My creative writing group…

It’s countdown until my fist meeting with the group I’m going to be leading as their creative writing tutor… They are all adults, all doing it just for fun, no exams, no other reason to write than just the pleasure of doing it. I am getting a little bit of… shall we call it first night nerves, although the class will be held during the afternoon in my house!

I wrote them a little letter:

I’m really looking forward to the first meeting of our creative writing group; we will meet at 2:15 on Monday 14th October..

Some of the group who have previously worked with Marilyn will be bringing pieces they have written on the subject of ‘Change’; if any of our new friends would like to bring some of their writing, on this or any other theme, I’m sure we would all love to share it. I suggest that much as we would enjoy hearing each other’s work, because we have limited time, we keep our contributions fairly short. I welcome suggestions of what you would like to do in these sessions; I have lots of ideas, but really would like to respond to what you want as well! Since we are a creative writing group, I suggest that to start with, maybe we could think about why we write, and who we are writing for!

If any of you have any longer pieces of work you would like me to look at or offer comment on, I shall be very happy to do so. You can email this to me, or give it to me at the meeting, and I’m always very happy to discuss and talk about writing! If you have any questions at all, or any suggestions or ideas, then please let me have them… preferably before our first meeting!

Looking forward to seeing you and happy writing,

 

So you want to write… 5!

I’m beginning to plan what I ma going to do with my first session of my own group for the creative writing class for U3A (University of the 3rd Age) As I mentioned before I am going to be sharing someone else’s class which has got too large in numbers to work successfully and for which there is a waiting list. So I have inherited three possibly four people from the awaiting list, and two and maybe three people have transferred from the other group. I am looking forward to it, but the same as every teacher, I have a slight sense of nervousness at starting with a new class!

The other class gets set a topic to write about each month and then the following session is spent listening to people reading out their stories… that to me is a creative reading group…  I don’t want to upset anyone by changing what they are used to but at the same time I do want to try and guide them to being better writers, and that can’t be done just by saying “Well done! I really enjoyed your story!” There has to be some sort of guidance and support and advice, surely? I am an experienced writer, although I have only self-published, I have written all my life, taught writing all my life, got an MA in creative writing, I really live and breathe writing… so I may be able to suggest little things, little pointers to helping others write the story they really want to write, the best they can… without any criticism of what they already do! I think it’s marvellous that anyone puts pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard and is creative so I would never dream of trying to dampen that spirit by being critical… I want to be helpful!

I also mentioned before that I will be using a course I wrote when  I was teaching young people – modified for adults of course!

Language
Some stories are wonderful to read just because of the beauty of the language.
Beautiful!
Sometimes all the main considerations outlined above are minimal, a slight plot with little action, few characters, an abstract setting, an ambiguous ending, but the power of the writing makes the story memorable and re-readable. It may take a lot of hard work and practice to be able to write a story like this but it is something every writer can aspire to.
  • Make every word count
  • Be self-critical
  • Be disciplined and be hard on yourself

Don’t be afraid to wield the editorial knife

Research…

If you decide to set your novel in an interesting or unusual place, even if you have been there yourself, you may need to do some research to add detail and to make sure your facts are correct.

Hemingford Grey… make the reader believe they have been there…

If your story is set in the past you may need to find out about how people lived in those days.

The same applies to character and plot. If your hero is an Albanian, or your heroine is an astrophysicist, you need to make sure you know something about Albania or astrophysics.

It is very easy to do research now with the vast resources of the internet. You may also like to visit your library or local museum.

Other people are a great resource; if your story is set in the recent past, interview people who were alive at that time; if your story is set in another place or country you may know someone who has lived, worked, or been there. You may be able to visit some of the places your story is set if they are local to you.

Adding extra detail adds interest for your readers; it brings your story alive and makes it more believable.

… and Observation

Observation is the easiest way to do research. Become a people watcher. Become aware of your surroundings and situation. Keep your eyes and ears open for the unusual, the intriguing, the something which might send your imagination racing. Store up what you see and hear either in your head, or in a notebook, log or diary… some people always carry one with them to jot down things which inspire them.

A famous painting by Joseph Wright of Derby… but who are these people? How are they connected? What are they thinking? What will happen next?

Endings

Readers can be very unforgiving if the end of your story is no good.

Ways to disappoint your reader:

  • Ending your story with a whimper not a bang
  • Revealing something right at the end they could not possibly have guessed or that doesn’t fit
  • ‘I woke up and it was all a dream’ (dreams in general can be a big turn off unless you are very skilled)
  • Drivelling on and on so the reader gives up through boredom
  • Not being consistent
  • Ending too soon or not soon enough
  • Not being clear

The end…

… or not!

When you come to the end of your story it is not the end for you as a writer. You have to reread it, trying to put yourself in the position of a reader who is looking at it for the first time. Very difficult!

You can do this by:

  • Reading it out loud (to someone else if you’re brave enough – in a secluded place if it embarrasses you!)
  • Writing it on a wpc not by hand and printing it out so you’re not reading it off the screen
  • Leaving it for a week and coming back to it (difficult if it’s homework)
  • Having someone else read it out loud to you
  • Having someone read it to themselves and make honest (but helpful)  comments
  • Reading it, rereading it, re-rereading it, over and over

By doing this you should see all the things that are wrong with your story and this is where the hard work begins! You want your story to be the best you can make it, rewrite, rework, cross out, delete, substitute, improve!

The end

You will get a terrific sense of satisfaction if you produce the best story you can, that you are pleased with, that you reread and think to yourself ‘Hey, that’s quite good! Hey – I’m quite good!’

 

The End (yes, really!)

Hey! I’m watching you… I’m reading you!

So you want to writer… 4!

I mentioned before, that having taught English and creative writing to young people nearly all my working life (apart from brief spells in a pickle onion factory, a shoes shop and working for a dodgy charity – I didn’t know it was dodgy at the time!) I am about to embark on teaching creative writing to adults, on a U3A course. U3A, the University of the Third Age, is a voluntary organization which has been running many years for people who wish to carry on learning through their lives, and wish to make use off their golden time in the third age!

There is a group running at present, but it is overfull and there is a waiting list, so I am going to run a second group, and today is the day I meet my potential students for the first time!

I am not sure exactly how my teaching will go when I start my own group, I want them to have an input as it is for them after all – and rather than teaching, I will be leading… a subtle difference! here is the next part of the course I wrote for my young students when I worked in a pupil referral unit:

Putting your readers on the right train….

Having arrived at the right station for catching the train through your story to your destination, the end, it is important to know who your travelling companions are.

Characters

  • The reader relies on the writer to give them information about the characters.
  • Names are important; think how old a person is as names often relate to age, an old lady is not likely to be called Beyoncé but a small child might be.
  • Be consistent; don’t change the colour of someone’s eyes for example (unless they are using contact lenses for a specific reason!)
  • Character is not just appearance, it is the personality, characteristics, habits, behaviour. Characters may need jobs or occupations, friends, family, relatives, favourite places, food, TV programmes.
  • In a longer story characters may need birthdays, they may need to take exams, go on holiday, visit an aged relative, have Christmas!
  • In a short story do not introduce too many characters. Be careful about names, do not have too many that are similar unless you do so for a very specific reason, Shane/Shawn/Shania, Carol/Carl/Carla, Chris/Chrissie/Christa.
  • Be clear in your own mind what your characters are like – make notes separate from your story to remind you, to keep your people consistent, to make them believable and rounded individuals.

Don’t get too fond of your characters!

Who are your characters, where do they live, what are their names?

Plot

This is what happens. It is the sequence of the events or actions which happen in the story, and the reasons why they happen.

The reader has to understand what goes on, why the characters behave as they do. The plot has to be believable within the world the writer has created (even if it’s an imaginary or future world, it has to seem authentic as the reader is reading.)

If you are writing a story with a twist in the tail you may have to hold back on some details. Make sure the reader isn’t frustrated or disappointed by this, don’t suddenly introduce a new character in the last few lines as the murderer; the reader will find this unsatisfying. Never ever ever end with ‘…and it was all a dream.’

It was all a blurry dream… in general steer clear of dreams in your stories!

Plot is often the main spur which gets a reader reading. Make sure the action is consistent, make sure it is believable within the framework of your story, keep the action moving (even if it is a conversation, don’t be repetitive, don’t be boring, less is sometimes more.)

Use notes to yourself (bullet points if you like) to ensure your story makes sense. If you are writing a short story don’t lose the balance by including long explanations or lots of unnecessary detail. Keep to the main and most important points of your story.

There are certain things most plots contain:

  • The Events: what happens
  • The Reasons behind the events: Why it happens
  • The Triggers to the action: How it happens
  • The Extras: information to understand the story
  • The Complications; unexpected events which change the situation
  • The Climax: the exciting bits when everything changes, the turning point
  • The Solution – how it comes to an end, the outcome

You may have to do some research.

You the writer are in charge of the reader, how you organize your story, how you bring in the different elements, controls how the reader reacts and how successful your writing is. Sometimes you have to be hard on yourself and edit your work strictly, rewriting or cutting out even your favourite parts if they do not fit or they distort the story as a whole.

Don’t be afraid to get the shears out and do some heavy pruning – you can always replant later!

So you want to write… 3!

I mentioned before that I am going to start teaching a creative writing class to adult students… well, teaching is putting it a little too forcefully, leading is the word i should use as the course is under the umbrella of U3A, the University of the Third Age, a voluntary organization helping older people continue life-long learning. Today is induction day when we teachers wait to meet new students; it will be interesting for me as there is a creative writing group already running which I will share, but any new students will come to me and we’ll start the new class new together!

I am not just plunging into it, I have a plan based on my teaching of creative writing to younger students, 15-16 year olds when I was at a pupil referral unit, a school for young people who for whatever reason couldn’t cope with normal state school. I have posted recently the first two of a series of ‘lessons’, here are my ideas for working out who is telling the story:

Narrator

This is an important aspect of your story and is often established in the opening.

So, who is telling the story?

  • Is it you? The unknown all-seeing narrator, who knows what is going on in every character’s mind and who can see it from everyone’s point of view?
  • Is it from a single character’s perspective and if so is the character a main player or an observer? Is the story told in the first person?
  • Do several characters tell the story in the first person?
  • Is the story told from several different points of view? If an incident occurs the different characters would understand different things, feel different things, maybe even see different things.

In a short story all these aspects are of vital importance in order for the reader to properly understand and see what the writer wants them to see.

A story can be told in many ways, not just as narrative. Examples of how to vary what you write could include:

  • Letters
  • Diaries
A diary?
  • Newspaper articles
  • Other documents
  • Scenes from the story as a play, TV programme, soap opera etc
  • Reports
  • Brochures, e.g. travel, local information, advertisement

Introduction or opening of your story

It is important to:

  • Give the reader a clue about what sort of story they are going to read
  • Give them an idea of where the story takes place, set the scene
  • Introducing your characters early on is important in a short story.
  • Hook the reader, they must want to read the next paragraph, the next page, the rest of the story

In your first paragraphs:

  • clues
  • settings
  • introductions
  • hooks

Setting

Where does your story take place… somewhere remote and mysterious – in time or place?

The setting is not just the physical location although that is very important. Use verbs, adjectives, similes, metaphors… all the tools which bring language alive in the readers’ mind. Use all the senses but use them with discrimination, use colour, describe sounds, perfumes, aromas. It does not have to be a long description, a few well-chosen words or phrases can trigger an image in your readers’ mind.

The setting is also when it happened. Is it now? Is it in the future? In the past? You don’t always need dates, use famous events to place your story in its time. You can use more subtle clues, for example your characters using old money, listening to a certain type of music, wearing a particular costume.

https://loiselden.com/2012/07/02/youve-decided-to-write-a-story/

https://loiselden.com/2012/07/03/you-have-an-idea-for-your-story/

 

So you want to write… 2!

I mentioned that I am going to lead a creative writing class for adults; this is part of U3A, University of the 3rd Age, an organisation which believes in life long learning and has volunteer teachers/leaders on a variety of subjects, sharing their knowledge and love of it. It is nation-wide and the subjects on offer depend on the teachers/leaders available, so I would love to do an archaeology course, but none on offer round here! I only attend one U3A course at the moment, conversational French, but my husband goes to a jazz workshop and a painting class. There are also trips organised so this week we are off to London to see the Pompeii exhibition, later we are going out on the Somerset Levels (areas of low marshes in south Somerset) for the day, and in November we are going to Portsmouth to the Historic Dockyards there… going to view the Mary Rose, the Victory and the Warrior!

I am going to be leading a creative writing group, and this will be the first time I have taught adults, so it will be interesting for me… and I hope, interesting for them too! I am using a course I wrote for my young students when I was teaching 15-16yr olds, the ages might be different but the principles of creative writing are surely the same!

Here is the second part:

The next thing to think about is….

Your readers!

Think about your audience!

For a start, who are your readers? Adults, children, teachers, friends…? Be aware of them and how they may read your story and what they may read into your story… or perhaps not understand!

Are your readers young adults?

Your audience is not watching a play, film or TV programme. They only have your words there on the page. You have to give them all the information that they will need to understand, enjoy and want to read your story. So use lots of descriptive language.

They do not want to be baffled, bored or bemused.

Decisions, decisions…

Decide on the story line or action or series of events you are going to write about, and the order in which they are to be written (you can use flashbacks and other devices to make your story more interesting, intriguing or unusual) (Think plot)

Decide on your characters, not too many of them in a short story, imagine what they are like and what they look like and how each fit into the pattern of events .Are the characters in some sort of relationship with each other? (Think people)

Decide on who is telling the story, you, a single character, several characters, a detached observer (Think point of view – think POV)

Decide where your events are taking place in terms of a physical setting and in terms of when the action happened. (Think place)

Does your story start on a deserted wintry beach… or is that where it ends?

Decide what events take place to carry the story and your readers along. (Think pace)

Remember the 4 P’s

People

Plot

POV

Place

Pace

Decide on your opening. Is there a description to set the scene? Is it an action packed beginning?

Is there a formula which will enable the reader to understand what sort of story it is, e.g., ‘Once upon a time…’

Decide on an ending which will satisfy your readers and tie up all the loose ends.

https://loiselden.com/2013/08/25/10329/

https://loiselden.com/2012/07/03/you-have-an-idea-for-your-story/

So you want to write!

I have been asked to lead a creative writing course, quite a challenge as my students will be adults. I spent many, many years teaching young people to write, and to help them be creative, and I guess there will be some issues which will be the same whatever the age, and some things which will be very different.

I have been wondering how to start… and of course it does depend to a certain extent on the expectations and aspirations of my students, but I may start off as I used to start with my young people, with the question, ‘So you want to write?’ I will probably continue in this way:

…. Have you got story to tell?
.…or do you just like writing?
….or is it homework?!!!
Writing is a craft which has to be practised and experimented with. A story has to be worked on and polished as a gem cutter might polish a precious stone, or a jeweller buff up a piece of jewellery, or a wood-carver rub beeswax into a carving. Some people are lucky enough to be able to just sit down and write but even they ‘dry up’ sometimes.  Like many creative activities writing really is 10% (or less) inspiration and 90+% perspiration. Some people like to plan their stories, some people like to let their stories unfold almost by themselves or as the characters develop. 
If you already have a story, skip the next bit!
Inspiration:
Where do stories come from? Here are some ideas:
  •  a dream or day dream
  • an observation of people in the street, on a bus, in a shop, on the beach, walking by a river…
  • people you don’t know but see arguing, kissing, ignoring each other, looking at each other, fighting, smiling secretively
Hand in hand

Hand in hand

  • an incident you observed or witnessed
  • a scrap of conversation you overheard
  • the lyric of a song
  • an experience you had
  • a strange coincidence
  • a traditional story, myth or legend which suggests a modern re-telling
  • another story you read, saw on TV or as a film, which suggests a situation, series of events, characters which you can rework to make your own

boom

  • the ‘what happened next’ of another story
  • a what if… moment
  • unexplained inspiration
  • a found photo… who are those people? how are they related, why are they there? what is the occasion? what are they really thinking? who is taking the photo?
  • something you pretended happened to you
  • something you would have liked to happen to you
  • a news item

henry

  • a picture in a gallery, museum, on a wall in a waiting room, in a newspaper or magazine
  • famous people, singers, actors, sports or TV personalities…
  • a film or a TV programme
  • a song
  • music
  • a mystery or puzzle
  • your own family or friends

img037

Any of these suggestions can trigger a story, or a combination of several of these things. Once you have your story then the hard work begins!
However you write your story, whether it is meticulously planned or whether it almost writes itself, there are some things common to all story-telling. Some things are so obvious you may not have properly considered them, some are important even if you are not aware of them at first.

https://loiselden.com/2012/07/02/youve-decided-to-write-a-story/

… and finally….

Language
Some stories are wonderful to read just because of the beauty of the language.

Beautiful!

Sometimes all the main considerations outlined above are minimal, a slight plot with little action, few characters, an abstract setting, an ambiguous ending, but the power of the writing makes the story memorable and re-readable. It may take a lot of hard work and practice to be able to write a story like this but it is something every writer can aspire to.
  • Make every word count
  • Be self-critical
  • Be disciplined and be hard on yourself

Don’t be afraid to wield the editorial knife

Research…

If you decide to set your novel in an interesting or unusual place, even if you have been there yourself, you may need to do some research to add detail and to make sure your facts are correct.

Hemingford Grey… make the reader believe they have been there…

If your story is set in the past you may need to find out about how people lived in those days.

The same applies to character and plot. If your hero is an Albanian, or your heroine is an astrophysicist, you need to make sure you know something about Albania or astrophysics.

It is very easy to do research now with the vast resources of the internet. You may also like to visit your library or local museum.

Other people are a great resource; if your story is set in the recent past, interview people who were alive at that time; if your story is set in another place or country you may know someone who has lived, worked, or been there. You may be able to visit some of the places your story is set if they are local to you.

Adding extra detail adds interest for your readers; it brings your story alive and makes it more believable.

… and Observation

Observation is the easiest way to do research. Become a people watcher. Become aware of your surroundings and situation. Keep your eyes and ears open for the unusual, the intriguing, the something which might send your imagination racing. Store up what you see and hear either in your head, or in a notebook, log or diary… some people always carry one with them to jot down things which inspire them.

A famous painting by Joseph Wright of Derby… but who are these people? How are they connected? What are they thinking? What will happen next?

Endings

Readers can be very unforgiving if the end of your story is no good.

Ways to disappoint your reader:

  • Ending your story with a whimper not a bang
  • Revealing something right at the end they could not possibly have guessed or that doesn’t fit
  • ‘I woke up and it was all a dream’ (dreams in general can be a big turn off unless you are very skilled)
  • Drivelling on and on so the reader gives up through boredom
  • Not being consistent
  • Ending too soon or not soon enough
  • Not being clear

The end…

… or not!

When you come to the end of your story it is not the end for you as a writer. You have to reread it, trying to put yourself in the position of a reader who is looking at it for the first time. Very difficult!

You can do this by:

  • Reading it out loud (to someone else if you’re brave enough – in a secluded place if it embarrasses you!)
  • Writing it on a wpc not by hand and printing it out so you’re not reading it off the screen
  • Leaving it for a week and coming back to it (difficult if it’s homework)
  • Having someone else read it out loud to you
  • Having someone read it to themselves and make honest (but helpful)  comments
  • Reading it, rereading it, re-rereading it, over and over

By doing this you should see all the things that are wrong with your story and this is where the hard work begins! You want your story to be the best you can make it, rewrite, rework, cross out, delete, substitute, improve!

The end

You will get a terrific sense of satisfaction if you produce the best story you can, that you are pleased with, that you reread and think to yourself ‘Hey, that’s quite good! Hey – I’m quite good!’

 

The End (yes, really!)

Hey! I’m watching you… I’ m reading you!