Stronger Fiction: Should you write what you know or know what you write?

One of the oldest pieces of advice for people who want to write fiction is that they should “write what they know’. This sage piece of wisdom is passed down from teachers to young pupils, from tutors to college students and in many creative writing classes. Yet, what does it actually mean? And is it a piece of advice worth following?

Write what you know

notebook-old-photos-magnifying-glass-camera

Writing what you know suggests that the writer can not step outside their own experience. It suggests that their writing should be autobiographical in nature and always include a piece of themselves. While it could be good advice to write about what you know, if you were a former pirate, sailing the high seas who accidentally kidnapped a prince, more normal people may find it more difficult. Most people’s lives are fairly ordinary and there doesn’t seem to be much room for excitement.

Directing someone to write what they know, ignores the rich imaginations that most writers have. We can imagine what it is like to walk on a strange planet or to dive deep in the oceans. We can imagine how things could turn out when you meet the one person that you have always wanted to meet – even if it has never happened to you. I would not recommend that writers always stick to writing what they know or what they have experienced.

Knowing what you write is a different thing. Here, writers research before they write and use it to help create the story. You may not know everything before you begin to write, but you may have done some research and use it to help the story along. You may need to stop and make notes of further knowledge you need, but you can begin the story and leave gaps. This will enable you to slot in extra research, which will enrich the story. The best research fits seamlessly in the story.

Call on your emotions for your writing

We have all experienced emotion in one form or another, even if we have not experienced a specific event such as losing a parent or having our heart broken. Most people understand what it can be to fall in love, to like somebody who doesn’t know you exist or somebody unattainable like a celebrity. Using the emotions that you have felt during your life is a good use of writing what you know. It can enrich your writing and bring your characters to life.

Another variation on this rule is to write what you read. This is some of the best advice that a writer could be given. If you already read and enjoy a particular type of genre, then you will enjoy writing it too. If you don’t read, then how will you know what you enjoy and which type of book calls to you on a deeper level? Being a reader is the first step to becoming a writer.

Do you write regularly? Do you think that you should write what you know or were rules made to be broken? Comment below.

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20+ fun things to do when you’re stuck in the house

Do you feel the need to find something positive to do this weekend? As a freelancer who works from home most of the week, I have never really felt that “stuck at home”. Even this week, I have managed to cope with working around (nearly grown up) children, school online and DH working from home. But the first weekend is looming when everyone has been home all week. What can you do this weekend?

Hand holding small plant in soil

Get out in the garden.

Typical that the weather should improve now that we’re all staying indoors. Why not get out and do some gardening while you can? The fresh air feels good and a tidier garden will improve how you feel too. If it’s warm enough, why not take a book outside and enjoy some relaxing time?

Give a room a spring clean

Watch a family film.

Half the fun of finding a film to watch with your loved ones is the negotiation required to find a film that you all want to watch at the same time. Don’t forget the popcorn!

Play a game/ do a jigsaw

Time to brush off those old family games and give them another go. Why not have a retro game night where you play the games you used to play when you were in school? Cat’s cradle, dots and boxes, noughts and crosses would all be something different. Or you could play card games or even video games.

Create some art

Time to pick up the paint brushes, drawing pencils, collage materials and glue – and anything else you fancy having a go at. Try dragging the teen away from their games console to create something too. Pick up something that you haven’t done for ages, or search online for ideas. Getting creative is one of those things that is really good for helping you forget stressful things for a while. Pinterest is amazing for ideas or try this website:

https://craftulate.com/12-art-ideas-for-adults/

Even Googling ‘Art ideas’ will bring back an amazing array of images to try.

Brightly coloured knitted teddies

Write a poem with these prompts

Adult colouring pictures

There are lots of colouring pictures that you can print out and colour. They can be uplifting quotes, complicated pictures or more simple.

FaceTime your loved ones

Put on a family talent show

Everyone has to show off one talent in one crazy evening. Could be the start of something new…

Write a letter to someone

Watch a musical theatre production on YouTube or Facebook. There’s an amazing amount of productions moving online at the moment due to the theatres closing. Check them out and make a date with the ones you fancy.

Bake

And you get to eat the delicious results!

Have a pamper day

Time to run the bath, add the smellies and relax. Put on a facemask, manicure your nails and enjoy a pamper.

Plan a future holiday or trip

Put things together, ready for when you can next go out and enjoy yourself

Listen to a new album

Sort out your old photos

This is one of the things we are always putting off. You could sort through your old photos, enjoying the memories and create photobooks, or even just organise your archives.

Try a book by a new author

Enjoy time with your pet

Give them a cuddle or make them something new to play with. Pets can get bored too.

Learn a new instrument

Or brush up on one that you already play but learn a new song.

Collect old clothes for charity

Pen paper and cup of tea

Write a short story

Try some of the prompts on this website, or write a story that you have been thinking about for a while

Get in touch with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while

Try yoga or tai chi through tutorials on YouTube

What are you going to try this weekend? Let me know in the comments below.

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Secrets of Stronger Fiction 1: Characters who run against normal society – Anne with an E

I am not only a writer, I am a reader. I love a good piece of historical fiction, where the details take you back in history, the sights and the smells and the experiences of people long ago fill the story with the results of a writer’s long hours of research.

Some of my favourite characters are historical characters from the novels that I first encountered as a teenager. Many of these do not need such research, as they were written in their time. I love reading about characters that stand out from the crowd for their time – I always feel as though I would have loved to know them.

Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery

The series of stories about Anne see her grow up from an orphan of about 11 into a young woman, then a mother and beyond. Anne is not a normal little girl, at least to the good mothers of Avonlea, who fear what she is teaching her daughters. Anne’s unconventional upbringing has meant that she knows a lot more about life than some of her sheltered friends, but her heart is kind and her creativity brings her the admiration of her friends. The book was first published in 1908 and is set on Prince Edward Island. Many of the descriptions in the book are based on real places on Prince Edward Island and local people there have set up tours and a museum based on the book.

Anne is a typical 11 year old who gets into trouble, but she is always supported and loved by Matthew Cuthbert, the farmer who adopted her. His sister Marilla is quicker to judge, but she always supports Anne in the end. Some of Anne’s difficulties involve dying her hair green instead of raven black and accidentally getting her best friend drunk on what she thought was raspberry cordial but turned out to be currant wine.

The contrast between Anne, who has no idea who her parents were: they are just names on a birth certificate, and her classmates on Prince Edward Island is large. Anne’s best friend Diana, is expected to attend finishing school and marry well. This is an old-fashioned ideal for the time, but Diana’s parents are very conscious of their social position. She is not allowed to continue school, even though she has the brains to do so.

Anne has no thought of her looks apart from the things she despises about them. She hates having red hair and breaks her slate over her classmate, Gilbert’s head when he calls them, ‘carrots’! She also dislikes her thin frame and pale skin and freckles. She only cares about her brains and works hard to stay at the top of the class with Gilbert. The two of them have quite a rivalry when it comes to school work.

Anne of Green Gables and the sequels that have followed, have endured as a classic for a very long time. The story of the orphan boy who turned out to be a girl is full of heart, emotion and character you care about. Anne is easily identifiable with, and so are many of her classmates. The stories stand as a testament to the strength of the cast of characters as well as its leading lady.

Writers’ Notes

What can writers learn from Anne of Green Gables?

LM Montgomery wrote the story from a newspaper headline that caught her attention

Writing an unconventional character can bring your story to life

Writing contrasting characters can help bring the story along.

Bringing characters into the story that oppose your main character is a great way to introduce conflict to the plot

You never know where your idea might come from next!

Keep an eye out for interesting headlines in your local papers – could you turn one of them into a short story or even a novel?

Who is one of your favourite characters in literature and why? Comment below and let me know.

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Day 20: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Story Plot, Conflict & Resolution

On Day 11 and Day 12, I posted a short story for the purpose of showing you how I edit a story.  Here I finish my discussion of the story and will be talking about the plot, the conflict in the story and the resolution.

Paper and Pen by Orin Zebest on Flickr CC
Paper and Pen by Orin Zebest on Flickr CC

Plot

The plot is probably one of the most important parts of the story. The plot is all about what action actually takes place in the story. In the case of The House on the Hill, the answer is, “Not much!”

You could actually explain the story in a couple of sentences and everyone would understand what it was about, but it is the inner story – Joseph’s memories and the story of his friend that brings it to life. Short stories are often better if they contain some sort of ‘twist’ or surprise at the end that creeps up on the reader. This can be quite hard to do, as it can seem that pretty much every twist has been done to death.

As an example, I remember when the film, The Empire Strikes Back came out and that plot twist shocked audiences up and down the country – that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. It was pretty momentous and everyone was shocked. In those days, we didn’t have spoiler trailers like we do now. That was an absolutely amazing plot twist at the time which the makers of the film managed to keep secret until the film was actually released. However if a film was pitched today that had the villain turning out the be the hero’s father, it would be laughed at – what a cliche!

I’m not convinced that this plot holds up to scrutiny. I think it needs work to turn this into a good short story. I have to admit that I just sat down and wrote with the intention of pulling it apart so it’s not a problem. I know it needs more work. If it is going to have a twist, then it needs to be a better one that will surprise the reader.

Conflict

The story could not be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be exciting, but there is a certain tension created when Joseph starts feeling unwell. There is a sense that not all is well, but the estate agent is oblivious to anything but herself and the sale. The conflict could do with being built up more to bring a bit more action to the story. Joseph sees his memories of his lost childhood friend everywhere, in the faded photo, in his own memories of the incident that led to her death and even in the cry of the seagulls as he steps away from the house.

Resolution

Joseph has come with the intention of buying the house, but he finds too many memories and decides that the visit around his former friend’s house is enough. He will not be buying the house, but he does have a sense of closure as he leaves it.

Looking back through the story, I feel that it would need some rewriting to include more events happening to make the story more readable and interesting. The initial characters are good, but there needs to be more tension created between them and there needs to be a more definite conflict and resolution. At some point, I will rewrite the story and repost it, so you can see if it has improved at all.

If you have enjoyed this post, please comment below and share to your social media of choice. Thank you.

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Day 19: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Short Story Setting

My blog posts on Day 11 and Day 12 were two halves of a short story, written quickly to use as an example for editing. Here, I would like to discuss setting.

Sea Cliff 2 by Mary Penny on Flickr cc
Sea Cliff 2 by Mary Penny on Flickr cc

The setting of a story discusses where the story takes place. In The House on the Hill, the action all takes place around an old empty house.

The House on the Hill is a house for sale on a cliff side. The house has clearly been loved, but now it is empty of people, although furniture remains. There is a photo that clearly brings back memories for Joseph as he goes back to look for it.

The house is described as:

  • mail swept from the floor – unlived in
  • coloured window panels and tiled floor in the hall
  • double fronted – so a large house (double fronted is when the house has a room either side of the front door)
  • 3 bedrooms
  • sea-facing lounge with high ceiling and carved plaster
  • faded wallpaper
  • furniture covered with dust sheets
  • threadbare rugs
  • furniture not wanted – if buyer does not want then will be put in a skip
  • old-fashioned Quaker kitchen with quarry tiled floor
  • water still connected
  • patio doors from kitchen leading to an ‘unruly’ i.e. overgrown garden
  • smallest bedroom – a girl’s room with girl’s books

There is quite a lot of information about the house, and one thing as author I need to check – that it does not conflict. The house seems to evoke a number of different eras and perhaps it might be better if it were all tied to one era, the one where Peggy died.

Setting also includes atmosphere. The story tries to be mysterious. Does it succeed? I’m not sure it does. It needs to decide if it wants to be a ghost story, a memoir or something else. The setting of the house needs some minor tweaks, but I need to decide exactly what kind of story it is going to be and perhaps add some more clues to enable the reader to follow along.

If you have enjoyed this blog post, then please share it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you.

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Day 15: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Editing a Story – Characters

On days 11 and 12 I published two halves of a story. This story was written for the purpose of showing you what I do when I edit. I have deliberately published a first draft, with very little editing apart from immediately spotting spelling mistakes etc so that you can see how it will change from first draft to the finished story.

Grungy girl in photo booth by simpleinsomniaWhen we are children, we write a story and it is done, but as adults, there is always polishing that can be done. Sarah (Arrow) has said that your blog posts don’t have to be perfect – no, they don’t, it is good if they are as close as you can make it in the time that you have.

Today, I’m going to focus on characters. In this story, there are two main characters: Janice Jones and Joseph. I don’t usually make all my characters in a story begin with the same name, but today, I have!

The characters are rather sketchily drawn – only small details about their appearance are mentioned in the story.

Janice:

  • smart and professional
  • has bright blue eyes

Her personality has a few more hints:

  • an estate agent – immediately conjures up a picture of suit and briefcase/laptop bag
  • has noted that the client is a cash buyer
  • purses her lips when annoyed but does not show anger
  • thinks of the money
  • finds Joseph a glass of water
  • Feet hurt – does this indicate high heels?
  • Needs a cup of coffee – addicted to caffeine?
  • mutters under her breath

Joseph

  • elderly gentleman

I am amazed that this is the only description of the appearance of Joseph, so I think I would add a few more details, but would try to make sure that they add to the story rather than just inform the reader.

His personality is:

  • a little impatient with Janice
  • Attuned to the house – he feels warm
  • has a funny turn where he seems to hear voices – twice
  • used to have family in the area
  • looking to buy in the area
  • cash buyer – so has some money
  • has memories of the house in happier times but also in sad
  • has lost his wife

So, there is more about Joseph’s personality than his appearance. This perhaps makes him a little mysterious which was probably my intention in the first place.

The final character in the story is Peggy. Her story is told in flashback and through a photograph that Joseph finds. She is a young girl who knew Joseph as a young boy. We know that she died young and that her death affected Joseph. The story ends with Joseph saying goodbye. Was he saying goodbye to the house, Peggy or both? The story leaves it to the reader to decide.

So to sum up, I need to edit:

– the characters need small details about their appearance adding

  • the details given need to add to the story
  • the details should be ‘shown’ rather than ‘told’
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Day 11: 30 Day Blogging Challenge: A Story, Part 1

The Old House on the Hill

The estate agent turned the key in the lock. The key was large, wrought iron and it took her two goes to turn it. The heavy lock clicked open. The woman, smart and professional, pushed open the door. It swept two months of mail to one side as it opened.

Lincombe Barn, Downend, Bristol 1968 by Robert Cutts on flickr CCJanice Jones, the estate agent, stood to one side to let the elderly gentleman inside. He didn’t look like a typical buyer, but the form had said that he was a cash buyer and customers like that had to be offered only the best. The late afternoon sun threw coloured panels on the tile floor as they entered the house. Apart from the mail, the house looked almost as though it were still in use. Joseph felt the warmth as he stood in the hallway, getting his bearings. The estate agent was still in full professional mode.

“ The property is double-fronted,” she explained. You have the main reception room through there, and the kitchen and second dinning room through the other side. Upstairs…”

“Three bedrooms, thank you, I have read the particulars,” Joseph said.

Janice pursed her lips, then thought of the commission. “Where would you like to start?”

Joseph took a step towards the main reception room. “How about in here?’

He led the way and walked into the room. The lounge was facing the sea with high ceilings and carved plaster. The wallpaper was faded but had clearly once been an expensive pattern. The furniture was covered in dust sheets and the rugs were looking a little threadbare, but he could see that once the house had been loved.

“The furniture can come as part of the house,” said Janice, “but if you decided not to take it on, the current owners are happy to pay for two skips to remove the rubbish.”

Joseph eyed an old oak dresser and bureau. It was beautiful furniture, but he doubted that he would have a need for it. He took two steps towards the back of the room and suddenly his head swam. It felt as though he had suddenly transferred to another time, another place. He heard children’s laughter, a woman shouting then the sound of crying.

“Mr. Lawrence?”

He turned and jumped.

From being near the door, Janice was suddenly right behind him.

“You gave me a fright.”

“Sorry, but you looked as though you might faint. The colour drained from your face. What is it?”

Joseph couldn’t answer her. The experience had left him shaken.

“I don’t know,” he said, “perhaps the heat…”

“Come through to the back,” said Janice, “it’s cooler.”

This is what I have done with the writing prompt that was published yesterday. It is the first part of a story. It is a first draft. The second part will be published tomorrow. If you like the beginning of the story, you are welcome to guess how it ends. Don’t forget to post links to your own stories from the writing prompts.

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Day 10 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Writing Prompts

Old house on a hill by Rennett StoweA writing prompt is something that is designed to spark a story or poem in you. There are ideas all around us everyday, but it is important to tune your brain up in order to notice them. Writing is almost like a muscle – the more you use it, the better you get.

Today’s blog post is a writing prompt. Use the picture to spark a story, a poem, a piece of flash fiction, a song or whatever you want to write. If you do, then let me know in the comments. My writing will be posted here tomorrow.

Pick the one that speaks to you best:

Either:

The House on the Cliff

or

A girl sits on a cliff top all afternoon, staring out to sea. Who is the girl and what is her story?

or

A note is left tied to a bench on a cliff that overlooks the sea. What is the note and what is the story behind it?

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Meet Keith Havers – The Creative Writer Interview

Keith Havers is a short story writer who has had stories published in Take a Break’s Fiction Feast, That’s Life (Australia), The Weekly News, People’s Friend and The Lincolnshire Echo. He also has a short story published in the charity anthology, ‘100 Stories for Queensland’. He is a member of the Trowell Writers’ Trust and Nottingham Writers’ Club. He has had several first, second and third places in their short story competitions over the last few years. In 2008 he was runner up in the National Association of Writers’ Groups annual competition for short stories. In May 2009, he was awarded second place in Writing Magazine short story competition and the entry is available on their website.

You can find Keith on Twitter@KeithHavers

And he blogs at www.grammargrub.blogspot.uk

 

Name:  Keith Havers

Writer Alias (if you are willing to let us know):

I use my real name Keith Havers in all my published work so far. No alias.

How long have you been a writer?

I joined Trowell Writers’ Club in 2006 so I suppose that should be considered my starting point.

Rough idea of where you live.

I live just outside Nottingham.

Do you sell stories/articles to local or global publications?

I sell short stories to magazines which are also published in other countries.

  1. What is the first piece of writing that you remember doing?

I can’t remember the first piece of writing I did but I remember that, as a kid, I was always putting something down on paper. I’ve always been interested in science and technology (I have a degree in electronic engineering) so some of the stuff I wrote was non-fiction but I also had a go at stories and scripts.

  1. What made you realise that you wanted to write for a living?

I don’t actually write ‘for a living’ I have a couple of other jobs as well. I just wanted something else to supplement my income when I realised that my engineering career was coming to an end.

  1. Where was your first story published?

My first published story was in the charity collection 100 Stories For Queensland in 2011. Shortly after that I made my first sale to Take A Break Fiction Feast.

  1. Is there a story that you wish that you had written?

I’m sure we’d all like to have written something hugely successful like Harry Potter or Fifty Shades. You have to keep the dream alive.

  1. What is the one tip that you would give aspiring writers?

Persistence is the key. You have to keep sending your stuff out. Even if it keeps coming back. Re-write it or write something new and send it back out there.

  1. What is your current project?

I don’t have a project as such. I just keep churning out the short stuff, send it off and hope for the best.

 

Thank you, Keith for agreeing to take part in The Creative Writer Interview. I would like to wish you all the best with your short stories.

 

If you are a blogger, freelance copywriter, author or any other kind of writer and would like to take part in the The Creative Writer Interview then email me: sarahthecreativewriter[at]gmail.com

 

 

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Book Review – Creative Writing: The Essential Guide by Tim Atkinson

Published by Need2Know

Thinking of starting a career in creative writing? Then this book might be for you. It is easy reading and at just over 100 pages, not too long.

As an introduction to the world of creative writing, this book works well. The author writes with a light touch and self-deprecating humour, and his style is easy to read. He also has a taste for unusual similes which become more obvious after his discussion on stereotypes and clichés in Chapter Two which discusses the writer’s voice. It made me think more about the clichés I use without thinking because they have become such a part of our language.

There are chapters covering getting the writing habit, reading as a writer, fact and fiction and editing as well as a basic introduction to different kinds of creative writing such as short stories, poetry, playwriting and novel writing including genre fiction. There are other books covering these kinds of subjects in greater detail, but this book gives the reader an overview of creative writing and the kinds of avenues that they might like to explore further.

I like some of the quotes in the sidebars – they are always relevant and often funny in a true kind of way. The author takes some examples from his own work (well, at least he owns the copyright) and is not afraid to show the nuts and bolts of writing in that the examples can be less than perfect. I also like his advice about not deciding too soon which genre you would like to write in – as you develop you may find more than one genre suits you whereas if you limit yourself too soon to one particular genre then you may miss out on some of your best work.

There is a great list of resources at the back for aspiring writers to try, and they include both web resources and books so you don’t have to be online to find some of them. At the back of the book more published books by Need2Know will offer more in depth reading on some of the subjects.

As an introductory book for a novice writer I would highly recommend this book: the writer mentions the well-used saying that ‘everyone has a book in them’ and I know several people who would like to write who might enjoy reading this book as a way of inspiring them to begin.

Even for writers who have been writing for a while but are beginning to feel that they might like to try different kinds of writing, it might also be worth a read as it does offer a good overview of the world of creative writing.

Favourite Quote:

‘Basically, if you’re writing a novel (as opposed to, say, a short story) you’ve got to take the reader on a bit of a holiday: short stories are away-days; novels are the full vacation and War and Peace is the year-long round-the-world cruise.’

(Creative Writing: The Essential Guide: Chapter Six: The Novel)

This book review is entirely my honest opinion of the book. I have no affiliate links with Need2Know or Tim Atkinson.

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