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Tuesday 8 September 2015

Writing – research – Writing Magazine

It often surprises me that beginning writers fail to master the basics of writing fiction.

Their enthusiasm for storytelling cannot be faulted. But really they should study published books to see ‘how it’s done’ before sending off any manuscript.

A long time ago – last century – when I was about fifteen, I did just that: I analysed published books (those in my own library and those borrowed from the public library) within my favourite genre.

·       How did the author begin the story?

·       How did the author end a chapter?

·       How long are the paragraphs?

·       What percentage of the book is dialogue as opposed to description?

·       What was the average length of the books?

·       How did the author convey suspense?

·       How did the author create exciting scenes?

… and so on.

Naturally, there was no intention of slavishly copying any particular author. But while analysing I was absorbing, almost like osmosis, the form and style of a typical thriller.

I spent time on the analysis.

In those days, there were very few ‘how to’ books on writing fiction, genre or any other type.

I did sign up for a writing correspondence course, which helped me successfully aim articles and short stories at particular markets. Additionally, by dint of writing a lot for this course’s targets and assignments, I improved my style and output. Sales didn’t happen overnight, but they started and after a while became quite regular.

That was then. Now, the budding writer is blessed with more than enough advice and guidance, whether from blogs, books, or magazines. So there is little excuse for any aspiring writer getting the basics wrong.

‘My writing will appeal no matter what form I deliver it in.’

‘I’m an original, I won’t conform.’

‘I don’t want to write in a straitjacket.’

‘Talent can’t be smothered by rules!’

‘Rules are meant to be broken.’

I’ve heard it all. Any excuse not to conform shouts out something: maybe he’s a tyro, perhaps she’s just arrogant or most likely they’re purely lazy.  

Time and again I and others spell it out: if you can’t be bothered to follow the guidelines – whether that’s for a writing competition or a publisher or an editor – then why should they bother with your submission? Yes, they may be at risk of losing something remarkable (though in need of judicious editing), but they can live with that; there are sufficient writers with talent who deliver as required.

This brings me on to sources of writing guidance.

There are two main writing magazines in the UK – Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine.
Today, I’ll look at the latter.

Writing Magazine
For the cost of £4.10 per month (less if you subscribe), you get a 108-page full-colour magazine full of advice, markets, competitions, and advice, poetry, encouragement, and advice. (The repetition is deliberate). With the October issue there is also a 28-page special supplement listing national and international writing competitions, prizes adding up to £391,205 – not that any single person would be able to enter all of them!

There are articles about 'finding your voice', improving your humorous writing, a Rosie Thomas interview, moving to Windows 10, beating self-doubt as a writer, an author profile of David Nicholls, editing tips, short story and poetry winning entries, competition tips, creating characters, children's stories, news on competitions and events, and a regular back page column from Lorraine Mace, a successful Crooked Cat crime author.

If you’re writing genre fiction, then you could always read my Write a Western in 30 Days – with plenty of bullet points! I know; you’ve no intention of writing a western! Much of the book is applicable to any genre fiction writing – as reviewers have been good enough to point out. I used the western as it is a shorter book form to illustrate various aspects of writing – dialogue, characterisation, flora and fauna, conflict etc.
Or search Amazon or other online bookstores for ‘writing guides’ or even Google the same – and get swamped with useful tips.

The main thing is, do that research so you improve your chances of selling your work.

Good luck.

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