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.

 

Image

Hourglass.

Stevepb

Pixabay.com

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.

 

4 Creative Tips to Kick-Start Your Storytelling Resolutions

Once the fireworks go off on New Year’s Eve and the champagne flows, we are filled with expectation, which may get us thinking about our creative writing resolutions or tentative plans for the year ahead.  But sometimes we can get lost in the busyness of the new year, and our plans for our short story collection or novel gets left behind.  Our desires to fulfill our storytelling goals are strong, but we struggle to meet our own expectations.  So if your creative muse is still on holidays, or you find yourself staring at the blank screen of your computer or page of your journal in frustration, then do not despair – I have brainstormed and come up with 4 creative writing tips * to kick-start your storytelling resolutions. 

Writing a story does not always have to be a stressful thing, and you do not have to stay glued to the computer for hours on end.  If you are committed to setting apart just a few minutes during the week to write a few words, sometimes called the “little and often approach” can result in a short story or a novel.

You may find that you struggle with two things.

One. You may struggle to come up with an idea, especially a unique idea.

Two.  You may have so many story ideas milling around in your creative brain, you may not be sure how you are going to craft the idea into a successful narrative.

Even professional writers can flounder in a deep mire of creative ideas, and other times they may feel like their creative muse has left the building, and you may feel like that too.

So if this is you and you feel a little story barren, or if you have a multitude of story ideas, here are four creative writing ideas or tips hat will help you to get you back into the creative game, so to speak.

1. Develop a Story Plan.

Sometimes the way you have approached your writing in the past may not be working for you now. If you have hit a wall and your little micro world has been put on hold, developing a story plan can help you get organised. In no time at all, you will be able to create a dynamic story with a pulsing plot and compelling characters.  In one of my articles in Unearthed Fiction, a magazine that I look after, I provided a story plan, but here is an updated version.

2. Choose your genre.

Genre is a type of classification that can be applied to music, books, and film. It helps us to decide what music we will listen to, what book we will read, and what film we will watch. But genre is also an important tool for a creative writer. As well as using your favourite genre, try writing in an unfamiliar genre.

Before you choose your genre, do some research on the different genres: crime, romance, speculative fiction, horror, non-fiction.

As well as choosing one or multiple genres, why not try mixing genres. It might seem like a challenge, but we writers (secretly) do enjoy a challenge. Mix two genres together like crime and romance or comedy and horror.

You will be amazed at the plethora of ideas that you can come up with, and it can also refresh your existing story ideas.

3. Choose your setting.

Reading a story is so powerful, it can take us out of our familiar ordinary world into another unfamiliar and strange world. We can go on a journey anywhere around the world, into the past, the future, or even another dimension. Your choice of setting is an important one as it creates a strong visual in the reader’s mind. Try brainstorming a host of settings for your story.

You can start with a real world setting like the romantic city of Paris, the fast-paced metropolis of New York, or the seedy underbelly of Kings Cross in Sydney.

Why not try something out of the ordinary, an alternate reality, or even a microscopic world in the cracks of the pavement.

4. Create a profile for your characters.

Story characters are the most important elements in a story. They provide the psychology and action in a narrative. We live vicariously through them, and it is from their point of view and senses that we experience the story world.

The best characters are the ones that are fully developed and are as human as possible. Even if the reader cannot relate to the character’s situation, the character should be created in such a way that the reader should feel like they have stepped through a magical portal into another person’s world.

Part A

Create a basic profile for your characters by doing the following:

Choose a hero/heroine, one or two helpers, and a villain.

What are their names and what do they look like?

What is their social status: rich or poor or working class?

What are their flaws and fears?

What are their goals or desires in the story?

Part B

Give your character a dilemma to solve.

Once you have created your character profile for your hero or heroine, give them a serious dilemma that needs to be solved. Then write down two different ways they could solve the dilemma. They could face the dilemma bravely or they could take the coward’s’ way out. Next to each dilemma and their corresponding action, start to develop your narrative from there. This way you will have two stories to work with.

Creative Exercise

Sometimes story ideas can come to us while we are sitting at our computers, travelling on a bus, or even when we are listening to our grandparents tell their life story at the dinner table. But all too often it does not work like that. The story-line and characters do not always just miraculously come together, so here is a creative exercise that will help you get into the creative zone right away.

Step 1. Write down 5 story settings. You could choose a real life setting, a fantasy world, a romantic beach-side setting, a dark haunted forest, or a Dystopian city.

Step 2. Choose your lead character for each story. The lead character is usually the hero or heroine, but as they say, “Once you know the rules, you can break the rules”. Maybe your lead character will be the villain!

Step 3. Create an opening paragraph for each story – up to 100 words. You could start with a character description, fast-paced action, a question, or an intriguing idea. Here are some examples to inspire you.

Character Description

Your opening lines can introduce your main protagonist, for example:

“Ella leaned back against the cold damp stone wall. Her porcelain skin was pale and drawn with deep lines etched around her eyes and mouth, and her once glorious golden hair hung in matted tendrils around her face.”

Action

Starting your story with strong action is a great choice as it thrusts the reader into the thick of the story.

“The baying of the hunting dogs drew closer as he dashed through the thickly wooded forest. Like a mad man, he fought his way through the close-knit trees as their branches tore at his face until he was suddenly redeemed by a burst of bright sunlight as he stumbled out of the forest into a small clearing.”

I hope these four creative writing tips and writing exercise will help you to kick-start your storytelling this year, and I wish you all the best for your storytelling journey.

Happy Writing!

* This post is based on the article, Creative Brainstorming 101 that appeared in the December issue of Unearthed Fiction.

Image:

Journal

KateCox

Pixabay.com

 

How to Write a Book Proposal for a Publisher

So you have finished your book? That’s great! Your literary baby has been carefully crafted and completed.  All that perspiration and imagination has finally paid off.  It was well worth it all, wasn’t it? Even though you had many sleepless nights and you had to cancel so many social engagements. But now that your work is all done and dusted, you would like to share it with the world, right? Absolutely! I hear you say.  Aside from writing a book, whether it be a collection of short stories, a non-fiction travel guide, or a fantasy novel, writing a book proposal is the next big challenge to be faced in your creative writing journey. So how do you write a winning book proposal?

Before I get into the specifics of writing a book proposal, there are a few things you need to know about the publishing industry. I am talking about the traditional publishing market, not the self-publishing DIY option.

The publishing industry is one of the biggest mass media juggernauts in the world, and traditional publishers have very specific guidelines for book submissions. Publishers can afford to be choosy as there are so many authors around the globe who are writing novels and vying for the public’s reading attention.

As well as being a commercial enterprise that looks out for the next best seller that will generate high revenue, traditional publishers are also culturally minded and have the book-reading public’s interest to consider.

The humble book is still regarded as the perfect vehicle for the transmission of complex ideas, information and characters, so publishers are always looking for a book that is well-written, engaging and even ground-breaking. But the challenge is to get your book in front of the publisher’s commissioning editor.

Preparing a Book Proposal: Author Checklist

A book proposal is a formal way of introducing your book to a potential publisher. It includes details like the title of the book, tagline, synopsis, marketability, etc.

  •  Research the publisher

Before you start writing your proposal, research the many different publishers from small independent publishers to large multinational houses. Look at their existing book titles. What kind of readers do they target? Penguin Random House has an extensive list of genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, health, and fitness. They cater for an extensive readership: Children and Teens, Young Adults, and General Readership.

  • Read the publisher’s manuscript submission guidelines

Publishers have very strict guidelines on manuscript submissions. Some publishers accept submissions on particular days, like ‘Manuscript Monday’ or during the first week of every month. They may require you to submit your manuscript as a hardcopy or as a digital copy. They may only be accepting particular genres. Whatever you do, do not just send the manuscript and hope they will read it. Start your publishing relationship the right way, which is the publisher’s way.

Two very important things to remember when submitting your manuscript

 1. Never send your first draft

This probably seems obvious, but I have heard a few stories about dodgy narratives being submitted. No pun intended. Write a few drafts of your manuscript, check your writing for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes. Have someone else have a look at the manuscript. It is so easy to miss glitches in your own work, which may put your manuscript in the publisher’s shredder – a bit harsh I know.  But this point needs to be emphasised: you want to leave a good impression with your potential publisher. If they read your manuscript, they want to see that you take your craft seriously and you are dedicated to good writing.

Have a look at your plot, characters, etc. Are your characters compelling?  Is your plot fully fleshed out? Even though your book does not have to absolutely perfect, as the publisher will probably make some editing suggestions, it is still important that your story looks polished.

2. Never send the entire manuscript unless the publisher is asking for the entire manuscript

Publishers have a lot of manuscripts to read, so they may only require a sample of your work, and then if they think it has promise, they will ask to see the entire manuscript.  Once again, check their website to see what their requirements are.

Now that you have done your research and read the manuscript guidelines, it is time to start writing a book proposal. Here are some things to include.

1. Title of your Book

The title of your book is one of the most important aspects of your book. A good title can make or break a book. Choose a title that will catch the publisher/reader’s attention and imagination. Something short and catchy that sums up the theme of your book.

2. Tagline or Log Line 

A tagline is a one-line description that sums up the content of your book. It should mention the main character,  the character’s action or the main plot. The key to writing a good tagline is specific word choice and strong verbs and images that catch the reader’s interest.

3. Story Synopsis

The story synopsis is a concise description of the book that should be up to 300 words. The synopsis should include an overview of the main topic/themes/subjects, main characters, and narrative scope.

A good tip is to include the conclusion of the book as well so that the publisher can see the overall continuity of the plot, and that the book is actually finished.

You might find that some publishers may accept a book if it is not fully completed, but they will still need to see that you have written a substantial amount of the narrative. But it is very rare for a publisher to accept a book that has not been completed.

4. Length and Format of the Book

What is the word count of your book?  Novels usually contain 70,000 words.

Children’s Picture Books or Graphic Novels

If your manuscript is a picture book for children or a graphic novel, you can include the details of the illustrations or images that you want to include in the narrative. Some publishers ask for the images to be included as an attachment, or if they want hard copies, they will ask for a DVD. Are the illustrations or images your own work or do they belong to someone else like a paid illustrator? Be aware that some publisher’s like to use their own illustrators.

5. Author Details

Include your title: the name that you want to appear on the cover of the book. Also, provide a short biographical note (up to 50 words) that includes your occupation, special interests, any university degrees or achievements, writing awards, and social media platforms that you are actively involved with. Even though the publisher will promote your work, you are now an authorpreneur and you should also be dedicated to promoting your own work. If there are any other contributors/co-writers or illustrators, include their details as well. If you have sent your manuscript to other publishing houses, you should include those details too.

6. Manuscript Marketability

This section is very important as it shows the publisher that you are interested in them as a high ranking socio-cultural entity in the marketplace, not just because you want to them to publish your book and give you a substantial advance.  Here are some details that you can include.

A. Book Comparison.

Once you have chosen your publisher, have a look on their website. Find two titles that are similar to your book. Include the title of the book, the author and the book’s theme, and how these two books compare to your book.

A book is a marketable product just like a box of corn flakes. And just like any business, the publishing industry looks for a book’s marketability. There may be certain genres that are ‘trending’ at the moment like historical romance, crime thrillers, or speculative fiction. So have a think about what age demographic would be a good target for your book. Would it appeal to young adult readers of fantasy or paranormal fiction? If so, why would it appeal to this particular age group, which is usually from 15 up to 25? Does it include supernatural themes, dark fantasy settings and characters like vampires, etc?

B. Book Competitiveness

How will your book compete with other titles, what advantages or features does it have over existing titles? What is unique about your book, what is its strengths? What can your book bring to the global reading table that readers have not read before?

Maybe your book is a crime thriller and the plot centres on a brilliant, yet socially awkward female detective who hunts serial killers, but hides her own shady past. Maybe you use genre fusion, and combine horror with romance, or maybe your book is a modern fairy tale.

7. Domestic or International Marketability

As you consider the global marketability for your book, ask yourself these three questions.

1. Does your book have the potential to attract a global market with a wide readership?

2. Is your narrative set in a particular country, or does it focus on a particular people group like indigenous people?

3. Will it appeal to some niche groups like university/intellectual readers or for those readers who are interested in social justice issues?

Even though the overall marketability of your book will be determined by the publisher, your own research shows that you have done your homework and that you are passionate about your craft and your book.

8. Contact Details

Include your contact details: email address, telephone number, and your postal address (for formal correspondence).

9. Manuscript

Some publishers will ask for the entire manuscript, while others may ask you to send in a certain amount of pages.

Finally, although there is no secret formula for getting a publisher to accept and publish your book, learning the tricks of the publishing trade, and writing a book proposal that adheres to a publisher’s guidelines, will give you a better chance at having your book shared with the world.

I hope you have found these tips on how to write a book proposal for a publisher helpful, and I wish you all the best for your writing career.

Happy Writing.

 

Image

Steel Lock/magazines

Agnail. Pixabay.com

 

 

An Exegesis for Second Chance: A Short Story with a Social Conscience

 

One of my short stories ‘Second Chance’, which is featured in the short story collection: Tales for the Sisterhood, is about a young girl who is struggling to cope with the devastating effects of bullying.

My prime motivation behind this story is firstly the subject of bullying, which is a serious social-cultural community issue.

Bullying has been placed centrestage under the media spotlight, and anti-bullying programs and initiatives have been introduced into schools in an effort to try to stop this destructive behaviour, which is endured by children and adolescents, and also in the workplace.

TV shows such as A Current Affair and 60 Minutes have shown that bullying has become more insidious due to social media usage by young people, through platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This online form of bullying is more invasive and it is difficult for young people to switch off from its effects.

Days have gone by where bullying was confined to the school-yard, its presence can now invade into personal living spaces.

My second motivation for this story came from my own experiences with bullying at primary and high school, during which time I was also struggling to cope with a family unit breakdown. Due to my love of painting and writing, I found it therapeutic to express my thoughts and feelings in this creative way.

During my university journey, I conducted research into bullying and different forms of therapy, while creating Second Chance. Organisations like the Sydney Centre for Creative Change hold workshops and courses for youth workers, and offer creative therapy for young people who are dealing with trauma. These classes not only aim to build an artistic skill base, but to empower students to solve problems creatively.

Creative therapy provides a positive course of action that can be taken by the sufferer, giving them back some control.

A lot of my own teenage angst was responsible for creating the character Kara, minus her physical responses to bullying. Like Kara, my favourite subject was Art, and besides English, these subjects were the only ones I succeeded in. As this short story is aimed towards the Young Adult market, in particular, high school students, I wanted the narrative to be primarily from Kara’s perspective on her world, and I hoped to capture the pain of her struggles in such a short word count.

My own reading of young adult novels like John Marsden’s Winter and Amanda Hocking’s Switched, also inspired me to present Kara as the conflicted and misunderstood heroine, who begins her journey towards a psychological transformation, through a Creative Therapy Class.

My other literary challenge was how to begin the narrative. I wanted to highlight Kara’s home life as well as her school-related abuse and then briefly show the beginnings of her personal victory. I decided to include the ‘cutting’ that she considers earlier in the narrative. I have heard that young people can sometimes make the heartbreaking decision to resort to self-mutilation to try to control their emotional pain.

Kara’s choice to use the ‘fight not flight’ response is due to her repressed frustration; not that this is an excuse or an acceptable response to bullying. A young person should stand up to victimisation, but they should not have to do this ‘standing up’ on their own. A strong support system of friends, family members or counselors should stand with them.

The use of creative therapy is not a solution to bullying or other stressful events that can occur in childhood or adolescents, but it is one conduit through which young people can channel their thoughts and feelings, within a safe environment.

My hope is that the short story ‘Second Chance’ may inspire young people to share their stories and not stay silent about bullying. Help and support is available.

 

Here is a excerpt from Second Chance. 

 

The computer screen flickered, which meant that another post was being entered onto my Facebook feed. I turned toward the computer and stared at the words.
“Yur such an ugly useless fat bitch. It wuld b beta if U were ded!!!”

Even though they were just words on a screen, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Although I went to a small country school, I was not immune to the normal school-yard bullying, but now that it had
begun to invade my private and personal space, it seemed that there was nowhere to hide. In the past, I had tried to stand up for myself in an effort to stop the bullying, but it usually escalated into an ugly fight, and I
had been expelled more than once.

The only part of school that I did like was art class, especially when we would use watercolours. My teacher, Mrs Anders, had taught us to use a hair dryer to make the water mix with the paint. I found it fascinating to watch the colours swirl into a multitude of patterns like a kaleidoscope. She would always praise me for my work. “You have such a talent, Kara. Your work is so vibrant.” I would never reply, but in my heart I felt something stir.

 

The full story and other short stories in the Sisterhood Collection are available through Amazon or the Book Depository.

 

Anti-bullying campaigns and related websites. 

ChooseREAL Campaign

Make Bullying History Foundation

 

 

References.

Chloe’s Law, 60 Minutes 2013, television programme, Channel Nine, Sydney, 10 November. YouTube.

Hocking, Amanda 2012, Switched, St Martin’s Press, New York.

I would get death threats”: A Current Affair 2011, television programme, Channel Nine, Sydney, 21 September.

Marsden, John 2000, Winter, Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited.

Sydney Centre for Creative Change

Understanding Teen Cutting and Self-Injury Boystown.org.

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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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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Poetry analysis of Paul Muldoon’s poem ‘Why Brownlee Left’

Why Brownlee Left

Why Brownlee left, and where he went,
Is a mystery even now.
For if a man should have been content
It was him; two acres of barley,
One of potatoes, four bullocks,
A milker, a slated farmhouse.
He was last seen going out to plough
On a March morning, bright and early.

By noon Brownlee was famous;
They had found all abandoned, with
The last rig unbroken, his pair of black
Horses, like man and wife,
Shifting their weight from foot to
Foot, and gazing into the future.

Paul Muldoon‘s poem ‘Why Brownlee Left‘ (1980), is a enigmatic narrative about an Irish farmer who abandoned his farm lock stock and barrel and was never seen or heard from again. The title sets the tone for what follows, but it is rhetorical as there is no answer or explanation given for the farmer’s disappearance.

To convey the mystery, Muldoon utilises figurative techniques like the simile of comparing Brownlee’s “horses, like man and wife” in an effort to offer a possible personal motivation as to why Brownlee left his farm. But the poem is more than just a enigma about the disappearance of this seemingly content and prosperous farmer, but it is also allegorical and suggestive of Brownlee’s need “to break free from a prescribed future” – his programmed and daily banal existence of farming life (Muri 1995, p. 44).

Muldoon seems to use Brownlee’s abrupt departure to carry a deeper undercurrent that reflects Muldoon’s own “aimless travels”, where there is “no reassuring resolution” – a sentiment that is also present in the similar Irish poem “Immram” that records a hero’s sea journey to the Otherworld (1995, p. 44).

The tone of uncertainty that flows through ‘Why Brownlee Left’ is given greater emphasis by the uneven line breaks in the second stanza, and the sad imagery of Brownlee’s abandoned and wistful horses who gaze into an uncertain future.

When I read this poem I felt that Muldoon used this folk enigma to explore our deep human need to understand our destiny, whether it is to be found in the everyday or in the extraordinary.

 

References:

Allison Muri 1995, ‘A Pilgrim’s Progress: Paul Muldoon’s “Immram” as a Journey of Discovery.’
The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 21, No. 2. pp. 44-51, viewed 24 December, 2013.

BBC Northern Ireland Learning, ‘Why Brownlee Left’, viewed 24 December, 2013.

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Top Five Authors Who Can Inspire New Creative Writers

I have been inspired by many authors throughout my creative writing journey, and as it helps to learn from the best, I have compiled a list of the top five authors who can inspire new creative writers

No. 1.  James Patterson

James Patterson is a highly successful American Crime Writer who is famous for his fast paced, heart stopping and gripping thrillers. As a long time fan of James Patterson, I have never been disappointed. I have just finished Alex Cross, Run, and I was intrigued by the dual plot-lines, with Alex Cross hunting down two psychopathic killers, while also being hunted by a revengeful nemesis who will stop at nothing in destroying Cross’s reputation and family.

The Alex Cross series is a favourite as Patterson’s hero is a classic example of a four dimensional character. We see Cross in dual social spaces, his work and home life, we have access to his intimate thoughts, and more importantly we have access to the perspective of the nemesis or villain on Cross. Alex has victories and temporary defeats and exhibits many character flaws, which are highlighted  in this novel. These characters flaws help us to identity with his struggles as we cheer him on as he fights against evil.

Patterson also knows how to draw his readers into the short bursts of action contained in his novels.  He also provides us with a detailed outline of the psychology of his villains.

His dialogue is straight to the point, and every word is strategically placed and is used to good effect. Also his book chapters are short and there is plenty of white space, which provides for a pleasant reading experience. 

No 2. Patricia Cornwell. 

Patricia Cornwell is one of my favourite forensic crime thriller authors. Her heroine, Dr Kay Scarpetta, is a dedicated medical examiner who not tracks down serial killers but she has also been on the receiving end of crime. Scarpetta has had her share of complicated romantic and family relationships and she expresses empathy for the victims of crime.  

Cornwall’s writing style is engaging, and she keeps the reader guessing up until the finale. She also rates quite high on my list for the creation of a strong and sassy female character, who is not afraid to get her hands dirty, and she can hold her own in a male dominated world.

No. 3. Sophie Kinsella

Among many of her books, Confessions of a Shopaholic (2001) is a bestseller that has secured a global readership and ongoing commercial success. Whether you love or hate chick-lit, Kinsella’s narratives are easy to read and her characters are humorous.

Shopaholic has gained in popularity with its predominately youthful demographic of readers, due to its references to recognisable fashion brands, magazines, and department stores. It also features ‘chick-lit style’ characters, like the famous Bridget Jones, who tend to be urban women, employed in the media industry, are relatively successful, and continually struggle with romantic foibles or consumerist angst, with sobering, but hilarious results.

Kinsella’s book has undergone scathing reviews as many media commentators have tried to understand the book’s success, and many feminist writers have lashed out at the depiction of women in her books, but regardless of the socio-political uproar, the book’s key selling element is its lovable leading lady, Becky Bloomwood, who has catapulted Kinsella to literary notoriety.

Bloomwood is the bumbling and ditzy heroine who gives out financial advice in her day job, whilst being chronically in debt due to her out of control shopping addiction. While Bloomwood and her crazy antics provide for a good laugh, there is clear message about the effects of mass consumerism and crippling financial debt without being too preachy.

From a storytelling perspective, Kinsella’s characters are hilarious, the plot is faced paced, similar to that of a crime thriller, and her writing style keeps the reader riveted to the narrative up to the last page.

No. 4. Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is another highly successful book that continues to dominate the literary field of mass market adolescent books.

I had never heard of The Hunger Games before the films premiered, and in hearing the arguments for and against their controversial content, I saw some of the films and then decided to read the first novel in the series.

Collin’s storytelling adequately draws the reader into a Dystopian world that lives in fear of an annual sadistic reality television show that involves a gladiatorial style of combat with a twist – the opponents are ordinary teenagers as opposed to skilled soldiers.

The Hunger Games is also an interesting example of an intriguing generic mix. It draws upon a mix of science fiction, adventure, drama, and action. Its key selling point is the unique combination of a popular 21st century television phenomenon – ‘Reality TV’ – and the Romanesque style of entertainment.

I chose The Hunger Games for this list of top five authors, not because of his mass appeal, but due to the main character, Katniss Everdeen, the young heroine whose bravery and sacrifice is the driving force behind the plot as she volunteers to take her younger sister’s (Prim) place in the games.

Collins has created a dynamic heroine who is an active female character who not only becomes a symbol for bravery for her hometown of Seam in District 12, but she has also been tagged as a positive symbol of courage for modern day teenage girls.

Although the book has raised controversial debates over its high levels of violence that is perpetrated by children, it is Katniss who heroically displays empathy and inner strength in the face of such violence.

The controversial debates have not affected the book’s popularity as it has reached almost mythic proportions in its readership popularity.

No. 5. Daphne Du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier is an English author, who bases the majority of her narratives in Cornwell, Southern England.

Her novels were inspired by the mysterious, yet breathtaking landscape of the Cornish countryside, the idyllic, yet secretive villages, and especially the shifting moods of the beautiful, but sometimes treacherous, Bodmin moor.

Daphne is an all-round storyteller who has not limited herself to one genre. She displays a talent for being able to create novels that cross many genres/sub-genres such as: a short story collection that centres on the macabre, a speculative fiction novel, The House on the Strand, that combines the supernatural and science fiction, and also historical romances.

Many of Du Maurier’s historical romances contain an element of mystery, and the narratives foreground strong active female heroines.  Novels like Jamaica Inn and Rebecca centre on heroines who endure hardship either due to abusive or conflicted men, and these women are often left to fend for themselves in isolated and gloomy houses that carry dark secrets. Although it seems at times that these women are doomed to fight a losing battle, they are victorious, and their abusers or antagonists are brought to justice.

Although there are many great storytellers to choose from these days, I have chosen just a few of my favourite top five authors who have inspired me in my creative writing journey.  I hope that they inspire you as well. 

 

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