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As you know, I was bitterly disappointed when Satalyte shut up shop as it might have meant the end of my admittedly short career as a publi...

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I am a writer, editor, reviewer and dance teacher based in Perth, Western Australia.

My books

The first two novels of my trilogy, The Talismans, are available as e-books from Smashwords. I do have paperbacks of The Dagger of Dresnia at the low price of $AU25 including postage within Australia. I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below. The best way to contact me is via Facebook!

Buy The Talismans

The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. I hope to see my books back on Amazon under a new publisher in the near future.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia
Want a copy? Contact me at satimafn(at)gmail.com

The Cloak of Challiver

The Cloak of Challiver
Available again as an ebook soon!

Mythic Resonance

Buy Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

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Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

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Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

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Places I've lived: Geelong,  Australia

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Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

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Sydney Conservatorium - my old school

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Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

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Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier
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Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

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Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

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Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

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Places I've Lived: Perth by Night
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Sunday, 16 March 2008

Modern Writing Techniques

As promised and procrastinated, here is the gist of the workshop I gave to the Mount Gambier U3A group a few weeks ago. Titled "Creative writing the modern way", the workshop was only two hours long and into that short time I managed to compress material that could easily be expanded into a whole writing course. It was a valuable experience for me because the elements I talked about are all things I am still working on myself. There is no surer way to learn something than to teach it to others, since in the preparation and teaching of new material the instructor's thoughts and opinions are clarified and gaps in his or her knowledge are made glaringly apparent.

U3A patrons are generally over 55, which means they grew up with very different styles of writing from those of today. Authorial intrusion, "head hopping", fly-on-the-wall description and sometimes quite floridly purple prose were commonly used until about 1960s. By that time, movies and television had begun to impact on reader expectations, and by the turn of the new century readers were deserting books in droves and turning to more visual forms of entertainment.

But writers were striking back! They realised that in order to compete with the visual media, books must give the reader a sense of immersion in the story's world and in the sensations, emotions and thoughts of the point-of-view character. Action began to play a critical role: something has to happen on page one and be followed by a tension-building series of events to keep readers enthralled for anything up to 900 pages. A tall order.

The notes I handed out to the students encapsulate the material presented in the two hour workshop:

1. Start “In Media Res”
Get right into the action, preferably on page one!

2. Show, don’t tell: use plenty of sensory description
At the end of any scene, three of the five senses must have been engaged. (This is not new: the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, who died in 1904, said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”)

Compare these two passages:
Her visitor strode across the room, swung his pack from his back to the floor and bent to kiss her cheek before taking the seat opposite hers.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It gets across what happened in a few succinct words. But look at this rewrite:

He brought a draught of cold air with him as strode across the room. Shrugging free of his pack he tossed it to the floor and caught her in a hug. Laughing, she threw her arms around the rough dewy wool of his cloak. She tilted her cheek up to his as he bent to kiss her, suppressing a shudder at the sudden chill contact.

Exercise: Write a paragraph showing a meeting between two people that tells us more than the fact that one is waiting and the other arrives.

3. Voice and narrative style
• Editorial (or intrusive)
• Neutral (or non-intrusive)
• Invisible author – today’s preferred style. Requires use of plenty of sensory detail and the “close” (or “tight”) 3rd person POV.

4. Point-of-view (POV)
The “close third” limits itself to the sensory information available to the point of view character, even in the narrative passages.

Compare these two passages:

Cinderella looked beautiful and important in her new gown and little gold bell-shaped earrings. Her eyes sparkled in the firelight as she twirled across the kitchen floor. ‘I’m going to the ball!’ she exclaimed. ‘I’m really, truly, going!

If Cinders is the POV character, in close 3rd you might write something like:

Cinderella had never felt so beautiful, so important. The silk of the gown caressed her skin and the golden bell earrings jingled as she twirled across the kitchen floor. ‘I’m going to the ball! I’m really, truly, going!’

Exercise: Rewrite this passage in close 3rd POV:
Red Riding Hood’s voice carried to the edge of the forest as she sang all the way to grandma’s house. She stopped singing and her face paled when she saw a wolf padding along the path towards her.

5. The Unities
Many modern stories honour a revised version of Aristotle’s unities:

• A story should have only one POV character. (Usually presented in close 3rd POV but sometimes in 1st)
• A story should follow temporal sequence with no gaps in the narrative and few, if any, flashbacks.

(While these are by no means universally observed, few popular writers today adopt the opposite extremes – “head hopping” and messing around with the time line.)

6. Beats and Tags
The tight third POV uses as few dialogue attribution tags (“he said”, “she grumbled”, “he thought”) as possible and often replaces them with “action beats” (“He crossed the room”, “She put her book down”)

7. Strong Writing
Insofar as possible, steer clear of adjectives and adverbs. If you feel you have to add an adjective, look for a stronger noun instead. If you feel you have to use an adverb, you possibly have the wrong verb.

And that's my workshop in a hazelnut shell. In the interest of brevity, the notes are simplified to a degree that might even be misleading, but they suffice, I hope to give you an idea of the points we discussed, and I'll be interested in reading your opinions of the points I chose. You will notice that I drew on the excellent assistance I had from Ursula and others on the Online Writers Workshop, which I mentioned in an earlier post.

Next weekend is Easter, which each year brings Swancon, Western Australia's Speculative Fiction Convention. It looks to be a beauty (this year it's also the National Convention) with several of my favourite authors on panels, including Glenda Larke, Juliet Marillier and Karen Miller. I'm actually going to be on two panels alongside some very fine writers. I expect to learn a lot! I might be late posting next week as the convention doesn't end until Monday afternoon, but never fear, I'll soon come tiggering back with a full report!

BTW, over on my other blog, I've posted a new Shakespearean meme, together with a lament about the lack of interest in Shakespeare among the younger generations:-(

2 comments:

Marilyn Z. Tomlins said...

Satima -- I wish I'd been there because I sure would have enjoyed listening to you. You say that there is no surer way to learn something than to teach it to others which is true, yet I feel that there is another way to learn something ... listening to others.
Enjoy Easter!
Marilyn

Satima Flavell said...

I wish you could be with us at Swancon, Marilyn! I've been on two panels, which means I get to talk to an audience. So, being an old showie from way back, I'm in my element:-)

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