Wednesday, 29 March 2017

11 Things I Learned in Malta about Writing – 4 Everyone Needs a Balcony

On a 2014 holiday in Malta I saw many things that could help me with my writing. I will be sharing one each week. Here is point 4 I learned:

Everyone needs a balcony
2014-09-18 17.32.30 cropped

Absolutely every building in Malta has a balcony, and each building’s balconies are different from the next. Balconies are cooling in the heat and you can enjoy the view. Your readers need to enjoy the view too. Make sure you have enough description to draw them in.

I had been working on my science fiction novel Flight of the Kestrel: Intruders for some time when my son asked me what the ship’s bridge looks like. I had no idea.

In order to draw your readers into your story they need to be able to visualise the people and places. In order to write a good story you need to know what they look like too. On the bridge, when the Captain talks to the communications officer, which way does he turn? (In Star Trek original series, she sat behind him). How much room is there on the bridge? In Intruders there are six representatives of allied species on Kestrel, as well as three bridge crew. At a key moment they all rush to the bridge to see what’s going on. It makes a big difference to what happens next, because the bridge is too small.

Star Trek Enterprise-D Bridge (Wikimedia)
Star Trek Enterprise-D Bridge

These alien representatives need to be distinctive in more than their looks. Their clothes, customs, history, and relationships all add interest and opportunities for conflict. Your book needs atmosphere too – “It was a dark and stormy night” may be a cliché, but the scene does need setting. It would have a totally different feel if it was a warm and sunny afternoon.

On the other hand, don’t bring the action to a complete halt with an information dump. This goes for back story too. There are things your readers need to know, but it’s a skill to learn how to sprinkle them through the text. I remember reading Les Miserables years ago. It was a wonderful book, but every time Victor Hugo introduced a new character he spent the next two pages telling you all about them. I used to turn over and look for where the action resumed!

I keep a file on all my characters and places, and write a complete description and any back story against each one. This helps me to remember what I intended, and means I know them well, even if my readers don’t. This helps me to sprinkle little details as I write.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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