01 November 2018

#WriteCBC: Writing tip and writing task from Lisa O’Donnell

Lisa O'Donnell, author
by Anna Davis Writing Tips

OK, people, it’s time to put away the Halloween costumes and get down to some serious writing. November is of course National Novel Writing Month – and what better way could there be to warm up than with a quick round of #WriteCBC? Today’s edition of the CBC Twitter competition comes from the fabulous Lisa O’Donnell – author of The Death of Bees, which won the Commonwealth Book Prize, and Closed Doors. Lisa’s a much-loved CBC tutor, who’ll be teaching our next 6-month online novel-writing course – it starts in February and is open for applications now …

If this is your first #WriteCBC, and you’re not sure how it works, 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 …

We’re delighted to have a tip and task from Lisa – and we reckon this is a useful one for anyone taking part in NaNoWriMo:

Tip: If you’re writing a novel/story, and you start to feel the voice is wrong/flat/dead, step away and try a new scene  or two, outside the work in progress, from another narrative pov/perspective. You might just find it brings your story to life

This tip is addressing two crucial points:

  1. The importance of finding the right narrative voice and perspective to tell your story in – and
  2. The usefulness of experimentation when you’re writing a novel

To address the second point first: Although it’s great to go surging forward in your writing, notching up your word count day by day, sometimes you can find yourself hitting bumps in the road. If something’s going wrong with your work and you can’t figure out what it is, don’t sit there beating yourself up about the fact that you’re not meeting your daily or weekly word count target: Instead step back (or indeed sideways!) and lighten things up with a bit of experimentation and play. It’s often a good idea to write something that fits in the world of your work-in-progress but isn’t actually intended to go into the story itself. Stepping out of your main narrative can lift the pressure off your writing and help you to get to know your characters, to explore their histories, to work through their secrets, their family stories etc … You might enjoy the result and find it brings added depth to your work. Or maybe the scene will even wriggle its way in, in some form or other …

In this instance the experimentation is focused on point of view: Very often we can feel that the voice of our novel just isn’t coming fully alive. Maybe you’ve been writing in first person and are feeling trapped inside your character’s head and limited by their voice. Or conversely, perhaps the third person isn’t giving you the intensity that you feel your story needs. Step away from your work in progress to write some scenes in which you can switch your perspective and try out how it feels. And this doesn’t have to mean changing between first and third person. Perhaps you’ve been writing in the present tense and want to try the past; or maybe you’d like to see how your story works when seen through the eyes of a different character altogether. This kind of experiment might result in a substantial rethink and rewrite – but on the other hand, it could restore your confidence in what you were already doing.

It’s always good to try new approaches, get out of the rut you were stuck in, and free up your thinking. And with a good following wind, you will end up writing your story in the most effective, most dramatic way you can.

So here’s Lisa’s task:

Write a new mini-scene which could be part of your novel/story-in-progress using 1 of these prompts – and make yourself do it through a different narrative voice/pov than you use in your WIP: 1. A turn in the road; 2. Hiding; 3. The best day

Have fun!

Winner Alan Rain @AlanRain3

Hide! Think you can hide? Where? Where can you go that a shadow can’t? No, not sleep. She’ll sniff out your evil dreams; a blanket of frozen smoke, she’ll envelop you, merge with you, extract with icicle fingers the parts you stole from her.

We loved this chilling piece. It’s intense – dragging you right into the moment … It’s visceral, creepy. Definitely made us want to read more. How skilful to manage to make a tweet so downright frightening – and from written from the tricky second-person too!

And our runners-up this month are: Helen MacKenzie @W1shfulTh1nker, @CailaAttleya and Belle B R @BellieBidRich

Thanks to everyone who took part, great to see new and familiar faces, head to Twitter to see this month’s honourable mentions.

For more writing tips, take a look at our 6-week online courses novel-writing courses for different stages of your novel-writing journey, all starting in January 2019: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel, and Edit and Pitch Your Novel

And for those of you thinking of applying to one of our selective-entry novel-writing courses for next year, applications have just opened for our 6-month Spring courses: in London with Laura Barnett or online with Lisa O’Donnell.

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