Tagged with "writing"
Step Away from the Desk Tags: writing colour senses

I love the autumn colours. Walking around at the moment I often stop and look at the trees, or a few scattered leaves on the ground. Having lived in Hong Kong for seven years where the definition of seasons is less defined (and there are far fewer deciduous trees), it feels like I’m experiencing this for the first time. I hope the novelty never wears off.

Recently I’ve read that colour is a good detail to add into a story and where better to draw inspiration than from the nature around us. Even if you’re not experiencing the autumnal colours like me, I’m sure there’s plenty of colour to find if you look in the right places. In Hong Kong, there was always colour everywhere, which made it easy to overlook, but you can try walking a different route, see something (as if) for the first time. Stop, take out a notebook and jot down a few lines about it, go home and write about it in detail.

As I peg out the washing in the early morning, there’s often dew on the grass, sometimes I can see the plumes of my breath as I chat to my children. The sun is now noticeably lower in the sky, casting different shadows, and effecting the light. Fewer daylight hours evoke different feelings in people, many negative, and this in turn can be used in a variety of ways. Squirrels dart around the garden and that makes me think of animals hoarding food for the winter, and others preparing for hibernation.

I think it’s easy when we’re working on a story, or a section of a novel, to get stuck inside; whether that be physically inside our homes, or the places where we choose to work, or stuck inside our heads. I’ve never been a big one for exercise, but am starting to see the benefits of spending time away from the desk. Sometimes a quick walk allows me to formulate a sentence or paragraph or story that I’m struggling with and sometimes I see something completely new that I just know will one day make it into a story.

So, get up and out. Just don’t forget to take a notebook and pen with you.

A Novel is Not Just for November
Category: Writing
Tags: writers abroad online writing community nanowrimo novel writing first drafts

If you've been around the writing circuit for some time, you'll know all about the annual writing challenge known as NaNoWriMo. Short for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place in the month of November and the idea is to write 50,000 words within the month. It started way back in 1999 with 21 participants and last year, in 2017, the challenge attracted over 400,000 participants.

Now there are some who are sceptical of the challenge; 50,000 words for instance does not necessarily make a novel but that's not the point. Well, not for me anyway. As with most writing advice and suggestions, it's all about what suits the individual. I have taken part 7 times and achieved the goal five years out of those. And from those words I've produced at least three (and a bit) full length, self-published novels and working on a fourth. So, I guess it works for me.

The challenge is getting that dirty first draft onto paper with the notion that it will not be the polished article­ – it will be the beginning of something.

The month of October has been deemed as the preparation month; put some thought in now and during November all you have to do is write the words. Here are some of the tasks you could be thinking about to make sure that your NaNoWriMo goes as smoothly as it can.

For Your Story:

  • Ideas – well at least one would be a start!
  • Character Development - get to know your major players at least
  • Plot - at the very basic a Beginning, Middle and End
  • Scene list - as brief or as detailed as you like
  • Timeline - rough sketch or detailed
  • Research – especially if you write in a genre which demands realistic facts or world building if you prefer the stuff you can make up

For Your Life:

  • Menu Planner – for main meals; have a cook and freeze fest so you don’t have to think about it
  • Other Work Must Do's – lots of us have other commitments, how can you clear your desk for the month ahead?
  • Play List – Like to listen to music as you write? Put together some inspiring music to help you along
  • Friends and Family – tell them what you are up to and how they can support you
  • Goodies – Chocolates, wine, a good film; whatever floats your boat and will serve as a treat when you hit that word count

For me, it's about motivation over a concentrated period of time. And having proved to myself that I can do it during November, well then I can achieve it any month of the year. If I put my mind to it.

Remember: A Novel is not just for November.

Where to Begin Tags: writing fiction character-driven plot-driven theme

Where to Begin

I’m currently doing the free Start Writing Fiction course with Future Learn. You can still join but you’ll have some catching up to do. For me, it’s the second time around. The course might be for beginners but I’m aware of my shortcomings. One of them is where to start. Character-driven stories and the use of a notebook highlight this course. The suggestions and on-hand exercises are helpful and motivating, especially if you’re muse is on holiday.

Most of us have probably gone out on the street or sat in a café, noting small details of people around us: their clothing, gestures, physical features, the way they move or communicate with others. I like to pick out anything unusual and exaggerate it or give it a twist. A fictional character starts evolving. Pictures in magazines and newspapers can inspire too.  I’m off to a film festival this week so shall be on the look-out for how character is portrayed by actions, facial expressions and dialogue.

As part of my character-building study, I walked around my local market today where the usual fruit and veg, clothing, household bargains and ‘craftwork’ – usually mass-produced in China – are sold. It’s the sort of place you’ll find a cross-section of society, intent on browsing, thus easy to watch undisturbed. Many are more interesting than the goods.

An impatient husband frowned and fidgeted as his wife fingered every dress on show. This struck me as a bit of a stereotype so I moved on. At the next stall, a young couple rifled through a rack of linen dresses. The man pulled out a crimson one to suggest to his partner. This was more interesting. I listened to snippets of their whispered conversation, whilst I hid being a row of jackets and noted the young man’s charm, his engagement with her, his swarthy skin, bohemian clothes. I later built on this description to use in an exercise in my Future Learn course. Something about him triggered my imagination and a character started to form. What was their relationship? Was there a possible story here?

Recently, I visited the International Photojournalist Exhibition in Perpignan and was inspired by the words and photographs telling the story of an Afghan refugee. I won’t be using this for a novel – he should – but I plan on editing a flash piece I already began, which was inspired by both character and theme. Hopefully, a fascinating character leads to a strong plot. Admittedly, more important in a longer piece.

So where do your story ideas come from? Do you start with character, theme or plot? Or are you clever enough to have all three in place from the word go?

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