Technique

Itchy Bitesized 18: Three Things About Chapters Breaks

This new blog in the Itchy Bitesized series is about how to make best use of chapter-breaks. I know writers who work in chapters right from the start; writers who just intuit when it's time for a break; writers write several drafts before they decide where the breaks go. A chapter-break affects the reader's experience. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 16: Three Things About Saggy Middles

If you've been told your novel or creative non-fiction has a saggy middle - or you've a nasty suspicion of your own - you are absolutely not alone. It's a perennial problem, because writing a novel may simply be a matter of "beginning, muddle and end", as you discover every time you download an unabridged audiobook of a full-sized novel, novels are very long, and so the middle muddle is also very long. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 15: Three Things About Point-of-View

Point-of-view is one of the chief tools you have for controlling your reader's experience of the story, and their reaction to it. So I have blogged about it a good deal, mostly in the four posts in the Point-of-View and Narrators series. This Bitesized series post is a quick check-in with a few of the questions which crop up most often. 1) Readers don't only get involved with the viewpoint characters and no one else. Think about it: there's no equivalent of point-of-view in films and plays - everyone is seen from the outside - any more than there is... Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 14: "Effect" vs "Affect"

One of the most common word confusions I see, even in writers who aren't easily confused, is between "effect" and "affect". It's very understandable - both can be a verb, and both can be a noun - and sorting it out is a bite-sized job, so here goes. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 12: Don't Pull Your Writing's Teeth

Another thing I frequently find myself writing on students' work is "Don't pull its teeth!". Here, "it" is a scene, a sentence, a character's thought, or a character's action, which has all the ingredients to be compelling, but somehow falls flat. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 11: "Who Says This?" Make sure the reader knows who's talking.

One of the most frequent things I find myself writing on students' manuscripts is "Who says this?" I did a big post on writing dialogue a couple of years ago, so this is a round-up of solutions to this specific problem of making sure the reader knows which character says what. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 9: Three Things About Filtering (a.k.a. HD for your writing)

Writers very often use phrases which get between the reader and a straightforward representation and evocation of what's happening, without adding anything else to the experience. Getting rid of filtering is one of the simplest ways to make your writing more vivid and engaging, and I've blogged more fully about it, so this is just a quick look at the issues that most often arise when I'm teaching how to wrangle it. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 7: What You Need To Know About Comma Splices

Comma splices are probably the punctuation mistake I see most often, and it's frequently in writing by people who otherwise know why punctuation matters, and use it very well. But what is a comma splice, why do they matter, and what do you do about them? Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 6: Which Viewpoint Character Should You Be Using?

Even when you've got your head round how point-of-view and narrators work, you're left with the question of which of the available characters should be the viewpoint character for this page, this scene, this chapter or this novel. This post explores the possibilities. Read more →


Itchy Bitesized 2: Three Things about Semi-colons

The second bite of the new Itchy Bite-sized series is nibbling at a much-despised, often confused and actually very useful and very simple punctuation mark: the semi-colon. Read more →


WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Nine: Revising 2

In Part Nine we're going to look at how you turn a second draft ("for your reader") into something closer to a third draft ("for the person you need to persuade"). Each post in my Write Your First Novel is a series of short prompts and exercises which are designed to lead, step by small step, towards the first draft of a novel. It doesn't assume you already know the technical vocabulary that writers use, and the full series to date is collected together here. One more thing before we start. Everything on This Itch of Writing is free; I... Read more →


WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL Part Six: Revising 1

In Part Six we're starting to think about revising your writing. Each post in Write Your First Novel is a series of short(ish) prompts and exercises which are designed to lead, step by small step, towards the first draft of a novel. It doesn't assume you already know the technical vocabulary that writers use, and the full series to date is collected together here. One more thing before we start. Everything on This Itch of Writing is free; I don't monetise it through advertising or clicks or affiliations or anything else, but simply put it out under a Creative Commons... Read more →


My 10 Top Tips for Revising and Self-Editing Your Novel or Creative Non-Fiction

Everyone - well, mostly - knows that finishing a first draft is just the beginning of writing a novel or creative non-fiction that really works. If the definition of an editor is the person who helps you to write the book you think you've already written, then when you're self-editing, you need to keep in touch with what you hope you've written, while getting ruthlessly real about what you actually have written. Debi Alper and I developed and have co-taught the six-week online course Self-Editing Your Novel at Jericho Writers for many years now, and when the next course starts... Read more →


"How dare they?" Can you write fiction ethically, without clipping your own creative wings?

As you may know, I also have a column, Doctor Darwin's Writing Tips, over at Historia, the magazine of the Historical Writers Association. A version of this post first appeared there, but in an era when we've all become more sensitive to questions of cultural appropriation in the arts, it's relevant much more widely. Certainly if you want to build your story on people of another ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, class or perhaps just wildly different life-experience, there's work to be done compared to what you'd need if you stayed inside your own. So the ideas and strategies I've... Read more →


Guest Post by R.N.Morris: Plotting the Perfect Crime (Novel)

R.N.Morris is an old writer-friend of mine, and ever since his debut, A Gentle Axe, starring Dostoevsky's Porfiry Petrovitch, the examining magistrate from Crime and Punishment, I've known his work for pulling no punches but also being subtle, complex and thought-provoking. Has a superb sense of setting and period and (which isn't the case with every good writer) he's also good at articulating what he does. I'm not a crime-writer, though I love the detective/mystery end of the genre particularly, and am awed by anyone who can fit all the bits together and simultaneously make one care, shiver, and stay... Read more →


Switching From One to More than One Point-of-View in Your Story?

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a writer, Philippa East, who did our online course in Self-Editing Your Novel (We'll have 300 graduates, by the time the current course has finished. Could you be our 301st?) Hi Emma - I'm wondering if you have any blogs or can recommend any articles on revising a novel to change it from single POV to a dual POV structure? I understand the basics of writing in multiple POVs, but I'm looking for any help with actually tackling this kind of serious rewrite. Currently I sort of know what I have... Read more →


"Cut All the Adjectives & Adverbs". Why it's Nonsense, and When it Isn't

Cut all the adjectives & adverbs" is right up there with "Show, don't Tell", as one of the first "rules" that new writers get told, and for similar reasons. And although it's perhaps responsible for more bland, threadbare writing than almost any other phenomenon except the ghost of Hemingway, it's not entirely nonsense either, any more than Hemingway is. The truth is, writing would be impossible if we couldn't use adjectives, adverbs and adverbial and adjectival phrases. But although you'll never get me to say that you "should" cut them, there is a whiff of good writerly sense somewhere at... Read more →


Basing Your Fiction on Real People? Can "Real" and "Fiction" live in the same book?

At October's Words Away Salon next Monday, the 16th, Kellie and I are delighted to be hosting Jill Dawson. We'll be talking about writing fiction based on real characters - recent or ancient. Jill is a poet and novelist, and a highly-regarded mentor of writers, and her most recent novel is The Crime Writer. That's about Patricia Highsmith, but she's also written The Great Lover, about Rupert Brooke, and Fred and Edie, based on a famous 1920s murder. So we thought she'd be the perfect person to start us off talking about this fascinating but very challenging kind of fiction,... Read more →


All the Posts I Mentioned at the York Festival of Writing 2017

I'm just back from the 2017 York Festival of Writing. If you don't know what I'm on about, this is a selection of posts from former years, and if you do, you'll know that the weekend was, as ever, packed with workshops, one-to-ones, lunches, dinners, breakfasts (yes, everyone talks writing even over the cornflakes and sausages, and through the hangover), agents, publishers, authors, writers and ducks. And, as ever, I mentioned various blog posts at various times to various people, as a way of expanding on whatever we were talking about. This, to the best of my ability, is a... Read more →


Mastering the tyranno-thesaurus

Among teachers of English at school-level, using a thesaurus is a Good Thing, being a means of enlarging children's vocabulary. But a ticked box for the maximum number of different words on the page is a poor substitute for teaching genuinely good writing, so among serious writers, and teachers of writing, using a thesaurus is often spoken of as a Very Bad Thing. And when you consider the thesaursed version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", which floats round the internet attributed to John Raymond Carson, you can see why: Scintillate, scintillate, globule vivific, Fain would I fathom thy nature specific.... Read more →