Writing the Difficult Bits

The difficult bits are probably different for all of us, but I was sitting looking at the computer, ready to start something new, when I found myself thinking about the parts of the my novel which had caused me to writhe about in indecision.

The most difficult I would suggest, is common to everybody (E.L. James excepted ) and that is writing about sex. Hands up, I chickened out completely. It must be difficult enough for established writers to convey passion, excitement and all the squidgy slitheriness needed to engage the reader’s imagination. For new writers it’s absolutely terrifying.

Here’s a quiz. Place a mark at the point on the line where you would be comfortable as a writer, and then as a reader:


I could go on, this was fun…

If you’re in any way like me, you’ll have placed your markers in different places. I’d suggest that we are more comfortable reading other writers’ sexual episodes than we are creating our own.

So, what to do? I have a deep dread of the ‘Bad Sex’ awards- I’d be mortified to find people sniggering over my carefully crafted scene. In the end, though, the decision about what to include in my novel was decided by the pace of the story – there was only one encounter and that was brief and interrupted, so I got round the problem without really tackling it. (Cowardly woman- I’ll never make a proper writer until I’m braver and ready to take a risk or two)

I know we have to be honest and not absurdly coy to write about intimate moments, whether emotional or physical. At heightened moments we all lay ourselves bare (in so many ways…). To write about these moments successfully is to achieve a delicate balance between the passionate and the prim. I won’t go on to quote Jane Austen at length, but no-one doubts the passion between Darcy and Elizabeth, and they hardly touch. It’s got to be about the quality of the writing, not the explicitness of the vocabulary.

So that’s where I’m going- I’m hedging over on the right side of the list until I get up the courage (or it becomes essential to the story) to explore the vocabulary of the erotic. Then I’ll be doing an awful lot of re-writing. And possibly a bit of home study.

Truth V Fiction- where does the writer draw the line?

There seems to be a fine line for the writer between the joy of making it all up and the more academic rewards of painstaking research. My novel is a crime thriller, and like most law-abiding citizens of GB my knowledge of police procedure and practice comes mainly from watching TV. Often American TV. And from reading many, many thrillers. Often American thrillers.

I finished the manuscript draft 4 before Christmas and it has been out to several readers, all with specific instructions as to what I wanted them to do. And now I’m taking some of the advice; if a character really doesn’t engage someone, then I will re-visit and improve it, if it’s just that they don’t like the name I’ve chosen for someone- tough.

So, last week I met up again with kind ex-police officer Andrew to get my feedback. It was generally very positive. He’d enjoyed it, found it easy to read and a page-turner. Great- just the kind of feedback I wanted.

Then we got to the technical stuff. Why on earth did I think dead people went to a morgue in GB? I know it’s a mortuary. I’d got a different kind of writer’s block- Atlantic crossover. It just seems to be ingrained; CSI has seeped its slick and impossibly speedy results into my brain- and it is blocking out good sense!

Annoying little Americanisms apart, I did have a real issue with one scene. Dan Hellier, protagonist, has broken into a recording studio (no warrant) and his colleague has been killed. Andrew said his Superintendent can’t ignore it until the case is solved- Dan must be suspended and have his warrant card taken off him. Hmm. For obvious reasons this cannot happen- Dan must finish the investigation. What to do? In the end, I re-wrote the scene and made his superintendent take the responsibility and leave him on the case via a bit of careful report writing to her superiors. I had to add a bit at the beginning to make her more maverick so that such a wrong decision would be more believable.

It was difficult. I could have ignored Andrew, of course. Lots of readers don’t care if their detective does something completely illegal (and four of my other readers didn’t say a word about it!). Where would we be if Rebus did everything by the book? But it’s a different matter if I make the senior officers less than scrupulous. If she lets that episode go, what else might she sanction? Well, later in the book, she sanctions a shooting, so I guess I have created an interesting character in her own right- ready for the next volume! In the end, pride made want to get a bit closer to a realistic resolution; I don’t want to look totally amateur when it hits the bookshelves!

I found going to an expert in the field invaluable, and I think the story is stronger for the re-write, even though you pedants out there will still argue that what happens is against the law. I claim poetic licence, and the need to tell a cracking good story outweighing the need to be accurate.

Just so that you don’t think I fly completely by the seat of my trousers, I found the book linked below to be very useful and I recommend it:


The power of a bit of praise

People often say writing is a lonely business, and that can be true. You do need to switch off the media and focus, often for long periods of time. But writers do so, even when we continue to be unpublished, because we long to communicate. We want to talk to many people, not just our immediate circle. We want to share our ideas, our humour, and our concerns for the world and for each other.

But most of all, we want to be loved. Maybe you would prefer ‘admired’ or ‘appreciated’, but it boils down to the same thing: a deep need to be praised and recognised for doing something good.

I admire the writer Will Self. His books are hard, funny, bitter and often dark. I can see on the page the battles he has to write his truth, and he is adamant he only writes for himself. Yet he publishes. Why? So that the rest of us can see the world through his eyes. He wants to communicate, and be appreciated and admired for his skill. Yep, he wants to be loved.

So, to come to the present. To this morning, in fact. I blogged recently about an ex-policeman who agreed to read my book and check it for accuracy. Well, he finished it and texted me this morning to say that, although he has a few suggestions, he enjoyed it. He is the first ‘stranger’ to read it, and I can hardly believe that he liked it. My heart soared! Maybe I’m not rubbish at this. Maybe I can get a book published…

Funny how we think we believe in ourselves but still be consumed, a bit at a time, by the worm of doubt. As I finished the fourth draft in November, and have had it out to various people to read and comment, I’ve been slowly losing the joy that came with finishing a first manuscript and have been cringing at its crassness every time a new writer emerges with an amazing debut. Today’s positive comment has restored me. The power of a bit of praise!

I suppose I’d better get on with the covering letter, and I could probably tweak the synopsis (again). Then I can crack on with something else, because it’s also strange that, however low we may get, we are driven to keep on doing it. I must remember that every bit I write, even if I can’t think where to use it, improves my grasp of this complex, tricky, fulfilling craft.