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
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 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.
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.
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…
Good to see everyone and a nice turnout. Always interesting to have people back after their travels and meet up with new members. Leads to great banter!
Where to begin?
We always start with a catch up and ask for suggestions of what members would like to discuss.
We agreed that, now we are up and running, we could do with a treasurer. Not too onerous a task but important nevertheless.
Please send applications to Writers’ Neuk, unless your name is George Osborne. To be honest, George, we feel that with nine jobs already in your portfolio, one more might tip the balance and we would not like to be responsible for that, what with the additional responsibility and travelling too.
Several members expressed a wish for help in using WordPress and how to write a blog.
It was suggested that we could get together for a workshop and take it from there.
We shared a lot about our writing habits, how we overcome them and what we fear most when we write.
In the main, we agreed that dialogue, in fictional and non-fictional pieces, could be difficult to include, as we often tend to emphasize description and character.
However, dialogue can be an effective way of bringing out character traits and moving a story along. We considered this as we brought our work, for this month, to the table and as a result agreed that we would try and bring along a piece of written dialogue, to share at our next meeting.
There had been two suggestions for themes after last month’s meeting. These were:
Write about an emotion – Kindness, or
A beautiful sunset with an interesting person.
An Act of Kindness
First up was a reading about how bullying can be turned around by an act of kindness. A thoughtful piece, weaving a moral outcome throughout. Group members suggested considering who the audience was and the addition of some dialogue, to bring the story to life.
One of our members has been travelling in Ireland and sent us an incredibly evocative piece he had written whilst there. It took him back to family summers, on the west coast, recalling all those special memories of childhood: the sun, the sea, the sand, the food and of course parents and siblings. In his absence, another member read it for us and really did it justice. The combination of the written word and the spoken word transported us to that place and time and no doubt made us reflect on past sunsets, in our own distant childhoods. As this was a first draft, it was suggested looking at the structure and polishing up.
Turning a Corner
Kindness was the prompt for the next piece and a theme of restorative justice in the community. It told the story of a young boy who had been reported to the Children’s Panel for mugging an old lady. He found himself at a Residential Care Home for the Elderly helping in the garden and seeking redemption. The group suggested that the Head Gardener’s reaction could be non-judgemental and that there could be some clarification, near the end, when the boy reflects on his situation.
The Lookout Point
Next we heard a beautifully succinct piece, written from the perspective of a character who is well known to its author, as she has been creating her over a period of time. The character is in a position of trust in the community, living and working in the neighbourhood but she is also rather nosey. From her vantage point, she is able to observe and form opinions about how they really lead their lives. Very thought provoking!
Lastly, we listened to a haunting piece about a meeting between a young walker out late in the mountains of Arran, who comes across an elderly woman watching the sunset. He feels he should offer her help, not realising that she is the Cailleach who is named for the place (Ceum na Caillich or the Witches’ Step). She has watched such sunsets for millennia and surprises the young man by stepping over the ravine to the Castles Ridge (Caisteal Abhail). A great balance of description, dialogue and intrigue.
Inspiration and Support
As always, everyone was supportive of each other’s work, which always inspires us to write more.
Thanks to Joy and Jenny for this
If you feel inspired, try and bring along a piece of dialogue, on any topic, of approximately 200 – 300 words. If you can’t manage that, no matter, just come along, we’d love to see you.
Remember, we meet on the last Monday of each month, which this month is August 26th at 7pm. See you there!
Great to have another new person interested in our group. She writes poetry and would like help to edit her work, with a view to publishing. Luckily we have the very person for the job and so have put them in touch with each other. Looking forward to finding out how that has gone, at the July meeting.
We quickly agreed an agenda for the evening, conscious that, as a group, we try to fit the content, to the needs of those who attend.
Blog on editor’s visit
Jenny read out a report on Gale Winskill’s visit in May. Gale is a professional editor and helped us understand more about her role in the writing process. (See Menu for the blog)
What our writers are working on
Each person gave a quick update on what they are currently doing and shared what they want to achieve through the group. They want a meaningful return from the meeting and especially want to go away feeling encouraged.
We went on to discuss different ways of publishing and what safeguards you should think about when entering into contracts, especially with someone you have not met, perhaps online. Word of mouth can be the best method of finding someone with the experience you need and who you can trust. That is one of the advantages of coming to a group such as ours.
A question was raised about copyright and whilst, like editing, this can be a complex area, there are ways of getting help e.g. The Copyright Agency. The main legislation dealing with copyright in the UK is the “Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.”
Another useful piece of information we shared is to use the copyright symbol at the end of your work. If you Google this there are instructions and videos online to help, depending on which computer system you use.
This is the part of the evening which can be daunting at first but I now positively look forward to. This is when we share a piece of work that may be from the suggested homework topic but equally can be anything you have been working on, that you wish to share. There were some “firsts” tonight and some “old hands” but hopefully everyone went home with some supportive advice and loads of encouragement!
To finish off the evening Mac shared his recent experience at Moniack Mhor, a creative writing centre in the Highlands.
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!’
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.
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?
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!
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.
Here we are again. Some of us have the lurgy, others are recovering, one or two are in rude health and don’t even know what a lurgy is. Many may have been supping medicinal whisky (this being Scotland and all) … even if they didn’t have the lurgy.
Some of us couldn’t make it, others did. All in all we are growing and finding our feet.
Writer Andy Frazier joined us last night. He shares a few thoughts about the experience below. Thanks for this, Andy.
Back into the swing
Although I have written numerous books on a wide range of subjects over the last ten years, I must confess, apart from a monthly magazine column, it has been just over two years since I last sat down to write in a professional capacity. During that time my focus has been on our other business, something which involves much more stress.
Reaching my wits end last week, I suddenly realised that I was becoming a slave to time, rather than its keeper, and months were passing by with a rushing sound usually reserved for cyclists.
Itch to scratch
So, on Wednesday morning when I sat at my desk, instead of the usual admin, I opened Scrivener, my writing ‘app’ of choice, and started scribbling. In amongst those files are a few pages of ideas, research, crazy facts and half written projects.
An hour’s distraction from the day to day problems around me was all I was seeking. Next thing I knew, it was getting dark outside.
On Thursday morning, by pure coincidence, I saw a poster on social media for Writers’ Neuk, who were due to meet that evening. I have to admit to having never physically been to a writers group before, although I do belong to a few online. Had it been any other day, I am not sure I would I have noticed it but, on this day, I decided to attend.
What I found was not only a friendly bunch of like-minded people, but each one with a passion for the written word and a desire to share and receive ideas from others.
Not knowing what to expect, I had taken with me my scribbles from the day before, which had been little more than an exercise I had set myself, to get the ‘juices’ flowing again.