Memoir versus Faction versus Fiction


When I enrolled in a master’s course at university to study writing at the postgraduate level in my late twenties, it came as something of a shock to me that almost all of my fellow students were retired or much older people interested in writing just one thing: their own story. Perhaps it was my relative youth and my correlating lack of life experience that meant I didn’t really understand why. After all, nothing much had happened to me at that point. (In fact, it’s over a decade later and nothing much has happened to me even now.)

But it wasn’t just that I’d stumbled across a rare collection of people focused on telling their own stories. These people, I’ve since discovered, are everywhere. And since there are just as many – probably a lot more – people wanting to read the real life stories of others, it makes sense that so many people pursue this avenue of writing.

But it’s not just as simple as putting it all out there. Writers who want to tell their own stories have plenty to consider. Continue reading

Project January


This is the titular chapter from my latest book, Project January: A Sequel About Writing.


If you’ve read my book Project December: A Book About Writing or the various Project… blog posts on this blog, then you’ll know Project October is about intensive writing, Project November is about editing and revision, and Project December is about getting your book published. And, of course, I hope it makes sense that Project January is about starting all over again.

The pride and relief at finishing and finally publishing a book is wonderful. But the realisation that all that hard work, all the blood, sweat and tears that it took, all the back and forth, all of the begging for beta readers, all the doubt and belief and doubt again, the realisation that all of it simply rewinds to deposit you back at the beginning again can be hard.

Some people only want to write one book, only have one book in them. If that’s you and you’re okay with it, great. For the rest us who don’t want to be one-book wonders, we’re confronted with an entirely different set of problems from when we began writing our first books. So here are a few things to consider to help get you back on track to another Project October, Project November and Project December. Continue reading

Things Your Characters Should Never Say


It’s easy to be told that character dialogue in fiction should be short and sharp and punchy and witty but actually executing it without a little more guidance can be hard. I could tell you to watch everything Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon have ever written and you’d have some great examples.

But sometimes the easier path is to start with what not to do. So here are a few pieces of dialogue your characters should never say.

“Tell Me About It”
It’s almost twenty years since my first class as part of my Advanced Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing and I can still remember my Novel teacher telling us how “Tell me about it” was the most overused piece of dialogue in Hollywood and that it applied equally to books. And it was funny. I never noticed it on my own, even though I went to the movies every week and spent the rest of my non-writing and non-studying time watching more movies at home and reading as many books as I could. But as soon as he said it, I began to notice it everywhere.

So if you don’t want to end up being a cautionary tale in a first-year writing course, leave it out. Continue reading

Writing Worlds – Part 2: Building New Fictional Worlds


On Wednesday, I wrote about reusing existing fictional worlds as the basis for a novel. Today, I’ll explore building new ones from scratch. It’s so much trickier than relying on someone else’s hard work but when you do it yourself and get it right, it can be the basis for a lengthy series of books, especially when readers love the world you’ve created. Continue reading

Writing Worlds – Part 1: Using Existing Fictional Worlds


Sometimes there is nothing more wonderful than the blank page when it comes to writing – the potential, the lack of limitations, the fact that we can create anything we want. And sometimes there is nothing more daunting – it can be hard to whittle down an infinite number of worlds and characters and plots to just the right ones.

To save some of this painful effort, writers can choose to use existing worlds. There are a few options, some simpler than others and all easier than going to all that trouble of creating yet another new one. Continue reading

Book Review: The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson


Billed as “contemporary noir” with rapturous praise from authors like Dennis Lehane and Mark Billingham, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is Peter Swanson’s first novel, developed and extended from what was originally a novella. You can tell. It’s one of those novels that is short and yet still feels too long. The writing is uninspired, the main characters are dull and the plot, which is supposed to be an homage to old-fashioned, Maltese Falcon-type detective stories, is instead a poor imitation. Continue reading

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


I wanted to hate this book. I wanted it to be Twilight-eqsue, capturing the imagination of the young and crossover mainstream reading public in spite of the fact that it was okay rather than great. I wanted to get to the end of the book and feel superior in some way. I wanted to be able to hate this book. But I don’t. I can’t. Because it is a great book.

This is the story of Hazel and Gus and how they fall in love. Sounds cheesy, right? Sounds like it’s been done in young adult novels a hundred times before, right? Hazel has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Gus is in remission but has had a leg amputated. Okay, a little less cheesy but cancer? So Jodi Picoult, right? Still been done before, right? Except even though the concept feels like it’s been done before, it’s never been done this well before. Continue reading