Wednesday Writing Exercise: Kidnap A Character

On Saturday, our Writing A Novel students came in for their first full day session. And we sent them straight back out again.

The topic at hand was (and still is — they’re back in tonight) Character. So we set them free on a little expedition to find inspiration in the world outside (we’re next to the British Museum; there’s a wealth of amazing characters to be found out there). By the time they came back for lunch, they all had a fledgling character sketch just waiting for his or her own story.

It’s such a worthwhile exercise — thinking about what makes a good and interesting character; thinking about how to build a history and a voice for someone — that we thought we’d share a sort-of-version of it with you.

Here are four people; four potential characters. Pick one (or two or three or four) and write a character summary for them. Tell us about their life, their ambitions, their opinions. Try writing it in your voice first, and then try it in theirs, thinking carefully about the different way the two of you might see things.

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This will come in very handy for next week’s topic: Point Of View.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Ideas And What To Do With Them

Tonight is the second session of our current iteration of Writing A Novel. Last week, the students met for the first time. They introduced themselves, and their novels, and they met their wonderful tutors. Biscuits were eaten. Muses were motivated.

Now the work begins. To kick them off, this week they’ll be looking at ideas, and what comes after them. Should you plan your novel? And how detailed should a plan be? And then how rigidly should you stick to it?

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So, inspired by that — and because next month happens to be the month when over 300,000 people worldwide (including all of us here at Academy HQ) attempt to write a novel in thirty short days — here are a couple of exercises to get you thinking about your story and how to shape it.

What if?

Stephen King famously wrote in his excellent and highly-recommended On Writing that a strong enough central situation made plotting unnecessary (he actually wrote ‘Forget plot’ but we’re not quite sure how we feel about that. Sorry, Steve). He said that ‘the most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question’. Like these ones:

What if a plane full of school boys crash-landed on a desert island?

What if the pigs plotted to take over the farm?

What if you lost your memory every time you fell asleep?

If you’ve already got a novel on the go, or an idea for one, see if you can shrink it down to that single question. It’s much harder than it sounds — and it might make you think differently about what the most important element of your plot is.

And if you haven’t got any Shiny New Ideas just waiting to be written, it’s worth keeping an ear out for any What Ifs your brain throws at you as you go about your day. King, by the way, swears by the power of a good stroll for dislodging those million dollar story ideas…

Start small

Not every novel idea can be boiled down to a What if? But how about a single sentence? That’s what followers of the Snowflake Method recommend.

Try and summarise the plot of the novel you’re writing, or want to write, in a sentence no longer than twenty words. Something like:

An orphaned boy’s life is changed forever when, on his eleventh birthday, he discovers he is a wizard

That wasn’t too hard, right?

But now turn that into a paragraph. And after that, into three paragraphs. Keep going, keep expanding, until you have a full page of synopsis. Doing this helps you really focus in on the key elements of the story you’re trying to tell, and the motivations of the characters within it.

 

Happy planning! Meanwhile, the faction lines are being drawn here in the office in the run-up to NaNoWriMo. We have one plotter in the office, one unabashed pantser, and one not-so-sure… Let’s see how that pans out…

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!