So I haven’t been blogging about Start Writing Fiction the past few weeks – and that’s because most of the work I’ve been doing was stuff I couldn’t really post on this blog, so I was a bit limited for things to say. Let’s sum up the last three weeks, then.
Week 6 began with talking about developing characters – how they come to you, and how you transform them into three-dimensional people. Personally, characters don’t tend to stroll into my head like they do for some writers – when writing a story, I usually come up with the backdrop and concept first, and then create characters for it. At that point, I follow the same technique as Monique Roffey describes in the course: creating a character outline. The length and details of this outline vary from story to story, and I haven’t yet hit upon a particular template that I find works better for me than anything else.
Maybe that’s because I wonder whether it contains enough details, but the details provided by the course’s following exercise certainly seemed to be enough. I used them to write an outline for Rebecca, a character I created for my 2011 Nanowrimo story (back when I was less experienced) and am planning on working with again for Camp Nanowrimo next month. I actually found I learned a bit more about her, even though I’ve technically known her for a while.
After discussing methods of portraying character (e.g. appearance, dropping them in a scene right away – these are the ones I tend to use), it was time for the final assignment: write a whole 1000-word short story!
This one really had me stuck for a long time. I’ve been filling out the notebook, I technically had ideas – but there was nothing that really stuck in my head and made me want to write a story for it. Perhaps it was the word limit. I considered writing about an astronaut on Mars, or bringing things full circle and writing about Harold – but neither seemed to be working, and the frustration of not being able to come up with an idea didn’t help.
And then, at the weekend, I met up with my local Nanowrimo group as we took a trip to Preston’s Harris Museum, a place I’ve never fully visited before. Much like with the Lyme Regis Museum, I was struck by how much interesting history there is behind Preston; plus there was some really wonderful art on display, perfect for story inspiration, which was the main object of the exercise.
So it was a bit curious that later, when we were all gathered together in the pub, I was struck by inspiration for my assignment – and it didn’t actually have anything to do with anything we’d seen in the museum. I guess it just got the right area of my brain working.
I decided to write about the World Cup – specifically, people who aren’t impressed by the World Cup, and how they might react if England actually won. That weekend, I created my character, Simon – with a combination of autobiographical and biographical methods – and hammered out his tale.
The following week, while editing, I was still carrying on with the course exercises – though most of these concerned editing anyway. Those that didn’t involved reading: obviously, reading is essential for a writer. It demonstrates what methods others use, and allows you to decide what works and what doesn’t.
We were asked to write short reviews for a book we like and a book we don’t; so, good thing I’ve been writing reviews on this blog for the past several months! For the book I liked (and could explain why), I chose Stephen King’s The Stand. This book has an absolutely huge cast of characters, and yet manages to make them all three-dimensional and understandable in what they do – they all stand out without blending together like in some other stories with big casts (e.g. Bleak House). The story and all its sub-plots are compelling, and there’s a lot of fascinating detail about both the development of the plague itself and the after-effects. It’s definitely my favourite of King’s.
Picking a book I disliked was a bit trickier; I tend to be quite choosy in what I read, and usually, when I really don’t like something, I don’t finish it. But one book that’s stood out to me as quite poor is The Sword of Albion by Mark Chadbourn. Despite the use of creative fantasy elements that definitely have potential, and a historical background (it’s set in the Elizabethan era), the prose is bland, and the hero Will has very little to make him interesting. But what I really didn’t like about this story was Grace, the main female character. The first time we meet her, she’s not terribly endearing, and then she’s all like, “I don’t need to be protected, Will! I’m a strong independent woman – I can take care of myself!” *takes two steps, gets captured, has to be rescued* From then on, there’s not even any pretence: Will sends Grace away specifically to keep her safe, but (admittedly through no fault of her own) she gets captured again and has to be rescued again. Pretty much her entire purpose is to make Will’s job more difficult. And so I’ve learned never to write a character like that.
The whole focus for Week 8 has been submitting the final story and then getting feedback (as well as giving it out ourselves to other stories). And when it was time for me to submit mine, I was rather nervous. I’m still getting used to really offering my work up for criticism and I wasn’t at all sure how good it was. But I went ahead, and when I got reviews back, I was pleasantly surprised to find they were quite positive. (I’ve now posted the story under the My Writing page.)
So that’s the end of this course. I went in hoping to learn something new, and I’ve certainly taken away some new techniques I want to try out. But I feel the two biggest things I’ve gained are further experience of criticism, and some new perspectives. I find myself looking at books I read in different ways – what techniques do they use? How do they portray characters? And when I write for myself, I’m looking at my characters in different ways too. This course certainly hasn’t been a waste of time even if I’m technically not just starting to write fiction: it’s hopefully going to improve my skills, and it’s been a lot of fun too!