Month: March 2014

Creative prompt 2#: What happened next?

Okay, this is where I’m going to give you a scenario, and I want you to fill in the blanks. Any ideas you have then post them in the comments box, because I’d love to hear about what you come up with.

This idea is based upon my experience of shopping in Primark. You see all kinds of characters in Primark; teenagers, parents, toddlers, staff and so on. The great thing about life writing is that inspiration is everywhere; it doesn’t gave to be a particular

Scenario: A young mum in the queue

You see a mother pushing a buggy whilst she’s waiting to pay for her items. You are third in line, and the mum in front is second. There are two toddlers in her buggy; one of them is quiet, whereas the other one is screaming horrendously. What happens next?

A few possible outcomes:

A) She gives the upset child a lollipop or buys them a gift

B) She shouts at the child, making both children cry

C) The mum ignores the child

D) The mum is asked to leave for disrupting the staff and customers.

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Unique forms of literature you’ve never heard of

Until today! You aren’t just limited to a novel, play, poem or short story. These are genuine literary forms which you, as a writer, can explore as a writer and can broaden your horizons. After all, you want to see which is your style, right? Here are three of the best…

1. Vignettes

I have briefly mentioned these in ’30 facets of scenes in fiction’. They are short, impressionistic sketches and may occur in either postmodern theatre or in a collection. Margaret Atwood’s collection Murder in the Dark and Angela Cater’s ‘The Snow Child’ are vignettes. They are different to flash fiction in that flash fiction still has a plot, characters and structure woven together; whereas a vignette only focuses on one of these things or even a motif, or the vignette does not develop these ideas.

2. Librettos

It’s the book of an opera, musical or masque. It looks very much like a play, and it can be written in either verse or prose form. tHev form has its roots in literature even more because operas are sometimes based on short stories, like Madama Butterfly or Carmen. Usually, songs are not included in this type of literature. It can be wholly original or an adaptation of the work it is based on. Like any stage work, you’ll probanly we working with composers at some point. Lorenzo de Ponte was a famous librettist who worked with Mozart.

3. Novelettes

This is a work of prose longer than a short story but not long enough to be a novella. It’s unfairly been categorised as a light or trivial novella in terms of content, but this is an inaccurate description for this overlooked form. Common examples include The Birds by Daphne du Maurier, Buffalo Gals, Won’t you come out tonight? by Ursula K. Guin, The Doll and the Other by Algernon Blackwood and ‘The Bloody chamber’ by Angela carter are all novelettes.

And there we have it! Three of the minor forms of literature that are great but never receive enough attention. I hope you try them out.

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The creative writer’s toolbox

This will be a fairly basic introduction to using e-tools for creative writing. With advancing technology, you can’t just rely on traditional pen and paper for your ideas. If you know how to use it correctly, technology can prove very useful when writing your story.

1. Storybook

One of the most comprehensive creative writing tools you’ll ever encounter. You can create character profiles, generate scene descriptions – with locations, objects, items and characters in it. You divide your book up into parts, scenes and chapters and describe what’ll happen and who will be there. As for characters, you generate a series of categories, such as religion, age, gender, appearance and any skills/talents. Whether they are a major or minor character is significant. great for longer pieces of work like novels and plays.

2. Ginger

It’s a more advanced version of the built-in spellchecker. You can get it free, and it’ll check spelling and grammar mistakes, along with rephrasing sentences. It’s best used as a companion with grammar and writing style books, along with a good dictionary.

3. Pinterest

The whole point of Pinterest seems to be that you create pinboards which are interesting; moodboards, so to speak. However, a much more efficient way of using this tool is by pinning boards by other people  to your page, so you can generate ideas. In the same way that twitter works best if you follow other pages – The Independent, for instance – because it’s basically an interactive news feed and debate, not an online diary. This is why some people get annoyed at celebs for tweeting “having a banana milkshake in a cabana #sunshine”, because it’s unengaging and very, very random.

4. I write like analyzer

This will help you find out what your style of writing is. Just find their website, copy and paste your text into the box and it will tell you who it thinks you write like. You get a different result depending on which passage you put in. Various writers who arrive are James Joyce, William Gibson and Stephanie Meyer. On the surface, this is a fairly humorous tool for fun. But, if you read the author’s handwriting or google them, you will find out about their genre, motifs and techniques being used.

5. Evernote

This can be used alongside Pinterest. On the surface, it seems like another redundant tool that you will never use. However, you can create notebooks in it and the webclipper might be good for flashes of inspiration.

6. Photoshop?

Okay, this probably has its most use for creating a book cover. It won’t help you brainstorm or flesh out scenes or characters, but it’s cheaper than an expensive photographer. If any of your friends have Photoshop or are photographers, get in touch with them.

And tools you’ve completely overlooked….

7. Notes

Yep, your smartphone or iPad’s notepad feature is pretty cool. Plus, it’s free and pre-installed on your device. You can just randomly write out scenes or brainstorm your ideas. you can just open it up and type away.

8. The comments section in Pages/Word

Yep, if anyone highlights where to improve, you can make a comment of it to come back to. Editors use it, as do tutors if you’re on a degree or creative writing course. It’s usually overlooked, but can be found in Review>Add comment in word.

Narrative theories to apply to your fiction

Okay, so why know about narratology? Well, in order to write a story effectively, one must deconstruct the essential components of fiction. Frankly, every theory focuses on a different aspect of fiction which stories must have or need to have.

1. Propp and folklore

In Morphology of the folktale, Vladimir Propp identified some key stages commonly found in folklore. He identified a sequence of 31 functions that take place in folktales and fairy tales. Some of these include trickery, (where the antagonist disguises themselves, being deceptively friendly or using harmful magic), delivery (where the villain gains information about the hero) and liquidation (where the spell is broken, curse is lifted etc.) these traits can be applied beyond fairy takes and folklore, and we can still see characters that might be Donors or helpers

2. Todorov

Tzvetan Todorov is noted for his ideas on the fantastic; where anything bizarre, supernatural or magical has a rational explanation according to the laws of reality. Some of his explanations include hallucinations, drugs, dreams, sensory illusions and madness, all of which are psychotic states-of-mind. He believes that if bizarre phenomena is considered normal in the story, then said laws of reality must change. This explains why the fantastic events in Magical Realism are believable. He also believed that stories followed 5 stages; equilibrium, disequilibrium, realisation, resolution and new equilibrium. First we have a status quo or harmony, then it is disrupted, then people recognize the problem and attempt to find a solution, and a new equilibrium where the characters/situation have changed and order is restored.

3. Levi-Strauss

He believes that we are surrounded by conflicting binary oppositions – which might be considered as the most primitive and basic forms of antagonism – which create conflict. A few of these might be man vs machine, man vs nature and order vs chaos. These conflicts can be illnesses, states of mind, ideology (religion, society, law), or people. He coined the term mytheme – which might be considered as ‘myth theme’ – which are the fundamental aspects of mythology, an essential ingredient. Some stories like this might include Pocahontas, Romeo and Juliet and The Matrix.

4. Barthes codes

Barthes identifies 5 codes when interpreting fiction; cultural codes, action codes, hermeneutic codes and symbolic codes. Hermeneutic codes are concerned with enigmas and truth; thematisation, equivocation, fraud, suspended answer, promise, positioning, disclosure, formulation and blocking. Any crime, detective and mystery fiction might be symptomatic of this. The proairetic or ACT code is about narration that needs any further action and what the consequences might be. The semantic code is about the names that we give to things and the way(s) in which we associate them; a mansion is a seme for wealth, for instance. A symbolic code is about taboos in society, and falls under either rhetorical, sexual and economic. Cultural codes any any body of knowledge – education, science, or religion and which we can see as literary, historical, psychological, medical, physical or literary.

5. Freytag’s pyramid

I’ve referred to this in a previous post, but it works nicely for this post too. It’s great for dramatists; because it talks about rising and falling action in plot. Renaissance drama in particular follows this five-act structure, particularly Shakespearean and Ancient Greek tragedy. Aristotle started it all off with his Poetics but Freytag continued this idea. Whereas Aristotle came up with the three-act structure – beginning, middle and end – Freytag has what’s known as a dramatic arc.

The first creative writing prompts

Hello my fellow word geeks!

I’ve created another new page, which involves some creative writing exercises. The first one is interactive, where you can create a cut-and-paste short story/poem/dramatic script from magazine, news and web articles or any other form of writing. I hope you enjoy my example that I created out of an old essay, an ELLE magazine and a magazine called The Crack; be warned, it’s quite spicy! And the second is all about rewritten stories and the effects they have on you as a reader, with some questions.

As always, I do take requests for posts, so if you have any suggestions then please do leave them in the comments box or e-mail me and I’ll take them onboard!

Keep posted and happy writing!

Creative writing exercise a la Postmodernism

Now, you may think that these questions are more to do with being a reader than a writer. But, if there’s one thing my Transformative Writing module has taught me, it’s that everybody draws off everyone else, and being a reader is just as important as being a writer. Here, I’m looking at classic myth, literature and fairy tales. So, what do you think?

1. Read various versions of Cinderella; Anne Sexton’s poem, Charles Perrault’s ‘The Little Glass Slipper’ and Rhodopis. In what ways is each version similar and different?

Fairy tales are constantly evolving, and here are just three examples.

2. Read the Faust myths, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Goethe’s Faust 

How is the Faust myth retold in different eras? Why does Goethe add God, whereas Marlowe focuses on Faustus? How are Faustus and Mephistopheles/Mephistophilis/Mephastophulis represented? Perhaps Marlowe chose this myth because he was a possible atheist. And was Goethe playing up Romantic trends?

3.  Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe and Romeo and Juliet

Is Shakespeare just playing up to a Renaissance tradition of re-hashing classical mythology? Or is it just Shakespeare’s thing to retell other stories (Hamlet is based on Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, for instance.

4. Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre 

This novel is considered to be the birth of fan fiction, as it rewrites Charlotte Bronte’s classic. Why does Rhys focus so much on Bertha/Antoinette? Is she successful? Is this just fan fiction, or a start of a new tradition? Is she doing anything new at all (James Joyce with Ulysses for instance)

Your motivations for creative writing

It’s important to think about why you want to write fiction. narratives are a part of our lives, so learn about them! Do you want to be a professional writer or are you happy with it being a side career? Here are a few reasons…

1. Is writing your hobby?

You could just really enjoy writing, and not want to be published as an author. Which is fine, and it works just as well. Some people just really enjoy being creative.

2. Do you have a story you need to tell?

This sounds like the most obvious question, but you need to think about why you should tell this story. What’s the message or moral? What are you trying to prove?

3. You can’t think of a more interesting vent for your work

Now, you don’t have to write a novel. You could be a columnist, a comic, a screenwriter, or you could be writing lines of poetry for occasion cards. My point is, there are tons of ways

4. You want to tell better bedtime stories

If you have kids, you might want to be an interesting storyteller. Nearly every kid wants to hear a good bedtime story, there’s even a film called Bedtime Stories on the subject. Use your imagination!

5. You are a comedian

If you’ve ever watched standup comedians or any comedy show, they usually have sketches or stories posing as anecdotes. Mock the Week has scenes we’d like to see, Who’s Line is it Anyway? has ‘If you know what I mean’ and Sarah Millican has stories about either sex or cakes. Point is, they’re using their imagination to tell and weave up a great story.

6. You work in advertising

A lot of adverts have a little narrative going on, and obviously you need to understand how narrative structure, plot and characters work if that’s the case.

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The literary collage

Here's one I did earlier...

Here’s one I did earlier…

Okay lit-lovers, I’m going to set you all task, which could have some very interesting results. It’s a variation on William Burrough’s Cut-up technique – where you cut out words, shake them in a bag and arrange them on a page. My method involves carefully selecting sentences and rearranging them on a page so that a fairly coherent structure is present, and not just a non-linear jumble of words, whereas Burrough’s technique means you aren’t supposed to know what you’ve picked. You could make a poem, dramatic script or short story – see where the words take you! We’ve all seen messages made up of little letters to make words, so why not do the same with fiction? It’s related to – but not the same as – intertextuality, where a text is a cut-and-paste of quotations from other sources. We’re all aware that nothing is original, but what is original anyway? I suppose the ‘original’ meaning of the word is “the first of its kind” (since original is used to mean the first and/or new of something). Do we only need a minor difference for something to be original, or must it be wholly different? Well, let’s find out.

if you’re using a pen and paper:

First, you’re going to need a piece of paper – printer or notepad is best – a pair of scissors and some glue. Next, I’d like you to get a stack of reading materials – no paperbacks please unless they’re tattered anyway  – such as newspapers, magazines, leaflets and so on. I want you to read through and pick out any words, phrases and sentences which catch your eye, cut them out and arrange them to make a story – whether it’s description, dialogue or Interior Monologue. Once you’re satisfied, stick them to the page. 

If you’re on a computer (tablet, pc, phone etc.)

Open a Word/Pages document and find some interesting stuff – e-zines, web articles, iBooks, kindle for pc – and highlight the selected text. Copy and paste into your document and attempt to arrange as a paragraph as above, so it looks like a narrative.

Think you can top mine? Go on, give it a go and post it back HERE. Let your creative juices flow, language geeks!

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10 words invented by Geoffrey Chaucer

Figure 1 courtesy of www.theparisreview.com

He was dubbed by John Dryden as ‘The Father of English Poetry’ and is largely regarded as The Father of English Literature. Now, I understand that Chaucer might not be our first port-of-call for writers who changed the English language. But, he has invented a lot of words and concepts that we still use today. But what does this have to do with creative writing? Well, if you can create new words that are memorable and useful, you’ll be remembered for them in years to come (see: “28 words invented by authors”). So which words did Chaucer invent?

1. Plumage

This word is an extension the Old French word plumage, which in turn comes from The Latin pluma. It is used in The Squire’s Tale. He’s comparing a falcon’s plumage to that of a nobleman, and in order to be genteel, one must be kind.

2. Village

This word is mentioned in The Pardoner’s Tale. It, like many other words, comes from the Middle French for village.

3. Magician

Possibly spelled magitian in Chaucer’s time, the word is found in the Prologue of The Canterbury Tales. He also created the word magic in the Prologue too, but nobody’s sure of these words’ etymologies. Here, Chaucer is pointing out that there is nobody who practices magic.

4. Sperm

This word made its first appearance in The Monk’s Tale, and is derived from the Middle French sperme. Why holy men were talking about male reproductive cells is beyond me, but there you go.

5. Dismembering

Chaucer wasn’t talking about a limb or other body part being cut off here. What he actually meant was
Christ’s soul separating from his body because of sin. It appears in The Parson’s Tale, and comes from the Old French desmembrer. Now, it tends to mean one’s body being torn to pieces.

6. Femininity

This appears in The Man of The Law’s Tale, and is anglicized from the Latin word femina meaning ‘woman’. Supposedly, then, a literal meaning might be ‘womanhood’. Nice to know we women are defined by men, then. Chaucer is describing the ‘realm of femenye’ as ac place od delight and pleasure. Perhaps, then, he sees it as paradisiacal?

7. Galaxy

This comes from the Latin galaxia, and Chaucer spelled it Galaxye in The House of Fame. He seems to be describing the Milky Way – another one of Chaucer’s words – as said Galaxy where the glass temple is found.

8. Laxative

This may be a parallel to vomiting, as Chaucer reasons that one takes a laxative in order to clear the bowels in the same way that vomiting purges the stomach. Basically, he sees diarrhea as vomiting from the opposite end. I suppose he has a point.

9. Funeral

Chaucer is talking about the sacred flames from a funeral pyre rising up. This word appears in The Knight’s Tale and comes from medieval Latin funeralia meaning ‘funeral rites’

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