March Meeting 2019

Feels like we’re getting the hang of this! At our first meeting everything seemed strange and new. A bit stressful if I’m honest.

Getting organised, opening the building, getting the heating right, where to sit, what to speak about, meeting new people, making them welcome. It was early days for a new group.

Winter weather, Christmas holidays and the dark days of January all took their toll. Burn’s Night gave those with a poetic leaning, a glimmer of inspiration. Our first meeting of 2019 brought new faces, different experiences and new ideas for discussion and exploration.

Meeting

March was our second of 2019. I feel we are beginning to tune into peoples’ needs and move ideas forward.

I’m relatively new to all of this and I was fascinated to discover that there are all kinds of things out there to help budding writers:

  • software
  • apps
  • helpful blogs
  • websites

Sure, there are many aspiring new writers, scarily many, but help is there and accessible.

I thought I was doing well ordering my shopping online but words like Scrivener and AutoCrit have now entered my vocabulary, alongside Creative Writing Ink and WordPress. All have been stored away for further investigation.

The other thing that became immediately apparent is that people are happy to share, to listen and be supportive. I for one had used storyboards to teach young children but it had not crossed my mind that I could use them to develop my own writing.

For instance, at the February meeting Andy Frazier showed us an example of how he uses a story board for script writing. Check out Andy’s blog, which gives a basic introduction.

In the beginning

At the beginning of our early group meetings we quickly gave a brief history of what we were interested in and, perhaps, current projects. This helped us get to know each other and our aspirations.

Finding old masterpieces

One group member brought along a folder containing her old writing notes. I’m not even sure if she’d had time to look through them. But it’s surprising how looking back can refresh your ideas.

By the end of the evening she had shared a piece of work that mattered to her. We were glad she found the confidence to do that because it was a wee hidden gem, which we found, mattered to us too. It was a powerful piece, well considered, thought provoking and relevant.

Another member, who had not shared her work at this group before, shared a poem she had penned a while back. She is interested in imagery and it became strongly apparent that she has the ability to convey her ideas through this medium. Thank you both!

Getting published

Not the Life Imagined by [Pettigrew, Anne]One of our returning members explained that a friend of hers, from another writing group, has recently had her first novel published. Whilst this is not necessarily the immediate aim for everyone, in the first instance, it did make our ears prick up.

I for one was subsequently well impressed to find it, with ease, on the Internet. What’s more, with very favourable reviews! Anne Pettigrew, Not the life Imagined.

Using a song

The same member had been interested in taking Andy Frazier’s idea from our last meeting, of using song lyrics for the basis of a short story. Her chosen song was Every Breath You Take by The Police.

Now, like me, you may think of the lyrics as coming from the mouth of a broken-hearted lover. Many couples choose it to play at their wedding. Sting had just separated from his first wife to start a relationship with the person who would subsequently become his second wife, when he wrote it.

However, what if you put a different slant on the words? As our member pointed out, they can have a totally different meaning; the words of a stalker, controlling and menacing. Try listening to them again. She used this to great effect in her resulting short story.

If you come along …

Why not drop in and find out what our group is like. You don’t have to do or bring anything, but you can if you like. You can read a short extract from some on-going writing … anything really … and, of course, you can always try our preparation suggestions, below.

At our March meeting we heard:

  • two brief short stories
  • a poem
  • a chunk of non-fiction
  • an extract of Scottish Historic fantasy-fiction
  • a personal reflection

People responded in helpful and interested ways.

As one of the short story writers, when preparing, I was stumped for a new idea and, for the first time, Googled “creative writing prompts“.

I can recommend it because there are lots, and I found something that ‘clicked’ with me straight away. Job done!

Mac tells me he wrote a blog on writers-block a while back.

Next meeting

From the first, we have been keen to steer the group in the direction members need and want. To that end we had a discussion and agreed on two things for next time.

  • Choose any book and create a logline for it

Image result for logline

A logline is a sentence which summarises a TV programme, film or book that states the central conflict of the story. It often provides both a  synopsis of the plot and an emotional “hook” to stimulate interest. And …

  • write up to 200 words on the theme “jealousy” – whatever it means to you – fiction, non-fiction, a poem, a song … you choose.

Why not come along and share your ideas? Hope to see you soon!

© Jenny Hoggan

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