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So where do you keep all those jottings you produce about the experiences that lend meaning to your existence? And where do you record all those interesting little details you observe on your way through life and which may contribute to your writing some day in the most unexpected and original ways? A personal journal ? A writers’ notebook?

Which of the following would you deposit where?

  1. Observations
  2. Overheard Conversations
  3. Lists
  4. Longings
  5. Musical notes
  6. Letter drafts
  7. Names for characters
  8. Useful quotations from your readings
  9. Unsaid responses to someone
  10. Story idea
  11. Memories
  12. Dreams
  13. A poem
  14. A fantasy conversation (dialogue)
  15. Titles
  16. Floor plans for imaginary buildings
  17. Sketches and cartoons
  18. Newspaper cuttings
  19. Postcards
  20. Anything else?

Remember in your personal journal you are quite often looking inside at what you think and feel. In a notebook, as a writer, you survey the world as a craftsperson surveys his or her raw materials.

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The Writer’s Notebook is somewhere to keep a whole host of snippets and rehearsals. As well as a notebook dedicated to each creative project of length, I also keep a notebook for general writing bits and pieces garnered on my way through life. This may contain anything from the odd and brilliant title that comes to me in the middle of the night to a conversation (or snippet) overheard on a train. But you can soon generate a seriously-threatening amount of material. And the question is ‘Where next?’

Pick out some of your ideas – the strong ones are those you like best  – and think about the possibilities:

  1. Have you a clutch of memories leading towards a central theme? Could this be the basis of memoir or a journalistic piece?
  2. Have you found a captured moment with a strong character, good dialogue and an intriguing setting? This could grow into a short story.
  3. Do you want to describe a single significant autobiographical moment – using the power of language (sound, rhythm, imagery) to express it?  A poem, perhaps?
  4. Have you an unruly bunch of characters saying what they mean and don’t mean? Have you thought of drama?
  5. Are you impressed with the concept of using all of the above in broadstroke combination? Write a novel.

And this is just the beginning.

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Writing a drama? Cliches are endlessly useful. They set period and place and help with characterisation. Journalist?  Cliches offer a kind of shorthand for communication with your readers. For example, all bets are off as we run the idea up the flagpole and see whether the cat salutes!

But, for fiction and, even more especially, poetry, cliches are ill-advised. All of us have used cliches so frequently, they cease to surprise us – however apt – and we no longer respond to them. As poets are seeking to communicate with us through surprising imagery, this hardly helps. So, try this:

  1. Go to http://clichesite.com  and study 2100+ cliches listed there
  2. List ones that you use over-much and endeavour to avoid them in future.
  3. Then choose ten of these similes –

1)    as blue as a

2)    as rough as a

3)    as lonely as a

4)    as tall as a

5)    as talkative as

6)    as eager as a

7)    crying like a

8)    praying like

9)    reliable as

10)as expensive as

11)as mad as

12)milling around like

13)common as

14)regular  as

15)as pretty as

16)as reluctant as

17)as smooth as

18)as quick as

19)running like a

20)creeping like a

21)as loud as a

22)as nervous as a

23)as green as

24)as angular as

25)as mellow as

26)as sure as

27)shaking like a

28)as rich as

29)as perky as

30)growing like a

Finish the sentence stems in your own way

And/Or:    

Mix up word stem and image and note the effect. Eg as angular as custard.

If nothing else, this exercise will make you sensitive as a writer to inclusion of cliches!

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When you’re writing your novel, you may feel compelled to include a prologue. Here are some things to think about before you do!

What is the Purpose of a Prologue?

I would suggest these:

  1. To explore the motivation of characters within theme of novel – choose the POV carefully
  2. To set the stage, introducing the reader to the world of the novel and its theme
  3. To enrich the story – not to be an information dump
  4. To establish the beginning of the time-line and period (if relevant)
  5. To be the hook to capture the reader’s interest.
  6. To demonstrate your style of writing and your ability to keep the reader reading.

Can you think of anything else?

 

Some questions to ask yourself  before writing and some cautions I’d recommend.

  1. Why bother? How would you feel if your reader skipped this to get to the real story? Or didn’t bother to proceed?
  2. Why does your story need a prologue?  What is lacking from your first chapter?  What does the reader need to know before the story begins?

Think very carefully about content before you start to write.

  1. Is the prologue a dramatic event – with a beginning, middle and end – which triggers the story/the quest? Or is the prologue a first scene? Consider structure and length, depending on which.
  2. Which characters could most effectively communicate to the reader what your story is about? What is the effect of including everyone?  Do you need any of your main protagonists – to convey the theme? Could another character convey the theme better in this scene? Avoid having too many Points of View in the Prologue.
  3. Language – this is the key to interesting the reader.  Polish until smooth as silk.
  4. Do you want the tone of your novel/prologue to be humorous? Serious? What impact do you want it to have on reader? Be consistent.

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Structure is one aspect of fiction writing that seems to stump beginners. One of the principal anxieties is what to leave out. Well, less is more. Pare things down to a racing chassis – including nothing unnecessary or gratuitous – and build up from there. Here’s a helpful tip – try using the Story Spine, famously devised by Ken Adams for Improvisation in the Theatre. Condense your observations of an event into:

  1. Scene setting – eg ‘Once upon a time’
  2. Trigger point – eg ‘Then one day’
  3. Development – eg ‘And then . . .
  4. Crisis – eg ‘And then . . .’
  5. Resolution – eg ‘And ever since then . . .’
  6. The Moral of the Story is . . .

And now, write on.

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At the beginning of any Lonely Furrow Company group session, I like to encourage people to feel ‘in the room’. I use a few Open Space guidelines to settle people down – such as ‘Who-ever comes are the right people’ and ‘Whatever happens is the right thing to happen’. For added safety, I add the Chatham House Rule: ‘What is said in the room stays in the room’.

And then we begin – usually with a free-write on ‘Why am I here?’

I run two sorts of creative writing groups. One is concerned with creative writing and publication. The other has as its focus the well-being of individual participants and creative writing is the means to achieve this. At the point of the first free-write, the nature of the group becomes clear.

Writers concerned with the art and craft of creative writing and the possibilities of broadcasting and publication concentrate on technique – themes and inspirations, characterisation, plotting, location and descriptions, dialogue, editing, language and style and how to approach publishers. They are honing their skills. They may enjoy the ride but the finished product – story, poem, memoir, drama – is their goal. (This blog is devoted to this sort of creative writing.)

On the other hand, in a therapeutic creative writing group, the possibilities of self-exploration mean that technique doesn’t matter. In these groups, creative writing may take the form of journal writing, unsent letters, dialogues, expressions of altered time perspectives, and creatively-written accounts of imaginings, dreams and visions.

These writers may take pleasure in the writing itself. But, for these writers, it is the process that counts. Nothing written can be ‘wrong’. The purpose of the writing is to observe what is going inside the writer and what is going on around them and to bear witness to this. It is not to produce a work of Art.

As, for example, journal therapist Kate Thompson explains in Therapeutic Journal Writing (Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011): “for most people who practise therapeutic journal writing, the product of their process will be greater understanding, behavioural change or enhanced well-being rather than the writing itself.”

And, released from concerns over spelling, grammar and punctuation, writers – who never thought of themselves as writers – begin to use words fluently to feel into the darkness within and shed light. (The writing blog I have developed for this group is named Light for Shadows (http://lightforshadows.wordpress.com ))

There is another major difference between the two groups – the desire to ‘share’. Creative writers who want to produce stories or plays are not writing in a vacuum. Part of their purpose in writing at all is to ‘share’ – whether this is reading aloud to a group or being published.

But, within the therapeutic creative writing group, seeking to know themselves better, the ‘sharing’ is optional. For some, it’s enough to have borne witness to their lives with only themselves as audience. They may then choose to share with a trusted A N OTHER. Or they may choose to destroy what they have written. Whatever they choose doesn’t diminish the power of the process itself. And their choice not to share is a valid strategy and must be respected.

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As Summer fades into memory, creative writers among Out of the Box Workshop participants are going to look closely and briskly at technique. And, when we’ve mastered the techniques used in writing fiction or in writing creative non-fiction such as memoir, journaling and travel writing, we’ll move on to a Creative Writing for Publication series! Of which, more later.

Lonely Furrow Company Events 

Current Listings:

(All events will take place at The Conservatory, 28 Park West, Heswall, Wirral CH60 9JF unless otherwise stated.)

September 10th 2011 (10am – 12.30pm) Creative Writing Techniques – Memoir and journaling. (£20)

September 24th 2011 (10am – 12.30pm) Creative Writing Techniques – Finding your voice (Part 2) (£20)

October 22nd 2011 (10am-12.30pm)  Creative Writing Technique – Plotting (£20)

November 26th 2011 (10am – 12.30pm) Creative Writing Techniques – Memorable Characters (£20)

December 3rd 2011 (10.am – 12.30pm) Creative Writing Techniques – Place and setting (£20)

January 21st 2012 (10am – 12.30pm) Creative Writing Techniques – Travel Writing (£20)

In the Autumn, place and dates yet to be fixed, Lonely Furrow Company will also run a series of monthly lunchtime meetings for ‘blocked’ creatives – people who don’t know where to start or can’t keep going. These will be based on the programme devised by Julia Cameron in her international best seller The Artist’s Way. You’ll be expected to bring your own lunch – soft drinks, tea and coffee provided – but you will – more importantly – have the opportunity to monitor your own progress while supporting other creatives through their recovery. A low fee is meant to encourage as many creatives as possible to commit to this programme.  Please contact me on elizabeth@lonelyfurrowcompany.com for further information and to register your interest in joining us.

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