Tag Archives: writing tips

Can you picture it?


Yes. But, can you hear it, touch it, taste it and smell it…?

It’s one of the biggest difficulties I’ve found in learning to write a book: slowing myself down in sharing the story, so that the reader can really come into the scene and be a part of everything that’s happening. We’re always being told to ‘show,  not tell’, aren’t we?

Even now I find it tricky to get this right. No one in the real world goes into every new room and smells it, touches and looks at every tiny detail – if they did, they wouldn’t venture very far in life! A lot of these things happen automatically and unconsciously – you wouldn’t want your characters to behave unrealistically and wander through every scene like Sherlock Holmes (well, unless they are a Sherlock Holmes-esque character I suppose). But, at the same time, there has to be depth, texture and realism in the worlds you build inside your books – otherwise they are a very empty place for your characters to exist.

In general, I tend to find that when I’m writing, I see the scenes like moments in a movie: I get the dialogue and the action sequences, the overall arch of the story and then I fill in the rest. Sometimes, I naturally must be working through a scene more slowly the first time I write, as the character will pick up some of these sensory textures and I don’t even remember writing them. Other times, when I’m doing a final edit, I’ll find myself with the questions on a jotter next to me, to remind myself: what does it smell like, what does the food taste like, how do things feel against the skin of my characters?

It doesn’t have to be every paragraph or even every page I don’t think, just a dash here, some detail there. A little like the camera zooming into close up on my scene for a few seconds, before expanding to a wider shot where the main action happens. I suppose I think of these elements like seasoning: some passages need strong flavours – lots of herbs and spices – to bring it to life; others need very little because the dialogue and action gives you everything you need. Over seasoning your writing would be as bad as it being too bland.

If you’re looking for more tips on ways to ‘season’ your writing, there’s a couple of good articles here for you to delve into:

Use All Five Senses to Enrich Your Writing

The Write Practice – Unlocking Your Senses



Tony’s Writing Tips: Show-not-tell with dialogue

Re-blogging my author friend Tony Talbot today – with a great post from him on show-not-tell in dialogue. He does some really good writing technique posts, like this, which you can find on the author blog we share at http://www.asidefromwriting.com or his own author blog: http://www.tony-talbot.co.uk/ – check him out and follow, if you’d like to see more of the same 🙂


One of the things they always tell writers to do is show and not tell. “Don’t Tell Me the Moon Is Shining; Show Me the Glint of Light on Broken Glass” to paraphrase playwright Anton Chekov. Chekov was talking about describing the world, but here’s another way you can use that show-not-tell: to describe your characters using only their dialogue and body language.

It’s certainly one of my favourite ways of doing it. Here are some snips from my own Eight Mile Island:

Mum comes out onto the deck from the cabin behind me and weaves along it towards me. …


I ignore her for a minute, pretending not to hear my name until she says it louder. I turn from the waves and face her. “What?”

“You’ve got to come inside. You’ll be washed away.”


“Please, Dylan. Don’t start. Not today.”

And these are the first…

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He said, she said

Whilst I’m in the middle of typing up a storm to hit a decent word count today, I thought I’d share a couple of good posts I’ve come across from Justin McLachlan, that may be of interest to those of you who are also NaNo-ing this November, as they have some pretty good tips for writing and pitfalls to avoid.


In the ‘Common Writing Mistakes’ blog post (link below) Justin takes you through some of the easy traps that you can fall into. http://www.justinmclachlan.com/804/common-writing-mistakes/

I know I definitely fell head first into the ‘he said, she said’ one, when I wrote my first book. It’s true, you do feel sometimes like it can’t just be ‘said’; ‘said’ is boring and easy and….simple. But sighing, grunting, chortling, exclaiming and screeching your way through the dialogue of your novel can be exhausting for the reader – I know because a couple of reviewers mentioned it! These days, I find it much easier to write ‘natural’ dialogue, I suppose with some practice your style and writing patterns that you employ can moderate and change. My dialogue today often misses out ‘said’ as much as it includes it, with conversations happening around physical action (the showing not telling thing is another area I know I need to keep working at!) Now and again I will throw in an adverb or exclaimation…but nowhere near as frequently as they used to happen 🙂

Justin has a second post, that takes you into more detail on the ‘said’ debate. If you’re interested in reading more on that you can see the post here: http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1214/stay-away-dialogue-tags-list/?relatedposts_hit=1&relatedposts_origin=804&relatedposts_position=1

The other pitfall from the list that I know I fell into, but try to steer away from these days (or catch during editing!), is overkill on adjectives and adverbs… Unless you were born a great writer (and Hemingway had something to say on that…) I think this is one of the easiest ones to fall into, when you begin writing. You may be well-educated, know lots of words and synonyms, a prolific reader…that doesn’t mean that you know how to write and describe the world of your book in a way that is engaging to someone else. I’d written a number of short stories, scenes and two full novels, before I completed and released Hope’s Daughter. I learned things from each one: how not to put all of the information that’s in your head into chapter 1; how to create a story arc; pacing…. When I released Hope’s Daughter I was able to learn more, because I started getting feedback from people about the book – there have been a number of reviews that have helped me improve and adapt my style, by pointing out things that were issues or flaws for them as a reader.

When you’re writing independently, you might be lucky enough to have some friends or writing buddies that will beta read your work…but there’s no to say, “cut this scene”, “don’t write like this”, “argh! I hate your main character!” as a conventional editor might do. In a way, you kind of have to gamble, because to get the best feedback, you have to put your work out there. Not every review will be helpful, but I know that just taking things on board, considering if you could improve what you’d done was a great benefit of publishing my book and getting feedback from readers. If people read it and like it, or love it, then great! You’re definitely doing something right…and use the other stuff people don’t get to help you refine and improve!

Ok – post over, I have to get some more writing done! But, hopefully with some new tips and some motivation, you too can shoot off today and get on with something creative 🙂 Good luck!


 “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way” ― Hemingway