Observe your feelings

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If something scares you, chances are, you’re not the only one who will find it scary.           © sxc

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about the perils of “writing what you know”. Today I will explain why I think writing about what you know, is a good idea. (Aaaah, the fickleness of the female heart!) At least, when it comes to feelings. Observing them well, is like digging up gold for a writer. Continue reading

Beware of your passion

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Maybe you feel passionate about dancing. Good for you! Don’t forget your reader may not. A writer’s job is to evoke that passion in his reader, starting from scratch. It’s harder than you might think. © sxc

“Write about what you know”, well-meaning gurus and writing manuals tell you. Or “follow your passion”. I’m not so sure about that.

When “write what you know” means something like “if you really, really dig thrillers and thrillers are all you ever read, then please don’t try to write a chicklit novel”, then fine. I agree. But writing about what you know, also includes some nasty traps. Continue reading

A strong protagonist: keep it simple, then oppose that

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Lisbeth Salander: smart and socially inept (and Gothic).
The rest is filler.

A lot of writing gurus will tell you a character for a fictional work cannot be one dimensional. They will tell you a good protagonist is a complex, evolving creature. It is my humble opinion that this is utter BS. I say: keep it simple. Continue reading

Write scenes, not books

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A writer ‘s gotta do what a writer ‘s gotta do. © sxc

Write a scene, not a book. Although I am definitely trying to write a novel, this is the most important principle for me to keep in mind if I want to get any writing done.

If I sit down behind my computer, thinking about my book, or worse, my “oeuvre”, then all I can see is the giant amount of work that’s still in front of me. Of course every writer, aspiring or established, fantasizes about holding those two crispy covers, with 360 pages of indisputable genius in between. But for me, personally, that thought mostly cramps my style. As a result, I will find myself dawdling on Facebook or Twitter, streaming some television series, making yet another cup of coffee, or – well yes – blogging.

While if I manage to keep my mind focused on one thing, writing one good scene, just one, then that seems feasible. The “good” might be still up for discussion, but at least I’ll have a scene. And then another one. And…

And what’s most important, focusing on the scene at hand helps me to genuinely enjoy my writing. Firstly because the stakes don’t feel so (friggin’) high, but also because I can feel that fun little jolt of achievement after every scene, instead of once every two years or so.

And if you’ll excuse me now, I’ve got another scene in mind. But first, I think I’ll make myself a cup of tea…

Fast or slow?

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Fast is for action…

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… nice and slow is for other scenes. © sxc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As he hears the soft but unmistakeable clutter of metal behind him, he spins around on his heels with the speed of a leopard in full attack. What he sees, takes his breath away and makes him fear his days are numbered. It is Xena, the mythical warrior princess, coming at him with eyes ablazing and swaying some sort of circular weapon he has never seen before, leaving him in the dark on how he is to defend himself against it.

There are quite a few reasons why this piece of text stinks. But one of them is the huge clash between the pace of the text and the supposed speed of the action described. Continue reading

Five things you don’t want to say when asking someone to read your script/manuscript

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If this is what people look like when proofreading your manuscript, you need another rewrite. © sxc

Over the last year I have received a lot of requests from aspiring writers/screenwriters to read their stuff. Especially interns at the newspaper I work for, tend to target me. I will not go into the question whether this is a case of asking the blind to lead the blind, since answering that one won’t make me happy.

I don’t mind proofreading stuff, I like it actually. On the condition that it’s a serious attempt at writing.

Here is a top five of the most annoying things I’ve heard from people who want me to read their manuscript: Continue reading

Stop the fucking swearing

I confess. I swear. And secretly, I like to. One time, when I bumped my toe, I even swore so vigourously, my grandma chased me with holy water. And simple observation proves I’m not the only one. Actually a lot of people swear a lot.

For that reason sometimes I let a bit (or a lot) of cursing and swearing slip into my writing. And every time I throw all that foul-mouthing out again in the rewrites. Not because I fear the wrath of heaven. Not because I fear to alienate a part of my potential audience. I cut it because it makes the writing weaker. Continue reading

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs”

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs”, wrote Stephen King in ‘On Writing’. As a rule, I agree. Totally. They tend to weaken a sentence. As do most adjectives, for that matter.

Adverbs, to my opinion, are especially dreadful in dialogues:

“Well, you tell me”, she said perkily.

If a character is perky, then make her say perky things. Or better still: make her say things in a perky way. Simply calling her actions or lines perky, isn’t going to cut it. A character’s voice should be made clear through dialogue and actions, not adverbs. Continue reading

Blast in with a hammer – about writing a great opening line

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Why start like this…

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… or this…

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… when you can start like this? © sxc

“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.”

Unfortunately I did not write this brilliant opening line, Jay McInerney did. It’s the first line of “Bright Lights, Big City”. It makes you want to read on, doesn’t it? Not only does this line set the tone, it raises quite a few questions.

Try rereading the line. You cannot help but wonder: 1. Who, me? 2. What guy is he then? But especially: 3. Where is he? 4. And what time of the morning is it? You just know it’s not going to be a tearoom at nine thirty, right? So how bad is the damage?

The value of a good opening line can hardly be overestimated, I personally think. When you meet a person, the first seconds will determine whether you like this person or not. A book is not that different.

Raising questions is an important key, I think. Questions will impell the reader to keep reading in search of answers to these questions.

Simple entertainment is a second key. A guy in a place like that, at that time of the morning, who should not be there… That ‘s a pretty good promise you won’t get bored.

Right now I’m working on the manuscript for my second novel. So I’m trying to write a punching opening line myself. At the moment, this is what I’ve got (well, a translation of it):

“Do you see that guy? Over there, in the dark between those trees. I’ll be damned if that’s not our guy.”
“Shit, you’re right, there’s someone standing there.”

The two policemen start to walk in my direction.

After a lot of thinking and trying, I decided to start ‘in medias res’, in the middle of the action. The questions I hope this raises, are: 1. Who is this guy? 2. Why is the police after him? What has he done? 2. Will they catch him?

At this point I’m quite happy with this opener. But I’ve still got a few months of pondering and rewriting ahead of me, so nothing has been carved in stone so far.

I hope you like it to! So, if you’ve got an opinion on this and a spare minute, please let me know what you think!

I want a writing lair too

Gay Talese works in his cellar, strictly devoid of every distraction.
Picture: The New Yorker

The New Yorker posted this video about the legendary writer Gay Talese’s underground writing bunker.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/10/notes-from-underground-gay-taleses-office.html

No windows, no phone, no distraction. I have to admit, I’m jazzed!

I actually own a home office. Of maybe I should say: owned. I picked soothing colours of paint for the walls, dragged in a giant retro desk. I taped a giant map of the world to one wall, I put up a big picture depicting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on another. Inspiration guaranteed.
Continue reading