Become a better writer with our tips and tricks
We hope you have been enjoying our new blog series, The Hidden Secrets of Writing, in which we showcase the books – there are over 50 of them – which have been published by our community, many of whom are past participants of our Creative Writing Course over the 15 years we’ve been in existence.
We mean for this blog series to provide value and concrete writing tips. Why have these books succeeded? What is it about them that works? In each blog, we provide writing tips on the strength of the extracts we showcase.
We also hope that the series will inspire you to (perhaps with a bit of help from us) write that book you’ve been aching to write. Or, if you have a draft, to write and polish it to a publishable standard. You never know, yours may just be one of the fortunate books to make it past the manuscript stage and join our hallowed list.
The range of books is wide, and includes fiction and non-fiction but, if we can sum up just some of the qualities we’ve noticed: a compelling writer’s voice and, in fiction, strong voices for different characters.
We’ve pointed out skilled use of details which immerse us in a time and place, while showing us more about what and who is observed, as well as the observer.
Scenes, which start directly in the action and leave us wanting more, surprising and humorous dialogue and a focus on “showing”, rather than explaining to the reader – these are just some of the aspects, which made these books stand out.
Top tips from the Hidden Secrets of Writing blog series
Adam Kethro’s Pleasures of the Harbour
Pleasures of the Harbour is a business thriller based on incidents drawn from Adam’s own experiences as the founder of one of South Africa’s largest logistics companies.
- Make room for your protagonist to reflect on events.
- Stories are about characters’ responses to events.
- Select the point of view that serves your story best.
- Write with a crackling intensity.
Lisa-Anne Julien’s If You Save Me
- Throw us directly into a moment without explaining where your characters are.
- Eavesdrop whenever you can to catch the cadences of real speech.
- Allow your characters to be doing things while they’re speaking.
- Use specific and accurate detail sparingly to immerse us in the moment and to show us more about your characters.
Tracy Todd’s Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon
Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon (Tracey McDonald Publishers) is Tracy’s own upbeat story, poignant and, at times, humorous, about her struggle for independence and love after a car accident left her paralysed from the neck down.
- “Show” as much as possible, rather than simply tell your reader what happened.
- Give readers access to your thoughts in the moment.
- Use enough accurate details to allow us to be there with you.
Vincent Pienaar’s Limerence
Vincent Pienaar’s novel Limerence was nominated for the prestigious Barry Ronge literary award for fiction. It offers a light-hearted view of a very Johannesburg character, Scout, who gets himself into deep trouble through his love of women.
- End scenes early. Don’t allow them to trickle away.
- Leave us with questions we’d like answered
- Constantly raise the stakes for your character whether physical, emotional, mental or even spiritual.
Michele Rowe’s What Hidden Lies
What Hidden Lies (Penguin Random House), which won the CWA Debut Dagger Award, demonstrates just how much the writing of prose fiction can be honed by some experience in script writing, and vice versa. Michele is one of our small group of facilitators who with Richard, designed and runs our script writing courses and our Hero’s Journey®Course.
- One or two distinguishing details are enough for us to visualise a person.
- Don’t give these details all at once. Weave them through the scene.
- Dialogue should ideally be economical and sharp.
Joanne Hichens’ Death and The After Parties
Death and The After Parties is the story of Joanne’s journey through love grief, trauma and healing. Joanne is a member of our faculty and runs our Memoir Weekend and Writing Retreat as well as our Writers’ Circle for memoirists. She also mentors writers working on memoirs.
- Write in strong scenes, just as you would if you were writing fiction.
- Pay attention to the sensory details, which allow us to visualise the situation for ourselves.
- Don’t rush through it. Harnessing the drama often means slowing down, taking us through every moment.
Tessa Niles’ Backtrack
As one of Britain’s most respected session singers, Tessa spent 30 years working alongside the greatest names in rock and pop. If not handled skillfully, though, even an account that drops any number of famous names can be dull, and fail to engage us as readers. Happily, there’s nothing boring about Backtrack (Panoma Press).
- Voice is immensely important in memoir. Chat naturally and directly with your readers.
- Don’t just “tell” your readers what it was like. Use anecdotes which give us a sense of a time, place and the people involved.
- Write in scenes, with dialogue, detail and action.
Ekow Duker’s White Wahala
White Wahala was shortlisted for the European Union Literary Award in 2011/2012. The story concerns the relationship between a brutal moneylender Cash Tshabalala and a white drug user, highlighting the wounds that still bedevil interactions in South Africa two decades after the end of apartheid.
- It’s counter-intuitive but, in fast scenes filled with action, slow down.
- Sensory details allow us to visualise the scene and be there with the characters.
- Dialogue shows us more about the characters and their relationship.
Starting 5 June
There are two versions of our flagship course. The first runs in real time every Monday and Thursday evening for five weeks, in an exclusive group of only six. We’ll teach and discuss with you, answer your questions and explain where you’re confused. Only a couple of places remaining!
The online version allows you to work through notes at your own speed, with plenty of film clips and links to make them interesting – over five weeks or five months, depending on your work and life pressures.
Whichever version you choose, the course will teach you everything you need to know to write fiction or creative non-fiction – everything we wish we’d known 20 years ago.
With Jo-Anne Richards and Richard Beynon
By becoming part of our inner-circle of writers, you can experience on-going support and the companionship of a like-minded international writing community. Membership of this exclusive circle offers a monthly meeting and allow you access to an exclusive library of writing resources.
For memoir writers with Joanne Hichens
We’re starting a new writers’ circle specifically for our memoir writing community on Thursday 11 May. Join Joanne for a monthly memoir workshop. Sign up now for a complimentary session.
Give yourself the time to write in Venice, and Croatia
If you struggle to find the time to write in amongst the responsibilities of day to day life, join us for our famous Venice in Autumn experience.
It’s been running for six years now. Book early, though. Many of our Venice habitues return year after year.
You are welcome to sign up for one week or two – from 10 to 17 October and/or 18 to 25 October with an add-on week in Croatia.
Each morning starts with a group discussion, after which your time is your own. Every day, you can book one-on-one time – to talk about your project or get constructive feedback.
We’ll be based at Ca’ della Corte, a 16th century palazzo, which has been comfortably renovated, but retains the essential flavour of Venice.
Who needs it? Anyone who never has time for anything, whose life is not their own, who craves time to create, think, dream and explore.
Don’t forget about upcoming literary festivals
The eleventh annual Kingsmead Book Fair will take place on Saturday 27 May 2023 in Johannesburg. The theme is courage and the programme is designed to provide a mixture of comfort and courage. Join the other Word Warriors in in-depth discussion and heated debate while enjoying good food and drink.
We are sure the theme of courage will provide some crucial lessons for writers. It takes a great deal of courage to write and this festival might inspire the courage you need to take the plunge. Don’t miss All About Writing alumni, faculty and collaborators:
- Jane Evans who did our Creative Writing Course, Venice Retreat, Writing Safari and Mentoring Programme – A Path Unexpected
- Eva Mazza who was with us on our Venice Retreat – Sex, Lies and Alibis
- Jan Glazewski who participated in our Screenwriting Crash Course and Hero’s Journey Course – Blood and Silver
- Joanne Joseph who did our Creative Writing Course – Children of Sugarcane
- Joanne Hichens facilitator on our Memoir Writers’ Circle, author of Death and the After Parties and editor of Fluid who’ll be part of a session on the art of short story writing
- Tony Park author of Rhino War and The Pride and our collaborator on a number of webinars and our Writing Safari
Franschhoek Literary Festival
“Imagine streets buzzing with book lovers, creating a vibrant ambience as they move between a variety of village venues all within walking distance of each other.” If this is your idea of heaven you are in luck. The annual Franschhoek Literary Festival, taking place from 19 -21 May 2023, provides just this. The FLF aims to harness the power of literature by providing a platform for open and progressive conversations with participation from renowned local and international authors and thought leaders.
If that all sounds too heavy, there are plenty of light, fun sessions as well. The FLF offerings include a storytelling festival, a business breakfast, live performances, documentaries and writing workshops. We are sure no matter what kind of writer you are there will be plenty of lessons to learn and inspiration to be had. Don’t miss the All About Writing alumni sessions with Eva Mazza, Joanne Joseph, Mandy Wiener and Vernon Head.
Jan Glazewski’s memoir, Blood and Silver (NB Books), available at all good bookstores in South Africa, will now also be found at select UK bookstores: Gardners Books in Eastbourne, John Sandoe Books, Edward Stanford, and Waterstrones, or it can be ordered directly from Central Books.
Our All About Writing associate in Business Writing, Enoch Sithole, has been awarded his PhD by Wits University, for his thesis entitled: The nature of climate change communication in South Africa – its past, political and socio-economic undertones. Congratulations Dr Sithole. We’re proud of you.
Elizabeth Eksteen has been working with us for the past several years on her first novel, a vampire story called Behind the Mask. She was a schoolgirl when she began, full of enthusiasm and verve. She threw herself into her project with the kind of uninhibited energy that instantly made her one of our favourite mentees. Now the book is done, she has published it – and created not only a website to promote it on, but a video, a song, and a range of merchandise to go with it. Check it all out here!
And some (unintended) help for writers from Patrick Mork
Richard collaborated with business guru Patrick Mork in writing a self-help book called Step Back and Leap: 9 Keys to Unlock Your Life and Make Sh*t Happen.
Naturally we’re following Patrick on social media and what strikes us is that much of the inspiration/motivation that Patrick posts is relevant for writers too. A recent post about fear offers some suggestions on how to manage this horrible condition that many writers have to deal with each time they sit down to write.
Fear of the blank page, fear of failure, fear that your writing might not be up to scratch, and so on… And we know what fear does to us too. We just don’t write. We procrastinate. We say we have writer’s block. We freeze.
Patrick offers a suggestion on how to manage that fear. He says you should ask yourself two things:
- What can I do to mitigate that scenario?
And then do it.
- What’s my backup plan if things go wrong?
And then prepare for that.
Preparation is the key. It helps you release the stress and push forward to do hard things – like writing.
Write a piece of flash fiction inspired by a favourite movie quote.
Please include the movie and the quote in your entry.
Write no more than 250 words. Submit your entry here by midnight on 31 May 2023.
- Do not “tell” us what happens. “Show” it to us, second by second.
- Allow us to experience it, in all its sensory detail. Use sight, sound, smell, feel and, possibly taste.
- Show us, in a scene, using action, dialogue, thought and observed detail.
- Don’t use thought in an obvious way. Make sure any scraps you use sound like natural thought in the moment, rather than explanation.
- Allow the tension and uncertainty to rise. Make sure we’re desperate to know more.
We look forward to receiving your entries.
The All About Writing Team