Category Archives: writing craft

Research Pitfalls and Pleasure

I have always found researching the back ground for my stories to be the greatest fun. But it is not all joy. Worse, it can be counter-productive.

As this year is on the brink of turning, I have been taking stock of my writing habits and also my output. Well, a little. Not the full audit, you understand. Just a gentle canter through those things that I have done, and those that I have left undone. And why.

And the reason, I fear, is often Research.

So I thought some people might be interested in my conclusions on research, its pitfalls and pleasures.

Pitfall 1  Getting Lost in Research

Continue reading

Off-Putting Endings — how not to finish a book?

Inspforget the starsired by Joanna’s recent blog on ways to put a reader off at the start of a book, I thought it would be interesting to discuss a few pet peeves about off-putting endings.

Call it book-ending Joanna’s post 😉

For me, there is nothing more disappointing than settling down with a book, enjoying the story and investing in the plot and characters. You read to the last page…  And then it leaves you flat.

I have to confess to a vested interest here – a book I read recently which turned out to be one of a series.
Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say.

Female climber clinging to the edge.No, only the cliff-hanger ending left so many loose ends in the main romance and the plot that I felt thoroughly let down. I also felt I was being hustled into buying the next.

I didn’t.

Having invested quite heavily in the story so far, I wasn’t prepared to have it happen again.

Solutions to off-putting endings

Continue reading

A pearl anniversary…

One score and ten years ago…

Busy fizzWith apologies to Abraham Lincoln – I couldn’t resist – it is thirty years ago, almost to the day (it was actually December 2) when my first book, An Image of You, was published.

It was my fourth attempt to write a book for Mills and Boon. I do, somewhere, still have my first rejection letter. I seem to recall the word “wooden” used to describe my characters, and a suggestion that I read books by Elizabeth Oldfield and Vanessa Grant. As you can tell, it is ingrained in my memory.

The book…

I later had the enormous pleasure of meeting Elizabeth at author lunches, along with so many fan-favourite romance authors. But back to that precious moment. The arrival of my first box of books. I’d been out somewhere and when I came home the box was sitting on my desk, with my husband and daughter staring at it, waiting for me to open it. Continue reading

Off-putting Openings : how not to start a book?

key in lock in door

Image by MasterTux from Pixabay

Recently, I’ve started reading several books that I have swiftly put aside. Why?
Because they had off-putting openings.

What did I mean by off-putting openings? I’d say the kind of start that left me—as a reader—confused, or bored, or annoyed. The kind of start that made me say something like, “if this is the best this author can do, then I have better ways of spending my precious reading time.”

Off-putting openings #1 : a crowd of named minor characters

name badge: what is my name?When should an author give a character a name?

That’s not easy to answer. It may seem obvious that all characters have names—of course they do—but does the reader want to know the name, or need to know the name?

Not necessarily, I suggest. Continue reading

Airy Nothing’s Timeline

Lady in Lace, Regency Timeslip, by Joanna MaitlandI used to think that only historical novelists needed to write a timeline for a novel. Someone like me, writing contemporary fiction set pretty close to the real world, didn’t have any use for it. I read Joanna’s excellent (and detailed) account on this blog of the timeline she constructed for her Regency-set Lady in Lace. And thanked my lucky stars that this was so. (It’s a lovely book, by the way.)

Only, of course, she is not just talking about setting her characters into a sequence of historically documented events. She is talking about the timeline of the whole novel, including the stuff she’d made up. Scene by scene Joanna records what her characters do and feel as well as well as facts of place and history.

But I still thought I didn’t need that sort of hassle in a contemporary story.

And boy, was I wrong. Continue reading

Punctuating Dialogue (3) the Full Punctuation Rules?

magic bookIn this third and final part of the blog series on punctuating dialogue, we’re back in the magical, fairytale kingdom of Bel Paese with the unpunctuated Ricotta Dialogues [click to download]. There’s a link to the punctuated version later in this blog.

You can find part 2 of the series here, and part 1 is here. The latest version of The Rules is at the end of part 2 but I’ll be expanding them at the end of this blog, and providing a printable version, so you might prefer to wait for that magic rule book to be opened 😉

But first, last week’s answer?

Continue reading

Punctuating dialogue (Part 2) Beyond the Basics

Lichtenstein castleLast week I introduced you to the fairytale kingdom of Bel Paese and gave you the first three rules of punctuating dialogue. Today we go beyond the basics.

If you want the recap, it’s at the end of my previous blog here. And you can still download the Ricotta Dialogues here.

This week we’re going to look at slightly more complicated punctuation of dialogue. It’s not used all the time, but it is useful to learn and apply the rules.
As before, they’re simple.

But first, last week’s answers?

Continue reading

Punctuating dialogue need not be scary (Part 1)

woman tearing hairPunctuating dialogue seems to be a problem for many writers. But it need not be scary. There are conventions (rules) to apply, but once you know them, it’s straightforward. Honest 😉

Beautiful Woman Sitting At Night Forest And Reading Fairy Tale BookCome and discover the rules in the company of Princess Ricotta, her dim but impressively ripped suitors Prince Square-Jaw and Prince Six-Pack, and her conniving servants Slack-Britches and Mozarella. The fairytale kingdom of Bel Paese awaits you.

Those of you who are already confident about punctuating dialogue can read the fairytale just for fun. I hope you enjoy Ricotta’s adventures, even with unpunctuated dialogue. For those whose punctuation might need a bit of help, keep reading.

Punctuating dialogue is only convention

The conventions of punctuating dialogue have evolved over many years. Some of them seem pretty arbitrary but rules often are. We just have to accept them. Their aim is simple, though: to make it easy for readers to understand what’s going on. Continue reading

Conversation on the Page

Man and woman sit cross legged on the ground in front of a body of water, and deep in conversation.

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Conversation on the page fascinates me.

Even when I’m writing an email, describing a recent meeting to a mutual friend, for instance, I find myself overtaken by the desire to report the real words one or both of us spoke.

I hear it, of course, as I’m transposing it. Or at least, I am hearing what I remember. But does my reader hear it? And hear it in the same way?

Conversation off the Page

Apple orchard in sunlight

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Unwritten conversation very often kicks off a story of mine. I will be elsewhere, not even be thinking about writing, and my imagination will pluck something out of the whirlwind and give it to me. And I know there is more —and the more is a story.

It’s almost like eavesdropping. Even a bit spooky sometimes.

For instance – I was once dozing gently in someone else’s garden. We’d had a good lunch and lot of laughter and she had gone inside to make tea. The other two were talking and I was looking at a couple of apple trees and not paying attention to anything much.

And a voice in my head said, “I can never forget it.” Continue reading

Lies, Damned Lies and the Unreliable Narrator

Lies seem to be flavour of the month, don’t they? [Can’t think what made me light on that, can you?] I can’t match Dame Isadora on lies, but I found myself thinking about lies in fiction and what they say about the characters. And, sometimes, the readers, too.

Lies and Integrity?

Don’t know about you, but the heroes and heroines I write have to be people of integrity. Does that mean they can’t tell lies, though?

Um. Well, no. Not exactly.
It depends… Continue reading