Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writing Wrongs by Julie Morrigan

I'm really happy to welcome Julie Morrigan to My Friends Call Me Kate.  She's been kind enough to take some time out of her schedule to discuss with us some Writing Wrongs.  Excellent advice!

When Sabrina asked me if I would like to write a guest blog post, I jumped at the chance. Then I had to decide what on earth to write about. Since I’m a writer, I decided to write about writing, partly because wherever I look lately it seems that someone’s dictating what it is that writers should and shouldn’t do. Some of these people have experience and credibility and what they say makes sense, others … well, let’s draw a veil over the others. But why — other than in relation to spelling and grammar — do we need rules in the first place?

For me, rules are like directions: they keep me on track. Having said that, if from time to time I want to take a shortcut through the woods or even ramble along the scenic coastal route, I will. Half the fun of rules is bending them to suit your desires. So, for good or ill, I want to share with you some of the directions I follow when I’m writing.

1. Keep things clean. Use ‘said’ more often than any other word when writing dialogue. Use exclamation marks sparingly, if at all. Keep adverbs to a bare minimum. Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t pad the word count with pretty words, phrases or scenes that don’t move the story forward.

2. Write what you enjoy reading. If you aren’t having fun with your writing, how do you expect anyone else to? And if there isn’t some sort of payoff for the effort, why are they going to read it in the first place? If you want to read something that isn’t currently available — kangaroo cops, vampires in space — the chances are other people will be interested in that stuff, too. (Although it might be a good idea to steer clear of stories about milk-fed kitten gimps or zombie nuns on acid, just ‘cos … you know … your mum wouldn’t understand.)

While we’re on the subject of writing what you want to read, let’s have a go at the seemingly ubiquitous advice to ‘write what you know’. And, once and for all, shoot it dead. Imagine if Philip K Dick or HP Lovecraft or, for that matter, Raymond Chandler had written about only what they knew? The world would be a poorer place for them not having allowed their imagination free rein. Of course what we write is coloured by our personal experiences, likes and dislikes, but that doesn’t mean that our writing can’t transcend those experiences. ‘What if …?’ questions are a great way to get things moving. For my money, it’s far better to write what you can imagine. And you can incorporate what you know on that bigger, broader canvas by using your knowledge and experience of people, conflict, jealousy, love, hatred …

3. Get to the end, no matter what. Some days, the words will sulk onto the page like goths into a sports bar, other days they’ll pour forth like laughing pixies at a fairy wedding. However they’re moving, get ‘em all out and be done with your tale. Type ‘The End’. When you’ve finished, let it mature: especially with longer pieces, let them sit awhile before you go back and edit them. Stephen King recommends six weeks minimum. I have done this and it truly works — you get some distance, you can look at stuff with perspective, and that first read through of something that has both a freshness and a familiarity (it’s your words written in your style, after all) is an absolute blast, even if you also end up with a ‘fix it’ list a mile long.

4: The most important thing is to end up with the best story you can possibly write, whether it’s a flash piece or a seven book series. Write it, edit it, have someone else edit it, polish it, proofread it … and then, when it is all spick and span, dressed in a fresh pinafore, hair beribboned, eager little face all shiny and clean (or more likely, when it’s wearing smudged eyeliner, scarlet lipstick, six inch heels and ripped fishnets) only then let it out into the world. The world will love you for it. Your story will rock.

As I mentioned at the start, these are my directions, they help me to get to where I want to go. There are admittedly times when I slip up a little, but as a general set of directions they serve me well. You may find that some or all of these help you — or they may hinder you. You’ll no doubt, if you haven’t already, develop your own set of directions to help you get to where you want to go.

In the interests of being helpful to everyone, I’d like to give the last word on the subject to Allan Guthrie, who with his tipsheet Hunting Down The Pleonasm created something truly useful. He even gives us permission to ignore what he says. That’s my kind of rulebook.

Thanks, Sabrina, for letting me camp out on your blog. It’s been great fun (for me, at least!)

Julie Morrigan lives by the seaside in the north east of England. You can find her blogging at


Paul D. Brazill said...

'he words will sulk onto the page like goths into a sports bar'. Spot on post.

CPatLarge said...

'Half the fun of rules is bending them to suit your desires.'

My secret desire is to bend them far more often in life, but at least in my writing, I allow myself that freedom!

Well said -

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

Thanks for guest posting, Julie! I'll get that link fixed for Guthrie's blog in just a bit.

"Half the fun of rules is bending them to suit your desires" I think this will be my new motto.

Julie Lewthwaite said...

Thank you for the kind words, folks, glad you were entertained. And Sabrina, thank you so much for inviting me over. You're a splendid hostess - it's been a blast!


Chris Rhatigan said...

Julie always rocks. These are my kind of rules--direct, practical, and open to interpretation. Thanks for sharing.

Julie Lewthwaite said...

Cheers, Chris! :)

Sara said...

These are great tips! Maybe one day I will be adventurous enough to write something. Great post!