Did you ever? Another year gone and here we are leaping forward into 2020.
In the way of hectic times our best laid plans for blog posts, news and content fell by the wayside. We hasten to deny over-indulgence and wild-society is in any way responsible for omissions.
Get down to it
Our next meeting is on Monday 27th January from 7 pm (technically) in Colinsburgh Library reading room. More information here. We look forward to welcoming you and hearing your craic and, if you care, some writing.
Preparation – on a Burns theme
We know at least one person isn’t a Burns fan. Because of this we thought we’d invite up to 300 words on one of the following topics:
As usual there will be tea/coffee, biscuits and who knows?
Please remember that some of our members are ‘deef’ (have hearing impairment) and would be grateful to have copies of contributions to read. This helps them follow the reading. Please bring three copies to share.
If you have a printing problem, please drop a copy to either Jenny or Mac and they will print them before the meeting. Any issues, use the contact form.
Let’s create a blogging group to coordinate and encourage the production of relevant content on our website. We’ll happily run a training session to help out. The steps we envisage:
Agree who is going to do it
Agree on what we want to achieve: blether? content? poems? ideas?
Decide on what training is wanted
Agree our programme
Develop our site
It’s been a while since our festive bash. Looking forward to seeing you on Monday.
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.
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.