Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Over the past months we've discussed the basics of fiction, paying special attention to creating tight plots and memorable characters. Now we're going to look at the importance of choosing relevant locations and where to set your stories for best effect.
Readers have become used to modern fiction being set in real places which has created the need to identify. People like things that feel real. One of the advantages of setting your story in a specific location, say New York, Paris or London, is that the reader fills in the details.
Place a reader in a nebulous, unfamiliar environment and they can feel lost unless you describe the place fully - which may in turn hinder your ability to pace the action and develop the characters. If you present a fictional town, some readers will baulk and cry: well, if that's not real, how can I begin to believe anything else this author tells me! They may feel cheated that you, as the author, are playing God and consequently can shape the 'rules' in your world. This may hinder their willing suspension of disbelief.
That said, there are advantages to creating a make-believe setting - whether it be a room, a house, a street, a town or even a whole country. First of all the writer's imagination can have full rein, secondly it saves time on research - it can take a lot of time to check out how real places look, feel and operate, and thirdly no-one can say you've got sometning wrong - because it can't be wrong. With make-believe too, you needn't worry about things like train and bus schedules, what time the sun sets, what kinds of flowers bloom and where etc., you've also got free rein on architecture, streets, shops, even type of housing estates.
All that said, I favour real locations - for both Time & Destiny and A Type of Beauty, which are historical, I walked London, Paris and Agra, and enjoyed chosing specific settings. I also used the architecture of the era, furnishings, colour schemes etc. For my contemporary works, Once Upon a Summer and Felicity's Wedding, I paid attention to office, home and pub settings, as well as clothes and food. I find the choice of locations and all that goes with them not only fascinating but by trial and error I've also discovered they provide an immediate authenticity. I hope you will too.
Good writing. We all have plenty of extra down-time over Christmas!
Monday, November 2, 2009
I'm still on the subject of writing courses. This time it's on-line courses. Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I've been running a tutoring and editing service on-line for some time. One of my greatest pleasures is meeting writers through their writing.
A natural progression is an on-line writing course. Because I'm fascinated with historical fiction and its potential, and because an eminent agent believes it is 'the next big thing in publishing', in conjunction with InkWell, I've set up InkWellHistoricalFiction.
I'm qualified to tutor this - and for anyone thinking of signing up to any course, be it on-line or off-line, qualification is important. My latest novel, 'A Type of Beauty, the story of Kathleen Newton (1854-1882)' is in the historical fiction genre. My research has carried me from the National Archives in Kew, London to Paris and India and back to Ireland. I've learned about applying history to fiction, living in Victorian times, the social niceties, mode of dress, etc. and applying all to make a modern novel.
I'm contacted by men and women who would like to do a writing course but who for a variety of reasons cannot travel; others wish to write but aren't sure how to go about starting. and there are those who are, perhaps, stuck at say, research or finding the voice of their story.
For people who would like the benefit of professional assistance, on-line courses are the answer. And the best thing is that you'll have individual attention from course tutor, specifically tailored to meet your needs whether it be structuring your work and dividing on voice of your story, or characters, plotline, locations, style and technique.
Look into http://www.inkwellwriters.ie/ - there are several on-line courses on offer and most importatly all are given by professional writers who excell in their particular genre.
Friday, October 2, 2009
The first thing the best of writing courses do is to help participants to both recognise and realise their writing dream. To achieve this it's necessary to instil in participants a sense of regular writing. This business of actually getting down to writing can frequently be a huge hurdle for beginners.
So how can it be resolved? Time is precious and there is always work to be done - dishes to be washed, dogs to be walked, children to be bathed.
I've been writing for years and while I love what I do and feel privileged, yet on many occasions I'd prefer to count the gravel in the driveway than settle down to write. Note I haven't said either sit at my desk or go to my office! Writing can be done almost anywhere. And you don't need a computer - it can be done on scraps of paper, notepads, anything as long as you're getting down your thoughts.
My golden rule for myself and for those attending my courses is to write for either two hours a day - more about that in a minute, or to write a certain amount of words each day, say 1000. The two hours a day concept is interesting: research has shown that our brainpower reduces after two hours of intense concentration. And concentration is required for writing. The thinking behind this two hours philosophy is that it takes about 15 minutes to wind into writing and peak. At around an hour and 50 minutes our attention and ability begin to flag and we begin to wind down.
Writing is like any other skill. It takes practice.
Even if you haven't yet come up with your big story, you can still write. Look out your window and write what you see. Think of a neighbourhood character and describe him or her. Do a 'what if' on an incident.
With practice you will become skilled in the creative act of writing. Attending a writing course each week is a great impetus and an ideal way to hone your skills, as well as learning and enjoying reacting with a group of like-minded people.
Enjoy and remember: 'Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book.' Ralph Waldo Emerson said that - and, of course, women are included!!
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I've been involved in running writing courses for several years. I have seen at first hand the benefits of facilitation by a published writer who knows the highs and lows of the business. It allows for group sharing, learning to own your work and find your writing voice. While writers have to write - and usually alone - the process can be an introvertic and lonely occupation and as humans we thrive when we've contact with like minded people. So writing courses can be beneficial when, as well as being used for information, they also act as motivation to get down and write.
The majority of writers who approach me are interested in writing fiction - mainly short stories and novels. The aspect that most amazes me is how talented they are, the freshness of their ideas, the characters they've come up with and their settings.
The problem occurs when they run out of steam, confidence and time. They wonder why it's taking so long to finish their story. They read the papers, browse the book shops, and see writers interviewed who are writing a book a year.
Most are popular writers - ie writers whose books are widely translated and sell in the millions. They can usually command large advances and have high profile marketing packages to ensure sales. They are rare. But their publishers know a novel with their name on the cover will sell well. Because they are proven successes, they are provided with the best of editorial back-up, and do not necessarily need to polish or proof their manuscript before submission. An aside here: we are writers, not editors. Good editors are worth their weight in gold.
New writers hoping to break into the current market place have a better chance of publication if they present as perfect a manuscript as possible. Like everything else, the publishing business is hit by the recession and publishers and editors are overworked and understaffed.
My advice to someone embarking on the heady and exciting task of writing fiction is two-fold:
- Like any other skill, the more you write, the better your writing will become. Writing regularly, persevering through those times of creative emptiness pays dividends.
- Take your time, realise from the beginning that you may need to carry out several re-writes. Do not leave your story out of your hands until it is as good as you can make it.
Good luck and good writing
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
This time we're going to look at the various courses I'm offering. Loads of other writers run courses too but I can best talk about my own and what I hope the writers attending will achieve. With this in constant mind, I wrote 'Writing for Success' which is a how-to book for writers covering the Irish market.
Each course I convene is geared:
- to recognise the talent of every writer attending
- to nurture that talent
- to help that writer to realise thier writing potential.
Some people have a natural bent towards short stories - frequently students say they can't write more than, say, 2000 words but dream of writing a novel. I feel I have succeeded in my mission when they break that 2000 barrier!
Others are dubious about how to create and develop characters throughout their work, perhaps, they have no trouble with physical attributes but baulk at emotional landscaping; more writers have difficulty with plotting; then there are those who need tips on how to come up with the best locations for their action. They can and they do break through these barriers.
And that's only the fiction end of writing which covers short stories, all genres of novels and plays. We also look at writing non-fiction which through less favoured with beginner writers can be easier to get published.
My Courses are:
'The Nuts & Bolts of Writing'
Venue: UCD Carysfort Campus, Blackrock, Co Dublin
Dates: Wednesday mornings 30September - 2 December (www/ucd.ie/adulted)
'Writing Non-Fiction & Getting it Published' (Writing for Success)
Venue: Fingal Blanchardstown Library
Date: Saturday 26 September 2009
Venue: Seanachai Centre, Listowel
Dates: Friday 16, Saturday 17, Sunday 18 October 2009
'The Plot Thickens'
Venue: UCD Carysfort Campus, Blackrock, co Dublin
Dates: Wednesday mornings 27 January 2010 - 31 March 2010
'The Business of Writing'
Venue: UCD Belfield Campus, Dublin 4
Date: Saturday 27 February 2010
I hope to see you at some of these courses. In the meantime, please feel free to make contact if you've any queries.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
For writers there as many ways of writing as there are fish in the sea.
Today we're going to look at two of the most usual:
Frequently a story starts with an idea that won't go away. That rush of creativity is wonderful. Capture it. Nothing beats it. For some lucky writers that rush translates into flowing writing that continues until they can write 'end' knowing they have a job well done.
If you can't sit down to write when inspiration strikes, use bullet points, key words, anything that will help you remember when you come to write. It's amazing the number of times I've had such a great idea that I know I couldn't possibly lose it. But I have. Too often when I've come to write it, to capture it, is nothing more than an absent flitter. A most important point - never be without a notebook and pen.
For the majority of beginning writers, it's easy to falter and lose heart after the intial wonderful rush of creativity. It happens to experienced writers too. This is where it helps to 'storyboard' or to plan the content of your writing.
I subscribe to a combination of both methods.
Let me explain. To get started on a new project I need that creative rush, that belief that I've the best and most original story, the one the world is waiting for.
So when I'm beginning a new project, I make a folder called BIP - yes, you've guessed it - Book In Progress - add the month and year, so this would be BIPJuly09. I don't linger over the empty yellowness of what has to be filled with words!
Even if my story - and here I'm talking about narrative fiction - is fact based, I'm inclined to begin by writing in stream of consciousness fashion using only my instincts, taking gratefully the characters who present themselves, using the locations they chose and giving them the life they suggest.
That frequently works well for about 10,000 words, i.e., about three chapters. Then I have to rein in the exuberance of my fictional characters, put my writerly brain into action and be quite ruthless as to what is working and what is not working - that comes with experience.
I cut out what I consider is not working for the story by making a file within that yellow folder which I title SPARES and into that goes words/ideas/thoughts/mood pieces.
My reasoning for this is that I've agonised as anxiously over the words I'm jettisoning as those I've kept. I hate wastage! - I may use them in something else or I may need them later in story.
More later. Keep writing and et me know how you're getting on either by comment here or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Name Age Born Living
Occupation Marital Status Spouse Name
Children Names & Ages
Education Speech/Accent Hobbies/Interests
What Newspapers What magazines
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Now we're looking at PLOT which can be defined as "a causal sequence of events", the "why" for the things that happen in a story. The plot draws the reader into the characters' lives and helps the reader understand the choices that the characters make. A plot's structure is the way in which the story elements are arranged. There are many ways of plotting but the most efficient usage of wrtiting time is to advance plan your story:
- Storyboarding: ideally using a large whiteboard draw a circle: designate one half of the circle to plotlines. In no particular order set out possibles, eg. hero has row with heroine, death of dog, presentation goes wrong.
- Lateral: Work out in advance the sequence of what's going to happen in your story and list in order (whiteboard works well for this too)
- Cameo writing: This is where, say, you know there's going to be a murder/a wedding and you write as the humour takes you. Obviously all your 'cameos' have to be joined up, but it is a method that can help relatively inexperienced writers or those 'stuck' on a particular scene.
Next we're going to look at CHARACTERS, the emperors of fiction
Thursday, April 23, 2009
We're going to look at writing fiction. Before we start we're going to de-mystify as much as possible the writing process. Fiction is composed of:
- Plot or storyline
Your plot or storyline is what your short story, novel or play is about. You should be able to condense your plot/storyline in no more than 25 words.
Characters are the emperor of fiction writing. Chose carefully; know intimately and empathise with both their strengths and weaknesses.
Locations are the sites where you set your action. They may be as exotic or as mundane as you chose but ideally look to balance location to action - the right location can be a great enhancer.
Your exercise is to:
- decide on story
- create at least 3 characters
- chose locations
- Cameo Writing