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Resources for Writers

Keeping it Real by Helen Moorhouse

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Article by Helen Moorhouse ©.
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Books. Black squiggles, strategically placed on a substance made of tree bark. Informative. Instructive. Educational.

And able to carry within them the key to the human heart and soul.

Think back to your favourite books. You can pinpoint characters, events, plotlines – all of which you’ve thought were really well put together; brilliant twists and ideas, clever stuff, all of which you have enjoyed. But both you and I know that the best books you’ve ever read are the best for reasons other than words and events. The best ones are the ones that made you feel – really feel. And, as writers, we all want to be the best, don’t we? So how do we do that?

Truthfully? I have no idea, because I can’t command magic.

What I do know, however, as both a reader and a writer, is that when you find something you love, you become immersed in it because of how real it feels to you; you succumb to it as it overtakes the real world – whether it’s a fantasy universe of angels and beasts, or a ghost estate in Leitrim. It doesn’t matter how real the place is, it’s how real it feels. With the knowledge of how wonderful and powerful that feels as a reader then, how do you go about creating it as a writer?

The answer is by being authentic, keeping it real, making it believable – by not just writing your story, but becoming it.

First step – actual facts. If you’re going to use facts in your fiction, then get them straight  – there’s nothing more offputting that finding a jarring inaccuracy in something you’ve been enjoying – like literary gristle in your sausages. It’s so easy to check facts now that we live in the world of Google – dates, times, weather conditions, songs, movies – it’s all at the click of a keyboard, so click it. Never send your protagonist to see Star Wars in 1976, or have them drive a Ford Focus in 1989. Get it right, and earn your reader’s trust.

Be wary with expressions and sayings – the proof is NOT in the pudding, for example – check it. Watch out for ‘eggcorns’ – you do not give someone ‘leadway’, nor ‘wet’ their appetite. Along with real world facts, keep your fictional world facts on an even keel – never put someone on a train and have them disembark from a bus – it’s very easily done. Watch your continuity, keep possessions and positions consistent. Time your characters so that it doesn’t take them long strides to cross a tiny room, or let them pick up something somewhere that they didn’t put it down. Be consistent.

All of these things are logistically important – yet they merely serve as a tool not to lose your reader. Keeping them is a different kettle of pollock altogether.

Striving for authenticity is often in the small things of your writing – not in the story or itself, but in the character of the story, and the nature of telling it. To do so truthfully, you need to place yourself in your story as you write it – not as a character, even though all of our characters bear some or many of our characteristics as writers, but to channel your personal observations, views and emotions to give your characters that feeling of realness. In other words, if you feel it, then you can take your reader with you.

As the author of ghost stories, there is a misconception that I am entirely unafraid of things that go bump in the night; however the reality is completely to the contrary – I am terrified of everything. So, when my characters experience something ghostly or unnerving, I channel how I feel when I am afraid – which is often – so that their attributes and reactions are real, physically and emotionally.

The same goes for any emotion – if your character is sad, don’t just describe them as ‘sad’ – try to move beyond that – think about how you feel when you are hopeless and broken-hearted. Do you have a physical reaction to feeling that way – anything from a gut ache, to a tightness in the chest, to picking at the skin around your fingernails?

Putting yourself in the story need not apply to just emotions, but also to physical actions – walking, driving, taking a shower – what do you do when doing any of these things that might make it more part of your character? That’s not to say that literally every action they undertake and feeling that they experience needs to be heavy with description – learning to enrich your work with authenticity while not overdoing it is also important, but sometimes, they just need to pick something up, or go somewhere. Other times, those actions need to be immersive experiences. It’s all about balance.

It is important also not to rely on lazy and repetitive description. Watch your bad habits – to me, all cars are battered, all bees are fat and all minor characters are named Caroline. It’s important too, to not fall back on those common images that we repeatedly rattle out – freshly cut grass and clean sheets; jingling bells and sparkling lights at Christmas – all evocative and relevant, but if used lazily, dropped in without thought, they add nothing to a piece of fiction except word count. A good idea is to keep a notebook- and with smartphones, who doesn’t have a notes facility literally at their fingertips – to jot down original ideas, descriptions, feelings, sentiments, observations as they strike. As advice goes, it’s an oldie, but a goodie.

Writing fiction is a constant learning experience – and a constant challenge. No matter how much work we produce, we must always stay on our toes and train ourselves to observe and absorb, to identify our individual personal lenses. Part of the fun of the game is learning how to use those lenses, then taking up the challenge of applying how we see things to our work, giving it distinct voice and authentic feel, trying out new things for size and, in the process, giving readers not just a good read, but good feelings

Take your best experiences as a reader and put them into your writing. It will raise your work, and take your reader with you.

(c) Helen Moorhouse

About Ever This Day:

Little Frances slams the doors, and runs around the upstairs floors.

She ll steal your pen or touch your hair, when you re sure there s no one there.

The nuns are meant to keep her safe, but she gets out of her own grave.

So pull your covers over your head, Little Frances isn t dead …

On a bright spring day in London, Ria Driver sees a face she never thought she d see again. Coincidence? Or her past coming back to haunt her? Suddenly, Ria is plunged back almost thirty years, to the time she spent as Supervisor at the Convent of Maria Goretti, a rural Irish boarding school. And although she has tried her best to forget, the memories come flooding back. Cold, darkness, isolation, loss … fear. Fear of the sadistic Mother Benedicta and her cruel punishments. And fear of the noises … the humming, the footsteps, the knocking …What was the cause of the sounds from the attic? And who was the child who should not have been there?

As events unfold, Ria realises that she can leave the past behind no longer, that her story needs an ending. And to find it, she must go back to where she swore she d never go again.

Order your copy online here.


Ever This Day is Helen Moorhouse’s fourth novel. The Dead Summer, The Dark Water and Sing Me To Sleep are also published by Poolbeg. Helen works as a Voiceover Artist and Writer of novels, speeches, radio copy and generally anything that requires writing. Her interests include reading, cinema and TV. Originally from Co, Laois, she lives in Dublin with her husband and four daughters. For more, see www.helenmoorhouse.com