Category Archives: Writing

Opening scenes: Yippi-kai-yay story lovers – lessons from Die Hard

Die Hard may seem an unlikely way to learn what makes a great introduction but you would be amazed. There is a reason why this movie is a classic and has an 8.2 rating on IMDB.

Everything you need to know about the protagonist and his biggest flaw are revealed before the credits even say DIE HARD.


A plane touches down.
A man is gripping the arm rest of his aeroplane seat and the passenger next to him gives him some advice on how to “survive air travel”: walk around barefoot and make fists with your feet. He says,”Trust me, I’ve been doing this for nine years.”

The advisor looks up at John McClane as the latter gets his baggage from the compartment above and is horrified at the gun in his holster.

“It’s ok, I’m a cop. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for 11 years.”

John takes down a huge teddy bear from the compartment.

As he moves past a flight attendants, she keeps his glance longer than she should. He looks back. Then looks after her.

The credits say DIE HARD.

In the two minutes, you have just been given all the information you need about the movie:

  • The main character is a cop. He carries a gun.
  • He is taking a big present which is the clue to the fact he hasn’t seen his children in a while
  • He is taking this flight despite not wanting to – he doesn’t like flying
  • He finds other women attractive so his marriage is in trouble, and
  • At some stage he is going to take his shoes off and be barefoot

If you’ve seen Die Hard then you know that his bare feet are his achilles heel, as such. Once the bad guys realise that he’s not wearing any shoes they can take advantage of it and cause him a lot of pain.

All this foreshadowing and introduction took two minutes. Most people watching won’t realise how detailed the opening scene has been because it is interesting. We want to know more. This is tough guy Bruce Willis carrying a gun and a teddy bear and not liking being on a plane. Where is he going? What is he doing?


So how can Die Hard help you with your opening scene. Here are the tips:

  • How can your scene be made compelling?
  • What does it say about your story?
  • How does it progress your story?
  • It’s a setting, a scene in its own right and a potential mirror of the ending.

Die Hard is based on the 1979 book by Roderick Thorp, Nothing Lasts Forever. The opening scene in the book however starts in a taxi that gets rear-ended. The Black driver has to get our protagonist to the terminal in 20 minutes but the guy who hit them is a maniac who is not letting them go. Leland, the protagonist, then tells the driver that he is an ex-cop, current security consultant. In this way we find out what the protagonist is willing to do, what he’s about, and the taxi driver gets set up to appear later in the story as well, just like in the movie.

The introduction is a bit longer than in the movie, which screenwriter Jeb Stuart changed to him already landing in the plane. Stuart knows a thing or two about action and suspense and he also wrote the screenplays for Lock UP featuring Sylvester Stallone, and the Fugitive with Harrison Ford.

He is excellent at knowing how to make the opening scene interesting, compelling, informative and useful. The useful part is the foreshadowing that you won’t realise is a vital bit of information but your subconscious will remember it and when it happens it will make even more of an impact.

You don’t need an action novel to use all these elements. Try it out on your opening scene and let me know how it goes. I’ll happily provide feedback.

Are blogger reviewers better than journalists?

I once read that any such question in the title of an article means that the answer is no. That’s true but only in the sense that the answer isn’t yes. I don’t think it’s even the right question but let me very quickly tell you why.

I was looking for a review of Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina and instead I found a bunch of highly politicised campaigns against Wolf and her pro-Assange stance. The newspapers hated her because they hated Assange and Wikileaks. I looked for blogger reviews but the book had only been pre-released to professional media bodies. Us bloggers had to wait. Even highly educated, rational and academic bloggers had to wait. It was these latter types that I wanted to tell me whether there was any merit to the book. Not the politicised journalists.

I decided then and there that book bloggers had no vested interests so were better than journalists.

I was then asked to review a restaurant’s new tasting menu and so were a few other bloggers and Bristol Bites who I don’t really consider a blogger but a professional foodie. She does it for a living. Some other bloggers did it mainly for fun and their reviews were more free and utterly uncensored. They were at times crass, badly spelled and just a poor reflection of blogging reviews.

At least that’s what my inner critic told me. Because with blogging, unlike with journalism at a newspaper or magazine where your livelihood depends on what you write, there is no one to judge what you should publish but yourself.

There’s no sub to check the spelling of the post you wrote in the spare couple of hours between sleep and work. There’s no editor to guide you in what’s acceptable and there’s no management to take the flak when you screw up. Bloggers probably haven’t read McNae’s media law and aren’t too fussed about being sued because hardly anyone is reading.

Why writing is better than thinking

Laptop full of stickers - I didn't add those!

I’ve known a few psychology students and graduates but only one has said something that I still remember over a decade later.

We were talking about the difference between thinking and writing and she pointed out that you write linearly. Linear order forces your writing into some kind of structure, but thinking, as Tony Buzan has written about, is more creative and less ordered.

I’ve found this distinction to be useful for me. When thinking about subjects I start off trying to find a solution and then my mind goes all over the place, just one more permutation of what Buddhists call monkey mind.

When writing, though, I can strive towards an end, and follow a path. There is an evolution of an idea, a progression and an actual conclusion. And most probably this helps provide some understanding. Often I don’t know where the topic has come from and how it relates to me until I’ve written through and reached the end.

I don’t rate thinking too much and prefer meditation or waiting for my intuition to kick in but writing seems to help draw both of these processes out.

My 3-year-old computer-hog doesn’t allow me too much access to a computer so I’m trying to get as much writing done as possible on my phone and then tidy it up later.

This post on One Man and his Blog got me thinking about why I blog (when I get around to it).

The Reluctant Detective: 1 (serialised novel)

It was while waiting for the lift from the fourth floor that Myrene decided to divorce her husband. She would wait not one minute more for that ting sound as the carriage finally arrived from floor 15 and she would wait not one year longer for a loving, enjoyable celebration rather than the surprise birthday party full of strangers from which she had just walked out.
She had to walk back to the flat, drop off the rubbish she carried from her own party and pick up her bag with her cash cards and knitting and books in it.

Updated – Version 2

Melissa didn’t wait to see who was holding up the lift somewhere on the fourth floor before deciding to divorce her husband.

Update: 13-08-22

I’ve become a little obsessed with getting an opening line for a book. So much so that it now sounds contrived no matter what I do.

There’s a woman in front of the elevator. She’s been waiting a long time.

Three ways to beat writer’s block

I am writing a book and I have come to the first major crisis point about a quarter of the way in. Something important has happened and I know where I want my main character to end up but how do I get her there?

It doesn’t help that I have just finished the first season of the Killing and not only was there an engaging and fascinating storyline but there were also three other strands, at least, which were working beautifully alongside the main plot.

So my next task is to find ideas for my main storyline and for the parallel strands.


Advice columns – Good for gentle ideas. The stories available can be stranger than fiction because in real life things don’t need to make sense and you won’t always find out what happens but it’s still useful. They are also a great way to find out what people consider important and it can be something quite trivial.

– the colour of a bridesmaid’s dress
– snooping on a partner’s emails

Post secret – this is a site where people send postcards anonymously. The format provokes short and dramatic revelations
– deciding to leave on Christmas day

Law cases – you can find out the details of what happened and also how some of these end because of the availability of judgements. A great place for inspiration, especially if you are writing a mystery or a thriller – see

An example:

the attack on the home of Mr Murnin. His bungalow was attacked at about 11.30pm on the night of 4 June 2000 when an anti-personnel device consisting of a Russian-made hand grenade was thrown towards the house, causing an explosion which blew in the window of the room where Mr Murnin was sitting watching TV. Also in the house at the time were his four children and his 13 year old nephew, Mark Murphy, who was staying the night.

Those are some ideas for getting yourself out of writer’s block. I hope they provide some inspiration for you too.

Do you have any tips for similar situations?


Why life is better as a sitcom

One of my challenges for the year ahead is to write some blog posts in particular genres or styles. I’d like a sitcom, horror, drama, science fiction, fantasy and whatever else I think of at the time. Part of the challenge is to practise my writing while the other part is to take the opportunity to look at my life through various filters of reality.

My first attempt is something I have been pondering for the last couple of days. I want to write a scene of my life as a sitcom. There’s something quite lovely about thinking of life as a comedy. You don’t have to take anything too seriously. No matter how tough the situation you always end up with a laugh or two. There is a standard pattern of how things work and how they turn out which is a reworking of the hero’s journey in a different format.

I have been trying to think of a topic and a title for my first episode. Family Times? Struggles Ahead? Motherland? They’re all awful.

So no title yet but I have found the topic, a Christmas visit to my daughter’s grandparents. There is a train journey, family gathering, Starbucks, toys and cuddles etc. It took a little while to figure out that it could even fit into a kind of format. My initial thought was that it was just an event which started and ended, lacked some humour in the form of jokes and one-liners and while it did have some structure and even a B-story, it didn’t really lend itself to anything interesting.

However, I have been reevaluating by looking at different important points in the descriptions of the hero’s journey. The ordinary world is challenged by a conflict of some kind, and in its resolution, the hero grows and changes, ready for another adventure having learned something new. There is progress. There is meaning. Hopefully, there is also a good soundtrack. If I rework the story properly there are some truths that uncover vulnerabilities, rejections and painful histories.

Evaluating life in terms of these points can be quite illuminating and all of a sudden so many things gain a greater importance. It’s still hard to write good jokes though.

A few examples of the hero’s journey:

1. THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma. The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.

2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.

10. THE ROAD BACK. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.

11. THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.


I’ll also be needing a laugh track.

Unemployed Hack, a favourite blog

The Unemployed Hack calls himself a downwardly mobile journalist and his blog recounts memories of times as a tabloid journalist to day to day recallings of signing on and dealing with a very low income.

He has been unemployed for almost six months now. He was previously a reporter, a feature writer, a travel writer, a critic. He has even designed pages and also been a lecturer. Oh, and a bingo operative but that was a long time ago.

In his own words:

I used to be a tabloid hack. I’ve knocked on the doors of the bereaved, had doors slammed in my face, been chased by dogs up driveways. I’ve blagged my way into hotels to chase celebs, asked footballers who they are “intimate” with and attended strip shows all in the name of journalism.

As the nation turns on the “dark” activities of tabloid journalism I can’t share your moral outrage. I could point out that the police hack the phones of political activists all the time, and they do, but really I miss the camaraderie, the gang mentality that comes from being as hated as estate agents.

More importantly, he is a very good read.

Posting again, every day?

Last year this time I said I would post every day but I didn’t manage it. The thought of trying again has been gently prodding and poking at me for the last few weeks. There is something comforting about having to write. Having to find something to post and not needing to perfect an idea in order to publish it. The smaller and slightly more ordinary find a way to make it on the page in times when they would receive nothing more than a cursory glance.

Let’s see how it goes. Happy posting to me!

The first step in writing

I once had a friend who was a writer. She was a brilliant writer; passionate and artistic. She carried with her a well worn book of Catcher in the Rye and in her notepad of literary scribblings, she had written out Cavafy’s The First Step.

She wrote it out in the original Greek but I’ll stick to English for now.

The young poet Evmenis
complained one day to Theocritos:
“I have been writing for two years now
and I have composed just one idyll.
It’s my only completed work.
I see, sadly, that the ladder of Poetry
is tall, extremely tall;

He is comforted by Theocritos who tells him that

Just to be on the first step
should make you happy and proud.
To have come this far is no small achievement:
what you have done is a glorious thing.
Even this first step
is a long way above the ordinary world.

He goes on to tell him how great it is to even write one poem because it means he stands out from those who never write anything.

I read that now and think ‘yeah right’. With blogging so prevalent that just isn’t true anymore. There are 353,593 bloggers on, there are a myriad more on, blogspot, typepad, posterous and many services I don’t know about.

There are 93,251,087 words on 93 million. How many of those words are spelt wrong?

I’m being petty and silly. Plenty of journalists, if not more than the average non-journalistic profession, are terrible spellers. They are indeed so cavalier with the written word that it’s as if they have become desensitized to the clarity and beauty that it can provide.

They are functional writers, these journalists. They make a point. They write to get paid. Well, by definition, obviously. But they’re content generators most of them. No, wait. That’s not what i mean to say.

That’s not even the point i want to make.

Let’s get back to my friend who I shall call Tatiana because that is her name.

She was a passionate writer and an even more enthused and sparkling person. I remember letting her down once when I told her that my boyfriend at the time was not my great love. Then why are you with him? she asked. How can you settle like that?

I don’t know how I settled.

I also settled on writing. I post things which I don’t really revise and edit. I post just so I can have something on the blog. Oh the pressure to get as many hits as possible. A few months ago I was getting about 400 hits a day. This dropped to about 200 once I moved the baby blog to its own separate space which only gets a handful now – up to 70 perhaps.

Then the rest diluted to under a 100 on an average day. The best part about having a few blogs is that I no longer worry about how many hits I get. I have one blog which I don’t actually use but I intend to. It’s where I intend to post just on books. It makes me happy that I get no hits on there at all.

I love people reading my work but I was spending time thinking about how to increase my readership rather than focusing on the writing.

I started this blog so that I could explore all different types of writing. I was going to be experimental. Re-write press releases, try poetry (not really), interviews, features, book reviews, restaurant reviews. I wanted to work on the things I found the most difficult. I never did get around to writing about sports. I don’t think a picture of a run counts.

And yet, here I am, feeling that I’m producing mediocre work just so I can get more content.

I read other mediocre work and get angry because it reminds me of my own writing which I don’t like.

Then there is writing that is well researched, creative, inspiring, passionate and so moreish that it makes me want to find something like that to write about too.

I have noticed articles about reclaiming or finding your passion.

Bloggers who call themselves food writers or researchers while journalists lose all motivation.

They will likely never equate the trials and tribulations they’ve faced to become what they are today, with the equally enormous amounts of effort required to become what you are today.

The one part that comes closest to how I feel about blogging, while still not sure about bloggers, is the following:

“If I had to sum up what blogging means to me, I would say, ‘discovery.’ Not only because of all the things I get to research and learn about, but because I continuously surprise myself by finding things in the psyche I don’t know are there until I see them on the screen.”
A year of blogging

Finding my ‘why’ in order to find the ‘how’ in blogging

I scrolled through some old posts in my blog and they all felt so uninspiring. I was bored just looking at them, let alone reading them. I’ve definitely lost my mojo when it comes to blogging.

I started up all inspired and enthusiastic nearly two years ago. I wanted to be a journalist and writing seemed like a great way to do it. That idea of writing for practise and to explore different styles kept me going for a while. I signed up for a journalism course, long distance, and started picturing what it would be like to live in Brussels and get involved with European political scenes.

I then became pregnant and the ideas of journalism kind of flew out of my head. I had a job I loved, great colleagues, supportive family and a baby on the way. I just didn’t see me pursuing a career as a young professional with great shorthand skills.

What then though? Why was I writing?

For a while I kept going with thoughts about the baby during and after pregnancy. Once I split the baby stuff off to somewhere else though it all faded away. Maybe I’m not so good at compartmentalising.

The things on my mind were no longer the kind of things I could talk about. Family and friends seemed to be reading so discussions on personal relationships just weren’t appropriate. Even if I just wanted to vent about something I couldn’t afford to insult anyone.

I wasn’t getting out too often so there couldn’t be too many posts about what I’d been doing. A few food reviews have made it on to the blog but even these have been half-hearted.

I am now on a mission to understand why I blog. I read this great article a couple of days ago and it resonated with me. Ollin Morales quotes Nietsche and then goes on to explain how it applies to blogging: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

It’s worth a read if you’re also feeling a bit of a slump or just want to find out how to produce 201 eggs. You’ll see what I mean.

Grand Place