“My job is to make you see and that is all.” - Joseph Conrad
We asked our friends and allies to contribute, who responded magnificently. Thank you to every single kind person who donated their ideas to help other writers. And a special thank you to JD Lewis, for permission to use her beautiful images.
Here are just a few examples of the contributions which most exercised ourselves and our readers.
Rebecca Lang, Stoking the Creative Fires
Take a blank piece of paper and divide it into four quarters by drawing two intersecting lines. In the first quarter, write a location for your story and draw it (it could be a map of a place, a house, a tree, a planet – be creative!).
In the second quarter, imagine your main character and sketch something representative (it could be a person or maybe an animal).
In the third quarter, illustrate an action – it could be someone doing something (perhaps exciting) like driving a fast car or running, or an event taking place.
In the fourth quarter, think of your ending or resolution and draw it as best you can.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, these are just markers for your story.
Roz Morris, Character and Story Development
Describe the same scene from two characters’ viewpoints; one happy, one angry. To help you enter the two different experiences, the happy character will think in shades of blue or white – imagery, descriptions of feelings, figures of speech and objects they notice. The angry character will use phrases, images and observations that involve the colour red. Use this mental colour palette to create two distinct experiences.
Jessica Bell, Polish Your Prose
Be dynamic. Use strong verbs and fewer adjectives:
The darkness of the thick grey low-hanging clouds made the massive decorative rocks in our backyard look like animated gravestone-giants.
The thick clouds hung low and shadowed our backyard. The decorative rocks doubled in size and morphed into gravestone-giants.
Bret Lott, On Detail
Themes can be rooted in detail. Work with a partner. Each takes two minutes to write down a list of what’s on your bedside table.
Now swap and use your partner’s list as the basis for the beginning of a short story. The objects belong to your narrator’s spouse. It’s either the day after the spouse’s funeral, or the day before s/he is going to ask the spouse for a divorce.
Jo Furniss, The Essence of Character
Exercise : Most people don’t know what they need in life—we’re too distracted by our desires—and your character is no different. Someone else can probably see into their heart more clearly than they see it themselves.
So… what does your character need?
Your character walks into a café / pub / restaurant to meet someone they know well, a friend or family member. There is also a waitress/ barman / cleaner. Write a 360° description of the scene from three POVs; how the friend sees the character, how the stranger sees the character, and how the character sees the scene.
Jason Donald, Filtering
What is filtering? It’s words or phrases tacked onto the start of sentence that show the world as it is filtered through the main character’s eyes. Meaning, the character is placed between the reader and the action in the story.
Janet felt a sinking feeling as she ran through the diner and out the front doors. She wondered if Jake would really just get up and leave her. She saw him throw the suitcase into the car and slam the door. He seemed cold as his gaze met hers. He pointed a finger, dropping his thumb like a gun. Now she knew he would take the money and disappear, leaving her to take the heat. She decided to beg and ran across the parking lot, sinking to her knees on the cold cement. The car's tires spun, and she felt the gravel spitting at her as she saw the convertible careen onto the road.
Do you see how the highlighted words come before the action? This forces the reader to step back and watch the character, rather than the action. It moves the reader away from the events on the page. An extra step has been inserted between the reader and the story. A filter.
Here is the same piece of writing after filtering is removed:
Janet's stomach sank as she ran through the diner and out the front doors. Would he really just get up and leave? Jake threw the suitcase into the car and slammed the door. He turned. Her gaze met his, and his eyes narrowed. He pointed a finger, dropping his thumb like a gun. A cold chill enveloped her; he would take the money and disappear, leaving her to take the heat. She ran across the parking lot, sinking to her knees on the cold cement. The car's tires spun, spitting gravel at her as the convertible careened onto the road.