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The Craft of Writing: Beneath the Skin by Caroline England

Article by Caroline England ©.
Posted in Resources ().

I haven’t been on a creative writing course or studied language or literature at any level higher than A level. I haven’t even opened a book on the subject! So I’m no expert on the ‘official’ rules of writing. But I love to read novels, I have been a member of two very different writing groups, and I pay close attention to feedback and advice given by those in the know, especially my editor!

It goes without saying that your writing has to be compelling, clear and error free if you want it to be taken seriously. Other things I have learned which, I hope, have improved my writing include:

Show, not tell

This one is tricky as most of us don’t know when we’re doing it. We know telling is less involving for the reader as it slows down the pace and takes away action, and that showing is more active and vivid. How to do it is the thing! Study films, is one answer. Unless there’s a narrator, you aren’t told anything in movies. Instead you are shown by facial expressions, movements, actions, gestures and, of course, dialogue. Say to yourself, ‘What does it look like, sound like, feel like, taste like, smell like?’

Get into your character’s head

This depends on your style of writing, but I personally like close third person narration. This way the reader gets more emotionally involved as they see through the viewpoint of that character’s eyes and hear some of their thoughts. Not all of them, obviously, you don’t want to give everything away!

Build Suspense

Open each chapter with an intriguing line. End each chapter with a sentence so powerful that your reader can’t turn off the light but has to read on. Then off course continue to construct the compulsion until the very end.

Have realistic dialogue

Novels can’t quite ape real life speech as a whole sentence without interruption would never be written! But people do cut in each others chatter, half comments are said. Similarly, when someone is speaking for a long time, things are usually happening around them. It breaks up a long section and makes it more interesting to the reader if, for example, the boiling kettle or barking dog is mentioned mid monologue.

Each author has his or her own ‘voice’, so it’s all too easy to slip into your characters sounding too similar. It’s important, therefore, to make them distinctive by their style of speech, phrases used and mannerisms.

Use humour, if possible

My writing tends to veer to the dark side, but I love to use humour where I can. It cheers my day when I make someone from my writing group laugh (for all the right reasons, I hope!). The same applies to other emotions. If you can make your reader’s buttocks clench, or make him or her cry, then you’re doing a great job!

Mix up your sentences

Make your writing more interesting my mixing up long and short sentences. Don’t repeat the same words near to each other on the page. Using a thesaurus might help! Don’t over use a person’s name or start each sentence with ‘he’ or ‘she’. Don’t say ‘his eyes were glued to hers’ (not a nice image!) Bear in mind the five senses.

Read your work aloud

This makes such a difference to the quality of your writing. In many writing groups, this is done, but do it at home anyway. It helps tremendously with the self-editing process, especially too long sentences, punctuation and repeated words.

My words of wisdom!

Recently I attended a graduate creative writing conference and when it came to questions, I bravely lifted my hand.

‘Do you have any pearls of wisdom to offer those of us who aren’t on a creative writing course, but who have been bitten by the writing bug?’ I asked the keynote speaker.

‘Get over the delirium,’ he flatly replied.

Harsh! But also, in my view, the wrong answer. I think it’s the delirium and the desire that makes one a good writer. Eventually at least!

So my tips for an aspiring writer are to sit down at a laptop or with a pen and pad and make a start. Just that first paragraph or stanza makes you feel great – you’ve started to write a short story, a poem, a novel! I’m not very good at making notes when ideas occur, but that’s important too, to stop you forgetting. Then write and write. Don’t worry too much about punctuation or structure or editing, you can fiddle with and perfect that later. Don’t get too bogged down by ‘rules’. Let your creativity breathe and run! Getting the first draft down feels wonderful. Enjoy the moment to the absolute full. But remember that’s only the beginning. It will need to be trimmed and expanded, edited and polished a thousand times before it’s ready to be submitted anywhere.

(c) Caroline England

About Beneath the Skin:

Antonia, Antonia. My name is Antonia.’

It’s been her name for many years. But sometimes, like tonight, she forgets.

Antonia has a secret. A secret so dark and so deep that she can barely admit it to herself. Instead, she treats herself to Friday night sessions of self-harm while her husband David is at the pub, and her best friend Sophie is drinking too much wine a few doors down.

Nobody close to her knows the truth about what the teenage Antonia saw all those years ago. No-one, that is, except her mother. But Candy is in a care home now, her mind too addled to remember the truth. Antonia is safe. Isn’t she?

The lies start small. They always do. But when the tightly woven story you’ve told yourself begins to unravel, the truth threatens to come to the surface. And then what’s going to happen?

Order your copy online here.

Born a Yorkshire lass, Caroline studied Law at the University of Manchester and stayed over the border. Caroline was a divorce and professional indemnity lawyer and instigated her jottings when she deserted the law to bring up her three lovely daughters. In addition to the publication of her short story collection, Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses by ACHUKAbooks, Caroline has had short stories and poems published in a variety of literary publications and anthologies. She was shortlisted for the Impress Prize 2015, in the Pulp Idol 2016 finals and long listed for the UK Novel Writing Competition 2017.