April Newsletter: Stuck at home, and stuck in the middle?
Stuck at home, and stuck in the middle?
Many of you are stuck at home – and longing to get back to the writing project you started in a flush of enthusiasm. The only trouble is, you stopped writing for a reason. And that reason hasn’t miraculously disappeared.
If you knew how many would-be writers get bogged down in the middle, you wouldn’t feel so alone. We share your pain.
Because it’s so common, though, we’ve looked closely at the reasons – and the solutions – which can unblock the story and get you going again. And as our way of helping you through lockdown, we’d like to share these with you, to get you writing.
Ask your characters for help
Get back to basics, which is to say: go back to the characters. They are at the heart of every narrative. They can solve many problems which may, in your misery, seem to be intractible – you’ve written yourself into a corner, the story has lost momentum, you’ve grown bored with your direction and focus.
Characters are crucial, so do yourself a favour before you begin. I know you’re itching to write that first scene, but if you haven’t done a great deal of work developing your characters, you are almost bound to get stuck.
Look not only at the obvious details of your character’s life. She’s a photographer, who lives in a house that needs repair and keeps a labrador. Fair enough, that’s a good start. But you need a lot more.
Get very specific and dig deep: Look into your character’s past. What has happened to her through her life and how has it affected her?
Look at her psychology. What are her issues? What kind of person is she? Has she always been the same kind of person or did she change? If so, what triggered the change?
Consider her now. What are her hopes, fears, neuroses at the start of your story. What makes her happy and what upsets her? What does she wish for most in the world. In other words, crucially, what does she want?
If you’re stuck somewhere in the middle, you’ll find that going back to your main character will make you interested in her again. It could be that, in the writing, your character has become a cypher, a cardboard cutout or a caricature, and that can’t help but affect your story.
Revisiting her will release story threads. Learning as much as you can about your character will cause you to pop with ideas. Her very complexity will create depth to her world and her life, beyond the narrow confines of the plot. Knowing what issues have followed her through life and, most importantly, what she wants, will give you fresh ideas on how to carry your narrative forward.
While we were discussing this newsletter, Richard mentioned a crime novel he read recently, in which the detective used to suffer from cotard’s syndrome, a rare delusion which causes the sufferer to believe they are dead, and that their organs are putrefying.
Creepy, yes. But what an interesting character, who is quite comfortable among the dead, indeed, feels she can commune with them in search of the truth.
The moral of this particular story? Never be afraid of complexity. And allow the characters to carry the story, rather than the other way around.
And if you need a little extra help…
Online Creative Writing Course
We wanted to add some value during this crazy time, by allowing our community to feel they used this time to achieve something worthwhile. So, in response to a number of requests, we started a new online Creative Writing Class. The course has begun, but you’re still welcome to join in.
Community Writing Saturdays
We have introduced a virtual workshop every Saturday through April, which we hope will foster a sense of global community through creative action.
Through video conferencing, you’ll be connected to writers around the world. We start with a brief discussion on an aspect of writing, then provide a prompt and the chance to write.
Places are limited, so each participant (who wants it) will receive feedback on their writing.
Community Writing Saturdays will be run on April 11, 18 and 25. UK time 10am – 12 noon. SA time 11am – 1pm.
Thirty Day Hike Through Writing Country – huge Corona discount
We have slashed the price of this self-administered writing course by 30% – because we want to give everyone the chance to build a daily writing discipline. We firmly believe that focusing on something creative every day revives the spirits and maintains mental health.
Start any time you like, and you’ll receive an email every morning with a brief overview of a particular writing skill each day for thirty days – and a short writing exercise to consolidate your understanding. It’s a daily dose of motivation, inspiration and writing practice.
All for much less than a cup of coffee. And if you’d like feedback on your final assignment, then just add the price of a couple of slices of chocolate cake! Sign up here.
Something for kids and parents to tackle together – Power of Writing
Our introductory Power of Writing Course is a four-module course suitable for older children and teenagers, as well as adults.
Start now, and develop a more creative writing style by learning the tools to enhance your writing voice. It will encourage active observational skills and introduce you to the concept of showing rather than telling. Two for one offer available for family members doing the course together.
Our coaching programmes will carry you through May
Each of our Coaching programmes takes place over an intensive two-week period – with advice and feedback every day.
We’ve created start immediately groups, or you can wait and start with a group in May. Let us know your preference when you book via our online shop.
Focus on Scenes. Any story is as strong as its scenes. We tackle ten different aspects of writing to write compelling scenes. Start immediately or on 4 May.
The Logic of Story, focuses on the glue which holds a story together. Each day we will look at a different aspect of writing necessary for building a story – from its characters and the structure of its scenes, to sentence formation. Start immediately or on 18 May.
Wednesday Writing Workshops: 15 April
In response to these strange times, we’re offering a free weekly webinar every Wednesday, for the duration of lockdown in South Africa, and maybe beyond. The next one takes place on Wednesday, 15 April at 5:00pm South African time, 4:00pm UK time, and 11:00am Eastern Standard Time in the US.
This webinar will be specifically and wholly devoted to improving our creative writing skills. You’ll set the agenda: we’ll be responding to your questions and discussing issues important to you.
Winners of the February/March Writing Challenge
Write a piece of flash fiction, we said, in which your main character runs into the person they almost married five years ago but dumped because they got cold feet. They have regretted their caution ever since…
Seems to me the key to writing successfully about an awkward reunion like this one is, as is in writing generally so often the case, restraint. The temptation is to tell us precisely what the characters are feeling, to have them aware of the stupidity of that original decision, to have them condemn the wasted years since. But it’s good to resist that temptation, to be obliquely suggestive rather than to direct.
So first prize for her restraint goes to Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen for her sly and her really very funny piece, Buyer’s Remorse. Congratulations, Mitzi! You win a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2750 / £ 150 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.
Runners-up, in alphabetical order are: Andrew Bailey for his One Last Look, which features a real kicker at the end, Bindi Davies for her wonderfully authentic encounter at the vet’s, Melissa Nortje for her deadpan ending, and Elize Volschenk who misdirects us beautifully through the piece, allowing the last line of dialogue, surprisingly, to open a new chapter of possibility.
And of course, there are all the many others who entered, and who aren’t mentioned here, but deserve a thorough round of applause and acknowledgement in these coronadays! Read all the winning entries here.
April/May Flash Fiction Challenge
All About Writing’s latest writing challenge offers the winner a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2750 / £ 150 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.
This month, we’re seeking flash fiction that draws from fairy tales or myths. How could you re-write Snow White, or Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin or Little Red Riding Hood? Which other character’s perspective within each tale could you take? The Wicked Queen’s? The Wolf’s? What would happen if you set a classic fairy tale in the present – or the future? How would you make it a thoroughly modern fairy tale – set very definitely in the #MeToo era?
Write no more than 250 words. Paste your entry into the body of an email and send to email@example.com by midnight on 31 May 2020. Click here for some challenge-specific writing tips!
Stay safe and stay creative,
Jo-Anne and Team All About Writing