Sometimes I’m asked to critique a story, or a scene in a novel, that, despite being well written, is somehow kind of bland. There may be nothing wrong with it – the author communicates clearly, and uses concrete detail, and writes strong dialogue, and deploys a consistent and appropriate point of view, and doesn’t clutter her prose with adjectives or adverbs, and yet, somehow, the story or scene doesn’t leap off the page – it’s dull. One option is to make the characters more distinctive, more idiosyncratic, more unusual. But very often the solution is to take the characters and their conflict and transpose them into a distinctive micro world.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, ‘Begin with an individual and you find you have created a type; begin with a type and you find that you have created – nothing. And the difference between an individual and a type is whether we get to see the specificity of their being in the world – whether they have a unique context in which to come alive.
read video transcript
This week we’re looking at selecting material for writing fiction. Writers are often told to write what they know, but what does that advice mean? The video ends with a writing exercise to practice the skill of writing what we don’t know – or what we’ve only just learned about.
Writing exercise: Choose from the following list of places somewhere you’ve never been and write a detailed description of what a character experiences as she or he travels through this location.
The harbour of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Aabpara Market in Islamabad, Pakistan
The Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Riverfront in St Charles, Missouri, United States
Brick Lane in London, England
Dalton Post, Yukon, Canada
Keleti Railway Station, Budapest, Hungary
If you want to make it harder, change the date; for instance, try to describe the location as it would have been in 1982 or 1956.
read video transcript
Want to know the sort of thing we’ll be covering in 2015? Well, our posts will be grouped into the 25 topics listed below. We won’t be doing these strictly in order, but selecting from the topics menu on the right will bring up the videos we’ve done so far in any chosen category (thus far, we haven’t done any, so save yourself a click!).
- Getting started
- Writing as communication
- Selecting your material
- Story and plot
- Elements of style
- Specific concrete detail
- Tense and Point of View
- Story time and narrative time
- Common problems
- Pet hates
- Subject and theme
- Entertaining your readers
- Short fiction
- Novel writing – mastering the narrative
- Advanced stylistics
- Getting published