‘Advanced’ Writing


This week I started my first ever creative writing course, a birthday present from the wonderfully supportive raptor. The person who runs them, Maggie Hammond, was recommended to me by a friend of a friend. She offers three levels of course – ‘original’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘advanced’. Having no idea what level I’m at, I called her to ask and was told to come to the ‘advanced’. I turned up feeling very worried that I was getting in over my head, but I used to have a postcard of a polar bear with ‘SINK OR SWIM’ on it at school so I figured I’d at least learn something.

The other people on the course were very friendly, and it was really interesting to hear from different styles of writing and genre. We had a couple of people read passages of their current project for criticism (everyone gets a go over the course – my turn’s in a fortnight), and set ourselves targets for the next two months (I now have to finish the first draft of Corpus by the end of November :-s).

The main subject for the session was family relationships in stories. Everyone got given two postcards – a portrait and a scene – and had to write a short passage about how the scene tied into family history, and who the person was. We also drew our character family trees and sanity-checked them with someone else to see if we’d missed anything. Mine looks like this:

Spiritus/Corpus family tree - I've blanked part of the key to avoid spoilers

Spiritus/Corpus family tree – I’ve blanked part of the key to avoid spoilers

I didn’t learn any new techniques or tips this session, as it was really just a starter and introductions session, but I was reminded of a few things which I’ll share with you. They aren’t ground-breaking and you probably already know them, but they’re good to bear in mind.

  • Be careful not to overuse physical beats. Less is more.
  • Make sure not to get too far from the ‘now’ of the scene. Flashbacks must have a very good reason to be done as flashbacks, rather than folded into the story more naturally.
  • Forward momentum is important to keep the story going and the reader interested – don’t lose sight of what they are moving towards.
  • Check you aren’t using redundancies – for example, don’t say ‘he looked around the room’ and then describe it. You only need the description. Don’t tell AND show, just show.
  • Use all the senses. Taste and smell get left out a lot but they’re very evocative.

This week’s homework was to write a scene where a particular colour is important. Since I’ve given myself the mammoth task of finishing Corpus in two months, I’m trying to keep all my writing efforts focused on that. So, in order to both fulfil my brief and usefully highlight the social racism against goblins as a plot point, I’ve sketched out a scene in which Mercy is refused service at a posh restaurant because her skin is green. It’s a nice bit of flavour that I wouldn’t have thought to put in myself, but which has led to a great opportunity for character-building.

For those who are interested, the course details are here. I’ll report on next week’s lesson – in the meantime, why not try the homework yourself?

3 responses »

    • A physical beat is when you use a description of a person’s behaviour, most often instead of ‘he said’.

      Example: “And them?” She nodded towards the wooden army. “What are they supposed to be?”

      • I suspect I’ve recently started to overuse these, as I’ve tried to mix up the dialogue and action in my scenes. Going to be very aware of them now you’ve pointed out the risk!

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