05 July 2018

#WriteCBC 1: Writing tip and writing task from Jonny Geller

Literary Agent Jonny GellerJonny Geller, Curtis Brown Chairman
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

Welcome to our first monthly #WriteCBC day! After the storming success of our 7-day Twitter writing challenge celebrating our 7th birthday, we decided that we’ll now run our day-long tip and task challenge on the first Thursday of each month – and YAY – it starts TODAY – Thursday 5th July! Join in on Twitter @cbcreative to potentially win a place on one of our 6-week online courses – or just for fun! Read this blog to find out how to play, and the rules …

First up in the tip-and-task hot-seat is Jonny Geller – agent of John le Carré, Howard Jacobson, Tracy Chevalier, David Mitchell, Lisa Jewell, David Nicholls, Ruth Jones, Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, former CBC students Nicholas Searle and Rae DelBianco, CBC tutor Jake Arnott – and many more …

As anyone who follows him on Twitter knows – Jonny loves a writing tip, so here we go …

Jonny’s writing tip: Every character you write is living a moment in time and it must be true and real in the moment. It must also hint at a past and to an unknown future that we care about.

What Jonny’s getting at here is that the characters in your novels and stories have to be more than just cardboard cut-outs or vehicles for your story. They must be living, breathing and real. They must inhabit every scene so completely that we are learning about them and coming to know them even as we are utterly drawn in. Every action and every moment must belong to the character fully – we need to believe in their behaviour as being a product of who they are – of their history and of their context. That’s what makes us care about them and invest emotionally in their story.

So what does this mean in practical terms?

  • Figure out who your characters are. Take time to build a file of information about them. Know what they look like, what food they enjoy, whether they believe in God, what their worst and best childhood memories are etc … Know this for yourself – and then, when you write them, make sure you inhabit them fully – their personality, their mindset, their view on the world. You don’t need to put all of this on the page, but in knowing your character – deeply – you will feel them come alive for you in the writing.
  • Show us your character and your character’s history through their actions and behaviour and experiences – rather than giving us long descriptions which tell us flatly about them.
  • Be clear of your character’s motivations, at all times. Don’t make them do things just for the convenience of your plot – we have to buy in.
  • Your character is not free-floating – they have a context. They are affected by, and to an extent formed by their time and place in the world. Work hard to bring the world of your novel to life.

Jonny’s writing task: Write a character from your novel/story into one of these scenarios, and show us (rather than telling us) who they are: Locked out; haircut disaster; followed home; amazing discovery; scheming revenge. Bring your character fully & vividly to life

So, take your character – the protagonist of your novel, or a character you’ve enjoyed writing at story about, or maybe even a completely new character, if you prefer – and hurl them into one of the scenarios that Jonny’s given you. We’d like you to write us a mini-scene, in which your character finds themselves in one of these situations. Show us what happens, but also use the scene to show us who your character is – do your best to give us a moment that is truly alive.

And do it all in a tweet!

As ever in #WriteCBC, if you’d like to add a photo or picture to your tweet, that is allowed and can be fun. But it’s the writing that we’re really focused on …

Winner: Neema Shah @NeemaMShah

I have 13 photos of you. In this one, your skin pale as bone in the winter light, wrapped in your new life, your new family. What will your husband say when I tell him what you did? I took 13 photos of you. One for every year you left me alone, dear Mother.

Wow – we loved Neema’s writing task – as did many of you, so Twitter tells me! Her narrator is so intense, so passionate, so eloquently angry – and so lonely, in comparison to Mother, who is ‘wrapped’ in her new life. There’s also a coldness to the narrator’s anger, reflected in the ‘winter light’ – very atmospheric. And that “skin pale as bone” too – lovely use of language. The fact that it’s Mother is also a nice little twist – we might reaosonably have assumed the narrator was looking at a picture of an ex … Well done, Neema – we’ll be in touch regarding your free course place.

Runners-up – winning a £50 discount on our £200 online courses:

Julie Rea @juliepie76

My cowlick; a stubborn inheritance from my Grandmother. The stylist viewed the shock of hair from every angle, a wan smile to my reflection. I expected him to lick his tongue across his palm, smoothing it down the way she used to. A pang, low in my gut, when he didn’t


Stephanie Wrobel @stephwrobel

The buzz of the clippers takes me back to the small bathroom in the townhouse. I sit cross-legged in a tutu on the counter while Mom shaves my head again. She says my hair will fall out in clumps if we don’t keep it short. I fall for this lie just like all her others.

This task produced some fantastic writing from SO many people – vividly rendered characters and moments in time. The CBC team thoroughly enjoyed reading them all, and we hope you’ll come back to join in with our next #WriteCBC at 11am on Thursday 2 August.


Jonny is going to visit our students as a guest speaker on our upcoming 6-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Simon Wroe

We are also currently offering a 6-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell for writers that want to take part in a highly selective novel-writing course at a time and place that best suits them. There’s one fully-funded scholarship place available. 

If you enjoy #WriteCBC there’s lots more writing tips and writing tasks in our 6-week online courses: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.

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