Win a Crime Writing Retreat!

Fancy turning your hand to crime?

Well, the Crime Writing Retreat is a great place to start and it is taking place from June 24-27 in West Bay, Dorset and there will be crime writing masterclasses from the best-selling author of the Social Media Murder Series, Angela Clarke. Get the full info on the retreat here.

How can you win a place at the Crime Writing Retreat?

Easy! Send in your crime-themed flash fictions (300-1,000 words) by the deadline and a winner will be chosen from all entries. All entries must be sent through Submittable using the button below.

Entry fee: £10

Deadline: 26th March 2017


submit

Competition T&Cs

  • Submit stories written in English by 23.45 GMT on the deadline date (sorry late entries will not be included)
  • Maximum word count is 1,000 (minimum 300 words) not including the title
  • Do not include your name on the story or the submission title but provide a short bio in the body of the email. Stories are judged anonymously so if you do include your name where it can be seen then we’re afraid it will be disqualified.
  • Stories must be your own original work and not have been published online or in print
  • By entering the competition you agree to your story being published on the Retreat West website and to attend the writing retreat
  • Stories can be in any genre apart from children’s fiction
  • You can enter as many times as you like but each entry must be made separately and the entry fee paid each time
  • The prize is a place at the writing retreat as detailed and is not transferable and there is no cash alternative
  • The judge’s decision is final

Author interview: CM Taylor on the transformational arc

I saw CM Taylor (aka Craig) deliver a workshop on Character is Destiny at the York Festival of Writing and was hooked on the ideas he introduced in it. So much so that I invited him to come and teach an expanded version at a retreat. The Character is Destiny Retreat took place in March 2017 and there were two 3-hour workshops expanding on the ideas that intrigued me at York.

Delighted to have Craig here on the blog today talking about character development and the transformational arc.

Craig, you co-wrote a horror film that’s coming out soon about writers retreating to a remote island and terrifying things happening (I’m sure our retreat won’t be like that!) – can you tell us how writing characters for the screen and novels differs and also how and where it crosses over?
Yeah, that’s correct. The thing which makes a writers’ retreat an apt subject for a horror film is the same thing which makes it appropriate for advancing yourself creatively. You take yourself out of a normal environment, and put yourself in a situation where you can go into yourself, and, with the help of others, engage with your emotions and creative truths.

But about characters, and how writing characters for screen and prose differs, well, one of the main differences I would say is that in screenwriting you need to leave room for the actor and the director. In prose, you are the writer, the actor, and the director, and how you portray the character is the totality of that character’s portrayal. Whereas with screen, you are merely providing the ingredients which the director and the actor will cook up between them. You need to leave room for actors to act.

Plus in screenwriting you work a lot with sub-text. For example, the character can say the opposite of what they really feel and the actor’s face will convey this duplicity and conflict. Like in a film someone can say, “Yes, my Lord”, but their face and tone and body-language can mean, “I will kill you tomorrow.” So in screenwriting you don’t write the, “I will kill you tomorrow” bit, but in prose you kind of have to, because you do not have a twenty-foot high actor’s face to show the concealed meaning. So prose is more of a spoon-feeding kind of medium in a way, the sub-textual elements are fewer.

Now, there is all this stuff in creative writing teaching about showing not telling, and prose writers can learn a lot from screenwriters about that skill, but fundamentally, prose is obliged to be a slightly telling sort of medium. The kind of radical, bone dry showing-only that screenwriters trade in will just not work in prose. The reader does need to be told a little bit.

The unique strength of the novel as an art form is that it can slide behind the eyes of a character in the way that other mediums can’t. We can fall into the mulch of consciousness in the novel. It it is the closest thing to mind-reading humans have invented. Yet. So it’s concerned with interiority and the depiction of moment-by-moment consciousness in a way which the screen is just not. We can say almost exactly what is happening in the mind of a person in prose. But in screenwriting we have to convey what is happening in the mind of the person only through those things which can be seen. Actions, speech. Music can hint at unseen feelings too. And there are the techniques of voice-over, or a character writing a diary, say, or something of this nature. But in terms of the narrative arts, the totality of the un-mediated interior life is available most directly in prose.

The similarities between the two forms of narrative art is that their subjects are themselves subject to the same forces. In the novel and on screen, character is subject to the forces of personal history, subject to the forces of relationships (love, family, tribe, work), subject to the forces of the wider world, (what we might call history or society or war or the environment), and, (although many stories leave this aspect out), they are also subject to cosmic and religious impulses. Those are the four nooses which story tightens around a protagonist. So in both screen-writing and prose writing these same existential human pressures come to bear. And the goal of the writing is the same, to show a person in the grip of events and time, and to show how they change or do not change with regard to their experiences.

That really is narrative art. The depiction of the effects of time upon life.

The focus for this workshop is all about creating an emotional transformational arc for your characters alongside the main narrative arc and plot – can you tell us why you think this is so important to master for novel writing?
Well, psychologically, I think that there is a profound, subconscious, didactic element to stories, and the reason why we consume them with such unrelenting gusto is because they teach us how to live. We see a character in a transitional moment in their life, we see a character forced by life to make a tough choice, and we are desperate to see what they will do, so that we can judge if we would have done the same, so we can judge how different they are to us, or how not different at all.

We gulp down story so that we can see how characters negotiate the changes and horrors of life which await ourselves. On a subconscious level, characters are our avatars whom we scrutinise for advice about negotiating painful change. Stories are wiser than their tellers. They are our elders.

But as to why transformational screenwriting models of how best to depict moral and emotional change – be that heroic or tragic change – in narrative art are particularly pertinent to prose writers, well, a lot of writers of prose are perhaps overly attached to individual words and sentences, and paragraphs, at the expense of scenes and sequences and plot outcomes.

Screenwriters think more structurally on the whole. Prose writers tend to be hacking through the story jungle with a machete, while screenwriters are above the jungle in a chopper, burning that mother down. And I think if you were to honestly recall a favourite novel, years after you have finished reading, what you would probably remember is the fate of the character, or an amazing scene. In short, what happened to them. How they struggled under which forces.

The beauty or not of individual lines, or words, or purple passages, while perhaps paramount to the writer when they are writing, is not that which most readers take away. Narrative is concerned with fates, with what happens to a person when they are put under certain pressures. The pattern of choices a character makes which taken together results in a fate. So it is very important for writers of prose to deal with structure, to understand the underlying shapes of structure. And that’s where I go to screen-writing to steal that structural knowledge. There is without question an underlying structure to narrative art, in particular in the instance we are talking about here, with regard to how characters can be shown to change or not change under external and internal duress over the course of a story. There are real, teachable working models for this.

Which novels do you think have nailed this and why?
Well first of all, different types of novels, different genres of novels, deal with this in different ways. A geopolitical thriller will not trade in heavy emotional transformation, but if it wants to hook more readers in, readers who are interested in human meaning and not just the mechanics of plot, if it wants to add feeling to action, then it can in some unobtrusive simple, structural way deal with emotional transformation. Similarly, a literary novel may be almost exclusively concerned with the emotional development or transformation of the hero or heroine. There’s a whole genre of this – the bildungsroman, the novel of spiritual progress. So any genre can trade in the transformational arc.

A couple of novels I love that work well on the scale of human transformation and in very different ways are Staying On by Paul Scott, and The Van by Roddy Doyle.

Now The Van is a work of humorous social realism, set on a working class estate in Dublin and it concerns male friendship. Two unemployed guys, listless, low in self esteem, decide to set up a fast food van to sell to people coming out of the pubs after World Cup games. Brilliantly simple. Now because it is working on the level of social realism, the transformation here is going to be similarly realistic and small. We are not talking Macbeth here. So, through running a chipper with his mate, the main character gets the respect of his wife back because he’s been active not passive, and he loses his friendship with his partner who becomes bullying and domineering, and he gets his own self-respect back because he’s done something.

So it’s a very small plot. But it takes our hero from a passive moment in his life, through to a wiser sadder place where he holds knowledge of his friend’s character, but where he has a better marriage and more self-confidence. An irreversible change has been made in his character. It’s brilliantly done.

Now in terms of emotional change, Paul Scott’s Staying On concerns a timid wife, obliged to stay on in colonial India by her stubborn and uncommunicative husband. Now in the story he ultimately dies – in fact it is stated on the first page that he does – leaving her stranded. But he is ill first, and during the course of the illness she establishes a timid – to some extent imaginary – relationship with a friend from England, allowing her to confess her difficulties with her husband, and she works up the nerve to force her introverted husband to finally state their financial realities.

So that is again played out on a very micro level. Yes, the illness and then death of the husband is the huge external thing, the change, but the real meat, the emotional transformation, is internal, and comes from her pursuing a friendship in which she is able to gain support for her neglected emotions, and being able to ask her husband for some financial accountability which she never has felt entitled to do before. So she is bereaved and stuck but emboldened at the end. It’s a beautiful book.

What can the writers who take this workshop with you expect to learn?
Well I aim for very practical outcomes. There is a method that I use which fosters a writer’s theme, what they care about most, integrates that theme with character transformation, and then integrates character transformation with plot development. So the three main aspects of narrative art – theme, character and plot are all treated as part of the same moving concern and the same evolving structure. And it’s done in a way which privileges theme, and in such a way that character change is the glue which holds theme to plot, and we treat character change as a process which can be learned and mapped and replicated.

Many models of story are top-down, plot first, and they have their place, but the one I teach here is particularly interesting for prose writers because it privileges the writer’s emotions and themes and seamlessly integrates those with the structural aspects of writing. So what I expect everyone in the class to be able to do at the end of this retreat is have a replicable system of linking theme to character to plot. Now intuition can be great, but it can also be awful. Sometimes if you rely on intuition and inspiration you will be right and sometimes you will be wrong. So what I hope to do is offer a simple, repeatable method whereby you can test the usefulness of your inspiration against a system for unifying the three main aspects of writing.

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Win a 4 night Character is Destiny writing retreat


The first writing retreat we have booked in for 2017 is the Character is Destiny Retreat featuring masterclasses with novelist and screenwriter, CM Taylor. If you were at the 2016 Festival of Writing in York you may have seen Craig in action delivering workshops based on this. The classes at the retreat will be an expanded version that will teach you to tie in your themes and characters’ emotional transformation and behaviour to your overall plot.

The retreat is taking place in West Bay, Dorset from 24-28 March 2017 and you can get all of the info on it here. The prize is to get your own room at the retreat for 4 nights, take part in all of the workshops, and all food and drink is included too.

How can you win a place? As always, it’s by writing! As this retreat is all about character then we want to hear from your characters. Write a letter (up to 500 words) from one of your characters to another telling them something that they’ve never told anyone before. Think theme, description that works hard, voice and emotional arc as you write!

Deadline: 30th October 2016 – EXTENDED UNTIL 13TH NOVEMBER!

Entry Fee: £15

Competition Details

  • Submit stories written in English through Submittable using the button below by 23.45 GMT on the deadline date (sorry late entries will not be included)
  • Maximum word count is 500 but there is no minimum
  • Do not include your name on the story but provide a short bio in the body of the email
  • Stories must be your own original work and not have been published online or in print
  • By entering the competition you agree to your story being published on the Retreat West website and to attend the writing retreat
  • Stories can be in any genre apart from children’s fiction
  • You can enter as many times as you like but each entry must be made separately and the entry fee paid each time
  • The prize is a place at the writing retreat as detailed and is not transferable and there is no cash alternative
  • The judge’s decision is final


submit

Results: Win a place at the self-edit retreat comp

Many thanks to everyone that entered the competition to win a place at the Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat in November. I’ve enjoyed reading the entries and I’m delighted to announce that the winner is…Justine Kilkerr for her 500 word novel opening written to the prompt ‘A holiday at the beach’, entitled Sea Fret (read it below).

Congratulations Justine. A beautiful piece of writing that immediately drew me in and left me wanting more. Look forward to meeting you at the retreat.

Well done to all on the shortlist as well. Some great responses to the prompt and strong writing.

Sea Fret

It was a day muted by mist, unlike the sweltering days before, the morning she found the beached dolphin rolling in the surf and decided she would never go back.

Kittiwakes ghosted above her on the updrafts, patrolling the crumbling cliff face. She watched a gannet hurl itself, bullet-quick, arrow-sharp, into the waves. It few underwater for a while, zigzagging after fsh, then bobbed to the surface like a cork and launched itself into the sky.

She held the stone and traced its knuckled edges with a sandy thumb. It was the size of an apple and nestled, warming, in her balled fst. Her bare toes had found the ammonite in the sand as she had walked naked into the waves hours before, intent on never coming out.

She allowed herself a smile that felt like a gift. Strange, how high and happy the morning had felt when she decided to walk into the ocean and not come out again. How simple this day had seemed then. But she had hissed at the pain in her stubbed toes and somehow forgotten her long-planned march into the waves. She had bent instead to scrape at the sand. The fossil came up in her cold fingers, its stone curves cradling millennia, and something had changed.

She had put the stone to her lips, licked the salt and turned back to the beach, paddling herself through the water with her hands. Had struggled, shivering, into her shorts, damp T-shirt, jacket. Had walked towards the cliff along a high water line sketched out in black seaweed and broken shells, until she noticed the humped side of the dolphin, moving back and forth as the waves nudged it, gently, gently.

The dolphin was dead. The beach lay heavy beneath its grey body and she sat down cross-legged on the wet sand there and hugged herself. The taste of brine on her tongue. The whispering of the waves. The animal gone into itself. She sat a while, she didn’t know how long.

I will never go back.

The road out was flooded. It was a spring tide, after all, and the tarmac held its breath below the milk-pale water; she couldn’t go back if she wanted to. Which she didn’t. Which meant that they would be coming to look for her as soon as the waters receded.

She would not wait for them to come.

So she must go forward, and the only place accessible was across the expanse of boulders and rock pools that made up the tip of the peninsula. She squinted at the horizon. From this distance the lighthouse looked small, insignificant. A slim, pale tower squatting amongst the black rock and green weed and slow-surging sea.

She double-laced her boots, pushed the ammonite deep into her jacket pocket and stood, walking quickly to the edge of the rocks. She began to climb.

High above her, its noise spilling over the edge of the cliff, a telephone rang.

 

The shortlist (in alphabetical order by story title)

  • A Holiday at the Beach by Kate Beales
  • Drifter in the Sand by Margaret Duffy
  • Emigration by Vinita Joseph
  • Grand Pause by Anne Hamilton
  • Pay Friday by Gail Aldwin
  • Scrimshaw by Sophie Wellstood
  • Sea Fret by Justine Kilkerr
  • The Dive by V Lysaght
  • The Mistake by Julie Balloo
  • The Place We Go by Jessica Riches
  • The Search by Hannah Persaud

Win a place at the Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat

In November, Debi Alper and I will be teaching at the Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat. We’ll be back at the beach house in West Bay, Bridport.

Debi will be running 2 classes based on her hugely successful online course, which I did a few years ago and it changed my writing forever. The course is great and Debi recently wrote a blog about the success rate of people that have completed it and gone on to get book deals.

You can get all the info on the retreat here – it takes place from 4th to 8th November. There are 6 places to join us and I’m running a competition to win one of them.

Competition details

Deadline: 23.59 on 10th July 2016

Prize: 1 place at the 4 night Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat in your own room with all food, drink and classes included. Outside of the classes your time is yours to read, write, sleep, walk – whatever you want to do!

Entry fee: £10

How to enter: Write a 500 word novel opener on the theme of a holiday at the beach. Send it in through Submittable using the button below with a short covering note saying why you’d like to win the place at the retreat and a bit of info on what you are working on.

Good luck!

Competition T&Cs

  • £10 to enter
  • You can enter as many times as you like as long as you pay the fee each time
  • Do not put your name on your novel opening or your entry will be disqualified as judging is done anonymously
  • Stories must be written in English, your own original work and unpublished online and in print
  • Submit your stories through Submittable by 23.59 (BST) on 10th July 2016
  • Winner will be announced in July 2016
  • The judge’s decision is final
  • By entering the competition you agree to attend the Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat and have your winning novel opening entry published on the Retreat West website
  • The writer of the winning novel opening gets a free place at the Self-Edit Your Novel Retreat and the prize is not transferable


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Short Story Retreat Winner!

Thanks again to everyone who entered the competition. This has been such a hard choice to make. I’ve spent days re-reading the shortlist and thinking about the stories while out walking. I really wish there was enough space at the house to give everyone a place – but there isn’t and I also couldn’t afford to!

So, after much pondering, I am delighted to announce that the winner of the competition to win a place at the Short Story Retreat with Paul McVeigh is…

Last Judgement by Rose McGinty

What really made this story stand out as the winner was the completely original take on the prompt, and the grand scale of the world we are presented with in such a small piece. The narrator’s voice is strong from the very first line and although it is a dystopian vision of our world, it feels like we’re not too far from it being very real and it shines a light on our social issues without ever seeming preachy.

Read It

Well done and congratulations, Rose! I look forward to seeing you at the retreat in June.

And I need to give a mention to these three stories that were in hot contention for the prize:

  • Selkie Song by Marianne Paget – beautiful imagery and two distinct points of view made this stand out.
  • Caveat Emptor by Carol Caffrey – brilliant voice and it left me wanting to know more.
  • The Rift by Elinor Perry-Smith – surreal, fast-paced and quite an experience with a really distinctive narrative voice.