How To Organise Your Creative Writing Schedule

Finding time to write is a big challenge for a lot of writers. It seems that we never have enough time in the day, what with work, school, and family activities that make necessary demands on our time. We may have little, precious time left to dedicate to our creative writing. But we all have 24 hours in the day, no more and no less. So to find time for our creative writing, we need to take charge of our time and make it work for us and not against us.

Time management is a term that is used a lot in the corporate work environment, but we can also use some of its strategies for our creative endeavours. Time management teaches us how to take conscious control over our activities so that we can effectively manage our tasks within the time we have at our disposal.

You may be feeling “time poor”, but you can become “time rich” by putting some of the time management techniques into practice. Here are three time management techniques that have been adapted to suit creative writing and will help you to organise your writing schedule.

1. Understand your daily routine

The great writer Ernest Hemingway once said that writing in the morning worked best for him. So what is your daily routine? Are you a morning person, an early riser in the glimmering hours of dawn? Maybe you could utilise this time to do some writing before you go to work, start studying or get the kids off to school. Remember the wisdom that Dear Duchess shared in this month’s Letters to the Editor, just 10 or 20 minutes a day can work wonders.

Maybe you work best late at night. Once all the dishes have been done, the kids are in bed, and hubby is ensconced in front of the TV, you can take some time to create some story magic. If you are a single person, why not sacrifice some of your TV time and dedicate it to writing. You can always record your favourite show and watch it later. By understanding your daily routine, and your energy levels, you can establishing a writing routine that is perfect for you.

2. Prepare a creative work environment

When I first started studying online, I had a study corner in my bedroom, but my little workspace ended up competing with my chill-out time and interfered with my sleeping patterns. As I have a TV in my room, it too became a major source of distraction at times. So I cleaned up our spare room and made it into my own creative work environment. It helped me to be more creative, and of course, more focussed in my university work.

Even though you may not have a spare room, a favourite chair in a quiet place may work well for you, or a quiet corner of the garden or patio. Another good tip for preparing a creative environment is to avoid having emails popping up in the background, which can happen if you work on a computer or iPad. It might be a challenge, but choose to put your social media devices on silent. The social media world can make a lot of demands on our time, but your creative space should be a little haven away from any distractions.

Also, if you are going to use your creative space on the weekend, and you have a family or share a house or flat with friends, why not let them know that you will be spending some precious time in your creative hot spot. If you cannot find anywhere at home to create, you could always try the library. It is a quiet place, free of most distractions, except books of course. Having a creative environment will allow you to dream, create, and complete your literary masterpiece.

3. Make use of digital and software tools

Sometimes inspiration can strike us when we are out and about. We may not be able to access pen and paper or our trusty computer, so if you have a smartphone or tablet, consider it as your creative buddy. You can take notes on your phone, or if you have a recording facility, you can record your ideas and write them down later. Yes, those digital devices can make demands on our time, but make them work for you.

If you are struggling to organise your story ideas, there are a lot of writing software programs that can help you. If you want to convert your story into a screenplay, Final Draft has script formats that are ready for you to use, and storyboarding faculties, and a host of other helpful features. Final Draft is not free, but it is well worth the investment if you want to pursue a creative writing career.

XMind is a great resource that can help you brainstorm ideas and map out your entire story. You can download some applications for free, but if you want to access advanced features there are different pricing packages. Storybook is another free writing software resource that helps authors to organise characters, plot, and different scenarios into a novel. With all this technological wizardry at your fingertips, taking control of your time is easy.

Now that I have given you some creative time management tips, here is a writing exercise to get those storytelling neurons firing.

Create an organizational chart from Monday to Friday. Write down a list of creative elements to work on as follows:

Monday. Choose a story setting, and then write 50-100 words that describe the setting. If you can write more – Great!

Tuesday. Create up to 3 characters. Note down their description, basic background, goals, strengths, and weaknesses.

Wednesday. Create a plot for your chosen setting, and integrate one of your characters. Use the Narrative Arc Plotting Device that was featured in the Monthly Writing Exercise in the January issue of Unearthed, and integrate the Exposition into your story setting.

Thursday. Integrate the other characters and start work on your story’s Rising Action and Climax.

Friday. Work on your Falling Action and Resolution.

If you are unable to complete this task, you can shift some of them to the weekend. Of course, this creative exercise is a just a tool to help you get started on your creative journey. But if you stick to this micro-writing routine, you will find time to write amidst your hectic schedule, and you will discover that you have the first draft of a short story and an introduction to a novel.

Happy writing!

 

Creative Time Management originally appeared in The Australia Times Unearthed Fiction February/Perception Magazine.

 

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Hourglass.

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Lost the Plot? Take Control of Your Story

Writing a short story can be like a journey into unfamiliar terrain. Just like a holiday in a new city or a hike into the wilderness, we can get lost if we do not have a plan or a map that can show us the way. When we start to write, we may begin merrily, the ideas flow along nicely, the setting is established and the characters come to life. But then we suddenly run out of inspiration, the story seems sluggish, and we may find that we have lost the plot – literally! So if this is you, it is time to take back control of your story.

Story versus Plot

Besides the all-important elements of storytelling – theme setting and story characters – the plot is a very important tool that provides the story with its basic framework on which to build your story-world and the overall narrative structure.

Just like any trade, there are specific techniques or rules, so to speak, that are needed to perform the job well. Writing is no different and there are some narrative building blocks or techniques that will help you to write a better story. You may or may not be familiar with these basic building blocks of narrative, but here is a refresher of their definitions.

Story is the logical and chronological sequence of events in a narrative. Story should not be confused with narrative discourse, which is the telling or presenting of a story from the story’s narrator. Traditionally, a story unfolds in a linear fashion, with a clearly defined, beginning, middle and end (three-act-structure). Once you have become familiar with this traditional storytelling format, you can break the rules. You can start at the end of the narrative or in the middle of the action.

Plot is the order or sequence in which the story events are arranged in the narrative. It gives a story that much-needed symmetry, movement, and flow. Once you decide on the events that make up the plot of the story, your narrative structure will be revealed.

Now that we have the two basic elements of storytelling sorted, it is time to work on developing the plot of your story. Although the Greek philosopher Aristotle set down the basics for story development, that all stories have a beginning, middle, and end, it is not sufficient to write a compelling story. In order to build upon the three-act structure, the most common plotting device is the narrative arc.

The Narrative Arc Plotting Device

The narrative arc plotting device is a very handy plotting tool that can help you to plan and execute each stage or section of your story. It can be used for a short story and especially for writing novels. Here are the five stages of the narrative arc.

1. Exposition

The exposition is the opening statement or situation that is presented to the reader at the beginning of the story. This is where you introduce your theme, setting and the characters. If you want to use this tool for writing a novel, the main characters are usually presented in this section and other minor characters can be added later.

2. Rising Action

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

The rising action is the development of conflict or complications in a literary work. This is where you place your first event or series of events. This section is especially important for creating drama, suspense or intrigue for the rest of the narrative.

3. Climax

Climax is the turning point of a story. This section involves a series of heightened complications arising from a major event: an act of violence, relationship angst, etc. This part of the story is where it gets really exciting, the characters clash, emotions are at breaking point. Remember: conflict is necessary for creating great drama.

A. Conflict

Conflict is the struggle between two opposing forces like person versus person, and can also include God/fate, society, nature. The conflict is part of the rising action and increases until the climax of the narrative. The stronger the conflict the more dynamic your story will be.

4. Falling action

The falling action is the result or effects of conflict in a story, or for a longer narrative, the series of events that unfold after the climax. The hero has faced and vanquished his nemesis, he has learned a valuable lesson, or he or she has won their heart’s desire.

5. Resolution

The resolution is the end of the story and is sometimes called the denouement. This is where the character’s problems are resolved to some degree. You may choose to finish with a happy ending or leave some questions unanswered.

Creative Exercises

 

Exercise 1

Take one of your existing stories, or if you have never written a story, have a look for a short story collection from the library. Or if you are feeling especially adventurous, choose a novel.

Analyse the story and see how it fits into the narrative arc pattern.

Write down the key elements in the narrative arc: exposition, rising action, etc.

Ask questions like:

Have you or the author introduced the theme clearly?

Where in the story are the characters introduced?

Where does the rising action start?

Who or what provides the conflict or action?

What is the climax of the story?

What is the falling action?

What kind of resolution has been used – neat and tidy or partly resolved?

 

Exercise 2

Write a story using the narrative arc plotting device.

Write down each of the sections from the narrative arc plotting device: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Under each heading write down some notes on how you will begin your story.

Start by asking some questions.

What is my opening statement or situation?

What kind of action will I use and who will provide the action?

Where will I place the climax?

How will I resolve the narrative?

Once you have written notes on each of these sections, you can start to bring them all together into a whole narrative.

Once you have put the narrative arc plotting device into practice, you may find that it will become an indispensable strategic plan that will help you when you get lost in the narrative maze.

Happy Writing

Lost the Plot? Take Control of Your Story first appeared in the January issue of Unearthed Fiction.

 

Make Your Characters Face Their Fears

Creating fictional characters who display real life human characteristics and personality traits make them more believable, which in turn will make your reader or viewer love them more. When we read a book or watch a movie, it’s the character arc or the character’s journey that draws us in and keeps us riveted to the page or screen. By exploring your story characters (whether it’s the prime villain or the hero) and highlighting their flaws and fears and making them face them, either to create conflict or as a conduit for victory, lies at the very heart of dynamic storytelling.

Creating Character Flaws

Strengths and weakness are important for creating compelling characters. No one is perfect, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, etc. So why should our story characters be any different?

Creating a super-hero who has special powers and manages to cheat death over and over is a little boring unless he has a weakness. Giving him character flaws also allows his ruthless nemesis to use that character flaw or weakness to taunt the hero. Once the hero has faced his weakness, he can then determine to rise to the challenge to overcome it.

Inner Conflicts and Tragic Pasts.

Any struggle, tragedy or trauma we face can ultimately make us into stronger, more indomitable and multi-faceted human beings. No one likes experiencing hardship, pain or suffering, but difficult events, circumstances, and people can transform us. This way something good can be born out of something bad. By allowing ourselves to grow through hardship, we are able to retain some control over the seemingly uncontrollable. It is the same for our narrative characters.  As creative writers, our dynamic characters act as our conduit through which we can reach and impact our readers.

Giving characters an inner conflict, a tragic past or a trauma can lead to their personal transformation. As we read a book or watch a film, we experience a character’s struggle, we feel and sometimes identify with their inner conflict caused by a tragic past and we want to see what lies ahead for them in the story. There can be no victory without a struggle and it is in the struggle that victory is won.

Facing Fear

Many times in real life we find we are immobilized by our flaws and fears, but creating characters can very cathartic, and can even motivate us to be better people and also break through the fear barrier.  We all have a hero and a villain inside us and we can choose which one we will follow. Our destiny can be determined by ‘who’ we choose to follow.

Examples of Characters that have Flaws and Fears

With hints of the ever increasingly popular anti-hero dominating our movie screens, it seems that the more flawed the hero is, with fears and doubts that we sometimes struggle with, the more they dazzle on screen and on the page.

The fear or doubt the character struggles with can be small or great: a hidden secret, a struggle with alcoholism, a struggle with feeling inadequate, or that life never works out. Some examples include Hancock, Frodo, and maybe even Bruce Almighty. But despite these flaws, they do not stay immobilized forever. They must push forward, recognize their weaknesses, break through the fear barrier, complete their mission, and achieve their goal.

In the story-world, the hero and villain, although polar opposites are necessary for narrative interest, complex character relationships, and their conflict is central to the story’s plot progression. They also have fears to face and choices to make and their choices will make all the difference to the story and to the audience.

Creative Exercise

Create two characters: a hero and a villain. Create a character profile: name, age, appearance, occupation, etc. List their character flaws, fears, doubts, and insecurities. How will they overcome these flaws and fears? Once you have created your character profile, you can start to build your story-world around them.

By exploring your story characters and giving them flaws and making them face their deepest fears, will result in dynamic characters that will win the interest of your audience.

 

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Explore the Creative Possibilities of Rewriting Fairy Tales

I grew up reading fairy tales like the Brothers Grimm stories, Rapunzel and Cinderella, and just like many young women, my romantic ideologies centred on many of the characters and narrative structures contained within these tales.  These magical tales had me believing that my prince would come and rescue me on a white horse and sweep me off my feet and I would live happily ever after. Not for one moment did I question the implausibility of a frog turning into a prince or that a young woman’s hair could be used as a rope so that the prince could climb up a tower to rescue her.  But as I have got older, and maybe a little wiser, and due to my uncovering the hidden meanings behind many of these narratives, I have discovered the creative possibilities of rewriting fairy tales.

Some of the narratives within the Tales for the Sisterhood collection (like Sisters, and The Tale of Ruthie and Grace) are designed to transgress archetypal characterisation, fairy tale gender roles, and challenge traditional storytelling.  So if you feel a little story barren, why not explore the creative possibilities of re-writing a fairy tale.

As a prime method of universal communication, storytelling has taken on many historical forms, stemming from oral folk tales, myths, legends and moral tales to contemporary literary narratives. More than any other narrative fairy tales have been subject to revision, due to cultural and social-political change. In the early nineteenth century, Edgar Taylor’s translation of the Brothers Grimm tales resulted in rigid censorship to overt references of violence, cruelty, supernatural and sexual thematics, as children were to be the prime audience for these stories.

A significant area of revision was the censorship of female roles. In the precursor to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Grimm’s Rose Red and Snow White tale depicted Rose (Snow White’s sister) as wild and unruly. Rose Red was then removed from later renditions as “her free-spirited, untamed ways” could be interpreted as “dangerous in the context of a patriarchal society” that attributed “femininity with docility, gentleness…good temper” (Friedenthal 2012, p. 163 pp. 163-165) and subservience. If you are interested, the studies of Friedenthal and other similar fairy tale narratologists provide a useful exploration into the power of belief systems, which can ultimately influence literature‘s form and style.

Almost in rebuke to these passive literary representations of female characters, post-modern authors like Angela Carter, A. S. Byatt and Margaret Atwood present their own feministic literary critiques through their unique representation of female characters and story-lines. Carter’s Gothic style narratives twists, such as the sexual awakening of the not so innocent Little Red Riding Hood in ‘The Company of Wolves’, and the daughter who is rescued by her mother from a murderous husband in ‘The Bloody Chamber’, see passive females being transformed into active and heroic characters.

A. S. Byatt’s intriguing tale ‘The Story of the Eldest Princess’ is also a prime example of a major break with fairy tale tradition, where Byatt transgress the expectations of fairy tale lore. Byatt’s princess is aware of her fairy tale entrapment and ultimately decides to take control of her own narrative destiny resulting in a ambiguous resolution (Gooderson 2005).

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood offers a complex characterisation and narrative structure. The novel is set in the mid 1930s to 1940s and follows the conflicted lives of two sisters, Iris and Laura, whose relationship is bound by the endless cycle of abuse at the hands of Iris’s husband, Richard. This abuse is tragically intensified by the fact that Iris is unaware of this abuse until after her sister’s death.

Atwood’s literary rationale concerned the socio-cultural “power politics governing the lives of women” and the traditional representations of female roles. Her novels explore “the saintly, selfless, and utterly self-sacrificing” woman, or the female villain” and rejects these stereo-typical roles through her narrative complexity (Brooks 2010, pp. 68- 70). It is Carter, Byatt and Atwood’s overall rationale towards rejecting traditional fairy tale conventions, and their trail-blazing approach to re-writing female roles that have acted as a dominant influence on my writing.

Although the magical world of fairy tales may take its consumerist multi-million dollar form in the Disney films, they can also offer a world of promise for creative writers as traditional fairy tales can encapsulate twenty-first century ideologies. Old narratives can be transformed into new narratives that challenge and inspire. So be brave and discover the creative possibilities of rewriting fairy tales or even create your own.

 

References:

Brooks, B J 2010, Continuum Studies in Contemporary North American Fiction:Margaret Atwood : The Robber Bride, the Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, viewed 19 November, 2014, via ProQuest Ebrary Online Library.

Friedenthal, A J 2012, ‘The Lost Sister, Lesbian Eroticism and Female Empowerment in “Snow White and Rose Red” in K Turner & P Greenhill (eds), Series in Fairy-Tale Studies:Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimm, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI, USA, viewed 18 September, 2014, via Proquest Ebrary Online Library, pp. 161-178.

Gooderson S, ‘Writing a tale’, The Guardian, Thursday 22 September 2005. 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/sep/22/fiction.asbyatt

 

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light-castle

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Six More Creative Tips to Revitalise Your Writing

 

New and experienced writers can sometimes find themselves struggling to brainstorm new narratives. Our ideas pool looks like it’s all fished out and our once helpful creative muse has left the building. But never despair, when you’re faced with writer’s block and that blank computer screen seems to mock your inability to create, here are six creative tips to revitalise your writing and get you back into storytelling mode.

No. 1. Flash, Nano or Micro Fiction.

Specific word choice and brevity is important for a creative writer. Making each word count and telling a story well in the best possible way can distinguish a good writer from a great one. Writing to a particular word count can help you streamline your writing skills and can kick-start a lot of creative story ideas.

Flex your creative muscles by trying the Ernest Hemingway challenge: Write a Story in Six Words, or in 100 words. I like this style of writing mainly because it stimulates the creative side of the brain, therefore allowing new ideas to be born. A longer narrative can be born out of a Flash/Nano or Micro tale, so be brave and take up a Micro Fiction challenge.

No. 2. Re-write a Folk or Fairy Tale.

With so many folk and fairy tales out there you are sure to find one that is desperately in need of a re-write or refresh. Many of the female roles like the passive princess can be changed to a butt-kicking no nonsense princess. You can also change the story into a modern day setting with 21st century socio-cultural and political themes. Check out my version of the Rapunzel tale, The Tale of Ruthie and Grace in my free eBook, Exploring the Narrative World: Writing the Short Story

No. 3. Choose a Short Story and Write It Into a Short or Feature Film.

This is a great exercise for writers. The short story ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ was written by James Thurber in 1939 and was remade into a blockbuster film with Ben Stiller in 2013. The task of choosing key settings, events and characters from a work of fiction is performed by many successful Hollywood screenwriters. So why not take one of your favourite short stories or Google one and try transforming the narrative into a short or feature film.

No. 4. Interview a Parent/Grandparent and Write a Story Based on their Experiences.

Parents and grandparents have so many interesting life stories that are just waiting to be crafted into a story that can impact the world. The saying ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ can make for a compelling tale even more so that a purely fictional tale. This storytelling exercise can also benefit a lonely elderly person in a nursing home or retirement village. Once you have interviewed your willing participant, and have written the story, you can print it out and give to your real-life hero or heroine as a gift.

No. 5. Pick Five Everyday Items and Write a Short Narrative. (Give them human-like qualities. Describe them as if they were alive, and had feelings. Or choose one of your family pets and create a story around them.)

This exercise was originally a poetry exercise but it can also be used in narrative fiction. You can start by writing a short narrative about how the item, like a mobile phone, has human qualities and would feel about having to constantly supply on demand unlimited information.

Here is an example of an everyday item that has been endowed with human qualities.

A Mobile/Cellphone.

Her bright exuberant face tantalises me with the happy expectations of friends and unlimited social invites, none of which I am invited to.  As a solitary observer of the many delights and distresses of her daily existence, I am a constant companion, but I am no more than an expert supplier for her excessive demands for sometimes useless and unnecessary information.

My revenge upon this fanatical digital ogre who relentlessly taps away at my delicate silver skin is my shrill shrieks and incessant clanging when she would rather be snoozing. I am an electronic prosthesis that is also an extension of her inner life.  As she sleeps, I dream of an immanent future where I will have the power to invade her innermost being and control her body, soul and spirit.

No. 6. Write a Story with One Character or Write a Story without a Character. 

Although this type of creative exercise can narrow the boundaries of the storytelling world, it is a favourite with some writers.  

Write a story with the main character as the omniscient narrator/focaliser. Many non-fiction narratives use this style. Boris Glikman uses this technique a lot. Many of his short stories take on a metaphysical or philosophical outlook on life. You can view some of his stories in the Unearthed Fiction magazine.

I hope you find these six creative tips to revitalise your writing helpful. 

Happy writing!

 

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Top Five Best Books for Children

 

The best way to become a great creative writer is to be a dedicated reader and to develop a love of books from childhood. I have been reading ever since I was a child and I could not image my life without books.

Books are magical portals that allow their readers unmitigated access to new and undiscovered worlds, and they provide uninterrupted journeys into the soul. They can take us on a journey into the realm of the imagination, and allow us to become part of another person’s life experiences. Here is a list of the Top Five Best Books for Children.

 

Anne of Green Gables.  Lucy Maud Montgomery. 

The timeless tale of the adventures of Anne Shirley, the spirited red headed orphan with a heart of gold, continues to capture the hearts and imaginations of children all over the world. Lucy Maud Montgomery published eight novels that feature Anne and her family, and the spirit of Anne lives on in additional short story collections like The Chronicles of Avonlea and The Road to Yesterday.

 

The Famous Five. Enid Blyton.

The Famous Five is a book series that was written by English author Enid Blyton, and was first published in 1942. The series follows a group of children, Julian, Dick, Anne, Georgina (George) and her dog Timmy, who live in Dorset, South-West England. The children’s adventures range from finding buried treasure, exploring secret tunnels, and exposing smugglers. There are 21 novels in the series, so there are plenty of adventures for children to explore.

 

The Secret Garden. Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

The Secret Garden is a timeless drama/fantasy novel, which was originally published in 1910. The heroine, Mary Lennox, is a sickly, unloved and selfish ten-year old who is born to wealthy English parents living in India. Most of Mary’s life is spent being cared for by servants, and after her parents die from Cholera, she is sent to live in Yorkshire, England, with her morose uncle, Archibald Craven, at Misselthwaite Manor. Mary continues to be a rude and disagreeable child, and spends her time being confined to the gloomy and mysterious manor. But after discovering a secret garden, Mary begins to learn about the healing power of friendship.

 

Matilda.  Roald Dahl.

Matilda is an intelligent, caring and gifted little girl who is often mistreated or neglected by her boorish parents. From a young age Matilda has to fend for herself, but finds a welcome escape from her troubled home life through her insatiable appetite for reading. In response to her parent’s neglect she often amuses herself by playing pranks on her family like gluing her father’s hat to his head.

At school, Matilda befriends her kind teacher, Miss Honey, a kindred spirit, who encourages Matilda to develop her exceptional intellectual abilities. Miss Honey hides her own pain and sorrow as her sadistic and manipulative aunt, Miss Agatha Trunchbull, is also the headmistress of the school. The Trunchbull, as she is tagged by the students, delights in inflicting cruel and unusual punishments on the children for minor infractions. While Matilda, Miss Honey and the other students live in fear of the tyrannical Trunchbull, Matilda discovers her growing power of telekinesis, which she uses to finally oust the headmistress.

Matilda’s wish for a loving family is finally bestowed when her father, a corrupt car salesman, decides to escape from the police, and he readily agrees to let his misunderstood daughter live with Miss Honey.

Dahl’s wonderful tale is an empowering book with an anti-bullying message flowing through the narrative, and it also teaches children to embrace their gifts and to respect others despite their differences.

 

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia. C. S. Lewis.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950 and its magical tale of adventure will never lose its literary appeal for children or adults. A classic fantasy tale of good versus evil, it also has an emphasis on the innocence of childhood, and the power of friendship.

The story begins where a group of English children, Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmond, are sent to live with their uncle in his house in the countryside, after a wartime evacuation. After discovering a magical wardrobe, the children discover Narnia, a world of talking animals and mythical beasts who live in fear of an evil witch who keeps the land enslaved in a perpetual winter.  

The continuing appeal of these Top Five Best Books for Children goes beyond the world of books as all of these stories have been turned into television series, films and stage-plays.  

 

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Magic Books.

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Seven Tips to Boost Your Creative Writing

 

Whether you are an emerging writer or a seasoned professional, seeking that next big creative idea can be like a knight embarking on an uncertain quest for adventure. The brave knight receives his commission to embark on a quest, either to save a princess in distress, save his kingdom from destruction, or just for the sake of the romantic idea of a quest. Our quest for creativity is not fraught with untold dangers along the way like the knight’s quest, but it is still a journey that can fill us with anxiety and make us doubt our abilities as a writer. But do not despair – here are seven tips to boost your creative writing.

1. MICRO FICTION

With groundbreaking digital technologies, software and new media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the art of storytelling is rapidly evolving, therefore allowing writers to explore new ways of telling a story. Some examples of electronic literature are Hypertext Fiction, Interactive fiction, and Micro Fiction.

Micro Fiction, Flash or Nano fiction offers a tantalising challenge to writers to restrict their storytelling to a particular word count, anything below 300/400 words. Writing micro fiction not only allows a writer to practise brevity but a micro story can develop into a longer narrative.

Why not try these two writing challenges.

1. Linkedin recently issued a writing challenge to Write a Scary Story in Five Words.
2. Write a Story in 100 Words (on any topic).

2: BRAINSTORM DIFFERENT WAYS OF BEGINNING A STORY

A story’s opening paragraph should be designed to capture a reader’s imagination. It acts as a pivotal gateway through which your reader must enter so that they can journey successfully through your story. You can start to build your micro world in a number of ways:

A dramatic setting like a dark Dystopian city or a windswept beach.
Strong action like a battle or a pursuit through a haunted forest.
An intriguing idea.
A question.
Remember: “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” Beatrix Potter.

3: MIXING GENRES.

Sometimes we writers tend to play it safe and stick to a familiar genre, but why not try mixing genres? Be brave and experiment. Mixing genres is a great way to revitalise your writing.

What’s your favourite genre – horror, science fiction, romance, speculative fiction, comedy?

Boost your creativity by following these steps:

A. Choose two of your favourite genres and create an intriguing generic mix. For example: write a story that mixes romance and speculative fiction, or horror and comedy.

B. Read an article or a book about the rules or conventions of each genre.

C. Try mixing the genres together.

D. Evaluate your story. Has this brainstorming tip helped to revitalise your writing?

4. RE-WRITE A FABLE OR FAIRY TALE. Storytelling has been the prime conduit for human communication for thousands of years and basic archetypal narrative structures like folk and fairy tales remain an integral part of contemporary popular culture. So why not try re-writing a fable or a fairy tale – or base your story on an archetypal plot.

Here are seven basic plot ideas:

Quest
Rags to Riches
Tragedy
Voyage and Return
Comedy
Rebirth or Metamorphosis
Overcoming the monster.

5. JOIN A WRITERS’ GROUP.

Although writing is predominately a solo vocation, writers can sometimes struggle and flounder when they live in a creative void. Even famous writers need someone to bounce their creative ideas off. Most novels have an attribution to someone, or sometimes, many people who have helped the author along their storytelling journey.

So why not join a writer’s group either at your local community centre, or online. In the midst of like-minded people, you can share ideas and maybe even find a suitable mentor.  There are many writers’ groups on Linkedin like The Writers’ Network,  and I have listed some under the Resources tab. 

6. The ICWE. The ICWE is an ‘innovative creative writing exercise’ that is designed to help you brainstorm new story ideas. This is how it works:

Step. 1. Write at least five short paragraphs, up to 100 words each, on one sheet of paper. Your paragraph can be a description of a setting, a character description, or you can use dialogue.

Step 2. Print out the sheet.

Step 3. Cut up each individual paragraph into strips.

Step 4. Mix them up, then lay each strip on a table, one after each other, and see what you’ve come up with. You may be pleasantly surprised at the new narrative you’ve created.

Also, each paragraph can be developed into a separate story.

7. COMPLETE YOUR CREATIVE QUEST.

The best advice for any writer whilst on their creative quest is to persevere. Once you embark on your creative quest, you must stay on track until your quest is completed.

Remember:

Keep your goal in mind as you go.

Avoid any distractions that may deter you from fulfilling your quest.

If you experience challenges from the creative writer’s nemesis, ‘writer’s block’, or it feels like your creative muse has abandoned you, take a break and then continue on your quest.

The creative mind works best when it’s relaxed. So walk away from the notepad or computer and refresh those creative neurons. Then you can return to your storytelling journey and successfully complete your creative quest. Even the bravest of knights have had to take a break from rescuing the princess or fighting the dragon. I hope these seven tips for boosting your creative writing will help you in your storytelling journey. 

Happy writing!

 

Image:

De Kalatravo. Calatravo – Medieval Knight. 

wikimedia commons. wikimedia.org

How to Write a Dynamic Poem

This week’s blog is about how to write a poem that will engage your reader. Poetry is such a fascinating and multifaceted aspect of creative writing; it is an expression of life coupled with the imagination.  Writing poetry can be as simple as a few well-placed words that rhyme or it can be a complex arrangement of lines, stanzas, and rhyming patterns.

Poetry opens up an unlimited world of creative possibilities, and once you have a good understanding of the wide range of techniques and styles available, you can craft your own unique expression of life.

An Overview of Poetry.

The history of poetry is as complex as the art form itself, and there have been many debates over the centuries over what constitutes a poem. The origins of poetry stem back to oral tradition, where a poem was used primarily for didactic and entertainment purposes in the form of a ballad. Shakespeare made the Sonnet famous – a poetic form that fuses together a delicate balance of both narrative and lyrical qualities. With the arrival of the printing press and the book, poetry became a highly respected literary style.

What Constitutes a Poem?

Is a poem just a static literary form that must adhere to a particular rhyming pattern, a specific use of language and a rigid structural format?

The traditionalist would argue that a poem should adhere to a strict rhyming pattern and its appearance on the page must not divert from four-lined stanzas that run down the page.

The rebellious modernist would argue that rules are meant to be broken and writing a poem is a free and unfettered craft that is subject only to the artistic whim of the poet.

I think the answer to what constitutes a poem lies in this statement: a poem is the perfect form of creative expression. What is your view?  Does a poem allow a writer to express their feelings, thoughts, and experiences of the world better than a short story?

The 19th-century classical poet and critic Mathew Arnold defined a poem as the ‘most beautiful, impressive, and most widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance….’ (Knickerbocker 1925, p. 446). But as grand as this quote sounds, the art of writing a poem is so much more.

Poetry teaches us about the beauty and power of language and the richness of the written word. By using a combination of the available poetic techniques, a writer can find complete freedom in the expression of thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

John Redmond defines a poem as not so much a structure of words, which has to conform to a set of rules and a particular form, but an experiment with being, that has a personality and value of its own; and “…any good poem should make us feel like explorers of a new planet, setting out on a momentous adventure… [a] good poem will try to maintain the openness, the sense of possibility, which every reader feels when they open a book for the first time”(2006, p. 2).

To maintain the openness and the sense of possibility, the poet needs to keep the reader in mind when they are writing a poem, by using language and images that the reader can engage with and therefore feel that they can join the poet in the journey of exploration.

A poem enables the poet to reveal their thoughts or life experiences to the reader through a heightened use of language that appeals to the emotions. It is an invitation from the poet to the reader to undertake a journey of the exploration of ideas. Overall, the poet designs their perfect form of creative expression to engage their reader and to provoke a response.

Here are seven techniques or tools that can help you write a poem that will engage your reader:

You have access to a toolbox that is full of different techniques or poetic devices that will allow you to aptly convey your thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the world such as:

One. Sound. An arrangement of sound (a clever combination of alliteration and assonance – the repetition of consonant and vowel sounds), which creates an internal rhyme and evoke music in our mind when we read the poem out loud. Assonance can create an internal rhyme like this line of poetry by Theodore Roethke “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow…” 

Two.  Enjambment. Enjambment is strategic line breaks that determine meter and rhythm, which can highlight a certain phrase or idea.

Three. Imagery. Imagery allows us to draw upon vivid description to create a word picture.  You can use concrete images, which are images that we can see or feel like the sun or rain, a cat, or a house. Abstract images denote things or concepts we understand but we cannot see or feel like love, freedom or justice. 

Four. Metaphor and Simile. These two figures of speech reveal hidden similarities and compare two ideas for poetic effect.

Five. Rhyme. Rhyme relates to words or lines that end in identical sounds. “Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though…” Robert Frost. 

Six. Tone. Tone is a particular use of voice that evokes a certain type of feeling or emotion like melancholy, happy, pensive, sad or angry, which is determined by specific word choice. This is an excerpt from Departure by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which shows a melancholy tone of voice.

I wish I could walk till my blood should spout, 
And drop me, never to stir again, 
On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out, 
And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain.

But dump or dock, where the path I take 
Brings up, it’s little enough I care, 
And it’s little I’d mind the fuss they’ll make, 
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.  

Source: Poetry Foundation. 

Seven. Poetry Styles. Explore the many poetry styles available. A poem is a  such a vibrant and versatile art form. There are many composition styles available – Free verse (which does not conform to traditional rhyming stanzas that contain a regular meter or rhythm), or an Elegy that can be used just as a poem or a song that portrays sadness.  

These seven techniques are just a few tools that the poet can access in their toolbox and some of these techniques can be used in writing stories, but they specifically belong to the world of poetry. 

Ultimately, the role of a poem not only serves the purpose of self-expression, but it can teach us something new, and also capture our imaginations and emotions.

If you would like more resources on poetry styles and authors go to the Resources page and click on the link for the Australian Poetry Library and the Poetry Foundation. Or you can have a read of some of my own poetry.

 

NEXT WEEK: Exploring Poetry Styles.

 

References:

Knickerbocker, William S 1925. “Matthew Arnold’s Theory of Poetry”. The Sewanee Review 33 (4). Johns Hopkins University Press: 440–50, via Jstor. 

Redmond, John 2006, How to write a poem, Blackwell Publishing, USA. p. 2.

 

Image:

Poetry. Gadini.

Pixabay.com

How to Write a Personal Essay

When I first started at university, one of the first assessments that I had to complete was to write a personal essay. I was familiar with the skills of writing an academic essay, but a personal essay had me mystified. I wondered, is it possible for the words ‘personal’ and ‘essay’ to belong together? The idea of a personal essay sounded more like an oxymoron than a creative writing structure that is affiliated with academia. But I was soon introduced to the academically-freeing and creatively liberating personal essay. Here are some tips on how to write a personal essay that will captivate your reader.

Writing a personal essay is an art form that many writers over the decades have embraced as a professional tool for personal exploration. A personal essay can be based on any topic and allows the reader intimate access into the author’s life experiences, observations and personal opinions. Some examples of personal essays by famous authors are: Why I Write by George Orwell, Professions for Women by Virginia Woolf.

A personal essay allows an author to explore a range of issues that are unique to the human condition and to try to make sense of the mysterious complexities of life. Writing a personal essay can be personally liberating for both the author and the reader.

The personal essay differs from an academic essay in a number of ways:

The Personal Essay.                                                                                             

  • Uses a subjective/informal tone (using ‘I’ first person narration).                 
  • Can contain elements of fiction – imagery, character, or point of view. (Although the personal essay is about exploring some concept or offering some fresh insight into an experience, using elements of fiction can create interest in your essay and keep your reader engaged).
  • Contains the author’s personal opinions that support the main topic.      
  • Can contain quotes and research.

The Academic Essay.

  • Uses an objective/ formal tone.
  • Contains facts/information/argument.
  • Contains qualitative and quantitative data that is supported by scholarly research and scholarly quotes.         

The overall objectives of the personal essay:

Aimed at a general audience as opposed to a specialist scholarly reader.

Allows the author to share and explore their personal opinions and private experiences.

Can be based on research which is necessary to support the main idea.

Offers knowledge on a particular subject in a general manner.

Offers a unique perspective on an idea or event.

Challenge social perceptions of a previously accepted idea or offer a controversial viewpoint.

Use a variety of tone – humorous, sarcastic or confessional.

One of my favourite personal essays is The Ambition of the Short Story by Steven Millhauser.

Overall, a personal essay can offer you an opportunity to explore and develop your unique literary voice and writing style. Whether you choose to a write a confessional or explorative style personal essay, this form of creative writing can be liberating and cathartic, and it can carry great significance for your reader.

 

Creative Task.

Write your own personal essay.

Step One.  Read one of the personal essays provided via the links above.

Step Two. Choose a topic that you would like to discuss or explore.

Step Three. Write a personal essay on your chosen topic or use the essay question provided below.

Look at my bookshelf! These are the books I read. To what extent can literature have an influence on or effect people’s lives? Discuss and explore.

 

Happy Writing.

 

Image: Creative Writing

Pixabay

How to Write a Dynamic Screenplay

This week I will be moving on to a different aspect of creative writing; writing the screenplay or film script. A screenplay is a complex dramatic form that requires a particular structure and format, so I will be doing a series on how to write a dynamic screenplay over the next few weeks, which will include:

1.  An overview of a screenplay.
2.  How to create a dynamic Screenplay Design Plan.
3.  How to format a screenplay.

There are many multimedia entertainment formats that utilise a screenplay or a script such as films, television, theatre, and video games, but I am going to use film as my frame of reference. The magical world of film-making has captivated our collective imagination since its inception in the late 19th century, and now in the 21st century, it continues to be one of the most popular mediums for global storytelling.

An overview of a screenplay?

A film, as opposed to a work of fiction, is primarily a visual medium, therefore a screenwriter needs to think in visual terms. Although the dialogue is important, a dynamic and memorable image can deliver information much more effectively.

A screenplay may draw upon many similarities that are attributed to a work of fiction such as a complex story-world, a strategic plot, and characterisation, but it predominately relies upon the art of visual storytelling.

In the world of film-making, a screenplay acts like “a plan” or a “blueprint” (Glenn 2008, p. 104) for everything that is seen and heard on the screen. So when it comes to crafting a screenplay, remember the all-important literary mantra, Show Don’t Tell.  As a film contains moving pictures, the screenwriter needs to be able to craft words that come “alive with all the motion and emotion” (2008, p. 104) that is synonymous with the silver screen.

Before you set out to start writing each scene of your screenplay, ask yourself these four questions:

1.  Does my opening scene create a dynamic image in the mind of the reader and will it work on screen?  Visualising your scene on screen is a good technique.

2.  Have I been economical when it comes to word choice (have I used dynamic nouns and strong verbs to communicate the setting, action, and characters)?

3.  Have I utilised a good balance of dialogue and action?

4.  Does my screenplay create interest and suspense? This is where re-writing and multiple drafts help.   

Remember: perfection takes time.

A screenwriting tip. Download the screenplay for your favourite film and analyse its scene structure, tone, etc.  Stage 32 provides copies of the latest screenplays, but registration is required.

More tips for writing an effective and dynamic screenplay.

Avoid using anything in your screenplay that cannot be communicated visually or aurally on screen.

Film-making is all about dramatisation, not exposition. Show don’t tell! Although the dialogue is necessary to reveal story and character information, a single engaging image can convey a thousand words. A close–up on a character’s face. The camera focusing on a single memorable image.

Choose action over dialogue. The saying “Actions speak louder than words” is just as true in the film world. And like real life – what a person does as opposed to what they say reveals their true nature.

Of course, dialogue is important, but when using dialogue use carefully crafted and strategically placed dialogue as opposed to a whole load of empty waffle.

I am in the process of re-writing a screenplay for a short film, and as I am a fan of dialogue, I have had to be ruthless and cut out unnecessary verbiage.

Keep in mind your audience when you are writing your screenplay and use strong images (especially in the opening scene), which will create a strong emotional response.

 

Next week:

How to Write a Dynamic Screenplay Design Plan.

 

References:

Glenn, John 2008, ‘The page: Words that move’, Writing Movies: The practical guide to creating stellar screenplays, (written by Gotham Writers’ Workshop Faculty; edited by Alexander Steele), A & C Black, London, Ch. 4, pp. 103-135.

 

 

Image:

Startup Stock Photos.

StockSnap.io