Redundant words to delete from your writing

toys letters pay play

This is a quick one to plug a short Medium article by Benjamin Dreyer. When I’m editing my first draft of a novel, I find that the thing I’m doing the most is removing unnecessary words. These are the words that you can get rid of, yet the sentence still makes perfect sense.

However, sometimes certain words which are not strictly necessary, help convey something else that the “simpler” phrasing doesn’t do on its own. A simple example: I could say something was “the best result”. It’s more ‘waffly’ to say something was “the least worst result”. There’s a whole extra word there, but I’d argue that the second phrase conveys something else: that this result was the best result out of a series of bad options. Does that make sense?

Anyway, this is (ironically) a ridiculously waffly way of introducing you to an article about removing redundant words. Here’s the article.

Do you agree with Benjamin’s assessments here? Either way, it’s food for thought.


In praise of Highland 2


The industry standard NLE (or Non-Linear Editor) for the TV drama/feature film industry is Avid’s Media Composer. It’s been around for many years, and the film industry’s entire post-production ecosystem is built around it. It’s complex, sophisticated, professional, and rock-solid. And as dull as hell.

It’s really clunky piece of software, that abandoned real innovations to filmmaking years ago. Arguably the most innovative alternative in the professional NLE space is Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. (the “x” is pronounced “ten”. It’s a roman numeral.) But it’s almost too different and radical for Hollywood. Only a handful of big-budget feature films have been cut on it. But its refreshing approach has been embraced by the rest of the industry outside of the conventional TV/feature film world. And by revenue, the corporate/communications/weddings/etc market is overall WAY bigger than TV/features.

So if you want to to be a feature film editor these days, do you need to learn Avid? Sure. But that doesn’t mean you have to use it to make your own films. There’s loads of great – and sometimes even free – alternatives.

The same goes (even more so) for screenwriting applications. I mean, you can use anything to write a screenplay, and there’s even some brilliant free applications that will help with industry-standard formatting, etc.

Final Draft is very much the Avid of screenwriting. It’s the industry standard. Whole pre and post-production workflows are built around it in the film/TV industry. If you work in that business as a screenwriter, there’s a strong chance you’re going to have to use it. It’s expensive, complex, sophisticated, and yes, like Avid, dull as hell. Unlike Avid, I wouldn’t describe it personally as “rock-solid” though.

However, just like the NLE world, there’s other great – and even free – alternatives. One that’s cheap and – for me – just like the Final Cut Pro X of the screenwriting world is Highland 2.

It uses the Fountain language. This is a version of markdown for screenplays, and if you have any knowledge at all of writing to industry standard screenplay formats, you’ll get this easily.

Check it out if you can. I’m no good at reviews, so you’re best getting those elsewhere. I will say this: worry about getting Final Draft once you’ve sold your screenplay, and need to start collaborating with others. Or if you need to work with others using industry standard tools for whatever other reason. Until then, you only need to get it on the page. And for me, I haven’t found anything as good for that as Highland 2.

Theme vs Plot

black and white people bar men

Just a quick post today about theme and how it’s different to plot. Writers way smarter and way more talented than me have ideas about this, but here’s my perspective.

First of all, yes, these things are quite different. Most people agree with that. I find that often a poor short story by a new writer has no theme. It’s just a story. In a good one there’s maybe a few nice emotional beats but overall, it’s quite flat.

In some ways, the theme is what you’re left with as a reader. The story comes and goes, but there’s a wider idea – emotional or otherwise – that you’re left with as a result. To put it in embarrassingly simple terms, the plot is what you’d describe when someone asks, “What’s your story about?” … The theme is what you describe when that same person’s follow-up question is, “Yeah, but what is it really about?” Does that make sense? Or any I being too simplistic?

A story with a really good theme will often influence the end of the plot, but also it can make the end of the story less important, and not in a bad way. Often the real climax of a story is just a bit before the end. Maybe – though obviously not always – the end of the penultimate chapter is the end of the plot. But the final chapter – possibly an epilogue – is there and feels really necessary because of the theme.

If there’s no consideration to the theme, then you might be only interested in nailing that ending and getting out. Nothing wrong with doing that. But if the theme is strong, then that can dictate when the ending occurs. It can be before or after the end of the actual plot.

Don’t get it right, get it written!

person holding blue ballpoint pen writing in notebook

Yes of course, you have to find a way of writing that’s comfortable to you. Some people write the equivalent of a novel twice over before they fire up the word processor and type the immortal ‘Chapter One’. Others dive in with a rough idea in their mind – or even just an opening – and try to see where they can go from there.

But I want to address a way of working that, while working really well for some, can often hold others back.

Do you revise as you go? Are you also the sort of writer who feels that they have to combat “writer’s block” a lot? If so, maybe this will help you:

Simply put, I think that for many people, if they take the time to tweak as they go, it’ll slow them down. That’s a hell of a lot of tedious work done during the most creative period, and it’s so boring that it might put you off firing up the laptop and getting on with the good stuff later.

You see, whether you tweak-as-you-go or not, you’ll have to edit and refine later on anyway. This is why I think it’s way better to get it written and save the editorial stuff all for later. Finish it, then take a few days off. Weeks or months even, then come back fresh and look at that stuff then. There will be a ton of things to fix and change, but hey, you’ve already written the novel at that point, so it’s not as daunting.

And really, that’s the psychological point at work here. Once you have a (very rough) first draft written, then the monkey is off your back. The book is written. It’s far from perfect, but it’s actually written. And from that moment, you can edit in a way that’s relaxed and without pressure. You’ve basically already written the thing: that’s a huge psychological breakthrough. No worries about “oh, well, I’m editing this but but I’ve still got 70% of the whole thing to write”. It makes a huge difference.

That is, it makes a huge difference to me. As always when it comes to the written word, your mileage may vary!

Writing better dialogue

marketing man person communication

My views on rules for writing have been documented on this site far too many times, but certainly there are things that many writers do that can be useful, and when it comes to dialogue, I think there’s a few things that are often worth keeping in mind.

One of those rules I dislike is that everything should be driving your story forward. With novels like Succession of Power, I certainly liked to keep things pacy. Thrillers often lend themselves to that. And for them, the dialogue can often be terse, short, sharp and right to the point. But would that be true for a romantic novel, or a coming of age drama? Even many thrillers work because the author takes her time to help establish a relaxed pace. Phooey to the rules.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that exposition is important in dialogue, but often it’s not as important to our readers as we may think it is. A sense of authenticity matters more: even if it’s manufactured authenticity. Yeah. Fake authenticity. Kind of a contradiction in terms isn’t it? But it’s a fine line that lots of great dialogue treads.

In real life, people seldom just say what they mean. We’re complicated creatures, using a sophisticated communication style to convey subtle and complex ideas and information. We usually talk around subjects. That’s why dialogue that hits the concept of theme right on the nose sounds wrong so much of the time.

Here’s a tip – not a rule, you know what I think about rules – that might be helpful. If people seldom say exactly what they mean, try to get your characters to do the same. Let them tell us everything we need without always actually saying exactly the right words. Just like in the real world. If that means driving down the pace a little, then do it. Create a world that’s more believable.

Often you’ll find you need to use the dialogue for exposition or to tell us something, and you don’t want to do it any other way. Great. Do it. But even then, I’d try and write it in a way that feels authentic. A kind of heightened realism if you will. But don’t worry about trying to do this all the time. If you’re like me, you’ll try and do this a lot in a plot-driven, fast-paced story. But even in those novels, I try and create as many situations and scenes as I can when the actions and feelings of characters contradict the actual words. I do it because we all do it all the time. It helps create a powerful picture in our readers minds, and they’re the ones that count.

Just a final thought, because I’ve rambled on far too long here: Here is a little tip you might want to try out that could give your characters more distinctive dialogue: imagine them to be real people. People you know is great, or if not, characters from movies and TV shows. But if it’s not someone you know, try not to be too obvious in picking a famous character. Picture the face, the mannerisms. Even if you don’t describe these things in much detail (because while we’re on the subject of ignoring rules, don’t forget to ignore the “show don’t tell” one as often as you can), you start to build intuitively in your own mind a better picture of what the character is like.

And in doing so, I find it’s way easier to figure out what they sound like, and how they will communicate things, directly or indirectly.

Writing with more stick, less carrot

dangerouswritingappI wanted to quickly tell you about the most dangerous writing app. No, seriously, that’s what it’s called: The Most Dangerous Writing App. It’s a powerful tool. But also, you know, dangerous.

It’s not something that works for me if I’m honest, but it’s really interesting. And if you’re a writer who need a little “push” to stay motivated, it might be just what you’re looking for.

Check it out here. It’s not particularly difficult to get your head around. Basically you have to keep typing for a set amount of time (that you decide), or you’ll lose all of your work. The idea of that is so terrifying for some, that they’ll just keep on writing.

I like the idea. Often just ploughing on is the best way to get decent work onto the page. You might think that what you’re writing is all terrible, but actually, when you go back and look at it, you realise that there are some real gems in there. Okay, maybe not every time. But more often than not just writing in a stream of consciousness can be really beneficial.

It might be the best thing for you, it might be the worst. So why not try it? See if being forced to write works for you!


My Novel Editing Process

writing padAs I write this, (late January 2019, just getting a couple of blog posts done in advance!) I’m in the early revision stage of a new novel. I won’t bore you with it, suffice to say it’s going well.

I’ve been asked a few times about my novel editing process. And as it’s a fairly quirky one, I wondered if it would be interesting to read about? I don’t know, but it works for me, and if you can steal even an aspect of it, then why not?

I’m going to deal with two applications: The first is the one I currently use to write my novels, which is Ulysses for the mac and iOS devices. I can’t recommend it enough. But this isn’t a review of that app.

The second app is Vellum: a mac-based ebook generator. The only other tools are a pen and notepad, and a Kindle e-reader. The e-ink kind, not the tablet.

Okay, and in a few simple bullet points, here’s what I do:

  • I export the whole novel from Ulysses with a customised version of the Vellum export preset, as a .docx file.
  • I open the .docx file in Vellum. It automatically works out the chapters, scene breaks, etc.
  • I do some tiny tweaks to taste – just aesthetics so it’ll look nice to read, almost like a finished ebook. This is just for me, a little indulgence so I can see it in a way that maybe readers will see it.
  • I then export the project in Vellum as a Kindle .mobi file. This is the Mobipocket format that Amazon purchased the rights to years ago. Their e-readers are all 100% compliant with the format and display it pretty much perfectly from what I can tell.
  • I copy the file over to my Kindle.
  • I read it, slowly and carefully cover to cover. Any mistakes or changes, I document in detailed notes in a notepad. I should do this on an iPad really, my handwriting is terrible. But it works for me.
  • When I’m done (and this takes many days, doing maybe a couple or more chapters a day) I go back into my original Ulysses project and and make the changes there.
  • And that’s it. Rinse and repeat until it’s good enough to show to an actual editor! Starting from the first bullet point, I do all of this again and again until I think it’s there.

Only until I’ve done this whole process in two or three cycles, will I have what I consider a “proper” first draft.

Anyway, that’s me. I’m sure you have better ways that work for you – just thought I’d share mine!