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Claire Scobie gives us 5 ways to be accountable in writing a story

by: Jennifer Richardson on

As a journalist I’m used to deadlines. If I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t always finish stories. Or even start them.

When you’re working on a book or a bigger writing project you need to create your own deadlines. If you know you won’t stick to them, find someone you can be accountable to.

Here are 5 ways to be accountable

  1. Find a friend you trust or a writing buddy or a group of writers. Tell them to give you a deadline.
  2. Write out your goals – research suggests you’re more likely to succeed if you do so.
  3. Be time specific with your goals – so set a realistic date to finish your story or first draft.
  4. If you’re writing book, break down your goals. Make a commitment to write 5,000 words every month or whatever.
  5. Email all of this to your friend / buddy / group. You are now accountable to them and if you don’t meet your goals you need a VERY good excuse. (Or you may set yourself a fine.)

This works better if there is an exchange. So if you say you’re going to finish your first chapter and your friend is an artist, she needs to have done the first sketch of her watercolour.

How do you ensure you finish your stories?

Claire Scobie will be teaching at our Writing in a Palace in 2015, held at Palazzo Donati in Marche, Italy. Details to be updated soon.

Pitching your book

by: Jennifer Richardson on

An interview with PYBA and Jan Cornall.


Pitch Your Book Australia (PYBA):  What do you think about the Pitch Your Book competition?

Jan Cornall (Jan): It’s a good way of getting writers to think about presenting their idea in a visual way. Bringing it down to the central question, describing the story arc and identifying the elements that will draw the reader in - these are all useful exercises for writers at any stage of their writing.

(PYBA): Through Writer’s Journey you come in contact with many writers. What are some tips you can give about generating marketable novel ideas?

Jan: I think you have to write the story you are really burning to write, then see where it fits in the market.  Somehow writing for the market without a level of emotional truth doesn’t seem to work, unless you are very clever. It is always good to be aware of the market, to see what’s out there, and where the gaps are. When it comes to pitching your book this information is essential. If you can compare your work to a best seller and at the same time show how it is different, it will help the publisher place your work and assess its market potential.

(PYBA): How does going to a foreign place help with your writing and idea generation?

Jan: Many of the great writers have done their best writing in exile from their home countries. Travel gives you the perfect distance you need for contemplation, looking back, dreaming - all of which are important for writing.

(PYBA): How much should social trends influence your book idea?

Jan: Again I think you have to write the story you really want to write regardless of social trends. That said, there are lots of new genres and sub genres giving voice to new writers due to social trend. So if you can ride one of these waves and situate your work in the right place at the right time, it could be most helpful.

Finding a voice by Claire Scobie

by: Jennifer Richardson on

Travel articles are often seen as easy but they’re surprisingly difficult to write. You need to balance practical information, anecdotes and a few facts and figures, with literary description. The voice is generally more informal than for a feature article because it’s personal and written from the first-person point of view.

For a travel memoir, there are many more voices to choose from. Yes, everyone’s written about the cafes of Paris or the beaches of Bali, but how you tell the story—how you choose to narrate it—can make an old tale sound new. Simply put, the narrator is the voice of your story.

Voice is the combination of:

    Style – what words you choose, how you structure your sentences and paragraphs

    Personality of the author

    Tone – this includes mind-set, opinions, feelings and attitude behind the words.

It often takes time to find your own voice (and if you want to explore it further, sign up for my upcoming 7 day travel writing course. While there is a cross over between styles, it helps to ask, is it conversational or formal, intimate or lyrical? If you’re genuinely funny, write humorous prose. If you’re reflective, go for depth. It’s much easier to write in a way that is natural and aim for consistency to give your narrative a smoother feel.

At the moment I’m reading (and loving) Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. It’s a novel but the second half, set in Varanasi, reads like travelogue. Dyer’s tone and language reflects the narrator which he has cultivated to tell this story. In another book, he may have a very different voice. The narrator is funny, outrageous, dark and occasionally, sublime. His voice crackles with energy and slips between poetic phrases, conversation and personal revelation. Swearing, slang and informal patter are all fair game, so too are invented words, repetition and colloquialisms for used for emphasis.

Here he is talking about Varanasi.

‘The action on the road was first matched and then exceeded by what was happening on either side of it, by the blare and frenzy of display, of frantic buying and selling, loading and unloading… Everything was piled up. Everything was excessive. Everything was brightly coloured and loud, so everything had to be even brighter and louder than everything else. So everything blared. There was so much of it all, blaring so loud and bright, that it was impossible to tell exactly what this everything was made up of, what it comprised. It was a totality of bright, noisy, blaringness…’

Like, dislike? Let us know— how did you find your voice?

If you wish to fully immerse yourself in a writing course this year, Claire Scobie will be our teacher for Travel Writing in a Palace in August. Palazzo Donati has now made it possible for us to extend the Early Bird past our cut off date and we will be able to offer single rooms without having to pay a single supplement but you better hurry and book now.

Click the link button here to read up and book your place.   

11 ways to write great dialogue, by Claire Scobie

by: Jennifer Richardson on

This week I started Italian classes in preparation for my upcoming Travel Writing in a Palace retreat. I love languages and Italian, as we all know, is particularly passionate and evocative.

Years ago, I spent a summer learning Italian in Perugia. I have a vivid memory of sitting on sun-baked steps eating a mozzarella-filled panini dripping with olive oil and fresh oregano. I remember thinking, ‘There is nothing better than this.’ I’ve never tasted a sandwich like it.

So even though my grammar is very rusty and I’ve forgotten half my vocab, just being in the class made it all rush back. Afterwards I walked through Leichhardt – little Italy, for those who don’t know – and wanted to say ‘Ciao’ to everyone I met.

Of course, it wasn’t the exercises that made me excited, it was watching the teacher and being part of the group. I was mesmerised by her gestures. How she joked and drew everyone into the conversation; how she listened, her head cocked to the side. How she conducted the evening class as if it was an orchestra.

Capturing how a person talks is crucial to making your characters come alive on every page.

Here are 11 ways to keep your dialogue fresh:
  1. Interleave dialogue with action. This helps create a scene so the reader feels like they are seeing something in real time. i.e. She picked up the cup. ‘It’s chipped,’ she said. ‘Mother won’t be pleased.’
  2. Use ‘telling gestures’ that reflect the character of the person who’s talking. These also help to break up quotes.
  3. Condense an exchange. We don’t need every ‘um’ and ‘aagh’.
  4. Paraphrase some sections as a way to cut to the chase. If you paraphrase, you don’t need punctuation, as you’re not quoting the person word for word.
  5. Edit your dialogue to the strongest moments. Avoid those waffly bits – this is especially true in fiction where there’s a tendency to let dialogue drag. Keep it sharp.
  6. Include information – or exposition – in dialogue. Be aware this needs a light touch (especially in fiction.)
  7. Show what isn’t said between characters with ellipsis. i.e. ‘I was hoping you’d stay …’ she trailed off.
  8. Capture the rhythm of how a non-English speaker talks, rather than relying on dialect.
  9. Include a few foreign words to get the flavour of the language & include the English translation. i.e ‘Basta! Enough!’ said the mother as the child stamped her feet. (You can italicise the foreign word if you want.)
  10. Keep with ‘said’ as your speech tag. Writers often worry that ‘he said/she said’ gets boring, so they replace it with umpteen other words. Actually we don’t notice these tags when reading and it’s distracting if you have ‘hollered / murmured / responded’ etc.
  11. Be careful with swear words. They come across much more strongly in text than in speech

So over to you, how do you use dialogue to humanise your stories?

Join me in Italy this August for a special travel writing retreat. Early bird bookings are now being taken for Travel Writing in a Palace 2014

The Donati family history

by: Jennifer Richardson on

Our partner for our Italy events, Luisa Donati shares some of her family history in this unedited clip I took of her in Montestigliano last August.

I hope you enjoy hearing the history dating back from the 1200's in Florence then on to Marche and back to Tuscany as much as I do.

We will explore more of this story and visit the Castello della Pieve where Dante was held in exile during our Travel Writing in a Palace workshop in August this year.

Luisa and the Donati family host Singabout in their beautiful family residencies at Palazzo Donati in Marche and Montestigliano in Sovicelle, Tuscany.

Creating three dimensional characters by Claire Scobie

by: Jennifer Richardson on

We read because we want to feel what it’s like to be another person and experience another reality. We watch films for the same reason. When a movie or a story is gripping it is because the emotions that we’re seeing on the page or screen are replicated in us.

We’re gunning for the hero to make it across the desert before the enemy tracks him down. We cheer on the heroine as she breaks free from her painful past. We become so involved with their lives that we think about them after we’ve left the cinema or put the book down. Something inside us is touched – and through that we are changed.

In fiction or narrative non-fiction you want to make your lead characters live and breathe on – and off – the page. If you are the main character in your story, the reader needs to feel your highs and lows. You must take the reader by the hand to the scene of the action. At the key points in the narrative, we need to see through your eyes, hear through your ears.

Some people you meet in real life are so unique that you couldn’t have written them better in fiction. This is often true in travel writing. We may go to exotic locations but it’s the individuals who stay with us after the landscape has faded into sepia.

This is why I’ve chosen to combine my travel writing retreat in Italy with immersion in traditional village life. ‚Ä®Mercatello sul Metauro isn’t on the tourist trail. It’s full of artisans and craftsmen and women who still ply trades dating back to the Renaissance. They are unique and colourful; the older men’s faces are craggy. Exuberant Luisa (pictured here) owns the Donati palace where we will be staying.

How a person looks is one way to bring a character to life. Famously Philip Roth uses only three words of description. Raymond Carver avoids any physical traits to show character. Most writers use a combination of telling details and action.

Here are 8 more techniques you can use to portray character:
  1. Use dialogue to let the reader hear the character’s unique voice.
  2. Combine dialogue with gestures so we can hear and see them. ‘Give me that,’ she said, slicing the air with her hand.
  3. Use all five senses – not forgetting smell & taste – to show how a person reacts. This could be you in your travel story arriving at a new destination.
  4. Reveal their flaws. None of us are perfect. We identify with others’ weaknesses and their strengths.
  5. Show how someone changes. It can be an internal shift from anxiety to confidence or a major transformation.
  6. Walk us step by step through the dramatic moments in your narrative. Do this by slowing the writing down when you want to ramp up the emotion.
  7. Combine what’s going on internally with what’s happening externally. So show how your character (this could be you) thinks as they watch events unfold around them. This mimics reality.
  8. Surprise us. In fiction your character needs to have consistency but it doesn’t mean they should be predictable. That’s the same in real life.

Don’t you love it when you surprise yourself?

I know I do!

Join me in Italy this August for a special travel writing retreat. Early bird bookings are now being taken for Travel Writing in Mercatello 2014.

See more at: http://clairescobie.com/blog/post/wordstruck-creating-three-dimensional-characters