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December 2011

November 2011

Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "How can I make a good, quiet and put-upon character more interesting to readers?"

Dear Jerusha: I had a one-to-one with an agent who said she felt my main character was rather dull and not pro-active enough. She was afraid that, not being like the usual feisty heroines who buck the system, my MC might fail to grab the reader's attention, and my writing friends have said similar things. I fully appreciate what they mean but I have struggled to correct the problem. The thing is, she is meant to be a bit 'wet' for want of a better word, or at least she is to begin with. She has to overcome this and... Read more →


Yours to remember and mine to forget

I'm reading a fascinating book, The Agony & The Ego: the art and strategy of fiction writing explored, which is a collection of essays by all sorts of writers from Robertson Davies to Marina Warner, by way of the Johns Mortimer and Banville, and Sara Paretsky. It's edited by Clare Boylan, and it's out of print; I got it from the library, but it's so brilliant that I've just bought a copy secondhand, partly so I can read it in the bath with a clear conscience, and take a pencil to it too, but also because I know I'm going... Read more →


A Million Little Versions (or nearly)

I've asked before whether you've ever thought about the order in which you put the elements in your sentence. And my post on the joys of the long sentence is relevant too, because of course a longer sentence, in our lovely, bendy, syntactical English, gives you more opportunities: you can play with rhythm and sound, with subtleties of meaning, with front-loading the sentence or keeping the grenade for the end. You can fine-tune for the period or the voice, for the character or their state of mind. So when, the other day, I found myself writing the first version of... Read more →


16 Questions to ask a Critique (and some to ask about a critiquer)

From the first poem you show a friend or a teacher, to five-page editorial letter from an agent who might take you on if you get the novel right, to a TLS review of your twentieth book, as a writer you never stop getting feedback on your writing. I've talked before about the basic decision about accept-adapt-ignore. But sometimes even that isn't enough to stop you agonising about whether you should change something in your writing because of what someone's said. And I would suggest that who that Someone is, is part of the decision. These days it would be... Read more →