Malcolm’s writing tips

  • take ideas from your own interests; choose a theme that’s close to your heart; if it’s interesting to you as a writer, you might excite the reader as well
  • know your subject or, if not, do lots of research
  • as author, don’t look down on your characters as if you’re playing chess with them (they should feel as if they’re alive, not just tools of the plot); get inside them and see the action from their point of view to make sure they act naturally
  • allow the plot to develop; don’t stick with the original plan if it doesn’t feel right; maybe the butler didn’t do it after all
  • jot down good ideas and sentences in a notebook before you forget them
  • don’t get stuck on the opening scene – if it’s a problem, just carry on; the beginning will be much clearer to you when you get to the end; then, you can go back and redraft the opening
  • try to excite readers with the opening; make them wonder what’s going to happen because that’s a sign that they’re hooked (lists of facts or characters are rarely exciting – interest first, facts later); maybe try (a) straight into action, or (b) a scary opening scene
  • give your characters habits (like biting nails, always joking, always saying, “You know”); it helps to make them come alive
  • use humour (a little humour goes a long way, particularly in horror/crime writing)
  • don’t be too ambitious with the plot and number of characters (in a short story there is not enough space for a very complicated plot and it’s confusing for the reader to get to grips with a lot of characters at the outset)
  • try to make your characters speak realistically (often ungrammatical)
  • leave out any part that you yourself would skip if you were reading your own story
  • believe your instinct – if you think a passage may not be quite right, it isn’t
  • check and check again; redrafting is the key; don’t be afraid to admit that a section may not have worked well and needs a bit more effort and rewriting before it’s up to scratch
  • read your story aloud to a small supportive audience; you will hear any weaknesses, especially in speech and the flow of the story, when it’s said aloud; the critical but constructive comments of friends will also help

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