It’s time for our June edition of #WriteCBC – the monthly Twitter writing competition – and we are thrilled to welcome our very special guest, Jane Fallon! As well as being the author of nine top ten bestselling titles, including Getting Rid of Matthew and The Ugly Sister, Jane is generously providing a fully-funded scholarship place for a talented writer with financial hardship to take a six-month CBC novel-writing courses this Autumn (either London-based or online).
If you haven’t joined in #WriteCBC before, check out this blog with information about how to play.
And now to business!
Jane’s writing tip:
Secrets and subtext are the essence of dramatic intrigue. If your WIP is a bit flat and lacking in tension, think about what your characters might be hiding from each other – could a secret add some oomph to your story? And will it come out?
SO MUCH of great fiction is driven by secrets and lies. From crime thrillers such as Jane Harper’s The Lost Man or Caz Frear’s Stone Cold Heart (both new out, from former CBC students!), with their webs of suspenseful intrigue and ultimate moments of revelation – to the mega-bestseller Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, where a lonely woman carries her secrets as a heavy burden through many years – to Jane Fallon’s own Tell Me A Secret – in which we are reminded that knowing someone’s secrets can be a source of power – and confiding your secrets in a friend can be a terrible mistake …
If you’re working on a novel, ask yourself if there are key plot-turns which relate to secrets and lies. Perhaps it’s about what you hide from the reader only to reveal near the end of the story – or perhaps it’s about what your characters are hiding from each other, with the reader being the only person who knows everything for most of the story …
And if your story is moving too logically and predictably from one plot point to another – and feels like it’s lacking in extra layers and/or suspense – why not go to your notebook and play around with your characters and their back stories for a while? What could one be hiding from another? Or what secret might be preventing your protagonist from taking action that they really should be taking? If your novel features a family or a group of friends where everyone is simply what they appear to be – think about whether it might make the whole group and their dynamics more interesting if there are some odd tensions between them, or if they all share a past experience that nobody talks about (an elephant in the room). This is the stuff of good fiction – it keeps readers turning those pages …
Jane’s writing task:
Two best friends talking. Friend A has a secret and is about to inadvertently reveal it. Write the moment when B realises the truth while A remains clueless that they’ve given the game away. Show us all of this in a deft, sleight-of-hand mini-scene
Jane’s very interested to see what you come up with here. To recap and explain further: Two friends are in conversation with each other. One has a secret. The other is going to suddenly understand what that secret is, during what appears to be a normal conversation. What’s more, the friend with the secret isn’t even going to realise that she or he has given that secret away.
It’s up to you what the secret is …
Some things you might want to think about when planning your mini-scene:
- These two are best friends, so one might imagine that normally they would confide everything in each other. Why wouldn’t friend A have already told his/her secret to Friend B?
- What are the underlying tensions in this friendship?
- How, precisely, is Friend A going to give themselves away? Will it be something he/she says? Something he/she does? The way he/she reacts to something that happens nearby?
- How are you going to write Friend B’s moment of realisation?
- And why does Friend A not realise that he/she has let their secret out?
- I wonder what the upshot will be …
The precise form of this scene is up to you. You can write it as a full scene, with or without dialogue. Or it can be dialogue only if that will help you to pack the content into a tweet and get the most out of your material. Think what will work best for the bit of story you will be giving us … Just do remember it’s going to have to be tweet-length only.
This is a tricky challenge – you need to be able to show us who these two are, along with the dynamic of their friendship, and perhaps how and where this conversation is happening – you’ll be packing as much of this as you can into your scene (and deftly, too!) AS WELL as the secret and the way it’s revealed to Friend B. I know you’re all up to it, though!
This month’s winner is Julie Holden (@julieHolden18):
Erika’s eyes flicker to my scar, shaved head. ‘I’ll be ok next term,’ I say. ‘Amy has a…’ She studies the animals on my windowsill. ‘Who’s Amy?’ ‘She’s new.’ ‘Who does she sit next to?’ Erika swaps the mouse for the cat. ‘No-one,’ she says. ‘My head hurts,’ I say.
We really enjoyed Julie’s heart-wrenching interpretation of the task. The relationship between these two school friends is instantly recognisable, as is the illness which has added a new dynamic to the relationship. The two characters are playing with toy animals – an activity which has been twisted by a bitter nostalgia and longing for things to return to the way they were before the protagonist became ill. Erika is obviously trying to protect the protagonist from any more pain by pretending that nothing has changed between them. When Erika accidentally let’s slip a mention of a new girl at school ‘Amy’ our hearts drop alongside the narrator’s. They are being sheltered from the fact that the new girl is sitting in their seat next to their best-friend. We get the sense that this is not the first time they’ve been lied to for their own good during their illness.
A very moving scene, well done. You’ve won a free place on the 6-week online novel-writing course of your choice!
And this month’s runners-up are Susannah Northfield (@susannah19680) and Ms Kaye (@MsKaye15)– each get a £50 course discount – Congrats everyone!
We run six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey, enrol today: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.