Charlie Laidlaw is an author and tutor at Creating Writers
First of all, I hope everyone had a good and safe Christmas.
For those of you who have been following my blog, I try to give helpful writing tips and advice.
Although I’m now a published author, I went up many dead-ends at first. I was a good writer, and knew that, but didn’t know how to write a novel.
The advice on my blog will, I hope, help you avoid doing the same thing.
My first post-Christmas blog is about language, because we all approach language in different ways.
Some of us are verbose and use a lot of words. Others of us are more taciturn. That will be true of your characters. So if one of your characters is brooding and enigmatic, they’ll probably not wax lyrical about a sunset.
Ernest Hemingway, famously, was the master of sparse prose. He used adjectives sparingly; his descriptive passages were short and to the point. Here’s what he had to say about writing:
“I do most of my work in my head. I never begin to write until my ideas are in order. Frequently I recite passages of dialogue as it is being written; the ear is a good censor. I never set down a sentence on paper until I have it so expressed that it will be clear to anyone.
“Yet, I sometimes think that my style is suggestive rather than direct. The reader must often use his imagination or lose the most subtle part of my thoughts.
“I take great pains with my work, pruning and revising with a tireless hand. I have the welfare of my creations very much at heart…cut them with infinite care, and burnish them until they become brilliants. What many another writer would be content to leave in massive proportions, I polish into a tiny gem.”
While it’s tempting to try and describe a wonderful sunset in your book, perhaps as a backdrop to a romantic encounter, you don’t need to write a lot of words. We’ve all seen spectacular sunsets; we know what they look like.
However, consider this passage from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings cycle, and his description of Mordor:
“The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about. High mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained, stood like an obscene graveyard in endless rows, slowly revealed in the reluctant light.”
Here, we’re looking at an unfamiliar world, and being made aware of something utterly evil. We know that this place isn’t going to be a land of milk and honey. It sets a tone for everything that comes afterwards.
In other words, use language to help create tone and context, without too much over-description. That simply invites readers to skip through paragraphs without reading them. The best writers have the gift of brilliant brevity.
If you need help getting started, Creating Writers has two online creative writing courses, an introductory course and our flagship Diploma course.
It’s an intensive course, with lots of face-to-face tuition. It also comes with a real qualification at the end of it.
That could not only kick-start your writing career but provide you with a valuable qualification for your resume.
Our courses are intended to give you the confidence and skills to understand what makes great writing. On the Diploma course, we’ll also get you started on your novel.
For more information, you can contact us here.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash