Friday, 27 February 2015

Getting characters right


A lot of my teaching focuses on characters. They are, after all, our major tools as writers.

So how do you create them? Here’s some thoughts:
* Maybe base them on people you know but beware of the law. Don’t lift your local vicar wholesale and turn him/her into a cold-blooded killer! Make your characters composites of several people

*Describe their physical characteristics You can do it one bit or slot descriptions in as you go.   Describe their clothing etc but move beyond simple facts, try to capture their demeanour. How do they speak? Brusque, garrulous? How do they walk? Don’t overdo it, though, too much description slows down stories. I often think a line or two will suffice

* Visualise the person, think of small things which make them stand out

* Describe their views, their emotions, their thoughts

* Maybe come up with something that makes them different. A hobby, an odd phrase that they keep using

* If this is a major character get to know them particularly well. How do they react to things? Make sure they are strong enough to carry the story on their shoulders. And we must care about them - not necessarily like but care.

*Take care with minor characters as well as major, they’re important, not cardboard cut-outs.

Above all, ask yourself are your characters REAL?

John Dean

Not that I want to argue with you


Writing arguments is an important part of fiction but creating them is a deft art. Here are some thoughts:


They shouldn’t have repetitive elements. Unlike real arguments, which go in circles for ages

 

They shouldn’t be boring. Written arguments are there to forward the plot along. They should reveal something about a relationship between two people or give the reader information about a problem

 

There should be some sort of immediate outcome from the argument, unlike in real life

 

Remember how rules of conversation work

* A lot of the time, we do not speak in correct sentences/we often use short sharp phrases.

* Keep your dialogue crisp - we can tell a lot about a person in a short snap of conversation.

* We interrupt a lot.

* We assume a lot. Not Your brother has been murdered.

What, my brother Brian?

Yes, thats him. Your only brother. The younger one. With the red hair

Keep it realistic.

* Dialogue must take the story on. Only write small talk if you need to, ie showing how tedious a person can be. If you dont need it, dont write it. Make sure each word does a job.

* Do not pack dialogue with extraneous information

 

 

John Dean

Thursday, 26 February 2015

So what makes good crime fiction?

Following the news that we are to run an online crime fiction course (details on the home page here at www.inscribemedia.co.uk) ) I thought it would be useful to look at how to write a good crime story:

* The story should be strong

* Create a strong sense of place - the reader must be able to visualise where the action happens

* Create strong characters - do not stray into cliché, make our investigators real people. Your hero must not be perfect, he or she must be flawed but be careful about writing in too many flaws

* If you create a sidekick, make sure they have a job to do - passing on information, allowing your main character to react so we learn more about them etc

* Make the villain real not some clichéd villain from the movies. The best thing is for them to have appeared earlier in the story so the reader knows them. Give them a good reason to commit the crime - secrets, secrets, always secrets

* Grab the reader from the start. Here is an extract from an interview with the author Nick Brownlee explaining how to do it:
Q The opening scene of Bait features a character being gutted alive on a fishing boat. Was it always in your mind to start the book with such a gory scene?
A I have been a journalist for the best part of 20 years, much of that time writing stories for tabloid newspapers. The first lesson you are taught is that you must grab the reader’s attention with the very first paragraph, because by the third they will have lost interest in the story. It’s the same with commercial fiction – especially if you are an unknown author. In order to get published, Bait had to leap out of an agent’s slush pile and then make a publisher look twice. I needed an opening that would catch the eye. Hopefully it will have the same effect on the casual reader.”

* Even with a short story, it is worth mapping out a synopsis because crime stories are be definition complicated and you need to get it right

* Keep the story moving - nothing holds a reader better than tension creates as the pace develops. Keep it driving on relentlessly

* Think about your ending - surprise the reader, have some drama, a chase, a fight, a killing, a dramatic revelation

* Feel free to makes us think - maybe you want to cast light on human nature, or perhaps a problem in society, Do not preach but feel free to let that idea come through in your story



John Dean

Online crime fiction course is launched

Crime novelist and creative writing tutor John Dean is launching an online Crime Fiction Course.
John, author of 12 novels published by Robert Hale, and the creator of DCI John Blizzard and DCI Jack Harris, also runs Inscribe Media Ltd, which is based in Darlington in North East England, which will be offering the course.
The online course, which runs in eight parts and can begin at a time and date to suit the student, will help writers to improve their technique and improve their chances of being successful, either in competitions or admissions to publishers.
When they enroll, students will be offered ongoing one-to-one feedback on their work, be it short stories or novels.

John, whose latest novel A Breach of Trust came out in January 2015, and who is a member of the UK-based Crime Writers’ Association, said: “Writing can be a lonely pastime and my aim is to help aspiring writers to improve their technique and improve their chances of being successful in a very competitive market.

“Crime fiction remains hugely popular and, hopefully, I can help aspiring writers to develop their ideas, and because it is online it does not matter where they live. In recent years, I have worked with writers from everywhere from Croatia to Australia and New Zealand.”

There is no official certificate of qualification at the end of the course, which will be led by John and features:

• Personal attention

• Exercises and practical work

• Discussions by email

• Because the tutor is on line, you can do the work at time and pace that suits you

Themes to be included are:
An examination of where ideas come from - what triggers ideas in writers?

Once you have the idea, how do you develop it? The course will look at the art of  plotting

How can you use places and landscapes to aid your story telling?

How do you pick characters to do the job? What are their functions in storytelling? This will include a look at creating villains

How conflict can be used to develop stories that assume a life of their own

That all important start to your story - how do you grab the reader right from the off?

Writing with pace - how do you produce a narrative that keeps your reader turning the page?

Pulling it all together - how to produce the finished piece of work.

Editing - how to make those changes that make all the difference.

Pitching to publishers and agents

The course costs £75. For further details you can contact John at deangriss@btinternet.com

Inscribe Media’s website, which also has details of other courses and the company’s mentoring programme, can be found at www.inscribemedia.co.uk

Monday, 23 February 2015

Arts festival programme is launched


Details of the 2015 Darlington Arts Festival have been announced and it promises to offer an exciting celebration of the borough’s cultural life.

The festival, the third to be held, will be staged at a wide range of venues across the borough and is being co-ordinated by Darlington for Culture (DfC), the voluntary group which speaks for arts and culture in the area. It will run from April 20 until the end of May.

The idea of the festival came from DfC in the wake of the closure of Darlington Arts Centre in 2012 and was designed to provide a focus for the town’s arts and culture community and to show case its many varied offerings.

This year, almost seventy events, taking in everything from art and literature to music and dance, for all ages will be staged at more than 25 venues. Highlights include:

 

* Politicians will debate the future of arts and culture funding in a pre-Election debate which will launch the Festival. The free event is being staged on Monday April 20 at 7pm in the Liddiard Theatre at Polam Hall School on Grange Road and Darlington candidates from the main parties have agreed to take part, including answering questions from the audience. The event will be chaired by Chris Lloyd, the Political Editor of The Northern Echo.

 

* A number of events to draw attention to the 190th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, including a railway-themed Film Festival featuring classic moves including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Railway Children to be run by Darlington Film Club, which is based at the Forum in Borough Road, and events at Head of Steam, Darlington’s railway museum.

 

 * A month-long literary festival, featuring numerous readings, discussions, writing workshops and book signings, including a day of workshops on Saturday May 16, organised by Authors North, the northern group of the Society of Authors, at Teesside University, in Vicarage Road, followed by an evening of readings of award-winning short stories at Voodoo Café, 84 Skinnergate, Darlington

 

* Several art exhibitions including  The Materialistics – A Grand Tour between May 12-July 2 Crown Street Art Gallery, Crown Street Library, Darlington. The Materialistics are a group of knitters and stitchers, ranging from novices to experts, who enjoy practicing their skills in creative ways, using recycled materials whenever possible.  

* A series of music events, including Darlington Jazz Festival, with events at venues across the town between Thursday April 23-Sunday April 26 including on

Saturday 25th April  an afternoon of free outdoor jazz at the Joseph Pease Area and High Row in the town centre.

Among other musical events, there will be visits by musicians from America and Italy and on Saturday May 16 Darlington Folk Club will present a Folk Music and Dance Day in the town centre, including musical performances and folk dancing

* Sunday May 10 will see the Arts Showcase Event take place between 10am and 4pm.  Co-ordinated by Darlington for Culture in partnership with a number of other organisations and individuals.

Previously, this event has been held in the Market Place.  This year it is moving to Darlington’s ‘Cultural Quarter’, the area along Borough Road from the Civic Theatre, past the site for the new Children’s Theatre Hullaballoon, past the Forum Music Centre up to Darlington College and Teesside University in Haughton Road. 

This family event is free to everyone and has a theme of Arts, Music, Crafts, Leisure Activities, Theatre and Dance with many organisations involved. There will be three open-air performance areas and shows will take place throughout the day. Middleton Street Peace Garden, commemorating the loss of two local men in the First World War, will be opened at midday by Lord Sawyer, Chancellor of Teesside University and a Darlingtonian.

If your arts group or organisations wishes to take part in the showcase, please contact DfC at darlo4culture@gmail.com

 

DfC Chair John Dean said: “This year’s festival promises to be excellent, providing an opportunity to celebrate the range of activities on offer.  Darlington’s arts and culture scene is alive and kicking and the festival gives people the opportunity to enjoy what is on offer. There really is something for everyone.”

 

DfC Secretary Matt Roche said: “The sheer array of events that will make up Darlington Arts Festival 2015 demonstrates that the cultural community is thriving in the town. This is based on the hard work of lots of brilliant people, often who are not paid but do it for the love of the arts and where we live. We'd urge everyone in Darlington to join with us to dance and sing and laugh and express ourselves. After all, in these difficult times, arts and culture help remind us what it is to be human.”

 

Stephen Wiper, Creative Darlington Manager, said: “2014 was a great year for culture in Darlington, with Darlington Arts Festival, Darlington Comedy Festival, Darlington Community Carnival, Darlington Dance Festival, Darlington Jazz Festival and the Festival of Thrift.  Great festivals and the Jabberwocky Markets are raising our profile and help the local economy and help bring a smile to people’s faces.  

“Major Lottery funding awards secured by Darlington Civic Theatre and Theatre Hullabaloo in 2014 will help preserve and promote our theatre heritage and enhance the borough’s rich reputation for art going forward. 

“The Forum, the Bridge Centre for Visual Arts and Crown Street Art Gallery are also thriving thanks to people’s hard work. 

“People are now expecting great things from Darlington and Darlington for Culture play a key role in mobilising skills, talent and enthusiasm across the borough and in harnessing the we can do it spirit. They’ve made Darlington Arts Festival into something we can all be proud of.   I would like to congratulate Darlington for Culture and everybody who’s helping the arts flourish in Darlington.”

John Rice, Chair of Authors North, the northern group of the Society of Authors, said: “This year we’re organising our spring events as part of the Darlington Arts Festival. Authors North is the northern group of the Society of Authors, and as such we’re passionate about supporting cultural festivals in the north. We’re delighted to be part of the third annual Darlington Arts Festival.”

 

Supporters of the festival include

Creative Darlington

Cleveland College of Art and Design

Resilient Business Systems

Ephemeral Web Design

Darlington Borough Council

Newcastle Building Society

Forum Music Centre (run by Humantics)

 


Twitter at @darloartsfest, Facebook at darlingtonartsfestival2014

 and a brochure will be circulated throughout the town nearer the time

Friday, 20 February 2015

Writing courses and mentoring


Novelist John Dean is running an online mentoring and writing workshops programme for aspiring authors.

John, who is based in Darlington, in County Durham, North East England, and has had twelve crime novels published by Robert Hale, of London, is a co-director of Inscribe Media Limited, which is running the programmes.

John, who also runs creative writing courses in Darlington, said: “Writing can be a lonely pastime and our programmes help writers tackle some of the many challenges that it throws up.

“We focus on major issues, such as how a story hangs together, what characters are doing or could be doing, what is hurting a story’s momentum and what story elements are not pulling their weight.

“We identify the differences between good and great writing and point out an author’s strengths and weaknesses so that they become more confident.

“We help authors establish good processes and writing goals and suggest markets for their work.”

The programme includes long-term mentoring and short writing courses.


You can also access a free downloadable writing guide at www.inscribemedia.co,uk and find free tips on the blog at the site.

John can be contacted at deangriss@btinternet.com

 

 

A matter of conflict

Conflict is important, nay central, in writing .

Why? Because stories need things to happen and that usually comes out of conflict - characters argue, fight, feud etc.

It is through seeing characters in conflict that we see them at their truest, when their guard is down, when they are fighting something. 

You can also develop a character through conflict: the meek little parlour maid suddenly becomes the towering heroine of the story

Conflict also takes the story on: a school is to be closed, two friends fall out, a community is torn apart by an event. All these types of conflict are a rich hunting ground for the writer.

In addition, conflict can evoke a strong reaction in a reader and make for good drama - and if that is happening then writing is easier.

 

John Dean

Starting stories


Here’s some thoughts on starting stories.

The cardinal rule is to include most of the individual elements that make up the story. An opening paragraph should have a distinctive voice, a point of view, a rudimentary plot and some hint of characterisation.

You might be tempted to begin your narrative before the action starts but far better to begin at the first moment of something interesting happening, which is more likely to grab the reader‘s interest.

If you feel compelled to begin a story with dialogue, keep in mind that you’re thrusting your readers directly into a story in which it’s easy to lose them early on. So keep the dialogue to a minimum. One way around this is to begin with a single line of dialogue then offer some context before proceeding with the rest of the conversation.

John Dean

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Author tops jobs poll

New research has shown that the top three most desirable jobs to have in Britain today are author, librarian and academic.
The YouGov research reveals that the most desired jobs in Britain are not necessarily the most reliably well paid ones but ones that are seen to retain an aura of prestige
Being an author is the number one most desired job. Not only would the most people like to be one (60%), the smallest percentage would not like to be one (32%). Second place was librarian (54%) and third academic (51%).
So there you are writers – think of the prestige next time you sit down to a hard slog writing the next 5,000 words of your opus!

John Dean

Creating minor characters

Following on from my previous blog on creating characters, a word about minor characters and the care you need to take when creating them.

But why, you may ask, spend unnecessary time on insignificant characters? Some may be so negligible that they won’t even get names: the servant who brought the drinks; the hotel maid who cleaned the room, the policeman who jumped out of the way of the speeding car and so on.

They deserve care because, although the reader isn’t supposed to care much about them, they still have a job to do. Their individuality may set a mood, add humour, make the story more interesting or complete. They may also reveal something about your main characters.

Be warned that if a character who isn’t supposed to matter starts distracting from the main thread of the story, you either cut him/her out entirely or you figure out why you, as a writer, are so interested in her that you’ve spent more time on him/her than you meant to.

There’s nothing wrong with a background character attracting that kind of attention—as long as you realise that he/she isn’t part of the background anymore. The readers will notice him/her, and they’ll expect his uniqueness to amount to something.

 

John Dean

Creating characters

A lot of my teaching focuses on characters. They are, after all, our major tools as writers.

So how do you create them? Here’s some thoughts:
* Maybe base them on people you know but beware of the law. Don’t lift your local vicar wholesale and turn him/her into a cold-blooded killer! Make your characters composites of several people

*Describe their physical characteristics You can do it one bit or slot descriptions in as you go.   Describe their clothing etc but move beyond simple facts, try to capture their demeanour. How do they speak? Brusque, garrulous? How do they walk? Don’t overdo it, though, too much description slows down stories. I often think a line or two will suffice

* Visualise the person, think of small things which make them stand out

* Describe their views, their emotions, their thoughts

* Maybe come up with something that makes them different. A hobby, an odd phrase that they keep using

* If this is a major character get to know them particularly well. How do they react to things? Make sure they are strong enough to carry the story on their shoulders. And we must care about them - not necessarily like but care.

*Take care with minor characters as well as major, they’re important, not cardboard cut-outs.

Above all, ask yourself are your characters REAL?

John Dean

Monday, 16 February 2015

So where do ideas come from?


I’ve been doing a lot of teaching on the idea of ideas lately and came across these excellent quotes.

·         People always want to know: Where do I get my ideas? They're everywhere. I'm inspired by people and things around me. (Gwendolyn Brooks, American poet)

·         My standard answer is "I don't know where they come from, but I know where they come to, they come to my desk." If I'm not there, they go away again, so you've got to sit and think. (Philip Pullman, English writer)

·         Ideas come to a writer, a writer does not search for them. "Ideas come to me like birds that I see in the corner of my eye," I say to journalists, "and I may try, or may not, to get a closer fix on those birds." (Patricia Highsmith, American crime writer)

·         It's very blurred, it's not clear. The plan is something which gradually evolves. Usually, I'll just start with one particular idea or certain image or even just a mood and gradually it'll kind of grow when other things attach themselves to it. (Jane Rogers, British novelist, editor, and teacher)

·         Anything can set things going--an encounter, a recollection. I think writers are great rememberers. (Gore Vidal, American novelist, playwright, essayist)

·         You can write about anything, and if you write well enough, even the reader with no intrinsic interest in the subject will become involved.
(Tracy Kidder, literary journalist)

·         "From you," I say. The crowd laughs. I look at the woman asking the question; she seems innocent enough. I continue. "I get them from looking at the world we live in, from reading the paper, watching the news. It seems as though what I write is often extreme, but in truth it happens every day."
(A. M. Homes, American novelist and short story writer)

·         My usual, perfectly honest reply is, "I don't get them; they get me."
(Robertson Davies, Canadian novelist, playwright, and critic

So what gets your juices flowing?

We’re debating this on our Facebook page at

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Inscribemedia/183385438479538 

John Dean

You have to laugh

There’s an old saying that if you are not a humorous person, don’t try to write humour.
Well, it is only part-true. It is certainly the case that a straight-laced, humourless person might well struggle to write side-splitting comedy but if you are an author, that might not be a good enough excuse.
Why? Because humour is vital to creating good fiction. Even if you are not writing an out-and-out comic piece, humour has a role to perform.
For a start, it can create light against the dark. Take an example: you are writing a sinister piece with the tension building as the tale unfolds. You might decide to keep the tension going right to the end, which would be one way of writing it.
However, you might decide that a flash of humour, a single line of dialogue by a character, could momentarily ease the tension, cause the reader to relax slightly, and provide an even greater impact when you suddenly strike with the next piece of drama, or horror or fear. Ghost and horror writers know that trick well - they are past masters at toying with their readers.
Humour also works well with novels because a relentlessly heavy theme in a story can benefit immensely from the odd break for something a little lighter.
There is another good reason for using humour in your writing because it reveals things about your character and can show another side to them that the reader might not have seen before. Or it can reveal in a brief conversation the depth of two people’s relationship.
And it does not need to be side-splitting humour, that is not the intention: it has other roles to perform.
As one critique of the great William Shakespeare said: “Humour is a tool that allows us to see the subtle details of their minds; a glimpse at the inner workings of each character’s personality. It is through the humour that Shakespeare employs that we are able to see “roundness” in characters that could be otherwise doomed to exist as “flat” characters. Shakespeare uses humour to give his players new life, to help them expand beyond the bounds of mere characters and turn into real people.”
And look how well he did!

John Dean

Friday, 13 February 2015

A question of structure

One thing that is interesting me at the moment is structure. Most writers go for the traditional idea of a beginning, middle and an end told in simple narrative form but a significant number opt for flashback.
Both are effective although flashback does carry the gamble with it that you know what happens at the end of the story. Nevertheless, flashback can work very well. Just look at the Colombo television detective show to see how knowing the end does not ruin the enjoyment of the rest of the story.
A number of writers, particularly short story writers, opt for diary entries, taking the story day by day. I think this is a terrific way to do it because it gives your story a natural structure right from the off.
Diaries were hugely popular as a fictional tool in the 19th and 20th Centuries and had started to die off a little before Bridget Jones returned the genre to mass appeal in the 1990s. I think that another reason why diaries are so popular is the Net and the way writers are increasingly using the structure and language of blogs and emails to tell their stories.
Of course, one drawback with diaries is you can only tell the story from one viewpoint so cannot switch to other scenes, other people etc. But in the short story, the single viewpoint approach can work brilliantly.
 
John Dean

The language of love?

One of my big messages in my teaching is that writing has two sides -  technical (most writers can string words together in a competent fashion) and added value - the emotions, images, the concepts, that make what would be otherwise 'competent' writing jump off the page.
This comes to mind because I am about to go on local radio after the Inkerman Writers, the group of which I am part and which I teach, was asked to write some romantic poetry for the station for BBC Tees for Valentine’s Day.
Now, I do not write much poetry and am not particularly romantic (not sure how many crime writers are!) but there are universal lessons here. At the heart of each great poem, story, script or novel is emotion. The good writers present beautifully-drawn characters whose thoughts, fears and emotions leap off the page and grab the attention. It is what makes the good writing special.

John Dean

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Nurturing talent through our e-books

A reminder that we have published seven e-books

Lost Souls by Roger Barnes When young women start to go missing in Africa, an  International Strike Force is assembled to rescue them.

Harry’s Torment by Michael Beck Set in the fictional east coast port of Thirlston and centred on investigators tackling the heroin trade. 


 
Cyber Rules by Myra King. The novel by Australian writer Myra tells the story of a farmer’s wife in isolated rural Australia. Caught up on the addictive side of the Internet, she holds a secret which may prove to be deadly. 

Global Shorts - an anthology of short stories taken from the early years of the Global Short Competition.

Vegemite Whiskers - a selection of some of the finest writing from Australian authors who have entered the Global Short Story Competition.

White Gold by Roger Barnes A thriller by Roger Barnes taking the reader into a world of intrigue and danger set amid the poachers of Africa.

Haghir the Dragon Finder by John Dean, a comic fantasy for older children. Haghir 

and his hopeless comrades are dragon slayers seeking a new challenge.

All the titles can be obtained by keying their titles into the search field of the Kindle shop at www.amazon.co.uk  Australian readers will have to purchase via Amazon US at www.amazon.com

* If you don’t have a Kindle, there is a free Kindle reading app for your PC at 


* You can find more about the books on our website. You can also check out our ebooks on Pinterest at http://gb.pinterest.com/inscribemedia/

When you just have to write

I love it when writers are excited by the power of their stories, by a desire to tell tales, when they are grabbed by an idea so compelling they just have to write about it.
I believe that, to make a story work, you need three things. For a start, you need a good strong story, one that will sustain the narrative without losing the reader’s interest.
Then you need a strong sense of being, characters that are real and take over your story. If you are writing well, those characters should be speaking to you, writing their own dialogue, twisting your plot their way.
Then there is the third corner of the triangle, a sense of place. Your reader needs to know where the story is happening, to feel you take them by the hand and walk them into your world.
Once you have got those corners in place, everything else flows from them - narrative, drama, pace, tension, depth and the like.
 

John Dean

The rhinoceros in the room

I often write about beginnings and one sure-fire way of starting a good short story or novel is to pose a question in those first few lines, something that makes you want to read on.

Why is the person in that situation, what are they nervous about, what are they about to discover, what ordeal are they about to experience, why is there a rhinoceros in their living room?

Or perhaps it is a few lines about a character who immediately intrigues us. We have all walked into a room and found our eyes drawn to one person in particular and found ourselves wondering what they are like.

Writing is like that, too, and a good way of starting stories is to draw the reader’s eyes to your character in a way that makes us want to read more, because they have, after all, walked into somewhere that we have created.

Or perhaps, neither of the above fits your writing style. Perhaps it is simply a piece of descriptive writing that is so wonderful, so evocative, so beautifully crafted that your reader simply has to experience more of it.

Whichever option you choose, there is one golden rule on which we can all agree. Don’t bore us in those first few lines - grab us at the start and you’ve won the first battle.

 
John Dean

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

When short is best


Following my previous blog about choosing the right vehicle for an idea, and that if a short story has to become a novel to do the idea justice then so be it, in this blog I am looking at the counter-argument. Namely, that short fiction is the way to go for many writers (and readers with busy lives and strictly limited time to read).

As a writer, I am interested in the idea of flash fiction, both as a distinct genre and also for the way that it can help writers specialising in other formats.

Flash fiction, as I am sure you all know, is very short writing: some stories can be as short as six words, even less.

I know that it is not for everyone but I believe it does have applications if you are writing short stories because of the way it concentrates the mind.

It might be that you are tempted to spend two or three paragraphs describing a place or a person. That could well be fine but how much better in a short story if you can do it in a single line? Why much better? Because it leaves you those other paragraphs to take your story on.

I am one of those writers with split opinions about flash fiction. I like the idea of novels - after all, I write them - in which writers have the time and space to develop their themes, where you can devote half a page to describing something if the story requires it, but I can also see the advantage of an economical way of writing as promoted by the supporters of flash fiction.

Even though my novels run to 65-000-70,000 words, I have increasingly embraced the idea of economy, taking out words, lines, paragraphs, sections, extraneous material, all in the interest of creating a sense of pace and focus.

 

John Dean

Throwing it away


Sometimes, I find myself telling a student that they ‘have given their idea’ away, by which I mean that the idea for a story is a really good one but that it has been wasted.

For instance, I worked with a writer with an idea for a crime short story, based on revenge, an old theme but one that was being presented in an original way.

However, although I liked the idea, the short story format meant that none of the characters were well drawn.

I could not help thinking that in order to make the concept work, we needed to learn more details about each of the victims so that we could sympathise with them more.

I appreciated that a shorter piece did not permit much detail but I felt that in this case, it was required and if that meant it became a novel to do the story justice then so be it.

And yes, I know some of the most brilliant ideas have made terrific short stories, and that in the hands of a good writer, 2,000 words can be as effective as 65,000, if not more so.

But sometimes I do think that by choosing a shorter format for whatever reason, the potential for a truly great piece of storytelling is lost.

 

John Dean

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Good dialogue


Dialogue is crucial to the success of any story. Good dialogue can make a story, bad dialogue can wreck it.

Bear in mind some of these rules of conversation and reflect them in the dialogue that you write.

A lot of the time, we do not speak in correct sentences/we often use short sharp phrases.

Keep your dialogue crisp - we can tell a lot about a person in a short snap of conversation.

Dialogue must take the story on.

Do not pack dialogue with extraneous information. Dont write like this:

“I saw William, although everyone calls him Bill, my neighbour of ten years in Acacia Avenue, in Darlington, and observed that he was his normal glum self, to which we - that is my wife, Edith, and I - have grown accustomed in the weeks since his wife left him for a younger man and filed for divorce. I assumed that the darkness which seems to have assailed him since then has not lifted.

If you need to slot in that information, find a way of doing it more subtly: ie Saw Bill this morning. His usual gloomy self. Not sure hell ever recover. The divorce really has knocked him backwards.

John Dean