To heck with suspense!

This is an ‘article’ I wrote for the other blog I contribute to; I’m thinking about rules for writing (personally I like to break some rules, and kick against being told to do some things!)

I guess every one who writes regularly and with some conscious thought about what they are doing, why and how they are doing it (or hoping to do it) and what they hope to achieve at the end of the effort, has some sort of inner self-rules. We all make choices or have habitual ways of writing which amount to rules – for example, writing in the first or third person, being heavy on characterisation and light on description or vice versa, writing something mostly through dialogue or avoiding dialogue altogether… We may be very pleased with our results, but sometimes we are blinkered and could actually make our writing better (in our own eyes as well as any audience we hope for)

How could we improve our writing; one way is to look to other writers and authors who we admire or who have had success. We can look at these ‘rules’ or suggestions and maybe try to apply some of them – or at least think about some of them with regards to our own writing.

Kurt Vonnegut  was a most respected and renowned writer;  he was born in 1922 and published fourteen novels,  short story collections,  plays, and  non-fiction. He was a master of the craft. Here are his eight rules for writing fiction:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Maybe ask yourselves these questions and consider these points, based on Vonnegut’s rules:

  • what will  your reader have gained/achieved/learnt/enjoyed when they finish your story? (Count yourself as a reader if you like, but don’t confuse self-congratulation and pride in your achievement as a gain – that’s separate!!)
  • you love (or hate) your characters – but what about your readers? Will they be fed up to the back teeth with your amusing/tragic/wacky/romantic/serious/dedicated/ /beloved people?
  • do the characters engage – with your reader, with each other, with reality, – or are they just decorative/unrealistic/pointless?
  • this needs thinking about – if you are writing a description, then advancing the action may not be apparent. Maybe Vonnegut is thinking about a particular sort of novel… However description can put the characters and  action into a context!
  • rule number five – just think about it!!
  • rule number six – this should be pinned to the page/wall/computer screen/window of all writers! Don’t be indulgent! Don’t fall in love with your characters (like them, be proud of them, sympathetic to them, but DO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH THEM!)
  • again – think about this! Don’t try to pander to every sensibility every reader might have; you end up pleasing no-one! It’s a difficult balance!
  • It might be easy to look at Vonnegut’s last rule and then throw it into the waste-bin – don’t! Read it again and consider what he actually means. Even in a mystery, everything should be there, even if it is very subtle, it should be there so when the story is finished the reader will know how they got to the end. Don’t have some mysterious Peruvian turn up at the end, who has never been referred to or even hinted at, to be revealed as the culprit… A silly example but you know what I mean!!

You might not agree with all of these – maybe it might be helpful to write your own rules of writing? (not that they can’t be broken, but just to give you some guidelines to follow!)

Here is a link to the other blog I share two friends, The Moving Dragon Writes:

… and a link to my ebooks and paperbacks:


Your readers…

Here is an excerpt from my little book ‘So You Want To Write‘… and here I’m thinking about audience – even if no-one but you reads what you have written, you are your own audience!!

You have an idea for your story; the next thing to think about is…. your audience!
For a start, who are your readers? Adults, children, teachers, friends…? Be aware of them and how they may read your story and what they may read into your story… or perhaps not understand!
Your audience is not watching a play, film or TV programme. They only have your words there on the page. You have to give them all the information that they will need to understand, enjoy and want to read your story. So use lots of descriptive language.
They do not want to be baffled, bored or bemused.
Don’t think to yourself “I’m never going to share this with anyone else, or even show it to anyone; I am definitely not going to enter it for a competition, send it to an agent or a publisher so there is no audience…”
There is always an audience… even if it is an audience of one, yourself!
If you are writing a story just for yourself, when you read it back you want to be moved and feel some emotion from what your eyes are reading and sending to your brain.
If it’s a long descriptive piece, you don’t want those same eyes to glaze over and skate across the words, you want to be entranced and delighted by what you’ve written.
You are your audience; you might want to be moved, entertained, excited, engaged…
Your story might be for children, even if you never share it with any, your inner child will read it!

© Lois Elsden 2017

Respect your readers

I’m always very ready to accept ideas or to listen to good suggestions – for most things, but writing in particular! I write on my own (although I belong to a very helpful and friendly writing group, we share specifically written pieces rather than discuss on going projects!) and I self-publish so I don’t have an editor (but I do have a proof reader, plus kind friends who give honest criticism) … so any advice or suggestions I can find elsewhere I give serious consideration to!

I came across this headline:

5 Essential Pieces of Advice You Need Before You Publish

I immediately read it through, and although some of the advice was more relevant to me than other bits, it was all sound. The ‘5 Essential Pieces of Advice’ are:

  • Editing is VERY important
  •  Marketing can’t be avoided!
  • Reach out to other authors for advice
  • Research publishing – what’s a good fit for you?
  • Respect your readers, and the craft itself

This is the order in which they appear, but if I was to put them in order of importance to me – just my thoughts, you understand, they would be like this:

  1. Respect your readers, and the craft itself 
  2. Editing is VERY important
  3. Reach out to other authors for advice
  4. Research publishing – what’s a good fit for you?
  5.  Marketing can’t be avoided!

I was thinking about the first point – writing is about the audience as well as the writer! it took me a long time to understand the importance of ‘audience’ a very long time.

Here is something I wrote while ago but I think it is still very true:

I made a commented recently about the importance of not falling in love with my characters… and I had some great comments which I really appreciated, but it made me realise I need to make it clearer what I mean. I sometimes think that writers, particularly of a series of novels, that they become so close to their characters that they are no longer objective about them and become almost indulgent. I don’t wish to criticise P.D. James  heaven forbid! She actually is an old girl of the school I attended in Cambridge and a wonderful writer, a great writer. I, along with other people  will never forget the way she took apart the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, when she interviewed him in 2009… however… however… I think she is too indulgent with her detective, Adam Dalgliesh. I haven’t read her latest Dalgliesh mysteries so I may need to retract this statement!
Someone commented that a fiction writer is the creators and so makes the rules… I suppose that is true to a certain extent, especially for great writers… However, but I’m just an ordinary writer, a story-teller, and I want people to read my work so like it or not, to a certain extent I have to conform to a certain structure and convention. It’s the same as if I were a performer, I would want people to watch me, so maybe I would have to compromise in order to get that audience. As a writer, especially an unknown writer seeking an audience I might sometimes have to adjust what I write to catch people’s interest, and then sustain it… and yet I must continue to be  my own person and true to what I want to do.
I do love my characters, I really do, in fact there is one who I am almost ‘in love’ with! If you have read my three published novels you might like to guess who that is! I guess what I mean by not falling in love with them is that I should also try and see them objectively so they behave within the context of the plot in a consistent and believable way. maybe I should have used the word indulgent, perhaps I believe I shouldn’t be too indulgent with them.
My characters are important to me, really important, they live with me after all! They continue on with their lives long after the story has ended… just because there is nothing more for my readers doesn’t mean the characters don’t continue their lives and adventures!
As a reader I love it when characters stay with me…  and so they do when I write; I just don’t want to become too close to them!

In this piece I mention I’ve published three novels – well, I have now published twelve as e-readers, and one is available as a paperback. I would really appreciate your comments, and criticism, so here is a link:

Here is a link to the article ‘5 Essential Pieces of Advice You Need Before You Publish’ – I really recommend you read it!:

Pleased… but surprised

I wonder if it’s the same for other artists – painters and musicians for example. Do they have favourite pieces of their own work, some they think better than others, some they prefer to others? Are they then surprised when their audience seems to prefer a different  piece, or rate something differently?

I really struggled with editing ‘Loving Judah’ ready for publication, and was worried when it came out as an e-book that my readers wouldn’t really like it, or not like it as much as my other two novels, ‘Farholm, and ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’. I have been really thrilled by ‘Judah’s reception, several people have told me it’s my best book yet! My novels are all very different from each other, and obviously readers have different tastes, but having worked so hard on ‘Judah’ it is really pleasing that people I respect have told me they have enjoyed it the most!

Thank you, thank you, dear readers… I wonder what you will think of ‘Night Vision’! Whatever your thoughts, let me know!