We are made of stories

We tell ourselves stories in order to live. ~Joan Didion

Storytelling is as old as time. Fables, myths and fairy tales are passed from generation to generation. We are always looking for meaning and ways to explain the things that happen to us. Telling a story is the best way to do this.

In our post on The Science of Storytelling, we explained how reading a story lights up the language parts of our brains and any other part of the brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing what we’re reading. It would be foolish to underestimate the power of stories.

To be a person is to have a story to tell. ~Karen Blixen


This beautiful poster is made by Risa Rodil, a young designer, illustrator and letterer. Her art revolves around brightly coloured typography and retro illustrations. Visit risarodil.com

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms. ~Muriel Rukeyser

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 by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

Amanda is the founder of Writers Write. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Google+,  Tumblr  and  Twitter. 

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

Writers Write - Write to communicate

Is your story goal strong enough to support your novel?

'In nearly all good fiction, the basic - all but inescapable - plot form is this: A central character wants something, goes after it despite opposition, perhaps including his own doubts, and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.' ~John Gardner

How do you know if your story goal is good enough to support your entire novel?

In last week's post, The Story Goal - The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure, I discussed what a story goal is and the importance of this goal. This week, I want to give you a checklist to find out if you have a good enough story goal.

The Five Essential Criteria for Creating Successful Story Goals:

1.  Possession
Your protagonist must try to gain possession of something – an object, a person or  information.  Example:  Brad, who is trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter, wants possession of his child.

2.  Relief
Your protagonist must try to gain relief from something tangible – a threat, an object, a person, an animal, or a condition such as oppression or persecution, and relief from something emotional – fear, pain, sadness, despair. Example: Brad needs relief from the kidnapper’s demands and relief from his feelings of pain, fear and despair.

3.  Terrible Consequences
Your protagonist must face terrible consequences if he fails to achieve his story goal. Example: If Brad fails, he will never see his child again.

4.  A Worthy Motivation
Your protagonist must have a worthy motivation for pursuing his goal. These could include duty, freedom, love, honour, justice, dignity, integrity, redemption, self-respect, and survival. Example: Brad is motivated by love, duty, and the survival of his daughter.
Note: Soft emotions like kindness and generosity do not work. Neither do negative emotions like lust, envy, anger, greed, pride, and hatred. Revenge is interesting. Readers have trouble sympathising with a protagonist whose sole goal is to get even. The way to make this work is when the justice system has failed to punish someone who really deserves to be punished.

5.  Tremendous Odds
It should appear impossible for your protagonist to achieve this goal. Example: Brad will have to track a criminal, deal with law enforcement, handle his family’s pain and test his bravery.
If your story goal is a physical goal and if it meets these five criteria, you will have a solid foundation for your novel.

 by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

Amanda is the founder of Writers Write. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Google+,  Tumblr  and  Twitter. 

© Amanda Patterson

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

Writers Write - Write to communicate

The Truth About Memoirs – Four Primal Connections And Their Universal Appeal

Completing my series on The Truth About Memoirs, I want to talk about the role of our primal needs in this week's post.


For a memoir to have resonance in the mind and create empathy in the heart, it should make a primal connection with the reader.  We must be able to see ourselves in your story and feel enough to live your journey on the page.

How we express ourselves…

Once you understand what our most primal needs are – what we need to do to survive – you can make these elements stronger in your memoir. We all need to feel appreciated, valued, or to express our creativity and identity in the world – but underlying this is our most primitive urges. These can lead to ideal states or become repressed, reckless and destructive. Either way, they make for compelling stories.


How do these play out in a memoir?

You might say, ‘This sounds too dramatic for my memoir!’ Maybe, but just think about it for a moment.  Most of us have loved ones in our lives – a parent, friend, child – that we’re willing to defend. When did you go to battle for them? More importantly, when did you stand up for yourself? It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale, you can write about small personal victories – or setbacks.

Say you’re writing a story about your travels around the world. How did the food you ate contribute to your experience? Did it help you understand the culture of the country? A scene of you eating a gelato in St Mark’s Square can be a great shorthand for personal triumph and pleasure.

Sleep is something we all take for granted, but maybe you can write about the night – the long, dark night of the soul – when sleep wouldn’t come, or where you struggled with a problem and couldn’t get any rest. 

Connecting to the primal

The truth is that when we connect to the primal needs and fears inside us, we immediately connect to those same needs and fears in the reader. This is what gives your story universality – whether we’re 18 or 80, we know what it’s like to seek a soul mate. 

Whether we’re living in Europe or Australia, we understand that food brings us together in times of celebration, grief, and everyday life.

Try this:
  • Write a scene where you’re in a restaurant or café you love, having your favourite meal with a friend or loved one.
  • Write about the time you felt you were in danger – either emotional or physical danger.  Write about your vulnerability, anger, the adrenalin you felt.
  • Write about the time you first realised you were in love – or the first time you were lonely. Write fearlessly.

If you want to learn how to write a book send an email to  news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you enjoyed this post, read:

    Anthony Ehlers is a reluctant blogger. A child of the 70s, he’s a late converter to the (sometimes scary) world of social media. As a creative writing facilitator, he loves sharing ideas around storytelling and the blog post is another way to reach out to fellow writers no matter their stage of the journey. He always encourages delegates with energy, humour and his insights into novels, short stories and scriptwriting. He sometimes lurks on Facebook and flits on to a branch of Twitter  when his Inbox is empty (which isn’t a lot these days).

    ~~~~~

    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

    What To Do When All Your Characters Sound The Same


    When Writers Write hosted Barbara Kingsolver, she said something that has haunted me since that night, but in a good way - not like Chucky. 

    She wrote every scene of The Poisonwood Bible from all five of the character’s viewpoints. The words discipline and dedication do come to mind, but if you think about it, it is a brilliant exercise. She created five distinct voices, so distinct, you do not even need to read the heading to know who the narrator of that section is.

    When you write in third person, you can use the character’s name to keep your reader on track, but with first person you need to work harder, because all you have is the 'I'. Please note that you also need to differentiate between, and create different voices for, your characters in third person. But for this post, I want to focus on first person.

    One of my pet peeves when I read a book written in first person with multiple narrators is that I don't always know who is speaking. One book used two first person narrators - a young girl and an old man. They sounded the same, which, you’ll agree, is odd. I had to keep going back to see whose chapter it was. It drove me mad.


    How can you avoid this?
    1. Know your character: The more you know about your character the more distinct they will be. Do they speak in long sentences? Do they go off on tangents? Remember, this is not only for dialogue. This is for internal thoughts too. First person is intimate. The thought processes and vocabulary should suit the character.
    2. Think about body language: How they move will often have a direct influence on their speech and thoughts. Is your character in constant motion, fiddling, touching, talking non-stop or are they stationary, using minimum movement and giving only single word answers.
    3. Use visual aids: When you are in a character’s viewpoint try to have a picture of them nearby. I usually find pictures on the internet or in magazines and stick them up when I write. It helps to see them.
    4. Change the font: This seems silly, but it helps. Choose a different font for each character. This forces you to stop and take note of the change.
    5. Use a prop: If your character has a favourite item, keep it at hand, if possible. Maybe your character wears a hat or a prominent ring. Wear the hat or the ring while you write their scenes. It’s like role-play at your desk.
    These are all good to keep in mind when you write in third person as well. Don’t get lazy just because you can use their names.

    If you want to learn how to write a book, send an email to  news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

    Image: Pixabay

     by Mia Botha

    If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

    1. Write Small - Five Ways To Make Your Reader Care
    2. How Long Should Your Blog Post Be?
    3. 10 Remedies For The Horrible Things Writers Tell Themselves

    Mia Botha facilitates for Writers Write. She is also a novelist, a ghost writer, and the winner of the Mills&Boon Voice of Africa Competition. When she isn’t writing, she is the mother of two children and the wife of a very lucky man. Follow Mia on Pinterest  and Facebook and  Tumblr  and  Twitter.

    ~~~~~

      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

      Writers Write - Write to communicate

      Howdy Ma’am: Three Ways To Introduce Your Characters In The First Few Lines


      Thin slicing

      We all thin slice. No, I’m not referring to your culinary skills. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, thin slicing is defined as our unconscious ability ‘to find patterns in situations and behaviour based on very narrow slices of experience’. This is what allows you to suss out people instinctively only seconds after meeting them. The same holds true for your readers. Because they will be thin slicing the characters in your novel, how you introduce your characters in those first few lines is critical.   

      Wasted opportunities
      First-time authors often make the mistake of introducing a character by describing physical appearance. While it tells readers what a character look like, it’s a lower form of storytelling. You have only a few seconds to create a snapshot that shows the reader exactly who the character is. 

      Meet Sheriff Elliot West

      Consider these two introductions: 

      Sheriff West I
      The dry glare spilled around him, making his silhouette painful to look at. He kept the chapped saloon doors open with his sausage fingers, the chunky gold ring on his little finger glinting. Ol’ Jim’s honky-tonk melody faltered. Satisfied, he sauntered into the saloon, the doors clapping to behind him.
      ‘Howdy, ma’am,’ he said, easing his hat onto the counter. He licked his thumb and rubbed the spotless sheriff’s badge.
      Sally fidgeted behind the counter.
      ‘Elliot,’ she nodded. It was her small rebellion.
      He fingered his badge. She refused to give in.
      ‘Make it a double,’ he said.
      ‘Whiskey?’
      His eyes locked with hers and then slid away again, but not before she saw the dark flash. Of course it would be whiskey. Of course it would be a double. Of course it would be on the house. 


      Sheriff West II
      The dry glare spilled around him, silhouetting his frame in the doorway for a moment. He strode into the saloon, his loose-limbed gait keeping time with Ol’ Jim’s honky-tonk melody. He tossed his hat with its sheriff’s badge onto the counter in a puff of dust.   
      ‘Sally,’ he grinned around the matchstick in his mouth.
      ‘Elliot,’ she said, pouring whiskey into a foggy-glassed tumbler.
      ‘How’s business?’ he asked.
      She tipped the bottle to make it a double, but he stayed her hand with calloused fingers.
      ‘That’ll do, thanks.’
       ‘I can give it to you on the house, you know.’
      ‘Nah. It’s not the money. Steady head, steady hands.’ 

      Make your words count

      Here are three tips to help you introduce your characters in a few lines:
      1. Use physical descriptions sparingly and make them do double duty: readers don’t need to know all your characters’ physical attributes – only the important ones. Think of the first sheriff’s sausage fingers, gold ring, and clean badge, compared to the second sheriff’s calloused fingers and dusty hat.
      2. Establish your characters’ characteristics: you can show who your characters are by the way they move, their habits, and how they treat others. What does the sheriffs’ treatment of Sally tell you?
      3. Play with stereotypes: in real life, the danger with thin slicing is that you stereotype people and make incorrect judgements. In writing, stereotyping is a fun tool. It can both quickly establish who a character is according to the stereotype, and help you make the character three-dimensional when you depart from it. It can also help you set up red herrings and work in surprise twists when you pull the stereotype-rug out from under your readers’ feet. 
      What you decide to do with your characters after your introduction is up to you, but make sure their ‘Howdy ma’am’ is a good one. 

      If you want to learn how to write a book send an email to  news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

      Image: Pixabay

       by Donna Radley

      If you enjoyed this post, you will like:

      Donna is a creative writer who has tinkered with words for years. She has written newsletters and online articles, translated a book, and edited a variety of documents. She also reviews books. She owned her own training business and now facilitates The Plain Language Programme for Writers Write. She is currently working on her novel, which involves drinking lots of sweet tea. You can view her profile on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.  

      ~~~~~

      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to  news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

      Writers Write - Write to communicate

      The Three Most Abused Words in Emails (and other writing mistakes)

      I recently wrote a post, The 12 Worst Mistakes People Make In Email Subject Lines, which sets out the mistakes that drive me crazy when I'm reading emails.

      With emails, everyone is likely to be the first point of contact for potential clients. We have all become business writers in today's electronic world. Everybody who has a keyboard and access to the Internet can make, or break, your company’s image. 

      I have written many posts on email etiquette and how important it is to make a good first impression. I have even likened poor email etiquette to ambushing strangers in the street and high-fiving them with filthy hands. If you know this is an unsavoury approach, and if you care about first impressions, I hope these email tips help you improve your communication skills.

      Deborah Tan, writes about the three most abused words in emails, misplaced or missing commas, and the misuse of the words 'that' and 'which' in this Infographic. She says: 'As an editor, I guess it’s become an “occupational hazard” to pick apart every single email I receive.' 

      We hope you find her explanations in this Infographic as useful as we do.

      Source: Material World

       by Amanda Patterson. Amanda is the founder of Writers Write. Follow her on Pinterest, Facebook,  Google+,  Tumblr  and Twitter.  

      If you enjoyed this article, read these posts:

      1. The Top Seven Tips for Writing Emails
      2. The 12 Worst Mistakes People Make In Email Subject Lines
      3. Begin at the end - the one essential email trick every business writer should know

      ~~~~~

      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

      Writers Write - Write to communicate

      11 Things To Know About Dating A Writer

      We found this Infographic at The Write Lifestyle and could not resist sharing it with you.

      Source: The Write Lifestyle

      If you enjoyed this, read these posts:

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      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

      Writers Write - Write to communicate

      The Story Goal - The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure

      You have to keep your characters busy if you want to write a novel. You have to give them a crisis, a reason to overcome it, and a way out.

      Once you have decided on an appropriate inciting moment caused by a worthy antagonist, you have to decide what your protagonist is going to do about it. Your protagonist has to set a goal that he or she believes will solve the crisis. The protagonist’s goal is known as the story goal. This goal is the foundation of your plot.

      Characters must have physical story goals.

      For the purpose of plotting, you should not choose an abstract goal. Characters always have abstract story goals. We are always on journeys of self-discovery where we worry about our feelings. This is a given, but never let these become more important than physical goals with deadlines. If you do choose an abstract story goal, your character will spend too much time alone, thinking, and boring your readers.

      Your story at its most basic

      Before you start writing, complete this: My novel is a story about  ______________________  (protagonist’s name) who wants to ____________________________________  (ultimate physical story goal).


      Remember that love is not a plot – it is an emotion

      To recap from a previous post on story goals, wanting to find ‘love’ or ‘acceptance’ or ‘justice’ is not enough. When your character is loved, accepted or vindicated after achieving a physical goal, you have a story. 

      To define a physical story goal a character needs:
      1. to get something physical 
      2. to cause something physical 
      3. to escape something physical 
      4. to resolve something physical 
      5. to survive something physical
      How do you know if your story goal is good enough to support your story?

      Watch out for next Friday's post, which includes The Five Criteria for Creating Successful Story Goals


       by Amanda Patterson

      If you enjoyed this post, read:

      Amanda is the founder of Writers Write. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Google+,  Tumblr  and  Twitter. 

      © Amanda Patterson

      ~~~~~

      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

      Writers Write - Write to communicate

      The Truth About Memoirs – Seven Simple Ways To Find Those Lost Moments

      Continuing my series of posts on The Truth About Memoirs, I want to talk about ways in which you can find lost memories this week.

      ‘Happiness is hard to recall. It’s just a glow.’  ~Frank McCourt

      ‘There is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery.’ ~Dante Alighieri

      Sometimes our memories are as clear and vivid as tropical fish in a brightly lit aquarium. Other times, they’re like buried treasure in the deepest reaches of the ocean.  ‘I can’t remember what I had for breakfast on Tuesday,’ you say. ‘How can I remember the name of my second grade teacher?’ 

      I don’t think we ever forget anything. It’s all still there. We just need something tangible to make the connection again. And even if you don’t find it – you will remember that ‘glow’ and that’s what you’re really doing in a memoir: stalking lost emotion. 

      Try these seven exercises to help you turn back time

      1. Smile for the camera!  These are a great way to jog your memory. Go through old photo albums or home videos. If you’re a digital baby, scroll through old timelines on Facebook.
      2. The time of your life. Make a list of the songs or movies you loved during the year/s you wish to reflect on. What song was playing the day you met your partner?  If your memory is that bad, do an online search for the top songs and movies of that year!
      3. A first time for everything. Do 10-minute writing exercises, starting with the words, ‘The first time I ever …’. It could be about the first time you kissed, drove a car, or bake a cake. It could be about the first time you met your biological father, went on a hike.
      4. Retro calendar. Take a sheet of paper and divide into columns. In each column, write down chronological year numbers – say, 1998, 1999, 2000. Then create bullet points for any milestones or even setbacks for that year. Example: got my MBA, moved to Perth, had my first nose job. (If you are stuck, maybe look back at old diaries).
      5. From archived to alive. Go through old emails from friends if you can find them, or read over letters you’ve kept. You could also find invitations, menus, or other mementoes that may help you remember good – and maybe not so good – times.
      6. Free association.  On one side of a page write down common everyday words. On the other, write down the first idea, word, or fragment that comes to you. For example, maybe ‘dog’ sparks a memory about Chips, the rescue mongrel you loved. Or ‘toaster’ reminds you of the time your gran almost burned down the kitchen.
      7. Bake some biscuits. Try to write down your favourite recipes from memory. Maybe your grandmother gave it to you, or a good friend. And then try to follow the recipe – and see how it comes out.

      These are just a few ways you can trick yourself into remembering. They’ll get you started. Once you start, you’ll find that more and more memories will come flooding back – so keep a notebook handy.

      If you want to learn how to write a book send an email to  news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

         by Anthony Ehlers

        If you enjoyed this post, read:

        Anthony Ehlers is a reluctant blogger. A child of the 70s, he’s a late converter to the (sometimes scary) world of social media. As a creative writing facilitator, he loves sharing ideas around storytelling and the blog post is another way to reach out to fellow writers no matter their stage of the journey. He always encourages delegates with energy, humour and his insights into novels, short stories and scriptwriting. He sometimes lurks on Facebook and flits on to a branch of Twitter  when his Inbox is empty (which isn’t a lot these days).

        ~~~~~

        Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

        Write Small - Five Ways To Make Your Reader Care

        I have found my new all-time, favourite writing advice:

        'The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don't write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid's burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.' ~Richard Price

        I love this quote. You may have come across it before, but I saw it on Pinterest last week and I have been staring at it since. Think of the best stories - you always remember the small details.

        Often, when I teach, I listen to students talking of the great stories they want to write. They want to write about wars where hundreds of lives are lost, marriages that end in divorce, the loss of a child or a horrible parent. All big issues. All great topics.

        But when do I, as the reader, start caring?

        • I care when I meet the soldier, scared out of his wits, hiding in the trench, trying to light a soggy cigarette, wishing he could see his girlfriend just one more time. 
        • I care when he throws away the cigarette and kisses her photo before climbing out of the trench to face the enemy.
        • I care when I learn that the little girl who died liked drawing purple unicorns and that she drew a new one every day she spent in hospital. I cry when her mother takes them down. I cry because there are 42 pictures and I cry because there will never be 43.

        How do I write small?

        1. Create a character: How do I get to the kid’s burnt socks? I create a mother or a soldier who walks down the road and comes across them. Think of Saving Private Ryan; Private Ryan was only one soldier, but because they singled him out, he made us aware that all soldiers have families, mothers, and fathers. They are not nameless, faceless, camo-wearing, gun toting soldiers anymore. They are all someone’s son.
        2. Give that character a concrete goal: If it is a war story, then yes, the character wants to survive. But try to give them a simpler goal in the midst of the survival. Maybe, to fulfil his mother’s dying wish or in the case of The Book Thief, all Liesel wanted was a book to read. Even though a war is raging, everyday life continues.   

        3. Write with the senses: Burnt socks? You can smell them right now, right? Gunshots? You can hear the bang, bang, bang. Purple unicorns? You can see them. You can see the round shapes left by the Prestik on the glass doors of the ICU as the mother pulls down her little girl’s pictures for the last time.
        4. Find your theme: War and Death of a loved one might be too generic. Consider them ideas and they are good places to start. Work hard to make your theme specific. The farther along you get in your story the more you will be able to identify the theme. This will help you pick out the details you want to highlight.
        5. Symbolism: Once you have made your way through a draft identify scenes where you can repeat symbols. Burnt socks? Maybe give me the moment when the little boy got them. They were blue and yellow and had Batman on them. Just like his big brothers.  

          Write small about the big things. Make your reader care.

          Happy writing.   

          If you want to learn how to write a book send an email to  news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.


           by Mia Botha

          If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

          1. How Long Should Your Blog Post Be?
          2. 10 Remedies For The Horrible Things Writers Tell Themselves
          3. Where's the baddie? - What my six-year-old taught me about storytelling

          Mia Botha facilitates for Writers Write. She is also a novelist, a ghost writer, and the winner of the Mills&Boon Voice of Africa Competition. When she isn’t writing, she is the mother of two children and the wife of a very lucky man. Follow Mia on Pinterest  and Facebook and  Tumblr  and  Twitter.

          ~~~~~

            Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

            Writers Write - Write to communicate