Creative Writing Classes – Winter 2015/16

UPDATE: FIRST CLASS, MONDAY 23 NOVEMBER, 7.30pm-9.30m at The Canal Centre Tearoom, Linlithgow.

I shall be running my first season of classes this winter, for ten sessions initially, with a break for Christmas and New Year. The first class will be on Monday 23 November at the Linlithgow Canal Centre Tearoom, from 7.30pm to 9.30pm. Cost: £15 (discount for all 10 classes £120 – normally £150).

The classes will be a combination of structured and informal (fun) participatory elements. The objective for this first season is that everyone completes at least one short story of between 2,500 and 5,300 words, which will be published in an ebook, to be made available free through Amazon.

CLASS PROGRAMME

Creating the story
Using The Hero’s Journey structure, you will learn how a story is assembled and the elements that go into making an engaging tale.

Creating Characters
An all important element of great stories is great characters. We will look at how to create complex, multi-dimensional characters with whom to populate your fiction.

Dialogue
Dialogue is not conversation. I’ll say that again: dialogue is not conversation. We will look at the purpose of dialogue, how it differs from conversation, and how to use it to best advantage in your work. And how to write it, naturally.

Point of View (POV)
Understanding point of view in a story and how the POV character draws in the reader. We will also take a look at tenses (and tension!). Third person point of view, first person point of view and second person point of view – present, past and future – yes, you can use any or all of these to great advantage.

Genres
Student choices. We can take a look at some of your favourite genres and see how you might begin tackling them: crime, romance, science fiction, horror and others.

Practicalities
Preparing and formatting manuscripts, editing your work, and submitting your work. Yes, I will be encouraging all of you to submit work to prospective publishers – short stories, poems or otherwise.

On the Night
Please bring along your writing tools – notepad and pencil, laptop or tablet. Laptop users, please ensure you have a fully-charged battery as there are no power points at the venue.

If you have any questions or wish to confirm attendance, please email me.

Thanks for your interest, and I look foward to meeting you on the night. And I hope you will let others know about the classes, too. Please note that there is scope to change the night of the class, subject to everyone’s availability.

Interview on Black Fox Literary Magazine

Black Fox MagazineA while back, Black Fox Literary Magazine got in touch to invite me for an interview. I was, of course, delighted that they had sought me out and asked such interesting questions. I especially enjoyed the one about whether any monkeys were involved.

You will find the interview on the Black Fox. I hope you will consider giving feedback, asking questions and generally supporting this excellent publication.

New on Adventures in SciFi Publishing

A double whammy (as we say in the UK): a review I did of Mike Resnick’s book, The Doctor and the Dinosaurs, and a podcast interview with me, both on Adventures in SciFi Publishing.

The podcast mentions that the audiobook download version of Bone Machines is $1.99 – sorry, but that offer has now been closed. However, the new price, still discounted, is $14.96.

In the interview, show host, Timothy C. Ward, and I talk about the craft of writing. We cover a range of topics, including:

  • How to ensure your dialect is accurate when writing in a non-native culture
  • What idioms can we use when making up worlds and civilizations?
  • “The rhythm of the language is more important than the words that you use.”
  • How religion affected early censorship as well as in modern books, but also the surprising openness to sex that non-religious people react to.

A big thanks to Tim for the interview. Though, to be fair,  I thought I was online to interview Kay Kenyon, but Tim snagged some of our informal chat beforehand to put into the podcast.  You’re so sneaky, Tim!

 

Hollywood the Hard Way

I was tempted to call this posting, “I’m too old for this shit,” to give you a clue as to what it’s about.  And, yes, you’ve got it, I am talking today about clichés.  Clichés, the writer’s sworn enemy. Clichés have a way of sneaking in under the wire, in the work of even the most seasoned of writers. At high school we were told by English teachers in no uncertain terms to “avoid them like the plague.” Did you notice what I did just then? I used a cliched expression “avoid them like the plague.”

My point being that school kids are allowed to get away with them. It’s – another cliché – a learning curve. However, seasoned Hollywood scriptwriters, directors and producers have no excuse. Clichés can of course be employed  in a tongue-in-cheek way, but not when they are used and re-used in the same way. We all know the hoary old cliché of the aging cop who is brought out of retirement to track down the killer he failed to capture first time around. At some point, during a shootout, or when he’s trying to vault a wall, or when he’s in the middle of a car chase, he’s going to say (I promise you): “I’m too old for this shit.” And on the subject of car chases, why is it, I wonder does the driver of the fast car, when he’s trying to escape the pursuers, invariably says, “Hang on.” Talk about a needless instruction. Also, I asked myself, hang on to what? Your hat? Your cojones? The air?

My all time favourite Hollywood cliché, though, has to be THE BIG SPEECH. In way too many films these days, whether it’s a high school teen romp, a romantic comedy, a courtroom drama, or a sci fi epic, there’s a scene close to the end when all is put right. The anti-hero finds redemption, and stands up on a platform and tells everyone what a bad person he has been and how he has changed because of the love of a good woman/parent/mentor/dog. Or the villain is crushed – usually in a very public place like Prom Night, an assembly hall, a football arena, or somewhere else large and crowded – while the hero publicly shows his triumph. Admittedly, I did want to cheer when Al Pacinio, in the film, “And Justice for All” turned on the client he was defending and declaimed to the judge and all assembled in the courtroom: “He did it. The sonofabitch did it!” Only now I’ve lost count of the times I have watched that same scene, or one much like it, played out again and again in Hollywood movies.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a huge amount of respect for scriptwriters. Many of them do a sterling job against all odds (budget, market forces and so on). But the producers and directors all too often go for the easy way. They somehow believe that this kind of nonesense is what the audience wants. But, in my view, all these clichés and cop-out endings simply insult audiences. Honestly, Hollywood, you don’t need to over-explain everything. And, if you’re going for laughs, come up with some new lines, please.

 

 

Writing: Character as action

Today’s writing tip, if you want to call it that, is about character and dialogue.

A wise writing guru (I think it might have been Ursula K. LeGuin) revealed a core truth about one aspect of writing that has stuck with me. It’s this: dialogue is not conversation. Which means, in a story with to and fro conversation that sounds too much like real life – “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?”, and so on – serves no purpose in a story. Sure, we can have snippets of regular speech, provided there is a point to them. What a character says, and how they say it, can express something about that character. It can also move the story along. So, instead of a block description of an action, or event, a bit of snappy dialogue might move things along faster and, potentially, in a more interesting way.

Much the same can be said when choosing character names. A name can tell you something about the character, and not just nationality. If you’ve got a character, for example, called Helen Highwater, what does that tell you? Okay, that’s not a great name, unless she’s a character in a comic novel. But you immediately form some sort of view about what kind of character she is. How she talks, and what she talks about, will flesh her out, too. Which means you don’t even need to physically describe her.

Which reminds me, I really must now write a comic novel in which a certain demon librarian, called Helen Highwater, features.

As ever, please add your own comments. I love to read other people’s ideas and points of view.

Writing tips: 2

Write with the heart, edit with the head

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.” – Ancient proverb.

Some people write endless notes before they start on their novel. Some write notes, then more notes, and never get started. Or they get an idea. Or several ideas. And never get started.

What I say this: just start writing. Don’t worry about a detailed synopsis, or voluminous character notes, or world building. Just write.  Write with your heart. With your guts. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do. Be a rebel.

Once you’ve done the first draft, you can then start editing. With your head (as well as your heart of course).

Writing tips: 1

The first in a series of writing tips that I have gleaned over the years. Hope some of you will find them useful. I’d love comments, too, if you want to improve on them, or want to send me some constructive disagreement.

Number 1: Write like you mean it

I have observed, over the years that some published and unpublished writers work hard to create stories purely for effect. To shock. Or to fit into a marketplace. For some people that approach may work. But readers aren’t stupid. They can spot a fake immediately. Trying to be clever is a transparent tactic, and particularly painful if you don’t have the skill to pull it off, to make is seem as though you are in earnest.

Honesty needn’t be the exclusive preserve of so-called “serious” literature. I feel it’s equally important to write like you mean it in genre fiction as it is in any other area of literary endeavour.

So, I recommend that instead of faking it, you try to feel it.

What do you think of this? Can you give examples of fakes, and contrast with good examples of the real deal?