Tips on writing by Robin Squire

All writers have their own individual ways of approaching stories and characters, as well as the actual practice of writing itself. It’s also true to say that we’re constantly learning about our craft, so to attempt to dispense advice to other writers can seem at best cocksure and misguided and at worst foolishly arrogant.

So, hey, I know no more than any other scribe who has worked steadfastly at their work to enhance and improve the clarity and depth of their output, but here are a few possibly not so ‘bon’ mots I assembled recently when someone asked me to jot down a few ‘writing tips’ regarding scripts and screenplays, which, if they work at all, would do just as well for prose fiction.

1) Pre-plan your novel or script with beginning, middle and ending. These will change as you go along, but it helps to focus.

2) When writing dialogue, the writer must live each character from the inside out, ‘hearing’ each one speak with his or her unique style and rhythm.

3) Once the dialogue is written, the writer should speak it out loud, in character, to make sure it sounds right. It’s amazing how this brings the story and characters to life. So important is this, Final Draft has a ‘read-back’ facility built into their programme.

4) On the other hand, be aware that written prose spoken out loud might sound better than it actually is, so read it through silently and critically too.

5) Some scriptwriters write the title and content of their scenes on separate cards then juggle the cards to best effect for the overall story. Book-writers can do this too.

6) Write all characters fully rounded, including very minor ones. If even one isn’t believable, nothing else will work.  Graham Greene says there’s always one of his characters he simply cannot breathe life into: if you have one like that, either work on it or delete it.

7) Writers should know their limitations. You can’t write ‘witty’ or ‘profound’ if you’re neither, so it’s best not to try. If, say, police or politics aren’t really your thing, best leave these alone or the result will come across as stilted and phoney.

8) Novel or novella? Keep your book shorter if the material won’t stretch, or the padding will show. Kindles won’t mind.

9) Can women write men, and vice versa? Yes they can, but huge subtleties of thought and behaviour separate the sexes. Watch, learn, note.

10) On writing a thriller, always keep a snake under the bed or a bared electric wire no one knows about except the reader.

11) For your story’s ending, don’t give the audience what it expects.


Robin Squire