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 old friends and this time a new face! Always welcome to add new experiences and interests.
For this meeting, one of our existing members happened to be in France, so instead of missing the meeting all together we decided to link up using Skype. Would it work technically or meet our needs? It did! Not only could we interact throughout the general discussion, it even worked when we split up into groups. Whilst we do not plan to use it all the time, it is worthwhile knowing that this can be achieved.
Our new member had been interested in the discussion, in last month’s blog, about the different types of writing software available.
We continue to explore this topic but feel we would have to gather more information and perhaps look at functions, applications, pros and cons. We will return to this but meanwhile, if anyone has experience in this area and can offer advice, please get in touch. Happy to collate information and share.
As a group, we had agreed to come prepared with our own example of a Logline.
What is a logline? – a very brief and enthusing synopsis of a script, screenplay or book, which includes a hook to stimulate interest. Usually one sentence but can be two.
It must be:
Here are some of our example loglines.
Sam Duncan, must stay alive, find the people who want him dead and stop them killing his little sister…who they’ve mislaid.
It’s a hot summer in Braeness, where visitors and locals mingle during the annual festival. Gossip abounds, old scores are settled, and many lives changed, not necessarily for the better.
The past cannot be changed but can the truth? No matter how far down you bury a lie, somehow the truth will dig it back up again.
The shepherd travelled far and wide and learned his treasure was already within him.
Sir Edward Feathers QC, an aged and mysterious barrister, reflects on his eventful life in London and Hong Kong, giving a glimpse of the British Empire, through his mordantly funny wit.
What did we learn? That it is much harder than it looks! The question came up, “What is the difference between a logline and a mission statement? Good question, which we will return to, once we have mastered the former!
Character Development exercise
Over refreshments, we split into two groups and each group set the other a challenge to create a character in fifteen minutes. These were:
an angry, destructive teacher
a co-dependent, addictive woman
To help us, Mac prepared a help sheet with ten points and questions, to use as prompts. These included the character’s:
goals, motivation, purpose which will become important
fears, flaws, insecurities and how these might affect their success
story-helping history and what is happening to them now
personality traits or quirks that will prove to be significant
name and how this will shape their emerging role
This proved to be an interesting experience, not least because we were working with others; writing can be a solitary business and working alone, we tend to get our own way! A valuable checklist, which we will no doubt use again.
To finish off the evening we shared our individual writing on the theme “jealousy”, in 200 words maximum, which we had agreed upon at the end of last month’s meeting. This was really enjoyable and what struck us was the variety of angles and styles that everyone took. Happily, the general consensus was that everyone had hit the brief successfully. Some of our examples are available here. See what you think!
On the basis of our follow-up discussion we decided to do a further example for the next meeting but this time on a standardised storyline. The advantage of this is that everyone knows the story and we can compare outcomes.
A logline tells the essence of a story. We chose Cinderella.
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.
For our inaugural Writers’ Neuk meeting in Colinsburgh Library we invited Merryn Glover, author of A House Called Askival, to speak to us about her book and about being a writer.
A House Called Askival is based upon her own experiences growing up in South Asia and upon the period following the Second World War, when India was partitioned. Born in Kathmandu, to missionary parents, Merryn was brought up in Nepal, India and Pakistan, before training as a teacher at an Australian university.
A House Called Askival is Merryn’s first published novel but she also writes short stories and poetry, which have been published in magazines and newspapers. Over a number of years, the BBC has commissioned her plays which have been broadcast on Radio Scotland and Radio 4. Her poem, Driving Lesson, is in the Autumn issue of Northwards Now.
Merryn read an excerpt from the first chapter of her book, which was greatly enjoyed by all.
Explaining how much she enjoys writing, Merry shared some of the difficulties of being a writer, namely ways of getting published. She enjoys writing every day and is greatly encouraged to do so, by family and friends. Askival was published by the now defunct Freight Books and she is currently in discussion with another publisher, with a view to having her second novel published.
There then followed a general discussion and questions on the writing process and getting work published. Merryn advised us, as budding writers, to:
never stop writing
consider the audience who will read our work
write to communicate with your readers
A lively discussion followed as the focus moved towards getting writing out there.
publishing, and all that
Self-publishing can be a way forward for many writers. It has its drawbacks but it is one way of becoming known to readers and publishers.
We also discussed how publishers focus on a number of aspects of a writer’s work including:
social media activity
Activities like these are becoming ever more important since many newspapers publish fewer literary reviews.
marketing experience leads to improvement
Merryn suggests that attending book festivals was a way of getting her novel highlighted and cited her own attendance at the Ullapool Festival as being a positive step in becoming more well known.
She approached several publishers with Askival and now appreciates that the number of times it was refused led to improvement in it, as she kept going and adapting and changing, according to their advice.
research, rest, write, research again
We discussed how research for a novel can prevent an author actually getting down to writing a story. Merryn suggested taking a break from the research and coming back fresh, for the next stage. Her advice was that there needs to be enough of a framework to help readers understand time, place and events but mostly they want to engage with the story.
Merryn now lives in the Scottish Highlands, where she is a high school librarian, relishing the challenge of encouraging teenagers to keep reading.
We very much appreciated Merryn coming along to speak to us and offering advice an inspiration.
Still, a story is a story. Does one size fit all? Experience suggests that, in the end, we discover our own rules, every time we crumple up our trash and throw stuff away with a snarl … OR every time we give ourselves a big warm hug, for a piece well written.