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Five tips for writing good prose

Read this great blog from Roz Morris, and develop your ‘literary ear’.


Nail Your Novel

How do we learn to write good prose? Indeed, what is it? How do we develop our use of language, play our literary instrument with more elan and flair?

We were probably all encouraged at school to use difficult words instead of simple ones. I see plenty of work that still seems in thrall to that, thinking that ‘printable writing’ must mean to use the thesaurus as often as possible.

Now I’ll happily use a thesaurus to find the bon mot that’s slipped my mind. But we’ve all seen writing that waxes far too lyrical, looks self-conscious and overdone.

The other huge sin is tortuous obfuscation, as if the writer is trying to prove they are clever. Just for a giggle, look at this example in The Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing Contest. Here’s a taster:

If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses…

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The first draft is done and Formations as a title has given way to Becoming.

I have a soggy feeling in the pit of my stomach that, instead of writing a novel, all I’m doing is searching for a word that describes the journey of every Earthling on the planet.

According to the first draft, here is the novel in a nutshell. I’m not a designer – oh, you already got that, okay – but this attempt helped me to focus on Bay’s essential story, and to remind me that she’s not alone.

Becoming Nutshell

From Breaking Bread to Formations

The title of my… I hesitate to call it a novel. Work in Progress could mean anything. We Earthlings are Works in Progress. It’s more like the first draft of an Un-nuanced Laundry List of Philosophical Ideas Hung On An Uncertain and Confusing Outline That Only Focuses on the Main Character’s Tortuous Arc Over a Meaningless Journey That… God, I’m bored.

Well. It seems that the Inner Saboteur and the Evil Critic have come out to play today. If anyone has – let’s say – a leaf-blower out there, perhaps you would be kind enough to distract them while I tiptoe over here, open this heavy door that leads to their private quarters – then if you could blow them over here… excellent, thank you! *Sound of heavy metal door crashing behind them, and lock being set to: “And Stay In There!”*

This Opus – stop laughing in there – has been developing and changing for a couple of years. I was beginning to panic that the novel would never come in spitting distance of growing into a first draft.

Things I’m learning:

  • Panic stifles creativity and should be invited to join Inner Saboteur and Evil Critic in their sound-proofed (forgot to add that before) private quarters.
  • Reading too many ‘How To Write’ books eventually leads to adding items to that growing internal distractor list headed: Brilliant Ways to Procrastinate.
  • Slavishly following the outline/structure/beat sheet formulae of other wonderful best-selling authors (even when they tell you that they are simply showing the methods that have worked/still work for them) restricts one’s own cognitive and creative processes.
  • We all tell stories, everyday, to ourselves and others as we try to understand the whys and wherefores of the life and times in which we, as works as progress, search for meaningful answers to all our myriad questions.
  • Questions asked by other writers online, in writers’ groups, are enormously useful. If another writer is kind enough to ask for clarification on a point/idea raised in one of our posts, it helps to clarify and develop that point or idea. It helps with that process of looking for ‘holes’ in one’s writing. Sometimes, I don’t know what’s missing (it’s all there in my head!); a question helps me to get important information, that the reader needs to know, out of my head and onto the page.

The new title for the Opus – you heard me – has changed from Breaking Bread to Formations; from breaking something to forming something.

That feels suspiciously like progress.

P.S. Thanks, my leaf-blowing friend, Lisa, link below, for helping me today with those disruptive antagonists – and for inspiring me to start blogging again.



Learning the Craft of Writing

There’s a quote attributed to the American writer, David Gerrold, that resonates with me on many levels: “Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.”

My life, in brief, before the worms eat me.

Act One

Life as a Foster Child: The Formative Years, Abandoned among Strangers, and Early Stories.

Act Two

The Struggle to Grow Up: Battling Fear and Insecurity. Finding Love and Learning to Write Short Stories.

Act Three

The Age of Maturity: Discovering Stability, Linking to Mentors Foreign and Domestic, Learning the Craft of Writing and Experiencing Moments of Unconfined Joy.

That’s all the backstory a reader needs to learn about me before he or she starts glazing over. Quite right, too. The above is just to illustrate one of the lessons I’ve learnt, this past year, about writing a novel. You don’t need to know every detail of my life to be able to understand what follows. I’ve added a few snippets to illuminate a point, but that’s all.

I started writing my current WIP (and all short stories before) as a pantser – because I didn’t know there was another way. I would sit and type until I ran out of words, or my husband would ask plaintively if he should get himself something to eat. Bursts of writing interspersed with long non-productive spells meant that I wasn’t so much writing a novel as creating a huge, incoherent, untamed beast that was getting the better of me.

While I was thrashing about with this unwieldy monster and casting around for anything that might help me get the wretched story out of my head and onto a computer-generated page, I came across a website called Helping Writers Become Authors. K.M.Weiland, whose site it is, became one of my mentors from that moment. That was about a year ago.

At first, I was daunted by just how much I had to learn about the craft of writing a novel (added to which I’ve always learnt slowly, and I’m no longer a youngling). Fortunately, K.M.Weiland has written several best-selling books on this very subject. I have them all; they’re my constant companions.

Something surprising happened when I started studying these books and completing the exercises therein. I had forgotten how much I loved learning. The last time my cognitive and language functions were so rigorously put to the test, was when I learnt British Sign Language so I could work within the Deaf community. I have clear memories of just how difficult it was, and just how rewarding. These new daily studies were and are mentally and emotionally invigorating. At the end of each day, I’ve learnt a little more.

I’m applying everything I’m learning to my WIP, a crime fiction novel. Using “How To” books on this fledgling “Who Dunnit”.

Needless to say, the untamed beast along with the pantser who created it are no more. They were quietly put out of their misery.

Brainstormed Idea, Characters, Premise, Outline, Plot, Structure, First Draft…these are my main watchwords now. I’ve learnt that creating character arcs interwoven with the story structure is helping me to write a more powerful, cohesive outline and this in turn will lead to a better first draft.

Where do you get your ideas from? asked a friend a couple of days ago. Oh, they’ve been cooking for a while now, I replied vaguely, but honestly. The expression in her eyes told me she didn’t really want to know, she was just making conversation. The ideas have, indeed, been cooking for a while. All my life. Everything I’ve experienced, all the people I’ve met – good, bad, and indifferent – have been cognitively processed, filtered, distilled and transformed by the decades I’ve existed on this planet.

None of the characters in my novel are life drawings of the real people who have drifted (and continue to drift) in and out of my life. But the impact of their presence, their behaviours, the casual, unthinking cruelties I experienced as a child, the indifference of those I met through my confused, socially dysfunctional young adult years, the extraordinary tolerance and love from those who have surrounded and sustained me in my adult years – all these personalities inform my fictional characters in one way or another.

My dream for the immediate future is not for some five star publishing house to beat at my door and beg me to allow them the inestimable honour of publishing my novel – and insisting I accept a gazillion dollars for the privilege. I’m not sure if that would even happen in a fairy tale. My dream is more modest and more challenging than that.

My dream is to finish the first of what I’m sure will be many drafts of this, my very first novel. Before the worms eat me.

K.M.Weiland’s website:

Where’s my pen?

Where in this green and pleasant land is my favourite, can’t-write-without White Lamy Medium Nib FOUNTAIN PEN???

The trouble with de-cluttering one’s house is that there are no hiding places. That didn’t stop me, though, did it? Oh no. I searched everywhere. The whole house from top to bottom; every item of clothing with pockets; I even took the sitting room sofas and armchair to pieces. Interestingly – give me a break; the most interesting thing in my life today is the whereabouts of a pen – I found four 20ps. One in the three seater, one in the armchair, and two in the two seater. No pen. 

Now I had the furniture in bits I had to clean it. Out came the G-tech hand-held, blessedly cordless, vacuum cleaner, and I went all Snow White on their asses. Cursing rather than whistling.

Now, here I sit. Fuming and Penless. Little does it realise that have called its bluff. I’ve ordered another one. I’ve paid extra for it to be delivered tomorrow. I might have to explain that when the CC statement comes in. The point is, my pen done wrong. I’ll teach it to go off on an adventure without me.