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Where to Begin Tags: writing fiction character-driven plot-driven theme

Where to Begin

I’m currently doing the free Start Writing Fiction course with Future Learn. You can still join but you’ll have some catching up to do. For me, it’s the second time around. The course might be for beginners but I’m aware of my shortcomings. One of them is where to start. Character-driven stories and the use of a notebook highlight this course. The suggestions and on-hand exercises are helpful and motivating, especially if you’re muse is on holiday.

Most of us have probably gone out on the street or sat in a café, noting small details of people around us: their clothing, gestures, physical features, the way they move or communicate with others. I like to pick out anything unusual and exaggerate it or give it a twist. A fictional character starts evolving. Pictures in magazines and newspapers can inspire too.  I’m off to a film festival this week so shall be on the look-out for how character is portrayed by actions, facial expressions and dialogue.

As part of my character-building study, I walked around my local market today where the usual fruit and veg, clothing, household bargains and ‘craftwork’ – usually mass-produced in China – are sold. It’s the sort of place you’ll find a cross-section of society, intent on browsing, thus easy to watch undisturbed. Many are more interesting than the goods.

An impatient husband frowned and fidgeted as his wife fingered every dress on show. This struck me as a bit of a stereotype so I moved on. At the next stall, a young couple rifled through a rack of linen dresses. The man pulled out a crimson one to suggest to his partner. This was more interesting. I listened to snippets of their whispered conversation, whilst I hid being a row of jackets and noted the young man’s charm, his engagement with her, his swarthy skin, bohemian clothes. I later built on this description to use in an exercise in my Future Learn course. Something about him triggered my imagination and a character started to form. What was their relationship? Was there a possible story here?

Recently, I visited the International Photojournalist Exhibition in Perpignan and was inspired by the words and photographs telling the story of an Afghan refugee. I won’t be using this for a novel – he should – but I plan on editing a flash piece I already began, which was inspired by both character and theme. Hopefully, a fascinating character leads to a strong plot. Admittedly, more important in a longer piece.

So where do your story ideas come from? Do you start with character, theme or plot? Or are you clever enough to have all three in place from the word go?

Road Trips
Category: Writing
Tags: plot planning character control

ROAD TRIPS

I am, at present, on a two-week road trip in the US, digging up my ancestors, first in Western New York and now in Massachusetts. The planning phase before departure was long as I tried to decide which towns to head for, where to stay, and exactly what to do when we arrived. Fortunately, nowadays you can do a good deal of the research online and have the aid of GPS navigation when you actually start out on the road.

It many ways, the planning is not unlike writing fiction, and for that matter, non-fiction as well. You really should have an idea of where your piece is going and how you intend to arrive there. Writers usually have their own modus operandi as to how much outlining or planning they do before setting out on their journey. Some plan in detail, others prefer winging it. Here, too, online research can take you places you would otherwise never access.

I recently read one bit of “advice” from a writing guru who maintained that knowing the ending of your story destroyed your creativity, and he advised setting out more or less with blind faith that your characters would lead you to their destination.

Although I am not an outliner, that’s a bit too risky for me. On the road trip I am on, we have been flexible; we have taken detours to visit sites not in the original planning, and left out some places that were initially on the itinerary. But I always knew where we would end up at the end of the day. Otherwise we would be in danger of going around in circles and never completing the journey, not to mention not having a bed to lay our heads as night fell.

It is very true that characters do often have minds of their own and hijack a writer to places she/he didn’t intend to go. That can be great fun and stimulate irresistible new thoughts and plot threads that enrich a story. A writer should give characters a chance to take her down those unexplored paths. And if a new final destination presents itself, a writer should at least check it out. It may be a better ending than the planned one.

How do you see the question of planning your stories? Do you control your characters or give them free rein?

Being Creative
Category: Writing

Enjoying lunch al fresco earlier today with a writer friend, I mentioned I had the blog to write for WA. She asked what I was going to pen to which I replied 'not sure - only remembered it was down to me just before you arrived!'

A this juncture, and you may think I've lost the plot, an army of tiny honey ants surrounded a dead wasp and began the long haul to their nest. What's this got to do with the blog? Well, we were both struck by the amazing action plan and subsequent productiveness of this mini army which led me to comment on my own lack of productivity. My friend said, 'there's your blog', referring to the remarkable feat of the creatures at our feet.

Now I could get a creative story out of that but… for the blog?

We began chatting about writing generally and what constitutes creative writing. Later, I took a look online and found some interesting articles on the subject.

In brief, Wikipedia defines creative writing as any writing that goes outside the bounds of professional, journalistic, academic, or technical forms of literature, typically identified by an emphasis on narrative craft, character development. Both fictional and non-fictional works fall into this category. Creative writing can technically be considered any writing of original composition.

Witty and LaBrant determine:

creative writing is a composition of any type of writing at any time primarily in the service of such needs as

1. the need for keeping records of significant experience.

2. the need for sharing experience with an interested group, and

3. the need for free individual expression which contributes to mental and physical health.

The following factions are generally cited as elements of creative writing - suspense and conflict, figures of speech and points of view, rhyme and rhythm, setting and scene, form and structure, diction and dialogue, exposition and narration, plot and theme, assonance and consonance, induction and deduction, line breaks and stanzas.

See also the Seven Elements of Fiction

A piece of creative writing can be achieved in any of the following forms:

  • Poetry.
  • Plays.
  • Movie and television scripts.
  • Fiction (novels, novellas, and short stories)
  • Songs.
  • Speeches.
  • Memoirs.
  • Personal essays.

By chance the Authority Publishing Academy came up on my screen and I loved its blurb:

I believe there’s a writer inside of all of us.

Even if you don’t think you write well, you do have something to say.

You have a story to tell, knowledge to impart, and experiences to share.

You’ve lived a full life that’s packed with observations and adventures, and you shouldn’t exit this Earth without chronicling them in some way. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, your life is the laboratory for creating a great book or story.

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