WRITING TIP 3: What If?

whatif 001I am often asked, “How do you get all your ideas?” And I usually reply, “Thinking!” (Not really). It is a very important question to ask because without ideas you face the horror of the blank page! Da-da-dum. That’s the moment when you are sat at your table or lying on the floor or under the covers of your bed with a brand new piece of paper and a pen ready-for-action. Only problem is: your head is empty! What can you write about? You want to write something but what?

A good way to come up with ideas is to play the What if…? game. That’s when you ask yourself a series of What if questions until you come up with an idea you might want to write. You might come up with lots  – so have a notepad ready.

Here’s what I mean by What if questions:
What if bananas hated being eaten by monkeys and decide to fight back to stop it happening?
What if my dad gradually turned into a gorilla?
What if I found a magical gold coin that could transport me anywhere?
What if killer cucumbers from space started to invade earth?
What if people disappeared when visiting the house at the end of my street?

I’m sure you get the idea. It doesn’t matter how daft some of the What ifs are as long as you let your imagination go wild and you jot your ideas down. Don’t think “I can’t write that, people will think it’s silly,” because the story is not theirs. You are writing the story so it’s your story so you can write what you like. You’re the boss!

Have fun!

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Becoming A Time Lord

Lately, I have been spending a lot of my energy attempting to be a Lord of Time and, like any possible Timelord, I have been getting to grips with time and their relative dimensions in space. Now, you might think this is a quite straight forward thing to do as a writer but you would be wrong.

1)TIME is always the BIGGEST problem. You may have a job, family (particularly the young lively sort), pets, clubs, homework or household chores that always seem to demand your attention at the moment you settle down to write. It is very difficult to get to write with any or many of these in your life. Some may call these excuses but I challenge them to write anything with a three year old vomiting on their pencil. So, like myself, you may find it better not to schedule a particular time but rather take advantage of the odd 1/2 hour – hour that may arise throughout the day. Instead of watching that TV, reading a magazine  or book (yes, I did say that), write. Being a Timelord demands sacrifice.
Even snippets of 5 or 10 minutes can be effectively used. Not for writing great reams but for imagining, asking what ifs, or as I have recently done, to jot down a key piece of exposition that you may forget.

2)RELATIVE – best avoided. They tend to take over your life when they visit or fill your imaginative quiet with noise. At worst, they are vocal critics. If you get yourself a useful, trained one, they might be of use as a cheap editor.

3)DIMENSIONS can be important. You are probably best going for ample room for paper, pen, laptop/tablet (if needed). Most important, leave plenty of room for snacks and coffee. Sacrifice personal comfort if necessary for the sake of coffee. It is the fuel that drives a Lord of Time. With enough, you will become transcendental in your writing and won’t notice the cramped space in the cupboard you are working in. If space is at a premium, I suggest something stronger than coffee.

4)SPACE can be a problem. Unless you are extremely well paid or fortunate to live in a relatively empty house, finding a quiet place to lock yourself away can be a problem. Sometimes you just have to make do even if it is a breakfast encrusted dinner table or on an unmade bed or in a cafe or on the back of the trained relative. A useful tactic is to choose a location without a tv or wifi, or if this isn’t possible, one with an annoyingly poor connection that makes you go through ridiculous procedural form filling to get just 2 minutes online. You will then soon no longer be tempted by such diversions. Remember, being a Timelord demands sacrifice.

So there you have my secrets of becoming a Timelord and going onto future success at getting something down on paper (using the toilet doesn’t count).

WRITING TIP 2: Get Your Characters Talking

nowords

Writing speech can leave you at a lost for words. It can be tricky stuff. First, you have all that problem of speech layout to get pass and that’s before your characters even open their mouths. Then, what should they say? And when should they say it? Tricky stuff.

So, here’s my first speech tip: Don’t get too bogged down in the layout and words instead of said (I know some teachers are obsessed with words instead of said and even do WHOLE lessons on it! But it’s not important. Many writers just use said). The most important thing is what your character is saying.

Having said that, it does help your reader if they can tell who is speaking and when. To help you get the layout right, then you could use my TEN RULES FOR SPEECH LAYOUT below. Before anyone says it (usually a writer or teacher), I know all speech is not set out like this. These rules are just a starting point so you can get going. You can play around with the structure later when you think you’ve got it. Let’s keep it simple at first. No space travel before we’ve invented the wheel.

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Just click on image to make it bigger

Now the layout is sorted, let’s concentrate on the important fun part of what to say. Here’s when my second speech tip: Make sure your character has something important to say. Whatever you do, don’t just have them waffling away without what they are talking about moving the story on. Here’s an example of what not to do:

“Hello, Pete. What are you doing?” said John.

“I’m going to the park,” said Pete.

“Why are you going to the park?” asked John.

“To play football, ” said Pete.

“I might go too,” said John…..

Your reader is now gnawing in anger on the book, or worse has fallen asleep and is drooling, or even worse worse is an adult who has fallen asleep and is drooling all over the page and nobody wants to see that. Better to have no speech at all than speech like this. Instead, when your character talks, make it exciting and punchy but most of all get to the point. Maybe something like this:

“Hey, John, it’s Pete. I’m at the park. You got to come down and see this?”

“What?” asked John.

“I can’t tell you on the phone. You just wouldn’t believe me. Just get down here,” said Pete then the phone went dead.

The final and most important speech writing  tip: Read your speech aloud. I know, this may sound a bit bonkers and a very embarrassing thing to do but it works. It makes your dialogue sound right. 100% guaranteed. If you don’t, there will be drooling!

So, here are those three tips again to get your characters talking:

Don’t get too bogged down in the layout and words instead of said

Make sure your character has something important to say

Read your speech aloud.

Have fun!

WRITING TIP 1: How To Be A Better Writer

Children often ask me, “Oi, mister! Why do you have that onion on your head?! You look stooopid!” (says the boy with his bum hanging out of his trousers).
And sometimes they say, “How can I be a better writer?” and so I tell them the most important rules in the world.

Rule 1, I say, is READ.

Rule 2, I say, is READ.

Rule 3, I say, is READ.

Rule 4, I say, is READ.

   By the time I get to Rule 100 they’ve normally wandered off. Odd.
Now, you’re probably thinking: well, it’s ok for you to say that but how do you know it’s the most important rules in the world and works?

   Well, when I was school, in the age of black & white, I didn’t really bother to read much. Right up to Year 6. And if you tried reading one of my stories (usually about Snoopy going on adventures or aliens) you would have probably given up after the second sentence. Almost every word was spelled wrong and it didn’t really make sense.

   How was this fixed?

   I got the reading bug. I found a book I enjoyed and read it four times in a row! After that I began reading everything! Back of cereal packets, ingredients on packets, signs and posters, comics, newspapers…Soon I became such an addict that I held the World Record for the Worst Newspaper Boy Ever!!! I would read every different newspaper and magazine I had to deliver. I took so long people were having supper before they got their paper.
   So that’s Writing Tip 1: Read, Read, Read to become a better writer!