Kitchen Table Writers are passionate about writing and about reading other people's writing. They love it when they're published, but they write
because they can't help it - it's how they express their lives.
Writing about character is something that new and established writers alike are always thinking about and returning to. This week, I'm guest blogging at the Open College of the Arts, looking at how to write your characters so that they live on the page for the reader.
Courtesy of the Open College of the Arts.
In this monthly series of blogposts on Writing Skills (both the course and the subject) we’ve been concentrating on various aspects of Part One, making the most of early strategies such as employing speedwriting, using notebooks, compiling a commonplace book and learning how to ‘zone in’ when describing. It’s time to move onto Part Two of Writing Skills, which is all about character.… click here to read the full blogpost
Nina Milton is a novelist and short story writer who is also a tutor, assessor and course writer with the Open College of the Arts, who offer a full honours degree course for writers. You can do this degree, or any of the courses, from your home, and be guaranteed that your tutor will be a working artist. click here to find out more about the OCA
It’s a dreaded disease; a malaise that creeps up behind writers and strikes them down. Some develop it as a chronic condition – they stutter in their writing, give it up, start again, stop again. This goes on for years, until their files are full of half-finished stuff they’ll never show a soul.
Others get a Malarial form – weeks, months, sweating it out beneath a gauzy net, drinking nothing but tonic water and suffering terrible hallucinations, where the laptop gets up and does a mocking little dance, singing ‘Can’t Write? Won’t Write? What a dunce you are!’
But the most serious form of Writer’s Block is the sudden fatality, when someone has been writing well, really getting on with something quite meaty, when, out of the blue they find they’re incubating a sudden need to read and re-read what they already have, changing nothing more than the odd phrase. After this incubation period, the disease viscously attacks the writing mind. The word count drops dangerously, the eyes swell up and the fingers shake whenever the sufferer is near any form of writing machine…even a ball point pen.
In worse case scenarios, the sufferer is often known barely ever lift a pen again.
But, wait up! A cure has been developed, and is now readily available, in seven easy to access therapeutic stages.
Even better, it costs next to nothing in drug treatments and no radical surgery is necessary – well, not until you get to stage seven, at least.
ONE: REPLACEMENT THERAPY
Put away the laptop and get out a good book. Even better, spend a delicious afternoon browsing a second hand book shop or a musty-scented local library. Come home with a tall pile of books. Make sure all of them have tempted you to start reading before you chose – don’t chose a single worthy tome. Once home, switch off the TV and open your first choice. Read until you cannot bear it any longer; read until you just have to write.
Keep a notepad and pen nearby, but out of sight, just in case the urge takes you suddenly.
Aversion therapy was used to try to scare a person away from bad habits by submitting them to an onslaught of that thing and making them hate it. Writer’s aversion therapy works in the complete opposite way; by forcing yourself to write with freedom, you will learn to love it! Free-writing has been used for decades as a way of liberating the stuck writing mind. When free-writing, you start and do not stop until ‘time’ is up (either a phone alarm or a pre-chosen number of words or pages). The reason you write freely is because with free-writingyou can discard the stuff you don’t want to keep, so it doesn’t matter what you write.
Once you start writing, you do not stop, correct your work or cross things through. If you run out of things to say, you must keep on writing by choosing a repetitive phrase such as ‘what shall I write, what shall I write’ – surprisingly it won’t be long before you start again!
Can Write! (Check my post for the Open College of the Arts for further information)
Choose a topic that interests you and use it as your title e.g. ‘Meteor Showers’…‘Knitting the Left Sleeve’. Get going with action or imagery.…I’m lying on a sun lounger, but there’s no sun. Only a clear, black sky above, filled with stars…I’m casting on for the wrist ribbing. I’m using soft yarn, in an electric blue…Use memory, thought processes and associations to keep writing. If the topic changes or disappears, don’t worry. When memory runs out, make it up.
Get someone to tell you what to write. I’m going to do that now, but you will need a constant supply of being told for this therapy. If you’ve got the beans, pay someone to tell you what to write – register for a writing course or workshop. If you don’t have the readies, use the competition circuit to get you writing, choosing competitions that give explicit instructions....write a story for children of 7+...or want a themed story...Write a story set in Acton Stanley...
Thesecret here is to not try to write to win the comp – that’s the sure way to exacerbate the symptoms you’re trying to eliminate. In other words, hoping to win will make you dry up. Trying to fulfill the brief will give you the narrow window that will fill you with ideas and confidence.
There is an ultimate form of this therapy. It does strike terror at the heart of all writers, but it can work in extreme circumstances. It is called NANOWRIMO. It makes you write a novel in a month. Yep, extreme. But very effective for total writer’s block condition.
To get you going straight away, start with this:
Do you recall your 5th, 10th or 15th birthday? Chose the one that tugs most emotionally at you and start to recount the facts, describing what you remember. Then start guessing at the bits you don’t remember. Then start flying away, making up anything that either could have happened, or actually would never have happened.
FOUR: CPR: CREATIVE PENSHIP RESUSCITATION
If you’ve started something that has now entirely dried up, you may be facing ‘the fear’ that often comes mid-piece. This could be any form of writing – you could be half way through a short story, a novel, a biography, or even a poem. Not being able to make it to the end starts out as frustrating, but very soon your core temperature starts to rise and you’re in a fever of fear; the fear of not ever being able to complete a project.
Leaving gaps can crash-start writing that has got stuck by allowing you to move through places where you’ve ground to a halt. Mark the place you stopped in the work with a couple of notes in the text, such as Trevor should come in here, carrying a severed arm. (But let’s be fair, that’s NOT the scene you’re going to get trouble with!)
Now move on. Writing in note form until you can create the next full piece of narrative writing is perfectly fine. Writing something that should occur further on in this piece is also okay – even better, it’s achievable! Tell yourself these things, affirm them as you sit down to write. Using free-writing will really help with leaving gaps, so always start with this technique.
http://www.writerscafe.org/ http://www.booksie.com/ or https://www.authonomy.com/. The harder way is to face the people you’re going to read to. Writers’ groups vary tremendously, and it can be fun just tasting and trying the ones in your area to find out where you fit in best. Your local library will have some details, but also check online. Don’t forget that writer’s groups are also about having fun, meeting like-minded people and talking about the craft, as well as just getting an audience for your stuff. You might not be asked to read out very much, and that might suit you well if you still feel a but ‘blocked’, even after moving through the first four therapies. If you can’t tolerate the idea of a group or online presence, try finding a writing buddy. One other writer, who will share work, failure, stories, chat, sorrow and getting unblocked with you. (See my post about writing buddies)
SIX: GET AN IDEAS TRANSFUSION
Although the secret of good fiction (and non-fiction) is great narrative arc and wonderful characters, there is no writing them without a plot or outline. When your ideas are anaemic and low in platelets, you need a transfusion. Get this once a week, or at least once a month if just don’t have the time). Chose from the following, and mix and match them to vary the routine.
Go for a walk alone (or with your dog)
Visit a local art gallery or exhibition
Browse the shops (okay, book shops, of course, but branch out, try pet stores, craft fayres, ToysRUs)
Sit in a park, cafe or sporting event and people watch
Go for a scenic drive; use the train, bus or get in the back of the car
Watch a film with a great plot and amazing characters
Go to the theatre, comedy club or even the opera.
SEVEN: TRY A SEX CHANGE
Okay, you’ve got this far, tried all other six therapies, and you still can’t write. You need to lock yourself away. Preferably in a place where three meals are delivered on a tray to your bedside. Because you need radical surgery. Once in this glorious seclusion, get out what you have already written, and read it. Love it. It’s great. Once you’ve read everything, or everything that’s current if there’s a lot, make some notes. Think about the writer that is you and ask yourself if trying something new would help rejuvenate you as a writer.
Change the sex of a major character. Or, if you’ve only written as your own gender, try writing in the voice of the opposite sex. Use free-writing to get this going, so you can’t stop to think about it too much.
Change the POV. Do you always write in the 1st person? Or never write it in? Try swapping round. If you fancy the challenge, try writing in the 2nd person singular, or even 2nd person plural. Have a stab at the omniscient. Always start with free-writing, bearing in mind no one need ever read it, and you can throw it away if you wish.
Change the genre or form. If you never write poems, try one now. If you always write romance, move your love into a sci fi setting. To aid this free-writing, compile a list of genres and forms that you would like to try – include some you are fearful of trying. Move through them using free-writing.
Change the style. Having read through your work, have you noticed your style? Would you like to attempt a rejuvenation? Have a go with your free-writing technique. Did you notice that it’s lacking dialogue, or full of long descriptions? Try the exact opposite and see how it goes. Did the writing lack emotion, or lack imagery? Again, have a go at the alternatives. Do you always write by hand? Start with a Word Doc instead. Always write by keyboard? Your next free-writer should be by hand.
Remember, you’re not alone. Other authors have been sick at heart, too.
Stephen King threw his first published novel in the rubbish bin (luckily his wife fished it out). John Braine wrote his first novel, Room at the Top while in hospital. When J K Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter, she was depressed, penniless and divorced with a small child. Louise May Alcott wrote letters home when she was a nurse in WW1, which led to Little Women.
But that’s a lot to live up to, so start with step one and two and don’t think ahead too much. Read loads, and only use the free-writing technique until you’re up and running. Free-writing in this way will leave you with a portfolio of small pieces that you can go back to time and again.
Okay, the Kitchen Table Writers Doctor is discharging you as fit to write. Now it’s up to you!
I'm featured on my publisher's Blogsite this week with my post about crime fiction; those who love it, and those who might sneer!
FOR THE LOVE OF CRIME
When I tell people I write crime fiction, the one thing I’m not hoping to hear is, “Oh, I neverread crime fiction.”
Not because I want them to buy my books, but because I simply don’t believe them. Of course they read crime fiction. They just don’t know it. No way would I admit what I’m actually thinking, which is, “that’s a whole heap of baloney, pal – the literary equivalent of the excrement of the male cow.”…Read my complete blogpost
See me, feel me, touch me…sings Roger Daltrey of the Who, in the hit musical Tommy. The story is of a blind, deaf and dumb boy who becomes a master pinball player and the reluctant object of a religious cult. Maybe not the best plotted screenplay; maybe not the most wonderful lyrics, either, but the message that Daltrey belts out is a useful one for writers … • My latest blog • on weareOCA.com blogsite for the • I am looking at ‘zoned in detail’ go to Nina. to read the full post
I've just discovered a great blogsite; Kirsten Weiss' Parayournormal is all about books full of mystery, suspence and a certain other something. As Weiss says, "Paranormal adds an extra thrill to a story. I created this blog because I wanted something that incorporated paranormal books AND the paranormal in real life." I love her catchline – We are what we imagine. Doesn't that just send a tingle up your spine? But it's also something I believe deeply myself – something I learnt to trust in when I first become an apprentice to one of the great shamanic teachers in Britain, Caitlin Matthews. Sabbie Dare, in my Shaman Mysteries, believes that too - of course she does - she would not be able to do her job of Therepuetic Shaman if she did not, and she certainly wouldn't be able to bring back from the spirit world the secret answers to the dark questions some of her clients want from her.
I was so delighted and honoured when Kirsten Weiss asked if she could feature the Shaman Mysteries on her blogsite:
As a hard-knock kid, Sabbie Dare knew she was different – she saw through the veil that hides other planes of existence. Now she lives a simple life, running her shamanic therapy business, but she’s still stepping headlong into trouble – when clients unwittingly bring danger with them.
Kirsten worked overseas for nearly fourteen years, in the fringes of the former USSR and deep in the Afghan war zone. Her experiences abroad not only gave her glimpses into the darker side of human nature, but also sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives.
Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes paranormal mysteries, blending her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.
Kirsten has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer reruns and drinking good wine.
You can connect with Kirsten through the social media sites below, and if the mood strikes you, send her an e-mail through the contact form on this site.