How to tell if your writing is improving – 4 easy tips

Last updated: 31st March, 2017When it comes to judging our writing talent we can be incredibly biased. We can delude ourselves and believe we are the next big name; we can also be so critical with ourselves we end up believing we only write rubbish. Indeed, even the most balanced aspiring writers can feel discouraged and have the impression that despite their best efforts they’re getting nowhere. In particular, they feel their writing isn’t improving in any significant way. Now, even if it can be difficult to be objective about our own work, this doesn’t mean it’s an impossible task. And indeed, the following suggestions can help us to assess our own writing with at least a certain amount of equanimity.

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The simplest solution in creative writing – understanding Occam’s razor

Last updated: 1st April, 2017Keep it simple, this is a mantra so short and appealing that we end up thinking it must be always true. Unfortunately it is not. However, once we understand what the simplest solution means in creative writing, we can really step up our writing style. What is Occam’s razor, and why the simplest solution? In short, Occam’s razor is a principle stating that, among competing hypotheses, the simplest one should be preferred. However, this is just a tool, and like any tool it’s far from perfect. In fact, the preference it accords to the simplest solutions is such not because these have been proved to be always the correct ones—not at all. Rather, Occam’s razor gives preference to the simplest solutions because they are the more easily testable. The fact they often are also the correct ones is just a nice bonus. For example, just think of the stars…

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Creative writing advice – never explain too much

Last updated: 15th November, 2016In chess they say you have to follow just three rules to play like a Grandmaster.  You have to play carefully, carefully, carefully. Something similar holds true when it comes to creative writing advice. Only, it’s something you have to avoid doing rather than the other way around. Namely, you should never explain too much. Yes, you read it right. Never, ever, explain too much. At first blush, this might look like a fairly banal mistake. Yet it isn’t only beginning writers who tend to explain too much. Now and then also more experienced writers make this mistake. Writers who should know everything about creative writing advice and a lot more. I’m writing this because last week I read a novel from a relatively well known author. A novel that was well written, more than adequately edited, and perfectly formatted. Yet it made me cringe. Over…

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How to use stereotypes in books – writing myths debunked

Last updated: 1st November, 2016Stereotypes in books… Shouldn’t they be like the kiss of death for the story you want to tell? Well, not necessarily. First of all, let’s consider what a stereotype is according to the Oxford Dictionary: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified idea of a particular type of person, group of people, or thing. In this definition the adjectives “fixed” and “oversimplified” are the ones that make any serious beginning writer consider stereotypes in books with diffidence, to say the least. Besides, in the past, some psychologists believed stereotypes were used exclusively by people particularly rigid, repressed, and authoritarian–the exact opposite of what any writer should aim to be. Indeed, at times stereotypes can make us blind to what is out there in the environment. But they can also enable us to respond rapidly to a wide array of situations we have already encountered. In addition, we…

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Backstory for characters – how to exploit it in fiction

Last updated: 24th October, 2016Backstory is a history or background created for fictional characters in a film, television program, or a novel. Backstory for characters is therefore an essential part of any novel. Even those written with a minimalist style–like it is the case for Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. Instead, in short stories the approach to backstory can vary notably—mostly depending on the length of the short story itself. In some cases we have almost no backstory–for example because, like in Sentry by Fredric Brown, it helps create the final twist. In other cases instead backstory is used unabashedly because it is necessary to the story–Cathedral by James Carver comes to mind. From definitions to literary quotes When creating some backstory for your characters, I believe that you should always keep in mind these two quotes. The first comes from On Writing by Stephen King:  “The most important things to remember…

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The difference between character and plot driven books – and why creative writing prompts are useless

Last updated: 16th October, 2016Character and plot are necessary parts of any novel. But, depending on how each is approached, they can change deeply the way a novel grows under an author’s fingertips. Novels based on plot focus primarily on the sequence of events they recount, and tend to treat characters quite superficially–often resorting to stereotypes, and steering clear of any meaningful introspection. Instead, novels based essentially on characters put a much more emphasis on the psychology, on the reasons behind a character’s actions. They tend to explore more deeply things like causality, feelings, memory. Character and plot -plot-driven books To make this distinction clear, just imagine of looking at two pictures. The first shows Jack while he is kissing Alice and promising her he will never again let her down. The second instead shows Jack, drunk and angry, driving away from Alice’s place. A plot-driven novel would just force the…

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How to write descriptive passages – the iceberg metaphor

Last updated: 3rd October, 2016 If not well organized, descriptive passages are often at risk of turning into info dumps, so killing the pace of your novel and putting your readers to sleep. To avoid such an unfortunate outcome and produce instead well organized descriptive passages, you need to know perfectly well what you’re describing. Both in narrative terms and in terms of factual knowledge. This is why you have to ask yourself many different questions about the story you want to write. Questions about your main characters as well as the secondary ones; questions about the setting; questions about the story arc, and so on. Then you have to come up with just as many answers. If your answers are rich of details and quite articulated, good. But this is not so essential. In fact, the type of answers you need relates strictly to the type of type of writer…

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