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Daily Archives: September 23, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday 001: JD Mader’s ‘Green’

I’m delighted (I use that word a lot don’t I, but I am) to bring you the first piece of flash fiction in what I’m hoping will be a long-running (for as long as you provide me with your stories) weekly series.

So, without further ado (do I hear a cheer at the back?) tonight’s story is a 325-word piece entitled ‘Green’ brought to us by my regular guest San Francisco-based JD Mader…

She felt the warmth of the rising sun crawl up her legs, but beneath her the grass was cool with dew.  The contrast was pleasant, like jumping into a hot bath after playing in the snow.  Her mind was calm, and she could see each blade of grass distinctly, green towers reaching toward the reddening sky.  Each blade was the same height, the tops torn off by angry mower blades.  Every so often a stalk stood proudly, knowing that it had escaped the fate of its comrades.
   She could hear the distant call of birds.  Their songs were lost in the thick air and became blips and screeches as they clawed their way through the morning haze.  Her mind was simultaneously lost in the present and the past.  She was lying in the grass.  She was also standing on a stage.  Her dance had just finished.  The adults were clapping.  She did not want to be a dancer.  That did not seem to matter.
   There were many things that did not matter.  It hadn’t mattered when she told her mother that she wanted to be an astronaut.  It hadn’t mattered when she then decided to forego college and travel the world.  It hadn’t mattered when she was fifteen and she told Billy Abrams that she wanted him to stop.  Funny how it all worked.  Not funny funny, though.
   There was a line of ants marching through the grass.  She blew on them and they scattered, reforming their ranks like soldiers once the wind had passed.
   The reflection of the sun expanded as it rose.  It cast a pale green glow that seemed to coat her in peace and tranquility.  Behind her, she could hear the moaning of the other passengers.  An occasional scream.  It was all very far away.  She could smell the burning airplane, but somehow none of it was as important as the soft green grass and the tender warmth of the sun.


And the inspiration behind this piece: I teach writing workshops.  We do all kinds of writing prompts and write for five minutes or so.  I always write with the students, and then we share what we wrote.  Pretty standard stuff.  The prompt for this piece was, get ready for it, “Green”.  We all wrote about the color green.  A lot of times I use my portion of the writing time to try and show how you can subvert conventions and make any idea your own.  Green conjures peaceful images for me, so I tried to go as far away from that as possible.  Or to combine the tranquility of green with a backdrop of terror.  The piece came out pretty well.  I wish I could say that it happened like that every time. Green is a very short piece.  My stories are usually longer, but the impact of the stark contrast is so immediate that I think it works.  I never contemplated expanding this piece.  I think it would detract from the overall effect.

I think so too… thank you JD. ‘Green’ was the subject of my first ‘red pen’ session podcast episode and was released on Monday 8th August – you can read the summary and get the podcast links here. JD Mader is a teacher and writer / musician based in San Francisco.  He has been fortunate enough to encounter many giving and inspiring people in his life.  He hopes to repay the debt.  And to make enough money with his writing to buy a house. His website is http://www.jdmader.com where you can read more of JD’s writing and if you’d like more (and why wouldn’t you?) his novel Joe Café is available here.

If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.

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Posted by on September 23, 2011 in novels, podcast, short stories, Twitter, writing

 

Transcription of BWT podcast episode 31 (Mar 2011) – hints & tips

The thirty-first episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 28th March 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first thirty episodes (see https://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, hints & tips (parts 1&2), short stories and scriptwriting. This episode had more hints & tips.

Hints & tips

  • Crime writer Mark Billingham (who I met at the Oundle Lit Fest) says: “My advice is to write the kind of book that you’d like to read. Don’t hold on to what you’ve written for too long; get it out there. Don’t fiddle with it too much. James Lee Burke said a book is finished when ‘nothing rattles’. As soon as it’s rattle-free, leave it alone.” Another quote I loved was “Hendricks is a character I’m very fond of and if I came up with a vehicle for him, I would happily climb on board.”
  • Margaret Atwood has ten tips for writers’ block: 1. Go for a walk, do the laundry or some ironing, hammer some nails, go swimming, play a sport – anything that requires some focus and involves repetitious physical activities. At the very least: take a bath or shower; 2. Read the book you’ve been putting off; 3. Write in some other form – even a letter or journal entry. Or a grocery list. Keep those words flowering out through your fingers; 4. Formulate your problem, then go to sleep. The answer may be there in the morning; 5. Eat some chocolate, not too much; must be dark (60% cocoa or more), shade-grown, organic; 6. If fiction, change the tense (past/present or vice versa); 7. Change the person (first, second, third); 8. Change the sex; 9. Think of your book-in-progress as a maze. You’ve hit a wall. Go back to where you made the wrong turn. Start anew from there; 10. Don’t get angry with yourself. Give yourself an encouraging present. If none of this works, put the book in a drawer. You may come back to it later. Start something else.
  • www.ideas4writers.co.uk produces a yearly Date-a-base Book and the 2011 edition “lists over 1,900 historic anniversaries that will occur during 2011, giving you plenty of time to write about them” they say.
  • Gail Sher (author of ‘One continuous mistake’) said that there are ‘four noble truths of writing’: 1. Writers write, 2. Writing is a process, 3. You don’t know what you are writing until the end of the process, and 4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is not to write. In other words, just put pen to paper and see what happens. Final drafts are usually very different from first drafts so don’t worry if it doesn’t sound perfect or anywhere near perfect – it rarely does first time round.
  • http://novelopenings.blogspot.com has lists of novel beginnings and some are fantastic. Whilst you won’t be able to steal them, they may show you what works (or perhaps doesn’t work). An article on Suite 101 may also help. www.infoplease.com/ipea/A0934311.html is a top 100 is the 100 Best First Lines of Novels as chosen by the editors of American Book Review. My favourite is no. 49 (Iain M Banks).
  • A writer’s block tip I’ve heard is that if you’re struggling, leave the last sentence you’re at half-done and that’ll inspire you to carry on when you return to it. I found this out during our first workshop when we picked sentence starts as mine was a complete one; I really struggled continuing it but got there.
  • Another tip I’ve heard is to listen to dialogue in a film, fictional TV programme or play. Does it sound realistic? You wouldn’t leave in all the ‘ums’ and ‘erms’ or real dialogue but what works and what doesn’t? It’s often quite common for people to interrupt each other (which would be written with ‘…’ at the end of that last word) and this speeds the dialogue up even further. Without going overboard, give great consideration on how the age of the person would speak; a teenage is very different to a pensioner…in theory anyway, although having your pensioner say “hey dude” could be fun.
  • Another recommendation is to pick a random line of a book, magazine or newspaper and see if any words inspire a title or theme. Or for a more ongoing basis, whenever you buy a newspaper (ideal as they have bigger headings), cut up each word of each heading, put it in any kind of container (I have a white ceramic topless head) and whenever you want inspiration, just dip into the container and pull out a word. At Northampton Literature Group monthly writing night, we have a 4 minute write-a-thon using the same word and it’s amazing how different our stories are. We’ve also started to do a round robin one-sentence-per-person following on from the previous person’s until you get your own piece of paper back, with hopefully a completed mini-story, and it’s great fun (good thinking Alan).
  • Don’t overuse clichés. You can use them (George Lucas said “don’t avoid them – they’re clichés because they work”) but if you can find your own way of saying something and it sounds better, then go for it.
  • To write a good story, you should know the answers to why, when, where, who, what and how. There are a few websites that can help you with this. www.asimplewebsite.co.uk/content-5w1h.htm explains that it is a ‘concept originated from Rudyard Kipling – The Elephant’s Child’ and is shows as follows:
Place Where is it done?
Why is it done there?
Where else might it be done?
Where should it be done?
Person Who does it?
Why does that person do it?
Who else might do it?
Who should do it?
Sequence When is it done?
Why is it done then?
When might it be done?
When should it be done?
Means How is it done?
Why is it done that way?
How else might it be done?
How should it be done?

Ideas

Here I provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

  • Take a short story you’ve written and change the male character to a female one (or vice versa) and see how the story develops; and/or
  • Now change the tense; i.e. from present to past or vice versa (assuming you’ve not written it in future tense which has been done but is quite wearing!).

The podcast concluded with Quotes, News & Feedback, On This Day in History and a haiku called ‘Summer’. I picked a haiku because it’s very short, typically being three lines; 5 syllables, 7 syllables then another 5 syllables and so therefore quick to do. Eve Harvey (Radio Litopia’s former femme extraordinaire and now involved with https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Scribatious-Podcast/231638816884890) and I were chatting on Facebook about quantity vs quality and this is definitely quantity over quality, as it took me about a minute to write it but she liked it so I’ve not changed it and if you’ve never heard a, or heard of, haiku before, then it’s an example. There’s a great explanation of haiku at www.dmoz.org/Arts/Literature/Poetry/Forms/Haiku_and_Related_Forms:

  • The clocks go forward / summertime begins today / car boots, dog walks, sun.

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

 

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Transcription of BWT podcast episode 30 (Mar 2011) – scriptwriting

The thirtieth episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 14th March 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-nine episodes (see https://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, hints & tips (parts 1&2) and short stories. This episode had a focus on scriptwriting.

Introduction

  • www.scriptfrenzy.org is the sister organisation of NaNoWriMo and rather than the 50,000 words in a month, Script Frenzy’s aim is to write 100 pages of script every April – I had a go in April 2010 and while I found it an interesting exercise, it’s not made me want to be a scriptwriter, although it has made me appreciate the work that goes into each film I watch, and sometimes I imagine it written as a script but then that’s the analyst in me! I liked the story I came out with so a little later I converted it into the beginning of a novel. The rule is the same in both projects; you can plot as much as you like before the beginning of the month (November for NaNoWriMo and April for Script Frenzy) but you can’t start writing the actual story until the 1st then it’s pens down (or fingers off keyboard) as the month ends and while you’re doing it you can keep score online, chat to others doing the same thing and a lot of people meet up. I won’t be doing Script Frenzy this year but I may well use the time structure to do some serious word count to one of the four novels I have as yet unfinished. Douglas Adams was quoted as saying “I love deadlines; I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by” but I find them invaluable as it’s so easy to let my writing slide.
  • www.bbc.co.uk/newtalent/writing/advice_gittins.shtml is an interview with Eastenders writer Rob Gittins. I won’t read it all out but I’ve just pick my favourite couple of questions and answers out of the eight asked and answered: ‘What makes a good story?’ (Particularly in the field I operate in, which is mainly TV drama and an awful lot of drama series, I think what makes a good story is really simple; ‘what happened next’. That’s all anybody wants to know, it doesn’t matter what the story is. I think when writers lose sight of the fact that ‘what happened next’ is what an audience is interested in, that’s when it becomes a bit pretentious. The thing about writing is that it is actually incredibly simple and it’s very difficult to realise that.), ‘What is the best writing tip you have been given?’ (I think Simon Moore the film writer has got this thing about perspective; taking an idea and putting it down in the middle of the room and walking around it. So in fact if you think the idea is about a 40yr old man and a 20yr old woman try reversing it. Try it with different age groups, different sexes. Simon Moore has actually taken that perspective idea, to its logical conclusion because I think the last time I spoke to him he was writing the oldest story in the world – the nativity, but from the view point of the animals and actually the minute you say that you think that’s obvious. That’s a great example of taking a very, very old story but actually telling it from a brand new perspective. I think when you get an idea and you twist it and twist the characters, you can get something fresh with it.)

Hints & tips

Script-related websites

  • Dramatica describes itself as the ‘place for novelists, screenwriters and fiction writers of all kinds’. Topics include community (events, news, classes/workshops, writers group, chat rooms etc) and theory (which includes advice such as the excellent ‘12 essential questions’ – www.dramatica.com/theory/essential_questions/twelve.html – under the heading ‘Do you know these things about your story?’ (which are also relevant to other genres of fiction):
  • Explore Writing’s www.explorewriting.co.uk/ScriptWritingCategory.html page has seven sections on ‘plot v. character’, ‘dialogue and description’, ‘formulating the treatment’ (www.scriptologist.com/Forum/Ask/treatment_and_synopsis.html), ‘realism or alternate strategies’, ‘the concept’, ‘scene-by-scene’ and ‘writing a narrative script’. You can sign up to their newsletter via any page of their website. You simply put in your e-mail address and click on ‘go’.
  • The writersroom section of the BBC’s website is the place to visit for hints, tips and example scripts – the BBC is always looking for new scripts whether it be for TV or radio so do take a look.
  1. Main character resolve – does your main character change his way of dealing with the problem at the heart of the story (such as Ebenezer Scrooge’s switch to generosity in A Christmas Carol) or remain Steadfast in his convictions (such as the innocent Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive)?
  2. Main character growth – does your main character grow by adopting a new useful trait (Start) or by outgrowing an old inappropriate one (Stop)?
  3. Main character approach – is your main character a ‘Be’-er who mentally adapts to his environment (such as Rick Blaine in Casablanca) or a ‘Do’-er who physically changes his environment (such as John McClane in Die Hard)?
  4. Main character problem solving style – does your main character use a Logical problem solving style (such as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs) or an Intuitive problem solving style (such as Tom Wingo in The Prince of Tides…the film starring Barbara Streisand and Nick Nolte)?
  5. Story driver – is the overall story driven by actions first (such as the time travellers arriving in The Terminator) or decisions first (Daniel Hillard’s decision to impersonate a woman in Mrs. Doubtfire)?
  6. Story limit – is your overall story brought to its climax by running out of time (such as the 18 days to save the earth in Armageddon) or by running out of options (such as Thelma and Louise driving over the cliff in Thelma and Louise)?
  7. Story outcome – do your character’s efforts to achieve the story goal result in success (such as killing the shark in Jaws) or failure (such as not being able to open the dinosaur theme park in Jurassic Park)?
  8. Main character judgement – does the main character resolve his personal problems and feel good (such as Luke finally trusting his skills in Star Wars) or not resolve them and feel bad (Clarice Starling still being haunted by her childhood memories in Silence of the Lambs)?
  9. Overall story throughline – if you pull back and look at the story from a bird’s eye view, which general area best describes the nature of the problems ALL the characters are dealing with? Does the story’s conflicts stem from a situation, an activity, a fixed attitude, or manipulations?
  10. Overall story concern – which area of concern are ALL the characters in your story interested in or worried about regarding the overall story goal?
  11. Overall story issue – what is the thematic issue that affects all of your characters in your story?
  12. Overall story problem – what is the source of the central problem that affects your characters?

Ideas

Here I provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts, each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

  • The next time you’re in an ordinary public place such as a supermarket or in a bus queue, think about how you would set a TV or radio programme from such a place. If the characters don’t know each other, are they solitary? Is there something that could make this scene out of the ordinary.
  • Try writing a monologue; Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads were really popular. Whilst it doesn’t have to be all that long, it is a different type of writing (and one of my favourites) so do consider giving it a go.

The podcast concluded with Quotes, News & Feedback, On This Day in History and a 60-worder called ‘Metal Mate’: OK, so she drove him mad but she’d seen him through the tough times. But now they were parting. He looked at her one last time, touched her gently, picked up his belongings and said ‘goodbye’, a tear welling in his eyes. He stopped, looked back and winced as the crusher turned his beloved Austin Allegro into a foot-square cube.

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