Health and Safety for Writers?

Health and Safety for Writers?

I took this photograph in a disused pottery in North East France. It’s a lovely old health and safety notice positively steeped in period atmosphere. Roughly translated, the exhortation reads, All injuries must be declared – good guidance for writers of fiction,...

Twenty Questions about Characterisation

Do you remember playing that car game, brilliant for long journeys, where one of you assumes a character and the others have to guess who it is by asking twenty questions? When we were little we whiled away hours playing it on the autobahns and autoroutes of Europe,...
A Light Touch – A Lesson in Characterisation from Mark Chagall

A Light Touch – A Lesson in Characterisation from Mark Chagall

On a recent trip to France we stumbled upon a stunning window by Mark Chagall in a restored chapel in the town of Sarrebourg. Peace, his extravagant bouquet of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, takes your breath away when you first walk into the room. Although...

Help from Your Favourite Heroines

What is it that makes a character in a novel memorable? Perhaps it would help to answer this question by asking it in a different way: who are the characters you most remember? If you can come up with the who, it might lead you to the why and that in turn might be of...
On Crusade for Complex Characters

On Crusade for Complex Characters

Time to raise the tone a bit, I think, so here goes… I came across this little fellow in Tournus, gateway to the south of France. St Guilhem was a ninth century fighter of Saracens, and a cousin of Charlemagne.  Apparently when he died, the church bells rang of...

An Alphabet of Better Writing # I

I is for….Interior Landscape There’s a whole world inside a person’s head — John Keats conjures it up as a mansion with many apartments, but I prefer to think of it more as a landscape, an interior landscape. I like the impression of limitless...
What You Can Learn from John Lanchester…

What You Can Learn from John Lanchester…

Well, loads of things, of course, he’s a brilliant writer.  But having just read Capital, which is set in a single London street and anatomises the effects of the 2008 financial crisis on its inhabitants, what struck me most was the way in which he was able to...
Characterisation — How to Read a Face

Characterisation — How to Read a Face

While we were in the seductive book village of Cuisery (see my previous post) we wandered into the little church of Notre Dame, originally begun in the 11th century and completed in 1504. I was stopped dead in my tracks by some beautiful frescoes in a side chapel....
What To Leave Out?

What To Leave Out?

I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere in my blog (several times — avoid repetition, Ed) that I’m interested in the gaps and spaces in a creative work; in what is alluded to, rather than what is spelt out.  This is particularly true when it comes to...

Using Your Influence

Writers work on their readers in many ways, their wonders to perform. You can convey information directly, by telling the reader that something is so; you can allude to it symbolically and get them to work it out for themselves, but sometimes it can be quite fun, and...

Characterisation – What’s Not to Like?

The protagonist of the book I’m working on at the moment is a middle-aged man who is struggling (and not always succeeding) to be more than the sum total of the disappointments life has visited upon him.: his marriage ended in divorce and in the process he...

Growth Spurt

In my last but one post I was talking about how inconsistency in your characterisation can be a sign of both good and bad writing — consciously done it can add verisimilitude, unconsciously done it ends up looking like carelessness.  Since I wrote that,...

Common Pitfalls # 2

Another aspect of writing which can trip up the beginner and often betrays their lack of experience is characterisation.  I suspect that people are too fixated on appearance (in life as well!) and feel that once they have covered...

Epiphany – in April

Still working those characterisation muscles, helping to give you core strength as a writer (I can feel a bit of a Pilates metaphor starting to take shape), here is an exercise that you might like to think about over the weekend. Write a scene in which your central...
The Reckless Extravagance of Creating a Character

The Reckless Extravagance of Creating a Character

After my agent had read the first draft of my novel The Dragonfly, she asked me what the main character did.  As he’s retired, it’s not mentioned in the book, but I told her that he worked in insurance, because that was part of the life that I had created...

Don’t I Recognise You?

And another thing (while I’m in identification mode!) I’ve been warbling on about how important it is the your reader to identify with your story and a key way of helping them to do this — of opening a window for them, if you like — is to make...

Have your very own Lynn Barber moment….

Long before she came to prominence as the writer and central character of her memoir (and subsequent film) An Education, Ms Barber has been producing pithy and unflinching interviews with the great and the good, most recently for The Observer. She is renowned for not...