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.

 

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.

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Journal

KateCox

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Can Your Learning Style Determine How You Read a Story?

Storytelling is an integral part of human culture. Although storytelling has been around for thousands for years, whether it be through the earliest cave paintings, oral tradition, or via digital mediums, storytelling continues to be of great importance to the way we communicate.

In my conversations, I have discovered that there are many people who don’t like reading a book, which is hard for me to fathom as I have always been an avid reader. Some people have never read a book and the only kind of reading they engage in takes place on the internet. How much they are missing out on!

I believe that reading is so important, aside from providing an opportunity to temporarily escape from reality, it allows us to explore a range of human experiences that may vary from our own, and it can help to develop our imagination and our language skills. 

Books are an important part of our human history. From the moment of their first introduction into the world, they have provided opportunities for people to learn to read, to experience the greater world that was inaccessible at that time, and the humble book has even ignited revolutions.

There are many reasons why people avoid reading a book. They may not have cultivated a love for reading from a young age, they may have a learning disability, or they may not have access to a book in their language. But here is an interesting question: can your learning style determine how you experience a story?

There is another significant reason why reading a book is avoided; we all have different ways of learning and absorbing information.

Three Learning Styles

Extensive study and research show that there are three different ways of learning and absorbing information. They are called the Three Learning Styles or Techniques. I had learned about these learning styles some years ago and they have helped me to understand the best way for me to learn, absorb and retain information.

Once you have discovered your learning style it will change the way you perceive information. It will help you to choose the best way of experiencing a story and ultimately enhance your reading experience.

Here are the Three Learning Styles.

Although there are different approaches in explaining these learning styles, I have chosen to use a basic description.

Visual (Spatial)

You learn via the visual sense – seeing and looking.
You like images, pictures, and illustrations.
You like taking notes.
You tend to visualize things (settings, characters) in your mind when you are reading.

Audio

You learn via the auditory sense.
You like to listen to discussions and hear people talk.
You like reading aloud.

Kinesthetic

You learn by doing and by the sense of touch.
You like to engage in activities.
You like to ask questions during an activity.
You like working or talking with others in a team or group.

Why not try this creative exercise to discover your learning style. 

Once you have discovered what your dominate learning style is (there will usually be one main style that defines you), you can find a storytelling medium that best suits you.

Four Different Ways to Experience a Story.

Besides reading a book, there are many different ways to experience a story.

Audio Books

As well as audiobooks, you can also find websites where a book narrator provides stories via a podcast. Here is one website: Kris Keppeler narrates short stories. 

Watch a film with friends

If you are a kinesthetic person and watching a film or the television by yourself is boring, you could have a film night and discuss the film with your friends afterward as a group.

Smart televisions also allow for a community interactive experience. You can engage with other viewers by leaving comments via social media whilst watching a show.

DVD

Most DVD’s these days have an extra feature where you can listen to (and watch) the Director or Actors talk about the film, and a section where you can engage in social media discussions, or even choose alternate endings to a film.

Graphic novels

Books with pictures are a great way to encourage reading for the younger generation: children and adolescents. Developing a child’s reading experience at an early age can lead to an ongoing relationship with books that can extend into their maturing years. It can help them develop language skills, teach them to use their imagination, and promote empathy and intercultural understanding.

Digital Devices

If you are sight challenged or just a Digital Device fan, you can download books via Kobo or iBooks. Digital devices also allow for multiple book downloads and greater portability.

Internet/Social Media Platforms

There is ongoing research that argues that reading via the internet can be detrimental to our reading experience: it can affect our neural pathways by causing an inability to concentrate for long periods. But for those who are visual and/or kinesthetic, it can be a struggle to focus on just words on a page, so the internet provides many different ways of experiencing a story: YouTube, social media platforms like Facebook, and websites where you can share stories and chat with other writers.

Here are some creative writing websites.

Apollo Blessed
Skrawl
Scriggler

Digital Storytelling

Although digital storytelling is still being developed, you can learn how this breakthrough method of storytelling combines the three learning styles: visual, audio and kinesthetic. Have a look at my blog post on Digital Storytelling.

Immersing yourself in a story by reading a text-based book has so many benefits, but it may not suit everyone.  But when you discover your perfect learning style and choose a storytelling medium that suits your style, you will be able to fully discover the magical world of storytelling and enhance your reading experience.

 

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Books

Mysticartdesign.com

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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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Library 

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Top Five Creative Tips for Writing a Story

 

Writing a story can be a great experience, seeing your own little world come to life, but sometimes the art of creativity can be a challenge, so here are top five creative tips for writing a story

1. Write a Story in 100 Words.

Micro, flash or nano fiction is a great way to brainstorm story ideas and practice brevity in our writing. Specific word choices, a controlled use of adverbs and adjectives, and simple description can make the difference between a good story and a great one. Writing to a strict word count is good discipline and will tighten up your literary skills.

2. Create a Character Profile.

Characters are the heart and soul of your story. Try writing a story without a character. If it can be done, I have never encountered it, but it might make for an interesting creative exercise, besides this one as indicated below:

Start your story by creating a character profile.

Name

Physical Description

Age

Now start to build your storyworld around that character by answering these seven questions:

What does their world look like?

What is their social status, rich or poor, working class.

Who are their friends? Do they have any friends?

Do they have an enemy, a nemesis?

What is their MDQ (major dramatic question) they are trying to find the answer to? What is their goal?

What is the challenge they are trying to overcome?

Do they have any internal conflicts, do they harbour a dark secret, do they suffer from depression?

3. Make a List of Story Settings.

A setting creates a strong visual for your reader and sets them up for the rest of the narrative. Creating a unique setting can be challenging, so try thinking outside the narrative box.

An ancient city inside the earth
A haunted forest
An alternate universe
A setting from your last holiday
A civilization inside the cracks in the pavement
Inside the broom cupboard
A scene from your favourite novel

4. Write a Story Based on a Dream.

I dream a lot and sometimes my dream-life can be more exciting than my real one. So when I feel that my creative bank has been depleted, I just use one of my dreams and go from there.

So leave a notepad next to your bed and in the morning jot down some details from a dream that you think would make an interesting story.

5. Write a Narrative Based on a Media Story or Your Own Real Life Event.

When we think of the words creative writing we think in the terms of fiction, but the cliché ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ can also inspire our writing. A lot of what we see or read about in the media world is derived from true events, and our everyday lives can prove to be more riveting, inspiring or shocking than anything that is created in Hollywood.

Watching the daily news can shift from being a boring social practice, a front row seat to an out of control crazy world, to a rich melting pot for creative ideas. You can take an unsolved crime and create your own ending, or take a television personality (change their name of course) and weave a story around them.

These top five tips for writing a story should inspire you, but try brainstorming your own, and maybe drop me a line about your story ideas.

Happy writing!

 

 

Image.

Lisa Simpson. Writing is the hardest thing ever!

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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.  

 

Image:

Magic Books.

Fotor. Pixabay.com

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

The Power of Books and the Influence of Literature

 

For this week’s post I thought I would share my thoughts on the power of books and the influence of literature.  I would also like to compare the level of reading that takes place on the Internet as opposed to the reading of a book.  I have read a few articles on the hotly debated idea that high levels of interaction with the Internet could be ruining our concentration and changing the way we think as opposed to the reading of a book. So in order to brainstorm some ideas about the power of books and the influence of literature,  I will be using the format of a personal essay which is in response to the following essay question:

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

“I recollect nothing of learning to read; I only remember what effect the first considerable exercise of it produced on my mind; from that moment I date an uninterrupted knowledge of myself’” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1923, p. 7).

I cannot envision my life without books, and by books, I mean the good old fashioned paperback, not the static digital downloads that are on offer today. The humble book, whether it be a collection of short stories or a complex novel, have been to me, as Amos Bronson Alcott so aptly described, “books are…the best of companions, accessible at any moment…[and they] reward me with their company” (1872, p. 133).

Books provide me with an opportunity to open my imagination. They invite and entice me to embark on cost-free journeys to undiscovered realms and have enlarged my vocabulary.

I have been reading since I was very young and back then I would have read almost anything, even fashionista magazines, like Cleo and Women’s Weekly. Books of all genres have had a profound influence on me and have instilled a great love of the written word and a passion for writing. I had no need for pictures or illustrations, for the words and my imagination conjured up the necessary images, to visualize the scenarios contained.

 I would spend hours going through my nana’s bookshelf and explore the Reader Digest, starting with the humorous section“Mere Male” and then onto the “Real Life” story for that edition. I then started working my way through autobiographies, such as Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.  Above all, my favorite books were: The Anne of Green Gables series, The Narnia Chronicles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Lord of the Rings, and John’s Bunyan’s A Pilgrims Progress. My bookshelf still includes some of these books and I find myself going back and reading them again and again and still they enthrall me.

In high school, I was introduced to the unique realm of poetry and enjoyed reading and experiencing poems by literary wordsmiths, such as the Australian poet, Kenneth Slessor, in particular, ‘Beach Burial’, a mournful but beautifully crafted elegy for unnamed soldiers that were washed ashore at El Alamein. As Anthony Lawrence says about his introduction to poetry “… these poems gave me something I’d never encountered: a need to live for my imagination” (The Paper Trail 2010, p. 40).

My latest literary rambles have taken me into the world of the likes of Josephine Cox, whose novels are predominately set in Blackburn, England, in the 1800’s. I have spend many hours with the well rounded and engaging characters of Joy Fielding, the very down to earth and hilariously eventful novels of Sophie Kinsella, and have been riveted by the thrilling, nail biting suspense of James Patterson – just to name a few.

This is not to say that I have not read other works of literature, in order to understand the world of the past and present. During my course of study, books of academia have been added to my repertoire and have served to enrich my life in ways that a humble story cannot. I have enjoyed reading books on art, music and history, but my book of choice has always been a work of fiction.

A story is a work of art in itself and the interest in storytelling is universal, whether it be a child reading a book for the first time or an adult watching a movie.  The practice of storytelling is intrinsic to how we communicate and are entertained. Above all other mediums, through which storytelling is conveyed, none has the potential to draw us in, to hold us spellbound, but the unassuming book. But even more than storytelling, books have ignited revolutions, provided people with the opportunity to read in their own language, and to have access to information that was previously withheld from them.

In a world that is addicted to the power of technology, and a digital cyberworld that demands our attention, where we are compelled to work and play almost at the speed of light, the book invites us to draw aside, to curl up in our favourite chair, turn off the incessant mobile phone and enjoy a good yarn.

My bookshelf predominately contains books that are devoted to stories, from the impressive novel, that can suck you in and destroy a holiday as it has done many times for me, to the short story that can “… lay claim to a kind of completeness that eludes the novel” (Millhauser 2008).

During my short stint in youth work, I came across young people who had never read a book of any kind. Literature was a word from a foreign language and if they were ever tempted to try to read a book, it would have to contain pictures. Their attention span did not reach beyond the email, the phone text, or the next tweet.

As this world seems to get smaller due to the advances in technology and conversation is fast becoming limited to Facebook and Twitter – how does the book compete? Every now and then I visit my local library and am amazed to see people still reading and borrowing real books.

I believe that literature is so essential to our development and for our understanding of the world around us and our place in it. Exposure to reading literature should start from a young age as it enlarges the imagination and introduces a child to the greater world. Literature has the power to influence and affect people’s lives in many ways and one of the most defining influences is the level of interaction a book invites as opposed to the type of reading that takes places on the Internet

In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr argues that “the Internet could be altering the very structure of our brains” (Carr in Harris 2010).  He also raises an interesting comparison between the type of reading on the Internet and the reading of a book.  The Internet’s “cacophony of stimuli” and “crazy quilt” of information have given rise to “cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning” – in contrast to the age of the book, when intelligent humans were encouraged to be contemplative and imaginative” (Carr in Harris 2010).

But despite these Internet-based concerns by Carr and others, as long as people continue to read books and to write the stories that are contained within their pages, the power of the book and the influence of literature will continue to remain as a central part of our personal lives and our society.

 

Reference List.

Alcott Bronson Amos 1872, Concord Days, June, Books p. 133, Published by
Roberts Brothers. Boston. U.S.A.

Harris J 2010, ‘How the internet is altering your mind‘, The Guardian, viewed 14 March, 2016.

Lawrence A 2010, ‘Paper trail’, in Krauth, N & Brady, T, The Clunes little book of the book: five leading authors reflect on their relationship with the book, Creative Clunes, Clunes, Victoria, pp. 39-46.

Milhauser S 2008,  The Ambition of the Short Story‘ The New York Times, p. 31.

Rousseau Jean-Jacques 1923, ‘The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Part One, Book 1, P. 7. Published by Alfred. A. Knopf, New York

Additional reading.

Lehrer J 2010, Our Cluttered Minds‘ , from Hasselberger, William. “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” Sunday Book Review, The New York Times, Web. 15 March, 2016. 

 

Image.

Old Books. Josealbafotos

Pixabay.com.

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