Fincher’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is one of my favourite films. It’s a story structure twister, and has the most emotionally satisfying ending I’ve seen from his films. But it defies the conventional Three Act structure, a cornerstone of screenplays but not of novels and short stories. These prose-based stories have more free-form approaches to structure and tackle more direct and indirect narrative questions than a film may. But many good books still follow a Five Act structure of some kind, but perhaps not what’s been studied to death in film and theatre school.

Continue Reading "The Five Act Structure, Broken and Rebuilt by David Fincher"

If you’re creating a Kindle book for the first time, then you might it frustrating that the Microsoft Word-based process doesn’t yield a functioning NCX Table of Contents (The ToC using the Kindle menu) for your book when it’s directly uploaded to Amazon Kindle.

Let’s find out how we can fix that using Calibre, a free eBook and multi-OS reader that can be downloaded here.

Continue Reading "How to Force an NCX Table of Contents for your Kindle book using Calibre for free"

I attended the Decolonising South African Editing event at the University of the Witwatersrand (2 August 2017). Wits has and always will be the most politically charged university on the African continent. So while the event was a success, and the many technical aspects of the event addressed with strong expertise, the content of the debate was controversial and explosive. I thank BlackBird Books and Jacana Media for an entertaining evening that was both insightful for many and frustrating for a few. Unfortunately, I am one of the few. What follows is my opinion of the debate itself, of which the content was outside the control of both the organisers and the host, being that it was a public debate. And as always with public debates in South Africa, things go wild.

This piece was written in conversation to a friend, who is also a writer, and it is entirely my opinion as a young South African writer, and with all the implications that label carries. These are not the opinions of BlackBird Books, Jacana Media, nor any of their representatives, nor are they opinions of any other attendee to the event.

CREDIT: Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Continue Reading "OPINION: Decolonising the Decolonisation of South African Writing"

I am proud of and enamoured by Sisonke Msimang. Have a read of this excellent excerpt from her public lecture last week! It was mind-blowing, absolutely shattering, and confirms my belief in our people, how far South Africa has come, and how to figure where it must now go. The video will come in June!

UPDATE: The talk, Eyes on the back of our heads: Recovering a multi-cultural South Africa, can now be accessed here and here.

Continue Reading "Sisonke Msimang’s Public Lecture on the State of South Africa’s Identity"

If you were born in a country, in a town, on a road, and in a home, then you will have everything you need to be a fiction writer. The stories are there in your head, hiding and brewing in your childhood and adolescence; the stories that become limitless in our adulthood.

The very real events we encounter every day inform our stories. We find them in the heroes and the villains who walk our streets. We meet them in those who serve in public office. And we may even discover them in those who eat and sleep beside us in our homes.

But sometimes, having a story to tell is not enough.


In those times, you need to know what style is, and how characterisation informs plot and, how plot defines and refines characterisation. Having a good working knowledge of your writing voice is to acknowledge its strengths and weaknesses. Being able to define what narrative structure (or lack thereof) fits your particular story will improve your telling of it. These are all aspects of fiction writing that can make or break your story, no matter how hot you think that story is.

But you need not pay thousands for a course or a degree in creative writing to be a fiction writer. While that route works for a number of established writers, you can discover the art of crafting prose on your own. Many of the bestselling and literary icons of the written word were self-taught masters of putting a pen to paper, and of pounding away at a typewriter and a keyboard.

And perhaps, what may be the most surprising thing about learning how to write, is that the best advice and crafting methods come from the books themselves. No other art form has the ability to educate of its own conception as entertainingly as the book. But even the books on storytelling are not the only and definitive references on learning how to write. The journey is long and each writer has their own path to make and take. And most of it is lonely.


To write is to be alone with yourself, tapping into the deepest recesses of your memories and consciousness. Writing a story is to visit and stay a while with old friends and terrifying enemies; running through the entire worlds born of fantasy and science fiction; seeking out and capture the culprit of a suspense-filled mystery; and finally, attempting to answer the quiet questions of identity and the human soul; questions that reside in the extraordinary characters of literary fiction.

Let’s explore the books and the lessons I have found to be crucial in my self-education as a fiction writer.

Continue Reading "How to educate yourself as a Writer"

John Steinbeck, the great but often maligned American writer, wrote more about people than stories or ideas. His stories live with his great empathy for the average man, reflecting his great admiration for working class people. He dedicated his life to discovering and documenting these people in his stories; stories which later brought him great acclaim.

But he was attacked for his views on poverty. He was famously criticised for restoring dignity and sympathy to the working class of America with the Grapes of Wrath.

Those criticisms defined his anxieties as a writer, leaving deep scars on his psyche that he battled to push away. His stances pushed him into exiles away from the cosmopolitan lifestyles of his peer’s literary circles that exalted his contemporaries. But it is ultimately in his writings we find one a great artist; an honest man who came to define the American Identity.

Can it be found on the great American roads?

Over time, he won the hearts of the multitudes of readers. And his critics were silenced by the time his sweeping voice completed the East of Eden. The Nobel committee awarded him “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.

My journey with Steinbeck began as a young boy reading The Pearl as a school set-piece. It was the book that was my Eureka moment as a writer; the book that made me realise that I wanted to write. Every writer has that moment when they read a book and say to themselves, “I can do better than that!”

As I turned The Pearl’s last page, in the silence that followed, I whispered, “Now I must write.”

What makes John Steinbeck a literary genius? Is it in The Pearl, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, or Of Mice and Men? Or is it in all things John Steinbeck, a man I wish I had known?

A man, I imagine, who would have the best answers for a young writer in these strange and dark times.

Let’s find out.

Continue Reading "On John Steinbeck"