Write Savvy : A Half Decent Guide

Full disclosure: I have no idea what I’m doing.


No really.

I often feel this way, usually before my first cuppa tea. Make no mistake, this panic and crushing self-doubt is a tool to be used. Let it drive you to elevate your game. I used it to get off my ass, and it started with research. I read up on as many blogs and articles I could find and even stuck gold with a short writing course on Groupon that was heavily discounted. It was time consuming but worth it.

Here’s what I discovered:

 The 3 C’s: Character, Contrast and Conflict

  • Characters: should be different, believable and have recognizable personality traits and mannerisms
  • Contrast: Examples: light vs. dark, fast paced action vs. slow reflective moments
  • Conflict: A good story has one or more strands of conflict e.g. small boy against school bully


  • Synopsis: Can you describe your whole story in one sentence? The job of a synopsis is to outline the characters, plot and major twists in the story. If you cannot summarise your story – this should ring warning bells. Find out if you idea is weak before wasting hours writing only to abandon it later.
  • Mapping:

List the characters, plan when characters appear and depart, pace out major incidents.

Example: Cinderella

Chapter 1-2: Cinderella cleans the house, sings to birds. Stepsisters are mean.

Chapter 3-4: The Prince is having a ball. Cinderella can’t attend.

Chapter 5-6: Cinderella meets Fairy Godmother, goes to the ball in a pumpkin.

Setting up climaxes should be like climbing stairs- as the story progresses, conflict and incidents should come through more frequently, building tension for the final climax.

Setting: Exterior, Interior and Psychological

Exterior setting: the country/ planet/ land the story exists in.

Interior setting: rooms or houses.

Psychological setting: social/ emotional/ cultural background

  • Be wary of setting your story in familiar territory. The writer’s jobs is to excite the reader by vividly describing the scenery – if you are too familiar with the setting, you may ignore sounds, smells, tastes and textures that make a setting really breathe.
  • Try to describe surroundings as they impact characters and not merely because you’re chuffed about the décor you’ve imagined.
  • Keep an eye out for perception e.g. insect vs human or adult vs. child. A child who is shorter than an adult experiences his setting differently. He looks up and reaches for things, he would not notice the white carpet unless he drops raspberry juice on it.
  • The emotional background or social values of the time helps shape your character, explains their behavior and adds authenticity. People have baggage.

Viewpoint: Who is telling your story?

First person

  • You write as if you are the character experiencing the events.
  • Gives you access to the characters deepest thoughts.
  • This intimacy helps the reader bond with the character.
  • Be careful your character does not sound conceited when they describe themselves.

Third person

  • You write as if you are observing the characters and events.
  • You can write about incidents that occur when the main character is not present.


  • This is about tone, not dialogue e.g. melodramatic, lyrical and indifferent.
  • Your characters should never speak in the same voice.
  • Pick a voice and be consistent.

Junk Words:  

  • These are crutch words that weaken your writing and make it look lazy.
  • They can be removed without altering the meaning of your sentence too drastically.
  • Example: very angry = terrified; very tired = exhausted

Passive Voice:

  • Produces sentences that are wordy and ambiguous.
  • Occurs when you make the object of an action into the subject of the sentence
  • Identified by the excessive use of the word ” was” in your writing.


Clive washed the white car. (active)
The white car was washed by Clive. (passive)

Show Don’t Tell :

Mannerisms/ Body Language:

  • Use body language, mannerisms and quirks to add depth to your characters.
  • Mannerisms help you to show not tell.
  • Interesting way to say ordinary things.


Emotion: Triumph

Body language: Clenches hands above head or pumps fist in the air.

Action: She smiled.

Body Language:  The corners of her lips rose and her eyes twinkled.

General tips:

  1. Avoid flittering from one genre to another. Find the genre that excites you and give yourself time to learn your craft.
  2. If you’ve written a story and it has been rejected or you’re stuck – don’t start writing a new one because this teaches you nothing. Find the errors so that you don’t repeat them, fix the story and complete it.
  3. Find out who your reading audience is and get to know them. For example, you can’t write a children’s book if the last time you talked to one was over 15 years ago.
  4. Research your market – look at word length, tone, how the books are structured and tailor your manuscript appropriately.


Are you freaking out?


Chill – I’m still waiting for all of it to sink in.

Here’s the most important thing I’ve learnt from this exercise:

Just start writing already!

You will have plenty of time to review these points. Your work will not be perfect the first time. Don’t worry about the right words, spelling or grammar. If you’re stuck, move on. Do not let gaps in your knowledge stop you.

Inhale. Exhale. Pause. Relax.

You’ve got this.