The Riches of Words

Words are wonderful things. They have a tremendous power to produce reactions, ideas and emotions. Better yet, for those of us who write in English, we have the advantage of working with one of the richest languages in the world.

This allows us the luxury of being able to make our writing clear and sharp, painting vivid pictures for our reader’s imaginations. Unfortunately, it also means that it is very easy for laziness to make our writing mushy and vague.

In short, English is the perfect language for both the poet and the politician, able to convey the sharpest of images and to obscure meanings, sometimes both at the same time.

As writers, we must make sure that our writing is as clear as possible. This means that the first stage of editing – long before you worry about spelling mistakes or missing commas, is to go through your work word by word. Check each word carefully, and ask yourself one question – “Can my story survive without this word being there?” If the answer is yes, cut it out.

This is a painful process. I know that it is, having done it several times for my own work. The words you are cutting are invariably among those you feel are the best. To help cut down on this pain, I would strongly suggest that you should edit by creating another document, leaving your first draft intact. This means that you aren’t completely deleting those shining paragraphs, you’re just taking them out to check if the work really needs them. If necessary, they can always be returned later.

From my experience, most of the time it is better to leave them out, though.

Weak Words and Strong Sounds

Any craftsman will tell you that you have to know the tools of your trade very well. For writers, the most basic of these tools are the words which form the basis of everything we do. It can be useful sometimes to stop and think about the strengths and weaknesses of the words you use in your writing. Sometimes this is easy. There is an obvious degree of difference between ‘fear’ and ‘terror’, for example. Quite often, given how rich the English language is, the difference is much more subtle. It is much better to say ‘the clock’ than ‘the timepiece’, for example. If you don’t mean ‘clock’, use the concrete noun for whatever it is you are using – unless you are deliberately needing to be vauge about it for some reason.

Words which apply to a special kind of person or thing within a group are stronger than the words which apply to the group. As an example, ‘oak’ is stronger than ‘tree’.

Another thing few writers really look at are the gerunds. These are the ‘ing’ words, and using too many of them can lead a writer into some really weak sentences. Gerunds are useful words, but they are there to describe something which is in course of happening, which makes them weaker than a more direct verb which describes a direct action.

It is very easy – and lazy – for writers to use the passive voice. The problem with them is the fact that passive writing tends to lead to passive readers. Use the active voice wherever possible. It will make your writing much more vivid, and help to gently guide your readers into your world without them really being aware of what is happening.

Plot or Character

This sounds like the chicken and egg question, but thankfully for those of us who aspire to climb the lofty heights to being published, for authors this one is a much easier question to answer. Characters come first, every single time.

I know that there are people who plan a good deal more than I do – for me, the first draft is used as a form of ultra-complicated outline – but even for those truly disciplined souls who can ignore the story for long enough to plan everything out in detail I would argue that the characters still have to come first. They stand at the heart of the story, and it is their actions and words which drive the plot forward. If your characters fall flat, then the plot will, too.

For those who read this in horror, I ask you to look critically at the last work you read. Was it really the plot which carried you through to the end, or was it wanting to know how the characters would react to the escalating tension? I would strongly suggest that it is the latter, and the ability to pull readers into the world of our characters relies on them being strong enough to grip the reader’s mind in just a few words.

That is not to say that the plot is not important, of course. It is just as important as the characters – they just need to be there and grown to the point that they are strong enough to withstand the pressures that it will put on them before they are introduced to it. For my part, getting to know each new main character takes a few weeks, although thankfully their friends and family are usually much less demanding.

What do you think? Do you start with plot, characters, or somewhere in between?

Catching the Cliché

Clichés are words and phrases that have been used so often that they’re no longer interesting or effective. Using them generally just makes your writing seem flat and uninspired. The problem is, clichés are part of day to day speech. We use them so often that it can be a challenge to avoid using them in our writing.

What’s wrong with that?

Well, using a cliché can be irritating to some readers. Some even tune out of what you’re saying altogether, which is going to make them miss the point of what you’re actually saying.

How to avoid them

If you spot a cliché, then you need to go back and look at what you are actually trying to say. Look at the true meaning of the cliché, and see if you can find a better way of saying the same thing.

Sometimes clichés are used as fillers – things to pad out what you’ve written. In these cases, the answer is much easier. Cut them out. You don’t need to include overused, flowery pieces of prose. In fact, they make your writing less interesting.

Just in case you were wondering, here’s a list of the clichés that crop up most often in my writing:

  • Back on track
  • At this moment in time
  • Avoid someone/something like the plague
  • Hive of activity
  • A level playing field
  • Few and far between
  • The fact of the matter
  • A cruel twist of fate
  • As quick as a flash

Why Do You Write?

Answering this question is a good place to start if you are one of those people who want to write but struggle to find topics to write about. I find it much more profitable to ask this rather than to hand out the advice of ‘write what you know’. While I will never know exactly what it would be like to live as a maidservant in Tudor England, I know exactly why I want to write that story.

There are several reasons you might want to write, and I can’t promise that this article will cover the reasons you have. But they are my most common responses to the question, and I hope they will help you focus your attention on your own stories.

A Record

Keeping some record of the things that happen to us is a normal impulse, and writing is the best way that I have ever found to sort out exactly how I feel about new experiences. While this sort of writing can be far too personal to consider publishing, a good many people make a reasonable living publishing memoirs. It is a fact of life that people enjoy looking into the lives and experiences of others, and reading a memoir or biography is an easy way of doing so.


You can teach a lot without having to write school textbooks. Think of the stories you have read which have taught you valuable lessons, or the last truly engaging non-fiction book that you read. To write these, ‘write what you know’ comes into play, but I can almost guarantee that there is something that you have enough passion about to put your passion into words.

A Challenge

Sometimes, setting yourself a challenge is the ideal way of getting you to get that first draft done. This is the entire point of NaNoWriMo, and I would strongly advise anyone who struggles to get to the end of the first draft to consider joining this month of cafinated madness. It helped me reach the end of Prophecy’s Child, and let me meet a good many really good friends along the way.

To Escape

Sometimes, I need to escape from reality for a little while. The fact that I can, at will, step into an entirely different world or time period is a great relief to me. It lets me swap the problems and issues of my reality for those of someone else’s. This has the effect of putting my problems into vivid perspective, and helps me know that I’m not actually all that badly off, really.

So there you have it. Those are my biggest reasons for keeping on writing, in spite of everything. I’d love to know what keeps you writing – comment on it below.

Bad Guy Blues

It can be much easier to create the ‘good’ characters than the ‘bad’ ones. I have certainly always found this to be the case. The fact that every story needs a powerful antagonist is a very important point that too many new writers (myself included, a year or so ago) overlook.

It is easy to fall into the trap of making your good characters completely good and your bad characters completely bad. Even worse, in my first attempt at a novel, I mistook ‘evil’ for ‘stupid’ and had the main antagonist do some breathtakingly stupid things just to show off the brilliance of my group of protagonists. That was not my only mistake in that book, but it was one of the biggest.

A good way of avoiding this, and making sure that both your protagonist and your antagonist are well-rounded and believable is to write the story from the point of view of both of them. Sometimes, you find that the antagonist, for all their questionable morals, actually has a better story than your original protagonist. This is a very good thing when it happens, so don’t overlook it.

I really believe that a villain needs to be at least partially sympathetic. Even in the epic ‘good vs evil’ battles, the actual conflict rarely comes from directly fighting something that is completely evil, and your readers are likely to be far more enthralled by the conflict if they can at least partially see both sides of it – even if they agree that the actions of the antagonist are unjustified.

As I have said before, the groundwork of any story lies in the characters – the more believable you can make them, whether they are good or bad, the richer the experience you’ll give your reader.

Have a go at writing a scene from the point of view of your current protagonist and antagonists, and then flip it. It might give you a much richer understanding of what’s going on in your antagonist’s head.

How Writing Changes Everything

After having a long conversation with an old friend, I have yet again been reminded that far too many people think that writing is a hobby, rather than a career. Being asked when I am going to find a ‘real’ job is a little off-putting, given that I know how many hours I put in to writing and marketing my writing on a daily basis, and it’s a lot more than I ever gave to a ‘real’ job.

So I started thinking fairly seriously about why I write and what I wish the world outside of the writing community would understand about the job we do and how incredibly important it is to our day to day lives. This article is the result.

Writing Creates

Not just the fantasy fiction which I am fondest of both writing and reading, but all writing creates something from very little. You start off with nothing but paper and ink (or a screen and keyboard), and by filling that space with words you create a pathway into your mind that others can follow.

Even non-fiction is a work of pure creation. It is merely an ordered form of creation which allows other people to easily learn from the writer’s experiences.

Writing Challenges

The best writing offers its readers a challenge. Whether that challenge is to learn a new skill, to challenge a belief system, or to offer a new way of seeing the world. In the ideal circumstances, writers alter the very bedrock of society. Look into history and see the wonders that happened once the printing press made writing easily accessible to people for the first time.

Writing Offers Hope

Particularly after the recent events in France, I find that everywhere there are blogs and posts on social media offering hope and support. This is just the most obvious current example I can think of, but look at how many people find hope in the writings of Anne Frank if you prefer a more historical example.

Writing is Magic

Writing is the closest I have come to encountering true magic. It is creating something out of nothing. In the case of my fiction writing, while none of it is currently published I have nonetheless created and populated two and a half distinct worlds, each with their own systems of commerce, civilizations, species, etc. No other career would offer me anything close to the wonder and magic of creation in this way.

So, to all of my non-writing friends, I ask that you stop and think. I build worlds for a living. Can you say the same for your nice, safe, ‘real’ jobs?

Plagarism and its Pitfalls

I recently came across an article that I wrote a few months ago. Normally, this would give me a brief thrill – and indeed until I got to the ‘about the author’ part of the article, it did. When I reached that all-important author information, I realized that this was not a case of someone who appreciated my work sharing it, as the person who was claiming to have written this article was certainly not me.

This has got me thinking of the problems of plagiarism, and how we as writers can protect our work. I still don’t know exactly how to deal with the person who stole my article, although I reported the case to the owners of the website I found it on. Doing more than that for an article I wrote on spec seems unlikely to do me any great deal of good.

Instead, I decided to do a little bit of research into how those of us who want to remain scrupulous and professional writers can possibly remain plagiarism free in our work, although I may yet come up with another post about how we can protect our work from such things when I have a better grip on the steps which need to be taken.

Information online is still under copyright

This is possibly the single most important thing for any writer to realize, particularly when they are just starting out. Given the number of so-called content mills available, all of which are crying out for new writers to produce their articles, it is not surprising that the temptation to use other people’s work is also growing.

I am fairly certain that it is this misconception which led to my article being claimed by someone else. I can completely understand this temptation. It is one that I wrestled with myself when I first discovered the content mill websites. Thankfully, it is a temptation which I refused to give in for, and I believe that it vastly improved my writing by doing so.

One of the simplest ways that I have found in order to keep from falling into this particular trap is to use Copyscape. For a very cheap price, a writer can run any article they produce through the program, and come out being certain that they have not copied the work of another writer. As this is all that would have been needed to avoid me getting upset with the writer who stole my article, as I would not have noticed had he paraphrased the article, it seems to me to be a resource which should be in every writer’s toolkit.

Ask permission

If you absolutely need to use someone else’s work, for whatever reason, ask. I cannot think of very many writers – particularly those who are still in the very early stages of their writing careers – will be flattered to receive a request to use their work on another site. I know that I would have been, and it is unlikely that I would have asked for anything more than being credited, given that I know full well how little the content mills pay their writers for their work.

Therefore, should you find yourself in a position where you have found the perfect article for a client, but that article has been written by someone else, just ask permission. Send the original writer a brief email, and ask. The boost to the original writer’s ego is likely to get you far more than you could ever have expected, and it also establishes you as an ethical writer, thus gaining you a contact which could well prove useful later on.

Probably not the most in-depth look at how to avoid stealing another writer’s work, but they are tips which I personally feel that every writer should know. I hope they prove useful to you.

Short Stories and Me

I have hated writing short stories for years. I have honestly believed that I should avoid writing them because they were difficult. Recently, however, I have realised that my issue wasn’t in the idea of a short story itself. It was simply the fact that the long, rambling drafts which my initial attempts at a novel always descend into are easier to write. I can throw anything my imagination comes up with into a novel. When I’m writing a short story, I can’t.

Does this mean that everyone with my sort of imagination should avoid trying?

No. Of course not. I wouldn’t be writing this if it did. What starting to write short stories has forced me to do is focus on my skills at editing. I have found that I need to boil a short story down to the boring standards we were taught in school – it seems our English teachers didn’t much appreciate the idea of having to read up to 30 novels in a weekend, and who can blame them for that? I wouldn’t want to read even 10 rough drafts in that short a space of time, so no wonder they focused on the short story with its clearly defined beginning, middle and end. Three ‘high points’. No more. You can get away with less, if you’re feeling particularly brave, but just try it and see how quickly the word-count starts to soar when you add more.

So, am I going to stop writing short stories again? No. What I am going to do is write a short story, then a bit of a novel or a script, and then another short story. That way, I get the best of all possible writing worlds.

How Not to Finish Your Book

There are many ways not to finish a book. Non-writers do it all the time. However, as a writer, you have to put a little more effort into not finishing your work. So here are some of the best ways I’ve found to ensure that work in progress stays a work in progress, allowing you to have all of the perks of being a writer – terminal poverty, the ability to be a tortured artist, the bragging rights that go with being able to put pen to paper – without actually running the risk of publishing anything.

Wait for Inspiration

Ah, Inspiration. That fickle muse is responsible for beginning more unfinished works of art than anything else. If she would just stick around, but no. She much prefers to show up, hit you over the head with some marvelous new insight into how the world works (or how it should work), and then she vanishes, leaving you to do all the hard work once the flash has faded.

Just once, it would be nice if she would even stick to schedule. She should show up when you’re comfortably sitting in your favorite writing spot – Starbucks, perhaps – and you have that extra-large cup of coffee so that you can be certain of keeping going, no matter what. If we could only make an appointment with Inspiration and have her show up on time, the world would be a much more creative place.

Don’t, whatever you do, be tempted to set yourself a daily (or weekly, if that works better for you) word target. This will force you to write when Inspiration hasn’t arrived, and she might get upset with you.


Look at how every word you put down on paper in your first draft will be received by the world at large. After all, you won’t ever look at the words you write again, so every single word has to be chosen with the utmost care, nurtured and placed in exactly the right place before you move on.

Listen to the voice of your inner critic. He’s your very best friend, and wants to make absolutely certain the world is only subjected to the very highest forms of art.

Don’t ignore the urge to edit until the end of the day’s writing, or until the end of the chapter, or even the end of the book. Ignoring the inner critic while the first draft is being written might mean that he’ll hate everything that you ever write, and that would be horrible!

Ignore Advice

Given that you are still reading this, I’m assuming that you only take the very best advice about your writing. Good for you.

Don’t pay any attention to actually learning how other writers do things. You are a unique snowflake, and should do things your own way. If you want to write a steampunk/romance/thriller/fairytale, then you should be able to. (Seriously, for those looking for a challenge – I would love to read that one!) Never mind those people who insist that you need to know your audience, and build a platform of readers. Why would anyone need to know who you are before you publish?

Take Negative Feedback to Heart

Everyone knows that you only need to read the negative feedback. How dare anyone not like the work you have slaved over for months? It is absolutely perfect – if you have followed the advice given in the rest of this article, anything which is published will be the best work ever published. So if anyone dares to criticism you, let it be confirmation of the fact that you will ever be good enough to truly be accepted into the wider writing community. Take heart from the fact that no artist is ever truly appreciated until after they are dead.

Don’t take time to consider what the critics are actually saying. What do they know, after all? Don’t look into who they are and judge their advice/feedback in the way it was meant.


This is quite possibly the best way ever to not finish your book. Stop writing. Give up entirely. Obviously, keep telling everyone that you are a writer – just find something else to write and restart all of this from the beginning.

Don’t keep pressing on regardless until you finish the first draft, and then go back and edit at least twice yourself before finding a friendly (or not so friendly) editor, beta-readers, and then publish. That’s a lot of work, and will prevent you from attending parties and moaning about how no one really understands your art.