Getting to know you

Get to know your characters before you write. Sit down and chat with them. Let them tell you about their loves, what their hates, about what they find fascinating or boring. Let them ramble on about their background, their upbringing, their religious and political beliefs and attitudes. Find out their reasons for living and their darkest fears about life.

Now start your story.

Dialogue is like going out on a date

We never say exactly what we mean, but we hint at what we want. We dance around the question instead of coming right out and saying what’s on our minds.

Listen to your characters speak. If you can’t hear them speak, then most probably what you want them to say, most often ought not to be said.

What differentiates each character is usually their word choice. This is key in shaping their voices. Forget the sound of the voice, forget the accent, forget pace. Just think of word choice.

Keep a journal and write your way into clarity

Write a journal and become the editor of your own life, imposing on an untidy sprawl of half-remembered events, a narrative shape and organising idea. Writing can help you pay attention to your life. Writers who keep journals produce more work than those who wait for inspiration to hit them. Writing every day keeps the creative juices flowing, and the journal becomes a source for ideas as well as an instrument for practising and refining writing skills and techniques, such as description, character delineation, and dialogue.

Put your protagonist in the dock

How do you know what to write? Where do you begin? You have an idea and you want to build it into a story. So, put your protagonist in the dock

Start with the Opening Statements
Before the prosecution and defence present evidence and witnesses, both sides have the right to give an opening statement about the story. These statements provide an outline of what is the arguments to come.

The prosecutor must convince you that your character committed a crime.

Presentation of the Evidence
The prosecutor presents the evidence with such items such as:

  • Photographs
  • Weapons
  • Clothes
  • Videos
  • Audio recordings

He then presents the case through the examination of prosecution witnesses. The defence then is allowed to cross-examine to show the witness’s stories are not true or reliable.

The defence may force the witness to admit that he or she is biased. She may hold a grudge against the accused or be a friend of the victim.

Or question whether the witness wore glasses, drank alcohol, was close enough to see clearly, or whether it was too dark to see well.

The accused must always question anything she disagrees with the witness’s account.
After this, the lawyer for the accused will present its case by calling its own witnesses, who are then cross-examined by the prosecutor.

The accused can decide to testify. If her version of what happened is important, she must tell it under oath. If the accused testifies, the prosecutor will cross-examine her to show that she is not being honest, or that she changed her story. She will have to answer all the questions that the prosecutor asks her. The prosecutor is looking for ways of getting her to say something that hurts her case. This is what you want to do: to rip off the mask and reveal the real person beneath.

Sometimes a judge will not allow certain kinds of evidence to be used. For example, in hearsay, when someone said something to the accused that she wants to use as evidence, this person must come to court to repeat it.

Finally, after all the evidence, summarise the story by writing two closing arguments: a version of events from the point of view of the prosecution and the defence.

Write the truth as you know it

Truth is grey, not black and white. What we believe to be true can change. Above a door at the German Naval Officers School in Kiel, there is an inscription that reads:

Say not ‘this is the truth’ but ‘so it seems to me to be as I now see things I think I see’.

There will always be someone who believes the opposite of what you know to be true. Don’t let this stop you from writing what you believe. Truth is strongest when the writer takes time to investigate, explain and verify the facts. The problem is that sometimes it is easier to come to a conclusion by distorting, hiding and twisting facts.

So what to do? Be honest. Don’t pull your punches. Don’t worry about being blunt. Tell us the truth as you know it.