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How to Write: Tips from Margie Orford

The new Wordsetc cover - 'Crime' issue, featuring Margie Orford #tow10Like ClockworkBlood RoseDaddy's GirlMargie OrfordMargie Orford is best-known as a crime writer – her Clare Hart series, listed here, has gone ’round the world like a rocket – but she has a rather distinguished career writing other types of books, too, which began long before she was crowned SA’s “krimi queen” (cf. the brand-spanking-new Wordsetc – cover shown here). In this regard, we recommend Fabulously 40 and Beyond (with Karin Schimke), Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism: Stories from the Developing World (with Stefan Raubenheimer) and Fifteen Men (with the inmates of the Groot Drakenstein prison).

Here are Orford’s tips:

  1. It is not possible to set out to write a hit. Readers are smart: they can tell a con at fifty paces.
  2. So, feel with your body, write with your heart, edit with your head.
  3. Write about what you know, but if you don’t know something then go find it out.
  4. It takes a very long time to become an overnight success, so work harder than you ever thought possible.
  5. Then work some more.
  6. Don’t give up.
  7. Don’t complain.
  8. Just do it again.
  9. And then again.
  10. And if its not working? that thing about killing your darlings is true: if a chapter doesn’t fit, then cut it out, step over the blood and move on.
  • PS
    • What Margaret Atwood says about pencils is true. If you write when you fly don’t take a pen. They leak.
    • What Elmore Leonard said about cutting out the boring bits that readers skip is good advice. That includes adjectives. And adverbs. Zap the lot.
    • And Stephen King was right: if your characters are speaking then use ‘said.’ He said, she said, he said, she said. If your characters have to ‘grumble’ or ‘moan’ or effervesce’ you have failed. (see 10, then 5 – 9)

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    March 17th, 2010 @17:49 #
     
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    Love the non-wordiness of it, Margie, and am in stitches over the Wordsetc cover... move over, Angelina, I think YOU should star in Scarpetta: The Movie. Seriously, well done. Love No 2.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    March 17th, 2010 @21:01 #
     
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    less is always more in writing

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    March 17th, 2010 @23:26 #
     
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    and

    I zapped the alliterative adjectives on either side, as suggested by Elmore "The-cat-sat-on-the-mat" Leonard and your good self.

    The scrawny cat sat bleeding on the pile of mail that all but covered the ELCO mat.

    Don't get me wrong: I agree that every word should be weighed, but I think most readers like to see some flesh on the bones.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    March 18th, 2010 @06:52 #
     
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    My kind of readers like to see that flesh pared off those bones. quite literally some of them, bunch of sickos

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    March 18th, 2010 @08:02 #
     
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    I like number 10. Well, no, I don't actually like it. In fact, I dislike it intensely and find it very hard to follow ... but I acknowledge the unpalatable truth behind it.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    March 18th, 2010 @08:46 #
     
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    Yikes!

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    March 18th, 2010 @09:18 #
     
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    Cover your darlings with adjectives, Fiona, fill them with adverbs before you kill them - two birds with one stone then. I have a file on my laptop called KILLED DARLINGS - I put them all in there - all the bits I cut out and off. One day it will morph into its own book - a memoir most likely

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    March 18th, 2010 @09:53 #
     
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    I added a selection of my slain darlings as outtakes at the end of my first book - for those who like to watch bloopers and deleted scenes.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    March 18th, 2010 @10:19 #
     
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    BLOOD ROSE is inching its way to being a movie. I was surprised how many excised darlings have come in handy for the script writer - I suppose pictures are worth a thousand words - but it would appear that those thousand words are needed sometimes to create a picture.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    March 18th, 2010 @10:47 #
     
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    Absolutely! Although I'd be really intrigued to see what a film-maker/location scout comes up with.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    March 18th, 2010 @11:11 #
     
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    Well, it is set in |Walvis Bay in Namibia - such a wonderful and seductive landscape that one hardly needs to do much.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    March 18th, 2010 @11:57 #
     
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    Glorious! But they'll need to choose specific indoor settings, I imagine.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    March 18th, 2010 @15:58 #
     
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    *hastens to open up KILLED DARLINGS file on computer*

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