07 March 2019

#WriteCBC: Writing tip and writing task from Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz, author
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

It’s time for the March edition of #WriteCBC, our monthly writing competition on Twitter – and we couldn’t be more thrilled to tell you that our special guest is the one and only Anthony Horowitz!

If you don’t already know who Anthony is, then you really need to get out more … There’s the much-loved series of novels about Alex Rider, the teenage spy; there are the new crime novels – most recently The Sentence is Death – not to mention Anthony’s take on some of the best-known heroes of the page and screen – James Bond in Trigger Mortis – and  Sherlock Holmes in The House of Silk and MoriartyAnd as if that’s not enough, Anthony has also created and written some of the UK’s most successful TV series – notably Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders (the first six episodes) and Collision. We’re delighted to welcome him to #WriteCBC – and also as a visiting speaker to our next 3-month London-based Novel-Writing Course.

If this is your first #WriteCBC, and you’re not sure how it works – don’t worry, you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Here’s a blog with information about how to join in and the prizes you can win. Oh, and when you post your task up on Twitter, do make sure you use the hashtag #WriteCBC and tag us @CBCreative – otherwise we might not see it …

And so to business …

Here’s Anthony’s writing tip:

All my life, I’ve been interested in secrets. I love the idea that nobody, ever, is quite what they seem… Try using this in your writing – give your characters something to hide, and your readers will love it when you reveal the truth

How brilliant that Anthony has zeroed in on the life-blood of compelling fiction. When we sense that a character has a secret or is lying about something, that’s an instantly engaging scenario. The reader is as much of a detective as any that you’ll encounter in crime fiction – hungry to solve mysteries and find out the truth; eager to get to the heart of what’s going on before it’s actually exposed by the author. And this isn’t just about crime fiction: Think about all the many novels featuring seemingly perfect marriages, where actually one or both partners is having an affair … The stories about children who won’t speak of something they’ve witnessed; the novels where a character loses his or her job but tries to pretend they’re still going out to work each day … I could go on.

So, if you have a sneaking suspicion that your story is rather flat and obvious – if you’re perhaps dishing up your characters’ lives in an overly straightforward way – maybe it’s time to go to your notebook and play around with some ideas about what they might be hiding; or what they might be lying about. And there are lots of ways of hinting at the idea that a character isn’t all they seem. For instance, if you write a character who is too ecstatically happy or too virtuous – your reader will quickly guess there is something else going on underneath it all. If a character obsessively insists on something, the reader will want to know why it’s so important … If there is something in your character’s actions or demeanour that is contradictory or jars with everything else, we’ll want to sniff out the truth. Tease us, and don’t let us see everything at once.

Anthony’s writing task:

Describe somebody. But give a hint, some clue, as to what they’re hiding behind their facade. Don’t make it too easy to figure out – give us the fun of trying to guess …

OK, so when it comes to your chosen way of depicting the character in this exercise, you get to decide. You can go to town on your best prose description (for once we will allow ‘telling’, not just ‘showing’); or you can give us a mini-scene or a piece of dialogue that shows us your character and hints at their secret – or perhaps  a combination of all three (if you can manage to get all three into a tweet).

One of the things we like best about #WriteCBC is that so many of you enjoy reading and commenting on each other’s work. This month, we’d like to encourage you to have a go at guessing the secrets behind some of the entries you like reading. And if people respond to your work, perhaps you might wait for a while before revealing the truth – maybe even until near (or after) the end of the competition at 11am on Friday (UK time). Keep ’em guessing, people …

We love this task, and are greatly looking forward to encountering a whole host of characters with something to hide …

This month’s winner is Polly Phillips‏ (@perthectpolly) 

Grandpa smiled, his mouth so wide I could see the paste smeared on top of his dentures. I’d seen him without them once and had to look away, like he was showing me something private. “Go on have a toffee.” I took one even though his hand was shaking and I didn’t want to.

We love the atmosphere of discomfort created by Polly’s description of the Grandpa without his dentures. The grandchild’s slight unease towards being left alone and unwillingness to take the toffee with her Grandpa leads us to wonder what else is at play here, is there something sinister lurking in the past? The present moment seems haunted by the time before the grandpa’s hands were shaking and before he had to wear dentures. Is there any illness that is taking its toll? Does the grandchild have something important to tell the grandpa? There are many things hidden just beneath the surface of this scene. 

Well done, Polly – she gets a free place on a £200 online course.

And this month’s runners-up – each getting a £50 course discount – are @ogilvie_brown and @Little_Emma19. Congratulations, both!

Brilliant fun – hope you all enjoyed it and see you next month. #WriteCBC will be back on Thursday 4th April.

If you’re currently writing a YA or children’s novel why not take a look at our selective entry online course for Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson.

Applications are also open for our next Three-Month Online Novel-Writing course which you can take anywhere in the world, taught by critically-acclaimed author Suzannah Dunn. And our next Three-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Charlotte Mendelson is also open for applications with one HW Fisher Scholarship place available for a talented writer of limited financial means. 

We also run six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey, enrol today: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.

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