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Transcription of BWT podcast episode 28 (Feb 2011) – hints & tips pt2

21 Sep

The twenty-eighth episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 28th February 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website http://www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first twenty-seven episodes (see http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast for details), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas, opportunities, songwriting, reading, auto/biographies, computer tips (parts 1&2), competitions & submissions, romance and hints & tips (part 1). This episode was hints & tips pt2. This episode also contained some competitions and although the dates have passed, I have left the details in as it will show you what was available and many competitions are yearly so they may well be run again in 2012. Please note: I can’t vouch for these competitions so do check the information thoroughly before parting with your hard-earned writing and money but having a competition win or shortlist is always a good thing to have on your writing CV so I would recommend having a go.

Hints & tips

  • Colours work really well in any kind of piece, especially if they relate to a mood; e.g. a bleak grey sky, a yellow top worn by someone with a happy disposition (others include green (often thought of as envy), white (pure/simple), red (anger/passion)). They all help the reader to picture a scene.
  • Equally when you’re setting a scene, think that buildings have a ‘feeling’ e.g. drab council offices or majestic stately home. How do they make your character and the reader feel? In some stories, the setting becomes almost like a character in its own right so you might like to consider that when writing yours.
  • Passion: I’m not talking romance (necessarily) but there should be emotions in every story. This could be desire, fear, love, grief, anger, jealousy etc.
  • Outdoor or unusual locations: rather than have the action happening in a room, how about somewhere like a forest, farm, church, boat, beach, hospital, construction site or even on a rocket? There could also be locations with restrictions e.g. library or art gallery where the characters have to whisper or to the other extreme where they have to be loud; a nightclub or funfair.
  • As well as things happening or items mentioned, think of what’s not there, using words such as no, not, never, nothing, none, no-one, nowhere, neither, nor etc. Negatives are great and it gives you another perspective to the story. Lee Child’s book ‘Nothing to lose’ is a great example: “and there was nothing in his pockets except paper money, an expired passport, an ATM card, a folding foot brush…there was nothing waiting for him anywhere else, no storage unit in a distant city, nothing stashed with friends, he owned the things in his pockets, the clothes on his back and the shoes on his feet…”. It gives a great idea of the simple life that this character leads who literally has…nothing to lose.
  • Do you ever dream? Or more importantly, do you ever dream and remember the details? If you do, write them down before you forget and see if it might make a story or poem. Dreams can often provide you with incredible stories because there seems to be such a freedom of the mind when we dream. It’s been said, ‘dreams are a window into our very soul’. If this is true, then writing from our dreams could be a great way to write from our hearts, and in that, find out what we’re passionate about. I always keep a notebook and pen or mobile (on which I can dictate) beside my bed. If I dream something that I think I can use in a story, I always jot it down for future reference. Fantasies provide us with another great way to glean new story ideas. We all fantasise at some point in our lives. It can happen in school, in a meeting, on an elevator, etc. This is another great way to open up and stretch your imagination for new stories. Take time to sit and allow your mind to take you wherever it wants to go. It’s amazing what ideas for story lines and scenes, come to light during this time.
  • Think of things that are unusual pairs e.g. a petite blonde called Buffy turning out to be a vampire slayer. You could certainly lead your reader to think one thing then have the total opposite happen.
  • You might find when you’re writing that something keeps trying to bog you down, such as that old feeling that your writing isn’t good enough and that your technique is not up to par. Don’t worry about your technique for now. Just get it down on paper, put it away for a while and move on to something else. When you come back to it you should spot where you’re going wrong (and right!).
  • Practice makes perfect – I always compare writing to playing a piano. If you’ve never played, you’re not going to come out with a concerto. Your first attempts may be more like chopsticks or even just the scales but the more you do it (even just a flash fiction length a day), the better you will become.
  • Journaling is a great tool for writers. It’s a place where we can write down all our secrets, thoughts, ideas, scenes that suddenly come to mind, sounds or smell or sights that we don’t want to forget and anything else that pops in our heads. Journals, in a way, can become a friend to us, or a confidant that we share with. For some, it is our chance to open up ourselves and become extremely vulnerable. This is a tool that writers can use to stretch and improve their writing skills.
  • Observation is a key tool to discovering how the world works. As an observer, try a few different ways to discover new ideas for your writing: Imagine the scene as if you were experiencing it or seeing it for the first time; Imagine the scene as you are now; Imagine the scene as if you were seeing it for the last time because it won’t happen again in your lifetime; By doing this you will give yourself a broader writing point-of-view. You will open up the doors to great storytelling and your characters will become much more realistic and reliable to your readers. You will also find that your readers will connect better with them. People are constantly fascinating me. The way they act, speak, watch, look, dress, walk, etc. I could sit in one spot and watch people pass by for hours. There are so many places to ‘people watch’ such as: the airport, shopping centres, buses or any other transport system, when you’re stuck in traffic, in a dentist or doctor’s, etc. Don’t just watch, but discover how the people react to what’s happening to them and around them. Ask yourself questions about why they do what they do? Why do they look happy or sad? Are they on holiday? Where are they from? Why are they here? There are so many questions, and it’s these questions that can lead you to new story ideas. Let them flow and write down your answers. People-watching can stretch the borders of our imagination. Wherever you go, always bring paper and a pen with you. You never know what will happen. You might just see something that will spark your imagination and set you on a new journey of storytelling.
  • Sounds are important to describe in any story. They give more shape and substance to your scenes. Your readers become more entranced when they are given more information. Reading should be like living for your reader. It should be a world that contains all the senses. Touch, taste, smell, sound, sight – these are all key to making your story come alive for your reader. Listen to the sounds around you, wherever you are. Take a moment to close your eyes (but not if you’re driving) and listen to what is happening instead of just watching. Write down the sounds you hear around you and give a detailed account of each of them. Good listening skills can and will increase your ability to write great stories. By listening, you become more aware and prepared to provide details of the sounds you need to make your story credible.
  • The most important thing is to ENJOY YOURSELF. Let the writing flow. Don’t worry about editing as you go along. Certainly you can edit along the way if that makes you happy. But you might enjoy the creative writing process more fully if you let your imagination lead the way – and let the creativity fall into place.
  • Talking of editing – if you take something out of a sentence/paragraph does it still work? Does it still have the same impact? If yes to both questions, then you can make the chop. Remember to be brutal as an editor is likely to put red lines through a lot of your work so if you can beat him/her to it you’ll get less red back on your manuscript. I’m as big a culprit as anyone and that’s what our Monday nights are for. J
  • Look at adverbs: if you say that something was ‘completely severed’ do you need the ‘completely’? Likewise ‘totally destroyed’ and smiled happily (unless of course you want your character to smile sadly)?
  • If you’re having trouble with a story, how well do you know it? Jot down the answers to the following questions (thanks to NAWG’s Dec 2008 Link magazine and www.writers-toolkit.co.uk) and see if this helps: What is your character’s name? (if you can’t answer that, you’re in trouble); what century is it?; what country is it?; what sort of building (if applicable) is it?; what are they sleeping on?; are there sheets and blankets?; what texture are they?; what can they see from the window?; what is the first thing they hear when they wake up?; what are they wearing?; what colours can they see?; what can they smell?; what time of year is it?; what time of day is it?; what was the last thing they ate?; what is their greatest problem? Not all the questions will be relevant but it may help, and the final question should be key to any story.
  • A tip from many a podcast – trim down the ‘ings’ as they, apparently, weaken verbs. An example would be was instead of ‘Walking into the kitchen, he picked up a knife…’ it would be better to be more direct; ‘He walked into the kitchen and picked up a knife.” I have mixed feelings on this as I think it varies the sentences but one narrator (Jordan Castillo Price in her ‘Packing Heat’ podcast said that’s a bad thing).
  • I’d be really interested to know what you when you’re writing and you need to fill something in later. Do you just leave a gap? Perhaps underlined? Or a row of crosses? A regular help for me if I’ve to add further content is to put ‘MORE HERE’ and when I go back into the document I can just select the Find option (Ctrl F) or search options and type in ‘more here’ and the computer takes me to the first/next instance/s. It’s great.
  • Writing prompts are a fantastic way of getting inspiration. You can either pick a single word (as we do in my Monday workshop group – perhaps from something you see in the room or from a newspaper) and see where it leads you, or pick some from the internet (doing a Google search on ‘writing prompt’ brings up loads of helpful links).
  • Beginnings and endings – does your beginning start with a hook? If, as is often the case, the action gets going after a paragraph or two (or more?), then either lose the first section completely or filter it in elsewhere. Equally, if you re-read your ending, do you feel that it works better without the last paragraph or two. Try finishing it earlier and see what happens.
  • On an interview I heard with Elmore Leonard (who I hadn’t realised had written ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and ‘3.10 to Yuma’, both great films) he said don’t start a story with the weather, which reminds me of a book called ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ – a beginning from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 novel ‘Paul Clifford’ which is often quoted as an example bad beginning. I have a book of the same name which is “the ‘best’ of the ‘best’ dreadful beginnings from the American Bulwer-Lytton contest”.
  • Endings can be tricky. They have a variety of functions; some tie everything up neatly whilst others can leave the reader to work it out for themselves. Twist-in-the-tales are very popular – Take a Break especially love them. Endings work if they provoke a laugh, tear, ooh or ahh. Tips on endings include: strong final images provoke emotional endings; the later the punch, the stronger the reader’s emotion especially with twists; you could work backwards by writing five endings (or five lines from some of your existing stories) then writing stories to lead up to them.
  • If you find a website that has some great information on the topic that you are looking for, remember that they may well have a ‘links’ page which will usually feature other websites of a similar vein. You may lose a few hours going through them all but it would be worth it if you find a gem.
  • Crime writer Barbara Cleverly suggests:
  • Listen to your work as you write. Read it aloud. If it sounds awkward, it is. Rewrite. i.e. make every effort to make your work a joy to read.
  • If you have some cash to spend on your writing, buy: Sir Ernest Gowers’ Plain Words, The Economist Style Guide, and Suspense Novels by Lesley Grant Adamson.
  • ‘Write about what you know?’. Rubbish! Seriously, how many readers are going to be interested? Write instead about what you find fascinating. Immerse yourself in your chosen background.
  • ‘Everyone has a novel in him/her.’ Again, rubbish! And if you have, one’s not enough these days. Publishers offer three book deals. They won’t take a chance on a writer who has only one book in prospect.
  • It is nearly impossible to get your work read nowadays. Choose a small reputable agent and present it neatly and professionally. If it’s crime you’re working on, the CWA Debut Dagger Award (www.thecwa.co.uk/daggers/debut/index.html) is well worth a shot. Your script will be read and if it’s any good will be noticed.
    • Writer/teacher Vivien Hampshire (http://vivienhampshire.blogspot.com) had a lovely article in Dec 2004 National Association of Writers’ Group magazine ‘Link’ which included: “What makes a good story? Forget about genres and plots and sub-plots. Read to them (new writing students) something with an opening line that hooks them in, a really strong central character they can believe in and care about, and an ending they will laugh or cry over… a story they will remember days later, a story that makes them feel good, and one that will inspire them to try having a go at writing their own. Writing is not about knowing the right words to say. It is not about some secret code that only other writers understand. It should not be the preserve of the literary snobs, all trying to impress with their in-depth knowledge. Writing comes from the heart. It’s a feeling, knowing what we like the sound of, what stories we have enjoyed, what works for us, even though we may not be able to explain why.” :)
    • I mentioned show don’t tell earlier and short story writer / tutor Joanna Barnden (http://www.joannabarnden.co.uk) has the following advice: “By using dialogue to introduce characters instead of just telling readers about them; by starting in the middle of a key bit of action instead of with passive description or a summary of events; by grasping the main scene of the story with both hands and really bringing it to life with sensory and emotional details; by showing emotions happening e.g.: ‘he flung the book down’, rather than telling us about them: ‘he was cross’. But please don’t forget the services of the sometimes neglected ‘tell’! If your story is about a woman’s relationship with her husband we might need to know that they have children, but we do not need flashbacks of her giving birth/reading bedtime stories/going to the park etc (unless they are pertinent to the key issue, such as if a child is disabled and it’s putting a terrible strain on the marriage).” Joanna also offers a very inexpensive critique and re-read service – see her website.

Competitions

  • Thanks to Auriol from Northampton, England for two travel writing competitions from Skyscanner. One has an 18th March deadline (to win an iPad!), the other is a rolling monthly Twitter-based comp.
  • http://bridgehousepublishing.co.uk/newsubmissions.aspx is seeking sci-fi stories (up to 8000 words by 31st March 2011) – for publication a year later.
  • The Buxton Festival Poetry Competition is now open and submissions are welcome until 1st April 2011 – see www.derby.ac.uk/buxtonpoetrycompetition for more information.
  • I was sent an email by www.christinemichael.org for their Thyks Poetry Competition. See www.christinemichael.org/thynkspoetrycompetition for details – deadline 30th April 2011.
  • Ware Poets Open Poetry Competition 2011: Closing date 30th April. Sole Judge: Carole Satyamurti. For poems up to 50 lines. First Prize £500. Sonnet Prize: £100.  For further details send SAE to The Secretary, Ware Poets Open Poetry Competition 2011, Clothall End House, California, Baldock, Herts, SG7 6NU or see www.poetrypf.co.uk/images/compware2011.pdf.
  • Check out all the current UK poetry competitions at www.poetrylibrary.org.uk/competitions.
  • Joanna is starting a new course on writing magazine fiction serials (most of the leading women’s magazines do them); the first one-day workshop will be held in the Midlands on Thursday April 7th – see www.joannabarnden.co.uk for info.

The podcast concluded with sentence starts, Quotes, News & Feedback, On This Day in History and a 60-worder called ‘Holiday let-down’: “Break a leg!” a colleague shouted as Dr Jack Warley left for his Austrian ski-ing holiday. He chuckled as he drove home. Just an hour later he was undressed and showered. He adjusted his dressing gown belt as he started down the stairs…not noticing his son’s toy 4×4 on the step below. He heard his fibula snap as he tumbled.

That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other transcripts and summaries can be found at http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast.

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