Writing, Writing Treks

Writing the Short Story.

I recently attended a Short Story Writing Workshop run by the Central West Writers’ Centre.  Award winning author, Chris Womersley was our teacher for the day.  His first novel The Low Road won the Ned Kelly Award for crime fiction.  His second novel Bereft was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, the Australian Society of Literature Gold Medal and won the Indie Award for Best Fiction.  In 2007 one of his short stories won the Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize, so we were in capable hands.

Here are some of Chris’s advice on how to write the short story:-

  • Be a bit of a magpie when it comes to getting ideas.  Stories are great ‘what ifs’.  Let the reader bring their own ideas to the story.
  • You need to make sure your story is for a short story and not a novel.
  • Don’t adhere too much to real life – experiment.
  • Story is conflict.  Expectations are thwarted, change the status quo.  Start story at the time of change – action, background, character.
  • Who is the best person to tell your story?  First person can be more compelling, third person has more scope.  Generally stick to one character.
  • Be ruthless to characters; kill your darlings.
  • Never use language that your character wouldn’t use.  If it’s out of character, lead up to it – set some groundwork or you could lose your reader.
  • Tense and point of view needs to be consistent.
  • Choice of words shouldn’t be random.
  • Sometimes you need to tell the reader certain things, rather than show. It depends upon the story.
  • Consider listening to music that co-incides with the writing you are trying to produce to help set the tone for your story.
  • Have you conveyed your message clearly?
  • Surprise yourself.  If it’s unexpected for you, it will be the same for the reader.
  • Resolution of plot is not the main attraction.

Have you written a short story?  Got any great tips for writing the short story?

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.com

Writing, Writing Treks

Writing Historical Fiction, Part 2.

Continuing on from last week’s post, this week I’m going to talk about characters within historical fiction.

The majority of people who attended the historical fiction course with me at the NSW Writers’ Centre, were writing about real characters from history and even stories about distant relations. I felt quite alone in creating a purely fictitious character!  Funnily enough, when discussing characters, our teacher mentioned Scarlett O’Hara, saying she was ‘a flawed character if ever there was one’.  When it comes to characters in works of fiction, Scarlett is one of my favourites – she is truly memorable because of her flaws, and as writers this is what we want from our characters.

  • Characters help drive the plot.
  • Readers want to go into a different world through your characters.
  • An interesting time in history can’t be interesting unless you have engaging characters.  Test their moral strength so that readers can identify with them today.
  • Fictionalise real characters.
  • When writing about real characters, it’s good to visit family to get more research, anecdotes, etc.
  • You need to have real characters in the right context – don’t make them do anything out of character.  Research the real character.
  • Characters can have weaknesses to keep them real so readers can identify with them.
  • Know the main things about your character before you write – the rest will evolve as your story progresses.  Characters need to ‘grow’ and not remain static.
  • Trust your subconscious – you don’t have to know everything that’s going to happen in your story before you write your book.
  • Characters have to indicate something about themselves; what they’re thinking.   There has to be a purpose in their dialogue.  Do not use modern speech or jargon.
  • If you’re not sure about details, ask yourself:- does it further the plot? set the scene? establish character? set the atmosphere?  Find a way to weave what you want into the story.

Above all, writing historical fiction needs to be historically accurate, well researched and have engaging characters.

Image copyright MGM


Writing, Writing Treks

Writing Historical Fiction, Part 1.

Recently I attended a Historical Fiction Writing course at the NSW Writers’ Centre.  Our instructor for the day was Dianne Armstrong, an award winning author, journalist and travel writer.

It was great to hear about her own experiences and to listen to some of the projects from other students.  Although tired after a long weekend driving to Sydney, I came home feeling a bit over-whelmed, but nevertheless awed and inspired.

Here are just some of the things I learned:-

  • Read as much as you can about your time period before you start writing – get a fair amount of research done before you start.  Researching as you go along stops the creative process.
  • You need to have some passion in a particular era.
  • Read books that were written at the time to get an idea of how people addressed each other, etc.
  • Read good historical fiction.
  • Give enough information to let the reader know where you are – get grounded in the period without bogging down the reader.
  • Your story has to be important to you in order to help keep your own interest.
  • Make sure your facts are accurate.
  • If possible, visit the place your story is set, if not, research as much as possible.  This helps with atmosphere.
  • Be selective of details – make sure they have a purpose.
  • What was going on in the world during that time?  This can be brought up in dialogue between characters.
  • Write a description of time and place without ‘spelling it out’.
  • Use scenery with the point of view of your character in mind.  Weave it in – don’t list things.
  • You want details, but not to swamp the reader.  You need to know more details than you put in.  Put details in that are powerful and meaningful.  The story becomes more powerful and vivid that way – insert details to help set the scene.
  • Experts are very willing to help – emphasise you want accuracy and be sincere.
  • If your story involves indigenous Australians, read as much as you can about them during your time period to get an idea of their feelings towards whites, etc.
  • Inanimate objects can play an important part in your story.
  • Use stronger verbs than adverbs.  Adverbs weaken the action.

Next week, I’ll be discussing characters in historical fiction.

Image copyright MGM

Crime & Mystery, Writing, Writing Treks

Crime Writing with Peter Doyle.

Over the weekend I attended a Crime Writing Workshop with award winning crime writer Peter Doyle.  He is the author of four books, including Crooks Like Us and City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948.  These books were based on extensive research in the forensic photography archive at the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney.

During the workshop, we got to view actual crime scene photos and were given a writing exercise based on a photograph of our choice.  It was great to hear so many different takes on these pictures, which highlighted the great potential for story ideas.  Peter also suggested another source for photographs included Picture Australia, which is part of the National Library of Australia.

Here is a snippet of my take on one particular photograph that aroused my curiosity:-

He walks into the bedroom, seeing the blood upon the sheets.  Large pools soak into both sides of the double bed as if two bodies had once lain there propped up against the pillows.  The light hanging from above ironically reveals the image of a cherub.  He begins to wonder if this is a simple domestic or something more sinister.

Admittedly, we only had about 15 minutes to write it, but it was fun.  Here are some more helpful tips from Peter on crime writing:-

  • Hook the reader in fast and slowly reel them in.
  • Keep it lean and keep it mean.
  • Remove adjectives – it kills visualisation.
  • Visit places like war memorials and cemeteries to find names – you get to see names you don’t really see anymore.
  • Australians haven’t written much about our own past in regards to everyday criminals and everyday people, so there is plenty of stories out there waiting to be told.

My thanks to Peter Doyle and Central West Libraries for a fun, informative workshop which left us all with plenty of scope for story ideas.

Image copyright Justice and Police Museum, Sydney.

Hits & Misses, Writing Treks

Write Around the Murray Festival.

In August, I ventured into unfamiliar territory, when I drove down to Albury for the Write Around the Murray Festival.

Earlier in the year, I was encouraged to submit some of my work for entry into a two day masterclass – the first to be held during the Write Around the Murray Festival.  This masterclass was to be taught by Debra Adelaide, author of The Household Guide to Dying and senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney.  To my surprise, I became one of six successful applicants.

At the festival, I was fortunate enough to meet many authors, including PD Martin, Shane Maloney, Dianne Wolfer, Michael McGirr and Dorothy Simmons.

The two day masterclass with Debra was intense, yet each participant made good use of her fifteen years experience as an editor.  Before the first day was over, I had a better understanding of where exactly I’m going wrong with my writing.  We managed to read and critique the work of others, experiment with first and third person, as well as discuss helpful books to read.  In the end we ended up doing a few weeks work within one weekend.

By the end of it all, I was mentally drained.  Despite the onset of flu, it was an enjoyable weekend.  I met some great people, made some contacts and have a better understanding of where I’m going as a writer.

My advice to you is don’t hesitate in applying for such opportunities whenever they arise.  You could be missing out on the chance of a lifetime.

Early morning in Albury small

* This photo was taken during one of my early morning treks, just across the road from our accommodation.  An idealic setting for writers!

Image by Debbie Johansson.