The Top 10 Writing Posts from April 2016

These were the new Writers Write posts you enjoyed most in April 2016:
  1. 7 Awesome Foreshadowing Tips For Fiction Writers
  2. The Awesome Foursome Fictional Characters
  3. Flip Your Characters To Twist A Plot
  4. Mirrors And Foils - How Characters Reflect And Highlight One Another
  5. April Writing Prompts
  6. 5 Fool Proof Ways To Write Better Emails
  7. 7 Ways Reading Books Helps Managers Improve Their Perception
  8. 27 Blogging Tips To Grow Your Business
  9. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 13: Decluttering Your Plot
  10. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 14: Final Fixes

Previous Posts

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 18: Shading A Scene

Welcome to week 18 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting

  1. Continue writing the scenes of your novel.

Breaking it down

Dynamics – soft light and explosions

In music, the dynamics of a song or performance relate to volume. In your novel, it’s pretty much the same. You contrast loud – or busy – scenes with quieter, more tranquil scenes.

This can even happen in one scene. For example, two lovers at a lively party with the beat of tropical house music, escape to a quiet garden to sip beer from a cup and steal a kiss. It can be more subtle: a computer analyst listens to the beeps and whirs of his computers at a beach house, while the sea whispers and retreats outside the deck.

You can also amplify the ‘volume’ if you like. In the movie Grace of Monaco, we see Princess Grace having an argument with her husband in their plush bedroom while outside the palace windows, the dull-sounding fireworks of New Year explode in the night sky.

To create wider dynamics in your novel, you need contrasting scenes throughout. Some contrasts are obvious to develop: you could have some scenes at night, others in the day.  Scale is another contrasts: you could move from a big warehouse to a small intimate bedroom.

In my novel, I realised I was getting a bit static with my scenes – especially in terms of the settings, and I needed to open it up a bit. For example, I’ve decided to look at having some scenes outdoors, at the sea, or at hotels or on the street.

You could even play with the length of a scene – some can be short, sharp, with a minimal word count. Others could be longer scenes that take their time to build up to a plot point. Play with the ‘volume’ of your novel – and you’ll find the pace of your novel improves.

A little bit of levity

Even if you’re writing a serious drama, you need a little bit of humour – or at least a lighter tone in places of your novel. It will give it a little bit of contrast.  And if you’re writing a comic novel, you also need a few ‘serious’ moments – light touches of drama. 

In Ed McBain’s, Axe, for example, we have our detectives investigating a grim crime – an old caretaker found with an axe in his head. The author contrasts this grim element with some great comic dialogue between the two detectives – discussing the inane plots of two horror movies - as well as showing one of the detective’s gentleness with his two children and mute wife.

In my novel, I must be honest, I’m struggling to find this levity. As a writer, I tend to be a bit ‘dark’ and I have to consciously pull back from pushing the melodrama button. But I have found one comic character – Jenna’s stepmother, who is a bit of a lush and says inappropriate things at the dinner table.

My writer friend, Marc, always says, ‘There has to be a bit of sweet with the sour.’ So true. For every bit of pleasure, there has to be a bit of pain. Dark is always hungry for light – even if it’s the light from an open refrigerator.

Setting and contrast

Your setting can provide you with a great palette to create contrast on the page. Think of it: a Romeo-and-Juliet love story taking place in a shanty town or against the backdrop of a war. Or a violent shoot-out taking place in an elegant ballroom.

In my novel, for example, Jenna is watching old home movies of her mother, father, and herself as a child – these looming images of her once happy family are played out on a blank wall – while she sits alone in her living room. It’s a good way to contrast her present and her past. It adds a bittersweet tone to the story.

Keep in mind setting isn’t a static place: it includes objects of affection for your characters, hidden dangers – like the loose tile on a stair that’s never been fixed – and lots more.  Find those little details that will enrich your story and even add complications to the plot – like someone tripping on that tile.

Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

Continue to write for a half hour or a full hour a day.

5 Quick Hacks

  1. Take a scene in your novel and switch it from a day scene to a night scene – or vice versa. How does it change the mood?
  2. Try to find a character with comic potential in your novel. It could be a dim-witted brother-in-law, an impatient driving instructor, or a clumsy waiter.
  3. Write about contrasting moments in your own life – when extreme joy turned to sadness in a short space of time.
  4. Look through your synopsis to see where you could add in other settings to place your scenes. It could be an aquarium, a dentist’s office, even a funeral home.
  5. Keep in mind: children, pets, and grandparents as characters can add great moments of levity.
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘Good storytelling is humanity’s great connector, and it might just stop the world from eating itself.’ — James Genn

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:

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The Importance Of Being The Protagonist


Bonnie Tyler needed a hero and so do you. 

Is your hero a big ogre like Shrek, a miserable bastard like House, or the floundering alcoholic from The Girl on the Train? Or is he a golden Adonis, perfect and noble like Ned Stark? Suggestion: try to keep your hero alive. It makes the storytelling easier. Hint, Mr Martin. Is she Cinderella waiting for Prince Charming or is she Katniss warding him off with a bow and arrow?

We root for heroes. We want them to succeed. We want them to achieve their goals. Whether they achieve the goal is up to the story, but we go with them on a journey. We live through them. We share their experiences. We laugh with them. We cry with them. We wince as they stitch their wounds.

Your story should start with an inciting moment. This ‘moment of change’ should give your hero a story goal, or set the hero on a path. This goal should be physical. It should be a reason for your character to choose the road less travelled. The goal can also change during the course of the story, but we need the initial kick in the behind.

The journey will change your hero in two ways. There will be external change, caused by the external conflict that rises from the physical goal. Black eyes, broken limbs, haircuts and changes in clothing. The character will also change emotionally. This internal change will result from the physical changes forced on the character. These changes are how we show character growth. He or she can fall in love, for example, making him or her more confident or humble. The hero should be different from when he or she started.


Write a biography for your character with as much information as you can gather. Flesh out their backstory. This isn’t necessarily information that will be used in the manuscript, but the more you know the better and more rounded your character will be. Figure out what his relationship is to the antagonist.

For example: Shrek wants his swamp back. That is his goal. He goes to Lord Farquaad who sends him to find and rescue Fiona. Donkey of course accompanies him. At the end, Shrek gives up his need for his swamp and solitude and chooses Fiona and Donkey. He goes from wanting to be alone to realising he needs and wants people, (or donkeys and girl ogres) around him.

Make a list of your scenes, or write a chronological sequence of events. Make a second and third column. One for internal changes and one for external changes. Try to complete the list. Add to it and adapt it as you go along. This list will help you create an arc for your character.

Read more about The Awesome Foursome Fictional Characters

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. May Writing Prompts
  2. The Awesome Foursome Fictional Characters
  3. Mirrors And Foils - How Characters Reflect And Highlight One Another

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    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

    10 Dialogue Errors To Avoid At All Costs


    Writing good dialogue can be difficult. Here are some of the most common mistakes beginner writers make. 
    1. Stilted exchanges – Your dialogue may not sound natural. Read it aloud and see if it sounds like something your character would say. Have you included contractions? We say “I’ll” rather than “I will” when we speak to each other.
    2. Similar voices – Make sure that each character has a distinct voice. He or she should have a different pattern of speech and vocabulary. You can reveal interesting character details, including a level of education or self-awareness, with this technique.
    3. Small talk - This ‘filler’ dialogue does not advance the plot or our understanding of the characters. Sometimes we insert it because we haven’t let the characters speak for a while or we think we need ‘white space’. Have you made sure the characters are not just talking for the reader’s benefit? We should use dialogue to prompt action or to reveal characters’ emotions and motivations.
    4. Exposition - This is when a character explains the story in dialogue. This is one of the worst kinds of telling rather than showing. Sometimes an author feels the need to tell the reader something and uses a character to do it rather than weaving the information into the storyline.
    5. Using names in dialogue – It is unusual for us to say people’s name when we are speaking to them. We only do this if we are trying to attract their attention, for example, ‘Jack! We’re over here!’, or if we want to make a point, for example, ‘I’ve warned you to stop lying, Dylan.’ It is better not to use a character’s name to establish identity. Your character may end up sounding like a salesman at a convention.
    6. Too many modifiers – We seldom need to use verbs like shouted, stuttered, breathed, exclaimed, cried, mused, whispered, stammered, uttered, insinuated, or hesitated. Use these dialogue modifiers sparingly. Use the word ‘said’. It works. Your characters’ words and their actions should convey their mood. (You may find these body language cheat sheets useful.)
    7. Forgotten dialogue tags – A dialogue tag is when we attribute the speech with the words, 'he said' or 'she said'. If a reader has to stop because he or she cannot tell which character is speaking, you need to include more dialogue tags. It is just as important to make sure that you do not crowd the page with too many tags.
    8. Incorrect dialogue punctuation – Do not confuse your readers. Use quotation marks correctly. Decide on your dialogue format, for example, single or double quotation marks, and use them consistently.
    9. Unimportant conversations – These pieces are more than small talk, but are usually unnecessary as dialogue. If we need to know that a character will be back on Monday, we do not necessarily need two or more character to impart this information. A character might think about something like this. Most conversations should create friction or tension as well as add information. If they don't, leave them out.
    10. Too much talk – Sometimes silence can be more powerful than words. Often, the things we choose not to say are more important than those we do say. There are times when there are no words powerful enough to convey a character’s feelings and times when a character may be incapable of speaking. Use this technique sparingly to make it more effective.

    Five Exercises To Help You Avoid These Mistakes
    1. Eavesdrop. Record conversations to understand how differently we speak. Many of us speak in short statements or use fragments. Others only speak in laborious, grammatically correct, complete sentences.
    2. Ask five different people the same question. Compare their responses and note the different words they use to convey emotions.
    3. Write dialogue-only scenes. This reminds you to make the characters sound unique.
    4. Tell a story. Write a scene where one character tells somebody a story. Craft it so that the other character is engrossed and only interrupts to ask the odd question.
    5. Silence. Write a scene where one of the characters should speak, but can’t or won't.

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

    Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

    © Amanda Patterson

    If you enjoyed this article, you will love:

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    The Top 10 Contemporary African Authors


    Journalist, Lebogang Matshego has put together a list of top African authors. She writes, "Authors such as Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer and recently Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have set the stage for African authors to be noticed globally." 

    She says the world is changing - largely because of technology - and a new, younger breed of authors are making their mark in the literary world. "The world has noticed that Africa has its own stories to tell; stories rooted in the culture of the continent from the perspective of people from the continent."

    Here is the list of authors she chose. Please follow this link to read more about these exciting writers.

    Top 10 Contemporary African Authors
    1. Chigozie Obiama
    2. Dinaw Mengestu
    3. Lauren Beukes
    4. Nakhane Toure
    5. Novoilet Bulawayo
    6. Okwiri Oduor
    7. Shadreck Chikoti
    8. Taiye Selasi
    9. Tendai Huchu
    10. Uzodinma Iweala
    Lebogang Matshego is a South African journalist based in Johannesburg. She is the Digital Project Manager and Content Aggregator at YFM radio station, a Wits University graduate, and a freelance lifestyle and entertainment writer.

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      May Writing Prompts

      Remember that you can send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the words DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to the mailing list and you will receive a daily prompt.   

      If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

       by Mia Botha

      If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

      1. Your Book Is A Business – You Need To Invest In It
      2. Are These The 4 Most Neglected Pages On Your Blog?
      3. Why Repeating Yourself In Dialogue Can Be A Good Thing

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        Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

        Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 17: Expect The Unexpected


        Welcome to week 17 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

        Goal setting
        1. Continue writing your scenes.
        2. Look for opportunities for cliff-hangers.
        3. Identify character quirks for your main characters.
        Breaking it down

        Looking for the unexpected
        When it comes to keeping your characters – and your readers – on their toes, you have to look for opportunities to throw some unexpected roadblocks in their path now and then. These can be small or big roadblocks – but they need to add a bit of a twist to the plot, or show your character in a different light.

        I’m reading a story now. A journalist is flying to London to start a new assignment for a magazine. After heavy turbulence, the plane is forced to land in Frankfurt. The character certainly wasn’t expecting this and, as a reader, I wasn’t expecting it. What will happen during this layover?

        Remember even a short trip to the corner supermarket or dropping the kids off at school can offer you an opportunity to change your characters’ lives in some way. What if there’s a gunman at the supermarket? What if the bedraggled single mom bumps into her handsome ex-boyfriend? What if he’s the new headmaster? Look for these opportunities in your synopsis – and see if they can add a twist to your novel.

        As I said, the unexpected can be a reaction by a character. In the exquisite novel, Forbidden Colours, by Yukio Mishima, the main character is an ageing novelist. When he discovers his young mistress is having an affair, he follows her and her new lover to the coast.  Instead of confronting her, he instead becomes obsessed with her young boyfriend and starts a dangerous friendship with the boy.

        In my novel, I have a similar character turnaround.  As I get to know my heroine’s boyfriend, Matt, a bit better, I’ve realised he could have a very strong reaction to the young interloper,in their relationship Monty. His jealousy of Jenna and Monty is unpredictable and could push him to the edge. It makes for exciting writing.

        Quirky does it
        My friend André can blow smoke rings. Not just normal smoke ring – he can blow a giant smoke ring and push smaller concentric rings through the middle of it. This was something I had to ‘steal’ for one of my characters and immediately told him as much. ‘I’ll have to watch what I say and do around you,’ he said. ‘Do writers steal everything?’ (The answer is, of course, yes.)

        The quirks of our friends, families, and loved ones are what endear them to us. It makes sense then to make sure your characters also have little idiosyncrasies that will make them seem real not only to your readers but also to you as the writer.

        It’s even better when you can link a habit to a plot point. In my novel, for example, my heroine, Jenna habitually walks barefoot when at home – when she cuts her foot on some broken glass, she is not as agile as she normally is. Who knows? This could slow her down when she’s trying to run away from, say, an obsessed stalker.
        What ever happened to…?
        Sometimes, when I’m stuck on a particular scene or just need a break, I plonk myself down in front of VH1 and take a short nostalgia trip into the land of 80s and 90s pop music. Watching Christopher Cross’s ‘Arthur’s Theme’, I wondered what became of this artist, the Ed Sheeran of his day? A quick Google search showed me he is still making albums and touring. (Ha, fancy that!)

        Another way to bring in the unexpected into your novel is to introduce old friends, colleagues, or lovers into the storyline. This worked well for me. While out dining, Jenna and Matt run into Jenna’s ex-boyfriend, Tate. In fact, Tate is a catalyst for what happens in the early part of the story.

        Who could you bring into your story from your characters’ pasts? Maybe it’s a great aunt, an old school chum, or the priest that baptised your villain.  Look for ways to bring them into the story.
        Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

        Try writing for a half hour or full hour each weekday on your scenes.

        5 Quick Hacks
        1. ‘I didn’t expect to …’ Use this as a prompt, and come up with as my ways to finish the dialogue as possible. Try it with different characters.
        2. ‘Early’ and ‘Late’ are both good hooks to hang the unexpected on. A baby that arrives three weeks before its due date. A late arrival at a party upsets the whole evening. The possibilities, as they say in the classics, are endless.
        3. Keep an open list of your characters’ habits. Do they bite their nails? Do they sleep on their stomachs?
        4. Who was your character’s favourite pop group growing up? Try to imagine them as a teenager listening to this music. What did they wear? Who were their friends?
        5. Take note of the people around you this week. Watch for any habits or quirks – see if you can steal them.
        Pin it, quote it, believe it:

        ‘A cliff-hanger provides a great opportunity to transition to another point of view or transition in time.’ — Randall Platt

        Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

         by Anthony Ehlers

        If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

        If you enjoyed this post, read:

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        Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

        May Day Offer!

        We are offering a 10% discount on all creative courses booked and paid by 2 May 2016. 

        Do you want to write a book?

        We still have places left on the following creative writing courses in Johannesburg: 

        Writers Write - How to write a book:
        • 9-12 May 2016 (four consecutive weekday mornings)
        • 7,14,21,28 May 2016 (four consecutive Saturday mornings)

        We are offering a 10% discount on all creative courses booked and paid by the 1 May 2016. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more information.

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        Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

        Enquire Or Inquire - Which One Should I Use?


        What is the difference between the two words? Is one more correct than the other?

        No, both are verbs that mean to ask for information from someone. The corresponding nouns are enquiry or inquiry. 

        We can use either spelling, but some people prefer enquire and enquiry for the general sense of 'ask', and inquire and inquiry for a more formal investigation. However, there is little difference in the way the words are used today.

        British English vs US English 

        Enquire and enquiry are more common in British English. Inquire and inquiry are more common in US English.  

        Source: Oxford Dictionaries

        If you want to improve your business writing, join us for The Plain Language Programme. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for details.

           by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

           If you enjoyed this article, read these posts:
          1. 27 Blogging Tips To Grow Your Business
          2. 5 Fool Proof Ways To Write Better Emails
          3. The Amazingly Simple Anatomy Of A Meaningful Marketing Story

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          Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

          Flip Your Characters To Twist A Plot


          Human beings are made up of many parts, both psychological and physical. We are formed by genetics and circumstance and grow into the person we see in the mirror each day.

          Along the way, we develop a variety of character traits. We may be quirky, angry, funny, gregarious, or reclusive, but one or some of these will be more dominant than the others. (Read 350 Character Traits)

          We can use this as a powerful tool when we create a character. If our protagonist’s most predictable trait is unpredictability, we can change his or her story by flipping this trait. Turn him or her into the most dependable, boring person and see what happens.

          A great example of this can be found in the recent Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver. Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but a devastating accident causes an icy rift between the two sisters. Beautiful, daring Dara has been left scarred, angry and isolated. The responsible sister, Nick, is now erratic, filled with self-loathing, and blames herself for her sister’s devastating injuries. Oliver shows how these changes affect the choices the sisters make and how they upset everybody's equilibrium.

          You will know which trait is most dominant in your own characters. If you are unsure, I have included some of the most powerful qualities (both negative and positive) that make characters interesting below:
          1. Ambition
          2. Anger
          3. Charisma
          4. Compassion
          5. Complexity
          6. Courage
          7. Desire for revenge
          8. Determination
          9. Empathy
          10. Greed
          11. Intelligence
          12. Lust
          13. Nobility
          14. Originality
          15. Passion
          16. Prejudice
          17. Pride
          18. Resilience
          19. Ruthlessness
          20. Unpredictability
          As an author you could turn any of these around to cause a plot, move a plot forward, or end a story. If your character is a noble sort, turn him into a rogue. If he is courageous, make him fearful. If he is highly original in the way he dresses, put him in blue jeans and a t-shirt.

          Changing a character’s dominant trait makes him or her even more interesting. Every other character will want to know why. And so will we. 

          If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

           by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

          If you enjoyed this post, read:

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          Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.