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Over the last few years, I’ve come to realize what a huge impact my old gran had on my writing. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of her quaint little sayings and explain how they've influenced my work.  
 
10 Things My Old Gran Taught Me About Writing.
 
1. ‘You only get one chance to make a first impression, so don’t bugger it up, you pillock!’
Pull the reader into the story from the very first line. It’s no good having an amazing plot twist or a stellar ending if the reader gave up on the story because the first three pages put them to sleep.
 
2. ‘I don’t know, CAN you?’
Using the right words is important. A wrong word or careless grammar can kick the reader right out of the story.
 
3. ‘Don’t make me come up there!’
Ever found yourself yelling, ‘Get on with it!’ at a slow-paced book? If we think something might bore the reader, maybe we should leave it out.
 
4. ‘Can’t you see I’m watching the telly? Bugger off!’
Chances are, your readers have plenty of things demanding their attention. We need to make sure our stories are enticing enough to first hook them, then keep them reading.
 
5. ‘What are you looking at, fish-face?’
We want our readers to experience our stories with all their senses, but we need to make sure they always know where the character is and what (or who) they see. 
 
6. ‘Who’s ‘she,’ the cat’s mother?’
Make sure the reader never has to stop to figure out which character spoke, or who just did what to whom.
 
7.  ‘Touch that again and I’m fetching the cattle-prod!’
The stakes have to be high enough to make our readers worry about the consequences should our protagonist fail. The suffering has to be bad enough for them to empathize with our characters and keep reading in the hope that things turn out okay.
 
8.  ‘I don’t like any of you.’ [in answer to my (then) four-year-old brother, who’d asked which of her many grandchildren was her favorite]. 
Gran’s unique approach to diplomacy taught me that honesty might hurt, but it’s better to recognize when a whole chunk of a WiP stinks (and then try to fix the problem), than to delude ourselves that a story’s perfect, when it really isn’t.
 
9.  ‘It weren’t me it were the dog’ [For a long time, this particular phrase confused me, since my old gran never had a dog]
Misdirection is a great tool. As readers, we love to guess the who, the why and the what’s going to happen next, but even more than that, don’t we love to be outwitted fair and square (please note: surprise telegrams proving that innocent-looking Character A, who has no possible motive for murder, is in fact, character H – the illegitimate half-brother of the deceased who stands to inherit a fortune now he’s the sole heir of Character B, does NOT qualify as ‘fair and square’)?
 
10.  ‘For crying out loud. You’re nearly five years old. Get your own damn dinner!’
We don’t have to do everything for our readers. In fact, they’ll probably enjoy the story more if we let them work some things out for themselves. Of course, the tricky bit is deciding what those things are.
 
 
If I had to choose, I’d say I struggle with #2 and #10 more than any other.
 
 
How about you? 
 
What (if anything) on the list do you struggle with?  



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( 56 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 11:21 am (UTC)
#10 is a tough one. We picture a scene so vividly, it's hard to remember that readers fill in their own backgrounds.
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jul. 26th, 2010 11:48 am (UTC) - Expand
kmarkhoover
Jul. 26th, 2010 11:24 am (UTC)
good advice
LOL oh man I loved this :)

mind if I link it to my website?
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 11:57 am (UTC)
Re: good advice
I'd be honored. Thanks, Mark :)
msstacy13
Jul. 26th, 2010 11:40 am (UTC)
Perhaps one of the difficulties is understanding that readers and viewers
are very different.

Readers generally enjoy being kept a bit ignorant,
whereas viewers like knowing what the character doesn't know.

Although not everyone believes me when I say that a semester of
News Writing and Reporting is a good idea,
it is. Items 1 through 6 are pretty well covered by it.
And once you've learned how to effectively say
"Dog bites man"
you can easily adapt the principles to say "Man bites dog"
or "Cat talks to boy" or pretty much anything.

Meanwhile, your question.
Judging from what negative constructive feedback
I've gotten, 5 and 7 might be problems areas for me.
I mean, if such a thing were possible.
:)
But I like to rely on number 10.
I like to trust the reader.
As I like to express it,
the two most important things in a story are what you say
and what you don't say; knowing how much to reveal,
how many pieces to scatter on the table,
how many lights to leave on,
how many doors to leave open.
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 11:59 am (UTC)
Lol, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has trouble with arithmetic :)
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jul. 26th, 2010 12:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Jul. 26th, 2010 11:56 am (UTC)
10 Things....
Great, Jon! Imaginative, clever, funny.
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC)
Re: 10 Things....
Thank you, oh mysterious stranger :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 12:31 pm (UTC)
My old gran used to say that friends were just strangers who wouldn't leave you alone :)
blood_of_winter
Jul. 26th, 2010 12:24 pm (UTC)
Excellent post! #8 cracked me up :)

For me, 3,4 and 9 are the hardest. I do the opposite with #10 based on the feedback I've received. Sometimes I assume the connections are clear enough when they're not.
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 12:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)

Yeah, that #10 is a hard one to get right.
bogwitch64
Jul. 26th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
Jon, you slay me. I don't know whether to hope you've made up your old gran to be funny, or whether her cantankerousness really did provide an education and body of hilarity you might not have without her.
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 12:57 pm (UTC)
Let's just say I hope I go to heaven, 'cause otherwise, I'm in for an unpleasant confrontation ;)
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Jul. 26th, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
a_r_williams
Jul. 26th, 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)
LOL :)

Good list.
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 01:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Aaron.

By the way, I just read your Apex article. Good one :)
(no subject) - a_r_williams - Jul. 28th, 2010 06:13 am (UTC) - Expand
tracy_d74
Jul. 26th, 2010 01:14 pm (UTC)
I laughed sooooooo hard. You are so freakin funny. Oh my. I just adore you. I think #10 is my stumbling block. (Can I link this on my Friday Five as a favorite thing of the week?)
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks Tracy, and yes please, link away :)
mongrelheart
Jul. 26th, 2010 01:51 pm (UTC)
As always, your old Gran is a fountain of wisdom!

I tend to have problems with #5. A lot of description never seems to make it out of my head and onto the page. #10 is also an issue for me. Sometimes I have the Urge to Explain.

‘Who’s ‘she,’ the cat’s mother?’
LOLOLOL!
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 02:26 pm (UTC)
I think we all do it to some extent.

I love Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books, but he does insist on describing the difference between a musket and a rifle at least twice in every novel, when there's really no need. All he has to do is tell us that a rifle shoots farther and with more accuracy :)
rowyn
Jul. 26th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
#3. I generally feel like I'm either being too long-winded or I'm not giving the reader enough detail to feel like the world and the characters are real. For bonus points, sometimes I manage to feel like I'm failing on both counts simultaneously. c.c
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 02:23 pm (UTC)
...sometimes I manage to feel like I'm failing on both counts simultaneously

Now that's a neat trick :)
maryjdal
Jul. 26th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
Your Gran always has the best advice -
For me number 1, 2, and 3 I struggle with. And 10 sometimes I explain too much, sometimes I don't explain enough.
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
She was a wise, if somewhat less than tolerant, woman :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC)
Wjen I'm reading, I get upset if I feel the author told me everything, but then I'm the first to complain when things aren't made clear :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jenn :)
karen_w_newton
Jul. 26th, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC)
I would love to be adopted by your old Gran. I suspect Simon Cowell of being her love child.
jongibbs
Jul. 26th, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)
Hehehe, that wouldn't surprise me :)
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Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there


No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there















 











THE MEAGER PUDDLE OF LIMELIGHT AWARDS


Books by my writer friends - compressed

NJ Writing groups - compressed

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