Start writing fiction 2: the habit of writing

How do you write? What inspires you? Where do you like to write? Do you set aside a regular time to write? Find encouragement, tips and tricks to discover what works best for you.

Exploring and developing your own rituals. A journal is a resource for ideas, props, working methods…observation and imagination – the importance of detail. Developing your powers of observation and including a high level of detail can affect your writing style for the better. Make your observations as detailed as possible. (As a less is more type of writer/editor this is counter-intuitive for me.)

Using language:

  • Get into the habit of looking through your dictionary whenever you can, noting in your journal words you like and derivations that are interesting to you.
  • Start to keep a note of words you hear in conversation, and in everyday life – the phrases, words and speech patterns people use.
  • Think about words you particularly like and why. Keep a note of them, where they derive from, and why you like them. They needn’t be ‘exotic’ words, but perhaps ones you liked because you heard them used in a surprising context.
  • Be wary of using large, Latinate or multi-syllabic words gratuitously. Make sure that such words earn their place in your story. If in doubt, use the shorter, more commonly used word.
  • Be wary of using hackneyed terms or phrases, clichés and the types of phrases that are too familiar. Plain language, deeply understood, is ample to convey the most sophisticated and complex meanings. Often ‘ordinary’ words are made vivid and memorable by appearing in unexpected places, or by being used in surprising ways.
  • Try describing something familiar with one or two ordinary words that you wouldn’t normally use in that context.

Starting from a blank page – prepare by taking time to research and review your notebook:

  • Gather information or research – check that you know enough about a character or place or period before you begin to describe them or it.
  • Visualisation – perhaps your story stems from a single image? Focus on that; turn it over in your mind. You might not know where it came from or why, or even what it means. Composing a story around this image might be your way of ‘unpacking’ it, and discovering its significance through writing about it.
  • Regarding length – have in mind an approximate idea of the length you imagine your story will run to, before you write it.
  • Considering shape – will there be much dialogue or description? Will the story be divided up in any way, perhaps into sections or scenes?

Starting phrases:

  • finding a voice – write approximately three lines that follow on from the phrase ‘Emma said that …’. When you’ve finished, cut ‘Emma said that’. Notice how little has been lost: you’re still left with whatever Emma said.
  • begin with ‘I remember’, write three lines to follow on from that phrase

So set yourself a realistic goal each time you sit down to write. Find out how much you are comfortable writing each day. Achieve that. Then extend it and try to double your output.

Exercise: imagining writing spaces

Imagine two different venues for writing – one that seems most suited to you, and one that you would find bizarre or too difficult. Write a paragraph describing two writers at work, one in each of the venues.

Exercise: develop your character sketch 

  • Is there an opportunity to add the thoughts of your character?
  • Can you situate your character in relation to a particular location?
  • Does what your character says in their dialogue tally with what they think, or is there a discrepancy?
  • Can you smuggle in some details about your character’s back story, their life prior to when we meet them?
  • Can you try to infer how your character acts in the world – for instance, are they overwhelmed or in some sense out of control (like Spicer in the Greene extract) or are they hapless (like Victor in the Atkinson extract)?

From the quiz:

  • a way to convey a character – describe where they are walking as a way of reflecting thoughts and situation

According to the organisers, 46K postings in discussions and comments so far…feel the width! Not sure how much really useful feedback is being given as opposed to the usual FutureLearn staccato.

Extensive bloggage from Kristene Collins (@KristeneCollins), A work of fiction (David/(@Smee_Dyer) and Lucy Waterfall (@WaterLucyFall), but the most interesting to me was Cat Lumb (@Cat_Lumb):

The course isn’t really striking the right balance between creative license and creative guidance for me – they are guiding, but only down a particular route and it’s not one that I’m inclined to follow if I feel it is compromising my ability to be creative.

I’ve not added much to my Fargo ‘journal’ yet, but it is there, and I am compiling prompts and ideas. I’m here to find ways to increase my creativity and most of the exercises etc aren’t it, but still interesting to see how a writing course operates in practice. The difference a MOOC brings is less instructor feedback and more peer.

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