Claire King

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Claire King Edited Choices (10 of 10)

Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category

How Stories are Made

Posted on: September 25th, 2013 by Claire - 31 Comments

I was surprised to discover this week that my eight year-old daughter is learning ‘Five-part Story Structure’ as part of her school curriculum. It’s not something I ever learned at school, and in fact was only exposed to for the first time quite recently, long after I’d started writing seriously myself.

One thing that makes it particularly surprising is that my younger daughter, who is nearly six, has just started in the class where French children are taught to read, and some of the children in her class literally don’t know how a book ‘works’. (Not all of them. And you can make your own guess as to whether my own children love to read and engage with stories). Yet two years later they are already moving on to learning the constituent parts of a story.

If you don’t know the five parts, typically they are:

  • Exposition: Setting the scene. “Once upon a time…”
  • Rising Action: Building the tension. “But then…”
  • Climax: The really exciting bit. Sometimes known in our house as ‘the Bad Part’*
  • Falling Action. “And so”
  • Dénouement or resolution: Ending the story. “Happily ever after.”

*I’ve been telling my daughters about ‘the bad part’ of stories for a while, because if they stop reading (or listening, or watching) a story when it all seems too scary to bear, they never get to see the hero pull through, and you are left without a satisfying and cheerful resolution.

Little Red Riding Hood

So in the exercise they are completing, they are comparing Charles Perrault’s original version of Little Red Riding Hood with the later Brothers Grimm version of the story and seeing how they differ at each of the steps. For example, unlike the milder Grimm telling (where Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother are rescued by the woodcutter, who slices open the Wolf’s stomach and sets them free, relatively undigested), in the dénoument of the original story, Little Red Riding Hood is lured into bed, and then promptly eaten by the wolf. The End.

Anyway, having thought on the matter, firstly I’m not sure that this is the right time to give children such a functional view of story telling. Isn’t this a time when stories should be something that they delight in, or in which they see echoes of their own struggles and realise they are not alone? As GK Chesterton put it, “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Secondly, the five part story structure seems to me a very oversimplified explanation of how stories are built. Unless the writer is being very formulaic, the journey between the opening and closing of a story can differ wildly from one story to another. Could this be a case of teaching a basic ‘rule’ first, and then going on to cover the exceptions? But are the exceptions not in the majority?

Here is a link to an illuminating and funny Kurt Vonnegut talk where he plots out the structure of some well known stories.

My final exception to the teaching of story structure to children is that if we are going to teach anything about storytelling we should start with the magic. We should explain to them why we tell stories, the profound effects that stories can have on human beings in terms of emotional responses, learning and social skills. We should explain that telling stories makes us human, and that we can all do it, and in fact we do all do it every day. That when my daughter walks in from school and says “Guess what happened to me today!” the magic is already starting.

10 Things Fiction Writers Can Learn From Fairy Tales.

Posted on: July 17th, 2012 by Claire - 7 Comments

So, I’ve been reading short story submissions again, and it’s got me thinking. Where does the magic come from in fiction? What can we learn from the seemingly simple stories that stand the test of time, that readers love and remember? What can writers learn from fairy tales? My thoughts:

1. It’s not real! You can tell this in a fairytale because of the dragons and the fairies. You don’t need fairies in your story, but as a fiction writer you are asking the reader to suspend disbelief and be swept up by their imagination. So use your imagination and don’t do them the disservice of serving up thinly disguised memoir.

2. Once upon a time is all you need for set up. Then you can bring the reader right into the story. Please.

3. A prince is a prince. He very rarely has a manly stride or eyes like polished steel. He’s a prince. Thank you, let’s move on. Likewise, the poor villagers are poor. Again, we get it. We don’t need the miserable backstory of their entire lives. The witch has bony fingers. You don’t need to tell me what shade of grey her dress is.

4. Some of the Piggies get eaten. Try and strike a balance between dwelling on this too much (it is not the moral of the story) and wrapping your reader in cotton wool euphemisms. Readers will feel the fear and read on despite because of it.

5. We are cheering for the hero so let them be heroic. I’m not saying don’t make them work for it, but put them to work for heaven’s sake. Ineffectual characters who stop trying are wholly unsatisfactory and uninspiring.

6. Morals are simple. We can read a fairy tale written hundreds of years ago and still understand the moral. Don’t hide the moral in whatever you want the reader to feel for you, the writer. This is not your story.

7. Choose your battles. Fairy tales seem to find an excellent balance between simple prose that keeps the story pacy and the occasional delightful description, name or or piece of dialogue that adds setting and character. I’m reading the wonderful ‘Song of Achilles’ at the moment and it has exactly the same quality. So don’t try and be too clever, choose your language battles carefully.

8. A well-drawn character becomes real. Children adopt fairy tale characters, both good and evil, and imitate them. Will your reader ever say “What would (insert name of your protaganist) do?”

9. Dragons can be beaten. G.K. Chesterton put this beautifully when he said “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Which leads us to:

10. Happily ever after. But falling in love is not the same as slaying the dragon. That is called a subplot. We need resolution. Whatever the dragon is, get it slain (or ride it, of course). If you’ve seen Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland…well that’s resolution right there.

£1000 to spend at Writers Mart today! Kerching!

Posted on: December 4th, 2011 by Claire - 25 Comments

Here’s how it works. Imagine you have £1000 / €1000 (US $1500 or thereabouts), and you have to spend it on your book. The aim is to get your book to market, and make as much money as you can out of it. Here’s a selection of products available to you in Writers Mart:

 

Money tunnel

 

1. Make your Writing Better! Is your work even ready to be presented to agents and publishers?

- Get a professional critique of your work. For a full length novel expect to spend between £500 and the whole £1000. Here’s a good article on critiques. You could spend less than that of course, but is a critique of the first three chapters going to help you if something is broken in your plotting or character arc, for example?

- Go on creative writing courses, such as Arvon Courses. Most people have heard of these. A week working on your novel will cost you around £625 plus travel. For me That’s £750, for you maybe £650.

- Try a Writing Festival. Get workshops on writing and sessions with agents and publishers. Expect to spend about £350 -500 for a weekend, including your accommodation, meals, talks etc.

- Writing Mentors  - pay for the services of a published and experienced author to coach you and help edit your work. You could easily spend the whole £1000 here, buying around 4 hours of mentoring from top authors through to quite a lot more time with cheaper outfits.

- Take out  a subscription to a writing magazine, such as Writers’ Forum or Writing Magazine, for a steady flow of hints and tips. Or  else literary journals such as Mslexia, Granta etc. £30 a pop.

- Read more contemporary books. Learn from other successful writers in your genre. Buy a big pile of books to read. £100 for enough to keep you going.

- Try something like the Faber & Faber Academy. A three day course on bringing your book to market -  like this one with Ben Johncock and Catherine Ryan Howard costs £425 plus travel and accommodation.

- Practice writing. This costs nothing. But if you’re struggling for time, treat yourself to a weekend writing retreat for £250/£400 plus travel like the one I did in September. Or a week long retreat somewhere like Anam Cara, with or without workshops.

- Get your book copy edited before you submit. Expect to pay in the region of £750.

- Get writing advice free online. If you don’t know where to look, network with writers and publishing professionals on Twitter. Also free.

 

1b. Blame your Tools!

- Scrivener £30 ish

- A new computer, or an old classic typewriter £500

- A better printer £200

- Moleskine notebooks, for the authentic author longhand experience. £7-10 each

 

2. Is your book astonishingly good? Make your Submissions Better!

- Writers & Artists Yearbook, for the tailoring of submissions. £16.99

- Pay for help with your synopsis. £150 – 200

- Use fancy stationery and include chocolates personalised with the literary agent’s initials and date of birth. £250.

Just kidding

 

3. Is your book excellent and your submissions splendid? Raise your profile as a credible writer, boost your CV. 

- Raise your profile by winning competitions or submitting to radio programmes like BBC Radio 4 . Competition entry fees in the £5-£15 range.  Consider The Bristol Short Story Prize, Fish, Sean O’Faolain, Bridport, Willesden Herald, Manchester…there are so many! And if you win, they actually give YOU money!

 

4. Self Publishing!

- Design the cover £200 – £700

- Interior design & layout £750

- Also see costs of editing, above.

 

5. Your book is with a publisher, or self-published. Get those sales up! Marketing!

- Get a blog up and running. £75 for your domain name and hosting, then it’s just your time.

- Get people who have read it to review it on Amazon. Very valuable. Costs nothing.

- Look the part. Get an author photo professionally done. £500

- Advertise. Facebook lets you pay per click. Meet the Author charges £400

- I also heard recently of an offer where you could have your work featured somewhere on a writing competition’s website, with claims that it will provide ‘visibility’ to agents and publishers (though no footfall data, or qualitative data about the site readership was available at the time of writing). Cost £995 for a year.

 

**DISCLAIMER**

The above are all just ways in which you could spend your money. I’m not endorsing them, just showing you the opportunities to spend your cash! Also all prices are approximate. I’d be interested in which ones you would endorse though, and any feedback on costs. Please tell us in the comments.

I would also like to apologise for the profusion of exclamation marks. It’s not really my style, it’s more a nod to the “Get Published Now!” sales pitches we see so often, offering to take our £1000 in return for a few months of deliciously raised hopes and then an opportunity to spend the same amount again, and more, on what is essentially vanity publishing. Look at some of the cheaper – and free – options above and weigh up the relative benefits before spending lots of money, I suggest.

Remember Yog’s law – “Money should always flow towards the writer.”

 

What does a pear taste like?

Posted on: October 26th, 2011 by Claire - 17 Comments

When you think of researching a novel, what do you think of?

For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the verifying of details – historical, biographical or geographical, for example. I imagine that depending on genre, there is more or less of this kind of research required. I suppose historical fiction writers to be at one end of the scale, and those who write fantasy at the other. I feel I sit somewhere in the middle. Most of what I write is imaginary and doesn’t need research as such, but there are a few elements that need to be checked to ensure they are accurate (I usually do this once the first draft is done).

But I have discovered that for me at least there is also another kind of research: the sensory immersion into the the world I am describing.

I still remember a scene in the film City of Angels that really stuck with me. Seth asks Maggie to describe the taste of a pear:

Seth: What’s that like? What’s it taste like? Describe it like Hemingway.
Maggie: Well, it tastes like a pear. You don’t know what a pear tastes like?
Seth: I don’t know what a pear tastes like to you.
Maggie: Sweet, juicy, soft on your tongue, grainy like a sugary sand that dissolves in your mouth. How’s that?
Seth: It’s perfect

How do you describe the taste of a pear to someone if you have never tasted one before? And, more importantly, how would your characters describe it?

Although in The Night Rainbow the locations are imaginary, I spent hours and hours in the places that inspired them, soaking up the smells, the tastes, the sounds… I found the immersion in those elements vital to carrying the sense of place and the sense of character in the novel.

In the novel I’m working on at the moment, I recently found that my imagination was only taking me so far. There was something tangible missing in my understanding of my protagonist. A large part of the story is set on a peniche – a house boat – and although I’ve seen plenty, and been onboard peniches converted into restaurants, pleasure boats and so on, it’s been twenty years since I was in an actual house boat, and that was on the Thames in Oxford, not on the Canal du Midi. I couldn’t feel it, smell it, hear it… I was longing to climb into the story and actually experience it through my character’s eyes.

I was fortunate enough to find a friend of a friend who grew up on a peniche, and I recently arranged to meet her mother, to see if she could help. She took me to see her boat, and we spend a wonderful evening chatting about her experiences of life on the water. The stories and the way she recounted them details really helped bring my character to life. I began to feel him, much more intimately than before.

This kind of ‘sensory research’ doesn’t need to be exotic, remote or expensive. I have great admiration for writers who can describe familiar places or situations in a way that makes the reader feel they are discovering it for the first time. Like the smell of a bonfire, or the taste of a pear.

Can you remember a writer who has impressed you in that way? How do you balance the imaginary with ‘research’ in your writing?

 

Room of One’s Own.

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by Claire - 16 Comments

I’m just back from a two day writers’ retreat at Tilton House in Sussex. Having never done a writing course/retreat/anything before I blogged about having booked it…and now as promised, here are my thoughts on how it went:

The setting at Tilton House is sublime. Very spacious, clean and comfortable. Hammocks in the sunshine, crackling log fires and comfy sofas and many, many nooks and crannies perfect for writing in. Books everywhere. Healthy and delicious food morning, noon and night and a yurt at the bottom of the garden for yoga before breakfast. The location undeniably was a great foundation for our writing.

Vanessa Gebbie, who was running the weekend had put together an ambitious schedule of workshops, one-on-ones and individual writing time, as well as some opportunities to get out and about. During the two days we talked about where stories come from – the internal and external stimuli that prompt us to start writing. We tried some visualisations and other creative exercises to spark off ideas that really grabbed us. We also talked about the things that can block us from writing and how to get around them.

We also had two exceptional guests over the weekend. On Saturday evening Carole Hayman regaled us after dinner with tales of her writing life and advice on how to succeed (including how having a rasher of bacon festering down the side of your cooker is perfectly normal). And then on Sunday, Helen Garnons-Williams, editorial director at Bloomsbury (who also happens to be my editor) brought her passion and enthusiasm for great books, talking about the world of publishing, how literary agents fit in, how she sees e-books evolving and answering our questions.

What did I personally get out of it?

I was one of a diverse group of eleven women who had jumped at the opportunity to put our writing first for a change. We included playwrights, poets, creative non-fiction writers and novelists and some writers who were just starting off on their writing journey. The virtual writing community has been a life saver for me over the last couple of years, but it was truly lovely to meet people face to face and I’m sure I’ve made some friendships that will stick.

The workshops that Vanessa ran were great fun and very informative. I found that some of the exercises really clicked for me, and others less so. So I’ve learned something about my own creative processes and I have some new ideas, tips and tricks to keep things moving and, I think, bring some new life to my prose.

At the start of the retreat we talked about our objectives (mine were very vague, but involved writing a lot!) then afterwards we had a chat about how we had done versus those objectives. Perhaps I was expecting to write thousands and thousands of words on my novel over the weekend. What I actually came out with was a surprising piece of flash, a poem, the beginnings of a short story and some work on my novel…but not the work I’d been expecting to do.

I think the biggest benefit is yet to be seen. By actually allowing myself some down time, time to think, sleep, do some yoga, be inspired, try new things…the nourishment that that provided, along with the seeds of inspiration will see me in good stead for the writing I do over the next few months and I suspect will bear fruit when I’m least expecting it.

Thanks to Vanessa Gebbie for conceiving and running this weekend, from a very happy writer!

Time to Write – Fancy that?

Posted on: August 2nd, 2011 by Claire - 18 Comments

In September I am going on my first ever writing anything.

I’ve never been on a course, a retreat, or a workshop. Never been to a festival or a book show. Never been in a writing group or book club. But in September, finally, I am. Along with a small group of other women writers, I’ll be spending two days at Tilton House in Sussex, at a writing retreat led by Bloomsbury stable-mate Vanessa Gebbie, whose novel ‘The Coward’s Tale’ will be published this November.

Yes, this one is just for the ladies. A chance to retreat to the beautiful and peaceful surroundings and “leave behind those other roles women accumulate, just enjoy being a writer and find your own, personal “room to write”.

There is a big part of me that is saying how much of a huge luxury this is, me sloping off for a weekend on my own, just for me, all about writing. But another part says I deserve this, that what with all the years juggling three jobs and two children and one husband and writing in the cracks, a weekend away is a just reward. I can pay for it out of my novel advance, after all. And on top of all that I feel I need a boost to my own writing, I want to learn and develop, and I’ve not done that, except on my own, since school!

I’m not sure who the other participants are yet, but am told we’ll be a mixed group of writers from poets, to academic writers, novelists published and unpublished…a playwright too.

The two days includes six writing workshops geared to creativity, shedding worry and ‘roles’, character, voice and lots of flashing, as well as some one-on-one time with Vanessa. Sharing what you write there is entirely optional, the aim is to help you on your writing journey not embarrass anyone unnecessarily! There are also walks, yoga, time for chatting and plenty of time for your own writing. How perfect does that sound?

And if that’s not enough, Saturday night dinner has the award winning Carole Hayman as special guest and Sunday Lunch includes a Q&A with the lovely and talented Helen Garnons-Williams, Editorial Director at Bloomsbury, and indeed my (and Vanessa’s) editor. After lunch Helen will give a talk on the subject of literary agents, the world of publishing and what editorial directors are looking for.

If you can’t make this one, have you ever been on something similar? Do you have any tips to share about how to make the most of it?

That Tricky Second Novels

Posted on: July 27th, 2011 by Claire - 38 Comments

I have a confession to make.

As many of you will know, after signing the contract for the publication of my first novel, I was left with a good two years before the launch date (19 months to go and counting!). What to do with all that time? Well write the next novel of course. And if it all goes well get started on the subsequent one. Keep going.

But that’s not exactly what I’m doing. Despite my best efforts, I now find myself writing two new novels at the same time. I am scrivenerally promiscuous.

I started the second one – Novel Two – fully intending to write it, edit it and finish it before moving on. But then another new story began to grow in that special place between heart and head that told me it was a good one. It came with its own momentum, seductively calling me to ‘just jot down a few notes and save them for later’ right at the moment when Novel Two was being wrangly and beligerent. I crept into a corner and wrote down the notes for Novel Three. And then I developed them. And then developed them some more while Novel Two sat in a corner looking at me sullenly. I felt bad for it, I honestly did. But wading through the mud of shaping Novel Two seemed much less fun than splashing in the waves of Novel Three.

But Novel Two has its own pull. I feel passionate about the themes, I see huge potential in the characters. It is only finding the right way to appear them that is tough. They deserve to be written. So once I had captured the immediate energy of Novel Three -several thousand words of it – I returned, abashed, to Novel Two. And Novel Two began to grow. The characters began to take on shape and momentum, as I knew they would. The themes blossomed in tiny little eureka moments sparking new scenes and greater depth. And then I had to stop writing for a week.

Towards the end of that week it was Novel Three that was calling me. At first just a whisper but then louder and louder because there were some ideas for scenes that just had to be captured before I forgot them. It Was Urgent. So I did. Maybe, I thought, Novel Three will be novel two and Novel Two will be novel three? Perhaps that will make most sense. But Novel Three needs quite a lot of research. And of course now Novel Two is calling for my attention again.

So I have decided to accept my fate and let these two novels grow side by side, not so much like twins, but more like a literary three legged race. I have the time for this luxury. But isn’t this all a little…weird?

Pub/Lit Roundup (2)

Posted on: March 19th, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

Here are my top 20 finds of the last month:

Literary Agents and Publishing

Are you on submission? Then exercise discretion on your blog – Literaticat

The 99 cent Kindle novel Perceived value and consumer choices by Nathan Bransford

Bloomsbury predict 2011 e-book sales will be ‘off the scale’ - London Book Fair article

The agency model for selling ebooks – unfair and illegal? Guardian article

A breakdown of marketing activities for a debut self-pub book launch by Joanna Penn

Self-publishing is hard work – Interview with Derek Haines

An interview with literary scout Louise Allen-Jones by Gemma Noon

The publishing pieMargaret Atwood talk, and here being interviewed afterwards - The author as a dead moose

How to write a query letter by Bubble Cow

*

Craft/Writing

Checklist of 17 questions for your novel by Emma Darwin

The Training-Wheels Novel (some novels are just a warm up) by Nichole Bernier

You totally want to be a writer – Somewhat profane pep talk by Chuck Wendig

100 things about writing a novel - by Alexander Chee

We cannot create a fiction from a fiction - emotional structure in writing by Peter Dunne

Seven questions you should ask a writer by Richard Dansky

Inspiration vs. Determination by K.M. Weiland

*

Writing Competitions

How to win a short story competition – Sarah Dobbs and Sarah Hilary

The BBC National Short Story Award

*

Cool Stuff

How ink is made by Peter Welfare

*

Literature

National Book Critics award – Female author wins, Male loser gets the publicity. - MOBYLIVES article

Layers not Lines

Posted on: March 15th, 2011 by Claire - 20 Comments

I’ve been trying to explain how I write – without formalising a plot (I think this makes me what is called a Pantser) – to writers who are more used to devising their plot before they start (Plotters). So here goes.

Bedtime Stories are a good example:

If you sat down with your child – or somebody else’s child – tonight and they asked you to make up a bedtime story, how would you do it? At our house when we do this, there is no plotting, you just make it up as you’re telling it.

For example, “Once upon a time there was…” What? Quickly! A dragon who was afraid to fly? A cat with no friends? A little girl who couldn’t get to sleep? A boy made of jelly?

Once you have come up with that original character-based premise, the rest of your story can quickly take shape on the hoof – the action, the setbacks, the antagonists and the ally and of course the Happily Ever After.

Starting with a premise:

When I’m writing, I work in the same way. I start with a premise. So The Night Rainbow premise was essentially ” Once upon a time there was a little girl who had no-one to take care of her.” And then I started creating the world around her. Where does she live? What would she do when she wakes up in the morning? What does she want? What danger could she be in? How would she spend her days? Why is her mother not looking after her? And so on.

The answers to these questions did not come to me in a logical manner. They bloomed, one by one, and each time they did, they came with their own questions. I wrote it all down.

Writing in Layers:

Of course a novel is much more complex than a bedtime story, but the process of starting at page one and ending at the end is still counter intuitive to me. So when I started writing these things down, I didn’t worry about starting at the beginning, I just captured it all and developed it as fully as I could at that time. It fit everywhere and nowhere in the logical construct of a novel. For example I wrote the bones of the ending quite early on. Once I knew where the girl lived I drew a map, and it became more elaborate as her adventures progressed. I had to go back into the manuscript regularly to weave in the geography.

Throughout the whole process new ideas would come to me that strengthened earlier or later sections of the book and each of those had a knock-on effect on the rest of the novel.

The ‘first draft’ was finished when I seemed to have answered all of my questions – within the narrative or within the notes alongside it. And then I asked myself…

So what would be the best way to tell this story?

The implications of this question are huge – moving whole chunks of the book from one place to another, deleting scenes, adding new scenes, making the character development consistent, ensuring foreshadowing in the right places and so on and so on.

Thank goodness for word processing and thank goodness for Scrivener which helped me stay organised.

This process took a long time and resulted in the second draft, by which time I would say the plot was clear to anyone now reading the manuscript.

Another art metaphor – writing in layers compared to painting in layers:

Another way of explaining this is by comparing the emerging story to a picture.

Rather than the narrative emerging as though from a printer – one line of pixels at a time – for me it works more like an oil painting, one layer created at a time:

In oil painting most artists paint in layers.

The artist often starts by sketching out the composition onto the canvas.

They might then proceed by painting in different colour layers working from darkest to lightest.

Entire layers can be removed if the artist isn’t happy with them.

The borders of the colors are blended together when the “mosaic” is completed.

Details are applied at the end.

 

And finally

This is just how I work and everyone works differently. So here are some interesting links:

A discussion here about Plotters versus Pantsers

The snowflake method by Randy Ingermanson

Everything Speaks: The Intention in Our Words

Posted on: February 25th, 2011 by Claire - 28 Comments

Further to my last post where I wrote, tongue in cheek, a list of rules *they* would have us follow when writing, a lot of discussion has taken place on the blogosphere. Are there rules? Guidelines? How does it work? Debi Alper will be speaking on this topic at the York Festival of Writing this year, and in responding to this question on her blog I crystallised the only ‘rule’ for writing in which I truly believe:

Everything speaks – so write with intention.

‘Everything speaks’ is a principle that I have been using in my day job for some years. There it refers to the environment into which we welcome our clients, the way that we present ourselves and interact. From the books on the shelves and how they are arranged to the speed at which we move – everything gives a message to others. It can either be put there intentionally, or can exist unintentionally, but the message will be there nonetheless.

 

I was recently reminded of another way in which this axiom is relevant in a brilliant talk by Author Sarah Dunant. She was presenting the Italian art which had inspired her renaissance trilogy and used the painting Venus of Urbino as one of her examples. I don’t have one I can publish here on the blog, but a quick google and you can have a look at it.

I am utterly ignorant in art history, although Sarah’s talk was very accessible. She highlighted the detail in these paintings which provide clues and messages for the viewer. The painting is not just a pretty picture, it is dripping with symbolism. Everything speaks.

For example, Venus is staring straight at the viewer. This is a remarkable departure from the way women had been portrayed (beautiful, madonna-like, eyes turned down). In the background is a sleeping dog, likely symbolism suggesting unfaithfulness. The pot of myrtle in the window: a symbol of constancy. And what are those maids doing in the background? Is the chest they are rummaging in a marriage chest? Look at that screen behind her – bisecting the painting and pointing right down to her loins, which occupy centre stage in the picture…it’s a story all in itself.

There are clear parallels between artists and writers. Just as the painter chooses a palette of colours, a composition, the elements of the painting, so, as writers, do we:

We choose the point of view according to the focus we want to give to our story, the perspective, the light and the shade.

We choose the tense that will give us the feeling we want, that will best add to the reader’s experience.

We choose the setting, the palette of colours, the scents and sounds of the backdrop to highlight themes, to evoke emotions in the reader.

We balance the action and the description, choose the moments of tension and release…In a nutshell, every line of dialogue, every apple on every tree, every pot boiling over or empty letterbox, every character flaw – everything in our writing speaks. And at the expense of any rules that *they* may set, it is this that we should always remember.

In this case, the best we can do is educate ourselves about the craft of writing: through reading, through learning, through experimenting and practicing. In this way we build the resources available to us so that ultimately we can write consciously, with intention, and achieve the result we want.

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