The mass media vs. the writer’s brain

At the beginning of 2020, I decided that I would stop reading the news. It was one of my goals. Instead I would read books. My decision was prompted by the realisation that knowing the news each day did not contribute to my wellbeing in any way. It wasted valuable time I could be writing or reading. And if we’re honest with ourselves, the news is mostly sensationalist crap!

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Omissions, fibs and outright fantasy

Unless a fairy doomed you from birth to only tell the truth (like Tomas in Power of a Princess) you are a constant liar. Just like me and everyone else in the world. The interesting thing about lies is that most of us think we are honest—we underestimate how often we lie to protect our self-esteem. This means that your characters need to be liars too. But just like us, our characters always lie for a reason. And just like us, they often don’t realise they’re doing it!

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Psychology and realism

I once had a friend who decided he was going to change careers. He dreamed of abandoning his spreadsheets to become a psychiatrist. He couldn’t see anything more worthwhile in life than discovering the inner workings of humans. I agreed. But gee, it takes around 11 years to get qualified. Sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? Crazy decision (pun intended).

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Introspective reverse engineering

My current WIP is a novel rewrite with some specific goals in mind. The primary issue to fix is a distinct lack of introspection. This has completely thrown out the pacing which unfortunately means the suspense is not as, well, suspenseful as it might be.

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Wounds of character

One of my favourite paintings is David with the Head of Goliath by Caravaggio. The picture to the left does not do the painting justice. In person, it is incredible. But paintings like this can teach us a lot as writers as they are a moment in time after a lifetime of backstory. And a moment in time is exactly where we find our protagonist.

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Taking the cliché out of Pavlov

The writer’s competitor is no longer other writers. It is social media. The poorly written opinions on Reddit can hook a reader quicker than the first five sentences of your carefully written literary fiction.

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When truth is too strange for fiction

Mark Twain’s words “the truth is stranger than fiction” have become a cliché because they are accurate. As fiction writers, we get to experience this in real time: the first reader or editor comments, “that just wasn’t believable”; yet you had stolen it from a real life experience. This played out for me when I read a recent interview.

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Making the unlikeable acceptable

I remember a tutor, a long time ago, used the example of Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets to prove his point that a protagonist does not have to be likeable. It’s a good example because if I ran into Melvin Udall in my daily life, I would change course immediately. Despite his excellent points, to date all of my protagonists are likeable, or at the very least, sympathetic.

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Fool-proofing your writing goals

The start of a new year is a natural time to reflect on the past 12 months and set goals and priorities for the year ahead. We all start with good intentions, often involving gym memberships, diets and projects to complete. But as the year progresses, even the most realistic goals can run up against, well, life. How can you make sure you meet your writing goals this year?

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