20 #AmWriting Tips from Fiction Authors

20 Writing Tips from Fiction Authors

michael moorcock

Use these tips as an inspirational guide—or better yet, print a copy to put on your desk, home office, refrigerator door, or somewhere else noticeable so you can be constantly reminded not to let your story ideas wither away by putting off your writing.

Tip1: “My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.” — Michael Moorcock

Tip 2: “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” — Zadie Smith

Tip 3: “Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel. If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction. Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.” — Michael Moorcock

Tip 4: “In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” — Rose Tremain

Tip 5: “Always carry a note-book. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.” — Will Self

Tip 6: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen

“Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.” — Zadie Smith

Tip 7: “Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.” — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 8: “Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out—they can be got right only by ear).” — Diana Athill

Tip 9: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

Tip 10: “Listen to the criticisms and preferences of your trusted ‘first readers.'” — Rose Tremain

Tip 11: “Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.” — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 12: “Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.” — Sarah Waters

Tip 13: “The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.” — Will Self

Tip 14: “Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!” — Joyce Carol Oates

Tip 15: “The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.” — Jonathan Franzen

Tip 16: “Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.” — Elmore Leonard

Tip 17: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” — Neil Gaiman

Tip 18: “You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.” — Will Self

Tip 19: “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.” — Neil Gaiman

Tip 20: “The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’” — Helen Simpson

Even famous authors sometimes have a tough time with writing; they also go through periods of self-doubt. Despite this, they always manage to come up with the goods. So take a lesson from them and stop putting off your writing plans and get started on your publishing journey today.

Chris Thrall is the author of the memoir: Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland.

How to write a memoir …

How to Write a Memoir

How to write a memoir … procrastination to print made simple

 by CHRIS THRALL

Author of the international bestseller

Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland

www.christhrall.com

 Introduction

First off, I don’t profess to be an expert. But I did put together a 230,000-word manuscript in six months with only a high school qualification in English. Then having taught myself how to improve my writing and editing I figured a way to get a publisher to approach me – rather than the other way around. So this humble advice is for those of you who, like me with Eating Smoke, have a story you want to tell but limited knowledge on how to go about telling it, let alone seeing it through to print.

On writing – an important lesson

I was encouraged to retake high school English by a colleague I served with in the Royal Marines. Having completed a correspondence course, he said, ‘It’s easy, Chris. Passing the English exam is not about how much you know but the way you put it across.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, it’s like this. We were asked to write an essay about someone in prison. I could have written: “The prisoner sat in his cell …”’

‘Uh-huh …’

‘But what I wrote was: “Beams of sunshine poured through the cell’s tiny, barred window, ricocheting around the room, filling the cold stone chamber with light, supplying the prisoner’s heart with hope and freedom.”’

‘Ahhh! I see! You mean you put the reader in the story!’

‘Exactly!’ said my friend, with a grin.

Not only did his impromptu English lesson make more sense than any I’d attended at school, but it earned me straight As for the first three assignments I posted off, with a note attached to the fourth feedback informing me I should take the English exam right away instead of seeing the year-long course through. I did and passed it, and that’s the only experience I had of learning English before writing Eating Smoke sixteen years later.

The aim of this free download e-book

The aim of this free download e-book is to encourage you to go from procrastination to completion of your manuscript with easy-to-understand instruction and by adopting a pragmatic approach, allowing you insight into the art of good writing as you progress. It is not intended to be a comprehensive grammar, punctuation and stylistic guide. There is an abundance of these already available in the marketplace that you will naturally wish to invest in as the writing bug takes hold.

Getting started

1. Work out the time-frame when you write your memoir or autobiography

Work out which part of your story the target audience will want to read about. This may sound obvious, but you should decide if you’re writing a memoir – a period in your life – or an autobiography – your life story. This will help you to keep focussed and save time on editing.

2. Understand the role backstory plays

Backstory is your history – everything that has taken place in your life until now. Backstory can add valuable insight into your character(s), but it can also sidetrack the reader and become boring. If you are writing a biography, it’s all going to be backstory. If you are writing a book entitled My Month in Tibet, then backstory isn’t going to play such a prominent role. Either way, backstory doesn’t need to be volumes; nor does it have to be set out in chronological order like a diary or journal. You can take snippets of appropriate backstory and slot them into the manuscript at pertinent moments.

*Example from Eating Smoke

I picked up the receiver and heard Sarah’s voice for the first time in what seemed ages. It must have been close to midnight back in the UK – maybe she’d had a drink and got a bit sentimental.

Nineteen when we met in the club in Plymouth, we went out together for three years …

3. Make a list

Spend time typing up everything you can remember that you feel is relative to your memoir. This might require some research and should include incidents, events, characters, conversations, relationships and appropriate backstory. Get it all down, in no particular order, and then arrange these key recollections into a rough timeline of events using cut and paste. Then you have to be ruthless with the delete button by applying a rule of thumb.

Note. If you spend a couple of evenings making your list over a glass or two of your favourite tipple, you’ll find that embarking on a memoir is easier than you thought. Not only is this a fun way to go about it but you’ll leave the ‘I’m-thinking-of-writing-a-book’ mindset and join the ‘I’m-writing-a-book’ one.

4. A rule of thumb

 A rule of thumb is to leave out narrative that doesn’t take the story forward by adding to the understanding of your character(s), the situation you are describing or the outcome of events. This includes irrelevant anecdotes, unnecessary backstory and other off-subject matter. In short, no one needs to know your favourite colour or read about the kid who had a crush on you in high school (unless it adds to the understanding of your character(s), the situation you are describing or the outcome of events) but they might like to learn that falling out of a tree as a child gave you a fear of heights if your story is about conquering Mount Everest.

5. Write a prologue

Even if you don’t intend to have a prologue, I’d suggest writing a short one. You can always delete it later. The reason being, it’s an easy way to slip into the writing process. It will give you an idea of what your story’s focus and selling point is and you can show it to friends and start getting feedback as a ‘writer’. Tailor your prologue to suit your type of book. Short and to the point appears to be the current trend.* A bit of humour can work, too.

* If at all – hence, you can delete it later.

*Here is the prologue to Eating Smoke

In 2004, I worked in a mental health unit. People often asked, ‘How can you stand it with all those nutters?’ I’d quote from the textbook: ‘It’s a misunderstood condition affecting one in four people at some stage in their lives.’ I never told the real reason. I worried that knowledge might confuse them.

You see, in 1996, I went mad.

Now, this isn’t necessarily as bad as it sounds. The UK has plenty of systems in place to help people who throw wobblers – doctors, medicine, hospitals, not to mention Incapacity Benefit and God. Unfortunately, these comforts were in short supply when it happened to me. Therefore, I must warn you: If your mind is planning on playing an away game, taking a sabbatical or simply f##### off, don’t for Christ’s sake let it happen while working as a nightclub doorman in Hong Kong’s red-light district …

6. Consider making the first chapter the ‘hook’

If you’re not an A-list celebrity with a top-notch publicity team behind you, you might want to make your first chapter the ‘hook’ – a harrowing, pertinent or exciting moment – to engage readers, agents, publishers and yourself.

*Here are the opening lines from Eating Smoke

The Man in the Mirror …

I STARED INTO THE LARGEST SHARD of blood-splashed glass.

‘Do I know you?’

‘You’ve never known him at all…’

Sitting on the filthy concrete, I convulsed occasionally and whimpered like a sick dog. I hadn’t slept for days, the crystal meth pulsing through my veins denying all refuge from the madness enveloping me.

Now that the anger had passed, I found myself suspended in a ghostly calm, trying to focus my mind and piece together a life as fragmented as the mirror I’d smashed. I needed to make sense of what happened and put a stop to the Voice.

I leant forward, slowly, to examine the claw marks in my scalp and a haunted face I hardly recognised.

‘Is this me?’

The only thing still familiar was the eyes – although now they were bloodshot and yellow with pupils raging deep and menacing. I wondered if these black abysses could dilate further, triumphing over the turquoise rings around them, heralding the madness had claimed my soul.

Get writing!

 7. Get writing!

Pick the first event in your timeline and write about it. Ask yourself, ‘Does this anecdote take the story forward or add special interest to it?’ But most of all, WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! Go for it! Get as many words down on paper as you can every day. Before you know it, you will have a manuscript. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, as you’ll glean a lot from books, Internet sites and your own intuition as you progress. You can then employ your newfound knowledge in the editing process when it all starts to make more sense.

To continue reading, click the link. Thank you.

Resources

45. Books

Eating Smoke

Penguin Guide to Punctuation

Penguin Writer’s Manual

Oxford Paperback Thesaurus

On Writing

Writing Realistic Dialogue

World Wide Rave

The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook

46. Websites

www.christhrall.com

www.christhrall.com/blog

www.youwriteon.com

www.roget.org

www.wikipedia.org

www.grammarbook.com

www.urbandictionary.com

www.grammar-monster.com

www.thefreedictionary.com

www.writing-world.com

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

47. Networking

www.facebook.com/christhrallauthor

www.twitter.com/chris_thrall

www.plus.google.com/106402810085484857901

www.uk.linkedin.com/in/christhrall

www.goodreads.com/christhrall

www.youtube.com/christhrallauthor

Eating Smoke: One Man’s Decent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland – the Maverick House Book Trailer

“Chris Thrall left the Royal Marines to find fortune in Hong Kong, but following a bizarre series of jobs ended up homeless and in psychosis from crystal meth.

He began working for the 14K, a notorious crime syndicate, as a nightclub doorman in the Wan Chai red-light district, where he uncovered a vast global conspiracy and the ‘Foreign Triad’ – a secretive expat clique in cahoots with the Chinese gangs.

Alone and confused in the neon glare of Hong Kong’s seedy backstreets, Chris was forced to survive in the world’s most unforgiving city, hooked on the world’s most dangerous drug.

Engaging, honest and full of Chris’s irrepressible humour, this remarkable memoir combines gripping storytelling with brooding menace as the Triads begin to cast their shadow over him. The result is a truly psychotic urban nightmare …”

To keep updated and support Eating Smoke on Facebook, click HERE

To order Eating Smoke click HERE

To watch the book trailer on Youtube click HERE

Eating Smoke: One Man’s Decent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland – a crystal meth addiction memoir

“Chris Thrall left the Royal Marines to find fortune in Hong Kong. Sacked from a bizarre series of jobs, he found himself homeless, hooked on crystal meth and working for the 14K, Hong Kong’s largest crime family, as a doorman in the Wanchai red-light district. Dealing with violence, psychosis and the ‘Foreign Triad’ – a secretive expat clique that unbeknown to the world works hand-in-hand with the Chinese syndicates – he had to survive in the world’s most unforgiving city, with addiction to the world’s most dangerous drug…”

 

 

– The Man in the Mirror –

I stared into the largest shard of blood-splashed glass.

“Do I know you…?”

“You’ve never known him at all…”

Sitting on the filthy concrete, I convulsed occasionally and whimpered like a sick dog. I hadn’t slept for days, the crystal meth pulsing through my veins denying all refuge from the madness enveloping me.

Now that the anger had passed, I found myself suspended in a ghostly calm, trying to focus my mind and piece together a life as fragmented as the mirror I’d smashed. I needed to make sense of what happened and put a stop to the Voice.

I leant forward, slowly, to examine the claw marks in my scalp and a haunted face I hardly recognised.

“Is this me…?”

The only thing still familiar was the eyes – although now they were bloodshot and yellow with pupils raging deep and menacing. I wondered if these black abysses would dilate further, triumphing over the turquoise rings around them, heralding the madness had claimed my soul.

I was in my flat, the Killing House, with its strange blood splats on the walls, not knowing whose blood it was or how it got there.

The Voice had named it that after the Special Air Service’s anti-terrorist-training house at Hereford Camp back in England. I’d seen it in the film Who Dares Wins and on a visit to the base during my own military career.

In my mind, people surely suffered a terrible death up here, the top-floor apartment of an decaying tenement in a rundown part of Wan Chai District.

As a mosquito whined in the glow of an underrated bulb, the sound of cats wailing, dogs barking and the hustle of the street scene below hardly made it up to the solitude of my smashed up hovel.

It may well have been a dive, but I called it home, a humble abode by day but an enigmatic one that came alive at night, a place I loved a great deal more than the two-bedroomed new-build I owned in Plymouth. It was a fleapit with character…my very own piece of Hong Kong…That’s exactly what it was.

“Where’s it all gone…?”

“I don’t know…I don’t know where…”

Memories of better days floated up out of the insanity like bubbles of clarity rising to burst atop a glass of mad soda…

…dining on top of the World Trade Centre with Dan, as teenage marines on our first proper holiday. Windows on the World they called that place, its lift shaking as it went up a hundred floors of a building already swaying in the downtown Manhattan breeze, then the ritziness of gold, marble, glass, and satin tablecloths, lobster, with strawberries and more of New York’s awesome skyline to follow.

I’d chuckled to myself as the elderly toilet attendant ran the gold-plated taps and, with a respectful smile, handed me soap and a towel – only three days earlier we’d been lying armed to the teeth and covered in shit in a ditch in the Belfast countryside.

After our meal, the evening just got better. A limousine picked us up with the girls from Texas and we drank a load more champagne.

“Great night…eh…?”

“Yeah…a great night…”

I’d left the Forces to run my own business in Hong Kong – or Heung Gong, to use the colony’s rightful title: the Fragrant Harbour.

But that was all bullshit now. I had to think about my family. Despite all the difficulties over the years, they were always there for me, my friends, too – the real ones, not the superficial ones struggling to understand themselves in this ego-fuelled city. There was no way I was going home, though, a failure with a bankrupt dream. How could I do that?

None of them would recognize me anyway. They certainly wouldn’t like the dump I lived in, the amount of drugs I took, or that triads followed me home, again, the other morning. I knew they were tailing me – hardly surprising after the bizarre chain of events unfolding that night…

An inch from rock bottom, I’d taken a job as doorman in Club Nemo. As with many nightclubs in Asia, although owned by a local businessman, the dominant crime syndicate organized the security, bar, prostitutes and drug deals. In Wan Chai, this was the Fourteen-K – said to be the most ruthless brotherhood in existence.

It was ‘Paul’ Eng, a cross-eyed psychopath, who’d asked me to come and work for them. He was the resident Dai Lo, or ‘Big Brother’, a middle-ranking triad who managed Nemo’s and the mobsters who ran it.

I was leaving the club the night they set me up to be murdered. I hadn’t been scared…okay…a little, but I wasn’t going to show these guys that. If they had put themselves in my shoes they’d have realised I was tougher than I looked and wouldn’t have played their sick game in the first place.

Laughed at them I did – frickin’ gangsters with their expat cronies and weird secret hand signs. I was still laughing when glancing over my shoulder I noticed a black Mercedes stalking me slowly from a distance through the morning-after litter adorning the Jaffe Road.

I was heading back to the sanctuary of my flat, off my face on the meth I’d smoked the previous evening and looking forward to smoking some more, wondering if this would be another twenty-four hours clocked up without any sleep.

As the terror began to take hold, I decided to give them the slip by scooting up a back alley – a dark stinking shortcuts that crawled with fat rats thriving on scraps thrown out of the backdoors of restaurants. They weren’t ordinary rodents, either. These dirt-matted mutants only scurried out the way so they could watch with contempt as you passed through their patch, jeering as stale water dripped down from antiquated air conditioners.

I ducked into the doorway of one of the grey buildings and shot up the backstairs, heart pounding the living daylights out of my ribcage, my breathing frenetic.

After several futile attempts at smashing through the aging exit door, I found myself out on the roof, desperate for a place to hide and fumbling in the leather pouch around my waist for the Mini Maglite and chain.

Illumination I didn’t need – only the blunt force the torch delivered when connecting with someone’s head. I’d never had cause to use it in the club – at least not as a weapon. It had come in handy at the end of the night, though, for scouring the disco’s dirt-caked floor searching for any drugs or valuables the customers may have dropped – a trick I learnt from Di Su, the ‘Violent Hand’ assassin.

They may well be coming with their meat cleavers – after all, that’s a triad’s prerogative – but it wouldn’t faze me. Not much does when you’re a mental ex-marine flying high on the world’s most potent drug. I would do my utmost to f### ‘em up, and badly if necessary. This wasn’t a place to mess around. There are no Queensberry Rules in Wan Chai.

Still, a hiding place might prove worthwhile.

Scanning around I spied a recess set down into the roof like some kind of utility shaft. I grabbed the rusting ladder but only managed to get a foot on a rung before slipping, falling headlong into the darkness and – “Umph!” –landing on some god-awful mess below.

“F###! What the f### is this?”

Something broke my fall, but it was far from pleasant. I sensed hair and cold, hardened flesh and a stench – “Urrrh!” – that would have been unbearable in anything less than a crisis.

It wasn’t just rancid, dead and decomposing…it was human, my mind flashing back to a corpse I’d stumbled upon on a riverbank in Cairo.

The next thing I knew the Maglight was on, and because of this being Hong Kong, where situations can always get worse, I believed what I saw.

I don’t know if it was a mother and her baby, or a woman and a baby. Nor what she’d done or why. What I did know was she’d been hacked to pieces as a result.

Her face – what was left of it – still contorted with fear, as if she’d realised death was imminent, grimaced and, after the chopper sliced from crown to ear, her features had stayed that way.

I wondered if her tormentor had lopped her arms and legs off before or after that fatal blow, as they now lay awkwardly against her torso.

The little boy was on his back, draped across her midriff, with eyes gently closed and mouth slightly ajar, as if in peaceful sleep.

His tiny belly wasn’t so composed. Through a single slash, a rainbow of entrails spilled onto the woman’s emaciated chest, time and bodily fluid welding them together.

I tried to back into a corner but could barely move my own limbs. Bodies or no bodies, I would lie low here until the danger passed. Although the meth had stolen it all – friends, health, career, possessions – I still respected myself and could sit in the darkness next to two corpses and say, “F### ’em! F### ’em all…!”

The Chinese have an expression: Life is meat. It explains how the country can lose a hundred people in a coal mining accident, hide it from the world and carry on the next day, business as usual. Well, I had my own saying as I listened to my heartbeat in overdrive: Meat is life. 

            Besides, waiting shit out in adverse conditions is what the Forces train you for and the Royal Marines are the best at it. Lying up all night in an ambush position in the Norwegian Arctic has that effect on you. I could wait. I could wait as long as necessary…

I awoke later that day on the Hawaiian-patterned mattress covering my rickety bamboo bunk – the one I’d built to make use of the room space I didn’t have. Cold in the tropical heat, ravenous and shivering with exhaustion, I gathered my thoughts and contemplated my next move.

It slowly dawned it was dark already and I should have been back at work by now. I reached over, flicked the light switch and checked the Casio G-Shock.

“Shit!”

It had gone 10pm. I was over two hours late. Along with pawning my treasured Swiss watch, it was another reason to feel like crap.

I threw off the rough blanket lying across my midriff and eased my legs over the edge of the bed, hopping the five-foot drop to land unsteady on my feet.

In amongst the other junk littering my gone-to-pot attempt at tatami flooring was a crumpled page from an old newspaper. As I shoved a Marlboro between my lips and set it alight, an aerial photograph on the yellowing sheet caught my eye.

It was some kind of brick construction set into the roof of one of the colony’s tower blocks. Filling the recess, as well as my attention, was the picture’s focus. It looked as though someone had tried to create a grotesque three-dimensional Picasso using real people…although in reality, the woman and baby had been hacked to death in signature triad revenge.

An eerie déjà vu spread slowly through every cell in my body, like a banshee’s wail building to a crescendo that both chilled and electrified my being.

Frantically I scanned for the date on the newspaper…

May 15th 1995…was three days before I arrived in Hong Kong…

To keep updated and support Eating Smoke on Facebook, click HERE

To order Eating Smoke click HERE

To watch the book trailer on Youtube click HERE