My Writing A-Z … G is for ‘GRIT-LIT’

evil laughG is for ‘GRIT-LIT’

What do I mean by ‘grit-lit’? It may not be a genre you’re familiar with but, in my definition at least, it’s writing (both fiction and non-fiction) that focuses on unrelenting misery. It’s confessional-style, ‘gritty’, dealing with hard truths and dark and morbid themes. I’ve also seen it described as ‘writing that bites’ and ‘words that bleed’ (ugh!)

If you want to read more about ‘grit lit’ have a look at the Goodreads site here or the Grit Lit website here.

I suppose ‘GRIT-LIT’ is the antithesis of the short stories I write for women’s magazines, which need to be gentle, hopeful, amusing and uplifting…

And I have absolutely no desire to either read it or write it.

I’ve just read a novel that was recommended to me by an avid reader (she reads about 80 books a year). She’s read it twice, she urged me to read it, she said it was one of the best books she’s ever read, so on her recommendation I put it forward as the next choice for our Book Club and read it myself. The name of this masterpiece? Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

It’s set in Iceland in the 1800s and it’s about a woman accused of murder and condemned to death (based incidentally, on a true story). I couldn’t fault the writing – it’s beautiful (a first novel too – aaagh!) and certainly, it was gripping. BUT (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) without giving too much away, I have to say I class this novel as ‘GRIT-LIT’, so however much I admired the writing and felt caught up in the story, there were aspects of it – cruelty to animals, mainly – that I will never be able to get out of my mind, so I would never re-read it and I would never recommend it. To anyone. There you go. Maybe I’m just too sensitive but GRIT LIT is not for me.

H is for HUMOUR in writing.

Now, here’s a funny story for you: my Creative Writing students love to set me new challenges – mainly to ensure that I spend hours each week preparing for the class – and this Thursday they want me to talk to them about ‘humour in writing’. ie: how to do it!

Er…right. So, I thought I’d throw the question over to you, dear readers. What constitutes humour in writing? Which authors do you find funny (or not! And by that, I mean writers who are meant to be funny. Not GRIT LIT authors). Do you ever set out to write something humorous – and if so, how do you do it?

I find some chick-lit authors funny. I have laughed out loud and often, at Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella, Jilly Cooper and Helen Fielding for example. But I also know and accept, that those passages that had me giggling, often left my friends cold. It’s a very personal thing, humour, isn’t it?

As for men, Bill Bryson makes me laugh and so too does Nick Hornby, Roddy Doyle and John O’ Farrell. When a writer makes me laugh I adore them, for being so clever and so on-the-same-wavelength-as-me, so please tell me the Funniest Book You Have Ever Read, so I can fall in love some more.

I won the Chudleigh Phoenix short story competition a couple of years ago (I may have mentioned this before) with a short story called ‘The Normal Course of Events’ which was meant to be amusing and did, I know make some people laugh. It’s here but I’m not holding this up as anything other than ‘a story which some people found funny’ because you will probably read it with a straight face and then throw your computer across the room (please don’t send me the bill).

The one thing I do remember though, when I wrote it (and read bits out to my partner), is that I laughed. And he laughed. And we thought ‘oh sod it- even if no-one else finds this funny, we like it’. So, perhaps that’s the key to ‘writing funny’. If it makes you and maybe a couple of others laugh, as you write it, then someone else, somewhere will probably laugh at it too.

Just not everyone.

Here’s a ‘writing character comedy’ exercise that you might like to try:

Watch a whole morning of daytime telly*. Look out for an interesting character and then try and write a sketch about them. Don’t try to parody the shows you have watched, just try to find a persona and then put them into a real life situation.
Many of the Little Britain characters were created this way.

*or you could just do the first part and ‘watch a whole morning of daytime telly’. Say it’s a) research or b) that I told you to.


The internet is a wonderful thing. Thank you Tim Berners-Lee.

Without it, I wouldn’t have this blog, of course. I wouldn’t belong to a Facebook writers group (or two), I wouldn’t be able to waste hours on Twitter and on the various forums that I belong to. I wouldn’t be able to check BBC News and Weather several times a day, or look at the blogs of all my virtual friends and write comments and send emails and .. yes, I admit it, I am ADDICTED to the internet and it is bad news for my writing.

I have a new ‘rule’: I try, every day, not to check emails until 4pm (I’ve managed it today! It’s 4.25pm and I haven’t looked once!). That way, a clever person once told me, if there’s anything urgent that needs a response, you can still get back to the person who sent you the email within the working day.

I am always much more productive if I can stay off the internet. It’s not just the waste of time: I seem to go into a bit of a trance when I’m on it (I know. I need help, don’ t I?). It’s an information storm and I get caught up in it. “Ooh, I’ll just have a look at that – ” I say, when I see a juicy headline or a link to a competition on Twitter, or a link from someone’s blog .. and before you know it, two hours have gone by and, perhaps even worse, my head is all over the place, full of ‘rubbish’ and not clear enough for me to actually write anything.

I read a great quote the other day (guess where?!) which went something like this…

If you want to be a writer:
Get a writing buddy; TURN OFF THE INTERNET; do Morning Pages; TURN OFF THE INTERNET; sign up for a class; TURN OFF THE INTERNET; read lots; TURN OFF THE INTERNET… (come on, what are you doing reading this? TURN OFF THE INTERNET..!!!)

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9 Responses to My Writing A-Z … G is for ‘GRIT-LIT’

  1. Ninette says:

    Great post! I think I like a bit of ‘Grit-Lit’ not sure about the cruelty to animals though and I did find ‘Twelve Years A Slave’ a good read but upsetting – enough to make me decide I wouldn’t be able to cope with the film. At least with a book you can turn the page if it gets too heavy.
    I like reading funny stuff but find it difficult to write. I wrote a story last year in the style of Barbara Pym – my husband split his sides laughing and so did a couple of friends who read it – it wasn’t even shortlisted though – but, the main character may raise her head somewhere else along the line I think.
    Internet, Internet, INTERNET!!! Can’t live without it but oh I wish I could. I’m always wasting too much time on it. I’m trying to write a novel and keep being sidetracked when I’m doing research. I hate – absolutely hate, cookies, because whichever page you’re on something pops up that you were looking at earlier or yesterday…so annoying. I try not to look at FB, Twitter or my emails but I’m a lost case I’m afraid, just cannot resist a sneaky peak – bad girl.
    I don’t have any suggestions for A-Z this week sorry…but wait…
    G is for Geoff my long suffering husband without whom (who?) I would never write anything.
    H is for Home, my favourite place to be – and I don’t mean Home(page) on the Internet.
    I is for Ice which I’m about to put in a gin and tonic!

  2. That made me smile, Ninette. See, I was right though about humour – your hubbie and friends thought your Barbara Pym story was hilarious but clearly the judge had a different sense of humour! How dare (s)he!! Ooh, I like the sound of the G&T. You’ve made me want one but I’m not allowed (my rule!) to drink Monday – Wednesday! (I try. It’s like the internet…)

    • Ninette says:

      Don’t know what I meant by writing ‘sneaky peak’ stupid typo! Of course it should read ‘sneaky peek’!! Must be the view of the mountains that threw me. I woke up first thing this morning and it came into my head that I’d made a mistake. Hence I’m now on the Internet at 06.23 hours!!

  3. juliathorley says:

    G is for good grammar, without which all writing is the poorer. H is for home office, so I don’t have to commute to work. I is for the inspiring people I meet in real life and online who give me food for thought.

  4. Dee says:

    That last part about getting off the internet is funny. So I guess for me humor is when I can relate to the subject and feel like an idiot.

  5. Wendy Clarke says:

    I don’t like grit lit, have only ever written two humorous stories (but did manage to sell them both) and find the internet both wonderful and irritating!

  6. Linda says:

    I agree with you about grit-lit. There’s more than enough real doom and gloom in the news, I don’t want it in my fiction as well.
    I do like a story that makes me chuckle, but tend to steer clear of books that claim to be Hilarious! or Rip-Roaringly Funny! The authors (or their publishers?) just seem to be trying too hard and I don’t always get the joke.
    Internet? Definitely a mixed blessing but on the whole a wonderful thing. But I now write my first drafts (by hand!) well away from the computer so I’m not tempted to ‘just check a fact’ and get completely sidetracked for hours.

    • Linda, I’m with you on the first-draft-by-hand. It was hard to break the habit of writing everything straight onto the computer but now that I’ve trained myself to use a notebook and pen much more, I find the internet is less of a draw!

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