Archives for how to write

I agree with… Pat Barker #amwriting #writerslife #writetip

Pat Barker “I do think that sometimes the seed that sets you off on the process of writing a novel can have been around for many years, even decades, before it actually – for some mysterious reason – comes to fruition… I think it’s almost a good sign if an idea has been fermenting for quite a long time in a sort of semi-conscious way. I’ve learnt to distrust the staggeringly brilliant new idea that was triggered by something that happened quite recently. Ha Ha! You need the dog-eared thing that’s been around for a long time, quietly nagging away at you.”  [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 25 2018]  This is so true. It is easy to be carried away by the bright new idea that seems to tap into the zeitgeist, but in my experience these don’t have the legs and can turn out to be superficial. Better nurture the idea that rumbles away in your sub-conscious, allowing it to unfold and multiply, to make connections with other reflections. Barker was talking ahead of the release of her latest novel The Silence of the Girls, a retelling of The Iliad, the story of the Trojan war,
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 38 Laburnum #writingprompt #amwriting

This is a photograph of a laburnum tree and it is going to inspire you to write a scary story today. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a short story or a flash fiction exercise about fear. First, seven facts about the laburnum tree:- The common nickname for the laburnum tree is the ‘golden chain’ or ‘golden shower’ tree. All parts of it are poisonous. The yellow flowers are pea-shaped, resembling but unrelated to the pea family. The fruit develops as a pod that is extremely poisonous. The wood is highly prized for making musical instruments. The heartwood of the laburnum is hard, chocolate brown-coloured, and often used as a substitute for ebony or rosewood. The outer, or sapwood, is a pale butter-yellow shade. Now consider each of these facts in turn, and write one paragraph about each in a fictional setting. Consider how each fact could be threatening. Review your paragraphs and look for links between them. Discard any that don’t fit. Now turn your remaining paragraphs into a flash fiction story including one of the following:- A poisoning; A miraculous healing; An unexpected musical triumph; A piece of furniture made from
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 116… ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.” ‘The Slaves of Solitude’ by Patrick Hamilton BUY Read my review of The Slaves of Solitude. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Reading Turgenev/Two Lives’ by William Trevor ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan ‘The Ghost Road’ by Pat Barker And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: THE SLAVES OF SOLITUDE by Patrick Hamilton #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2AD
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 37 Departures Board #writingprompt #amwriting

Imagine the following then start to write. You are eight years old. You are trying to find your way home to your parents. Reading is not one of your strong points. You look at this Departures Board and wonder which train to take. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a short story or a series of flash fiction exercises about narrative. Put yourself in the mind of an eight-year old. Alone at a large noisy railway station. You becomes he or she. He has run away from the place he had been taken to live. He wants to be with his parents. Take each of the above sentences one at a time and write your way into the scenario. This may take five paragraphs or five pages, the length doesn’t matter. Give your character a name. Decide where he has come from, and what happened there. Where is his home? What matters to him in his life? What is his favourite meal? Has he been on a train before? How does the station make him feel? Now write each individual part of the story in linear order: why he left his parents and his home;
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 114… ‘Agnes Grey’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity, that the dry shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut. Whether this be the case with my history or not, I am hardly competent to judge. I sometimes think it might prove useful to some, and entertaining to others; but the world may judge for itself. Shielded by my own obscurity, and by the lapse of years, and a few fictitious names, I do not fear to venture; and will candidly lay before the public what I would not disclose to the most intimate friend.” ‘Agnes Grey’ by Anne Bronte  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote ‘Family Album’ by Penelope Lively And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: AGNES GREY by Anne Bronte #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xM
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 36 Lion Gatepost #writingprompt #amwriting

A lion sits atop a gatepost. Is it a guardian? A shapeshifter? An enemy? An ornament made of stone? This is a writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Beat writers’ block today with this picture. Put down your pen and set aside your laptop. Study this photograph for one minute and memorise as many details as you can. Now, in one minute, write a list of what you remember. Choose a minimum of three and a maximum of five things from your list. Write a further paragraph about each. Remember to include emotions, descriptions, sensations, anticipations. Choose one of these three paragraphs, and write it the opposite way round. If it is happy make it sad, if it is threatening make it friendly. Now make the lion come alive and walk into your story. What happens next? Start writing. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Moon rocks Arrivals Board Is it red or is it orange What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 113… ‘A Good Man in Africa’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“‘Good man,’ said Dalmire, gratefully accepting the gin Morgan Leafy offered him. ‘Oh good man.’ He presents his eager male friendship life a gift, thought Morgan; he’s like a dog who wants me to throw him a stick for him to chase. If he had a tail he’d be wagging it.” ‘A Good Man in Africa’ by William Boyd  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ by Helen Fielding ‘Super-Cannes’ by JG Ballard ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA by William Boyd #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2si
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 35 Leaves on the Footpath #writingprompt #amwriting

Imagine being an alien, a foreigner in a strange land. Forget what you know. Open your mind to the new. This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series, designed for all writers of fiction, novels, short stories and flash fiction. Try this picture to kickstart an exercise about observation. Study this photograph and consider where you are standing. Survey your surroundings. Smell the air. Listen. Compare your observations with your own world. Write one paragraph describing your own world for each of the following. Temperature. Climate. Surroundings. Scents. Seasons. Sounds. Repeat this exercise for where you stand now on this footpath. Now choose three details from the photograph and describe them in the language of a person from your alien world. Consider their purpose in this world. For example, consider the loose green shapes at your feet. How are they different from the small pale shapes beside them? And why is one part of the footpath darker than the other? Are you seeing in colour, or black and white? Now you have built a small world for this alien footpath, consider turning it into a flash fiction story. For that, you need action. Choose one of these three actions:- A
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

How Lee Child writes #amwriting #writetip @LeeChildReacher

Lee Child “I love beginnings… Everything I do, I base on what I love as a reader,” he says when asked about his approach to writing. “I write one book a year, but read about 300. I’m more of a reader than a writer. Over 20 years I’ve learnt that writing and reading is an amazing thing. We have a transaction – the reader, in their heads, creates the book as much as I do. It’s an emotional contract. “I love beginnings,” he claims. “I love starting a book. The first sentence is unique in that it’s the only one that doesn’t follow another. It has to capture the mood, to give a sense of what’s to come. I’m very happy if I get a good start, and then it grows. Reacher has no idea what he’s going to do when he starts, just like in real life.” [in an interview with ‘on: Yorkshire’ magazine on October 19, 2017] I know what he means about first sentences, first paragraphs. When I’m idly browsing in a bookshop, the first thing I read is the first sentence. Not the book blurb, not the last page, not the author bio. And when I’m
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Categories: On Writing.

How George Saunders writes

George Saunders “My room is flooded with family photos, there’s a desk, a printer and two guitars that I play when I’m stuck in a paragraph. I work with an obsessive quality, but I’m wary of the blandness that routine creates and my best work is only summoned by irregular habits. Part of me wants to go through life on autopilot. I have to lure out the crazy person in me who’s honest and intense.” [an interview with ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ April 1, 2018]  The idea of stopping to play the guitar, to free the moment, to throw off predictability, really appeals to me. I don’t have a guitar but I do have a Yamaha keyboard in my study [below], its daily presence reminding me of my adult vow to rekindle my childhood piano playing. Later in the same interview, Saunders says: “I do a lot of semi-physical things to break up the day, like service the hot tub or record a riff on the guitar to restore my writing focus.” This made me laugh out loud. I achieve the same effect with a trip to the supermarket, loading the washing machine or going to yoga. But when I stopped
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 34 Is It Red Or Is It Orange #writingprompt #amwriting

Two people. Two opposing views. Consider a pair of lovers, a marriage, or two lifelong friends. Each has one strong conviction, which the other hates. So far apart are their views on this subject that they would disagree simply on a point of principle. Unblock your writers’ block with this writing tip from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Write a short story or an exercise about contextual layers. Consider your couple. How could their polarisation affect a mundane squabble? For example, is this geranium red, or is it orange? Choose your two characters and their existing relationship. Decide on the conviction of each, and the opposing argument of the other partner. Establish whether they still love each other, or is their relationship fracturing? Now consider their domestic daily life. Choose an everyday irritation and make them argue. Start writing the dialogue, multi-layered; the spoken disagreement concerns the everyday irritation, the unspoken text is about their polarised opinions. Wind up the tension until one, or both of them, explodes. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Cable Anonymous people Cutting down the trees for firewood What are‘ Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 112… ‘Affinity’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“3 August 1873. I was never so frightened as I am now. They have left me sitting in the dark, with only the light from the window to write by. They have put me in my own room, they have locked the door on me. They wanted Ruth to do it, but she would not. She said ‘What, do you want me to lock up my own mistress, who has done nothing?’ In the end the doctor took the key from her & locked the door himself, then made her leave me. Now the house is full of voices, all saying my name. If I close my eyes & listen it might be any ordinary night. I might be waiting for Mrs Brink to come & take me down to a dark circle, & Madeleine or any girl might be there, blushing, thinking of Peter, of Peter’s great dark whiskers & shining hands.’ ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters [UK: Virago] Amazon Click here to read my review of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Illywhacker’ by Peter Carey ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder ‘Goldfinger’ by Ian Fleming And if you’d like
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

How Philippa Gregory writes

Philippa Gregory “What is so wonderful about fiction, especially if you write it as I do, in the first person, is that you are there. In a sense it’s not as though I’ve taken the history and given it to the reader. It’s as if I’ve taken the reader and put them into the history… If a historical novel is successful then the reader isn’t saying ‘Hang on a minute, I know this,’ or ‘I’ll look this up’, they are caught up in the narrative.’” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 5, 2017] All great novels take the reader and put them into a world, a world they come to care about. Writing tension into a novel about any historical event is a challenge, when the ending of the event is well known. Philippa Gregory has made an art of this but she also chooses her history cleverly. Many of her main characters are women whose history is not so well known to non-history buffs, even if the larger political events of the day are. So the tension does remain. Her remark about viewpoint is spot-on. The author’s choice about third person or first person is key to
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Categories: On Writing.

#FlashPIC 33 Feet Beneath the Table #writingprompt #amwriting

Two pairs of feet, and knees, and legs. Unidentified. Anonymous. Gender undetermined. What is happening here? This is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series. Use this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story about a meeting between two people. Or use it as a dialogue exercise for your novel. They could be strangers, or lovers having an argument, or husband and wife splitting up. Or are they planning a murder? Decide on the gender of each person. Give them a name and sketch out an identity. Imagine how their voices sound when they speak. Next write some sample dialogue for each person, conducted with a stranger. The subject matter is unimportant. You should concentrate on the character’s speech pattern; is there something distinguishable about this person’s voice? An accent, a mannerism or verbal tic, foreign pronunciations? Decide on the general subject area to be discussed at the table in the photograph then make your two characters polarised in their opinions, taking opposite positions on the subject in hand. Now give them a problem to solve or a confrontation. Start writing the dialogue. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- How thirsty are you? Hotel corridor
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 111… ‘Reading Turgenev’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“A woman, not yet fifty-seven, slight and seeming frail, eats carefully at a table in a corner. Her slices of buttered bread have been halved for her, her fried egg mashed, her bacon cut. ‘Well, this is happiness!’ she murmurs aloud, but none of the other women in the dining room replies because none of them is near enough to hear. She’s privileged, the others say, being permitted to occupy on her own the bare-topped table in the corner. She has her own salt and pepper.” ‘Reading Turgenev’ from ‘Two Lives’ by William Trevor Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen ‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Haruki Murakami And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: TWO LIVES by William Trevor #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2qN
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 32 Cutting Down Trees for Firewood #writingprompt #amwriting

During the Second World War the Tiergarten, Berlin’s popular inner city park, was made unrecognisable as the trees were chopped down and used for firewood. Here is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story about wartime or a decision faced by a character in your novel. Imagine three things:- 1 It is winter. There is no fuel to heat your house. You can go cold, steal, or chop down trees in a local woodland. 2 What are the consequences be? How will your family survive? 3 How does your choice affect your household? How do your neighbours react to your actions? Take these three elements and write a flash fiction story, or a character exercise. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- These feet were made for walking St James Park, polite notice Between the train seats What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill that intimidating blank space. And it couldn’t be quicker. Writers’
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 110… ‘Jane Eyre’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question.” ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Last Juror’ by John Grisham ‘A Change of Climate’ by Hilary Mantel ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ by Clare Morrall And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xH
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 31 Clock at Waterloo Station #writingprompt #amwriting

Time marches onwards. What if you could stop it… for a minute, for an hour? Here is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story or a decision faced by a character in your novel. Imagine three things. What might happen if time were to stop, to pause… for a moment, a minute, an hour, a day? What would the consequences be? How would this affect one person? Where does it happen? Does time stop just for this person, or for everyone? Take these three elements and write a flash fiction story, or a character exercise. © ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’ by Sandra Danby Want more inspiration? Try these other FlashPICs:- Beware danger from high tides beyond Moon rocks These feet were made for walking  What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’? I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill that intimidating blank space. And it couldn’t be quicker. Writers’ BLOCKbusters is a collection of three ebooks of writing prompts. Why are they different? Precisely because they are short, easy to
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.

Great Opening Paragraph 109… ‘Sea Glass’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Honora sets the cardboard suitcase on the slab of granite. The door is mackereled, paint-chipped – green or black, it is hard to tell. Above the knocker. There are panes of glass, some broken and others opaque with age. Overhead is a portico of weathered shingles and beyond that a milk-and-water sky. Honora pinches the lapels of her suit together and holds her hat against the wind. She peers at the letter B carved into the knocker and thinks, This is the place where it all begins.” ‘Sea Glass’ by Anita Shreve Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Long Drop’ by Denise Mina ‘Lucky You’ by Carl Hiasson ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis Read my review of The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: SEA GLASS by Anita Shreve #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2xC
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#FlashPIC 30 How Thirsty Are You #writingprompt #writetip

Do you know how it feels to be thirsty? Really thirsty? Your mouth is dry so your lips are gummed together, the insides of your cheeks cling to your teeth. Your sharp-edged teeth cut into your tongue. You cannot count from one to five. Here is a writing prompt from the Writers’ BLOCKbuster series. Try this #writetip to kickstart a flash fiction story or a decision faced by a character in your novel. First create a world for your character. Where is he/she? Stranded on a mountain peak surrounded by rock? Adrift in a boat on the sea? On an unknown planet without a water source? In a drought when the taps run dry? Or is water available, but with-held or poisoned? Imagine severe thirst. If it helps, go without a drink for a few hours and note how you feel. Not just the physical changes, but how does it make you feel mentally? Are your thoughts as clear as usual? What is happening to your vision and your pulse rate? Now take a stressful situation, and put your thirsty character into it. What happens next? If there is a questionable water source available, what would your character do? Would he
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Categories: On Writing, Writers' BLOCKbusters and Writing exercises.