June Newsletter: the secret to a great story | writing journeys | flash fiction challenge

 In All About Writing, How to write a book, Newsletters

Hello writers

Jo-Anne has been having a wild time on our Writing Safari in Zimbabwe, Richard has been recovering from a difficult but amusing time in hospital with cellulitis, so we’ve invited Michele Rowe to compile and edit this month’s newsletter and to judge the April/May flash fiction challenge. Michele co-designed and runs the the Hero’s Journey® programme (with Richard), the next iteration of which begins on August 17. Over to Michele:

What is the Secret to a Great Story? 

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!
                                                                                            – Ray Bradbury 

The thing about a story is that we know a good one from a bad one.  

A good story is one in which we are interested in what happens next. The writer holds our attention, and fully engages our imagination. We care about what happens to the characters and are deeply invested in the outcome of their journey.  

As a writer, when you have not quite identified what your hero wants (and this happens to even the most experienced writers) you can find yourself simply writing one incident after another, only to discover after many words or pages, or even chapters, that somehow your story has lost momentum. How did that happen? You were so enthused and excited when you began writing. But now it’s as if the story no longer means anything, you feel lost and despondent and ready to give up.   

You may give it to someone else to read, who compliments you on your writing skills, but who you sense was not completely gripped by the story, or was a bit puzzled by it.  This is because the story has no momentum, no forward motion. Because the most fundamental question of the story has not been asked, which is What does my hero want?  

Now I say hero under advisement, because of course the s/hero of any story is not always immediately apparently heroic. Nor is the hero necessarily  human; they could be an animal, or a robot or a magical creature. They could be an anti-hero, or a brow-beaten character, or a bitter old man, a spoilt princess or a narcissistic killer.  

But every character is the hero of their own story, no matter how wimpy, unsavoury, or unsympathetic they are. Their needs, fears desires and goals need to become the obsession of the writer, and eventually the reader.  

Now you may say, ‘Oh, then all I need is a fascinating character and I will have a story.” But that is not the case. A character also has to want something desperately, to pursue it single-mindedly, through every obstacle in his way, both inner and outer.  His desires set in motion a series of events, what we call the Hero’s Journey®. And at the end of that journey, he gains the greatest prize for any character, one he has consciously or unconsciously sought, and that is the boon of personal transformation.   

Of course this journey is not easy, or it would not be truly heroic. The journey of your character imitates real life, and life is a hero’s journey  for every one of us. Your character will need courage, smarts, allies, and a pinch of luck to navigate the perils that stand between him and his goal. Joseph Campbell’s model of the Journey, that he developed in ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, is full of profound insights and an invaluable source of wisdom for the writer. I highly recommend you read it, or if that seems too daunting, try out our very popular eight-week Hero’s Journey® Writing Course, (endorsed by the Joseph Campbell Foundation, we are proud to say ) and learn about the fascinating stages of this Archetypal story. 

No matter how you go about developing your story, keep Ray Bradbury’s quote at the beginning of this article in mind, and always come back to the question: 

What does my hero want? 

And you really can’t go wrong. 

Focus on your writing on one of our stimulating writing retreats 

We’re delighted to announce that we’ll be back at the very special Karoo Art Hotel in the Western Cape to run two exciting writing programmes. 

Spend a weekend learning to write memoir with flair. Stay on, or join us afterward, for a week’s retreat in which you can write, think, breathe … and gain the best advice on your writing, fiction or non-fiction. 

The Art of Memoir weekend for memoir writers runs from 8 to 10 July. Under the baton of two acclaimed South African writers, Joanne Hichens (Death and the Afterparties) and Jo-Anne Richards (The Innocence of Roast Chicken) we’ll show you how to plan, structure and write your memoir. 

And a follow-on Art of Writing retreat is open not only to participants of the memoir weekend, but also to all writers whether you are writing memoir, crime, short stories, literary fiction … Whatever you need, we can help. 

Escape the demands of job, partner, children, household and pets, and focus on your creativity at the quintessential Karoo country hotel, where all your needs will be taken care of. 

There’ll be writing, music, art and delicious food in classic artistically driven surroundings. Be inspired by the vast Karoo landscapes. 

Spend a weekend learning the skills of the best memoirists. Follow it with a week devoted to your writing, in which two internationally published authors, with decades of experience mentoring writers in a variety of genres, will provide personal guidance. 

Come for both – or either. 

And then of course, there’s our now famous Venice Retreat, run over two weeks – from 11 to 18 October and/or 19 to 26 October. (You’re welcome to sign up for one week or two.)  

But this year, we’ve added a surprise twist – a further week’s retreat (26 October to 2 November) in the countryside on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia. Join us for a week in Venice and a further week in Istria, just three hours to the north-east. Or go the whole hog, and spend three glorious weeks writing and exploring.  

Here’s a link to a video, which gives you an idea of our new Venetian venue. Each morning begins with a discussion with Richard Beynon and Jo-Anne Richards, after which your time is your own. But you can book an hour of one-on-one time every day for feedback, guidance or brainstorming – whatever you need.  

Ca’ della Corte in Venice is a 16th century Venetian palazzo which has retained the essential flavour of Venice, but has been renovated by its passionate owner. Every air-conditioned bedroom either looks out on its own courtyard, or offers a peek into the neighbourhood. Click here to read more. 

We’re thrilled to be able to offer you the added week this year – to consolidate the progress you’ve made with your writing project in Venice. Istria will embed you in a history that stretches back thousands of years, but you’ll be taking up residence in a luxury villa with every mod con.  

After the morning workshop, we’ll invite you to write, or book us for one-on-one sessions.  

In the afternoon, though, we hope you’ll join us on a series of outings: to a castle built during the heyday of Venice’s empire, a visit that’ll culminate with a tasting of local Istrian wines. To Pula, a stone’s throw from our villa, which boasts the most complete Roman amphitheatre in the world – and a very literary memorial commemorating James Joyce’s visit when dreams of Ulysses were swirling in his mind. To the medieval hilltop village of Labin. To a local olive farm, and to the gorgeous seaside town of Rovinj, celebrated for its seafood restaurants and cobbled streets.  

Please contact Trish if you have any questions or would like to book: trish@allaboutwritingcourses.com. 

Go on your own writing journey in the comfort of your home 

If you are unable to join us on one of our writing retreats you can still go on your own writing journey, with our The Hero’s Journey® Writing Course  which has been approved by the Joseph Campbell foundation.  

Our course, which will next run from 17 August, for eight weeks, uses Campbell’s Hero’s Journey® concept to help you focus on the Hero at the heart of your story, whether you’re embarking on a work of fiction, memoir, biography or writing for the screen.    

Renowned for having guided George Lucas in writing his Star Wars movies, the Hero’s Journey® template will provide the direction you need in creating and structuring a story – from either real-life or imagined events.   

Benefits of The Hero’s Journey® Course 

Campbell’s insights into story and structure were enthusiastically received by those of you who took part in the pilot course, last year.   

“I felt like understanding the Campbell’s Hero’s Journey gave me the structure I’ve been looking for to have a structured first draft to jump off,” Penny Castle said. “In particular it allowed me to consider what set-up I needed upfront to sustain tension and interest in the rest of the story…”   

Jan Glazewski, wanted to tell the story of his own heroic quest to recover the family silver, buried 80 years before in a remote corner of what was then Poland as his family prepared to flee the invading Russian army. The course helped him, he said, “unravel a set of jumbled thoughts and systemise them into a cohesive and gripping real life story”.  

The Hero’s Journey® Writing Course is run by Richard Beynon and me, Michele. Both of us are seasoned writers who’ve spent much of our careers developing story for film and television and coaching writers of all types on honing their story skills.

And now for the winners of our latest competition 

For our April/May flash fiction challenge we asked you to write about an environment that was unfamiliar and challenging for the characters, what we refer to in the Hero’s Journey® paradigm as the  ‘Extraordinary World.’ 

It was quite a task to choose from the many imaginative entries. Babies and motherhood made a strong showing this time, an indication of just what a threshold experience motherhood can be. There were also stories set in prisons and schools, which says a lot about our generalized dread of institutions. The real Devil in Prada made an appearance, as did the intriguingly named character, Phafoolazopple.  There were also a couple of descriptive and exotic holidays, one real, one perhaps not. 

The winning entries were successful in showing characters who found themselves in unfamiliar circumstances, having to navigate alien environments. 

Here are the results, judged as usual blind: 

Tariq Fensham’s entry was the overall winner. Both for her imaginative approach to the exercise, and for her clear, direct, and emotive style.  By making the protagonist a creature from the deep, we are given an oddly moving and benign perspective on us humans. 

Our runners up were Kirsten Bischof for her entry about a bride who is leaving all that is familiar behind as she takes the seven steps into a Hindu marriage, Roeline van Eck for her entry in which a traumatised mother faces the ordeal of chronically ill new-born, and last but not least, Andrea Doig for her gruelling account of a cash-strapped, wannabe film star, acting in her first porn movie. 

Well done on all your strong submissions. It was a delight to judge this challenge. 

Tariq, we’re delighted to award you your choice of a literary assessment of 5000 words worth R2750/£150 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes. 

Congratulations to you all for some fine writing! Read the winning entries here… 

And  we encourage all writers to enter our June/July flash fiction challenge – one of the best ways to sharpen your writing skills is by entering competitions like ours. 

Happy writing, 


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