Attended the first session of this two part workshop today at Hebden Bridge Library. The course is run by Anna Turner (AKA Anna Chilvers, author of Falling through clouds) and the aims are 'to learn some skills and techniques needed to complete a novel and also gain the belief that you are capable of undertaking this task.'
We were given a first line (It started raining that night and it didn't stop for two weeks) to write and were told to keep writing until told to stop (by an incredibly irritating clock timer). This was to get us into the habit of writing (and stopping) to order and the challenge (between the end of this session and the next) was to allocate 10-15 minutes that one can write and write for this set time each day in the exercise book we were each given.
Anna explained that some writers plot chapter by chapter (i.e. First draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner) and others just write (rather like how we will be doing on this course) and this is a method to find out which one is the one that works best for you.
David Lodge says that the structure of the novel is 'like the framework of girders that hold up a modern high rise building. You can't see it, but it determines the edifice's shape and character.'
Anna then handed out two sets of character questionnaires that we had to work to in groups of 3 or 4 having each been given a character name. We had to decide which name was the protagonist and work out his/her character using the character questionnaire prompts. This soon evolved into realising that we all had very different ideas on who/what we wanted the protagonist to be (though the beauty of writing is that you and you alone get to decide this when writing your novel). We then had to feed back to the group where we had got to.
Then we had the clock timer go off and had to write again for the alloted time.
Once this time had elapsed, Anna informed us that we had now created somebody you can believe in and this is essential. This character is now 'ripe for change' and we had to come up with something about them that, when it changes, it is interesting. This novel will be about that character - do you want to live with that character? Can you keep your interest in that character going for a year or can you not stand them?
Then we were asked to go back into our groups and work on the answers to the second character questionnaire, followed by the written answer to one of the following questions:
1) What is in your characters fridge right now?
2) Where does your character go on holiday?
3) What is your characters earliest memory?
4) What is your characters bed like?
I chose to answer question three (which I will post tomorrow) and some of the writing was read out to the group.
Then we had to go back to the timed writing and then we worked on structures. Anna said that the structure within the novel is made up of: Dramatic action (i.e. what happens) and Time. You have to start with a situation and then create conflict and take your character on a journey from the situation they are in now, to the place where you are going to take them to. She then gave out leaflets on The Characters Journey (influenced by Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens), The 7 Basic Plots and finally, Requirements for a Plot.
For the 'inciting incident' you need to decide how your character will react. What will they do? Where will they go? It was decided that your group can have more than one version. Before we could get to this the alarm went off again and we all began to work on our timed writing.
After, we worked on our 'inciting incidents' and then came back together to read some of them out to the group. Then Anna gave out a sheet of paper outlining The Shape of the Whole Story, which she said is used when making films and she used the example of Red Riding Hood to explain how it works. This will give us the vague shape of what happens in our book.
The alarm went off again and we completed some more timed writing and then Anna read some Rough Guides to Classic Novels and asked us each to write a summary of the novel we had just been planning in our groups and then to share some with the group.
This was mine:
Louisa Wilde's life was best when it played out in her fantasies rather than in real life, but when a chance meeting with the mother who abandoned her occurs, everything changes. The life she thinks she wants is now within her grasp. Joshua Scott is the loose brick that can send the tower of her lies falling back to earth, but try as she might to isolate him from her new existence fate, it seems, will not allow it. Unlike the keys of her beloved piano, life is never quite so black and white.
When the course reconvenes next week, we will be dealing with the timings of the structure of the novel, but meanwhile, I have to keep writing in my timed exercises - wish me luck.