A WONKY PILE OF BOOKS

I bet you’ve got a pile of books waiting for your attention, wonky or otherwise!

As writers we know we ought to read, read, read, as widely and diversely as possible.

This way we absorb lots of information about how good writers captivate their audience. I’ve just finished ‘A Game for all the Family’ by Sophie Hannah – a psychological thriller which had me riveted and guessing throughout. Looking back, I learnt a lot about creating tension, and I liked the author’s ‘voice’, her use of language, and her choice of phrases.

As writers we never stop learning. I recently discovered Joanna Penn and her website https://www.thecreativepenn.com/ 

Joanna is a successful writer with a passion for helping other writers. She offers a free resources, including a download packed with advice. Well worth seeking her out.

You might like this book, too, which I discovered some time ago. ‘Reading like a Writer’, by Francine Prose is subtitled ‘A guide for those who love books and for those who want to write them.’  The author sets out to give the reader a study of how a writer makes things work – words, sentences, paragraphs, etcetera. She taught me how to read critically; how to learn from everything I read.

So… Happy reading!

I’d love to know which websites and books you’ve found useful as a writer.

Frog: (After much thought)

In my opinion, this is the best book ever.

 

 

START SMALL. THINK BIG

 

Let’s think about anecdotes, and how they can earn you some money.

 

HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE AN ANECDOTE?

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/anecdote says it’s

‘A short amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person’

or ‘an account regarded as unreliable or hearsay.’

 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anecdote says it’s

‘An unusually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident.’

These two definitions highlight the fact that an anecdote tells of something that actually happened, (even if the recalling is unreliable or turns into mere hearsay) and it concerns a person who really exists, or existed.

I went to Wikipedia, where I found this:

‘An anecdote is a brief, revealing account of an individual person or an incident. Often humorous, anecdotes differ from jokes because their primary purpose is not simply to provoke laughter, but to reveal a truth more general than the brief tale itself, such as to characterize a person by delineating a specific quirk or trait, to communicate an abstract idea about a person, place, or thing through the concrete details of a short narrative.

An anecdote is “a story with a point.”

We all recount anecdotes frequently, don’t we? In a café, the pub, with family and friends round the dinner table. We tell how we managed to be late when we set off so early; how someone tripped over a piece of broccoli in the supermarket and lost their sunglasses under the freezer cabinet; how the baby of the family kept asking, ‘What’s that man doing?’ until one day…

Amusing or hilarious incidents can earn you money. Magazines are always looking for stories and letters to entertain their readers. I’ve had a couple of anecdotes in Reader’s Digest in the section You couldn’t make it up. The editor is on the look-out for end-of-article fillers, funny stories, and more. There is usually a letters page in a magazine, and the star letter may be offered a reward. Check out some magazines. Invest in a couple of copies, and see the kind of thing they’re looking for. Then go for it.

Maggie Cobbett, a writer from Ripon in Yorkshire, has had a lot of success writing very short pieces for magazines. She’s also shared her know-how in her book, ‘Easy money for writers and wannabes.’ Great ideas. Good advice.

Why not experiment with a few anecdotes of your own? Then take the plunge, and send one or two off.

         

                         Frog: (jauntily)

Anecdotes? When do we start?

 
        

 

WISH YOU WERE HERE

There’s something about August that makes me feel wistful. Summer starts to wind down. Elderberries are darkening, apples swelling, and if we’re lucky there’s a glut of runner beans. For writers, it’s a useful time to think of ways in which we can improve our skills and seek to become the most successful writer in our house, then in our street, then in…, well, you name it.
Maybe you’re at the stage of not knowing which genre you’d like to concentrate on. That’s OK. Try poetry, or playwriting; a fantasy or ghost story; an article for your favourite magazine. At this stage, no-one has to see your work except you, and, with a bit of polishing, it might be good enough to send off somewhere. A competition, perhaps, or the editor of a magazine.

WHY NOT TAKE A FREE COURSE?

www.futurelearn.com  offers FREE courses for writers. Do either of these grab you?

AN INTRODUCTION TO SCREENWRITING, lead by UEA (University of East Anglia) begins on 11th September, and runs for 2 weeks.

START WRITING FICTION, lead by the Open University, begins on 25th September, and runs for 8 weeks. I gave  this one a test-drive a few years ago, and found it interesting, challenging, and do-able.

PERHAPS YOU’D CONSIDER A COURSE YOU PAY FOR?

Writing Magazine offers its own courses, and there are often others advertised within its pages.
If you Google ‘writing courses’, or ‘courses for writers’, you’ll find a wealth of options. (You’ll be spoilt for choice, actually!)

WHY NOT PLAN TO GO ON A WRITING HOLIDAY?

I’m heading off to the Swanwick Writers Summer School this month. It offers a fantastic week of courses and entertainment for ALL writers, from beginners to the multi-published, multi-talented. You can do as much or as little as you wish, and you can decide on the day which course to join. There are ‘ambassadors’ to look out for newbies (they know who you are, because you’ll be wearing a white badge).
Successful writer and creative writing tutor Della Galton has some good advice about choosing a writing holiday on her blog.
www.dellagalton.co.uk/?page_id=28
There are other writing holidays which I can speak of only by reputation. These include the Skyros Writers Lab at www.skyros.com/holiday-experiences/writing-holiday/  (greatly praised by the Guardian), and the holiday at the Fishguard Bay Hotel, with excellent teaching. www.writersholiday.net/

WHY NOT FIND A WEBSITE OR BLOG OFFERING TIPS AND HELP?

Writers Vanda Inman and Linda Lewis have recently launched their new website www.vnlwritespace.com. They’re offering tips, advice, courses, critiques and competitions. To get the site off to a flying start, there’s a free to enter competition.
It involves writing a 500 words story about a photograph on their competitions page, reproduced above.
Go to www.vnlwritespace.com/competitions for more information.
Frog: (Hopping up and down)
I’m ready to try a frog blog. Trouble is, I’m the only frog I know who can read.

ALWAYS SOMETHING TO LEARN

Competition in the writing world is fierce, but don’t let that put you off. We all start somewhere, not just with hopes and dreams, but with goals and determination.

Tracy Fells has all those things. Several months ago she entered the Commonwealth short story prize for 2017. The organisers received almost 6000 entries from 49 Commonwealth countries. Tracy Fells won the section for writers from the Europe and Canada. It’s a terrific achievement to be awarded such a prestigious prize. Along with winners from the four other regions, namely Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, was transported to Singapore for the prizewinning ceremony on 30th June.

After a nail-bitingly tense evening, the overall winner was announced – it’s Ingrid Persaud representing Trinidad and Tobago. Tracy’s comment was, ‘A wonderful story from a talented and lovely writer.’

All Tracy’s friends are sorry she didn’t win the overall prize, but think she’s done fantastically well to be the winner of the Europe and Canada section of the competition.

Before she left for Singapore, I wanted to ask Tracy for her advice, and I found exactly what I was looking for on an excellent website that I’ve only recently discovered. It’s www.theshortstory.co.uk –– excellent because it’s written with enthusiasm and practical help. Founder Rupert Dastur includes a whole section where you can access some of the most universally acclaimed short stories in print. That represents a feast of education for everyone who would like to write a stunning short story. Why not take a look?

ADVICE FROM TRACY FELLS

(Quoted with permission from Rupert Dastur and Tracy Fells)

What are the three most important considerations when writing a short story?

Narrative arc: I’m a traditionalist and believe a short story must have a complete story arc. The reader must feel a sense of satisfaction at the end of the story. If a question/hook is set up in the opening then it must be answered before the story’s concluded.

Theme: I also believe a really good short story has a theme. A good tip is to define the premise of your story in one sentence. What is it really about?

Character(s): A brilliant plot idea or storyline is nothing without believable characters. You don’t always have to like them but the reader must care what happens to them, otherwise why bother? A truly memorable short story lingers long after reading, but what actually sticks in your mind is the character or the character’s voice not the plot.

*****

You can read the whole interview at

www.theshortstory.co.uk/the-short-story-interview-tracy-fells

Find out more about Tracy Fells at tracyfells.blogspot.com/

Read Tracy’s winning story at https://granta.com/the-naming-of-moths PS If you don’t know anything about a golem, it’s a good idea investigate on Wikipedia first.

 

Frog: (Hopefully)

I think The Naming of Frogs would be a fantastic title for a story, don’t you?

 

 

SITTING IN A DRAUGHT

What people say, and the way they say it, can tell us a lot about their personalities.

For example:

Freddy is cheerful and exuberant.

Digby thinks the world owes him a living.

Jemma is rather bossy, but you can’t help liking her.

Tammy is very shy. 

They’re all friends. They’ve known each other a long time. Let’s say they’re in a café, and someone opens a window next to them, without asking whether they mind, and an unpleasant draught swirls around them.

How would each character react? What would they do and say?

Who would prefer to shiver and not make a fuss?

Who would actually get the person to close the window with good grace?

Try this:

Can you think of ten ways in which different people could ask for a window (or door) to be shut? What is it that makes people polite, jokey, or downright rude? Are they always rather aggressive, or having a bad day?

REMEMBER:

When you put your characters under pressure, you have to think about how they will react. Another thing… once you’ve created them, don’t expect them to do exactly as they’re told!

 

Frog: (staring resolutely ahead)

It’s true. I never do as I’m told!

 

SETTING SAIL ON A BUS

Dan wants to write a story.

He’s not at all sure where to start. It’s as if he’s standing at the bus station, and there are so many intriguing destinations, but he can’t focus his attention long enough to buy a ticket and ride.

INSPIRATION FOR DAN

Choose a competition to enter, such as

The 2017 WoW! One thousand word story competition 

The nice thing for beginners is that the competition judges here will accept stories between 950 and 1050 words long.

The prizes are attractive.

First Prize – £200  Second Prize – £100  Third Prize – £50

The entrance fee is reasonable: £5

Closing date: 30th June

Now there’s the question of writing the story. Feel as if you’re about to face the impossibility of setting sail on a bus? Read on.

  • Create a character.

    Observe people on the tube, the bus, the ferry, at work, at church, at your exercise class. Anywhere and everywhere. Choose one. Change their name and appearance so that they are completely unrecognisable.

  • Give your character a problem.

    For example, someone from your character’s past calls at their door  – for revenge? For forgiveness? Seeking help? Is this person genuine? Or simply after their recent lottery win?

  • Brainstorm how you could solve the problem.

  • Begin the story as far into the plot as you dare….

…….and then just keep on writing.

 

Frog: (whispering)

Little guy hiding from BIG GUY. And then……

Just trying out an idea, that’s all.

 

WRITER’S BLOCK

We were talking at the Plymouth Christian Writers’ Group about writer’s block.

We came to the conclusion that for a lot of people the main problem isn’t that we can’t write. What causes us anguish is finding a good idea in the first place, or, for that matter, any idea at all. So we came up with a few ideas to help us ferret out inspiration. Here they are.

Keep a notebook and record your observations.

Collect characters, mannerisms, facial expressions. How do people express themselves through body language? Watch animals and birds. Seagulls and cats are particularly fascinating.

When you have a selection of characters assembled between the pages of your notebook, choose one at random, and give him/her a challenge or problem. Then help to solve or frustrate it!

Writing prompts.

One of the writers in our group had bought himself a small book of writing prompts, and we tried one which he selected at random. It was this:

Your mother-in-law has written to say she’s decided to move in with you. Write an email to tell her it’s impossible.

The replies were highly imaginative, and had us all laughing.  

The challenge of the character and the problem might bring out the best or the worst in your character. Or a combination of both. 

Scour the newspaper.

Stories can be adapted beyond recognition. If you want good news stories, look in the i every day. Turn to page 3 for a positive story that lifts the spirits.  

Make a list of themes which could become the basis for a story, for example, jealousy, betrayal, rage, shame, loneliness, sorrow, peace, justice, mercy, patience, kindness. Keep adding to the list as you think of more. 

Pick one from your list and brainstorm as many ideas as you can. Choose one idea and write something, anything, even if it has to be shredded afterwards.  

Alternative diagnosis!

Writers’ block may be plot block after all. (Trust me – I know a lot about this one!)

What do you think?

Frog: (shrugging sadly):

I’m not very good at thinking at the moment.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Naming your characters can be challenging, fun, or a problem.

Is your hero a Keith? A George perhaps? Or maybe a Dave?

Would Lily suit your heroine? Or Rosemary. What about Daisy?

How do you go about the task of finding a suitable name?

I have a book of baby names I picked up at a church fete. Creased, the pages bearing a lightly toasted look, it was published in 1993, but has proved invaluable for helping me decide on the names of my characters.

I often rehearse different names before deciding. It’s a funny thing, but sometimes my characters seem to hear me trying out a Maud or an Ethel, and either smile, or mutter in disbelief. ‘How could you even think that,’ say the polite ones, or, ‘Not flippin’ likely,’ mutter the more outspoken.

Writing in the i on 28th February, Tom Bawden reported some interesting research published in the Journal of Personality and Psychology.

This is what he says:

‘Social expectations of what a name tells us about a person are so strong that people subconsciously evolve their faces over time to fit that image, a new study claims. And the researchers claim the effect is such that we are frequently able to correctly guess other people’s names simply by looking at their faces.’

The study was led by Dr Ruth Mayo, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. ‘Scientists conducted a series of experiments in Israel and France in which hundreds of people were shown a photograph and given a list of four or five names to choose from.

They chose correctly between 25 and 40 per cent of the time, depending on the experiment, compared to 20 to 25 per cent if they had picked the name randomly.’

The newspaper printed photos of nine people who work for the i and gave the reader a choice of 3 names for each one. The correct names were published the next day. On the results we had, my husband and I fell into the 25 to 40 per cent correct bracket. Luck? Perhaps.

Interesting nevertheless.

It does, however, suggest why I can’t get used to the names Mabel and Agatha for two modern babies I know. Mabel is the kind old lady my own mother visited in the nineteen fifties, and Agatha is definitely a rather haughty great aunt! Fictitious, I might add!

I think what I’m trying to say is…

Choose the names of your characters carefully. People may approach your Tom, Dick, or Harry with preconceived expectations.

There again, you could prove them all wrong!

 

FROG: (Putting me in my place)

A REAL name? You mean like Charlie, or Cedric, or Harry?

No, no. They wouldn’t suit me at all.

And neither would Greeny or Hoppy! Whatever next?

My name is Frog!

 

FEBRUARY CHECKPOINT

REVISITING OUR GOALS

My January blog was about setting goals for ourselves as writers. So…

Repeat after me:

This is the year I learn to write better than I’ve ever written before. 

It’s time to review our writing goals.  

Can we identify something we achieved during January, and perhaps something we didn’t do very well? What are we going to do about it?

Maybe some of our goals need adjusting.  After all we have to remain in the realms of the possible, the achievable.

Let’s make the time to reassess our targets, breaking them into manageable pieces, because…

This is the year I learn to write better than I’ve ever written before.

FOR BUDDING WRITERS

If one of your goals is to enter a creative writing competition, you might like these:

Writers and Artists Yearbook

Prize: An Arvon course of your choice

A story in no more than 2000 words

No set theme

FREE TO ENTER

Closing Date: Monday 13th February

https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/competitions

Writing Magazine

Haiku

No theme

Entry fee £5 , £3 for subscribers to Writing Magazine

Closing date: 15th March

https://www.writers-online.co.uk/writing-competitions/open-competitions/

Binsted Arts Festival Poetry Competition

Original unpublished poems

Theme: Harvest

Entry fee £5 for first poem, £3 for each subsequent poem

NB Entries need to be posted for this one.

http://www.binsted.org/poetry-comp-17

 

 

Frog: (determinedly)

I just said my goal was to build my confidence.

So, who thought this might help?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LAUNCHING THE ONE AND ONLY 2017

LET’S MAKE THIS THE YEAR WE LEARN TO WRITE BETTER THAN WE’VE EVER WRITTEN  BEFORE.

How do we do it?

  • We set goals.

YES!  Behind every successful person there is a set of goals.

All you need to know about setting goals can be found at

https://michaelhyatt.com/goal-setting.html

  • We write our goals down.

There’s a very good do-it-yourself goal-setting chart at

https://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/SMARTgoalsWS-NN.pdf

  • We break our goals into manageable pieces.

  • We review our goals regularly.

AND…

  • If things go badly, we learn from experience and we give ourselves another chance.

Frog: (With a little trepidation)

You’re going to tell me to go for it, aren’t you?

Taking the plunge wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, you know.