the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

A new way to plan your fictional stories

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A sunny morning in Stockholm

I came away from the Stockholm Writers Festival in May with some fabulous new approaches to writing fiction that I’d like to share with you. The techniques I describe are suitable for use in flash fiction, short stories and longer work. This post draws from separate workshop sessions I attended which were delivered by Jessie Lourey and Cassie Gonzales:

  • Jessie focused on using life experiences to fuel fictional writing. She recommends mining your life story to identify powerful emotions that can be invested into your characters. We’ve all experienced fear, power, joy etc and it’s by connecting with the emotions and writing them into your character’s story arc that it’s possible to create very effective fiction.
  • Cassie Gonsalez shared her approach to creating layered stories by using dialogue which is more than just expository. By thinking about the said, the unsaid and the unsayable, it’s possible to develop narratives that suggest a bigger story than simply the words on the page.

Applying the learning:

Years ago, I had coffee with a woman who told me a story about being terrified of storms. To prevent this fear being passed to her children, whenever there was a storm, she opened the curtains and gathered her children to admire the thunder and lightening while all the time she stood rigid and blinked back fear. I decided to use this as an idea for a story but because I’m not afraid of storms, I drew upon Jessie’s advice to identify an occasion when I was truly petrified and I remembered the time muggers set upon me. With these emotions captured, I then turned to Cassie’s advice.

Cassie shared a visual she had developed to analyse how dialogue works in fiction between two characters with a focus on the said, the unsaid and the unsayable. The idea here is to complete the model by identifying the emotions underneath the interactions between two characters in considering their wants, needs, loves and fears. (I added the word ‘theme’ to the grid where Cassie has used the term ‘third thing’.)

 

wants needs loves fears
Character 1  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character 2  

 

 

 

 

 

theme unsaid unsayable

Rather than share the stories we analysed in the workshop, I’ll present how I used Cassie’s model as a planning grid to support the writing of a flash fiction piece, Chink, which has been published by Cabinet of Heed, issue 22.

 

Theme: empowerment

wants needs loves fears
Kate

 

courage

 

to be free

 

independence

 

being alone

 

Robert

 

possession of his wife to be in control power being alone
theme unsaid unsayable

 

The grid is a little difficult to explain without reading the story, so I suggest you read the two in conjunction to see if what I’ve mapped out fits with your understanding of the story.

Chink

A navy sky extinguishes the day. Sitting on the balcony, Kate reflects upon her laziness. No excursions to the volcano for Kate, just a sunbed, a pile of paperbacks and the company of Robert. Still wearing his shorts, Robert stretches his legs then scratches a mosquito bite on his knee. Kate is cool in her strappy dress. She reaches for the tumbler, drains the contents then crunches a sliver of ice.

‘One more before we go down for dinner?’ he asks.

 But he’s not even dressed. Hasn’t yet had a shower.

‘No thank you,’ she says. ‘I’m fine.’

‘Good.’ He sits back in his chair.

What now? She waits. Irritation makes her skin prick.

‘Are you going to have steak again tonight?’ she asks.

‘Think I’ll ask for it blue this time.’

Yes, so raw it’s almost mooing.

From behind the mountains comes a rumble. Although Kate knows these steamy days can lead to storms, she hopes she’s wrong. Holding her breath, she clutches the armrests and counts. A flash comes before she’s reached number eight. She’s rigid in the chair but Robert gets up for a better look.

‘It’s coming this way.’ His voice is gleeful and he cocks his head. Doesn’t he know it’s ridiculous to swagger in flip-flops?

‘I’ll get inside.’ Kate reaches for her bag but when she turns, Robert is blocking the doorway.

‘Surely by now you can face it.’

She hesitates. Does he know what she’s thinking? What she’s planning? Of course not! Robert means the lightening.

‘Let me pass,’ she says.

‘No.’ He grabs her shoulders and manoeuvres her for a better view. Kate closes her eyes, resists his pinching grip.

‘There’s no point in struggling,’ he says. ‘You can’t be scared all your life.’

Kate breathes through her mouth, takes comfort from the steady pumping of her heart, listens to the gushes from her lungs. The crack and the searing light skewer her to the spot but she controls the trembling.

‘See, it’s not so difficult, is it?’

When the thunder comes again, she’s ready. This time with eyes wide open she waits for the crack and watches the chink of light brighten the gloom. A path to her future is illuminated. She can do it. She really can.

It is by using Cassie’s grid that I was able to indentify the theme of the story as empowerment. Rather than the storm diminishing Kate, by facing it, she is able to also face an independent future. It is ironic that Robert assists her in this journey by forcing her to watch the storm.

I hope this post is of use to you in your writing. If you’d care to comment, I’d love to hear what you think. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet voted for The String Games in The People’s Book Prize, please pop over to the website. All you have to do is scroll down to add your details, tick the newsletter box then press submit. It’ll only take two minutes to complete but I will be forever grateful!

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Copenhagen, Stockholm and the Writers Festival

I don’t watch much television but David and I thoroughly enjoyed the Scandinavian noir crime series The Bridge.  With Saga Norén as the lead detective (it is suggested she has Asperger’s), audiences follow collaborative investigations between Sweden and Denmark.  Before this programme, I had never been aware of the significance of the Øresund/Öresund Bridge in linking the two countries and this seeded an idea for a visit.

It was from a tweet by writer Lizzie Harwood, that I became aware of the second Stockholm Writers Festival (SWF) scheduled for the beginning of May 2019. The programme included writers I was keen to meet and became the incentive I needed to book a trip to Denmark and Sweden. Once the flights were organised, we left it to the last minute to find accommodation in Copenhagen and by chance, we ended up in a good hotel located close to the Langelinie promenade. Each morning we took a run to visit the Little Mermaid statue, then followed a path along the ramparts of the fort then bought pastries for breakfast which we ate on the rooftop of the hotel.

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After four nights in Copenhagen, we travelled across the bridge by train to Stockholm and stayed at an airbnb in the city. The SWF began on Friday afternoon with a celebration of winning writers from the First Pages competition, followed by a literary quiz and mingling in a bar. The festival brought together English language writers in Sweden and participants from other countries. On Saturday and Sunday there were a range of workshops offered, panel discussions, talks, opportunities for networking and one-to-ones with agents. I attended two workshops that were particularly empowering and they have enabled me to revisit pieces of flash fiction and develop them for publication. (One of these stories has since been accepted by FlashFlood, the National Flash Fiction Day journal which will appear on the website on 15 June.) The first workshop was delivered by Jessica Lourey who shared strategies to identify powerful emotions from personal history to feed fictional stories. The other was a workshop on developing dialogue delivered by Cassie Gonzales which highlighted elements of the said, the unsaid and the unsayable. The two inputs dovetailed to create a valuable resource in plotting fiction.

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Now I’m back at home and I’m delighted to be able to apply the new skills I developed at the festival. I’m also thrilled to be part of a new writing community and have connected with many participants at the festival through social media. Thank to you to Catherine Pettersson, founder of the festival, and all those who have supported it to make the event so successful.

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