Tips for Better Writing, Part 1

In one week’s time, my first poetry anthology will be published by Inspired Quill, and to celebrate, I’m going to be bringing you a post every other day right up to publication day! Aren’t you lucky? Actually, it’s me who’s very lucky and I want to quickly take the opportunity to thank everyone who has supported my writing up to this point, in person or here on the net. Thank you all.

Leaving aside the gushing, I’m going to be talking today about a few techniques of writing that have served me well over the last few years. I’m not an expert by any means, but people do occasionally ask me for help, so here’s what I tell them. Or part one, anyway. You’ll have to wait for part two. Don’t be greedy.

1. Get an idea.

Seems like an obvious one, right? Well, wrong. It is obvious that you have to have an idea to actually produce anything worthwhile, but I’m not talking about just any old idea. Oh no, sir. I mean get yourself an idea that you can sustain. Whether it’s a play or a novel, you’re going to have to live with this idea in your head for a long time and you’re going to need to stay motivated to write about it, think about it, write it and talk about it to people you know (and maybe to editors and publishers later on in the game). So, if you’ve got an idea that you’re not really that interested in telling, then there’s no point in starting. Now, that’s not to say that an idea that isn’t feasible now can’t be hammered into shape. Just remember, it can be a long haul and you don’t want to be dragging an idea that just doesn’t budge. Capice?

2. Show, not tell

One of the first things I tell novices who ask me to read over their pieces or want advice on how to write is this simple nugget. Show, not tell. The audience is hopefully intelligent enough to go along with things and to infer from context, otherwise they’d not be picking up your book or watching your play in the first place. Reward them. Don’t insult their intelligence by telling them every single snippet of information about a character or pointing everything out. Let them come to the ideas and work it out for themselves. For example, it sounds odd to have someone say “I think he gives presents to all the legal secretaries at his legal secretary office”, even if you want people to know the character’s a legal secretary. Find another way to show this, rather than telling the audience. Of course, this is easier in a novel than in a play, because in a novel you can give the setting much more easily and describe your characters. In a play, you’ve got dialogue and stage directions, so show, not tell, becomes harder. Work at it and your writing will be better for it.

3. Listen and Learn

One of the things that kills plays and books is having people speak unnaturally. Very few people communicate in exceptionally grammatically correct, properly written English (or any other language for that matter!). Don’t have characters do it. The easiest way to learn how to make your characters speak is to listen to people speak. Listen in bus stations, cafés, libraries, pubs, and even in the street. Just as observation can give an actor ideas for how to present certain characters, so too it can give the author ways of presenting dialogue. How do people speak with each other? How does it differ when they speak to their parents, or their boss, or their lover? All these are important, and the more you listen, the better you’ll get at writing it.

Well, that’s the first three tips, and you’ll have to wait until part two for the rest. In the meantime, happy writing!

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  1. […] to see you all back here. In part one of Tips for Better Writing, I talked about getting an idea that you are interested in and is […]

  2. […] Pinter, in which case most of the play is varying lengths of pauses). I’ve talked about this before, but characters must talk how people would talk in real life (unless they’re deliberately […]



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