How Not To Writte… A Novel

They say everyone has a book inside them (and we don’t mean in the ’embarrassing visit to A&E’ sense). We all have a story to tell, a journey to share or an idea that sounds like it could be worked into a passable novel.

But if you’ve just come up with the best idea ever for a chick lit flicker – featuring the forbidden love between a chocolate company owner and his down-at-heel cleaning lady – how do you get this blockbusting idea out of your head and into 100,000 words of tear-enducing literary prose?

Do:

  • Commit to writing, a LOT, and then some, and then some more, again… and wash, and repeat.
  • Learn the basics of editing skills. You don’t need swish software but you DO need patience and – in our opinion – rewards for getting your edits done. Chocolate works well (Ed: there’s a theme emerging here… ). Editing is not a necessary evil, it is just part of the whole process; you HAVE to do it – so make it as comfortable as possible.
  • Print your chapter or section out if you can when doing your editing. Plonk yourself down in a nice comfy chair, drink of choice in hand, sit back and relax. With whatever pen/pencil/quill you prefer, slowly go through the text, correcting the typos, grammar and things that make no sense. Does it scan, can you read it out loud, have you used ‘but’ far too many times?… But… when you get to the end of the section reward yourself with whatever you need in order to feel good about the editing process: biscuit(s), favourite TV programmes, Swedish massage from Lars…
  • Plan out the structure of the story, however roughly. With a few key ideas for story milestones you’ll give yourself a skeleton for the whole novel – you can add the flesh to these rough bones at a later point, giving birth to your very own literary zombie.
  • Make your characters feel like real people. Don’t just describe the colour of their dress/jacket. Give your reader a bold-brush-stroke idea of what this person is like and make them feel some engagement, empathy or emotion towards them. Human stories need rounded human characters – and when we say rounded we don’t mean Mr Blobby.
  • Start on the action – back story can come later. Engage with your reader and give us snippets of the back story and the ‘whys’ later on. In short, get our attention early or we’ll be tempted to turn on the telly and watch Googlebox/shout at Question Time.
  • Have a reason for everything that happens. Don’t introduce ‘colour’ to something if it doesn’t serve a purpose. It’s great that Auntie Flo’s beautiful russet red Manolo’s walked through the door, but if they don’t stamp on something, get thrown off at a disco, or describe that she’s kooky, it serves no purpose (take note, Dan Brown).
  • Write! Yes we know, prosaic, but you have to put in the time. And, yes, some of it will be bilge, but some of it will be brilliant too – write, write and write some more and soon the diamonds will start sparkling among the more work-a-day coal.
  • Get used to being ‘stuck’. It doesn’t matter – keep writing! Write anything. Write poetry, diaries, short stories, or a letter to your mum, but write something. Use writing prompts if need be, but if you’ve committed your time to write, then write, anything.

Don’t:

  • Miss huge bits of plot because you think your reader will know what’s going on. Nice as it would be, your reader isn’t psychic, so you need to give enough plot hints to make it clear what’s happening. Conversely don’t tell us everything – show not tell. No-one wants a novel to read like an Ikea instruction manual.
  • Be boring with your writing. Cardinal sins can include being too descriptive, going overboard with the adjectives (It was a dark and stormy night… ) or going into minute detail that adds nothing to the story, the character development or the excitement of the narrative – so choose wisely what to describe. Less is generally more.
  • Show all your wares up front (Ed: unless you’re drafting something for the ’50 Shades of Grey’ market). Like that unforgettable night at Foxy’s Exotic Dancing Emporium, the tease, the strip, is most of the fun… so take time to let us get at your goodies.
  • Attempt to hit your 3,000 words a day count whilst simultaneously having Twitter/Instagram/the news/CBeebies on a nearby screen. Get rid of all distractions. There is a time for inspiration (Ed: Late at night, after a few vinos, watching Michael Fassbender/Angelina Jolie), and there’s the occasions where you SAY you’re seeking inspiration but ACTUALLY you’re distracting yourself with YouTube videos of pandas on slides. Lock yourself away and (as we KEEP on saying) get writing, writing WRITING!!!

How Not To Writte… A Political Placard

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year, you’ll have noticed that the world’s going through a spot of political upheaval at the moment (Ed: that’s putting it mildly – I understand rocks are now the go-to housing option: I fancy a little one by the sea, if I can just sort the indoor plumbing).

A UK general election is on the cards, Trump is in the Whitehouse, Brexit is looming on the horizon and the alt-right is on the rise – and that’s resulted in a lot of fine, upstanding and usually moderate people making a stand against the rising tide of populism in the world…

But if you’re gonna make a stand against the political status quo (and not just sing, Down Down!), you’re going to have to dust off your donkey jacket and go on a political march. And if you’re going to demonstrate, then you bloody well need a placard to wave around and get your political message seen by the masses.

So, if you’re sitting down with your blank piece of card, jumbo-size felt-tip marker in hand, how do you craft a placard that’s going to not only get you noticed in the crowd, but will also be so cutting and original in the power of its slogan that the alt-right opposition will disintegrate in a mushy pile of broken promises?

Do:

  • Write witty, funny or scathing slogans that will give people a laugh, and will also lodge in people’s noggins. For UK marches, using the classic ‘Down with this sort of thing’ slogan from Father Ted is always a winner – it’ll be photographed and posted to Instagram and Twitter before you can press ‘like’.
  • Keep it short, pithy and to the point – one hard-hitting sentence of five or six words will be easier to read and will catch a picture editor’s attention far more effectively than your latest haiku on the ridiculousness of Trump’s Weetabix combover styling.
  • Laminate, or otherwise cover, your placard with waterproof material! If you’re demonstrating in Britain, it WILL rain, your placard WILL get wet and your words will run –  and no one wants a soggy pole (Ed: easy tiger).
  • Check your spelling! ‘We want it here and now!’, is very different to ‘We want it where and know!’. Chuck your slogan into Word or Google Docs and do a spellcheck – there’s no excuse for bad spelling in this digital age, so let the little zeroes and ones do the hard work for you.
  • Use a hashtag at the bottom rather than a website, but again keep it brief. This is where size really does matter… and not in the way you’d expect. The shorter your hashtag, the easier it is for people to remember or to hastily type into their social media app of choice, while traversing the soggy city streets.
  • Consider accompanying your placard slogan with flags – bright, colourful, waving-about type flags with your message daubed across the middle. Who doesn’t love a flag, eh!? They draw attention, they look cool blowing in the wind and you can pretend you’re a Soviet revolutionary on a CCCP poster.
  • Consider a pun or play on a film or song title. ‘Let’s talk about…’ is a crowd pleaser, along with the classic ‘I protest at being a sign!’, but flex your pun muscles (Ed: are they connected to the funny bone?) and see what excruciating play on words you can come up with for your placard of choice.

Don’t:

  • Swear or use cuss words. I know, boring, but remember there may be children on your rally with you. So if you do swear, then for f**ks sake use an asterisk!
  • Write a very long, boring message – no one will be able to read it. As we said earlier, keep your writing short, sharp and to the point. If you can’t read it easily in the two seconds it takes for a helmeted riot police officer (or ex United Airlines security officer) to bundle you to the ground, then it’s too long, too wordy and won’t get you on the front page of The Guardian.
  • Use illegible or overly messy writing on your placard. We’re not expecting hand-crafted calligraphy on your sign, but people do have to be able to read it – an unreadable slogan on a placard is a pointless as inviting Nigel Farage to Notting Hill Carnival.
  • Just write ‘Hello Mum! I’m on the telly!!’ on your placard. Yes, you may find it amusing, but there will be at least 10% of the other marchers on your rally who’ll have had the self-same idea – don’t be that knob!

How Not To Writte… An Easter Egg Hunt invite

Easter.  A time of daft rabbit ears, waistline-increasing levels of chocolate and the perennial favourite that is ‘The Easter Egg Hunt’… oh and something about a bloke with a beard popping back up from beyond the grave to tell us how lovely it would be if we were all nicer to each other (definitely no bad thing, but we’re so over the smock and sandals look).

So, if you’re more interested in the confectionery than the theology of the Easter season, you’d better get writing some invites to your Easter Egg Hunt. We all know you’ve got to hide a selection of ovoid goodies in fiendishly difficult hidey holes but how do you make your guests turn up in the first place?

Do:

  • Put the date, time and place on the invite. Easter can fall at funny times during the year, so make it easy on folks and give ’em the blasted date.
  • Include a map, directions and any special instructions, such as parking arrangements or how to avoid George, your over chatty neighbourhood watch coordinator.
  • Include a postcode and directions for satnav-challenging villages. If you’re taking people ’round the back way’, do ensure there’s refreshments and shouts of ‘stop the clock, she’s found it’ when they arrive (Anneka Rice jumpsuits are optional).
  • Use a pun or two in your invite text to add some colour. For example, ‘hop on over’, ‘hip hop hooray’, ‘it’s an eggstravaganza’ or ‘let’s get eggsploring’… (Ed: no more bloody egg-asperating puns)
  • State if you need to bring your own basket (egg hauls can be cumbersome to transport) and if appropriate footwear is needed. Great Aunt Doris may need to re think her 4″ Manolos.
  • Be aware that, for some, Easter is a highly religious experience and many may be fasting. Also, bear in mind that for others it’s a ready excuse to smear themselves with the melted remains of a bumper-size chocolate bunny – either way, be respectable and cater for all.

Don’t:

  • Leave the word ‘Easter’ out of your invite – unless you want apocalyptic style abuse from your neighbours and Theresa May camping outside with a ‘down with this kind of thing’ placard. Forgetting to mention Easter in their ad copy got the lovely people at The National Trust and Cadbury (please send us free chocolate eggs!) into a spot of bother recently, so we’d advise titling your ovoid-hunting extravaganza an ‘Easter egg hunt’ – unless your idea of fun is being chased down the high street by a rabid mob of irate Christians and Daily Mail readers (cue Benny Hill-style chase).
  • Promise creme eggs or mini eggs on your invite: some egg fancier always buys them up in bulk in February and you’ll be left bereft, embarrassed and scrabbling round the shops, with nothing but Marmite and Pot Noodle eggs to appease your assembled throng.
  • Use this as the time to try out your Dan Brown-level of clue mastery. No-one wants to spend three hours working out that your clue ‘where sun and sand at happier times did meet’ refers to your ornamental glass paperweight from the Isle of Wight.
  • Make your egg hunt adult-themed and smutty – well, not unless it’s an adult party and all the eggs are the vibrating kind (Ed: could add a buzz to the party).
  • However tempting it may be, use a walking app to make your ‘trail’ look like a penis. Stick with an Easter Egg – it’s easier to draw and less likely to cause any neighbour envy (tip – you can make it as huge as you want 😉 ).

How Not To Writte… On Twitter

What did we do with our phones before we had Twitter? (Ed: probably talk to people through them?)

Twitter is a social media network (or ‘micro-blogging site’, if you will) where you post 140 character-long ‘tweets’ about whatever the hell pops into your head at any given moment. It could be your thoughts on a recent political event, your uniquely insightful comments on Kanye’s latest track, or it could be a drunken rant about why none of your friends ever want to go out on a Friday night anymore.

The point is that, on Twitter, literally anything goes. Write it, tweet it and your great work of literary genius is out there in the world, waiting for the Twitterati to comment on. Admittedly, these comments are usually along the lines of ‘You’re an idiot!’ or ‘I think you’ve missed out an apostrophe’, but at least it’s feedback, eh.

In many ways, Twitter is the ultimate social media platform. It’s become a global phenomenon in just a few years, and it’s hard now to imagine how bad journalism/celebrity updates/online arguments existed before we had the Twittersphere. 

Do:

  • Use hashtags wisely. The golden rule is no more than 3, use them to drive people to your Twitter feed, but check your spelling.  #Ilikeyouraunt sends a very different message to followers than the regrettable time your fingers slipped and you typed a ‘c’ rather than an ‘a’.
  • Engage with your followers. Learn about them, tweet links to them and be inclusive.  Check your spelling and check their username, but once you’ve done that, you’re golden.
  • Think before you tweet. Will this tweet help me/someone else to have a laugh or is it just a non-amusing rant at the world and everyone in it. We all need those times to vent, but sometimes a public forum where your rant can never permanently be deleted (eek!), might not be the best option.
  • Learn that 3am is never the best time to tweet. Period. Nope don’t even start an argument here.
  • Try and have a personal, profile picture. It makes you seem like a real human being and not a soulless robotron (Ed: no we’re not sure what that is either). Your selfie game might not always be on point, but a nice friendly face lets people know who they’re following.
  • Write a bio. You’re limited in what you can say, but a name always helps, as does an idea of who you are and why you’re on Twitter.  If you need more space to explain about yourself, set up a blog or website and include the links in your bio.

Don’t:  

  • EVER drunk tweet! It’s the number one rule of tweeting, to be adhered to at all costs. Adele got her account removed from her for some questionable tweetage when drunk. We don’t need any blurry shots of you miming something questionable with a saveloy at midnight in the local chip shop. You will regret this. Your mum will regret it and the saveloy will most definitely regret it. Stay smart, stay safe, stay saveloy free and most importantly stay sober when tweeting.
  • Use twitter just to complain loudly. No one likes a moaning Minnie and everyone can spot a ‘freebie’ chancer a mile off. Do engage with companies, do tell them what you think but despite your frustrated anger simmering in a cauldron of contempt, try to remain professional. There are people at the end of Twitter accounts, despite the image of soulless bureaucracy of ….(insert worst imaginable company here… normally something to do with trains).
  • Spam tweet/over tweet/keep selling something. It’s dull, it’s boring and WE DON’T CARE.  Oh yeah, check your spelling and your grammar and your hashtag game.
  • Ever and we mean ever, use ‘clickbait’ phrases like ‘Oh my god, and what she did next you’ll never believe… ‘ or ‘You’ve been using [random object] wrong this WHOLE time…’. It’s Twitter suicide and will drive your followers away quicker than a conversation about Brexit.

How Not To Writte… A Dear John/Jane Letter

Ah, relationships! What an enigma, wrapped up in a conundrum, they are. As humans, at some point most of us will end up dating someone.

We’ll revel in the heart-bursting intensity of the initial ‘honeymoon period’ of dating, we’ll kick off our shoes and run barefoot through the meadows of romance and (if we’re very lucky) we’ll end up with someone we can settle down with and get into one of those long-term relationship thingies (you know like that co-dependent relationship you have with donuts).

But, let’s be honest, not everyone we date is going to end up being ‘THE ONE!’. More often than not, we’ll gradually come to the realisation that our new bae is in fact… well, a dick. It could be the newly acquired knowledge that they admire Nigel Farage, or it could be the fact they’re actually completely and utterly awful in the bedroom department. But whatever the reason for your change of heart, one thing remains constant…

You’re gonna have to end it!

And you’re going to have to decide on a subtle, tactful, non-heartbreaking way to break the news to them that, actually, they’re not the apple of your eye any longer.

This is where the ‘Dear John/Jane letter’ has traditionally been the get-out clause of choice for many. In this digital age, it needn’t be a written letter, of course – it could be an email, a WhatsApp message or a Skype conversation – but the same principles apply.

Do’s:

Be honest but tactful, be compassionate and thoughtful…

“Dear previous BAE,  

I am so sorry to write this letter to you but whenever we’re together it is difficult for me to express my feelings as I really care for you and don’t want to hurt you. I do hope you understand that this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do ’cause I really do care about you, but unfortunately I don’t think we can see each other any more.

I know none of the clichés will help here but it really is me, not you. I’m just screwed up and I don’t deserve someone as nice as you and you don’t deserve someone as rubbish as me. I will always love you and I hope we can stay friends, but I feel we must end this before we end up hurting each other.

Take care.  xx”

Don’ts:

Don’t feel you have to be completely honest…

“Oi tart face,

You iz a bloody munter alright! Dunno why I slept with you, your technique was fucking shit if you must know. And you know that dance you do, where you think you look so cool? Well, I have news for you – you look like a womble, on speed, at a rave, whose mum is waiting to pick them up! Plus, like… you know, get a trim, have a wash, your downstairs department is like Fred West’s cellar. It stinks, made me vomit and is full of things no one wants to unearth.

See ya minger!”

 

How Not To Writte… Private Messages

Be it Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, private messaging can be a great way of sharing content and keeping in touch with fellow users, whilst keeping your public profile free of ‘random chat’ and messages best left to the private sphere.

This of course includes all those random drunk Friday night chats all about your private ‘spheres’…and we’ve all had a few of THOSE conversations, right (Ed: speak for yourself)

Do:

  • Be aware that even though something is ‘private’ any messages can be ‘screen grabbed’.
  • Check, check and check again who you’re messaging. Be sure you know who you’re actually talking to. Is it a generic corporate account, a real live person or a sex bot? All require very different approaches.
  • Remember just because you sent a PM/DM, it won’t always stay private – everything can be copied and pasted complete with your profile picture.
  • Remember other people may ‘accidentally’ access users accounts, so if your messaging is particularly fruity/honest/libellous, check the way the recipient is responding. Is the language they’re using the same? Is the use of emojis, tone and sayings the same? In short, are you talking to the right person?
  • Keep things brief. Messaging is not the medium for a 1,400 word essay on your subject of choice. Think along the lines of Twitter, 140 characters, and make them work for you. Most people are reading messages on smaller screens, so constant scrolling means the important part of your message may be lost.
  • Remember when to leave/stop. This goes for PMing a company, your celeb crush on Instagram or your newest friend on Facebook – keep them wanting more. Plus, you know, RSI is on the rise, so give your digits a rest.
  • Try to understand how the different PM/DMs work across social media.
    • Twitter – great for ‘quick’ chats or when you need to share details with a company to resolve a complaint.
    • Facebook – for friends, use the messenger app. It’s good for longer conversations, much like Skype, but be wary of the obligatory ‘online’ status – there’s no way of turning it off, so everyone knows you’re online.
    • Instagram – well, no one really uses it, as it’s really just a quick way to send an Instagram post link to someone else. In our opinion, Instagram isn’t really set up to be an ‘interactive’ tool, it’s much more designed to show off your ‘tools’.
    • Skype – a real chat client, similar to WhatsApp. You can create groups and chat to one person, or several people, at a time. It’s easy to make yourself ‘invisible’ (always handy) but predominantly used for quick text messages, sending pics or video chatting for free across the world.
    • Find a social media app that works for you and your recipient; they all have pros and cons, so use one that supports your needs.

Don’t:

  • Whatever you do, don’t PM, DM or otherwise attempt direct contact with celebrities. It doesn’t matter that they waved to you that time in Sainsbury’s, or that they ‘liked’ or replied to a post of yours. You won’t come across as a friendly fan or fellow ‘creative type’, you will come across as a psychopathic stalker.
  • Straight men approaching females – don’t have your opening message say ‘Hey hot chick, wanna look at my dick’. We can assure you that 99.9% of women have no desire to see it, hear about it or do anything with it.
  • In fact, straight men approaching women – be very very careful what you message ladies.  Don’t, for example, approach someone you’ve only just started following and have barely responded to with the classic ‘hey girl, wanna hang?’. At best you’re likely to be sent a gif of a hangman’s noose.
  • Don’t assume you’ll get an immediate response. People are online at different times, or may be doing different things, or may need to think before formulating a response. Be patient. Be calm. In essence, be Yoda.
  • With this is mind, don’t hassle people if you ‘see’ they’re online but aren’t responding to you. Give them a break, they may be logged on for a specific reason, which may not include you. If you are real proper buddies then you may have their number and if it’s an emergency you can ring them, but otherwise don’t demand their attention all the time.
  • For heaven’s sake, don’t rant, rage and swear at a recipient, regardless of how frustrated you may be. Try to remain calm and state your issues and needs appropriately. In fact, wherever possible try not to respond if you’re seeing red – it never ends well.