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New – Copy Editing Service
Have you written a novel, non-fiction book or articles you want copy edited, ready to submit to a publisher or agent?
Diana now offers a professional copy editing service. You can send her your raw copy, and she’ll polish and prune it for you.
For a work of 20,000 words the fee is £250.
More details from Diana – firstname.lastname@example.org
Good writing doesn’t need to be elaborate. And it’s the definitive detail that counts. Diana Cambridge offers some ideas – and shares some candid notes she wrote about herself. Observe yourself as though you were a stranger, she suggests.
One of the main problems for beginner writers is keeping things simple. There’s an idea that writing has to be impressive, out of the ordinary, significant. And that long words and philosophical ideas need to be in there quickly or the reader will lose interest.
But it’s the opposite that’s true! The more simple and succinct your words and phrases are – yet conveying the most meaning, usually with the definitive details – the better your writing.
As an example, first I’m using the novel by Patricia Highsmith:
“The two faces of January” written in 1964 but adapted into a film this year. As with all Highsmith’s work, the novel demonstrates a beautifully attuned ear for words and meanings. All the writing is perfectly simple – I couldn’t find one “long word” in it.
Highsmith uses everyday words, but she finds the definitive detail in the most apparently mundane situation.
The novel opens with a couple, Chester and Colette, on a Greek ferry. They’re passing through the Corinth Canal at three in the morning. Chester looks out of the porthole and see
“a brightly lighted wall of orangey-red colour, extremely close and creeping by. …still half asleep, he leaned across his wife’s berth and looked more closely. There were scribblings and scratches and numbers on the wall, which he now saw was rock. NIKO 1957, he read. W Mussolini. Then an American –looking Pete ’60…the canal’s sides looked four storeys high, at least.”
Instantly you’re there – so close to the rock that he can see names carved into it.
“The alarm clock went off, and Chester grabbed for it, knocking over a Scotch bottle that stood beside it on the floor. He pressed the button that stopped the alarm, then reached for his robe.”
So by these small details, the reader learns:
That Chester is interested in culture – he planned to be up in the small hours to see the Canal, and he set the alarm. (Soon we learn he’s a crook as well.
He knocks a bottle of Scotch over: he drinks.
Later the couple disembark at Piraeus. Without ever mentioning that Chester is a crook, Highsmith writes
Chester lit a cigarette and looked slowly over the moving and stationary figures on the broad expanse of dock. Blue-clad porters. A few men in rather shabby-looking overcoats walking about restlessly, glancing at the ship: they looked more like money-changers or taxi-drivers than policemen, Chester thought. His eyes moved from left to right and back again over the entire scene. No, he couldn’t believe that any of the men he saw could be waiting for him. The gangplank was down, and if anyone had come for him, wouldn’t he be coming right on board now, instead of waiting on the dock? Of course.
The reader must realise that Chester is on the run: is so shrewd he must be an experienced crook: and is able to take things calmly, at this point anyway.
Read through the entire novel if you have the chance. Though in my view the film is excellent, it can’t convey the nuances that printed words can
How can you achieve this clear, economic style in your own writing?
A holiday is a superb opportunity to practise.
You can observe people at airports and docks – always looking for the definitive detail and not making any grand statements.
Definitive details could be: (I’m using some notes from one of my own travel notebooks here)
Shoes, socks and sandals – see how rarely any traveller is co-ordinated in that department! The man weighed down with suitcases is wearing white terry towelling socks and huge trainers. Plus a T-shirt with a logo – Try Me – and baggy shorts. He looks around sixty.
Anxiety. As each family approach the check-in, their worried expressions change to relief as yes, they are eligible for boarding! There’s nervous laughter and banal jokes as passengers board: people close their eyes for take-off.
Bright colours. It seems some travellers believe there’s a “dress code” for airports – Day-Glo colours, Hawaiian shirts, “play clothes” for adults – some are already dressed for the beach though we’re at Gatwick, and outside it’s freezing.
Over-packing: The annoyance of passengers who have overdone the hand luggage and now are told they must re-pack and get some of it into the hold. They have to stuff their underwear and socks in – in full view of other, also annoyed passengers who now have to wait longer.
Shuffling: There seems no other mode of moving in an airport than shuffling. Shuffle to the gate, shuffle through passport control, shuffle onto the plane and shuffle into your seat.
The captain’s voice: There’s an almost audible sigh of relief if the captain sounds experienced and authorative. But twinges of anxiety if he sounds young, nervous or fluffs a line. If there’s any hint that this is his first flight, his nerves will be reflected in the cabin. More drinks will be ordered than usual. Stiffer drinks.
Relaxation: The relief of landing safely! Once more, you haven’t died. Suddenly people are smiling, laughing; some even have a quick snog. All this lasts only as long as it takes to haul down your luggage and begin shuffling again.
See how easy it is not to have to strive for effect, use long words or make any statements. Just write what you see and feel – that’s enough. But always look for the tiny details. It does mean keeping your eyes open, and also being honest with yourself.
No judgement is intended – you can even observe the tiny details in yourself.
It’s all about me!
Here are some of my notes on myself at an airport last year:
Middle-aged woman in black shift dress aiming for “simplicity” and “chic” – aware that in airport mirror, she actually looks pale, thin, baggy-eyed and black’s not her best colour. Lipstick helps, she thinks. She applies lipstick at least ten times a day
She begins the journey calm and speaks in measured tones: at the first sign of turbulence she knocks back a Valium, and her voice becomes taut.
“No, I can’t look at the Alps – yes…no…what did you say?”
If with children, the sweetness and light fades as they become over-excited and restless. “Have you any idea how much I’ve spent on this holiday? Please, please shut up. Your voices are so shrill. I’ve already got a headache…”
On landing, her energy resurfaces... “Isn’t this lovely! We’re here! Sorry if I was a bit cross earlier, I really did have a headache. So – is everything all right now?”
Once in a taxi, she changes again
“Look at that! And that! It’s so lovely and warm. We’ll have a drink and something to eat when we get to the hotel. Our first drink in Greece again! Oh God, that car in front…can you tell the taxi driver to slow down? This is awful – I’m never taking a Greek taxi again…oooh…tell him.”
The more you practise these notes – these fragments – the more your writing will improve. Observe others – but also yourself, as if you were a stranger.
Simplicity is everything.
The definitive detail is crucial.
But do you lack confidence in submitting work? Do you doubt that you are really a writer? Do you spend more time thinking about writing than actually doing it? These are typical problems of the beginner writer.
Redrafting work can be the hardest thing in the world – and then when you receive rejections, they’re painful! Writing isn’t easy. But it is satisfying. If you love words, it’s the thing you most want to do. Yet… you may need some help.
What's different about Diana's workshops is that every student has personal time with her, for a critique and discussion - and the group you join will also be offered a follow-up workshop, staying with your same colleagues. Up to four students only are booked on any one workshop. Plus she offers one-to-one Saturday seminars see comments from students on our testimonial page.
Diana prefers to see a sample of your work or an outline of your idea( up to 2000 words) - by post or e-mail - before the workshop. After it, she can offer advice by e-mail so that you continue to develop your writing skills. E-mail her at email@example.com
More details on the Workshops page.
Now Diana offers on-line writing courses, 2014.
"All my courses are confidence-building, but with practical techniques and tricks of the trade to give you an advantage when you submit work” says Diana. “If you’re a magazine addict, my magazine course is the only one to offer a fascinating history of women’s magazines, with direct extracts from early issues from centuries ago.
I know from experience that what most writers need is not talent – they already have that – but strength and confidence. Depression can clobber writers, so can redundancy or illness. Yet – it can also be a way of moving forward and releasing creativity. Just keeping a daily journal, or writing down your writing goals, will help."
You can buy Diana’s books direct from Amazon: or from her at £5 99 each, or £13 99 for the pair. Please make cheques out to Diana Cambridge at Diana Cambridge, 1 Coburg Villas, Camden Road, Bath BA1 5JF. P and p is free, anywhere in the world. Books are shipped the same day.
If you’d like them signed by the author, she is happy to do that.
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