July 26th, 2010


10 Things My Old Gran Taught Me About Writing.

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?