. Yes, they will help you to become a better writer. Take it from me, your high school literary teacher is not necessarily equipped to help you become an author. While writers must also be readers, readers are not necessarily writers.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you were a good enough writer, you wouldn’t need to learn. While a tiny number of people are born with a gift for something that needs little or no honing, the rest of us will always need to learn from the skills and experiences of others.

And we are all worthy of an education.

dean
OK! Fine! This is a totally gratuitous use of a GIF. But come on, look at that face!