And because I like my classes to be ‘interactive’, do feel free to post your comments, replies to questions and even your writing from the class exercise(s), if you so desire…
OK, here goes. Right, well we’re starting off with a couple of notices:
1. It’s National Short Story Week (17th – 24th November) and this website has got lots of interesting goodies on it, including short stories to read and listen to, tips and recommendations. To tie in with that, we’re going to be looking at a prize-winning short story today.
2. Mumsnet, in association with literary agent Janklow & Nesbit, have announced a new novel-writing competition.
You need to submit the first 8,000 words of your novel to email@example.com along with a 500-word outline of the remaining chapters, by 30 January 2015.
Janklow & Nesbit guarantee that every entry will be read by one of their agents. (And by the way, although you have to be registered with Mumsnet or Gransnet in order to enter, it’s not obligatory to be a parent or a grandparent in order to do so, so don’t let that put you off).
3. Anyone doing NaNoWriMo? No… OK, let’s move on!
At this point, we see who’s done some homework from last week (‘Minute poems’ and Woman’s Weekly Serial ideas…) and we spend some time listening to the poems and ..er.. well only one person has an idea for a WW Serial – and he’s already sent it off to the editor, so there’s not much to say on that!
We talk a little about ‘endings’ of books and stories.
They’re just as important as beginnings but it’s so easy to be disappointed by an ending and it can ruin an otherwise enjoyable story. I ask for examples of novels whose endings have ruined the experience for readers (I say ‘Gone Girl’ as my contribution but there are dozens – almost every book I read, to be honest!).
Endings don’t always have to be ‘happy’ or clear-cut. You can have sad or ambiguous endings, in which you leave the reader to draw their own conclusions but it’s a thin line between ‘ambiguous’ and ‘confusing’. The last thing you want is for the reader to say, “Eh?! Is that it?” and to be turning the pages, looking for the rest (or to throw the book across the room).
Endings must be satisfying and logical and should tie up at least some of the loose endings. And if possible, don’t make your ending too obvious from the start. Many women’s magazines reject stories because it’s immediately clear, how the story is going to end.
Make sure it’s your characters who solve their problems. Don’t rely on ‘deus ex machina’ – ie: a convenient resolution that comes out of nowhere (eg: your previously poor and starving hero wins the lottery! Or is saved by ‘divine intervention’, or when Harry Potter is defenceless in a fight, a phoenix suddenly brings him the Sorting Hat, with the Sword of Gryffindor conveniently inside it…)
We read the winning story in the Writers Bureau 2014 short story competition, ‘Kissing Him Goodbye’ by Glenda Cooper – except, with a twist – I sneakily withhold the last few paragraphs and only give you the story up to and including the line “Still four guineas is four guineas. For that Jack Delinpole would kiss a flea-pocked dog.”
And during the coffee break (with ginger biscuits, no less), I give you time to think about how you might end the story.
There’s some time for writing when we reconvene and then we listen to some of the suggested endings before reading the ‘real’ ending – and the judge, Iain Pattison’s report.
It’s always useful to read judge’s reports if you can and particularly if it’s a competition that you entered. It gives you an idea of why the judge picked a certain story and what you need to do to hopefully get your story closer to that winners’ rostrum.
If you want to read the runners-up too, they’re here.
Homework: To write a short story that ends with the line: “And then the phone rang.”
I have brought a selection of objects with me and I spread them out in the middle of the table (see photo!).
A man’s glove; a car parking ticket; a heart-shaped stone; a pair of sunglasses; a badge that says ‘Totally Loved’; a magnifying glass; a toy monkey; a sewing kit; a bag from University of Sussex; a small picture of a temple in India; a gadget for weighing your case; a hip flask with a golfer engraved on it; a narrow pink scarf/belt; some knitting (a half-finished scarf which caused much mirth when I admitted I’d been knitting it for 2 years).
I ask you all to pick an object. Everyone looks very nervous.
Then, I ask a series of quick-fire questions and ask you to write down the answers without thinking too much about it. It’s quick so that there’s no time for editing or self-doubt. Just go with whatever comes into your head first.
This exercise, by the way, comes courtesy of the brilliant Avril Joy’s
newsletter. If you’d like to get it (FREE), just email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will add you to her list.
Here are the questions:
1. Who owns this? What is his/her name – give first name and surname.
2. Where are they? And what are they doing?
3. What time of year is it? How does the air around them smell, taste?
4. What are they afraid of?
5. What have they lost?
6. What do they wish for?
7. Who or what stands in their way?
8. Where are they going next?
Next, using your character’s first name as a starting point + a verb, start writing and don’t stop until I say so (I give you 5 minutes but Avril Joy recommends 10 – 20 mins). eg: John Spencer strolled through the park, admiring the flower beds full of bouncing daffodils…
We listen to everyone’s piece (or at least, those that want to read out).
Homework: Next week we’re going to look at screenwriting/screenplays so if you get chance, please have a look at some of the sample scripts on the wonderful resource that is the BBC Writers Room website.
Plus, we’re also going to be looking at ‘cat and dog poems’ (by popular request!). Please bring along your favourite poem in the feline/canine department, if you have one!
Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day!