Tag Archives: literary

Are you for real?

I’m not making this up!

 

 

Writing from fact, using a real event, can lend work real emotion, emotion difficult to conjure otherwise. Tears in a writer will bring tears to a reader, so they say.

 

Writing from fact does have its downside, however. Firstly, a straight account is reportage, not fiction so you must add extra spice and colour to the mixture to make it fiction.

 

It is important to get to the crux of what your story is ‘saying’ and make sure your narrative never loses sight of this point and – so, even if when you were all driving to the hospital, Brad told a joke so funny you’ve just got to mention it. No, don’t mention it. Stick to the point of the story – the story is the hospital, remember, not Brad’s unrelated joke.

 

You may also have to leave out years of backstory if it does not serve to drive your own story on in any way. You may have been brought up by the funniest, most eccentric, most loving or most dysfunctional family in the world, but if they have no role in the story at hand, don’t mention them.

 

Another issue with writing from real memory is that ironically, fact is often too weird and too unbelievable to work as fiction. Your readers will say, ‘oh, come on, that would never happen.’ And you can’t phone them all up and say, ‘actually, it did. I’m not making it up. I once knew this bloke…’ Instead, you’ve often got to tone down the story to make it more credible. Real-life coincidences can be particularly problematic here.

 

And remember if you stick too close to the truth, you may be setting yourself up for some legal headaches, especially if you are presenting another person in an unflattering light. It’s best to change names and/or genders, and settings. Once you make those factual changes, most people will fail to recognize themselves in fiction, simply because we don’t see ourselves as we are seen by others….

Advertisements

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Me at breakfast, Ireland, September 2012. Am I good or bad?

 

Probably the most common question a writer gets asked is ‘Where do you get your story ideas from?’ Well, from everywhere. From newspapers, from life, from events that upset, move you or fill you with passion, or anger. You can get a lot of good material from bad situations.

As a writer you have a built in advantage over non-writers in that you can put bad events in life to good use. A broken heart can (with some distance from the event) give plot and substance to a short story – as they say, no tears in the writer, no tears in the story. Ditto a betrayal or some such extreme circumstance.

These difficult personal experiences, often awful, also lend opportunity to observe human behaviour in its rawest form – a crucial study for any writer. Take note re who behaves in an altruistic manner (and does that even exist) in the circumstance? Who looks for the easy option? What type of person sticks their head in the sand and hides behind others? Who makes a stand despite risks of personal loss? The answers are often surprising. The meekest are often the bravest, the erstwhile idealistic often less so when faced with a truth that is inconvenient to their own life and circumstance. Bad situations make for rich people study material.

Alternatively, another story prompter is to use the ‘what if’ question. The ‘what if’ question prompts you to consider alternative endings to a real situation. A good example of this question is Stephen Fry’s Making History, in which he explores a world where Hitler was killed in WWI but an even more dastardly figure comes to prominence, and wins. Apply the ‘what if’ scenario to your personal difficulty and see where it takes you storywise…


Shellakybooky First Past the Post!!!!

My Radio Play Wins First Prize
Yeeessss! My radio play, ‘Shellkybooky’ has won first prize in the Annual Sussex Playwright’s competition – a national comp run from Brighton. A nice cheque and presentation of play is on the way… : ) Whatever else, 2011 has been a bumper year for my writing! BTW ‘shellakybooky’ is a Waterford word for a snail… and the play centres round a Liverpudlian Irish family of expats in Budapest Hungary and their son’s secret life as a graffiti enthusiast…

The Shipping News

'The Last of the Shower' shortlisted for the HISSAC

 

 

Couldn’t resist the temptation to bring some good news to my new website…

Just received this email from HISSAC about my story:

‘The Last of the Shower’ has made it to the shortlist…
The Final Judges’ meeting is on Sunday afternoon, when the winner will be decided.
Yay! So, a ship may be coming back to port after all. Perhaps this new website is bringing me luck. Third time lucky with a shortlisted story this week perhaps?
In fact, I’m working on a piece right now about a woman who’s looking for third time round luck. Damn, she doesn’t get it though… hmmm

Are You a-Mused Yet?

Get Your Muse On

There are writers feel story and character ideas are fed to them from “somewhere else”. That “somewhere else” is a very vague concept and means different things to different scribes. Nonetheless, writers who hold such beliefs say it is very important to allow your mind to be open to receiving these ideas – wherever they come from.

Personally, I’ve had moments when I felt plugged into a conduit, receiving stories, characters and ideas- though I hesitate to say if this was a spiritual event or just the  way the brain works in creative mode.

And it is a rare enough event – I can never conjure ‘the writing rapture’ but if I write often it’ll roll around every now and again. And when it does, it’s a  magical moment when stories and characters come swimming to me, all done-up, pre-packaged and ready to go.

All we can do is sit down to write every day- most days you’ll get coal but if you keep at it, the diamond muse will show up sooner or later.


Set yourself free

Be free

Freewriting is what you write when there’s no one looking. Freewriting is the madman in your brain taking the controls and sending words all the way down to the tips of your fingers. Freewriting is where you’ll find the most brilliant story ideas, if you look hard enough.

To freewrite, just write. Write the first word that comes to mind and then follow it with another. Set an alarm if you can. Don’t worry about grammar, structure, character development – just write. And when you’re done, stand back and take a look. Is there anything in there you can use. I’ll say there is!

Here’s an example:

‘Right now I’m sitting at my computer and the coffee cup is on the edge of my desk. It looks a little like an iceberg, as it is white and chipped and cold because the coffee has been in it since the morning as I didn’t do the washing up last night and the sink is full of plates and saucers. All those plates look surreal sitting unwashed in the sink like that. All at different angles like a Picasso painting with ketchup instead of paint dribbled over the plates. I wonder if Picasso got his ideas from waking up one morning and seeing his jumble of washing up in the sink I wonder if all the museums in the world actually have pictures of Picasso’s washing up and not his mistresses and Guernica and does that mean the joke is on us?’

The above freewrite might seem silly but it’s also an example of how freewriting could, potentially, inspire a proper piece of writing. This daft thought about Picasso’s washing up could easily be worked into a comedy radio play where a hung-over Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse wake up after a night out on the town and dare each other to paint a picture of the mess of washing up in the sink. Thus, the modern art movement is accidentally launched. Another possibility you could take from this freewrite is the concept that something generally considered ugly and in need of repair or attention (washing up) can lead to tremendous artistic inspiration – and this idea could form the kernel of a short story or a poem.

Here, chose one of the prompts below and let it lead you into a three minute freewrite.

I wish I had said….

It was no use pretending….

A long time ago…

For the first time ever….


The Why of it All

A Norfolk flint wall, cracking with ideas

Well done all of you six month challengers who have plugged into the writing rapture and are producing realms of the stuff. I am in awe.

I haven’t been doing so well on my target of 500 a day, and that makes me feel awful as I was the one who launched the comp. I know I can find excuses what with being out of the country and all but it’s just not good enough, dammit.

I’m also being slack re writing short stories of late and I’m usually very on the ball there. I think I may simply be tired. Anyway, to motivate myself and hopefull you too, I’m going to re-post here a list of reasons I should keep working on my short stories (as well as my novel, but that reason is self evident).

a) Being shortlisted encourages and motivates when such stuff is difficult to come by in the writers’ life.

b) I can get published in literary magazines.

c) Money, if I win.

d) It keeps me on my toes and hones and polishes my craft.

e) By writing stories I build up a portfolio just in case I’m ever offered a collection.

f) It gives me an edge when applying for bursaries, residencies, funding etc..

g) It might bring  the attention of publishers.

h) Short stories are something I can work on when time is limited.

i) An agent once told me that it is important to build up your writing ‘credits’.

j) Agents are human and sometimes don’t trust their own judgement, so wins and commendations give you that ‘seal of approval’/credibility.

k) Short story writing is a better displacement activity than making a cup of tea.

M) Having good writing credits help when applying for writing jobs.

p) Writing short stories reminds me that I’m a writer.

Now, I guess I should stare at a wall like Leonardo da Vinci and get inspired. Hello wall, have you got any novel ideas?

Six Month Challenge:

Day 5

Word count: 1,900


Back in Norwich. Back in action.

 

The Market, Norwich.

 

Apologies for the scant and scatty posts over the past few days. As explained, I was in Ireland to run my first creative writing workshop (well, the first that I’m running independently). All went extremely well. The feedback was positive and I’m now motivated to bring this workshop forward and make it a regular event, hopefully hosting sessions in Ireland, France and Hungary.

Also, RTE have contacted me again (that’s the Irish national TV station) about writing for them. It is the second time they’ve asked if I’d be interested in trying out for a gig with them and I might as well give it a go this time. I’m now awaiting news on my short-listing for the Wells Literary Festival competition and my long listing on the HISSAC. These three ships may indeed sink before they make it back to port, but at least they are on the horizon now and that’s exciting.

I have to admit that I’ve not done any novel writing today. I’m leaning on the excuse that having eventually found a non-fog-bound flight back to Norwich from Ireland yesterday, I was too exhausted to get out of bed this morning. Wee weak girlie that I am. Am determined to make up for this tonight.

My current word count is 1,500.  It’s day four. I’m 500 words under target.

 

How are you guys all doing?


You Are Here

On a Busy City Street

A literary setting refers to the landscape and the people/characters that fill it. The setting is the signature of many a writer: Stieg Larsson and Sweden (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Annie Rice and New Orleans (Interview with a Vampire), John le Carre, the world of spies.

Writing what/where you know

It is often said you should “write what you know”. A sensible approach, especially for the new writer. By placing your characters in scenes and situations with which you are familiar, you are more likely to invest a sense of realism in the story. Also, practically speaking, writing about familiar territory will save on research you might otherwise have to do on a subject/setting.

Some writers resist writing what they know as they feel their own environments are not “glamorous” or “extraordinary” enough to merit such attention. This is nonsense. Whatever you do and whoever you are, your life will seem exotic to someone else. The fact that you grew up on a council estate/project developent in Bolton/Kalamazoo is interesting to someone living on a farm in Siberia. Remember, the life of an immigrant taxi-driver would quite likely fascinate the Queen of England.

Also, you don’t necessarily have to set your story in your street or your workplace. Think of your Saturday morning football team, your school, the nightclubs you frequent, a hospital you’ve spent time in or a prison. All are equally valuable settings for a short story, novel, play, film script or even poem or song.

Your environment is your gold, mine it.

 

But I don’t want to write about my environment…

 

That’s fine too. There is also case for “writing what you don’t know”. Fantasy writers, for example, are (usually) not elves living in Middle Earth. Historical fiction writers have not lived in Tudor England. Yet, Fantasy/SciFi/Historical novels are written and enjoyed every year.

For Fantasy/SciFi you need a familiarity with the genre and a vivid imagination. For historical fiction you need to like research. For all the above you’ll require the ability to convincingly create an unfamiliar world.

Bear in mind, however, that while a Fantasy writer won’t get complaints from angry elves about his misinformed stereotypes.

A novelist who sets a story in a modern French monastery, and knows nothing about France or monks – is asking for trouble. Firstly, their prose may be riddled with (skewed) perceptions of France and the French, monks/Catholicism/wine-making etc… And not only is there danger of rehashing clichés, their writing might lack the detailed realism a reader finds so reassuring and intriguing. So, if you want to write about banditos in the mountains of Sardinia, and you can’t go and live there for a year – then research, research, research. Read as much as you can on the topic, as well as any other fiction that has used the same environment as a setting.

In a Magical Castle

 

 


Your Displacement or Mine?

Writing is the only thing in the world that makes me want to do housework.

So, what’s your favourite displacement activity?

 

Weird, huh? I hate housework, I love writing, so how come every time I’m part way through some writing I suddenly get the urge to do the washing up, tidy, iron, arrange my bookshelves? It’s because my brain is searching for a ‘displacement activity’ apparently.

‘Displacement activity’ is a posh phrase writers have for all the stuff you do that is not the stuff you are SUPPOSED to be doing. Avoidance is probably a more readily understood term, but doesn’t sound half as writerly. What happens is a little ‘displacement monkey’ in your mind distracts you from the task at hand, by urging you to ‘make another cup of tea/check the TV guide/your bank account/ebay/post on this blog : ) rather than crack on with that piece of dialogue you’re trying to get down. Displacement activities can sabotage your writing, they say – though I’m not wholly convinced. I think they sometimes happen for a reason. Perhaps what you’re working on needs time to settle, or percolate in your mind and after you’ve bought those gloves on ebay, it will all come together. However, I admit, I think I’d get a lot more writing done if I didn’t have an Internet connection in my office…

I know a few writers who keep their displacement activity on hand – as another creative hobby and they believe one such activity complements and feeds the other. So, they may start painting and then half way through THAT activity they’ll turn back to their writing as a displacement activity for their painting and so on…

Apart from this blog and the Internet, my favourite displacement activity is taking long walks, which can’t be so bad. What’s yours?