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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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Yours may be a contemporary novel critiquing modern society. You may be creating a world from archived materials and ephemera. But the chances are that, in the end, you’ll have so much well-researched information threatening to overwhelm you, you’ll be tempted to include it. This overload is not desirable. In fact, avoiding it is essential if you want your reader to stay with you.

So what do you do with this embarrassment of riches? I posed the question to the massed ranks of the LinkedIn Historical Novelists and their replies were so useful, I’ve asked permission to share. Here are some of their suggestions.

First and foremost – when you’re writing a novel for an audience – you should remember you are doing so as an entertainer, not a teacher. You may enjoy the chase – following research trail after trail. But if you think you’re going to lose yourself and your grip in this, you may need to hire a researcher. This professional will not only track down what you need to know but also create a filing system so you can find the information again.

A reader has a right to expect accuracy and if accuracy is the hallmark of your research, you can be proud. But the task may be complex. For example, if your characters are setting sail from Australia in the 1900s, you need to control the charts to establish the route, consider the weather conditions for a summer or winter voyage and establish an accurate time-line.

One of the major problems attached to too much research is The Dump. But how much is too much? And how do you know if you’ve included too much information? Don’t worry – you’ll recognise the Dump. It’ll take the form of a close-grained passage that advances neither the story nor your knowledge of the internal workings of a character and – during a re-edit – you’ll be tempted to skip it. A good rule of thumb is: Never bore yourself or your reader!

But apt scientific fact or concise historical detail can add so much. And – with a light touch – you can avoid the Dump. Vary your approach. A straight account of fact may appear like a rock in the shallows. But you could write in bored teenagers responding to a parental account of an event. Or set women gossiping about it at a village well? Or a newspaper report? The possibilities are many and your writer’s craft will help you explore these – while keeping your reader attentive.

So what do you do with any excess information? You could use it in a blog? Or write another novel based on it? Nothing – ever – need go to waste!

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There’s far more to speech than words. Whether you want to write plays, field memorable characters in your novel or simply learn more about people for professional and personal reasons, you need to be able to read the signs.  (more…)

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A non-scientist, I remember being beguiled by the notion of phosphorescence floating on the sea in Lyme Bay. And this is just one of many true tales to emerge randomly from the scientists I have interviewed during my long career as a health writer.  And that has set me thinking about science fiction. (more…)

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Out of the Box Writing Workshops are changing!  Based on a blend of feedback from participants and my desire to give you the most effective format, Out of the Box writing workshops will now be a monthly event – to give you time between sessions to practice what I’ve preached.  But, in future, these workshops will also allow for more ‘reading’ and critiquing time.  This means they will now last for three hours – instead of two as previously.

(more…)

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At my workshop yesterday we thought about the writing process including inspiration, where to find it and what to do with it when you have.  The workshop participants were creative writers but the process applies to pretty much any kind of writing.

We identified the writing process involves:

P – Preparation of yourself as a writer

  • Fitness – mental, emotional and psychological, physical.  Look at your working environment, your workstation, your general fitness levels.  You have to be strong to be a writer.
  • Writers’ Block – is this a reluctance to commit, evidence of a conscious vs unconscious struggle or inertia induced by panic?
  • Work/Life Balance.  When did you last see your father?

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Guidelines

1. Content: keep it simple

  • 250 words maximum, 1 page only, plain text.
  • Human interest – leave out graphs. (For business stories, include figures to illustrate performance or turnover).  Always find the human angle – death, tragedy, triumph over tragedy.  Remember money, food, health and sex sell newspapers.  That you have set up a new company is not enough (too much like advertising (advertorial).  So find a people story.
  • Details regarding people – name (properly spelled), age, occupation, marital status, location.  Some or all of these.
  • Topic Stories – can you relate your story to something happening now e.g. credit crunch, volcanic ash, bonfire night etc.
  • Beginning, middle, end, answering the questions: who, when, where, what, why and how (and how much, if appropriate).
  • What makes your release/event/story different?
  • Think locally, nationally, globally…
  • Timely – react to the news pages.
  • Editors’ notes: clearly marked and at end of piece (very useful), these explain all that cannot appear in the body of the text, including who you are and what your company does.

(more…)

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