Tips from 2016 Sydney Writers’ Festival

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Here are a few tips that I picked up while attending a range of workshops.

Some great exercises from Fiona Wright

  • Write two truths and a lie.
  • Finish the sentence: I remember…….
  • Take one memory and write about the place.
  • Describe an emotion without naming it.
  • Play with similes.

How to be a Successful Freelance Writer with Bianca Nogrady

  • Find a niche and exploit it by asking yourself about your interests, expertise and contacts. Why should your words be more important and more valuable than others?
  • Reflect on your past and research links with related publications.
  • Attend conferences to make contacts.
  • Pitch using as few words as you can say in 3 floors of an elevator.
  • Make it timely.

Creative Non-Fiction with Alicia Symmonds

  • Treading the line between subjectivity and theory.
  • Be open.
  • Take the hand break off.
  • Write every day for 3 hours.
  • Find a writing partner..
  • Take a notebook everywhere.
  • Record favourite lines from favourite authors.
  • Alternate writing with other activities.
  • Find the emotional high point and build towards it in each chapter and in the whole text.
  • Don’t plan too much.
  • Keep it malleable.

Sophie Laguna on Characters

Act the character on the page. Come in costume with an accent.

Stakes have to be high in order for pages to be turned.

Craft a symphony to be heard with individual characters, not stereotypes. We will forgive an awful lot just to be in the company of a character that we love.  If we love them we will try to understand them.  The centre of the character has to come from your experience.  As you get to know the character the plot unfolds.  Ask these questions about your character:

  • What is their name?
  • Where does your character live?
  • What do they love/hate about where they live?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What makes them feel good/bad about themselves?
  • What do they look/sound like?
  • What do they wear?
  • What are their daily rituals?
  • What are they good/bad at?
  • What makes them angry/afraid/happy/sad/laugh/cry?
  • What do they dream about/hope for?
  • What does she think about in a private moment?
  • How do others respond to them?
  • Describe your character in an event.
  • Write a dialogue between your character and another.

Plotting with Toni Jordon

Plot is the spine of the book. It is the choices we make about what happens and in what order.  The key is unpredictability.

Plotters can be divided into ‘pansters’, those who fly by the seat of their pants and plotters who are clear before they start writing. ‘Pansters can be divided into ‘knitters’ who take the plot one step at a time and ‘quilters’ who write scene by scene and piece it together at the end.  Either way, ‘pansing’ can be wasteful, evidenced by the number of words you end up not using.

All novels are plot and character driven and need an interesting protagonist. The protagonist must have 3 types of conflict:

  1. inner based on a fear of something
  2. interpersonal based on difference with someone
  3. physical based on nature

Conflict drives the plot forward by the writer putting something in the path of the protagonist that tests them.  Often the worst thing that the protagonist can imagine ends up being the best thing in some way.  Character is revealed by the circumstances thrown in their path.  Characterisation is the external person that others see while true character can only be revealed by circumstances.

Your protagonist exists in a world where everything is wonderful (5% of plots) or everything is shit (5%) or a combination of bitter-sweet (90%). Some common themes are battle between good and evil, find your strength, love conquers all, realising your faults, vested interests.

There are a series of points common to all plots.  The first is an inciting incident, a dynamic event that upsets the life of the protagonist.  The second point is a crisis (which in a film is half way through but not necessarily in a novel) that the protagonist has to solve.  Towards the end is the climax or emotional high point where the three levels of conflict come together.  Finally there is the ending which needs to be two-pronged or again bitter-sweet, something good and something bad.

Finally, sub plots have 4 roles: ironical, reinforcing, structural or to provide complications. If they can be removed without making a difference to your story then do so.

Happy writing!



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