I also jotted down some ideas for short stories and I’m going to share them with you because I know that we’d all produce completely different tales (& submit them to different places) from the same initial prompt.
We stayed in Little Lilac Cottage - a tiny 350-year-old dwelling with a king-sized brass bed, a Victorian rolled top bath and open beams on the ceiling. Reading through the guest book I tried to imagine all the other visitors to this romantic cottage, why they came and whether the holiday lived up to expectations:
- Honeymooners – young or old? first or subsequent marriage?
- A couple having an affair – unused to spending so much time together, will they still get on or will guilt take over?
- A holiday to save a marriage – away from it all, can they get their relationship back on track or will it go up in flames?
- First holiday for years without the children – do the couple still have anything in common?
We did plenty of walking and one day came across a set of intertwined initials carved into a tree by a waterfall:
- Who carved them and why?
- What happens when one or both of them come back to revisit the carving?
There’s also plenty of scope for stories with a historical setting:
- Think of all the people who were born and died in our cottage
- A local told us that the last ‘ordinary’ people to live in our cottage brought up 3 boys there – how? The house was barely big enough for the 2 of us!
- The old coffin route from Edale to Castleton. At one time there was no consecrated ground in Edale and all the dead had to be brought over the hill to the church in Castleton
And that final point brings me to my poem – poetry connoisseurs please look away now. The rest of you can blame Julia, Susan and Alison, who all asked to see it after my post about the poetry writing workshop I attended in Castleton.
A Coffin Route Farewell
My baby, wrapped in sacking and loaded on a mule
a tiny corpse under a pauper’s shroud.
My baby, born mute, motionless and far too early
now travels the path toward Castleton.
My baby, cast out from home to ride with a stranger
in search of consecrated land.
Exhausted from birthing I never even held you.
They snatched you away without time for farewell.
My baby, you never shed a tear but my eyes will never be dry again.
Those of you with a Kindle might be interested to know that there’s currently a range of books about writing, available for free (yes, £0.00) on Amazon.
- The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron
This book has the subtitle ‘How to Develop Great Ideas for Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry and Screenplays’. Heffron has been a professional editor for more than 15 years, has published many short stories in literary journals and won awards for his writing. Apologies, (this is embarrassing) but I’ve just been informed that this book is no longer free (thanks, Shirley!) but I’ve left the details here just in case the price is removed again (fingers crossed)
- The Author’s Craft by Arnold Bennett.
‘Arnold Bennett writes in a very amusing and accessible style in this short manual of advice for authors which will be useful even to today’s writers,’ says a review.
- Write Good or Die edited by the thriller writer Scott Nicholson.
This is subtitled ‘Survival Tips for the 21st Century’. One reviewer said, ‘It’s a gem of a book, not least because I came away from reading this with the thought that if the writers within this book can do it? Why can’t I?’.
I haven’t had chance to read any of these myself yet so can’t give a personal recommendation but I have just downloaded The Writer’s Idea Book in the hope of finding some inspiration. By the way, free books do tend to come and go on Amazon – so if you’re interested in any of these it’s probably worth getting them sooner rather than later.
Many thanks to Philip Mallinson whose post on Writing Magazine’s Talkback Forum alerted me to these books.
In the last week I’ve come across a couple of quotes posted on Facebook about writing and I thought you might like them as much as I did.
This one, posted by Marilyn Rodwell, made me feel inspired – hope it does the same for you!
How do you make the people in your fiction (longer fiction especially) well-rounded, believable individuals that the reader might care about?
In short stories it isn’t always necessary to know all the details about a character, for example it may be enough to know that the heroine is a grandmother and not her exact age or her previous profession (if any). But when attempting to write something longer, facts like these become important so that the writer can concoct a suitable back story for the lady, so it may be useful to know in what decade she was a teenager, at what age she left full-time education and whether or not she became a working mother. The life which the grandmother lived before the novel opens will have a bearing on how she acts and reacts within the story – so both the author and the reader need to know what went before.
Some writers advocate filling in a questionnaire about each character, covering physical appearance, hobbies, education etc (a sample questionnaire can be found on Stewart Ferris’ website here). This is a useful way of keeping track of facts such as eye colour and height (easy things to forget as you get deeper into the plot).
However, I find it very hard to just jot down a sentence or two about the big things such as a character’s personality, attitude to life and motivation. In order to get know a protagonist I have to start writing scenes from his or her point of view. It’s only as I write that I realise what I don’t know about a character and therefore what I need to put into their back story to make them act in a certain way in the present. This means I don’t do much planning before I write because I have to write in order to create the characters.
Some writers cut pictures from magazines and use these as prompts for their characters. But this only covers their physical appearance – so I’m not sure it would help me.
Nicola Morgan advocates interviewing your main character (her list of suggested questions is here and they are pretty searching!) Most of these I couldn’t have answered when I initially decided on the people I needed in my story but now I’ve written a bit from each point of view I’m going to pretend I’m a chat show host and start asking questions.
What about you – how do you develop your characters?
Chapter 2 deals with targeting the right sort of competitions to increase your chances of success. Iain and Alison advise a few ways of doing this:
- Forget the big internationals and concentrate on small competitions that will attract fewer entrants. Not many of us are likely to get anywhere in something like the Bridport but we might stand a chance of being placed in a local writing competition. I would much rather win a book token in a small competition than see my entry disappear into the black hole of well-publicised literary contest.
- Choose a competition with a difficult theme – this will put many entrants off because it’s too much of a challenge and a previously written story can’t be recycled to fit the subject. Competitions with an open theme attract the most entrants.
- Try competitions where entry is limited by the rules – for example competitions restricted to unpublished writers or to writers of a certain age or to those living in a specified area
Iain and Alison also advise targeting contests where the entry fee is high compared to the prize fund. This is because we are all naturally mean and therefore the number of entrants will be low. I’m afraid my own natural meanness won’t let me endorse this advice but I can see that there is logic in this method of choosing where to send your work. So if you’re not as tight with money as me, you might want to try it.
And speaking of relatively small competitions (& I don’t mean that in a derogatory way), Bev Morley is running a short story competition on the theme of ‘Christmas’ via her blog. First, second and third prizes are £50, £25 and £10 respectively plus publication in a Kindle anthology, up to 12 further stories will also be included in the anthology. The word limit is 3,000 and closing date 30th September. Entry by email only and the fee is £3. Full details are here.
‘Writing Competitions – the way to win’ is worth a read if you want to increase your chances of success in competitions.
The launch issue of Work Your Way Magazine dropped through my letter box recently. It’s a quarterly magazine aimed at freelance, self-employed and entrepreneurial mums – categories that lots of us writers fall into.
In her first ‘Letter from the Editor’, Mary Cummings describes the magazine as a ‘celebration of all you fabulous mums who have split the nine to five office scene and are now working from home’.
Mary has used a variety of freelance contributors (I know because I am one!) to source the wide range of features in the magazine. The areas covered include:
- Family - features on Raising Confident Kids, Parenting a Child with Special Needs and A Day in the Life of a Freelance Mum
- Work - features on Coaching To Help You Move Forward, Good Customer Care and an interview with Carol Savage of mydish.co.uk, who secured a £100,000 investment from Deborah Meaden on Dragon’s Den
- Top Tips - features on How Much Should I Charge?, Blog for Business (that’s me!) and Cash in Your Bookcase
- Health and Well-being – features on A Good Night’s Sleep, What to Avoid When Working from Home and Yoga
Work Your Way features in Writing Magazine this month (October 2011 issue) as a case study for Elaine Everest’s article How to Set Up a Start-up. In it Mary describes how she got the magazine off the ground.
If you fancy getting your hands on a copy of Work Your Way and picking up some useful information about the freelance life, visit the website for details of how to subscribe.
I had my bike ride – it was across the Golden Gate Bridge & I had my icecream – in the heart of San Francisco. (Apologies for the white lie about my holiday but I’m currently wrangling with my car insurance over the theft of my car a few weeks ago and it made me feel vulnerable about announcing to the world that the house would be empty.)
Amongst many other things we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It contains a video installation that explores the art of story telling ‘without a beginning or an end and with no character or plot development’. I’m sure if we tried this as writers our work would be swiftly rejected. Maybe it’s different in the art world…
I also bought a copy of the US writing magazine ‘Writer’s Digest’. It seemed quite thin compared to our own Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum but there are a few things of interest on its website:
- A series of writing prompts – responses of up to 500 words can be posted on the site or you could just use them to kick-start your own writing
- Various competitions such as one here for a 1500 word story.
- Writing Tips
- Writing articles cargorised by genre such as Romance, Horror, Memoir etc.
So, if you fancy an insight into the US writing scene, take a look at the site.
This post is being brought to you in association with Sally Quilford’s 48th Birthday Celebrations on August 11th 2011.
Many of us whinge that we don’t have enough time to write. Home and work commitments are always getting in the way -I use this as an excuse for my lack of writing as much as anyone. So, here is a 7 day plan that involves writing for just 48 minutes per day and by the end of it you should have a short article all ready to go.
- Day 1 – visit a large newsagent and spend 48 minutes finding your market. Look for a magazine that covers something you know at least little about (i.e. write what you know so that the research isn’t too onerous). Check out the list of staff in the front of the magazine and compare to the ‘by’ lines on each article in order to check how much is written in-house and much is freelance provided. Buy the magazine you think you could write something for. (N.B. In a perfect world you would buy 2 or 3 issues of the magazine over a number of weeks/months in order to get a feel for which articles are regular columns and which are the one-off freelance features that we are aiming at) .
- Day 2 - make yourself a cup of coffee and sit down with a large sheet of paper. Set a timer for 48 minutes and then brainstorm! Dream up as many article ideas as possible for your chosen publication. For example, if you’ve chosen a dog magazine then your list could include ‘How to Choose a Dog Walker’, ’10 Tips for Taking Your Dog on Holiday’ or ‘Famous People and their Dogs’.
- Day 3 - choose which of the articles shows the most promise and spend 48 minutes writing an outline. Include an introduction (not too long – get straight to the point of the article), each point that you want to make and a conclusion.
- Day 4 - pitch the idea, via email, to the editor of the magazine. If you want some help on how to put together the perfect pitch have a look at Simon Whaley’s article here.
- Day 5 - start writing the article. If you don’t want to stop after 48 minutes that’s fine – keep going whilst the enthusiasm is high! Hopefully by now you’ll have stopped looking for displacement activities like cleaning out the kitchen cupboards.
- Day 6 - finish writing the article. Then find someone to read it aloud to – this will help you spot clumsy sentences, missing words, bad grammar etc. (this bit can be in addition to the 48 minutes since it can involve the rest of the family and therefore isn’t strictly ‘writing time’).
- Day 7 - spend the last 48 minutes having a final read through the article and then, submit !
For the purposes of simplicity I have assumed that the above activities will take place on 7 consecutive days. In reality there will probably be a gap between days 4 and 5 whilst you wait for a response to your pitch (fill this gap by starting work on a second idea). It might also be wise to leave a gap between days 6 and 7 so that you can re-read the article with fresh eyes before sending it off.
That just leaves me to wish Sally a ‘Happy 48th Birthday’ and thank her for the challenge to write a blog post based on ’48′.