The twenty-seventh episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 21st February 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website http://www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first twenty-six episodes (see https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast for details), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas, opportunities, songwriting, reading, auto/biographies, computer tips (parts 1&2), competitions & submissions and romance. This episode had a focus on hints & tips. It included some outdated competitions but I’ve left them in as they’re likely to run yearly.
Hints & tips
National Association of Writers’ Groups’ Link magazine back in June 2006 had a table entitled ‘Imagination used’ which defines how we use our brains – it was split into:
|Under 5 years 95-98% used
6-12 years 50%-70%
|13-18 years 30%-50%
Adults less than 20%
So if you think you need some help or perhaps just a little inspiration…do listen on.
- Fellow Northamptonshire author (of the ‘Housewife’ series) Alison Penton-Harper has the following tips: write every day, even if it’s not much. Always carry a notebook. Make sure that you’re comfortable when you write so that you can become lost in ‘the zone’ without straining your neck/back/eyes. Edit ruthlessly. If it’s not essential to the story, take it out. When you can’t see the wood for the trees, walk away and leave it alone. Be prepared to accept constructive criticism, but be careful whom you ask for it. Read Stephen King’s book ‘On writing’. There may be a good writers’ group you can join where you can share the experience of the writing process and discuss your work.” Sounds good to me.
- However trivial it may seem, write down everything. It’s also worth checking whether your phone (or even camera) has dictaphone facilities as you never know when the muse might strike. An idea that is at the top of your memory, the one that is the ‘bestseller’, and you are sure you will not forget it, will be lost almost as fast as you thought of it, if you do not write it down. Later, as you review your ideas, something that seemed so-so, may still be only so-so, but may be just the idea that you needed to jump-start a new project, or give fuel to one you are already working on. I keep two Word documents; one for ideas that may work (i.e. have enough ‘legs’) for novels/anthologies, the other for short stories (although some transferred to the novels file if the ‘legs’ become longer).
- If you find it difficult to spare time to writing, try small chunks; ten minutes before you do anything else in the morning, while a meal is cooking or before you go to bed (be warned the latter may lead to some loss of sleep as the ideas whizz around in your brain although some authors if stuck go to sleep on an idea and have a solution in the morning). Writing is like housework or homework, if you do it in small chunks you don’t miss the time. It’s when you don’t do any for ages and have to do it in one go that you perhaps start to resent (hopefully not) the ‘loss’ of time. When I did NaNoWriMo for the first time it was surprising, knowing I had to write nearly 1700 words a day, how often I could find time to write a few words because I had to do it. If you can ask yourself at the end of each day “how many words did I write today?” and can answer with a number above zero then you should feel good. Even if you do 50 a day that’s a magazine-length short story a fortnight.
- Something that works really well for me is to keep a small magazine holder in my bathroom containing a pot of pens/pencils and an A5 spiral-bound notebook. From a list of sentence beginnings I’d created (e.g. As she jumped off the…), I wrote one beginning at the top of each page and then I made sure that every time I spent any time in the bathroom I did some writing, even if it’s just another sentence. It’s amazing how much I wrote over short amounts of time. I’ll then type the story up when the pages are full or the story is complete (or if I get hooked on any of them and want to crack on with them quickly).
- Back in episode 3 I mentioned the Pocket Encyclopaedia of Short Story Writing which contained a list of 350 alternatives to said (although it’s often said that ‘said’ is still the best word to use). Well, I’ve found a list of 154 courtesy of the sci-fi website Science Fiction & Fantasy Chronicles Network.
- If your story is a little dull, look at your plain verbs. Do you have a character walking? If so, could they be strolling, ambling, jogging, dashing, sprinting or staggering? Or if s/he is sitting, could s/he be sprawling, lounging, curled up, stretched out? Or if they say something could they mumble, stutter, spew, shout or protest? Finally, if s/he is looking, could they be scanning, squinting, glaring or studying? This also helps to avoid adverbs e.g. she ran quickly = she sprinted.
- Set aside a small empty box or plastic wallet and put all your ideas (e.g. newspaper clippings or using the notes you’ve made from your above notebooks) in it…but make sure you continue/type them up.
- Listen to how people speak, and incorporate accents into your writing, e.g. greetings such as ‘my flower’, ‘me duck’, ‘love’ etc. (without too going overboard and confusing your reader). Local websites with video links may well be of use. www.youtube.com is also a great source: put the town/city you’re after and accent in the search box and see what comes up.
- Even if you haven’t written a novel, have a go at writing a one-page biography, one-page synopsis (of your poem, story, whatever), humorous cover letter or, if you do have a novel on the go, the first two chapters. Then when you have a novel ready, you’ll either have the practice of everything else to go with it, or you’ll have everything ready (with, no doubt, some tweaking).
- Get a first reader. There’s nothing like a second opinion, especially from another writer and the more the merrier. If you have email, you can swap your work quickly and easily, and do be honest with each other; someone saying it’s great (as friends and family often do) is lovely but not very helpful. Things to look out for are ‘show don’t tell’ (i.e. where something happens or is said but then you go on to explain what happened), repetitive words (unless intended), boring sections (I said to be honest) or parts that seem unclear (it’s good for the reader to have some questions but they should be answered by the end of the piece). Equally, be positive and point out parts that work. If the author knows where they’re going right then they can do more of the same and avoid repeating any bad habits or bits that don’t work.
- Even if you’re not writing poetry, think of how your words sound e.g. alliteration http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alliteration. Writing sounds better read aloud and even better with rhythm.
- Quietly unassuming is not necessarily boring. Take Sean Connery’s James Bond for instance. He was suave and charming…but there was more to him. You don’t want to make a character dull or boring as the reader will be bored (and you’ll probably be bored writing him/her) but you can make them surprising; lead them in one direction (or appear to be one thing) and then reveal a hidden layer – like someone coming on to the X-Factor stage and it being assumed from their appearance that they are going to be awful but then they open their mouth… that’s how Susan Boyle became such a success.
- With any story it’s vital to keep a pace, and therefore the reader’s interest, going. Keep the scenes short and to the point but, in fiction mainly, leave holes so that threads tie up nicely at the end. A mix of short and long sentences is always good, as are questions that rest in the reader’s mind as they read. As well as bringing the story to life, dialogue is very important as it splits up the prose (and should always advance the plot) but stories work well with a good mixture. If you remember that dialogue usually shows and narrative generally tells, and the golden rule is “show, don’t tell”, then it’s best to have a mixture of both for the story to work well. Dialogue is also a very economical use of character development as you get a feel for the character by what they say as well as their tone.
- I’ve mentioned song lyrics before and it’s worth listening to your favourite (or not so favourite) songs as most tell a story. While the lyrics themselves are copyright, the story they tell isn’t. Or a quicker way is to look up the lyrics online (e.g. www.lyricsdirectory.com or www.findmelyrics.co.uk) and if there are any stories that appeal, re-write them as fiction (obviously also changing any names).
- If your story isn’t quite working, try changing the viewpoint (i.e. from 1st person (I) to 3rd person (he/she) or vice versa – or have a go at 2nd (you – mentioned above)) or by tense (present to past or vice versa). Present tense is very immediate and often works really well.
- Endings: Do you, or have you ever thought about starting with the end of your story? Lucy from my writing group mentioned a while back that that’s how she usually starts her poems. Most people have an idea of where their story will end but it’s a great idea to try an ending as a starting point then work backwards and see if it helps your writing. Whilst endings should round off all the loose ends, if you plan to write a sequel (or even a series) then leaving it at a cliff-hanger, as you would at most chapter endings.
- Speaking of endings, here’s a tip courtesy of a podcast I heard a while back. Think about the order within your sentence. Apparently the last half of a sentence has more impact to a reader than the first half and therefore the action should happen at or towards the end. The example given ‘They swam across the river on a very hot day’… was suggested to work better as ‘On a very hot day they swam across the river’.
- Think of double-meanings. For instance one of my beginnings is Advert: ‘Part-time lover wanted. Must be flexible…’ which could be taken in at least two ways. Others include ‘As a small business, Heald’s Nursery was struggling…’ (is the nursery a kindergarten or garden centre?) and Holly was prickly at the best of times… (plant or woman?). The Two Ronnies were famous for their double-entendres (do you remember 4 candles?). ‘Your nuts, my Lord’ is another example; see the 2-minute video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2e0afvMYqI&. A link to Fork handles (and many others) is on the same page. Be warned, you could be watching for hours. In the recent ‘Up in the Air’ movie with George Clooney, there was a scene where an air stewardess gives him a drink then is perceived as asking “cancer?” but when he’s clearly confused, she repeats it slow as ‘can sir?’ then holding a can out. I’m not sure why the scene was in there as it didn’t further the plot but it was useful for this podcast. 🙂
- http://fracturedwest.com has a rolling deadline. Fractured West is a “new literary magazine for flash fiction, prose poetry, microfiction, sudden fiction, vignettes, and short short stories. We don’t care about definitions: if it’s short, we want it.” Max 500 words. Sounds interesting.
- Another ‘roller’ is www.memoirsink.com/statuscontest although word max is 144 characters!
- www.sumlitsem.org/slscontest.html is SLS United Literary Contest but be quick – the deadline is 28th February.
- The Write Place Open Short Story Competition also has a closing date of 28th February 2011. Story 1500 words max. Theme: Winter. Fee £4.50 per entry. Prizes £100, £75, £50. Entries to Francesca Burgess, TWP Winter Competition, 34 Capelands, New Ash Green, Longfield, Kent, DA3 8LG. Make cheques payable to The Write Place‚. See www.thewriteplace.org.uk for info.
- Magma Poetry is a quarterly magazine which is looking for submissions for their 47th edition. The deadline is also 28th February – for more details see http://magmapoetry.com/contributions.
- www.upstreet-mag.org/guideline_layers.html and www.snakenationpress.org/contests.html both have 1st March deadlines.
- http://unboundpress.com/competitions/2011-unbound-press-competitions/2011-unbound-press-short-story-award has a deadline of 1st March 2011. 1500 words maximum. £5 fee.
- The Neil Gunn writing competition has a theme of ‘A wrong turning’ and welcome poetry (up to 40 lines) and prose (up to 2500 words). Entry fee £5. Deadline 11 March 2011. See www.highland.gov.uk/leisureandtourism/libraries/neilgunn.
The podcast concluded with sentence starts, Quotes, News & Feedback, On This Day in History and a 60-worder called ‘DIY doh!’: “Women are useless at DIY” Josh scoffed as he watched his girlfriend getting some steps out to change a light bulb. “Give them here!” He grabbed the bulb and ladder to do the job himself. Wearing slippers, he carefully stepped up, did the deed – then cut his finger on the old bulb as he threw it in the recycling!
That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other transcripts and summaries can be found at https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast.