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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.

10 Tips for Starting a Writing Group

Writing groups

Writing groups can be a great way to meet like-minded people, share ideas, get feedback and get writing. They can take lots of different forms and can be anything from 2-3 people to 50+! Sarah, from the publishing platform CompletelyNovel, recently decided that she wasn’t doing enough writing in her day, so she set out to create her own writing group in Brighton. If you’re looking to do the same, or would like to get some useful feedback on your work-in-progress, we’ve compiled our 10 top tips for starting a writing group, below.

1. Have a clear aim - Writing groups can be great for sharing your work and getting all-important feedback. They can also be really great to get writing, networking or even just a casual break from the screen. It’s important to have a clear idea of what you want your writing group to do before you do it. Don’t try to do everything at once.

2. Check out the local scene - There might already be a writing group in the area doing similar things to what …

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NaNoWriMo Tips

Mel Sherratt

I met up with a group of crime writers last weekend. Some of us are published, some of us are agented, some are working on novels to go out on submission and some are self-published. When one of us brought up the subject of how we tackle a first draft, we found - after chatting about it - that we all did it differently. As it's November soon and coming up to NaNoWriMo time where writers everywhere try to get down 50,000 words towards a novel, I thought I'd write about how I tackle mine. 

I'm in the 'dirty draft' camp of getting down the words, no matter how they come out, as quickly as possible. It takes me about six weeks to write a first draft. But I have to plan ahead - if I didn't roughly know what was coming next, I wouldn't be able to get past a blank page. For me to write a novel, I plan for about a month before so that I have my characters, plots, sub-plots and a beginning, middle and end. 

The more you write, the more you'll want to find …

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Planning Your Plot


A good structural skeleton is achieved through study, analysis, and hard work. This is one area that is not about some innate gift – yes, there will be delicious flashes of inspiration, but diligence will be a better friend to you.

It is definitely worth doing scene by scene analyses of classic texts – be they novels, film scripts, or plays. This helps you get a feeling for the balance between character development, plot and action. Scriptwriting coaches, such as Robert McKee and Syd Field, are masters of this kind of plot mapping. McKee uses Casablanca. It’s free to download so it’s an easy one for students to work with.

You can use any book, but you have to know what you’re looking for. Essentially, the structure is largely held up by reversals, those turning points that often come at the end of acts. A narrative won’t keep the reader engaged without them. A couple of random examples: Twelfth Night - when Olivia falls for Viola (dressed as a page). Girls aren’t …

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Dialogue masterclass


How can you advise writers on dialogue? Firstly, I ask them to use their ear; read their dialogue aloud. Those who get it right have what amounts to a musical gift but, frankly, most of us don’t have a knack for it. It takes hard graft to get to a basic level, where the speech doesn’t sound weird. Successfully varying your style for each of your characters is a whole other ballgame. The most common howler I see is the educated-sounding blue collar worker, and I don’t think I’ve worked with a single writer who’s a whizz at teen speech.

Sometimes writers craft a series of staccato sentences in a stylised thriller style (that can get unbearably annoying if overused) while pairing this with grammatically perfect dialogue. Wrong way round surely? Who on earth speaks in perfectly constructed sentences complete with subclauses and connectives?

Other dialogue traps:

Dumping information and backstory into dialogue for convenience with no calculation as to whether this would take …

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Writer, Tell Your Story

Van Gogh new painting discovered

Life can be a funny old thing, really. Sometimes stories, like busses, seem like they're hiding round the corner, only to come along in pairs. Last week, for me, it was Van Gogh.

In case you missed it, a new Van Gogh painting was discovered this month, leading to worldwide media coverage. Among the facts and figures thrown about in the endless stream of reports, I learned a lot. There was the number of visitors each year to the Van Gogh Museum (more than 1,600,000); the last time an original was discovered (1928 for a full-size canvas); the time it's taken to verify this new piece (over two years); and, perhaps most interesting, the number of paintings Van Gogh sold in his lifetime: one.

The second of this week’s Van Gogh stories involves an old acquaintance of mine who made contact recently, out of the blue, and reminded me of a specific night we spent, years ago now, in Tokyo. Did I remember, he asked, how we wandered around the mega-city, finding our way into …

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