Category Archives: Writing Advice

The Modern Rap Fan’s Guide to Rhyming

I have a minor obsession with poetic techniques, rhyme schemes and suchlike. I also love wordplay. This gives me a whole new level of joy when listening to rap music. I’m always like, ‘Fierce internal rhymes’ and ‘Did you hear the enjambment on that?!’ The fun never ends in my house. This is my quick guide to poetic techniques that are in vogue in the educational medium we call hip hop music. You’re welcome. drake

  1. The Drake: Actually reputedly invented by Big Sean (who is actually medium sized for an adult human), the technique is to throw something on the end to be the rhyming word or phrase – a word that isn’t integrated into the previous sentence. See ‘Forever‘:
    She insists she got more class, we know
    Swimming in the money, come and find me, Nemo
    This makes every line a punchline; it can be witty, irreverent, and is a good way to slip in a topical reference (perhaps to a clown-fish-based Disney film).  Kanye-Creative-Genius
  2. The Kanye: The key is to find as many words as possible that rhyme with your own name and insert them as end rhymes in an A-A rhyme scheme. See ‘Famous‘:
    For all the girls that got d*** from Kanye West
    If you see ’em in the streets give ’em Kanye’s best
    Well I’m Kanye impressed. This technique is self-referential, perhaps self-mocking, and a way to marry braggadocio and punning in a meta society. Also, it’s an entertaining way to practise rhyming – look up your own name in a rhyming dictionary and go to town.
    Gambino
  3. The Gambino: This chap did not invent the rhetorical question; he’s not even the most famous proponent e.g. What’s a goon to a goblin? or Can I get an encore? However he often combines the rhetorical question with anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses, to have a cumulative, powerful effect: See ‘Heartbeat‘:
    Are we dating? Are we f****ing?
    Are we best friends? Are we something…
    See also ‘Bonfire‘:
    You want to see my girl? I ain’t that dumb.
    You want to see
    my girl? Check Maxim.
    And ‘III. Telegraph Ave.‘: 
    Can we just roll with the feeling?
    Can we just roll for a minute?
    Choose a start to a question then vary the ending to have a hectoring, bold effect.
    nicki-minaj-whats-good_nu0iffukzj1qzwh14o1_500
  4. The Minaj: Go full meta and just announce what rhyming couplet you’re aiming for and hope the populous are happy to go along with it. See ‘Only‘:
    My man full, he just ate, I don’t duck nobody but tape
    Yeah, that was a set up for a punchline on duct tape
    She’s actually great at assonance (no pun intended), consonance and internal rhymes, but her ‘I’m going to include something about this because it rhymes with this’ speaks to what we all know poetry really is.
    kendrick
  5. The Kendrick: Mix every linguistic technique with extraordinary realism, conscience and a bit of free jazz and be king of everything.

Of course these clever souls use a vast array of techniques; I’ve just picked out a few that I think you should all try to employ in the rhymes (or poems or novels) you’re secretly writing in your bedrooms. You know who you are.

Are there any other rap or poetic techniques that are tickling your brainboxes at the moment? Share please!

 

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Thirteen Thoughts On Dialogue

Readers love dialogue, or so I’ve read; apparently the white space is less daunting than solid paragraphs. In your novel make sure dialogue is achieving something – plot or character development. The dream is to create a level of naturalism.

  1. frozenInclude interruptions and partial sentences. In real life people often tail off, or leave the other person to fill in the end of their sentence.
  2. Think about how each of your characters would speak.
  3. People’s vocabularies vary with up-bringing, situation, where they live or have lived, level of education etc. Give your characters different vocabularies, though avoid stereotyping.
  4. Related to this, it is worth considering whether they would use different colloquialisms, sayings, cultural references or slang. Evan Kingston is excellent at this.
  5. To create pace with your dialogue and to reflect stress in the characters keep it short and sharp. To create more intrigue and drag things out use longer exchanges.
  6. Sadness or anxiety can be expressed by someone stammering or falling over their words, not quite knowing what to say.
  7. Dialogue is as much about what characters don’t say as what they do. Subtext and mystery will keep your readers intrigued.
  8. Avoid expository dialogue: the dreaded ‘info-dump’. Never let one character lecture another with information just because you want your audience to know it. Make it an exchange of questions and answers. Leave things unsaid or imply them.
  9. Make sure your characters don’t stop or sit down to have conversations. In real life conversation happens while people are doing other things. Please don’t have dialogue meetings.
  10. Use adverbs sparingly when you’re not using tone or accompanying actions to show mood.
  11. To check whether your dialogue flows like real human conversation, read it out loud. Get your friends to join in and make an evening of it. If it doesn’t sound like you intend it to coming from your volunteer thespians, then it probably won’t read right either.
  12. Dialogue should be realistic, but as with everything in novels, it can be more exciting, quicker, wittier and more convenient than real life.
  13. funny-english-men-drinking-teaRelated to the above, do start chapters or sections in the middle of conversations. The start can be dreadfully dull. If books were real life we’d be twelve pages in and still only have established that everyone is fine, weather is happening, and we’d all love a cup of tea, if it’s not too much trouble.

Do you have any further thoughts on dialogue? I would love to see them in the comments. Please do like or share if this has been of any use to you.

If you’d like to have a dialogue with me, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

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Description – Don’t Leave it Too Late

Or, Avoiding the Longbottom Paradox

Readers who are invested in your story will begin to imagine the people and the places in it. This is what we want: for them to care about what you’ve created like it’s real. This means that, consciously or not, the reader is creating a picture in their minds. By adding detail too late on you can disrupt their absorption in your world by contradicting their image of it.

For example, if you want the reader to know that the character has an extraordinarily deep voice, or a strong accent, tell us that when they begin speaking. If you only share that after a significant portion of dialogue, the reader may feel as if they have been reading it wrong. Get your essential description in early to avoid reader upset.

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher: always cut off at the knees so you can't see he's standing on a box.

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher: always cut off at the knees so you can’t see he’s standing on a box.

It’s the same feeling you get when a film adaptation of a book comes out and the characters look nothing like how the source material describes them. Think of 6’5″ Jack Reacher being played by Tom Cruise. A brief Internet skim reveals that the opinionated masses believe that compared to the books, film Jane Eyre is too pretty; Katniss is too fair-skinned; Neville Longbottom looks too much like a young Clive Owen; and Tyrion Lannister is far too sexy for his (leather) shirt.

It’s fine for the reader to guess details that you don’t mention at all, it’s just when new information is introduced later that it can be annoying. 

That said, you are allowed  to surprise the reader on purpose, for example: ‘Betty swore internally at her alarm clock each morning, dreading another day of work. It was Monday and rain clattered into her windows. She dove further under the duvet; it was dreadfully cold. Well, no one can afford to heat draughty old buildings anymore. Eventually, the sound of her beloved dogs yapping inspired her to drag her weary legs out of bed. I suppose one must persevere, she thought, one is the Queen of England after all.’

What do you think? Has this ever happened to you when you’ve been reading?

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What Libraries Can Do For Authors

I wholeheartedly agree with Jorge Luis Borges: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

Libraries are an asset to every community, and particularly to writers. The following facts apply to British libraries; services may vary elsewhere.

In terms of research, the library is invaluable. Did you know that you can order any book from any other library and have it delivered to your local branch? This includes The British Library‘s excellent stock. Most libraries also have links to local history centres; helpful library staff will be able to guide you to the right resources. 

Members can also use the Internet for free in most areas and take advantage of the many subscription services the library is signed up to. In my local area these include: Encyclopaedia Britannica; Gale Vault (an archive of newspapers from the 1700s to the present, including the full Times archive); and The John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library.

LibraryGrantSnider

Image by Grant Snider

Once your beautifully researched masterpiece is completed, the library can help you with promotions. Most will happily run author events: you can do a reading, a Q&A and/or an interactive session. Local authors are particularly welcome. I’ve been to a few and they’ve always been very well attended. The staff will usually help you to sell copies at that event too (especially if you donate one to the library)! If you do give a copy to the library you will also be paid every time your book is borrowed.

The library: an invaluable research resource; a promotional venue; a way to reach more readers. Every author should use their local library to its full advantage.

What experiences have you had with your local library? Have you held an author event? I’d love to know! Tell me in the comments.

If you’ve found this useful, please do like and share.

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Naming Characters: Make it Easy for Yourself and Your Readers

Anna Karenina - only dates men called Alexei.

Anna Karenina – only dates men called Alexei.

When naming your characters, there are simple ways to make life easier for you and your readers.

  1. Ideally, each character name should start with a different letter of the alphabet. I’ve seen manuscripts where writers have mistyped one similar name rather than the other. Also, a lot of readers don’t read the whole word every time, so an ‘Alice’ and an ‘Abbie’ can easily be confused. This can cause readers to miss or misunderstand details of the plot. I am of the opinion that Tolstoy’s work would be much easier to follow if he hadn’t named every third character ‘Alexei’.
  2. Choose character names that only have one spelling. It’s very easy for you as a writer to put down a manuscript for a while, come back to it and start typing ‘Anne’ rather than ‘Ann’.
  3. Uriah Heep never quite forgave his mum for that name.

    Uriah Heep never quite forgave his mum for that name.

    The same goes for last names. Be particularly wary of double letters; they’re harder to see on a read through. ‘Barrat’ and ‘Baratt’, for example, look very similar when skimming.

  4. Choose something that is easy to pronounce. Anything perplexing will put off a reader if they have to struggle through it each time it appears. This doesn’t mean it has to be a well-known name; you can make it up completely just as long as it follows standard phonetic rules. That is, every reader will ‘guess’ the pronunciation in the same way; ‘Bilbo Baggins’ would be an example of this.
  5. You can use your names to give the reader some indication of their characterisation. You don’t have to go the full Dickens and use very literal names (‘Uriah Heep’ and ‘Mr Sharp’ are very clearly antagonists in David Copperfield); consider Austen’s ‘Marianne Dashwood’: the name hints at her flighty, skittish tendencies.

Of course, the mistyping issues can be solved by a careful proofreader. Your character choice should primarily be based on what you want to call them and what you feel suits them, but do think of your reader too. 

voldemort-name-pronounce

How did you choose your character names? 

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Advice for Students: How to Write Your First University Essay

Eve Proofreads

Whether you’re coming to it from A Levels or the world of work, writing your first academic essay is a daunting task. The first thing to do is choose a topic, ideally a few weeks before the deadline so you have time to really think about it and avoid a last-minute panic! Make sure you go for something that interests you, ideally something that you attended the lecture and seminars on. The more you like a subject, the less of a chore the work will feel; you’ll spend more time on it and get a better result.

 It’s absolutely fine to start by reading a basic text book and online encyclopaedia articles to get an idea of the topic, but make sure you use serious, academic texts when in comes to referencing.

 The rule for referencing is if you are stating a fact or the opinion of another person, rather…

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Confessions of a Closet Groover

Today, dear reader, I’m going to tell you the secret of my (moderate) success. robot-dance-contest I’m not one to blow my own brass section, but I think I’m pretty OK at writing things. I got firsts in my dissertations and I have an ebook that sells relatively well (it’s half off at the moment – if you’re interested!). To get those results takes many hours of dedicated keyboard tapping. It can be really difficult to sit at a computer, focus and just keep typing interesting matter. The brain simply can’t deal with that level of constant concentration; that’s why I needed something else to do, for just a couple of minutes each hour: something completely different to free my thoughts, rest my eyes and avoid some sort of nasty repetitive strain issue. This is my secret weapon: The Three Minute Dance Break

"Guys? I thought you said you were all going to join in... well this is embarrassing.'

“Guys? I thought you said you were all going to join in… well this is embarrassing.’

Seriously, it works. For just three minutes every hour, stand up, do something that vaguely resembles a stretch you once saw someone do in a Fame parody, press play on your audio equipment and have a proper dance about. It relaxes your muscles, gives you a good stretch, stops you getting square eyes and allows your brain a rest ready for a new burst of creativity. This is probably best applied in the relative privacy of your own home; though come to think of it, in any library the people around will just assume that you’re the starting point of a Harlem Shake and feel obliged to disrobe atop the furniture to join in.

I know not everyone likes to freestyle so here’s my literary dancing suggestion: Dance like a mystery writer –  put in a twist at the end! 

It can be glorious for giving your brain the space to come up with new ideas – a great cure for writer’s block! For more well thought out tips on writer’s block, click here.

What do you think of The Three Minute Dance Break? Give it a try! I hear all the writers are doing it! 

If you enjoyed this, please like or share!  

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A Good Opening Line Can Make all the Difference

Last week I opened a book and the first line was so thoroughly uninspiring that I gave a small incredulous yell and immediately closed it, forever. That line was, ‘It was Thursday and I was making soup.’ Congratulations, author who shall remain nameless, with those eight unbelievably dull short words you have put me off what may well be an excellent story. I realise this may just be my opinion, but in a ranking of days and foods, I’m pretty sure ‘Thursdays’ and ‘soup’ are the dullest. There is in fact a competition for the worst opening lines that has some fantastic examples of awfulness; a winner used the imaginatively terrible ‘He swaggered into the room with a certain Wikipedic insouciance‘.

1984The opening line of any piece of writing really matters. It is your first impression and it needs to be good. What do you want people to know about your book? A lot can be established in one line. For example, 1984 begins: ‘It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ George Orwell instantly demonstrates that we are in an alternate future where things are fundamentally reordered.

Establishing theme is a common factor in many of the most famous opening lines. Sweeping statements in the author’s voice are often best remembered: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ With parallel phrasing and a lovely contrast, Charles Dickens immediately introduces social dichotomy as a central subject of A Tale of Two Cities.  A universal declaration is also used by Tolstoy to begin Anna Karenina: ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ The reader infers that what follows will be a personal drama with much pain and unhappiness.

Imperatives work well to start things off; they draw the reader directly into the action. Consider this from Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy: ‘“You will marry the boy I choose,” said Mrs Rupa Mehra firmly to her younger daughter.’ The mother’s attempt to find her daughter a suitable boy to marry is the core of the story. The conflict over this is also confirmed by the use of the adverb. Using dialogue to begin can pull the reader straight into the characters’ relationships. First person can have the same impact: ‘Call me Ishmael’ works as a simple, iconic imperative in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Beginning at the end is a device often employed. Daphne du Maurier’s rebeccaRebecca begins: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ Using a dream perfectly expresses the significance of this place; the evenness of the syllables gives it a rhythm. We are also told that the book will be an open and deeply personal recollection.  

A real favourite is from Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: ‘The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This made a lot of people very angry and has widely been regarded as a bad move.’ This always gives me a laugh. The first line should prompt an immediate reaction from the reader, whether it’s amusement, interest, excitement, recognition or empathy. Don’t just start to tell the story; tell the reader something about the story.  

What do you think makes a good opening line? What’s your favourite? I’d love to know! Comment below and please do like and share! 

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Don’t Panic! Just Choose Your Words Carefully

“Pick your words with care” Ford Prefect warns Zaphod Beeblebrox in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I  think that’s great advice for all writers. When you’re writing, it can be very easy to lose yourself in your fantastic plot. Your characters take on a life of their own and you’reGuide away, giving a narrative account of the thrilling happenings in their lives. Unfortunately, this can mean that word choice suffers. In the best works of literature, every word is working hard to create a precise image, an exact impression on the reader. Chilean author Isabel Allende meticulously goes through every word of English translations of her novels, making sure that they are true to her original meaning.

One of the worst consequences of failure to focus on word choice is repetition. Repeated words indicate a lack of craft to the reader; they can infer a lack of originality. ‘Said’ is a regular issue. The word ‘said’ is, in fact, saying very little. Usually the preceding or following text is in speech marks, so the reader is already fully aware that it is being ‘said’ so tell them something they don’t know! What is that character’s tone or expression? How has what they’ve shared affected the atmosphere? Consider this example from Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

“Fiscal policy. . .” he repeated, “that is what I said.”
“How can you have money,” demanded Ford, “if none of you actually produces anything? It doesn’t grow on trees you know.”
“If you would allow me to continue.. .”
Ford nodded dejectedly.
“Thank you. Since we decided a few weeks ago to adopt the leaf as legal tender, we have, of course, all become immensely rich.”
Ford stared in disbelief at the crowd who were murmuring appreciatively at this and greedily fingering the wads of leaves with which their track suits were stuffed.
“But we have also,” continued the management consultant, “run into a small inflation problem on account of the high level of leaf availability, which means that, I gather, the current going rate has something like three deciduous forests buying one ship’s peanut.”
Murmurs of alarm came from the crowd. The management consultant waved them down.

towel

Choosing different verbs and describing reactions can give vigour and immediacy to a text. Verb choice is worth getting right and can do a great deal for characterisation and mood. Try to think exactly how your characters each walk, talk and move – what habits do they have? We can tell a lot about the impetuous and larger than life character that is Zaphod Beeblebrox  from the verbs Adams uses to describe his speech: spat, demanded, muttered, seethed, bawled. These all appear on one double page. Compare this to the nervy Arthur Dent: gibbered, asked, whispered, protested, goggled. 

If you see a word repeated often in your text, particularly close together, the first thing to do is reach for the thesaurus. Every writer should have a quality thesaurus. Looking up ‘synonyms’ on Word is okay, but a  thesaurus will provide a more thorough list and give options categorised under multiple possible meanings. A good edition will also provide a sentence for context of trickier words. If you’re considering using a word that you’re not completely familiar with, check it in a dictionary to make sure it means exactly what you intend it to. Every writer should also have a quality dictionary.

A varied vocabulary gives you greater nuance of meaning, enriching your writing to give the reader a more enjoyable and entertaining experience. Because of our history, the English language has more synonyms than any other language. Writers, you have a wealth of options from which to choose! Standard English adults have a vocabulary  of around 20,000 words – are you using yours to its full potential?

By the way, if you haven’t already, do read some Douglas Adams!

The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Thanks for reading! I’m always fascinated to know your thoughts and do please like and share!

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Writer’s Block

A guest post by the fantastic author, C.H. Aalberry

My best ideas never seem to make it down onto paper. I walk home with my head full of pictures and witty dialogues, but as soon as I sit down to capture them, they evaporate. Getting ideas onto paper is hard, and that blank sheet can be intimidating. There may be rare times when words pour out faster than you can get them down, but what about the times when you sit in front of your computer and can’t think of what to do next? 

Don’t misunderestimate your own potential: if George can make it to the Whitehouse, you can write a novel.

Don’t misunderestimate your own potential: if George can make it to the White House, you can write a novel.

Writer’s block. It affects all writers eventually, particularly during first drafts. Writing is an act of creation that is easily derailed. So, what can be done to solve this dilemma? Here are eight tips I use when I get stuck:

1)      Start somewhere, start anywhere. Write what comes easiest. It doesn’t have to be the next chapter or even the next paragraph in the story, because as long as you are writing you are making progress. If you have any ideas floating around that you know you want to include, nail them down and put them in order later. I write a few key chapters first, which gives me some idea of where the story is going. Maybe start with a description of a character or a place: it may not be included in the final product, but it could start you off.

 2)      Don’t panic if it’s not perfect. You write a few lines. They are rubbish. You want to give up. Don’t. The point of a first draft is that you are creating the raw material for your second draft, so don’t worry if it seems rough.

I bet that even the Bard had poor writing days, and he turned out OK.

I bet that even the Bard had poor writing days, and he turned out OK.

3)      Change the scene. Try writing at your local library or cafe. A change of location can nudge you into action. Load everything onto an online drop box and you can carry on from wherever you are in the world (except for North Korea).

4)      Talk it out. I find talking about my work out loud helps me work out a direction and a few key phrases to get me started. No one to talk to? No worries! Talk aloud to yourself- all the creative types does it (note: best avoid mixing this step with step 3).

 5)      Put some pressure on. Tell your pal or your partner or your parrot that you will have five hundred words written by the end of the day… it’s an incentive to get started because if you don’t that parrot will judge you forever. 

Parrots: beautiful, but surprisingly judgemental.

Parrots: beautiful, but surprisingly judgemental

 6)      Take some pressure off. Go for a walk. It may not help your writing, but at least you’ll be getting some exercise. Also, inspiration is more likely to strike when you are relaxed, so get out there and smell the roses.

7)      Still struggling? Get inspired. If you are spending hours in front of your computer but not producing anything then it’s time for a break! Think of it as sharpening the axe. Go to an art gallery. Look at pictures of wildlife on the internet. Learn a little something about the world. Read a short story or two (shameless plug: ‘The Origami Dragon And Other Tales’ is full of short stories guaranteed* to inspire you). Sometimes all it takes is a change of mood.

8)      Persist! Persistence is a key ingredient to writing, so keep calm and keep writing. After all, slow progress is still progress.

I hope that helps. If you have any ideas about beating writer’s block, post them in the comments, I would love to see them. Finally, remember that writer’s block is normal, but don’t let it stop you from doing what you love!

*I lie; there are no guarantees when it comes to inspiration. But the book does contain a story about tiny elephants.

C. H. Aalberry is the author of the fantasy novel ‘Wish’ and ‘The Origami Dragon And Other Tales’, a collection of short stories. 

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