Writing Fiction: How to Get the Words Down on Paper


The following words of advice are taken from Write It Self-Publish It Sell It (p232 on). I take the liberty of reproducing them here since the most important thing about writing fiction is the number of readable words you as a writer actually produce. Furthermore, amongst my recent holiday reading I came across a wonderful book (see illustration, and see Wikipedia for a précis – association football at Brian Clough and Don Revie level in the 1970s), which constrains me to amend the fifth piece of personal advice, listed below as it originally obtained when I was writing Write It Self-Publish It Sell It back in 2007. Here, then, for what it’s worth, is Bill Keeth’s personal four-pennorth of advice to fiction writers seeking to produce sufficient quality fiction with the aforementioned addendum to follow.

  1. Lose weight if you’re overweight, go hungry from choice, then you will feel more inclined to activity, and therefore more inclined to write.
  2. If your aim is to “play for your country” by being published nationally, follow the advice of English cricketer Ian Botham’s father, who is said to have advised him, when he was looking to be selected for the England First XI, to be a batsman and a bowler, both. In other words, tell whatever story you have to tell (be a novelist) and make sure you season it liberally with the appurtenances of the time and place in which your narrative is set (be a diarist, too).
  3. Write about what you know, ’tis said. But sometimes, due to over-familiarity, you cannot really focus on what you know. So, go away from what you know – e.g. James Joyce (a Dubliner in Paris and Trieste); Henry James (a Yankee in Europe); The Beatles (Brits in Hamburg). And, if you simply cannot go away from what you know, immerse yourself exclusively in the literature of another time and place for a few years.
  4. If someone tells you your work is rubbish, ignore the complaint unless a more detailed critique is forthcoming – and ignore the critique, if it is delivered by a know-nothing. That is to say, how dare anyone who never opens a book from one year’s end to the next presume to judge a work of fiction? Furthermore, ignore all criticism of your novel that emanates from a non-novelist on the grounds that what you have written is certainly better than your critic’s non-existent novel.
  5. The last great sports novel, to my way of thinking, was David Storey’s This Sporting Life back in the early 1960s. Take note, ye storytellers, that the great association football (Soccer) novel has yet to be written – and it will not be written by me. So, over to you on the volley*.
  6. If you cannot please a publisher, please yourself. Write what’s in your heart. You may be surprised to find you’re a nicer person than you think you are. If you were not, you’d be out there creating mayhem, not writing . . . Oh, you don’t care about being a nicer person? You just want to be a writer, eh?

Now, hear this (as film star Jeff Chandler used to call over the tannoy, togged out in his US Navy whites) . . . I am making a very serious point about writing, here, and about affective writing in particular. Because perhaps, like me, you happen to have turned to writing (that is to say, to writing with serious intent) in anger and frustration at things that were going pear-shaped in your professional and personal life which you were unable, otherwise, to do anything about. (And why ever not? I ask. Leave the daffodils to William Wordsworth – and leave him, too, to tell the lie about the view from WestminsterBridge: for pain is a vital creative force, whereas contentment probably is not.)

Do not, though, if such be the case, make the mistake of imagining that your impotent bellows of rage, however well-justified they may be (effluently-arraigned with coarse invective, as perhaps they are, too), will serve as your passport to being read and enjoyed by a wider public. Because swear words, if they are used at all, must be used sparingly; otherwise they lose their power to shock.

This is by no means a prissy point. Rather is it a question of whether your writing “works” or not. To put it in a nutshell, repetitive swearing simply does not [BLEEP! – Ed.] work.

* And at this point I would appear to contradict myself. Because much (far too much) of the text of The Damned United consists of swearwords. To be more precise, it consists of one f-rated four letter swearword in the main, ricocheting (as it does) with an appended “ing” from footballer’s gob to footballer’s lughole throughout. And, as predicted, the word loses its power to shock, becoming merely tedious. Which is a real problem for the author, of course, since footballers’ utterances do tend towards the robust rather than the rhetorical in the heat of the game.

This apart though, my 5th injunction about writing (see above) needs to be re-written so as to include The Damned United by David Peace – a truly excellent book and, possibly, an even better film. I would not go so far as to dub this “the great association football (Soccer) novel”. But certainly it may lay claim to being such until the great one comes along.

As to what would make the book better – well, maybe a bit of what Arthur Machin gets in This Sporting Life. Namely, his teeth knocked in on the very first page, necessitating a trip to the dentist on party night, by means of which we’re – WHAM! – straight into the story, and no messing about.

Unbelievably, it seems to me, this wonderful book by David Peace was merely short listed for the Portico Prize, 2008, being adjudged inferior to a title now forgotten.)

Unbelievably, too, the film on DVD is arguably better than the book, leaving viewers (I say this subsequent to a fourth personal viewing prior to writing these words) nothing short of hungry for more from great actors and a great storyline.

Buy this DVD for any male relative who is not Sky Red and he will thank you.

March 2011

Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website, http://www.novelnovella.com.

Click here to return to the index of stories for W I S P

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