The Top 10 Writing Posts for March 2014

These were the Writers Write posts you enjoyed most in March 2014.

  1. Your Writing Style - Which famous writer's style is most like your own? 
  2. The Six Defining Characteristics of Strong Female Protagonists  - Strong women in fiction
  3. 39 Synonyms for Run - A resource for writers
  4. Writing Children's Books - A Cheat Sheet
  5. Crime Writing for Beginners - An Infographic
  6. Reasons not to write a book - a comic for writers
  7. Commercial or Literary? What is the difference between a commercial and a literary plot? 
  8. Breaking the Blues – how to write even when you don’t feel like it 
  9. Writing Sex Scenes - Part One 
  10. Writing Sex Scenes - Part Two - Six Male Archetypes 

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - Writing courses for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za

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The Locked Room – A simple way to test your plot

A trapped character comes alive on the page or screen because he has to fight his way out a corner. The character has to push back against the predicament placed there by the plot—giving us conflict, intensity, and barriers we can define. The locked room is a way to interrogate your plot. 

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The character can be someone accused of murder who is trapped in a witness box by a dogged prosecutor. It can be a woman trapped in a loveless marriage and career, with no window or door to help her escape. It can be someone stuck in a deep depression or illness—the locked room is an inner demon or addiction.

It doesn’t matter. The idea is to put your character in a room. Lock the door, bar the windows, take away food and comfort— and see what happens. As a writer, you have to get him out the locked room.

  1. Who locked him in the room? 
  2. Why did they lock him in the room?
  3. Why does he need to get out the room? What will happen if he doesn’t get out the room?
  4. Is there anyone else or anything else in the room with him?
  5. How is he going to get out of the locked room? With force? Words? 

This is what the locked room could look like on the page:
A naïve young heiress is persuaded into an engagement with a wealthier older man. This is the 1920s—so the locked room is the morals, pressures and expectations of the period. She needs to get out of the relationship because she fears she will end up a miserable uptight snob like her mother. 
The only person who can understand, and help her, is a free-spirited and rebellious female journalist—who encourages her to break from her rich family and find her own identity.

When we’re writing or planning our stories, we sometimes wander off course. We have interesting characters doing things in great settings with some lovely description—but there’s no conflict or consequence. The locked room test is a great way to get back inside the plot.

As the writer Luke Short once said: ‘First I write myself onto a corner. Then I write myself out.’

 by Anthony Ehlers

Anthony has facilitated courses for Writers Write since 2007. Published both locally and internationally, he was twice a runner-up in the Mills&Boon Voice of Africa short story competition. In 2013, his crime short story was included in Bloody Satisfied, an anthology sponsored by the National Arts Festival SA.
As a scriptwriter, he has written three television features. In 2014, his short films were short-listed for the Jameson First Shot competition, as well as the European Independent Film Festival. Follow Anthony on Twitter and Facebook.

(Start writing your book with Writers Write - how to write a book on 10,17,24,31 May in Johannesburg.)

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - Writing courses for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za

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What your writing equipment says about you

Comic created by Writers Write at Someecards

We spend our days clicking away on our laptops, desktops, tablets and phones. We write memos and type reminders and fill documents using things like auto correction and spell check. We race the cursor and watch as our word count climbs, but when the electricity is off and the batteries need charging, we reveal our inner writer.

When you have to write by hand, what do your chosen tools say about you? 

  1. Pencil: Pencils can be either dark (B’s) or light (H’s). Writers who prefer pencils tend to be commitment phobic and flit from project to project. The lighter the pencil, the more insecure the writer. The darker the pencil the less the chance the person is actually a writer. They are most likely the talkers or visually impaired. Writers who use HB pencils should grow a pair and just commit to one of their projects. 
  2. Pen: Pens are divided by price and levels of self-censoring. The more expensive the pen the more repressed the writer and the more self-censoring occurs. The story is there, but because these writers refuse to be honest with themselves, their writing remains flat. Writers who choose pens however, are tenacious and will never give up, regardless of a disastrous plot or blatant and repeated rejection. Writers who like pens that click have obsessive personalities and will spend time in rehab at some point in their careers. 

Subcategory of the pen - Ink colour

  • Blue: You still write like you did at school. Long-winded essays wrought with unspecified adjectives and lazy adverbs. 
  • Black: You steal pens and you might actually make it as a writer if only you could get out of your own way. 
  • Red: You have masochistic tendencies. 
  • Green: There is something wrong with you, but as long as no one else gets hurt we’ll leave you be. 
  • Any other colour: Seek professional help. Immediately. 

Erasers and sharpeners: 

  1. Writers who choose pencils with erasers attached to the end tend to be skittish, fragile creatures who kill ideas faster than they can create them. The ideas might be good, but we never know because the ideas are erased as fast they are written.
  2. If a writer prefers a large eraser with sharp corners they are most likely a dark pencil user and not really a writer.
  3. If you have a tiny piece of rubber that used to be a big fat eraser you might actually have the ability to become a writer. 
  4. The same can be said about having a desk-mounted pencil sharpener - this is how you know you are indeed a writer. Regardless of the type of pencil used, this is the mark of a true wordsmith.
  5. Small, hand-held sharpeners can only be used in the direst of situations or on out-of-office writing days, and then only if they are embellished with some kind of animated character. 
  6. Writers who use Tippex are imposters and can’t write a word. Seriously, who waits for Tippex to dry?
  7. Lastly, if writers chew on their chosen implements, they are hungry and should be fed. 

If you have read through this entire post trying to find you ideal implement/corrector combo you have proved that you are indeed a writer and a master procrastinator. That said you should be writing and not reading posts about writing tools. Your implement does not dictate your writing fate. You do.

 by Mia Botha

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. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - How to write for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za 

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Literary Periods with a Timeline

The Literature Network created a graphical timeline representing literary periods and movements, as well as major events and authors, from literature history. To learn more about specific eras, browse through their Literary Periods page.
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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - Writing courses for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za

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Everyday Persuasive Writing in Business

Persuasive writing uses words to convince people to listen or to act. Great business writers use persuasive writing in proposals, articles, newsletters, memos, emails, requests for meetings, speeches, and reports.

The main reasons we use persuasive writing are:

  1. To boost morale
  2. To show commitment to customers
  3. To show commitment to investors
  4. To show commitment to partners
  5. To show commitment to staff members
  6. To encourage repeat business
  7. To increase brand awareness
  8. To increase sales
  9. To win back lost business

‘It’s all about you’ is the most important technique we use in persuasive writing. This technique, which produces goodwill and favourably influences people, is crucial in business writing.

You must emphasise the reader’s importance. What is his interest in your subject? Develop your argument from your reader’s point of view instead of your own.

You should:

  • Focus on what you want the reader to perceive
  • Minimise your feelings 
  • Remember the reader’s concerns 
  • Use the active voice
  • Choose persuasive words

Remember the reader:

  • Understand the results you want to achieve 
  • Consider the possible responses you will get
  • Always offer a reward

Read about more about Ethos, Logos, Pathos

Email news@writerswrite.co.za to find out more about our business writing course, The Plain Language Programme. 

 by Amanda Patterson

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - Writing courses for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za

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Happy Scrabble Day

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Scrabble Day is celebrated on 13 April. Its creator, Alfred Mosher Butts, was born 13 April 1899. Approximately 150 million Scrabble sets have been sold worldwide.

Nine Literary Scrabble Quotes

  1. Remember, when you don’t know what to do, it never hurts to play Scrabble. It’s like reading the I Ching or tea leaves. ~Kelly Link
  2. Palindrome as well. My sister’s name is Hannah. Father liked word games. He was fourteen times World Scrabble Champion. When he died, we buried him at Queenzieburn to make use of the triple word score. ~Jasper Fforde
  3. Jeff is the annoying kind of Scrabble player who plays a lot of obscure two-letter words that shouldn’t count but for whatever reason are considered legitimate. My father is the annoying kind of Scrabble player who takes hours with his turn and then plays deliberately misspelled words that no one has the heart to call him out on. I am the perfect Scrabble player, both serious and considerate. Obviously I lost by a lot. ~Bennett Madison
  4. Children are the most desirable opponents at scrabble as they are both easy to beat and fun to cheat. ~Fran Lebowitz
  5. They obey their mothers. They don’t go into a dark cellar without expecting to be strangled by a zombie. They bless themselves constantly. And us, what do we do? We watch television and play Scrabble. So there it is, children of light and darkness. ~Don DeLillo
  6. She was sitting by herself at a card table with a Scrabble game half finished, an empty coffee cup beside her, looking annoyed as hell. ~Mickey Spillane
  7. The thing Richie remembered about Jimmy Cullum, a quiet little boy who also wore spectacles, was that he liked to play Scrabble on rainy days. Not going to be playing Scrabble any more, Richie thought, and shivered a little.  ~Stephen King
  8. The thoughts that came to her, of Jeffrey, were not really thoughts at all — they were more like alterations in her body. This could happen [in] the middle of Monopoly games, Scrabble games, card games. She went right on talking, listening, working, keeping track of the children, while some memory of her secret life disturbed her like a radiant explosion. ~Alice Munro
  9. Brian says you’re very competitive…. He said he wouldn’t want to play Scrabble with you. ~Jonathan Franzen

 by Amanda Patterson

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - Writing courses for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za

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How to use quotation marks with punctuation

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - Writing courses for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za

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Seven Reasons to Communicate Clearly

Created by Writers Write at Someecards

Are you as annoyed as I am when you listen to politicians? 

With the elections in South Africa on 7 May 2014, I thought candidates would at least try to communicate clearly. I don’t understand what most of them are saying, and I don’t care about their messages because of this. I am tired of jargon and ambiguity. I wish someone would just say what they mean.

When we communicate in plain language, misunderstandings disappear. Readers actually read our information and use it. Our audience listens to us and understands our words. We don’t spend precious time explaining what we meant.

Communicating in plain language:

  1. Streamlines procedures and paperwork
  2. Increases understanding and satisfaction
  3. Reduces confusion 
  4. Reduces complaints 
  5. Reduces enquiries seeking clarification
  6. Creates a positive image
  7. Saves time and money

Why waste resources producing documents that are dense and difficult to understand? 

People don’t have the time, patience or energy to wade through badly-written material. They don’t want to listen to boring long-winded speeches. Everyone benefits from using plain language. Non-profit and the public service sector improve their reputation in the eyes of the public. Private industry gains a competitive advantage.

In South Africa (even though you wouldn't think so from listening to most politicians, lawyers, and business leaders) communicating in plain language is necessary. The Consumer Protection Act, National Credit Act and the Companies Act (to name a few) have made the use of plain language compulsory. Compliance helps you avoid unnecessary legal costs. (See the e-toll debacle.)

Writers Write offer a business-writing course that emphasises plain language requirements. We hope more companies, government structures, and organisations make use of it.  If you want details on The Plain Language Programme, please send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za

 by Amanda Patterson

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - Writing courses for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za

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Stamp out that cliché – How clichés and jargon can ruin your writing

Poster created by Writers Write at Keep Calm

Today we’re going to start the weekly blog with a philately lesson. In traditional stamp making, a cliché was an individual unit consisting of the design of a single stamp, combined with others to make up a printing plate. Clichés as we have come to know them are the kiss of death for good writing.

Jargon, another word with French origin, derives from a phrase meaning the chattering of birds. Meaningless jargon is another cause of death for your writing. It is the kind of stuff politicians use or what we see in brochures.

We fall into these two hollow literary traps for three reasons.

1. Lack of passion or laziness. If we don’t feel connected to our writing or we’re in a hurry to meet a publishing deadline, we tend to go for the first phrase that pops into our head.
So we say: I envied Ilse. She lived in a luxurious penthouse in Hyde Park. Instead of: Ilse’s white tiles blinded me, as did her taste in fake Picassos and flokati rugs.

2. No first-hand knowledge. Sometimes when we don’t understand our material – either because we have no intimate knowledge of it or we have not researched it deeply enough – we stay with safe and acceptable description.
So we say: The average temperature in subtropical Phalaborwa is 35 degrees Celsius as the incoming troops were told in their orientation brochure. Instead of: Don’t expect shade in hell. That’s what the sersant was screaming at them. Benjamin was just a troepie – he didn’t know if he was going to throw up or pass out.

3. Caution or timidity. When we don’t wish to upset a group of people – sometimes known as polite society – or are too scared to be bold and fearless, we use innocuous and politically correct language that says nothing.
So we say: Deborah did not care for her son’s lifestyle, but made allowances for it as best she could. She was worried about the December holidays. Instead of: Deb’s son was buying his’n’his Chihuahuas with someone called Kyle. This was going to crap all over her Christmas seating plan.

When we use jargon or clichés, we create fuzziness around the image or emotion we’re trying to get across. Be as specific as you can be and authentic as you can be. Every word must have your blood in it – anger, irony, admiration, etc. Don’t make it look like everyone else’s.

 by Anthony Ehlers

Follow Anthony on Twitter and Facebook. Anthony is an author, a ghost writer, a screenwriter and a brilliant writing teacher. A full-time freelance writer, Anthony facilitates creative writing courses for Writers Write, while working on his own projects.Visit his LinkedIn Profile 

(Start writing your book with Writers Write - how to write a book from 14-17 April or 10,17,24,31 May in Johannesburg.)

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - Writing courses for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za

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What watching Disney (and Pixar) taught me about writing suspense

It’s all in the timing

Sometimes you’ve got it all. Awesome characters, a cool plot, a great setting and the perfect amount of description, but it still lacks something. You need a bit more, but what is it? What does the story need? 

I’ve decided that suspense is often the unsung hero.  

My kids are 4 and 6. Frozen was really the only Oscar-nominated movie I got to see. And because kids like watching movies over and over I get to watch them over and over too. I have to admit that Pixar and Disney are among the best story tellers. 

A similarity I noticed with their plots, is that there is almost always a time constraint. The role it plays varies, but it is always there. It adds suspense, it improves pacing, and it always adds to the conflict. 

Consider these 10 classics:

  1. Frozen: The town is literally frozen. People are going to die. Anna has to find Elsa to thaw it.
  2. Up: Carl wants to get his house to Paradise Falls. He uses helium balloons to fly the house there, but the helium will only last a certain amount of time.  
  3. Toy Story 1: Andy’s family is moving. Buzz and Woody have to get back before the moving van leaves or they won’t know where the new house is.   
  4. Tangled: Rapunzel has been locked in a tower her entire life. Once a year, on her birthday, the sky is filled with lanterns. She will do anything to see them. She blackmails Eugene to take her to the town where the lanterns are launched. 
  5. Epic: The Leaf People can only pick their new queen on the one night when the solstice and the full moon coincide. This only happens every 100 years. The queen chose a new pod, but she has died. The pod must open in the light of the full moon for the new queen to be crowned. 
  6. Beauty and the Beast: Belle must fall in love with The Beast before the rose dies.  
  7. Little Mermaid: Eric must kiss Ariel before the sun sets on the third day. 
  8. Monsters Inc.: The city of Monstropolis runs on scream-energy that is collected by scaring children. The city is running out of power. The monsters need to up their game to get more screams. 
  9. Finding Nemo: Darla (a fish killer) is coming in a few days. Nemo is her gift.
  10. Cars: McQueen has to get to L.A. before the other racers to start practising for the final race.

And for people, who actually get to watch real movies, think of stories like The Life of David Gale. The journalist races to find the evidence before the execution date. In the series 24, Jack Bauer has a time limit to thwart terrorists. 

Use wedding dates, bombs with timers, board meetings, deadlines, solar eclipses, or anything that ups the odds for your characters. Please leave titles of books that use time to add suspense below.

 by Mia Botha

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. To find out about Writers Write - How to write a book, or The Plain Language Programme - How to write for business, email news@writerswrite.co.za 

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