It was a sunny but cold walk to the station this week. Thankfully the trains behaved and I got to uni in time for the usual jacket potato and beans with a black coffee. Sue and I discussed our creative writing as well as catching up on personal goings on.
Today’s Session – Plot, Narrative arc including premise and dramatic structure.
I was very excited about this session as our university course leader, Dr Jess Moriarty, had organised a treat for her MA Creative Writing students. A Masterclass run by Beth Miller. Beth is an inspiring author, journalist and teacher. Her enthusiasm bubbled and was very infectious.
(What is Plot, Narrative arc and what makes a good story, provided by Beth Miller.)
What is Plot?
Plot equals cause and effects– what happens?
A plot needs character and conflict.
What is Narrative arc?
Narrative arc is how the characters move from A to B. Each main character should have one and even minor characters should have a small one.
What makes a good story?
Starts with a bang
Quickly accelerates to level action
Moments of drama and suspense
Sustains a high pitch
Levels off and gradually comes down to earth
Jeanette Winterson says this about endings:
‘There are only three possible endings to a story – if you put aside And They All Lived Happily Ever After, which isn’t an ending, but a coda.
The three possible endings are:
Revenge Tragedy Forgiveness
Shakespeare knew all about revenge and tragedy.’
You can find Winterson’s full essay at:
Beth favoured ‘Forgiveness’ as an ending, which is the route I normally take. How about you? What sort of ending do you like?
As part of our preparation for the class we were asked to bring along a plot for our piece of writing. I chose The Heir of Granville. I haven’t quite decided everything that life has in store for our poor George but I took what I’d done so far. Beth gave me the thumbs that it worked, she also offered some suggestions for ‘What happens next?’
We looked at Premise. What is Premise?
Premise is summing up what your story is about in one sentence. It isn’t that easy. With the help of student feedback, I was able to come up with a premise for The Heir of Granville. Beth was satisfied it worked.
Fifteen year old George, raised by unaffectionate noble grandparents, pines for the loving home of his earlier years when he discovers his life has been a lie and begins a long slow process to rebuild a relationship with his mother.
If you’re writing a novel or a long piece of writing and you haven’t already completed a premise, why not give it a go?
We are fortunate enough to see Beth again in April and she has offered to give feedback on 1000 words of any writing. At the moment I’m intending on producing the first 1000 words of The Heir of Granville. I will post that up in the future.
I’ve a lot of reading to catch up on to bring me up to date. I’ve almost finished Doris Lessing’s, The Grass is Singing, half way through The Writer’s Voice by Al Alvarez and need to re-read Audrey Niffenegger’s, Time Traveller’s Wife. I read this many years ago with my reading group and thoroughly enjoyed it. Have you read it?
This week I’ve been working on the interior monologue which needs to be ready for Tuesday. It’s been quite liberating. Once I’ve had feedback and had it confirmed that I’ve completed this exercise correctly I’ll post it up on the blog. You’ll have to excuse the language though as one of the characters does need his mouth washing out with soap!
Other creative writing activities this week were:
I visited Southbank’s to see David Mitchell and Kazuo Ishiguro come together to discuss the writing process. Readers will probably know Ishiguro best through The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. I’ve read both of these through my reading group and have to say that Never Let Me Go still haunts me today. If you haven’t read it then do so. The Remains of the Day is an excellent read too. Through my reading group we are about to embark on Ishiguro’s brand new novel, The Buried Giant.
David Mitchell is best known for The Bone Clocks and Cloud Atlas. I haven’t read any of these yet but I did watch the film Cloud Atlas and it was one of the best I’ve ever seen. A friend has lent me a copy of Mitchell’s, Number 9 Dream and I am looking forward to getting better acquainted with his writing. Has anyone read it?
What I found very interesting with this duo was their answers to the following questions.
‘Do you know the endings of your book before you start writing?’
Mitchell answered that he didn’t know his endings but Ishiguro said he couldn’t write a book without knowing. When I wrote House of Grace, I knew exactly what the ending was going to be before I started, even if I wasn’t quite sure of the in-between, however as I said earlier, I’m still unsure as to exactly what will happen at the ending in The Heir of Granville.
Which is the right way I wonder? Is there a right or wrong way? How do you tackle your stories?
The other question that was answered that stuck in my head was about music.
Did you like to listen to music when writing?
Here Mitchell answered yes as long as it was instrumental or in another language. A clash again because Ishiguro said he needed silence, if he listened to music he’d be listening out for chords and cadences. Personally I like classical music in the background, it’s just there and doesn’t interfere with my writing at all, in fact I’d go as far as to say it inspires me. However, I do know other writers that like complete silence.
What kind of writer are you? Do you like music in the background or do you need that absolute quiet?
Another novel I’m looking forward to getting stuck into is Paul McVeigh’s, The Good Son. As McVeigh uses a child narrator, I’m hoping it will help me in writing The Heir of Granville. Later this year I intend to attend an event ‘Amongst the Grownups’ which looks at novels written using a child narrator.
Well I think that will do for this week’s blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and do some of the exercises yourself at home.
Great post. I’ve recently started a writing course with Coursera and we touched on similar subject matter, though yours is much more detailed.
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Thanks for commenting. I hope you enjoy your writing course with Coursera.
Some interesting activities. It’s really inspiring when you attend a great lecture or writers’ workshop, isn’t it. I was at one by Adele Parks last night. She suggested the ‘pitching’ premise should be only ten words. She had apparently read this in an article by a top agent and, when she sent one, for her part written debut novel, to him a few months later, it secured her place with him. She’s still with him.
I usually write enigmatic endings, they’re only rarely ones of forgiveness, but I hope they provoke thought and possibly wonder. They are, in fact, the starting point for each of my stories, often seen in my head as a single image – the narrative arc being devised in order to get my characters to that very specific close.
For me, absolute silence is a must, or I might miss some of the thoughts and squabbles my characters are having inside my head, or the precise way one of them’s breathing.
As for reading, I have so many on my ‘to do’ list but did read both ‘Cloud Atlas’ and ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ when they were newly out. They were each 5* reads for me.
Thank you for your wonderful response. Goodness, a pitch premise in ten words, that’s some ask. I can see that I’m going to have to work on that.
The enigmatic endings in your books sound very mysterious. I look forward to reading your novel once it’s published. What’s it called again?
Interesting how writers differ, I wonder if more like the absolute silence. Am I in the minority? Interesting. The music doesn’t get in the way of my characters at all. For me I act out each character and they enjoy the music with me. lol.
I agree about The Time Traveller’s Wife, I hope I feel the same on the second reading.