Mark is the author of three books including Girlfriend 44, Infidelity for First Time Fathers and Lucky Dog. His latest book is The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange, a comic memoir of his days playing Dungeons and Dragons and explains what happens when a boy spends his whole teens without speaking to anyone female. Mark lives in Southern England with his wife and children. Mark kindly revealed his five writing tips.
Mark’s top 5 writing tips
- Write. Do at least 1000 words a day. You’ll get better with practice. Don’t give yourself excuses ‘I need more research’, ‘I’m not feeling inspired’. Force yourself to do 1000 words a day and, by the end of a couple of weeks you’ll find it flows much easier.
- Read. Not just people in the area you want to write in. Read widely and note what you like and what you don’t like about the writer’s style. Literary writers can learn from Stephen King, romantic novelists from Martin Amis.
- Use your faults. Go through and look for clichés and hackneyed writing. If you’ve written ‘they got on like a house on fire’, remove it and think of how they really did get on. Try to picture them in your head. What expression do they have on their faces as they’re getting on? How close are they sitting? What are they talking about? These are the questions you need to answer. Delete ‘he stuck out like a sore thumb’ and come up with something to challenge Raymond Chandler’s ‘about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel cake’.
- Make things particular. Don’t have: ‘He showed satisfaction as he took possession of his well-earned reward’. Have: ‘He grinned as he pocketed the coin’.
- Stick to ’said’ in dialogue attribution. We don’t need ‘he guffawed’, ‘he brayed’, ’she exclaimed’, ‘they Lindyhopped. ‘Said’ will do. The dialogue and its context should give the reader the idea of what is happening without the need for further explanation. Similarly, avoid adverbs in dialogue attribution: ’she said, knowingly,’ ‘he said, pointedly.’ If you think you need them it’s probably a sign your dialogue isn’t working hard enough for you. Adverbs get in the way of the flow of the dialogue and treat the readers as idiots. If you have a sentence like “give me the map or I will shoot you,” he said, menacingly,’ is anything really added by the ‘menacingly’. Would ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do,’ gain anything by the addition of ‘He said, imploringly?’ Probably not.
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