August Meeting Report

Let’s Get Started

We did a great thing! We supported each other! It all began with a question about editing and how some of us struggle with getting past this stage in our writing. We gave each other lots of advice, including:

  • get the gist down and go from there
  • just get it all down in one go                                                                   
  • get a feel for it – Is it working?
  • go back and edit/polish at the end
  • simplify things
  • read and self-edit as you go

We all had our own ideas but the one which resonated the most was:

“Don’t eat the elephant all at one time!” In other words, one step at a time but do what suits you best.

Dialogue

Dialogue was also on the agenda. One of our members is writing non-fiction, based on a self-help/advice theme and wanted to know if using dialogue to illustrate some points would be effective. We talked about posing some questions at the beginning of a chapter and then using dialogue and scenarios to try to answer them.

Our Writing

Continuing the theme of dialogue, we had each prepared a piece of writing to bring to the meeting. These included:

  • a self-help piece, as mentioned above
  • a conversation which brought peace and harmony to the writer
  • one which had a mystical theme
  • a comical version based on nosiness and gossip
  • a memory which include some assertive tones, used when faced with health and safety gone mad!

We tried reading the first piece as a play and found that the use of dialogue gave it a real authenticity. With another we found that, as it was all dialogue between only two people, there was no need to attribute the words to each speaker, as it was perfectly clear who was speaking. Some of us had previously not used dialogue much at all but focusing on this evening’s task, discovered it can really bring a piece of writing to life, whilst effectively moving the story along. It’s effective use showed how to tell the story through he use of dialogue, using less description. More strings to our collective bows!

How do You Write?

Another topic that came up was how we write and when we write. Do we need to have a set time or place? Do we need silence? Can we cope with interruptions? Again, our answers proved that everybody’s different and we should write when we can and how we can. As always, each member took away fresh ideas and perhaps confidence, from the discussion. Something which, as a group, we always try to achieve through our meetings.

Looking ahead

The conversation carried on for a wee while after our meeting. We started to think about how we might use a monthly Saturday morning space that is available, 10-12 noon, on the first Saturday of each month. Poetry, screen writing, play writing, proposals, developing skills… 

All this and we’re nearly one year old.

Storyboard Ideas

February meeting raises Storyboard

After an hour of general discussion about our individual on-going projects the group asked me to share mine with them. This led to my sharing the use of the Storyboard.

What I do is take a single simple idea and built a framework around it. In scriptwriting, this is called a storyboard and is the basis for a variety of writing styles, particularly fact-based fiction, my preferred genre, where the story needs to follow a set path.

E.G. – developing a movie idea

In this case, my task was to take a song lyric, deconstruct it into its characters and then imaginatively shape a life around each one of them.

My chosen song, ‘The Piano Man’, by Billy Joel, is about people visiting a late night bar to drown their sorrows and contains the formidable line, ‘they are sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone!’

the Cork-Board

Basically a storyboard is just a scratch pad or, to use Scrivener’s process, a cork-board where you pin up post-it notes and can shuffle them into some sort of order. So on each ‘post-it’ I head it with each character’s name and pin them all in one section.

cork-board

I am fortunate in my recent writing life to have researched a massive history book which involved me interviewing nearly 100 interesting people, some of whom were in the final years of life. In almost every case the questions were tailored around what little information I had about them.

questions of characters

Likewise, in this situation, we apply a little intelligence to the questions we ask each player. Of course, there are the obvious ones: how old are you, colour, sex, creed etc? But then we go deeper. Why are you lonely in a bar? What has life done to you to get you here?

real-estate novelist

In one line we are fed: ‘Paul is a real-estate novelist, who never had time for a wife.’ What on earth is a real-estate novelist? So Paul, tell me about your life as an estate agent, wasn’t much fun, eh? Sold a few houses, market crashed, and you wrote what? Maybe you saw how the sub-prime market worked and discovered the smokescreen and corruption that lay behind the banking system that eventually brought the global economy to its knees? That would put me in a late night bar, for sure!

practising politician

Then there’s the waitress, who is ‘practising politics’? We’ve all met her. Doing a night job to pay her way through college? Where better than in a downtown bar? Bound to be a few washed up senators lurking around here?

… and the rest

Each one gets given a history based around what little info we have on them and then, for me, in this exercise, the fun really starts, with the shifting of the pieces. Out of these eight or so sad people, who knows who? Which one has had their life touched by another? Where have all their paths crossed?

select a protagonist

As with all good stories, we need a protagonist, and I chose the old man who is asking the piano-man to play a tune he used to know ‘when he wore younger man’s clothes!’

This guy has been around, right? Bound to have bumped into some of the other players in his 3 score years and ten? So I stick him in the middle, and weave the others around him.

it’s a learning exercise …

As this is only an exercise, I want to keep it tight, maybe a script for a 15-minute movie, or a short story. So I make only three to four scenes involving each player, each on its own post-it. I am a great believer that scenes and characters are only borrowed and there is rarely anything original left to invent, in the same way that there are only so many notes in a music scale. So, in the majority our scenes we use everyday situations that readers can relate to.

pull it together

The timing works out that the old man could have been a veteran from the Vietnam war, so there is his first scene, in the jungle in 1969. But we don’t want a chronological history of each person; that’s no fun, far too conventional! So let’s mix them up. Paul sold houses – maybe he sold one to the old fella just before the market fell?

That waitress seems like a nice girl; perhaps she helped the old man across the road or woke him up when the train reached his stop? Venn diagram centre! So finally, when we walk into that bar at 9 o’clock on a Saturday, a quick look around and we have everyone pegged down.

neat line, neat idea

Eventually, after some enjoyable head-scratching, this exercise will end up with maybe 15-20 scenes, all in a neat line, so the author, and subsequent director, can colour them in as he or she perceives them. As with musical notes, it is the combinations and order in which they are played that make a tune.

That, to me, is what a storyboard is, a simple melody.

© Andy Frazier