Ricardo: A Story In Time

Ricardo the blue-footed booby

Meet Ricardo

So today instead of #QuickFic, we are doing something much sillier – we are writing a story together!

This chap is Ricardo. He’s a blue-footed booby on a mission, to publish his life’s work, 10 Rules Of Time Travel. Only two things stand in his way – the evil Gideon Eastcastle, Ricardo’s ex-life-partner & a big-time cormorant in the publishing industry; and the fact that Gideon has no thumbs, and no ready access to dictation software.

How will it play out? You decide! Join us on Twitter and use the hashtag #Ricardo to have your say!

Ricardo: A Story In Time

‘I will have had my revenge, Gideon!’ cried Ricardo. His cry filled the shed. It rebounded off the oaken minarets he’d bought in Isfahan in 1599, and off the synthetic feather from his great-great-grandson’s wing. It pinged off his new Dualit toaster, slid behind his iPod dock, and landed in the lap of Alan Sullivan, who barked paranoidly.

George the Guillemot put out a friendly wing.

‘Hey,’ she said. ‘Come on. So what if Gideon Eastcastle does publish 9 Rules Of Time Travel just to corner the market in bird-written time travel guides and crush your dreams..? I’m sure you’ll outsell him!’

‘No,’ said Alan. “I had this before. I did a YouTube about living with flippers and someone ripped me off and my ad revenue totally bombed. I never recovered. It was really, really, really bad.’

‘Not helping,’ said George.

‘It was terrible,’ said Alan. ‘Really bad.’

‘Look at me,’ said Ricardo. ‘I’m just a sad sack booby in a shed full of junk.’

‘Junk? Who’s junk? I’m not junk. Are you junk? You’re junk! Shut up!’ said Alan Sullivan.

With a sigh, Ricardo pum-pum-dum-bi-dun-dummed out of Skype and closed his laptop. ‘Who’s going to take time travel tips from a bird who can’t even fly?’

‘There are,’ said George dramatically, ‘other ways of flying than through the air. You may not be able to fly, Rick, but dammit, you can travel! Through time! Think about it!’

‘But I can’t go forward,’ said Ricardo. ‘You know that. The 10th rule states very clearly that no chronoflapter should ever, on any account, go forward in time.’

Right then, there was an almighty crash, and the ornate Venetian door of the shed smacked back against the wall.

And in stepped Ricardo.

From the future.

‘Why go forward,’ he said. ‘When I can come back?’

‘Who are you?’ said George.

‘It is I,’ said now-Ricardo and futuro-Ricardo, practically at the same time.

‘Woooooooooooah,’ said Alan.

‘Pleased to make my acquaintance’, future Ricardo announced, stepping forward and extending a wing in a crude approximation of a handshake. Sort of lodged under the other wing there was a sort of box.

‘Everything you need to know is in this box. Everything you do from now on, tracked and charted.’

‘I KNEW IT!’

‘Quiet, Alan.’

To be continued…

 

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Writing Backwards

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We’re going to do something a little different today.

We’re going to give you the end of a story, and we want you to work out how to get there.  You can do that any way you like; the characters are yours to play with – as long as, somehow, they wind up right here:

‘No,’ Jenny said, her hand reaching out to grip Arthur’s. ‘No, this isn’t right.’

Arthur found he couldn’t reply. After everything they’d worked for, everything they’d done to arrive at this moment — and here it was, ruined.

‘I’m sorry,’ he managed to say eventually. ‘I tried.’

She turned to look at him, her face pale. ‘Please tell me this isn’t happening.’

‘I can try again!’ he said, but her fingers were already slipping out of his. ‘Jenny, I’ll talk to them! I’ll get it right this time!’

His voice echoed feebly back at him as he watched Jenny walk away, her footsteps thunderous in the empty hall.

She didn’t look back. Not once.

Oh dear, Arthur! What has he done?

That’s up to you, team. Do get in touch and let us know what you come up with!

We have new creative writing exercises for you every Wednesday. And if you can’t wait a whole week, join us every Friday morning for our QuickFic competition – write a story based on that week’s prompt for a chance to win a stack of books.

 

Wednesday Writing Exercise: The Encyclopedia Entry

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It’s easy to become too close to a story; to its characters. And when you’re too close to it and them, you stop to notice so much when things clang or stutter, or when those characters start acting out.

It’s also very easy to get your timeline mixed up or to forget that your character has a back story, an important one. It’s important because it’s what makes them them. And you want them to be them, right?

The first exercise will help you with all of that.

The second is just really fun.

 

If you’re currently working on a novel

Draft a Wikipedia entry for your main character as if they are a real person, now in old age. Using a neutral third-person voice, write sections detailing their early life, education, career and personal life, as well as the events of the novel.

You’ll never need all the information you come up with, but setting it out in order, with dates, can help you map out your story in your head. Writing about the character in the detached, academic style of Wikipedia will also help you see how they, and their actions, might appear to a third party – and to your reader.

 

If you’re in between WIPs, or you feel like doing something new

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Hit the random article option on Wikipedia. You get three spins.

Write a short story of up to 2,000 words using one of its three suggestions.

 

That’s it for this week. We’re off to pen our epic about Cheltenham Wildlife Management Area. Or Grandview, Oklahoma (pop. 394). Happy writing!

We have new creative writing exercises for you every Wednesday. And if you can’t wait a whole week, join us every Friday morning for our QuickFic competition – write a story based on that week’s prompt for a chance to win a stack of books.

 

Wednesday Writing Exercise: The Letters

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Something a little different this week; a sort of choose-your-own-adventure of an exercise.

We want you to write a story using letters. We’re giving you the first one below, but we aren’t going to tell you anything else about the characters. It’s up to you to decide who April and Gus are and where to take them. Where did they meet? What do they mean to each other?

Dear Gus,

I was so happy to receive your letter. I’d almost given up hope! You know me – always so dramatic.

I am glad to hear that things are going as planned. I can’t help worrying, of course, but I will try my best to put it out of my mind until your next letter arrives. Don’t laugh, I will!

We’re all missing you very much, and Petra sends her love. Things are much the same here – the grounds are starting to show the very first signs of Spring, which makes things rather more cheery, and helps us to forget what is happening inside the house.

Anyway, I can’t say too much, otherwise I fear this won’t reach you. But I’m thinking of you, and hoping, and sending all of my love.

April

Let us know what you come up with!

 

We have new creative writing exercises for you every Wednesday. And if you can’t wait a whole week, join us every Friday morning for our QuickFic competition – write a story based on that week’s prompt for a chance to win a stack of books.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: The Candidate

It’s happening all over the shop. People pledging and promising things, people telling us what they can do, what they will do, what they absolutely will not do.

Yep, it’s two weeks to go until the election and the airwaves are awash with canvassing.  And this week’s creative writing exercises are all election-themed, too.

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If you’re currently working on a novel or another project

Your main character, for one reason or another, ends up running for election in the constituency/country/world/future they live in. Write their manifesto.

What does your character believe most strongly in? How far would they go to get elected? And what issues do their potential constituents care most about? You may find you learn just as much about the setting of your novel as you do the character.

If you’d just like to do something new

Write a short story about a candidate who, on the eve of the election, discovers a secret from their past which just might change their political views.

 

We have new creative writing exercises for you every Wednesday. And if you can’t wait a whole week, join us every Friday morning for our QuickFic competition – write a story based on that week’s prompt for a chance to win a stack of books.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: The Elevator Pitch

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It’s the week of London Book Fair; the week when agents and editors and rights teams gather together in a big glass cage of enthusiasm and pitch books as passionately as they possibly can.

Many aspiring authors also make their way to the Fair in the hope of untangling the mysteries of the publishing world – and for the possibility of running into their dream agent in the loo or in a lift.

With that in mind (don’t chase agents into the loo, by the way – they’re not keen on that), we’ve got a couple of little exercises for your Wednesday .

If you’ve finished your manuscript

Congratulations! Now it’s time to get that synopsis into shape. But here’s a challenge: can you pitch your novel in 200 words or less?

What are the key points you need to convey to an agent/editor/other interested party who doesn’t have much time? What is the most important element of the story? It might not be the one you think…

If you’re not working on a novel at the moment

Two people are stuck in a lift. One has something to sell to the other; the other has their own reasons for not being interested. Write a scene of dialogue.

We have new creative writing exercises for you every Wednesday. And if you can’t wait a whole week, join us every Friday morning for our QuickFic competition – write a story based on that week’s prompt for a chance to win a stack of books.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Beginning At The End

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We heard it said the other day that the perfect ending for your novel should be one that feels both surprising and inevitable. An ending that the reader isn’t expecting, but one that, once they reach it, they can see was coming all along. They should be able to turn back to the first page and go: Of course.

With that in mind, here are a couple of exercises which will help you play around with your sense of an ending, a beginning, and the stuff that goes in between.

If you have a manuscript (at any stage, in any shape) on the go

If you haven’t finished a draft yet, take your first line and imagine it’s the last. What would need to happen in the final chapters for that to be the case?

If you have finished a draft, look at the final line (isn’t it a wondrous thing, that final line?). Copy it with love and paste it right at the beginning of the manuscript, as the very first sentence. What happens?

Of course, the ending doesn’t literally have to echo the opening. But looking at those two points side-by-side can help you get a sense of the narrative arc of your novel.

If you fancy doing something short and new

Write a short story – 500-1000 words – which begins at its end and ends at its beginning. For example, you could open with someone being arrested and then show us the events of the day that led to the crime being committed.

What effect does giving away the ending have on the story? What different tricks do you, as the author, need to employ to interest a reader?

We have new creative writing exercises for you every Wednesday. And if you can’t wait a whole week, join us every Friday morning for our QuickFic competition – write a story based on that week’s prompt for a chance to win a stack of books.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: The Long Weekend

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Today’s writing exercise is something a little different. We’re going to start a story and, if you feel so inclined, you can write the rest of it.  In honour of the upcoming long weekend, that’s exactly what our story is about: a weekend that is – for reasons decided by you – uncomfortably long.

‘We’re so glad you could all make it,’ Josh said, smiling round at the guests. ‘It’s been far too long since we all got together.’

Julie toyed with the stem of her wine glass and tried not to think about exactly why it had been so long.

‘We should make a toast,’ Oliver said. He slid his arm around May’s shoulder as he did so and she couldn’t stop herself from flinching.

‘Yes,’ said Sylvie, the first to stand up, though she couldn’t bring herself to meet anyone’s eye as she did so. ‘Here’s to old friends, new beginnings, and a long weekend.’

Now it’s your turn – what comes next? What secrets lurk around that table, and how will they make themselves known?

We won’t set a word-limit this time round – you could write a short scene today, or you could write a lovely long story over Easter. Whatever you like!

Wednesday Writing Exercise: There’s No Place Like Home… Or Is There?

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Location, location, location. Sometimes it’s the first element you select for a story, and it’s often the first thing that a reader really identifies with, too. A well-described landscape can be hugely evocative; the atmosphere for your novel can be decided quite literally by setting the scene.

So what happens if you change that fundamental strand of your project’s DNA?

Well. Let’s find out, shall we?

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If you’ve got a manuscript making itself at home on your hard drive

It’s time to take your characters on a little holiday. Choose a tricky scene which you’ve had trouble writing, or which doesn’t seem to quite work, and try relocating it somewhere completely different.

If you’re feeling brave, go wild – stick the characters on a desert island, or in a submarine. Removed from the world of your novel, are there still issues with the scene? If so, it could be that you’re trying to force your characters to act or speak in a way which doesn’t feel natural or logical; you may need to consider removing or rethinking that section. Or does changing the place free up the characters and help you make the scene flow? If it does (hooray), try to translate this back into a version in your story’s “real” world.

Sometimes just a simple change of scenery will do – if the tricky bit happens in your character’s sitting room, move them out into the street; from work to weekend stroll. Does that change the dynamic?

If you haven’t got a work in progress, or you want a little palate cleanser

Write a short story about a person finding themselves entirely (and geographically) out of their comfort zone. It could be a New Yorker in the Outback, or a Poet Laureate on an 18-30s booze cruise.

How does putting a character in an unusual location help you, the writer, give us information about them?

We have new creative writing exercises for you every Wednesday. And if you can’t wait a whole week, join us every Friday morning for our QuickFic competition – write a story based on that week’s prompt for a chance to win a stack of books.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: A Dog’s Life (And A Bird’s And A Bee’s)

After the extremely wonderful news yesterday that Laline Paull’s The Bees has been longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction, we’ve been thinking about unusual narrators.

The Bees is the story of Flora 717: a heroine who, ‘in the face of an increasingly desperate struggle for survival, changes her destiny and her world.’ And who also happens to be a bee.

There are lots of great examples of novels which make use of unconventional narrators: Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red features the POVs of a wide and varied cast, including a coin and the colour red, whilst of course Richard Adams’s Watership Down follows a group of anthropomorphised rabbits.

A narrator doesn’t just tell the story – they shape it too. And while using an unusual narrator can pose many challenges, it can also open up all kinds of possibilities.

With that in mind, here are a couple of exercises for you to try:

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If you haven’t got something on the go, or you fancy trying something new

Choose a significant historical event, and write a 500 word story around it, using the point of view of an animal who was present.

What limits does the narrator have in terms of understanding events and expressing them? And what opportunities does that present for you, the writer?

If you’re currently working on a manuscript

Select two chapters of your work-in-progress and rewrite them from the point of view of a non-human narrator. It could be a pet or an entirely inanimate object.

Does this change the emphasis of the story and the way you feel about the characters? Does it cast a new light on certain elements?

 

We have new creative writing exercises for you every Wednesday. And if you can’t wait a whole week, join us every Friday morning for our QuickFic competition – write a story based on that week’s prompt for a chance to win a stack of books.