Diary of a Writer – July writing prompt

Royal Highland Show – in the Crafts Tent

Three years ago an enterprising local lady set up the Scottish Women’s Institute, Bruntsfield Branch, here in Edinburgh. I was invited to join by a fellow writer and have been to several interesting meetings, gone on outings and made a paper maché cup.

At the Royal Highland Show this year, I visited the crafts tent where I was told by an SWI lady steward that a Bruntsfield member made one of  the baskets in the above picture. So here is that picture. Although I’m unable to tell you which basket is the relevant one, I’m very proud to know one of our number is skilled enough and confident enough to display her lovely work. The baskets were all lovely so it’s immaterial which one is hers.

Why is this a writing prompt? Firstly because baskets are universal and ageless. From Moses’ basket among the rushes to contemporary waste bins, they’ve seen a lot of action. Secondly, as a writer, it’s so good to get out and experience the creative passion of others. I find it stimulating.

Given the number of books written with quilting as a theme or background, others do too.

Anne

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Round Robin

Hullo again and welcome to June’s Round Robin which is about Characters. Robin, who sets up these posts, calls it a basic topic. It is a basic topic – but one might also refer to it as fundamental.

You can have the most wonderful plot in the history of fiction writing, but if you have to frogmarch your characters through it – it will not work.

In the beginning

So how do I go about developing them? I listen to their conversations. I used to write plays and for that I would put two characters in a room and listen in. Gradually, gradually, I begin to hear what they think needs saying. Fiction of course needs much more narrative and the conversations have to be embellished by surroundings. A pauper woman in Shoreditch is going to have different things to say about there being no food in the house, from a Duchess in Wiltshire.

Fiction writing also lacks a play producer, so it’s up to the writer to dress the characters. Perhaps that leads on to what the Duchess thinks about her dressmaker and the pauper about the rag-and-bone man.

I do spend time on it, but it is time during the writing process. I may know that my theme demands a type of heroine and a type of hero. As I explore what I want to tease out of the theme, I’m listening to the characters.

…and into maturity

What inspires the process of creating a character? Well, getting the next action or twist right, is very important. When I was writing Mariah’s Marriage, Mariah’s response to the countess’s revelation that Toby wanted to marry her, wasn’t the response I’d thought to type. As I typed, the girl’s reaction crystallised and when I read it over, I realised that the character had spoken and I needed to re-think that part of the plot and what happened next. An altogether satisfactory place to arrive at.

The other participants are listed below and despite having a teen at hand to consult, I’ve no idea why they’re appearing in miniature font. Comments on that or on how you create characters will be most welcome,

Anne

Diary of a Writer – June Prompt

Last month after a gap of several weeks, I put up two posts. One a tiny apology, but heartfelt, for being away for so long. I called it Missing in Action.

Missing in Action must have been a woeful message to receive in wartime. All that uncertainty heaped on the general difficulty of life in strange times by those words. Hope not quite extinguished, however, more a tongue of flame when perhaps you weren’t looking for it. Perhaps the person named is still alive and ‘in action’ elsewhere.

What caused me to shut down? Two very dear friends were terminally ill – but it was my brother who died. Many of you will have lost family members and are able to empathise. I don’t need to say anything more.The everyday carries on and is marked, in my case, by enormous kindness and assistance from all sorts of people – both personal and professional.

Writing has been on a back burner, but I have completed a short story for a project I’ll be telling you about soon. Shh! I have some stuff out to an editor and got useful suggestions back. I submitted a story to a magazine whose short story writing course I took 18 months ago. Blushes with embarrassment – what took so long?

Tongue of Flame – what has been your tongue of flame? What has brought a destroying effect into your life? Was it also cleansing?

Round Robin – Does getting the First Chapter Right Mess Up the Rest of the Book?

This month’s topic is the first post of the fifth year of Round Robins and has been suggested by Skye Taylor:

Has so much emphasis been placed by other writers’ advice, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/1st chapter that the rest of the story sometimes gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?

As many of you know I am a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The RNA runs a scheme, possibly unique, whereby people may join as ‘New Writers’ and for a modest fee submit a MS once in the year for critique by an experienced writer in their genre.

I was in this scheme for 5 years and submitted 5 books. The critique of one stated baldly that I wrote a very good first chapter, but the reader needed the rest of the book, too. So, you might say, I’ve had contrary advice and indeed paid for it.

Dancing shoes with medals

I see exactly where Both Skye and the anonymous NWS reader are coming from. I came to the understanding many years ago that it’s the puzzle I’m interested in. My house used to be full of drawers containing the first chapter of a novel or the opening scene of a play or, and this is what eventually made me understand why I never finished anything, the back of a hand-knitted jumper. Once I knew where the story was going or how the knitting pattern worked, there was little need to complete.

I was enchanted by Elizabeth Hawksley’s lovely post about her vintage, antique even, sewing machine. You can read it here. While I knew many people in the late 60s and early 70s who did make and wear their own clothes, my efforts were in general not fit to be seen. Being an ‘A’ student, I learned Latin after 2nd year and so never developed the discipline of making a garment. That’s where the NWS scheme triumphs, I think. You have a go in year one and learn a bit. In year two you do carry that learning forward…and so on. The discipline of completing an annual MS was invaluable.

Other advice will suggest the ending needs to be strong and, in romance, that the ‘black moment’ has to be apparently unsolvable. Carried to extremes all of this turns good writing practice into pastiche, in my humble opinion. Yes, readers remember particular bits, but it can be surprising when people tell you in conversation which bits. They aren’t necessarily anything to do with the landmark moments.

The Menzieses’ House No 20

My friend awaits my Edinburgh based regencies so she can walk the pavements she walked while growing up in Buccleuch Place and indulge in a little sentimental reminiscing.

Other lovely people have been mulling over this topic and they can be found on their blogs below:
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-YV
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Diary of a Writer – March Writing Prompt

dsc01314This picture was taken just over a month ago in Trinidad, Cuba. The horse or pony was much in evidence as a means of personal transport and as a draught animal.

Travelling between Havana and Trinidad by bus, we saw many pony and cart combos not only in the fields, but on the highway. Occasionally, they were driving against the traffic! There wasn’t a lot of traffic, but some of it travelled fast.

What does this picture ask of you? I see the light and shade. I see the interesting local houses. I see an animal taking its rest when it can.

And I wonder. Who left it there? Will it be the same man (didn’t see any female riders, folks) who comes back to it? What if a different man rode off?

Currently re-thinking the W-I-P, but still in Regency Edinburgh although on the High Street for this one. Courting the Countess still at 99p.

Also deeply involved in the Romantic Novelists Association’s Awards Night. If you’re there, I’ll be on the front desk. Come and say Hello, why don’t you? Ponies should be tethered outside.

 

Round Robin – Description – How Much is Too Much – Too Little?

 
Description I remember a writing lesson exercise at primary school. The task was to describe the living room of our house. It was a huge joy when the teacher said of my piece that he would be able to walk into that room and not bump into anything because my description was so careful, he knew where everything was.
     So, is that degree of detail appropriate for the kind of historical fiction I write now?
I don’t think so. I prefer to give the reader a few clues and allow them to visualise countryside, room, people, animals, in their mind’s eye. I like to think that a clue will conjure a world.
     If it’s pouring rain, the reader will see the water from a phrase like, ‘She came up out of the underground into a mass of folk hurrying on their way beneath a jostling canopy of umbrellas.’
     On the other hand, if the sun is blazing, I might use, ‘She shielded her eyes beneath an outstretched palm. It was hard to tell whether the heat was more shocking than the expanse of flesh on view. She knew her mother was right when she said Brits don’t dress well in summertime.’
     I want to include enough to let the reader know the bits of information it is important they do not get wrong. I want them to see the difference between a young lady and her maid, a crossing-sweeper and an Eton school-boy – and so on. One of my favourite passages from one of my own books is this from Mariah’s Marriage:

“Of course Tilly would be interested in the earl’s tailored wool coat with his spotless waistcoat and carefully tied neck cloth. The men who normally visited here wore ill-fitting garments which were often stained with food. Not only that, but the earl had a clean-shaven face and the hair of his head was trimmed into a neat style that allowed his strong bones to be seen easily. Seen and admired, she thought.”

I think this little snippet of description not only tells us what Tobias looks like, but how overwhelmed Tilly is and, indeed, how Mariah, too, is succumbing.

London Girl

London Girl

     Our topic also asked whether I skimmed description when reading a book. Oh dear, yes I do. I am most likely to skim scene-setting description. It’s very unfair of me and maybe I should try harder, but honestly, I want to know the characters are in a dental surgery or a fast-food outlet, but I don’t need to know what colour the paintwork is. Unless, of course, that’s relevant to the plot.
So, if description interests you, then read on among my Round Robien friends below. I think you’ll enjoy…

Diary of a Writer – Writing Prompt – February – New Experience

dsc01373Some of you may have noticed a wee absence of posts on this blog during January. The chap above is one of the reasons why I’ve been awol because I’ve been visiting Cuba and Costa Rica.

The baby sloths – the apparent furry car rug is a pile of six – have all been orphaned and brought to the Toucan Rescue Ranch for nurture and possible release back into their jungle habitat. The ranch’s intern, was delightfully droll about the difficulties of acting as mum to a baby sloth. Press too hard on the syringe of goat’s milk that is used to feed them and you may cause the baby to ingest the milk, rather than digest it, which can lead to pneumonia. Toilet training – well, in the wild, they learn from mum that going to the bathroom once a week s good. In the Rescue centre that would be the intern’s finger in some other sloth urine encouraging the wee ones to perform. Glamorous it is not.

Some of you editing types may have noticed the name of the ranch, Toucan Rescue Ranch, and be puzzling over the inclusion of sloths. Well, get a GOOD name in the bird and animal rescue world and who knows what will arrive on the doorstep?

The sloth babies were immensely attractive little bundles, but one needs to remember that sloth mouths are a very dirty environment. A bite if untreated could kill you.

Here’s one of their actual toucans as reassurance that I haven’t lost all plot.

dsc01385

All writers need new experience to refresh their pool of ‘things to write about’. Orphans are a big issue in our world where humans are displaced daily by war and animals killed by loss of habitat, predation and interaction with the human world.

While I’ve been away, Endeavour have dropped the price of Courting the Countess to 99p Don’t know for how long, but a good moment to add to your kindle.

 

 

 

Diary of a Writer – Writing Prompt January – the Door to the Year

The Door of the Year

The Door of the Year

The Door to the Year is Georgian and I found it while walking around Dublin’s beautiful Georgian streets. As many readers know, I focus my own Regency and early nineteenth century fiction in Edinburgh and London. On the other hand who wouldn’t wonder what’s behind this lovely door and its equally tempting neighbour?

Early January is the time for handing in entries to the Scottish Association of Writers annual conference competitions. I have at least a short story – can’t give any clues what that’s about – and you may be going along and have entries, too. Headline speaker is Helen Lederer and you’ll find the Conference Schedule by typing September into the search box. Day delegates are welcome. The Westerwood Hotel and Sports complex is welcoming, comfortable and easily accessible from the train to Croy or by car.

Occasionally competitions excite my creative imagination, but more and more, they’ve become a distraction from the main work. Of course, as with the People’s Friend serial writing competition, sometimes the distraction pays off. Shortlisted and published, together with two subsequent short story sales, it was a profitable distraction.

So, what is The Door to the Year opening up for your writing.? Will you share a few hopes with us?

Round Robin – Prologue and Epilogue

PROLOGUE AND EPILOGUE The temptation to misquote from something half remembered is too strong to overcome. In my beginning is my end…

I don’t use either prologues or epilogues in the four novels I’ve published so far. It is fair to say that Daisy’s Dilemma carries on the story of Lady Daisy and by doing so tells any interested reader what happened after the first book, Mariah’s Marriage, ended.

But that is novel length and hardly a short rounding off of anyone’s story.

So – why not?

Prologues almost, but not quite, fall into the same category as Introductions for me. I don’t read them before I read the book and sometimes not even then. Is this impatience to be getting on with the story? Is it arrogance? Why do I need to have someone’s view of a subject before forming my own?

Prologues of course are little tasters. They plant a hook deep in the reader’s brain about what happened to, or in the life of, one of the characters who are about to unfold on the book’s stage. I prefer to have all of that in my story. Maybe it’s just a question of stylistic preference.

Epilogues round off or flesh out the ending the reader has been presented with. Just in case one was unsure doubt is removed. Yes, there was a happy ending and here is how it evolved. No, it was a bittersweet ending and here is how it evolved. Oh dear, the baddie was rescued by a passer-by and is recovering in hospital to plague the hero and/or heroine in another book.

Personally, although I do read epilogues, I like my own imagination to have room to weave an ongoing fantasy.

Our full topic asked if you could have one without the other. I don’t see why not, but perhaps my fellow bloggers have reasons. Catch their opinions below.

Anne Stenhouse Author

Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-QS
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Anne Stenhouse  https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Kay Sisk http://kaysisk.blogspot.com
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com