Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Writing Wednesdays - October Short Story Course #1

In October I plan to put up daily writing prompts, with the eventual aim of creating a writing course for across the month, with the hope that if you follow it you would end the month with a short story of about ten thousand words.  Not bad for a month's work right?  For me, this is going to be a way of preparing for Nanowrimo.

Today's blog entry is the steps for the first tendays, with the next two entries covering the rest of the available time.  I'll be posting daily reminders on twitter using the hashtag #OctoberShortStoryCourse, and posting my work on my tumblr

Day One:
Start of the writing course.  Find a word to describe the atmosphere of your setting (horror? dark? cyberpunk?) and write a fifty to two hundred word description of the setting.

Day Two:
Select eight names that you think would suit people in your world (this gets the horrible naming problem out of the way early on, you can always revise them if you don't like them).  Then make short character descriptions (ten words or less - a young baker with a passion for renaissance sculpture, a firefighter who is recovering from a broken heart etc...), pair them up to the names, and pick out three to be your main characters (maybe two protagonists and an antagonist, but that's your choice).

Day Three:
For at least your three main characters, and any others you want to include make a short profile (approximately 150 words for each character: their name, age, title/rank, appearance, sexuality, likes, dislikes, fears, ambitions, clothes, personality and history.  Include any other information you feel is vital.

Day Four:
Draw a diagram of your characters and the relationships between them, who they like/dislike, any siblings, relationships between them etc.

Day Five:
Write a one sentence summary of your story, and then try to expand it to a paragraph (no more than five sentences, after all this is a short story!)  Also write three 100 word introductions between your characters: MC1 meeting MC2, MC2 meeting MC3 and MC3 meeting MC1. 

Day Six:
Check that your plot fits the relationships, and if not revise one or the other.  Then write a 100 to 200 word plot overview from the point of view of each main character - how do they feel about the events? What do they gain from the plot, what do they do?  How do they feel at the start, and how do they feel at the end?

Day Seven:
We've got to the end of the first week, and it's time to deal with fiddly questions about the setting.  This is just a list of questions I tend to use to establish my world, feel free to make up your own questions that will help you with yours?
- What is the weather like? What seasons are there?
- How do the economy and political system work?
- What are the religious and/or scientific ideas that dominate thinking?
- What is the history of the society?
- What are typical education levels? Who has more education? Who has less?
- Are there any superstitions? If there is magic, how does it function?
- What is the state of medicine? How are disabilities treated?
- Are there a variety of cultures? How are they treated? How about outsiders?
- What are the roles of different groups? Is social status fixed?
- Which professions are there?
- What do buildings look like?
- What are the rules linked to marriage/homosexuality?
By the end of today, you should have a better view of how society functions.

Day Eight:
What are the daily routines of your MCs?  Write down a typical day for them, including what they eat and how they dress, their hobbies and occupations?
We are now over a week in, and we have our characters and world developed!  We are doing great.  Let's carry on.

Day Nine:
Draw a sketch of your main characters - it doesn't matter how good or bad it is, just so you have a picture of them.  Check that your work so far fits with the plot overview, and if not modify the overview.

Day Ten:

Choose three or four short scenes - all but one of which should be things that happen before your story starts.  The final one can be from the body of the story if you wish.  Write out a paragraph about what happens, considering how characters interact and the personalities of your different characters.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Time Management

This blog post is being written a little late today, which is rather unfortunate as the topic I'm going to be looking at is time management - suggested to me by the marvelous L.J Hamlin whose writing can be found here:

Time management can be something that is hard to do about even the most important things, let alone writing which is often relegated to the role of hobby, simply  because of how busy people find themselves and how little time they have free.  Therefore, finding time to write when you can is crucial but a lot of aspiring authors just find it impossible to catch a free moment. 

I'm particularly aware of this right now as I have just begun a new job which is meaning that I have far less free time, but I am determined that I will still write.  Therefore this blog post is as much about me making a plan of action for myself as giving advice.

For time management, the main thing is prioritising - you won't have enough hours in the day to get done every single thing that you want to get done.  Therefore you need to decide which things you want to get done most urgently, and what needs to be done.  Make a numbered list, or use websites such as workflowy ( or Habitrpg ( to prioritize and record your achievements.  Some people find that they don't know where there time is going, and one possible way of tackling this is to make a chart for a day or a week, listing each hour, and fill in what you were doing at that time, be it working, cooking or watching television.  Then you can look back, and see if there is any time you have available that you had missed previously. 

That isn't to say not to let yourself relax.  Relaxing is really important.  It's just worth making sure that when you are relaxing, you are doing it in the way that you want to.  If you want to include writing in your free time then working out what free time you have is a great start.

Now, about writing: First off, it's a good idea to consider when you might have time to write - if you know you're working late all week, maybe think about the weekend.  If you have young children, maybe after they've gone to bed - or while they're watching television.  It all depends on your personal circumstances.  If you can manage to find a few hours available, and go to somewhere quiet - a coffee shop, or a public library if you are looking for somewhere peaceful and free to visit, that's fantastic.  But if all you can get is the odd few minutes, don't worry.  That's time enough to get down a few lines of dialogue, or notes as to how a scene is going to go.

Carrying down a notebook to jot ideas in can be helpful here - it even gives you a chance to put down some thoughts if you find yourself with some free time in the middle of the day which you don't want to waste.  Make notes when you can, and when you get more time, you can write them into stories.

You might have had a look at your timetable and found that you have absolutely no spare time at all, and if so then you might have to decide to let writing take a back seat whilst you deal with everything else you have going on.  At some point you will need spare time, but if you just don't have it at the moment, that doesn't mean you have to give up on being a writer.  You can still think of ideas and stories, flesh out worlds and work out dialogue, and scribble it down when you get the chance.  Actually writing a novel might be out of the picture for you for now, but a chance may occur later.

Short stories might work better in this particular situation.  Or, when you get to November, just say to forget it and let yourself take part in Nanowrimo, immersing yourself in writing for a month.  At the end of it, even if you didn't break fifty thousand, you may have written far more than you thought was possible, and have learned exactly what it is that you can temporarily delay to give yourself a chance to write.

- List priorities
- Work out when you have time
- Carry a notebook
- Think about ideas
- Set aside time

Best of luck!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Writing Wednesdays - What to Write Tips 1

Sometimes it can be hard to work out what it is that you want to write - you might have a lot of ideas buzzing around your head, or otherwise none at all.  This is where I turn to some vital advice - write what you want to read.  Simple huh?

Well, it works.  If you write something that you don't like, or wouldn't be interested in, then your writing will be more dull.  Your heart isn't in it, and that's going to come through to the reader as well.  If you aren't enjoying it, why on earth would they?

Whereas if you write something that you would like to read, you're going to be more engaged.  You will actually want to get it down, so that you can read it.  You'll be able to think things through, and you'll be interested in the project.

The other side to this is that it can be very hard to get your work out there, especially if it is with your own characters.  You might self publish and find it takes a while to get popular, or you might just not have the confidence to get the work out there.  But if it is something that you enjoyed writing, and which you like reading, then it is in no way wasted. 

So that's my advice as to what to write - write something that you would like to read, and then it has at least one fan.  You'll enjoy writing it a lot more, and that enjoyment will come through.

A short and simple blog post, for a short and simple idea. 

Now, a quick challenge for you: Think of something you'd like to read, and write some of it.  Even if you just write  a paragraph, give it a go right now and let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Inspiration

Today, we're going to be looking at inspiration. 

Inspiration is something that is always helpful to have - when you are inspired for a particular idea, character or scene, words seem to come a lot more easily, and you can get a story flowing, developing concepts and getting the idea down.  Rather than being stuck for hours on the same paragraph, you can find pages flow from your fingers - or else that you have a mental vision at least of how you want it to go.  Inspiration is great.

Having said that, I'm going to stress something I've said before: You can't wait for inspiration.  You just can't.  Inspiration is not always going to be there, and if you tell yourself that you can only write something when you are inspired to do so, you're never going to get it done.  It's important to get words down, even if it doesn't seem to be going anywhere, because at least then you have something to improve.

These tips are to be done alongside your normal writing, not instead of it.

If you're anything like me, inspiration strikes at the absolutely worst times imaginable.  Just before bed last night I worked out the plot of a six part story I promised a friend, and when I'm running I often get ideas.  Other times that inspiration sneaks up on you are when you are in the shower, on the toilet, driving, or otherwise as far away as possible from your computer/writing materials.  This absolutely sucks.

So carry something with you, so you can jot down those ideas.  Make notes - either carry a notebook around, or download an app on your phone or something.  Personally I find the ColorNote app: really  helpful, but if you don't have a phone that it will work on, just type ideas into a blank text, or scrawl them down on paper.  If you find showers are the place you get your best ideas, you forget them by the time you've stepped out and you don't mind looking like a bit of an idiot, leave a non-washable pen in reach.  If you have something you just /have/ to write down then and there, write it on your arm or something.

If you look, there is inspiration all around you - just jot down things you find inspiring or interesting.  There might be a mannerism of someone you know, or a piece of dialogue you hear that sparks ideas, and noting them down for later can be great.  One thing though - do be careful you aren't just caricaturing your friends, because that way lies arguments and distress.  You can take inspiration from people you know, just if you want to stay in contact with that person, it's a good idea not to make an obvious version of them into the villain of your piece (unless they ask for that!).

Plus it's much more original to mix together a variety of people, rather than just stealing someone you know.  That way you can combine things, won't cause offence, and can develop ideas - so that rather than thinking about that particular individual you know, you can be thinking about your character and how they would react with the combination of characteristics they possess.

Sometimes, you find yourself stuck on a particular scene, and with ideas for other areas of the story.  Don't be afraid to jump ahead and work on them, even if it will mean you need to revise them later. You can always just put down brief notes.  If you have inspiration, it often is best to use it - otherwise by the time you get to that scene, your ideas might have vanished.

One final tip I would give would be to read.  Books that have been published must have something in them that made them desirable (even if what it is that was desirable about them isn't always clear), and they might help.  The more you read, the more you will be aware of the kind of thing that you want to read, and the more you'll know what it is you want to write - come back next week for more on that topic.