Tag Archive | writing

Nothing new under the sun

There’s nothing new under the sun. How many times have you heard that? A dozen? A hundred?  When it comes to fiction it’s true – no matter what idea you come up with it’s been done before. But as a writer it’s your responsibility to make it all seem fresh and alive, as if it’s being told for the first time. This applies to all genres – mystery, romance, dramas of human endeavour, in fact all fiction.

Take all the great love stories – Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, Gone with the Wind, Pride and Prejudice, Casablanca. Add a few of your own favourites if you like, and think about them. They’re all about love, about boy meets girl, man meets woman, and about the obstacles that come between them and their true love. Same idea, different problems, different resolutions, different writing. Those authors took an old idea and, using their own special magic, wove stories that have been loved by generations of readers. They haven’t all been joyful stories, many of them haven’t had happy endings.

But they have all touched our hearts.

And how have they done it? The authors have taken the idea, and they’ve created their characters and situations and woven their stories around them. But it’s the characters that are the pivot. If the characters are real people, people that come alive, people that we can love or hate, then we care about them, and we care what happens to them.  And that keeps us turning the pages to the very end and then, perhaps, we’re sorry that it is the end.

As a writer how can you do this? First, your characters must be real to you – you must know them intimately. As you write you must be able to get inside their heads, to know how they feel. If you don’t know, then how can you make your reader know? Your reader wants to feel their emotions, to share in them. Emotions are mankind’s common language, we all have the same emotions – love, hate, anger, sorrow, joy – and we never lose them.  And as well as the emotions, you need to know how your characters will react to any situation. For this point in time you must become your character. And of course you must create situations that will put them through the wringer, so we can see how they’ll come out on the other side, see how much they’ve changed.

All this means that as you create your story you must write from your heart. However, once you’ve finished the story you must begin to use your head, for this is when you must take your rough diamond and polish it.

You owe it to your readers to make sure your words flow in a manner as close to perfect as you can make it. It’s not just a matter of ensuring there are no errors in spelling or grammar, you must also think about the sounds of the words. Are they pleasing to the ear? If in doubt, read your work aloud.  Do the words sing? Do they convey your idea as you wish? Or are they stilted and banal? Simple words, beautifully expressed, should be your aim.

So there it is. WRITE from the heart – EDIT with the head. Take an old idea and make it new.

And perhaps your story will touch hearts!



On writing a series

When I finished writing my first novel ‘Inheritance’, which is a standalone book, set in contemporary Australia, I had no ideas about writing either historical fiction or a series. However, we had moved to an area on the mid-north coast of NSW, an area that figured prominently in the early days of colonisation, and I became interested in its history.

This led me to explore the attitudes towards women in the nineteenth century, and I decided that my next book must be about the life of a woman in that era, when women had few rights and were dominated by men. I determined that my character would be a spirited woman who did not take kindly to subjugation. Then I began to look at the attitudes towards women over the years, and decided it would be interesting to do a story of three generations of women – mother, daughter and grand-daughter – spanning the second half of the nineteenth century and up to the end of the flapper era, the 1930’s. Would the patronising attitudes of men towards women have altered? And how would women have changed? I realised it could not be told in a single book, and decided to make it a series of three books, one for each generation. So far so good.

What I did not realise was the problems posed to writers of series.

The first book, ‘An Independent Woman’, was straightforward. The main character, Kitty, lived her life in the book and when book one ended, she had a daughter, Joy, who was a baby. Now, I had to continue Kitty’s story in book two, so I couldn’t just start it when Joy was a grown woman, too much time would have passed.

First problem – how to cover the years as Joy grows from child to young woman, and hold the reader’s interest?  Not an easy task. She went to school. She learned to ride and developed a love of horses. Not riveting phases of her life! So book two, ‘A Liberated Woman’, continued Kitty’s story, and covered Joy’s life from age thirteen to young womanhood.

Second problem, as time passes there is the continuation of characters, and how they would change as they were affected by the changing history of the times. It was a period of uncertainty in Australia, when there was continulal debate over the decision of whether the separate colonies should join together to form the Federation of Austalia or not – some for, some against. There was also a severe recession in the 1990’s. How would my characters be affected by these problems?

I thought I knew my characters well but when it came to writing scenes I realised there were so many small details to remember, particularly with places and minor characters. How exactly had I described Lady Barron? Craddock?  Harry Osborne? In which hotel in Sydney had Kitty stayed? Minor points perhaps but important enough that I had to return to book one to check.

And with a series there is always the question of how much to explain in the second, and subsequent, books in case people start reading that one first. Each book must really be able to stand alone as well as being read in sequence, but it’s hard to do that without boring those who have read the first book. Finding the balance between these needs is challenging. Each book must have its own plot, its own characters, including some from previous books, and its own changing tensions. But it must still relate to the preceding story and answer the questions left unanswered at the end of that, and to have its own problems unresolved at the end that will be answered in the next book, if you want readers to be waiting for the next of the series.

When ‘A Liberated Woman’ was published last year in paperback ( the ebook will be available on Kindle and Smashwords later this month) I knew it was time to get on with book three, but already I could see that the planned trilogy would not be enough.  There would have to be at least a fourth book if I was to fulfil my original intention.

By now I’ve started keeping a list of characters and other important facts, hoping to overcome some of the problems.  I’m still writing book three of the series, which I hope to publish by the end of this year, but I am already thinking ahead to book four. And will that be enough? Or is this why series keep growing? Only time will tell.



It‘s been said that words are pegs to hang ideas on. But if you’re a writer and you wish your writing to flow, to express your ideas in the best way possible,  then you need to choose the best pegs to showcase your ideas . A writer should think of words as either diamonds or stones. The great writers made sure they included a fair share of diamonds among the stones in their sentences.

By this, I don’t mean to shun the use of common words, but to choose those that evoke an idea in the most effective way, words that have strong connotations. For instance, you might want to describe an old man walking down the street. You say, ‘The old man walked down the street.’ Picture that in your mind’s eye. Then change it to, ‘The old man shuffled down the street.’ Only one word altered, but isn’t it a different picture?

You don’t need to use long words to impress, a good writer chooses simple words full of meaning – strong words. Take Shakespeare’s, ‘the sands are number’d that make up my life’. Simple words – big idea. He knew a thing or two about words.

Sounds can make words sing. Listen to them, let them run through your consciousness.  Beyond the sense of a word is its sound, its spirit. Words strung together to show their melodies, playing off one another, can build like a piece of music, creating a beautiful harmony. If you read a passage that flows easily, pleasing your ear and conveying its message with simplicity, then the writer has achieved his goal – his words will live!

Of course, words are not just written, we speak them all the time. And how you say your words can categorize you, every time you open your mouth.

Take ‘Pygmalion’, later updated and presented as that all-time favourite musical, ‘My Fair Lady’. Who can forget  the shrill tones of the early Eliza Doolittle as she tells her would-be teachers, ‘Eeeeooowww, I washed me ‘ands ‘n face afore I come, I did.’ There’s no mistaking her as the grubby little flower-seller from Covent Garden. However, after Professor Henry Higgins, who intones ‘the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain’ ad nauseam, finishes with her she is taken for a lady – and dubbed a princess.

Such is the power of words!


Writing from the heart

As writers, we’re urged to write from the heart. If we search the innermost corners of our heart, what might we find? What might any of us find? Writing gives us an excuse to go to the deeper, darker parts of our heart, to dig deep and bring out parts that are buried deep. The parts that are kept hidden from everyday life, the parts we never reveal.

Is there anyone who has never done anything they regret, something they’d rather no-one knew, something to keep hidden? Who hasn’t lost someone dearly loved, and felt pain too sharp and intense to bring out and expose to the daylight?

These deepest parts of our hearts are part of life for all of us. Until you experience them you haven’t truly lived.

As writers we have the opportunity to reveal these hidden parts of our hearts under the pretext of imagination. And it’s the knowledge of life we gain from the secrets lurking in the recesses of both heart and mind that add poignancy to a story. Even the most light-hearted tale benefits from a dollop of darkness. Too much sweetness and light is cloying.

Don’t we all love a villain? Don’t we revel in dastardly deeds? In the old-time melodramas the audience were encouraged to cheer the hero and hiss the villain. And they loved it! Don’t we all love a sad story? “It was wonderful – I cried all the way through it!”  That used to be the catch-cry for the old sob-story movies.  Is today’s reader so much different from those old-time audiences?

It’s the interplay of light and shadow that creates a story. And the blacker the shadow, the more intriguing the story. But that darkness must be real, it must come from the heart, because readers aren’t easily fooled. They can tell the real deal.

Are we all willing to bring out those buried secrets and expose them to the light of day? Or is that perhaps why we love to write – the opportunity to reveal so much of ourselves under the guise of fiction?

So you want to write?

You want to write? That’s wonderful! For me, there are few activities that can bring as much pleasure and reward as finishing a piece of writing, reading it, and thinking ‘Well, that’s not bad.’ But the absolute pinnacle of satisfaction comes when you have your first piece of work published and see it in print for the first time. What a glorious feeling!

However, between first making the decision that now is the time to start writing in earnest, and having your first piece published, there is a wide gulf of effort on your part.You’re actually going to have do a lot more work.

Perhaps, like me, you don’t come to writing until later in life, maybe you never had the time until you retired. Well then, you’re going to have to learn a lot in a short time.

Or maybe you’re still young. In this case you have many years ahead of you to learn your craft and hone your skills. But you will have the impatience of youth and want it all to happen now.

Maybe you come somewhere in between?

Whatever age you come to writing you have a lot to learn. It has been said that writing, and finishing, a piece of work is one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration. Believe me, this is true! No matter how brilliant the idea you have for your first story, you must be prepared to put in many hours at the computer, first completing and then polishing and re-polishing your work before it’s ready to submit to a publisher. It can be a long journey, and you will need bucket loads of persistence.

There are many steps along the way, and the first of these is the plot, the framework on which every story hangs.

Every story begins with an idea in the writer’s mind. You need to think about your idea and flesh it out as much as you can before you start writing. Do you have an idea for a complete story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end? Perhaps you don’t have the whole story in your head to start with, you probably have an idea that you believe you can develop into a good story.

There are basically two types of writers; plotters and pantsers.

Plotters are those who sit down and plot the whole story piece by piece, until they reach a satisfactory conclusion. Plotters prefer a well-structured outline and fully developed characters before they start the actual writing process. With that in place the plotter has the base on which to create and flesh out the story without worrying about what comes next.

Pantsers are those who ‘fly by the seat of their pants’. (That’s me. I think we have a lot more fun, but then maybe I’m prejudiced!). They start with an idea and, at the very least, the main character, and begin to write, but they don’t really know where it’s going to take them. The rest of the story comes to them as they write, often directly from the characters themselves. Pantsers play the ‘what if’ game but it helps if you can at least know how the story is going to end, so that you have an idea of where you’re heading.

Neither of these ways is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. All will end up in the same place – at THE END. It’s the journey that’s different.

Whichever way you choose the most important thing is to find the writing process that works best for you. Perhaps you’ll use a bit of both.

Whichever way you write, the beginning of your story must hook your reader into wanting to read on. You have a very short time to do this. If the reader isn’t ‘hooked’ in the first two or three paragraphs, or at least the first page, you may well lose them. Get something happening immediately. Establish a threat or worry or story question at once.

You could start your story with a minor problem, or a turning point in your main character’s life that ‘hooks’ the reader. You don’t usually start your story with the major crisis, you usually build up to that as time goes by, but you do introduce conflict in the form of a problem.

As time passes and the story moves on you make the problem bigger or you solve it but create another problem as a result of solving it.

As the story progresses you add more problems, revealing something else, leading into another predicament.

Then you come to the ‘dark moment’ when it looks as if all is lost. Finally the characters overcome the problems and the story reaches a happy or at least a satisfactory ending.

You have now completed the first stage of your journey! Keep going!


Ideas or Characters. Which is most important to writing?

Idea or Character, which is most important?

Where do you find your ideas? As a writer I’m often asked this question, and the answer has to be -from life. Not necessarily from my own life, of course, although, it’s these experiences that shape my outlook on life, that help to create my beliefs.  An idea can come from a news item, a chance remark overheard in a public place or even just by looking at someone and wondering about them and maybe imagining a life for them. Yes, ideas are all around us, just waiting to insinuate themselves into the mind.

Then come the characters. This is the thrilling part of writing – to create a character from the fabric of your own imagination, to give him(or her) a life, a personality, strengths and weaknesses; to mould him to whatever you want, good or bad, honest or truthful, cruel or caring. It’s all up to you! He/She can be pretty or ugly, dark or fair, short or tall, bitchy or sweet, manly or a wimp; it’s all up to you, your chance to play God! What power! It’s no wonder we writers become addicted to writing.

But the strange thing is that if you’ve created them well enough, your characters become real, and they end up dictating to you. They often take the story where they want to go. Forget your own pre-conceived ideas, if that’s what they want, you ignore them at your peril!

And often you find them intruding into your own life. They can make you feel guilty if you haven’t written about them for a while. I often find that one of my strongest characters, Kitty, who is the main character in An Independent Woman, the first book in the Redwoods series, forces herself onto my attention. When I conceived the idea for this series, I planned to write three books, each one written about the daughter in each generation, beginning in the late nineteenth century and finishing mid-twentieth century. I planned their stories to reflect the changing attitudes to women over those years, as women gradually gained more independence. But when I finished the first book there was no way Kitty was going to let me put her to bed. No, she still wanted to be #1. And so she is still a dominant character in the second book, A Liberated Woman, alongside her daughter Joy.

Now that I’m working on the third book n the series, I decided it was time to move on and leave her behind. But she doesn’t agree. She has even infiltrated my dreams. Believe it or not, I dreamed of her last night. I was standing outside a room with a closed door, and inside that room someone was hammering on the door. “Let me out, let me out,” a woman’s voice was calling through the door. “You can’t keep me locked up in here.” It was Kitty. Believe me!

So what am I to do? I suppose I’ll have to let her have her way, and put her in this book too!


Time to write?

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to sit down and write without having the interruptions of running a home! There never seems to be the amount of time you want for writing, so often something else crops up that needs immediate attention – like the baby crying, or the cat jumping up on the table and knocking over your coffee, or the washing machine beeping to remind you the clothes need hanging out . Or maybe it’s time to go and pick up the kids from school.  All things  needing immediate attention. Ignore them at your peril!

I bet when Somerset Maugham was writing his Tales of the South Seas he never had to leave his writing to do the laundry. I can just see him sitting at a table in some little bar in some little island, coconut palms waving gently in the breeze outside, a glass of whiskey at his elbow, as he scribbled away in his notebook.  And he probably had fresh clothes laid out for him daily by a  South Seas Island laundry-maid. And when Ernest Hemingway pounded away on his Corona#3 typewriter, writing his masterpieces, I bet he didn’t have to stop to go and prepare dinner.

Oh for a house-husband!

I read that JK Rowling said she did no housework for a year. How did she get away with it? Never cleaned the bathroom? Ate out every night? They all wore the same clothes for a year? Or did she just have a wonderful old-fashioned housekeeper? Sigh!

I never seem to have enough time for my writing. How do you manage? All suggestions welcome!