Drama & Theatre

"Who's Telling the Story?" All the posts I mentioned at City University CW MA

Yesterday evening I spent a couple of hours working with the students of City University's collected Creative Writing MA courses. It's a two-year MA, structured round writing a complete project - novel, non-fiction or script, and my talk was called "Who's Telling the Story? Voice, viewpoint and narrative in fiction and creative non-fiction", and in the course of it, several blog posts were mentioned: I promised I'd post the links when I got a moment. So, here they are, and if anyone who was there can remember one I've forgotten, then do mention it in the comments, and I'll dig... Read more →


Do what you like, and teach your reader to like it too

Of all the narrative forms, theatre is one of the most demanding, both structurally and in terms of how little leeway you have to make mistakes. And musicals add in another layer of complexity, so I pounced on How Musicals Work by writer and director Julian Woolford, not least because I'm fascinated by where and how you'd put the songs in. The book discusses that at length, and all sorts of other ideas about structure and character (there's an overlap with John Yorke's Into the Woods, which I also love) which map across onto fiction and creative non-fiction. But one... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "Everyone says my writing's competent, but I'm not getting anywhere"

There have been two exciting developments: first, I have a new website specifically for my work helping other writers, so if you're interested in my mentoring, teaching, events or appraisals, do click through to This Itch of Writing: The Studio, and have a browse. And then, just as I was recovering from the worst of the website-wrangling, I heard from This Itch of Writing's agony aunt, Jerusha Cowless. She's been busy un-contacting un-contacted peoples in the Upper Amazon, but at last I got a message through, enclosing a plea for help from an aspiring writer, and Jerusha sent her reply... Read more →


First book heading for the bin? Congratulations!

A lot of writerly talk circulates round whether you're a planner or a pantser, or some combination of the two. I've explored the idea that planning needn't be the business of drawing up a map and intinerary which you will then follow: maybe it's more a voyage into the unknown, to a place which by definition you can't have a map for, for which you need other kinds of preparation. And I've thought about what I call "retrospective planning": using what are usually discussed as pre-first-draft tools later, to sort out that first or tenth draft after you've written it.... Read more →


Filtering, scaffolding and how to perform an explain-ectomy

You know the trick of stealing a square of chocolate, invisibly, from a bar? Which is a tasty way of explaining how I recently cut nearly 10% of a novel, without changing a single thing about the story - the plot, character-in-action, dialogue, description - which actually mattered. The effect was like taking off a veil and earmuffs and plunging back into the story: everything was exactly the same, just infinitely more vivid. So, what got cut? Or, rather, what particular things got interrogated fiercely about how necessary they were, or weren't? More speech tags than you need in dialogue,... Read more →


Chapter breaks and other joints

A writer friend has said that her book-length manuscript has arrived on the page with scarcely any chapters at all: should she put them in? Terry Pratchett doesn't, says another writer. A fellow workshopper was really bothered by how my novel (The Mathematics of Love, since you ask) had several parts to shape a bigger architecture, but not an equal number of chapters in each. One highly successful writer of light women's fiction doesn't put the chapters in till she's written the whole thing, because only then does she know where they should be. Whereas I plan in chapters right... Read more →


Giving a Reading Part One - Getting Ready

Most writers are introverts, and for some the prospect of standing on a platform and reading their work aloud is terrifying. But at some point in your writing life you will find yourself having to read your work to an audience consisting of more than your sister and the dog. It might be an open mic in the local pub, a bookshop event, a platform at a literary festival, an X-Factor competition before agents at a writer's festival, or the launch of something like Stories for Homes (in aid of Shelter, and it's a cracker. Do buy it). Some authors... Read more →


Is your sex and violence boundary-breaking, brave, or just plain lazy?

One of the things you learn to take in your stride, when you're teaching creative writing, is sex and violence, on the page, at least. And then there's other "strong material": racism or misogyny in action or language which would be distasteful to some or many readers. I'm sure anyone reading this blog would agree that for writing as a creative discipline the default should be No Limits - and yet we do all have limits. And very, very occasionally the piece is genuinely ethically dubious, and hopefully the institution you're working for will have a policy that you're not... Read more →


Voice and tone: Figaro, Feydeau or the Moor of Venice?

In the Self-Editing Your Novel course that I co-teach with Debi Alper, Week Three is about Voice, and an old friend of a question came up: "How do I find my voice?". I've blogged about Voice before, and explored how it's the combination of "What you want to say", and "How you want to say it". So at the micro or midi-level, finding the voice for a piece of fiction is about two things: 1) Fully imagining your characters-in-action and their predicament: their actions, their emotions, their experience of the world that they act within, and their take on that... Read more →


What does your character say about him/herself?

When Jessica Chastaine is working on a part, she says, she makes two lists: "One: everything my character says about herself, and Two: everything everyone else says about her." It's a good technique, and I'm sure she's not unique in using it: it sounds like a classic Drama School exercise. And, as so often, listening to how actors work is illuminating for writers. If our first draft is like the kind of improvising that goes on when actors and a playwright are devising a piece, and our obsession with finding the right verb is almost indistiguishable from Stanislavski's, then Chastaine's... Read more →