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Writing Advice

In this section, you will find a collection of blogs dedicated to writing advice. So, if your manuscript is starting to drive you crazy, or you’re not sure how to get started, read on for the push you need to create your masterpiece.

Sympathetic protagonist: Blue Pencil #30

An author came to me the other day, asking for a critique on her rom-com. Sometimes the faults quickly jump out from a manuscript. The problem with this one was obvious: ‘Your lovers are too nice.’

I told her to muddy them up a bit, have them doing the odd mean thing. Sleeping with their best friend’s boyfriend, that kind of stuff. ‘But surely no-one will like them if I do that?’

Nice is boring, I’m afraid. When people talk about a ‘sympathetic character’, what they should say is ‘empathetic character’. Look at the chap in ‘One Day’ – what an idiot (but we’re gripped until he finds redemption). And Scarlett O’Hara is one selfish bitch – but we love her courage. In Trainspotting some characters are perfectly vile, but we enjoy the way they make us laugh. Give us something ‘nice’ and we’ll go to sleep.

 Your character needs to make a journey, and a ‘nice’ protagonist won’t be able to move satisfyingly towards that position of …

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Bad Grammar - Why You Should Care


Tonight sees the first Annual Bad Grammar Awards, set up by Idler Magazine to highlight ‘the misuse of grammar in modern society’.

Authors tend to fall into two camps.  At one extreme are the grammatical pedants, picking up every error and sticking to all the rules.  At the other end are the more ‘relaxed’ types, who reason that if ignoring grammar was good enough for Joyce, it’s good enough for them too.

If you’re under 50, the chances are that you’ve not been taught any grammar at school, unless you learnt a foreign language, so you may have some dim idea of what is correct, but have no clue about the in-depth details.  So does it matter?

By this point you may be wondering why I’ve chosen to illustrate this post with a picture of some very badly painted bookshelves.  Well I’m a bit impatient when it comes to doing DIY and ignored the advice to prime or prepare them.  I was about four bad-tempered coats in by the time …

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Writing For Children: Tips & Advice

Writing for children is a tricky business - but, as always, we’re here to help. With the entries for our Villain competition rolling in (where entrants have to create a children’s/YA villain that makes us shiver in our socks), we thought now would be the perfect time to direct you to the tips and advice on writing for children on our website and beyond.


First up, you need to decide – who exactly are you writing for? Children, yes. But what age group? The answer to this question could be the difference between a 32-page picture book, and a full-length novel aimed at 12 to 13 year olds. Very few children’s books manage to transcend the boundaries between age groups; you’ll find your job much easier if you establish who exactly your target audience is.

Of course, this will mean some self-imposed restraints on your writing before you’ve even started – but if you want to join the fabled ranks of Roald Dahl, J K Rowling and Enid Blyton, then it’s time to power on through those …

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Blue Pencil # 29: Crafting the author's voice


I know some of you may well be fretting about whether you have a truly unique and individual ‘voice’. Maybe an agent has knocked you back saying that your voice isn’t distinctive enough. Some authors undoubtedly do have strong and recognisable voices - but before you imagine that their idiosyncratic style is a gift that is somehow innate, please think again.

Every author has to work at it, and if you were to look at any literary megastar's development from pimply teen to bestselling author you would see that their writing will (like yours) have ‘come a long way’.

Plenty of successful books don’t have a unique or idiosyncratic voice and sell very well indeed. However, I think it’s fair to say that in order to be a bestseller that stands the test of time you need to have all your ducks in a row: strong and original characters, a compelling story – and a ‘voice’ that is very much your own.#

If any of you have been watching the talent show, The Voice, …

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Editing, Editing, Editing

Thanks to all who read and commented on last week’s post about community. It seemed to go down pretty well – perhaps writers aren’t such a solitary bunch after all.

There’s hope for us all yet, eh?

Today’s post is a doozy and I feel like I should start this one especially with a caveat: there’ll never be a hard and fast rule for writers. We come in all shapes and sizes and the thoughts I share here are based on things I’ve seen work, things I’ve seen not work, and from the input of a group of other authors and editors … but it still won’t be right for everyone. Think what I’m saying is swill? That’s fine, as long as you have your own system and as long as you keep on writing.

Writing about writing (for me) tends to fall into one of two camps: the more generalized / inspirational / philosophical pieces (Why do we write? Where does it come from?), and the pickier, more technical stuff (Dialogue tags that aren't 'said' - always bad? What's so wrong with adverbs?).

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