Sharp’s Writer’s Blog

The Formula for Success

Hello folks.  today I wanted to talk about something that can benefit your writing, tangentially, but is more appropriately a life lesson.  I am going to talk about my formula for success.

This is my blog post about how to harness success

Years ago, I worked in a call centre as a team leader.  It was may job, with one other person, to manage a team of nearly 40 people.  The team members had various targets including handling time of calls, and sales.  Calls came in from outside and were routed to the first available agent, which meant that whoever you spoke to on any given day was random.  I tell you this as it was where my understanding of success came from.  One morning, I was going through the figures with my co-team leader.  He was a salesman of the old school called Alan.  We were looking at our figures for the previous day’s performance and I was despairing over one team member who habitually performed on the lower end of the spectrum.  Alan and I were discussing how we might help the individual improve as we got into bother when stats were down.  I said something along the lines, “It is the luck of the calls.  What can we do?”

His response was the less polite version of, “You are talking nonsense…”

He then quantified his statement.  We looked at the individual’s performance over a longer period.  It was consistently lower than average.  We then looked at other team members.  They were consistently higher.  He then challenged me, “Is person A unlucky and person B lucky?”

I had to admit that was unlikely.  So we listened to the calls of each individual to see the difference.

Person A offered the sales, but was inconsistent.  They didn’t offer every time, and because they didn’t offer every time, it didn’t sound natural.  Person B was the opposite. They offered every time, and as a result developed a way of pitching that they were comfortable with and that people responded to.  Person B made the most of every opportunity.  And they were good with every opportunity.

This gave me my first two parts to my formula for success.



I realised, or perhaps I already knew but had never said it before, that being good at something increases the odds of success.  And the more times you try, the better you get at it and the better the odds you will eventually achieve your objective.  Perhaps I did understand that but never put it into a sentence before.

However, I wasn’t satisfied as that didn’t account for everything in the success equation.  Sometimes “Bad Luck” happened.  I don’t actually believe luck is a particularly useful concept as you can’t quantify it and you can’t control it.  I modified my thinking to “Sometimes, random things happen.  These could affect the outcome positively or negatively”.  That didn’t cover everything either, because sometimes there are other factors that contribute that are not random.  They are situational, they are environment and the people who can help or hinder.

I eventually developed the theory that success was a combination of ability, opportunity and circumstance.  Ability is something you can control.  You can practice your skills, your crafts and become a master.  Opportunity is something you have a lot of control over.  It is up to you if you make the most of presented opportunity.  It is up to you if you want to go looking for other opportunities.

Circumstance is a bit harder.  Some of it you can influence, for instance the location and people who can help or hinder are within your ability to influence.  Unfortunately, sometimes things just don’t work.  There are things you can’t always account for, and sometimes things will simply go awry.  However, this is not the end of the world because if you are unsuccessful, you have missed an opportunity.  There is another one and another and another if you want to make the most of it.  Circumstance may be harder to control but if you make the most of your ability and take every opportunity then you will always have another chance.

This proved to be of benefit to me recently as I managed to get a writing job that is ideally suited to me, as it is within my skillset and of interest.  I recently started freelance writing for an independent game designer, writing content for their new up and coming product.  Some people might call it luck that I landed such a well suited role for me.  I call it the result of five (or more) years effort.

Ability – I have spent years honing the craft of writing.  I graduated last year with an Honours Degree.

Opportunity – Once graduated, I did a course on proofreading and a course on blogging professionally.  I always knew that players of wargames and roleplay games were a large portion of my target audience so I made many connections in the gaming community, both in my home area and at University.  I formed positive, lasting relationships so that even after I left people still knew my name.

Circumstance – By taking the courses and building links with the community that my intended fans were from, I was able to go to the places they were and get my name and skillset known by them.  I had thought that I would be able to get a few interested people from this niche to help spread the word about anything I wrote.  I was just as happy when one of them came knocking on my door asking for my help.

Success is about ability and opportunity, or perseverance. I failed University the first time round but completed it the second. This represents success for me

So, how can this benefit you?

Well, if you want to be a published writer, then you owe it to yourself and to the reading public to be the best writer you can be.  Practice lots.  Go to writing groups.  Read blogs.  Read books on the subject.  Read books for fun.  That is your ability.

Opportunity can just as easily be described as perseverance.  It isn’t enough to talk about writing.  You have to do it.  You have to do it regularly.  And then you need to refine it until it is ready.  Then you can send it to agents.  And if you get rejected, send it to another agent.  And another and another.  Or self publish.

Your circumstance is being known by your market.  Do your readers congregate anywhere that you can participate?  Go there.  Make yourself known.  You probably don’t even want to mention your novel at this point.  You are just making people learn your name.  Do that, and you’ve achieved an emotional link with your potential fan base, so when you have something to sell, your audience is more receptive.

What are your thoughts?  Have you found any killer formulas that help you be successful?

Frankenstein – A peek behind the curtain

Hello folks, you are most welcome here.

Today, I want to talk about one of my favourite books, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  I should also say, this post contains affiliate links, and potentially spoilers if you don’t know the story.  I would also say that this post won’t have much in the way of creative writing advice, so much as it is intended to help the reader understand stories from a different perspective.  I found, during my time at university, that if I was able to pull a story apart and figure out what the writer was doing and how, then their tricks and skills became mine to use as I saw fit.  Anyway, I am focusing on Frankenstein and if you haven’t read it, and you enjoy horror, you really need to give it a look as it is an atmospheric, gripping and multilayered horror.

I suspect if you are reading this website, you have heard of Frankenstein, at least, and hopefully are aware that it is about a man who tries to create another man by less than natural methods, and by that I mean science and grave robbing.
The tale is set around the beginning of the industrial revolution, in Switzerland, and follows Victor Frankenstein through his life. Victor is the son of a wealthy family who develops a passion for the sciences, and as he grows older he becomes obsessed with the idea of creating a man from constituent parts. He succeeds, but when he looks into the eyes of his creation for the first time he suffers some form of nervous or psychotic break, fleeing his lab in the process.

The creature is presumed to flee, and Victor blocks the memory of the event and the creation whilst trying to carry on with his life.  His health, which he neglected in the process of creation, gradually recovers despite family tragedies and it looks like he might have a chance at a happy life.  And then his creation returns, having learned that humans are cruel.  The creature recounts the tale of his missing years, and delivers an ultimatum to Victor.

What follows is a tormented account of Victor’s life as he wrestles with the creature’s demands and the demands of his conscience.  The conflict is complicated by his responsibility to the creature as the only parent it has, and also the responsibility to the rest of the world should he comply with his creature’s demands.

This story is about Victor and his hubristic ambition.  Victor is incredibly well written and in the first chapters of the book he was a sympathetic character.   He is driven, partly by curiosity and partly by ego to discover and to challenge the unknown.  And,  as with any great tragedy this is the seed of his downfall.  In fact, Victor is an extreme egotist who challenges the natural order which, given the time period, could be interpreted as a challenge against God.  Remember, the full title of the Novel is Frankenstein: Modern Prometheus.  Prometheus stole fire, symbolic of life, from the gods and was punished for this.  Victor Frankenstein plays god creating life in death, and is ultimately punished for his arrogance.

There are a number of elements that bear further study and I will draw your attention to them, so you can do that or even deconstruct them for your own use.

Victor’s health deteriorates as he creates the monster.  It isn’t a huge leap of logic to refer to him as an Urban Gothic Necromancer, sacrificing of himself so his creature can live.  And his health is only restored when he abandons the creation, and returns to his family and more healthy pursuits and happiness.  Of course, Victor’s happiness is short lived as his life is beset tragedy, which is entirely appropriate to the undead metaphor, making Victor not only a metaphor for a Necromancer, but also a Vampire or some other form of evil parasitic spirit.

The creature, we discover, is quite capable of cruelty.  Which was hard for me to credit, given its account of the missing years.  However, I was making an error in judgement.  I was treating the creature like an adult because it could speak like one.  However, Victor’s creature was effectively a child abandoned at birth.  A child with no role model to teach it how to act, and no parent to teach it right and wrong.  As such, the creature’s psyche can be interpreted as that of an impulsive child, with no moral compass, throwing a particularly violent tantrum.

Aside from one scene, which I daresay could be explained away as a delusion, no one ever sees the creature, aside from Victor (and his victims).  Of course, the creature tells Victor he met people.  And people die at the creatures hands, but no one ever sees him.  So, another interpretation, which I find intriguing, is that there is no creature at all.  Or at least, it never lived.  In fact, the horrors are committed by Victor, who has suffered a psychotic break and now believes he has a tormentor.  In fact the tormentor, the killer, is him; desensitised to death due to his grisly excavations, perhaps his psychosis now compels him to end lives to study the process by which life leaves the mortal coil.  With this information, his next effort will be successful.  Of course, even a desensitised egocentric needs some form of psychological protection from the horrors committed and so he invents the creature;  a being ostracised by society that feels justified in his murderous urges.

Of course, if I was to share this with one of my former tutors he would tell me, “Interesting John.  So what?  You can’t prove it, so where are you going with this?”

Yes, I have had the conversation with a tutor.  It proved useful as my assignment took a new direction and got a better mark.  Anyway the purpose here is not to create a ridiculously lengthy academic study.  My point was to peel back the layers of a known story and show that there are other interpretations, some almost believable and some fantastical.  In looking at my three interpretations, I think there are probably many lessons to be learned.  I will share my thoughts, however I would then encourage you to do the same with any ideas you have.

Genres are much closer to each other than you might think.  Frankenstein is a gothic horror, however, as I noted above it wouldn’t take too much to move it into fantasy horror, or dark fantasy.

Sometimes cruelty and viciousness comes from unexpected, but perfectly understandable quarters.  One of my hobbies is playing in roleplay games, and one of the scariest characters I encountered was an utterly unpredictable child, who could be innocent one minute and a murderous psychopath the next.  Also consider, childlike is often associated with innocence, however innocence turns to horror very easily when parental guidance is removed from the equation.  This brings you to “What if” writing.  What if the child was abandoned?  What if we removed this other factor from an individual?  What impact would it have.  What if we added something, instead of subtracting?  There are countless stories to be told simply by exploring what if.

“A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question…”

Stephen King, writing in the Guardian (talking about his book On Writing )

Full Article Here

Psychology and the mind, properly employed, can give a logical explanation for the seemingly supernatural.  In fact, this is probably even more effective as a tool in horror as it has the added weight of forcing the reader to realise that it isn’t some invention of the writer, rather it is a condition that could happen to anyone.  And something like that can make a villain terrifying and sympathetic at the same time.  This is not something that should dabbled with lightly.  Study of things like psychosis, multiple personalities and schizophrenia is likely to be difficult, if not harrowing.  And you do sufferers a disservice if you misrepresent them, so if this is a route you would explore then I would suggest tread cautiously

I hope you found this of interest, and and of use to you.  These realisations have certainly helped me.

All the best.


Feedback – a Sharp Writing Guide

Hi there, you are most welcome here today.

Since we did editing last week, it is appropriate to now do feedback.  If you haven’t read my post about editing, then click on the blue text and have a look through first.  Done?  Good.

To get started, you will need more than one person.  Writing is often a solitary activity but it does require the help of others.  A pair is possible, a group of interested parties is better.  You will also need a piece of writing; between 500 and 1000 words is ideal.  You’ll need two copies of this, and the work you did for the editing post is most suitable, as you already have some thoughts on it. Failing that, any piece of writing of around 500 to 1000 words will do.  I recommend checking out the editing post as I have a number of suggestions on good etiquette.

Writing is a solo activity that requires the help of others

Right, you have your pieces of writing.  Pass one to the person to your left.  You will also be receiving a piece from the person on your right.  Now, everybody, write feedback on what you have received.  Don’t worry that we haven’t been through any useful information yet.  The purpose here is to just get people started and highlight if you have any bad habits.  Spend ten to fifteen minutes on this.

Ok, now that you have had a chance to practice some feedback, let’s have a look at a few things that can help you.  Because, if no one told you, giving feedback is hard.  Hopefully this post can help you a bit.

So, you have a piece of work from a friend.  They have (hopefully) told you what genre it is, and what they were trying to achieve.  Where do you start?

Read the thing in its entirety before doing anything.

It is all too easy to comment that something doesn’t make sense, and then to find that the answer you needed was actually later on in the piece and what confused you was actually a clever setup.

Avoid saying things like “I liked this piece…”

Saying you like a piece is always nice, but it isn’t particularly helpful for the writer or for you.  Firstly, like and dislike is a matter of taste.  You might have the best prose in the world in your hands, however if it is in a genre you hate, chances are you will hate it.  See the contradiction – how can you hate something that is the best prose in the world?

It is possible because you are looking for the wrong things.  The next thing I say is going to sound really harsh.

Whether you like a piece or not, whether you like a genre or not, is irrelevant to the process of feedback.  The process of feedback is to determine if the writer has made errors, to determine if the author achieved what they set out to do.  It is not to entertain the editor.  Too many times I have heard people in class saying they didn’t want to give feedback on a piece because they didn’t like the genre.  Tough.  Get over it.

Your enjoyment of a piece or genre is irrelevant when giving feedback

The writer can help the reader here by asking specific questions.  I listed some of helpful ones in my editing piece.

You are critiquing the writing, not the writer

This should be self-evident, however it is very important to re-iterate.  Your comments and feedback should be about what elements of writing don’t work.  Not what the writer did wrong.  It is a hard task giving, and receiving feedback.  Everyone is better served when feedback given is impersonal.

Be Specific

I cannot emphasise this enough.  In my many years of writing I have (thankfully not that often) received some useless feedback, and in many cases it was due to its lack of specificity.  An example,

“Don’t use clichés.”

That was a single note added at the end of my piece, with no explanation.  That was it.  Ok, I thought, I won’t.  Which ones are you talking about?  I hadn’t realised I had used any, or I would have avoided them (dare I say…) like the plague.  I didn’t know what the reader meant so their feedback was useless.

Another favourite of mine, and I get this frequently, is “Your sentences are too long”.

I do like long sentences.  I also like short sentences, and I like sentences of middling length.  So, that feedback on its own wasn’t helpful.  Were there extraneous words in it?  (In one case I can recall I checked.  I could chop one word without changing the meaning.  So I did).  Or did the reader simply not like long sentences?  Was the idea conveyed too complex for one sentence?  Would the pace have been better served by several short sentences? Certainly some sentences are too long, but in the case of feedback if you think there is a problem you need to say why.

An example of how the same feedback could have been useful is:

Avoid saying things like, ‘avoid clichés like the plague’.  It is an overused phrase and is therefore cliché.

That would have helped.  Another example would be to say:

That sentence repeats the same idea multiple times, and it is not necessary beyond the first and could be cut down a bit.

Where possible, or unless asked, avoid offering alternatives

Remember, the piece you are reading is not yours.  Your words may not be the best option when changing something.  Simply, specifically, highlight what is not working for you and why.  Then allow the writer to determine the right course of action.  Of course, if the writer asks for your opinion on what you would do, then by all means go ahead and offer any advice you have.  Just remember to check your ego at the door, it is their work not yours.

Check your ego at the door, we're doing feedback

And finally, answer any questions the writer gave you

It is good practice for a writer, once they have edited their work, to think of things they want the answers to and ask them of the people giving feedback.  If the writer has made that effort, do them the courtesy of answering.  They have made your job just a bit easier by doing that, so, help them out.

Ok, those are my major points for feedback.  There are probably other helpful things you can do, and if you know of any, please feel free to comment on this post.  I may even incorporate them into this work, since none of what I am sharing is new, ground-breaking or original.

Now, you have one copy of your work left.  Pass it to the person on your right, and receive one from your left and take 15 to 20 minutes (or as long as you need) to write feedback.  Then collect your piece, both of them if you haven’t already, and compare the two.  Maybe there won’t be many differences, because everyone has different abilities, and maybe there will be.  Compare the two, the second piece given is (hopefully) more helpful.  Though that is not to say the first feedback is not helpful, only that it may have been less polished.  Either way, you have two pieces of feedback now and that can only help you.

However, now I must share with you something incredibly important.

In my last post I mentioned there were four rules of editing and feedback, but I only covered the first three at that point.  They were:

First – Know what you (the writer) are trying to achieve.  This ranges from as broad as what Genre you are writing in, to what effect you want to have on a reader at a specific point.

Second – Ask those feeding back if you achieved what you intended.  People providing feedback will undoubtedly provide more, however this is the first opportunity for you to find out if you are having the intended impact.

Third – Be open to the feedback.  You may not always like what you hear, however going through the process will improve your writing and help build your resilience, which is a necessary attribute for a writer to have.

I will now tell you my fourth rule, and I believe it is probably the most important.

As the writer, you are free to ignore any feedback/advice at any time if you disagree with it, so long as you have good reason.  This rule also encompasses the rules of writing, in which I would say you are within your rights to ignore the rules of writing.  However I would not be so cavalier to do so as the rules can help inexperienced writers.  In this case my rule is about ignoring feedback and advice from others.

This seems to contradict my third rule, about being open.  It doesn’t contradict it at all.  You do need to be open to feedback, however, if after hearing your feedback and considering it you have decided it is not appropriate to make any changes based on it, then you as the writer have every right to disregard it.  And the person feeding back should not argue.  It is your piece, and sometimes the reader is wrong.  They may have missed the point of your writing, or they may have forgotten to check their ego before reading.  I have personal experience of that, where a person gave me feedback which I disagreed with.  I thanked them and explained why I wasn’t going to follow their suggestions.  They then argued with me and told me I would never be a good writer if I didn’t follow their advice.  I never sought feedback from them again.  They were not trying to help, rather they were trying to prove how clever they were.  And I still disagree with their feedback, so in that respect they failed.  Don’t fall into that trap.  If your feedback is rejected, move on.  The writer has ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of their work.  They are free to make any creative choice they choose.

You are free to disregard any feedback you recieve if you have good reason to

Ok, I think that just about wraps up what I have to say on feedback.

If this post was of use to you, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog, or even check out my hobby blog over on

All the best, and see you next time


Editing – A Sharp Writing Guide

Hello everyone, welcome.  Today I am going to share my thoughts on editing

In later posts I will talk about feedback, and that should be a buddy or group situation.  Today, however, we focus on solo editing.

Editing is an important part of writing.  It is with editing that we refine our drafts into the fluid prose we need to engage the reader, and cut the excess/unnecessary words. Writers, to one extent or another, are perfectionists and egotists.  On some level we want our work to be as good as it can be, and for it to be read or heard.  This is fine insofar as it goes, however it also generates a problem.  In our quest to produce the perfect sentence it is very easy to write something and then stop, and edit as you go.  You’ve done it, haven’t you?

We all have.

It’s time to break that habit.  The processes of writing and the processes of editing are creation and destruction.  They are opposites, and thus use different parts of your brain.  You slow yourself down when you edit as you go.  Besides, and I will come back to this point when we get to feedback, you can only really do a proper job if you can see the full picture first.  You can’t foreshadow or plant subtle hints early on if you don’t know what happens later, after all.

So, first we need something to edit.  Something you have already written would do the job, however it is worth you getting some practice writing without editing as you go.  I am going to suggest you do some freewriting.  That is write in response to a prompt for 15 to 20 minutes without stopping or editing yourself.

Too many people try to edit as they go. This is a mistake and gave rise to the mantra, "You don't have to get it right first time, you only have to write first time."

Below there are 4 prompts or kicker lines.  They are there as starters or aids.  You need to write in response to them, either using them as your first line, writing a story that incorporates them or just write what one of them makes you feel.  Slavish adherence to the prompts is not what we are going for here

The kicker lines are

It was the largest [Blank] I had ever seen

This is the story of how we got a [Blank] for a pet.

When I went to the dump last week, [Blank]

When I went to the woods the other day, I [Blank]


Just write something spontaneously.  The Kicker lines are only there as prompts, if you have an idea by all means, go for it.

Once you have your prompt or idea, start writing for 15 to 20 minutes without stopping, without editing yourself.  Then come back to the post.  I’ll be here.

Welcome back.

It is my observation that some writers will write their first draft and then immediately share it with peers for feedback.  There is certainly validity in seeking a second set of eyes to give a new perspective and to spot the mistakes that you could not.  However, it is precisely this reason that I do not like sharing my work at this point.  This is not a fear of judgement.  It is a respect for people giving their time and feedback.  I want them spending their time spotting the things I missed.  They shouldn’t be spending their time highlighting the careless errors of spelling and language that are inevitable in my first drafts.  So, that is why I always do a couple of edits on my work before sharing.

Some writers will write their first draft and then share for feedback. This is a mistake. You want people offering their time giving you useful feedback, not catching the careless errors of a first draft.


So, now we get to editing.

Firstly, Spelling – In this day of computers, there is very little reason for most spelling mistakes to survive the first draft.  If you are typing your work using a word processor, chances are it has a spell checker.  Your first redraft should include running the spell checker.  This will clear up any careless errors that creep in when you are writing freestyle.  Then, have a look through your writing.  Are there miss-spellings the checker didn’t get?

For instance confusions of same sounding words, with different meanings.  Here are some examples:

Two, Too, To

They’re, There, Their

Know, No

Your, You’re

If you think you are likely to be muddled by one or more of these groupings, keep a list of the various words and meanings so you can keep yourself right.  Many word processors have a search function that allows you to find specific words, meaning you can actually check every one if you so wish.

I also have Microsoft word set up to detect use of passive voice, which isn’t strictly an error, just weaker writing.  You can do this by adhering to the following instructions:

  1. Display the Word Options dialog box.
  2. Click the Proofing option at the left side of the dialog box.
  3. Click the Settings button.
  4. Make sure there is no check mark next to the Passive Sentences option.


For more detail on passive and active voice you can check out the Learn English British Council Page.

Next, read your work aloud.  I cannot stress enough how important this is!  Reading your work aloud forces you to slow yourself down, and even to an extent stops you skipping over parts and filling in blanks from memory.  It also is a good way of spotting clumsy language, and word repetition.  By this point you will also have a feel for your story, and if there are things that need to be adjusted or included, which you can go ahead and do.

This sounds like a lot of work to do for an early edit, doesn’t it?

That’s because it is.  Writing is often said to be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  A significant amount of time spent writing is actually reworking a draft, rather than simply writing it.  Writing can be a long haul.  This is normal.

At this point you are probably almost ready to share your work for feedback.  However there are four habits you should consider getting into for the best quality feedback.

First – Know what you are trying to achieve.  This ranges from as broad as what Genre you are writing in, to what effect you want to have on a reader at a specific point.

Second – Ask those feeding back if you achieved what you intended.  People providing feedback will undoubtedly provide more, however this is the first opportunity for you to find out if you are having the intended impact.

Third – Be open to the feedback.  You may not always like what you hear, however going through the process will improve your writing and help build your resilience, which is a necessary attribute for a writer to have.

There is a fourth habit, however, I will deal with that in my next post on giving effective feedback.

So, let us summarise what we have covered.  Once you have a piece ready for editing

  1. Run the spell checker
  2. Look for same sounding words
  3. Read it aloud
  4. Repeat as often as needed
  5. Know what you are trying to achieve
  6. Ask those feeding back specific questions about your work
  7. Be open to what they say


Just a short list of the process I go through when editing

I hope I’ll see you here next week for the post on effective feedback.



Pathos – the Ally of Writing (not to be confused with the Porthos – Ally of Athos…)

Hello everyone, welcome.  Today I am going to scratch the surface of something that can help your writing.  Disclaimer, this post contains affiliate links.

Have you ever noticed that when you are reading a story or watching a TV show something just clicks in it, and even though part of you feels like it is rubbish, something is just working for you?  I get that when reading stories or watching stuff that has a modern setting, but that links back to the past in some way.   Stargate SG1, the TV show, does this in that the antagonists style themselves as deities whose advanced technology looks archaic.  The Vampire Diaries TV show (and presumably books) have a contemporary story with a plot thread set in the past.  The Katharine Kerr Deverry series of books is a High Fantasy Series set in one period, that frequently loops back to the previous incarnations of the main characters.

It occurs to me that I have nostalgia, or even romantic notions, related to the past.  The reasons why aren’t really important, only that it is true.  Nostalgia is the reason I watched three seasons of the Vampire Diaries before becoming utterly bored.  Nostalgia is (one of) the reason(s) I am on my third complete run through of my Stargate SG1 DVDs.

I watched 3 seasons of the Vampire diaries before I got bored. My interest was sustained by nostalgia. I also have old school pictures of Frys Chocolate hanging in my kitchen for the sam reason

For me, a link to the past is appealing as a plot device.  The plot tugs on my emotions, overriding sense (not necessarily in a bad way) and gives me a pleasurable experience in consumption of the media.  Nostalgia is the ally of the Writer against my resistance.

It is an ally any writer can make use of.  The theory is simple, and should be something a writer is doing anyway.  It is part of your audience research.  Who are your audience?  What do they like?  What do they have fond memories of?

More importantly can you legitimately get any of that into your plot?

Nostalgia engages the emotional centers of the brain, basically a pathos appeal. Writers can use this pathos appeal to build loyal fans and engage people in their writing

At its most basic level, you are using the Pathos appeal of Rhetoric.  You are communicating to the emotional centre of your reader.  (Classic rhetoric holds that there are three types of appeal, Pathos, Ethos and Logos.  Pathos is emotion, Ethos is the credibility of the speaker, and Logos is content of what they are saying.  And, arguably, Pathos is probably the most effective when used properly)

How do you do this?

Ask yourself, who is your audience and what do they hanker for?

For me, it is what I perceive to be simpler times.  Even the romanticised version.

For others it could be romance itself, the story that clearly has a happy ending.

Maybe it is having a character (not necessarily protagonist) that shares common values that your readers can relate to.

On a more visceral level, if you are writing a screenplay then it could be about getting the music just right (I love the movie Delta Force, with Chuck Norris.  It is about as good as most of his movies, however the musical score is done by Alan Silvestri, one of my favourite composers which means I have vastly greater enjoyment than I should.  This theory also applies to the old show Airwolf…click and have a listen.  It is more addictive than it has any right to be)

I am very much aware that this post may appear vague.   I consider it a starting point, as I do not know who your audience is.  Let’s have a chat in the comments.


Let’s talk fan fiction…

Just a short post today.  Quite possibly people are going to think it strange that I talk about fan fiction on this website, however I am going to, and hopefully we can have a meaningful chat about it afterwards.

Fan fiction is a label that evokes quite a strong response in a lot of people, and in all honesty, it isn’t always a favourable one.  It is my belief that a large portion of the reading community is dismissive of Fan Fiction as a genre, or even writing.  How hard can it be to come up with a story in a world that already exists with existing characters, after all?  It isn’t proper writing if you didn’t invent the characters yourself?  Right?

Let us have a look at why people seem to dislike fan fiction and we can answer those questions.

Quality of Writing

There is a perception that fan fiction is the playground of amateurs, and as a result it is poorer quality writing.  I have read fan fiction.  Some of it is very poor quality.  However, I have read other pieces of general or genre fiction that are just as bad.  I have also read fan fiction that is of very good quality.  The quality of writing is independent of Genre, and entirely dependent on the effort and skill applied by the writer.  For this reason I no longer dismiss Fan Fiction due to the quality of writing.  (Once upon a time, I did)


It is all about Sexual Fantasy/Wish Fulfillment

No it isn’t.  Some of it is.  And if it makes a person happy to write about their fantasy and then let other people read it, then where is the harm.  (Unless the fantasy itself is harmful, in which case seek expertise from someone other than a blogger who blogs about writing…).  Personally, I wouldn’t want to write about and share this material, but then I don’t really understand the selfie phenomenon either(unless the picture tells a story).  The point ere is that it isn’t all about the writer’s fantasy.  Sometimes it is fun to take an existing canon and ask “What if…?”


There is no skill or art involved in writing about pre-established characters

Are you sure about that?  Write a couple hundred words about your living room.  Did you get good prose on your first draft?  (I am presuming not).  If you decided to actually spruce the language up a bit, was it easy?  (About as easy as any editing?)   Just because something is pre-established doesn’t make it easy to write about.

One of the things you need when you are writing is passion for your story, and it is my observation that fan fiction, whilst not always polished, is not lacking in passion for the subject.  Is it not just as hard to write a character that already has pre-established ground rules that other fans will challenge if you break?

And to say there is no skill in writing a character that may exist as part of another media is flat out wrong.  If you are writing based on a TV series and the character has a trademark style and demeanour, you have to convert something visual into something described.  Imagine someone trying to write a fan fiction in response to a video game, or roleplay game.  How do they do that?  A story is going to appear clumsy and dull if your post apocalyptic hero keeps finding ammo crates and medkits in the wilderness.  And how do you portray your RPG character who spent an hour of the game talking to other characters in one room, in no particular order, all of whom patiently waited for you to come talk to them.  The writer needs to find a way to make their work more compelling than that.  The point here being that sometimes you learn new skills trying to convert one form into your writing.  (This has certainly been my experience)


So what?

When I started University I was given the impression that my favoured genre, fantasy, would struggle to achieve the same marks as general fiction.  I decided I was going to ignore that warning.  I wanted to write fantasy and I wanted to write it well.  Good writing is good writing regardless of genre (and the opposite is also true).  I think the point I am making to the novice (or any) writer is that if Fan Fiction is your thing, then don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t a worthy genre.  I would also say that just because some folks look down on it doesn’t mean you should treat it with less care than you would literary fiction.  Write your story and edit it to good quality.  Don’t give folks free ammunition to shoot you down.

To the readers, I would say, judge a story on the merit of its words and not the category you find it.

The relationship between reader, writer and finished story is built on respect.  The writer’s respect for the reader and story by telling it with passion, knowing the source material, and making it the best it can be; and the reader’s respect for story and writer by judging on the merits of the finished product and not the labels with pre-judgements attached.

There is enough negativity in the world already.  We writers and readers don’t need to add to it.  Let us create good stories worthy of being read, and let us enjoy those stories realising that fan fiction is not a shortcut.

Have you, in your reading or writing, come across any other forms of fiction that are considered sub-par?  Share in the comments and let us have a chat.

Don’t Breathe – Thriller Movie and a discussion about the use of Eyes in fiction

I recently watched a movie called “Don’t Breathe”.  This is a film about a bunch of kids/young adults who decide to rob a blind war veteran who they are aware has had a major payout as a result of personal tragedy.  The film is a thriller, as when the kids get into the house, they get more than they bargain for when the blind veteran locks them in, and begins hunting them.  I guess he was supposed to be the villain but all my sympathy was with him, until the writers did something to make me lose sympathy for him (It was like reading Volpone all over again).  It’s a decent movie, with Stephen Lang playing the part of the blind veteran.

However, review is not my purpose here.  I am going to talk about one of the things that made Lang seem incredibly sinister.  His eyes.

I should preface this post by saying I am not an expert on the medical side of blindness, nor do I have experience of dealing with blindness or helping someone suffering blindness.  This post is not intended to upset anyone, however I have used some blunt comparisons.  Please consider I do this as part of a theoretical discussion about use of one element, eyes, in plot.

His character is no Daredevil.  He doesn’t have radar senses, he just has his hearing and combat training.  That makes him dangerous to the trespassers, but not sinister to the viewer.  However, his eyes help achieve that.  They are fixed ahead, and cloudy as you might expect.  And this doesn’t seem natural.

It is perfectly normal for us as humans, and for the characters we read/write/see to read the intent of another person by looking at their posture, their face, their eyes.  There is something alive about the eyes that communicates to us, and on some level it unnerves us when they are rigid.  I wanted to ponder that.  last week I talked about automata.  I believe that rigid, cloudy, eyes add to the impression that an individual is automata.  By definition, automata gives the appearance of life, but not necessarily actual life.  If we read the eyes because they are alive then does it not follow that we interpret rigid eyes, automaton eyes, as dead?  Are we unnerved because we see someone apparently alive, going through the motions, but carrying something within them that makes us subconsciously think of death?  (I am curious about your thoughts on that)

Taking a slightly different perspective, if we read emotions from eyes because they are “Windows of/to the soul”, then rigid eyes are surely walls?  In one of the most basic methods of attempting to connect with another person, a barrier is erected.

And then we have the idea that a person who cannot see should be at a disadvantage to us.  What then are we supposed to feel if the impairment is no disadvantage at all?  (And in case I need to re-iterate the point I made at the start, this is not an attack on blindness, and I have abounding respect for someone deprived a sense but capable of functioning without it).  Do we make the assumption there is something we cannot see, or understand at play?  Something supernatural?  Something uncanny?  Or perhaps we think they are faking?  Perhaps we suddenly think they have lied.  Lied, to gain advantage?  What else might they be lying about?

Now to the point of this theorising.  How do we use this as writers?

The obvious answer is through the point of view character.  Then we must make a decision.  How does that character react?  Their reaction will plant ideas in the minds of our readers, it helps us set the terms, language and ultimately genre of the plot.

Do we use the life and death metaphor?  If our story is supernatural or fantasy genre, then perhaps.  Discussion of life and death very much ticks the right box for supernatural, and rigid eyes might be the first step in your fantasy stories introducing Golems, or other such constructs.  Or perhaps even some form of curse where someone is brought under the control of another.

Do we use windows and walls?  Perhaps if we are dealing with a thriller, a foe that is unreadable even to our super-agent or our canny journalist can help the reader feel the frustration, and keep them guessing.

Or does the protagonist see their foe/antagonist, see their rigid/blind/milky/whatever eyes and wonder at how they are so capable?  They wonder if there is more going on, making the the antagonist’s blindness a form of blindness itself for the viewpoint character.  Perhaps as the protagonist tries learn to “See” in this new reality, we add mystery and hardship, helping the reader really feel the ordeal.


What do you think?  Comment below, and lets have a chat!


note – I have drawn some inspiration from this post reading Freud’s “The Uncanny“.  Worth a look if you are an aspirant of horror.