Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Writing a Readable and Publishable Short Story

 One of my OCA students has just written to me. I love hearing from students, whether they are in difficulties with their writing (it’s never easy, after all) or pleased with things. Daniel wrote...
I just wanted to let you know that I owe you a big Thank You:- One of the short stories you helped me work on in OCA 2 - Storylines, will be published in a future edition of Scribble magazine. The story is called 'Karate' and I couldn't have done it without you.This isn't my first piece published by Park Publications, (I think it is my fourth) but it is my favourite piece to date!

Great news Daniel - I know myself just how delightful it is to discover that someone else has read and loved your work enough to invest in it. Scribble is a great little magazine, I’ve been published in it myself in the past, as has my writing friend Shirley Wright, and wanted to congratulate Daniel and broadcast his news. He replied in very kind vein...

I reckon of all the OCA tutors I've had you are the most enthusiastic and genuinely interested in your pupils work and how to improve it - that to me is beyond price! Thanks again, Daniel Crowley.

I’m looking forward to seeing my next two stories in print very soon; the new Scriptor Anthology will be out soon. But it does remind me that I need to start writing new short stories. Finding inspiration to get started is never easy, but when in doubt, I always turn to my Mslexia, the best writing mag on the market. (Sadly, men can’t be published in this quarterly publication, but they can read it!)

This issue recommends this exercise;
  • write 10 single sentence character sketches, in each on choose an odd detail, which can hardly fail to stick in a reader’s mind
  • pick one of these characters and in one paragraph, write a summary of their life to date. By the details you select, see how much you can suggest about your character’s personality and experience...
And here’s one from the Tea Break section;
  • Use polar opposites to revitalize a story or poem you’re not happy with. If you are writing about a character who is kind and patient, make them irascible and on edge. Change She to He or even It. Turn blue to red, a caress into a slap, a big hairy dog into a small sleek cat. Close the open door. Make the moon rise instead of the sun...

So while I’m getting on with this, I’ll just offer Daniel my congratulations and congrats to any new writers out there who have just had the hard-won good news. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Michael Morpurgo; Quote of the Month 0CTOBER

Yesterday, Matthew Stadien interviewed Michael Morpurgo on the BBC rolling news channel.
Matthew used great landscapes for his interview; firstly the Devon village Morpurgo lives in, where he asked him about setting, especially as the farm he now owns had its own part to play in sending horses to the 1st WW and this was a seed for his book, War Horse, which was turned into a film directed by Spielburg and is now an acclaimed West End play.

Morpurgo has set many of his children's books in places of war, and he recalled how he played in bomb sites after the 2ndWW, how he could remember his mother's tears as new came of family deaths, and how the thought of war distresses, but clearly influences him.

Morpurgo walks the Devon countryside each day, and sets many of his books on the farm because...I know who cuts the hedges....He met Ted Hughes on one of those early walks, in a long boat on the river, and they became the best of friends. He confessed that Hughes had been an early writing hero and described him as inspirational teacher, who has the power to make words sing.

Matthew and Michael  talked about discipline; Morpurgo said he wasn't disciplined, but he was good at doing what he was 'told' - in other words, he'd get the essay in on time at school and now always meets his deadlines...if I've done more than 1000 words in a day I think I'm a really good boy...

Continuing with the schoolboy theme, Morpurgo compared the start of writing as a bit like a cross country race - with the full first draft as the finishing line. Then he reads the work through; and aloud to his wife, before getting down to redrafting that point, he is looking for poetry within the prose. This is great advice for the aspiring writer; get down that first draft...don't fiddle with it too much until you have...then read it through and read it aloud to someone.

Matthew then followed Michael to Venice, which was his first inspiration when  writing the book The Mozart Question (which is about the musician inmates of the concentration camps of the 2nd WW), when he saw a young boy transfixed by some street musicians in the city.

This is how stories often come to successful writers; they link moments of inspiration up, using setting and character to create the outcome...I don't know the end of my story when I start...he said... I'd rather it came organically...

Working on the ida that plot comes organically to this writer, Matthew asked Morpurgo if he thought character was, then, the most important things that helped him start and finish his books. He instantly replied that for him, the 'voice' he was writing in was paramount...if you don't find the right voice for the story, it's a sort of a miss-match...I do agree with him there. Often I get bogged down sorting out the plot, and can spend hours creating character sketches, but it's not until I get the voice (persona, I call this as an OCA tutor; the voice you use for a specific character), that things really start to roll. In my most recent book, Tough Luck, out as an e-book in time for Christmas, Brandon's voice came early to me; a cheeky, grinning lad with a bad luck problem... I’m the one who gets ketchup down me when we all bite into burgers. I’m the one who gets the puncture when we all ride over broken glass. That’s my luck – non-existent. It doesn’t worry me too much. I’m a bit of a comedian, I usually turn things into a joke...

But the story I've now started, working title The Bone Singer, is causing more problems. I have three voices and two of them, the boys, as it happens, have come quickly and I'm pleased with them. But the main character, a girl who is speaking in the 1st person, has given me difficulties. She sounds way to grown up and sensible for her actual personality. I'm still working on this!

 Morpurgo said he doesn't ever set out to instruct his young readership, but primarily to entertain, and if, in that case, he also informs, then he would be pleased with that. He says - that he needs to offer optimistic outcomes to even grim stories...I want to show children that there is a light...

Finally, he was asked if he'd become a wealthy man from writing for children...I can always afford to buy a new pair of socks, put it that way... he said. So if you're looking to find wealth from your writing, bear that in mind.

If you'd like to hear the entire interview, go to