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April 2011


On the Online Self-Editing Course which I'm running jointly with Debi Alper, my tutorial was talking about characterisation, and I said that at the self-editing stage you need to ask yourself whether your characters are too off-the-peg. "Off-the-peg" is a term I owe to Susannah Rickards, originally for the kind of language which does the basic job perfectly well (and its "rightness" can seduce new writers into feeling it's really right) but is never really fresh. It sits somewhere between the fictioneers' "second-hand" and the poets' "received language", as a way of describing something which we've read or encountered many... Read more →

What's your project?

You'll have noticed, by now, that as soon as you tease out an aspect of creative writing - a thread from the rope of the story - and discuss it, it has a way of twisting itself back up with everything else. Discussion of character turns out to be about structure; psychic distance leads on to narrators. And when, as has just happened to me, you encounter something like this, which gives all your ideas about narrators a good old shake-down and re-arrange, you find that it rearranges something, about everything, that you're doing. Which explains why, more and more,... Read more →

Small things are more crucial

On a forum the other day, on one of those threads which starts off with a post about the kind of small technical thing that we all go blind to sometimes, and ends up (all too often) as a general letting off steam about Annoying Things Ignorant People Write, someone said that "I thought to myself" is a tautology, and must be avoided. But of course my contrarian reflex made me start thinking about whether that's really true. Jane thought Ian was nice is clearly the basic statement about Jane's view of and/or feelings about Ian (and grammatically Jane thought... Read more →

Bewitched, boggled and... now what?

As a teacher, there are few rewards greater than getting back after a workshop and finding an email from a student, saying that they started writing/re-writing/planning on the train home. And certainly the varied reactions to the York Festival of Writing suggest that for many the lightbulb moment in a workshop (or an agent's comment or a fellow-writer's response) was only a pilot light, which then shed a flood of light on the work-in-progress... even if the light showed that it ought, immediately, to become a work-under-the-bed. But I suspect that for every writer at York who was radically re-structuring... Read more →