Archive | February 2013

Beginnings…Start That Novel Part 3

Oooh, get me! For once I’m not leaving my Start That Novel write up till Sunday night. Mind you, before I get too cocky, I haven’t done my homework for this week yet…

So, we met on Monday evening to learn more about opening paragraphs and first chapters. We took it in turns to read from the beginning of several novels: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, The Bell Jar by Syliva Plath, Before I go to Sleep by S.J Watson, One Day by David Nicholls and Life Class by Pat Barker.

We thought about whether the opening paragraphs involved tension, whether they set the mood of the novel and whether they had a hook. We concluded that whilst it isn’t strictly necessary to include all these things at the beginning of a novel, it definitely helps. Incidentally, we felt that the opening paragraph of One Day was a little weak and not particularly engaging, and those of us who had actually read the whole thing had to convince everyone else that it turns into a very, very good read!

We then had a go at writing our own opening paragraphs and shared them afterwards. Reading your own work out loud is an acquired taste… it  gets easier to digest with practice! But I have to say that our group are all really helpful and supportive of each other’s work. Plus, it’s really interesting to hear all the wonderful, imaginative and moving ideas as they fly around the room.

Next, Rosie set us an exercise which allowed us to get to know our main characters and really think about how they contribute to our novel. In pairs, we asked ourselves, ‘what makes people want to read about our characters?’ and thought about why we, as writers, feel the need to write about them. We also thought about character’s secret wishes and whether anyone or anything might try and prevent them from fulfilling them.

I came to the conclusion that my character is something of a ‘female Peter Pan’ as she’s a twelve year old child, who’s very resistant to growing up… Anyone who knows me personally, or has followed my blog for a while, will know that I’m very much a big kid myself, as this photo shows:

Me at Disney Land Paris, looking cold!

Me at DisneyLand Paris, looking cold!

It would seem, it’s a good thing, I want to write for children!

Oh, and in other news, I’ve booked my place at the fabulous Writers’ Holiday in Caerleon, which takes place this July.  I’m so excited to be going again! This year, there’s a Writing for Children course, run by successful writer, Anita Loughrey – needless to say, I’ve booked myself on that! This is the last time they’re holding it at Caerleon and, having only recently discovered it, I feel quite sad. It’s moving to a hotel in Fishguard next year though, which, I’m told is also a wonderful venue. Let me know if you’re going too 🙂

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This entry was posted on February 22, 2013. 4 Comments

Old Habits… (and Part 2 of the Start That Novel Course)

At school I was a terror for leaving all my weekend homework till Sunday afternoon. Even now, I can really remember that looming dread which would start to build up after lunchtime… It would seem, some fifteen years later, that some habits never go away, as today is Sunday, and I’ve only just got round to doing my homework for the Greenacre Writer’s Start That Novel course, in time for tomorrow evening.

Now, this was nice homework, and not of the physics and algebra variety that I hated so much as a kid, yet I still left it till the last minute. Sometimes I wonder how I’ve ever managed to complete a piece of writing given my tendency to always put things off, yet, as with all writing related tasks, once I get into them, I hugely enjoy doing them.

Rosie, who leads the class asked us to look at as many novels at home as possible and write out the first sentance of the narrative. The books I chose are here:

More Books

If you notice that a lot of them are for children and involve magic, that’s because this is the type of book I want to write. (Having said that, Affinity is definitely not for children, but is pretty other worldly). This was a very intersting task and certainly made me think about the importance of that first sentance – it has to grab the reader and hook them in immediately. How many of us pick up a book in the bookshop, then glance at the first few lines to see if it appeals? That first line has to be a winner, or we might as well not bother writing the rest of the story… I’m now not sure at all about the first line of my current W.I.P, but hopefully tomorrow’s session will help me make it the best it can possibly be.

During last week’s session, we thought about the planning of our novels and, most importantly, the point of entry we choose for the story’s beginning. Rosie told us about the ‘inciting incident’, which can be described as ‘an event that radically upsets the balance of your character.’ It might ignite the character’s desire or force them to take action in the pursuit of a goal. This gets our stories started and should also hook in the reader, so they want to know what happens next.

Rosie also encouraged us to get to know our characters and their worlds better and with the help of plain paper and pens, we drew maps of the worlds our character’s live in and then thought about how they respond and react to their surroundings. I found this to be a really useful excerise. I’ve been imagining my main character’s world for some time now, but to see a visual representation of it was really inspiring. However, a degree of imagination is definitely still required, as speaking of old habits, this excercise also made me realise that I still draw people, houses, trees, dogs and cars in exactly the same way as I did when I was about six years old (and as for the dragon, I can’t even tell you what it looked like…). Suddenly my school days don’t seem so long ago after all…

Thank you, Rosie and everyone in the group. Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow 🙂

This entry was posted on February 17, 2013. 2 Comments

Losing the Plot (and it all being okay…)

Me and my husband at Cape Reinga, New Zealand a few years ago. We're not lost exactly... but the photo seems to work...

Me and my husband at Cape Reinga, New Zealand a few years ago. We weren’t lost exactly… but the photo seems to work…

Last week I went to the first session of the ‘Start That Novel’ writing class. It’s run by Greenacre Writers, a lovely and active group of writers based in North London. Our first class was led by Josie O’ Pearse, a successful author of two and soon to be three novels, and focused on plot. I thought it might be useful to share a few of the main points from the evening. I gained a huge amount from Josie’s workshop, and hope you’ll find the thoughts interesting too.

What’s in a Name?

Josie started us off with a quick warm up where we had to explain how we were given our names. I don’t have a particularly interesting story around mine – my parents liked the name Alice! There were, however some wonderful stories around the room about how names were given, and it really made me think about how much easier it is to remember someone’s name when you know the story behind it. It’s always worth thinking about our character’s names and why we’ve chosen them, and where relevant weave that into the story too.

Next, we talked about plot and did various excercises around this. One thing that really jumped out at me was the very stark difference between a plot and a plan. I think I’d previously seen them as one in the same… Josie explained to us, using the words of writer, Andre Jute that the plot is ‘merely a sequence of events selected to convey the message of your story.’ So, that would mean ‘losing the plot’ is, in a sense, losing the meaning of what we want our story to say.

And, we certainly don’t want to lose the plot, don’t we? Josie told us that writers Ernest Hemingway and John Braine shared at least one thing in common in that they always left deciding on the plot of their novels until after they’d completed the first draft. My first question was, but how can I write a novel, if I don’t know the plot? But, here is where the difference between plot and plan comes in – we can know the setting, the characters and what we want to happen in our novel before we start writing it – that’s the plan. But, we can also leave deciding on the message behind what we want to say until after the first draft is written, then alter the sequence of events accordingly – that’s the plot.

As a group we concluded that this new knowledge enables us to start our novels with a lot more freedom, because if we feel like we’re losing the plot… it doesn’t really matter so very much. And, as getting lost and therefore stuck are such common issues with writing a first novel – this information is really very useful!

Small Successes

In other news, I’ve had three pieces of encouraging news in the past week or so. It’s all very pleasing though can’t say I’m cracking open the champagne just yet…

1. I came 6th again in last week’s Write Invite competition. I’m delighted to finish up in the top ten for the second time, and hope with practice to do even better.

2. I made the short list in the Fourth Quarter of the 2012 Flash 500 competition. This is a really popular and competitive competition and having entered it before and not been listed at all, I’m so thrilled to have had a mention.

3. A story I sent to the People’s Friend came back unwanted, but an editor did write me a long and helpful letter with some constructive feedback and points to remember for next time. She said they would love to read more of my stories. I’m really happy to have had this encouragement – it’s the furthest I’ve ever got with the People’s Friend, though of course, I hope I can step up my game and nail something they can accept in the very near future…

This entry was posted on February 10, 2013. 2 Comments